jump to navigation

Science Check: Quantum Break May 22, 2016

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Science Check.
add a comment

We’ve been playing the new Remedy game Quantum Break nearly non-stop over here at GameXcess.net since the game was released back in April. It’s a phenomenal title and if you have an Xbox One or a VERY powerful Windows 10-equipped PC, I cannot recommend it enough.  The game’s plot revolves entirely around the concept of time travel, and developer Remedy put a lot of hard work into researching the most plausible scientific basis when defining their vision of time travel’s underlying rules. Without trying to spoil too much, the player will learn eventually that while time travel is possible within Quantum Break‘s universe, changing the past is not.

I’ve been facinated by time travel stories since I was a small child. In fact, the Back to the Future movies were some of my absolute favorite  films growing up, so I’m proud to finally have the chance of taking on the subject for this site. That’s right boys and girls, today we’re going to be talking about time travel. Buckle in.

Sometimes, you’re forced to make some severe leaps of logic as to just how plausible a video game’s grounded reality can be. Some things we’re willing to take for granted, like enemies will simply just carry health and ammunition supplies with them at all times, and you will be immediately able to make use of them.

But then sometimes there will be moments in gaming which skirt the bounds of reality and you are forced to ask yourself…COULD THAT REALLY HAPPEN? Fortunately for me, I happen to have a bunch of friends on speed dial with science backgrounds and when I ask them questions, they have no problem filling me in on just what reality would do in these situations.

So this is Science Check, where I take a look at the leaps and bounds of scientific logic that games have made over the years and check if it would indeed work, or if you tried doing it in the real world, you’d be totally screwed.

I was fortunate enough to speak about time travel and Quantum Break specifically with a friend of mine recently. My friend, who wished to remain anonymous, has a degree in physics and while he is not an active participant in any current time travel related research, he is familiar with some of the work being done in the field.  I was lucky enough to pick his brain on what he thought about time travel in Quantum Break, and just how plausible it is.

Quantum Break was exceptionally clear about what it would take for a human being to travel through time.  The game’s premise is that you could travel forward or backwards through time by circling a black hole.  Based on that theory, a time machine’s design would include a modular circular pathway wrapped around a central core.  The core is made up of an artificial black hole which would not only be capable of powering the machine, but would alter the flow of time for anyone walking through the circular pathway.  After inputting the destination date, the machine’s computer would automatically calculate the proper distance the circular pathway would need to be positioned around the core and deploy it.  The specific direction the traveler would need to walk around the pathway (clockwise or counter-clockwise) would be dependent on if the traveler was planning to go to the past or the future.

This setup had lots of advantages but also lots of disadvantages. Essentially, the time traveler would enter the time machine in their present and exit directly from the machine sometime in the past or future.  That meant that all time travel from that machine would be tied directly into the individual core used to power it, so the user would only be able to time travel to periods when the core was active and could not travel to a time before it was first built.  The user would be able to exit from a different time machine only if the core from the machine they used to travel was moved to power a different time machine at a later time.  To protect against the Grandfather Paradox, time travelers were made incapable of altering the history of known events in the game’s world.  For example, it was noted several times in the game that any attempt by a time traveler to prevent a predestined event only served to cause the event they wanted to prevent to happen in the first place.  If a user was to set the machine for a minute in the past, they could essentially see an older version of themselves exiting the machine as they were getting ready to enter it. Their younger self would still need to enter the machine to close the time loop as their older self went about their business, or they would face breaking time.  It’s as if time is fixed, and regardless of who is in what time, only what has happened in the past will happen in the future.

So how does this concept stack up to reality?  While there are physicists working on methods of traveling through time, none of the work I’ve seen has included sending a human being forwards or backwards through time. I’m afraid to say that my friend was of an opinion that time travel in this form was simply impossible.  While there has been work on time travel in the real world, the method that seems furthest along only involves sending simple messages into the past.  While that may be useful, it is still unknown if even this method will be successful.

My friend argued, simply, that if time travel is EVER invented, humanity would be well aware of it by now.  That old joke, “When do we want [a time machine]?  That’s irrelevant!” rings true.  If a time machine is ever made real, regardless of the form it takes, he believed it would eventually become mass-produced for civilian consumption. Night vision, remote-controlled drones and GPS are all examples of private technology intended for military applications eventually finding massive popularity when they were eventually released in a civilian market who would probably buy them like crazy.   Anyone who has seen the movie “Time Chasers” knows where this point will eventually lead. If time travel is possible in the future, having time machines eventually sold in the same volumes as private automobiles are today is a real possibility.  Statistically, this runs the risk of misuse, intentionally or unintentionally.  My friend used the analogy of having an immature child borrowing their parents car and taking it out for an illegal joyride. Now imagine what would happen if instead of a car, the parents owned a time machine.

Since a time machine could theoretically exist at any point in time once it’s built, if they’re possible to build it would be highly likely time travelers from all over history could be walking among us.  It’s then inevitable the world would be aware of them and there would be records of odd people appearing in time periods they don’t belong. I argued the possibility people capable of time travel would be intelligent enough to keep quiet and reports of time travel related events to the media could be dismissed as hoaxes and left unreported, but that did not take accidents into account.  Statistically, it is possible if time machines are mass produced, eventually one is going to be used by some idiot who won’t respect these rules.  Even if some genius is able to successfully build and test a machine in secret and use it properly for personal use until he either dies or retires the machine (a la Doc Brown), my friend has said that when it comes to innovation, especially for electronic devices, if just one person is able to figure out how to make something statistics say that someone else would be able to eventually replicate his work on their own.  If Will didn’t build his time machine himself, perhaps Sophia would have eventually been able to build one on her own.

I’m sorry to conclude that because no credible events of time travelers have been reported to this date, it is likely a time machine is simply not something humanity is capable of creating.  However I need to give great regard to Quantum Break writer Sam Lake for making such a believable story. If I hadn’t talked to some of my own experts, I might have tried to build one myself.

Quantum Break is out now for Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. 

Advertisements

Science Check – Watch Dogs June 16, 2014

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Science Check.
add a comment

Last month, UbiSoft released a game which took the concept of an open world sandbox video game and completely turned it on its head by giving players the ability not only to explore their environment, but control it. That’s the concept behind UbiSoft’s latest multiplatform title, Watch_Dogs.

What is Watch_Dogs? Allow me to introduce it to you the same way it was introduced to me, UbiSoft’s E3 2012 Press Conference.

Sometimes, you’re forced to make some severe leaps of logic as to just how plausible a video game’s grounded reality can be. Some things we’re willing to take for granted, like enemies will simply just carry health and ammunition supplies with them at all times, and you will be immediately able to make use of them.

But then sometimes there will be moments in gaming which skirt the bounds of reality and you are forced to ask yourself…COULD THAT REALLY HAPPEN? Fortunately for me, I happen to have a bunch of friends on speed dial with science backgrounds and when I ask them questions, they have no problem filling me in on just what reality would do in these situations.

So this is Science Check, where I take a look at the leaps and bounds of scientific logic that games have made over the years and check if it would indeed work, or if you tried doing it in the real world, you’d be totally screwed.

It’s all very plausible for a service like CtOS to be installed. Complete integration to improve automation is a huge part of the growth of new tech companies right now. Smart grids, smart streets, smart buildings, and more are all being discussed right now and its quite a fascinating subject.

On face value, you would think being able to interface with this system (if it is implemented) and control it wirelessly via a cell phone is pretty implausible, but there are workarounds. In the game, the player needs to physically access the CtOS control system directly in several points through Chicago in order to install a backdoor Trojan to compromise each area and bring it under control of the player. Once that happens, a player’s abilities in each zone increase and they have full access to not only the CtOS but every mobile device connected to it. In reality, once you have a computer virus installed on a system, controlling the infected system via a mobile device is entirely possible!

Once you have control of the CtOS, there is plenty that the player can do with it.  All of Chicago’s traffic control systems are managed by the CtOS, so the player can in effect control things like the traffic lights, deploy hidden spike strips, and raise traffic barricades.  The game never outright says what the hardware limitations are of these features, so I really will only be able to talk about them briefly.  The city’s traffic control system can be accessed and subverted even in areas that the player hasn’t physically compromised, so it is likely that traffic control in Chicago is a low security subroutine.  Typically the player can only alter these systems when they come within range, but it’s unclear if that is a physical limitation of the player’s abilities or simply a convenience that the game’s developers gave you.  In theory this could work in one of two ways.  The first possibility is that the CtOS’s traffic control system was completely compromised by the player at the start of the game, and this would allow the player complete control over every street light, barricade and spike strip in Chicago from anywhere in range of the CtOS, but for convenience to the player, the game will only give you the option to control systems in your immediate range.  The other option is Chicago’s traffic control system runs independent of the CtOS but the player’s phone has a subroutine programmed into it that can control the traffic systems wirelessly once they come within range of the phone.  This is probably the more likely scenario, although it requires a bit more of a leap of faith to accept, given the fact that traffic control systems are traditionally hard programmed with their timing instructions when they are first installed, and require a direct line connection to be altered or manually overwritten by any authority figures.  These control systems are typically locked up pretty tightly and can only be accessed by emergency personnel.  As far as I know, they can’t be wirelessly accessed, although I could imagine that police would want to be able to control traffic systems within a certain range of them, so they wouldn’t need to continue going back and forth between the control box and the road when directing traffic.  Of course, you know once you give someone an opening to control something that they shouldn’t, someone nefarious will take advantage of it as the player will in the game.

So how do you get around Chicago? The player has the ability to commandeer any car in the city. At first you’ll be breaking into these cars the hard way.  Early in the game, when you select a car you want to steal, the player will smash the car’s window, unlock the door and quickly hot wire it.  This will typically cause a pretty good ruckus and possibly set off the car’s alarm, but it is a pretty plausible way for a thief to get into a car.  Anyone who plays Grand Theft Auto would assume all the car doors in the world are just simply left unlocked, but that’s not the way the world actually works.  As you progress through the game, it does get a lot more convenient to get into cars.  Once you get the ability to add skill points, you can upgrade your cell phone to hack any car’s security system and grant you control of the car as if it’s yours.  No need to smash windows, subvert alarms, or hot wire anything.  Just take the car as if its always been yours.

The security on today’s cars are so convenient, a car’s owner can enter and operate their vehicle entirely without the need of a physical key. Typically an owner can keep some kind of physical device on them, usually an encrypted key fob, which will create a short range Personal Area Network (PAN). However, you don’t always need to have a key fob. Your SmartPhone has the capability of transmitting a PAN that your car can accept as well. In fact, one of the first things car manufacturers did once devices like the iPhone became commonly adopted was create an app for phones that could control the security features of their newest cars. I remembered seeing James Bond control his car like this when the movie Tomorrow Never Dies came out in theaters and thinking it was the coolest thing I had ever seen, but it was probably never going to be something normal people would be able to do in my lifetime. I was wrong. With what our SmartPhones can do today, James Bond never had it so good.

The problem is what happens if you try to get control of a car that predates an electronic security system? Electronic systems, while very common in new cars, haven’t been around for very long. There are plenty of cars still on the road that can only be entered by a physical key, and no amount of electronic hacking can grant you wireless access to it.  Either Chicago reclaimed all the old cars running in the city and either gave its inhabitants brand new ones or upgraded current cars with modern systems themselves as a way to bribe voters to approve CtOS being implemented, or Chicago mandated that everyone needed to upgrade their cars with modern computer security systems on their own dime.  I highly doubt either of these events could have happened as the former would have been very expensive, and the citizens of Chicago would have likely been completely against a law mandating the latter, and that would have turned public opinion against CtOS.  I think I prefer Grand Theft Auto’s world where all the cars are simply left unlocked.

Another feature you have is the ability to eavesdrop on any video camera within range of you and view what the camera is transmitting.  You could witness anything from a man confessing love to a girl who doesn’t feel the same way about him to Aisha Tyler talking to one of her girlfriends on the phone.  This may sound like a trivial ability but in reality it is very important to gameplay.  In the game, you can gain access to areas that are locked off by taking control of local security cameras. Once you have control of a camera, you can move your control from that camera to any other cameras or computer systems within a line of sight of that camera. This works out pretty well because it helps you gain access to new areas which may hold important information without needing to even be in the room.  It can also lower risk to the player by allowing them to intrude on heavily guarded areas where they would be shot on sight without provoking a firefight.

So how realistic is this?  You would think once you’re able to gain access to a closed network you would be able to take control of any camera connected to the system.  However, a lot of the time, security cameras are part of a completely closed system and don’t allow outside wireless access.  However, if we are to assume that the player’s control over a system relies strictly on line of sight, there is another option and that is infrared.  That’s right, the same kind of technology you would find in a TV remote, it can also be used for a wide range of other purposes including data transmission.  Anyone remember the old Palm Pilot?  Before they were equipped with modems, two Palm users could swap data by simply using the infrared ports on the device.  Most laptops in the 90s came equipped with them too, but they weren’t as convenient as they were for personal digital devices.  Infrared isn’t the world’s fastest way of transmission, but since it relies completely on line of sight to transmit data, anything typically transmitted by infrared isn’t encrypted because it doesn’t need to be.  Security cameras would not be able to transmit user control from point to point unless they were equipped with both an infrared receiver and transmitter, but since the cameras do seem to be able to identify citizens (with the exception of the player) so easily, it is highly likely that the city’s security cameras could be using infrared.  Technology that is currently available, specifically the Xbox One’s Kinect, has a powerful infrared transmitter and receiver and is able to identify players using a very similar process.  In theory the player could gain control of security cameras remotely just by using the cameras’ infrared transmitters against them, so long as he was in range of them and already compromised the system they were connected to.

Once you have control of the CtOS in each area, you can briefly read the profiles of everyone in the game that you pass by.  The information you get typically ranges from their profession, yearly income, and any important information the CtOS deemed pertinent or nefarious, no matter how trivial.  The sickest thing is, it is reasonable to assume a security state would keep detailed records on all its citizens.  There’s a line in the game early on that one of the selling points of CtOS when Chicago was trying to get it installed was that they would offer free wireless internet access to everyone in the city.  I don’t know if the founders told everyone the reason they were willing to offer free wireless internet service is because they wanted everyone to connect to the system so they could monitor all of their citizens’ electronic communications without the need of a warrant.  Since everyone in modern day will typically keep some kind of personal electronic device on them at any time, everyone in the game also has their own personal electronic device, and all these devices are connected to the CtOS.  Since the player has the CtOS compromised, in theory the player would be able to intercept any kind of communication the people around them was currently transmitting, and abilities like being able to listen into active phone calls or read instant messages are trivially easy to do.  Extra abilities like being able to copy data on their phone, like their car’s security key, music, or transfer bank account information is a little tougher to do remotely, but there is precedence for it.  I remember back in 2007 it was fairly common for teenagers to share ringtones with friends using their cell phone’s Bluetooth modem, and it is reasonable to assume that the player’s phone could transmit some kind of local signal to covertly copy data on another person’s digital device.  Also, due to the extreme convenience, people do perform bank transactions on their personal electronic devices.  It is very easy to look up your bank balance, recent transactions, and transfer money from your SmartPhone or Tablet, and while total control of your bank account isn’t possible on your cell phone, it does leave a backdoor for someone who intends to compromise your phone the ability to take money out of your account.   Fortunately, a transaction like this would be very easy for a bank to record and refund in the real world, but if the person took precautions, it would be very difficult for the bank to catch the person responsible for it.  Call me paranoid, but to this day I actually keep my phone’s Bluetooth hardware completely disabled.

After all this, I must say the premise for their game is surprisingly well rooted in plausibility. Thankfully, street-level hackers having the resources to pull off that complex of a job, the complete subversion of an entire city’s security network,  is much less likely. You’re basically talking about needing the resources and backing of a world power to be able to implement those attacks in a meaningful way. And let’s face it, giving yourself green lights isn’t worth that kind of investment.

So there you have it, Watch_Dogs has been officially Science Checked. Special thanks to K.M. for their assistance writing this.  Enjoy the game guys, but never forget the moral I believe these game developers are trying to convey with this game.  NEVER implement a system like CtOS.

Watch_Dogs is out now on multiple platforms.

Science Check: Heavy Rain, Revised July 8, 2013

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Science Check.
add a comment

With the release of Quantic Dream’s newest game BEYOND: Two Souls in October, I decided that we should take another look at their last major release, Heavy Rain for the PS3.  I had previously looked at Heavy Rain two years ago in the very second Science Check and we discussed the ARI glasses that character Norman Jayden wore.  They had the capability to show him a deeper level in crime scenes, kept his clues organized, and offered minigames during off hours.  At the end of that original article I came to the conclusion that the ARI glasses in Heavy Rain that Norman Jayden wore were not theoretically possible to construct with modern technology because they would have required a GPS, IR Transmitter, Night Vision, GPU, CPU, Cellular Modem, a battery, and still be cheap enough to manufacture with 2012 technology that they would be considered disposable the second a new model came out.

This week on Science Check, we’re going to be taking another look at a game that I had previously covered in another Science Check article, Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain.  I didn’t believe the ARI glasses could work in that original article, but given some recent advancements in technology, while I stand by that previous article at the time, I neglected to mention something that Quantic Dream could have theorized would be an integral component to make ARI work, Cloud Computing, or that similar designs to ARI may be hitting the market quite soon in the form of Google Glass.

Sometimes, you’re forced to make some severe leaps of logic as to just how plausible a video game’s grounded reality can be.  Some things we’re willing to take for granted, like enemies will simply just carry health and ammunition supplies with them at all times, and you will be immediately able to make use of them.

But then sometimes there will be moments in gaming which skirt the bounds of reality and you are forced to ask yourself…COULD THAT REALLY HAPPEN?  Fortunately for me, I happen to have a bunch of friends on speed dial with science backgrounds and when I ask them questions, they have no problem filling me in on just what reality would do in these situations.

So this is Science Check, where I take a look at the leaps and bounds of scientific logic that games have made over the years and check if it would indeed work, or if you tried doing it in the real world, you’d be totally screwed.

In the past six years, there has been one huge technological development which has impacted the world in a way I never could have imagined when it was in its infancy, and that’s online streaming of content.  You don’t have to look any further than the success of services like YouTube, Netflix, or Amazon to find companies which can offer customers the capability to instantly stream movies, television, and other videos to your computer, smartphone or television.  In 2009, a company called OnLive thought that they could do even more with this streaming capability and planned to offer a service where they could stream high-end PC games to people’s HDTVs or computers in High-Definition without the need of a high-end PC.  I’m talking about streaming entire games, the next logical step in streaming technology powered by the Cloud.  With OnLive, a gamer would no longer need to install a game to their PC which would render it with the computer’s central processor and graphics card.  The downside of running a PC game is if the system wasn’t very powerful, the game’s performance and detail would suffer.  Instead, the game content would be processed on OnLive’s supercomputers at data centers across the country and fully stream the content to your house with very little processing needed when it arrived.  Depending on the speed of your connection to your Internet Service Provider (ISP), you could stream a high-end game up to 720p HD.  All a player would need was a small streaming set-top box for their HDTV or the OnLive application installed on their desktop or laptop PC.

Like most gamers, I was skeptical if OnLive could deliver what they promised after they announced their service.  Heck, my cable company takes at least thirty seconds to respond to a pause command when I’m watching videos on-demand, so I had no idea if there was enough bandwidth on the planet to get a player to play a game like Crysis without heavy latency.  However, I was able to check out OnLive’s service when they had a demo station set up in the Press Room at E3 2011 and was impressed that the system was able to provide such a fluid experience from a non-local source.  I figured if it can handle something as complex as a video game without notable latency, it can handle ARI.

That’s the beautiful part of what the Cloud offers.  You wouldn’t need to have a large device if most of the rendering and processing was done elsewhere.  The servers offered by Government organizations would be the best in the world, and would be very capable of handling the heavy tasks that ARI would require.  Without the need of a high-end CPU or GPU, the glasses could get away with being slimmer and cheaper to manufacture.  The FBI would need to invest in some serious supercomputers, but it would be reasonable to assume that would be something they have anyway.  The downside is that ARI would NOT work in an area without cellular reception, and when you live in my neck of the woods, that’s a serious issue.  ARI would be better served to use some better established encrypted cellular band than what is offered to regular consumers.

The problem with OnLive wasn’t with their technology, but their price point.  They were charging the same price as retail for games, and they were considering to charge for the service’s use once it left beta.  Gamers chose to continue to purchase their games at retail and play them on their existing hardware, and I think a few of them were also concerned they would lose access to their games if OnLive was ever shut down.  If a gamer is going to spend money on something, most of them need to be absolutely sure on the long-term use of the product. Because of that will decide against products which have an internet requirement without an online component, and had no idea of the long-term viability of OnLive to invest in buying games through the service.  Not too long ago, OnLive announced a massive staff reduction to reduce their operating costs.  I understand that as technology improves, it will always get smaller, and it will always get faster.  With Cloud processing like what OnLive could do, in the case of the ARI glasses, technology may not need to get smaller or faster, the Cloud can take care of all that for you.

But whether they could use the Cloud or not, wearable computers are now a very close possibility.  Google is currently open testing a set of glasses appropriately named Google Glass.  They are supposed to offer an Augmented Reality (AR) to the wearer, which in conjunction with a GPS, gyroscopes and accelerometers will provide further information on the area around the user just by looking at it.  It is also equipped with a 720p HD camera which can record video at the user’s request.  This is very close to Norman Jayden’s ARI but lacks several important features.  One is the fact that the Glass cannot currently do Night Vision (IR), nor does it currently have a cellular modem.  From a brief glance at the technical specifications it looks like Glass uses WiFi and Bluetooth for connectivity.  It also has a very small Heads-Up-Display (HUD) at about 640×480, which may sound low but when the screen is that close to the human eye, it should work well enough.  The biggest difference between Glass and ARI is it doesn’t seem like Glass’s display is part of the lenses themselves like Jayden’s ARI.  In time we may be able to produce a lens which can be a combination of viewport and screen that’s small enough to fit on a normal pair of glasses, but that may take time.

As I said in my original Science Check, I expected all the processing and rendering that ARI did to help Norman find clues, further investigate them, and interact with his virtual environment to be done by the glasses themselves.  It could be possible that the ARI glasses were designed to do all their processing and storage through the Cloud instead of locally.  This would save space in the glass frames from having to include a high-end CPU and GPU in order to process crime scenes and provide a virtual workspace.  If you’re able to virtually feel like your desk is on the surface of Mars or under the sea, you’re going to need both of those things in your hardware, but not if the servers your device has access to is doing all the processing for you.

Just make sure you don’t lose reception.

As a Post Script to OnLive’s story I would just like to include that while it looks like OnLive didn’t do too well financially with their streaming plans, OnLive wasn’t the only company planning to offer a streaming service like this.  There was another company called Gakai which was run by Dave Perry who was trying to do something along similar lines.  Gakai was bought by Sony and their technology will appear in the PS4 and PS Vita.  Time will tell how well the Cloud streaming service that Sony will be offering on their newest consoles will work, but Sony has promised instant gameplay to anyone using the service to stream their games on the PS4 when the service launches.  Perhaps by selling their technology to Sony and integrating their service into a future-generation console which would guarantee them an install base, Gakai could succeed where their competition has faltered.

Science Check: Metal Gear Solid March 5, 2012

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Science Check.
1 comment so far

I have previously done a Science Check article on Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, but even when I was writing it back then, I knew I wanted to talk about the first game in the Metal Gear Solid franchise.  That game was probably the first I had played which featured actual scientific principles behind its technology, and, to me, it was what made its ultimate weapon, Metal Gear Rex just that much more terrifying.  What is Metal Gear Rex you ask?  Well let me show you.

This week on Science Check, we’re going to be talking about Metal Gear Rex, a nuclear equipped walking battle tank.

Sometimes, you’re forced to make some severe leaps of logic as to just how plausible a video game’s grounded reality can be.  Some things we’re willing to take for granted, like enemies will simply just carry health and ammunition supplies with them at all times, and you will be immediately able to make use of them.

But then sometimes there will be moments in gaming which skirt the bounds of reality and you are forced to ask yourself…COULD THAT REALLY HAPPEN?  Fortunately for me, I happen to have a bunch of friends on speed dial with science backgrounds and when I ask them questions, they have no problem filling me in on just what reality would do in these situations.

So this is Science Check, where I take a look at the leaps and bounds of scientific logic that games have made over the years and check if it would indeed work, or if you tried doing it in the real world, you’d be totally screwed.

The dangers behind Metal Gear Rex stemmed more from the design of the tank itself.  It has been promoted in several Metal Gear games (in particular Metal Gear Solid 3) that it makes a lot more sense for weapons of war to use legs to navigate instead of treads.  By using legs, a tank would be able to scale difficult terrain just as a human being does, making it the perfect blend between machine and infantry.  However, that’s not the scariest part of the Metal Gear, the scariest part is in its nuclear weapon delivery system.

As I stated in the Metal Gear Solid 3 Science Check, during the height of the Cold War between the United States and Russia, each side was working to stockpile nuclear weapons with the intention to launch against the other in case the other side launched against them.  With spy satellites, radar, and other tracking systems, it would be glaringly obvious to the other side if their enemy was to launch their missiles against them, giving enough time for the other country and their allies to launch a retaliatory strike, mutually destroying both sides and probably the rest of the world along with it.

Inside Metal Gear Rex was the solution to this problem, a brand new nuclear weapon.  How did it work?  I’ll let Otacon explain it to you.

That’s right, an invisible nuclear warhead.  Would it work?  Well, Otacon’s speech was pretty convincing.  Lets see how it holds up.

A rail gun uses magnets to fire projectiles at extremely high velocities.  The technology was initially developed for the SDI system and later scrapped.  However, within the past few years at least, there have been plenty of scientific minds, both civilian and military, who have been looking deeper into this technology.  The strength of a rail gun is in its ability to fire at extremely high velocities.  The destructive force of a weapon is measured by more than just its mass, it’s also measured by just how fast the projectile is going.

A rail gun is composed of a long barrel with a series of individual electromagnets placed on each side of it of it end to end.  When an electrical field is applied, the magnets become active and accelerate the projectile along the barrel, as the magnetic field pushes the projectile along the array.  Just how fast are we talking here?  The typical maximum velocity of a rocket that uses solid-fuel (like the ones that would be in our missile silos) is pretty consistent.  According to Dr. Travis Taylor, a well designed rail gun would be able to launch a projectile at ten times the speed of a conventional missile.  It is without a doubt the best weapon modern science knows of for projectile velocity, as a projectile fired from it would be limited only by its aerodynamic design and the speed of the electrical current.

The problem with using a rail gun to fire nuclear weapons is that without any kind of propellant, you cannot have any type of missile guidance system.  While it theoretically would be possible to adjust the direction, angle of launch, and launch speed of the projectile, once it’s fired you will not be able to alter its heading.  The weapon would work best on completely stationary targets, like bunkers or bases.  Firing it upon a moving target would be mostly pointless if you were going for pinpoint accuracy.  Of course, since the payload is nuclear and not conventional, a few feet here or there would be meaningless given the blast radius of a nuclear warhead.

Another problem is without any fuel or propellant, there would be a maximum distance the projectile would be able to fire.  A solid-fuel rocket has a maximum distance as well, but that’s limited by its fuel capacity.  While Rex’s nuclear warhead would be able to travel at speeds ten times faster than that of a solid fuel rocket, that velocity would not be sustainable forever, things like drag would start to work against it immediately and it would gradually decrease speed after launch.  You would not be able to encircle the globe with such a projectile.  However, Rex was designed to be eventually mass-produced and deployed across the world.  That mention of it being able to get around international treaties spoke volumes to that.  With Rex’s stationed all over the globe, the maximum deployable distance of its projectile would not need to be able to circumnavigate the globe.  Unlike MGS3’s Shagohod, which had specific orders to be able to fire missiles capable of reaching the US from anywhere in Russia.

Finally I want to talk about the stealth system. While we do have stealth material in existence which can reduce the heat signature and radar cross-section of airplanes, the Metal Gear itself could not be stealthy.  You would need a highly conductive metal to build a rail gun and once fired an enormous amount of heat would be detectable from its barrel.  All the stealth technology would have to be built into the projectile.  A nuclear warhead is relatively small, which alone would make it difficult to detect on radar systems.  Without any propellant or heat signature, if it was picked up by radar, it probably would not be considered a danger.

The game took stealth a bit further and used a type of stealth technology which was able to bend light around its user.  This technology was used by Otacon and the Cyborg Ninja over the course of the game.  Well, we haven’t figured this out yet.  While there are things in development like invisibility cloaks which rely on projecting an image over its wearer, it requires a projection system with cameras and the user to be completely still.  Modern science has not yet been able to bend light around an object to render it invisible to the naked eye.

Officially, a stealth payload has never been deployed as a weapon of war before.  A stealth vehicle designed to deliver weapon payloads will become detectable as soon as its weapon systems are ready to deploy.  To create a completely stealth weapon like the one used by Metal Gear Rex would be a highly sought after accomplishment, but as of now it just has not been done.  However, that’s not to say that the technology to create such a thing is impossible.  The fear induced by the thought of something like Metal Gear Rex being developed comes from just how plausible its design is.  The technology behind Rex’s rail gun is still being figured out, but smaller scale rail guns have certainly been built and tested successfully.  While we haven’t developed the technology to bend light around an object yet, we may not need to.  There are plenty of ways developed in order to minimize the radar cross-section of objects.

Lets just hope it never gets made.

Science Check: Mass Effect February 20, 2012

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Science Check.
add a comment

After five years I’ve dusted off my copy of the Mass Effect Limited Collector’s Edition and decided to finish it. Previously, I had only gotten as far as the end of the first act, my intention now was to restart the game and play every bit of it I could. As I was playing the game, it became quite clear that the game was based in a very plausible reality when it came to science fiction, making it a perfect candidate for a Science Check.

Not familiar with the Mass Effect series? Let me introduce it to you in the way that it was originally introduced to me, its E3 2006 video.

I know what you’re thinking, didn’t Dr. Michio Kaku already talk about this game in a video series for GameTrailers? Well yes, he did. But he focused on specific technology in Mass Effect 2 like invisibility and force fields, so I’m not going to discuss what he’s already covered. Instead, I’m going to focus on the most important technology in the Mass Effect universe, space travel, and talk about how well the game’s presentation of how starships can travel through space holds up under scientific scrutiny.

Sometimes, you’re forced to make some severe leaps of logic as to just how plausible a video game’s grounded reality can be. Some things we’re willing to take for granted, like enemies will simply just carry health and ammunition supplies with them at all times, and you will be immediately able to make use of them.

But then sometimes there will be moments in gaming which skirt the bounds of reality and you are forced to ask yourself…COULD THAT REALLY HAPPEN? Fortunately for me, I happen to have a bunch of friends on speed dial with science backgrounds and when I ask them questions, they have no problem filling me in on just what reality would do in these situations.

So this is Science Check, where I take a look at the leaps and bounds of scientific logic that games have made over the years and check if it would indeed work, or if you tried doing it in the real world, you’d be totally screwed.

As you saw in the video, you have control of your own starship called the Normandy, which at the time of the beginning of the game is the newest and most advanced starship in the Alliance Fleet. Its revolutionary stealth drive allows it to travel through space virtually undetected by other starships.

It’s clear that Bioware had access to a scientific advisor when developing this game because after going through a lot of the game’s Journals and Codex files you can read intricate details about how all the technology in the Mass Effect games work, and all of it is based upon our most recent understandings of how the universe works. I haven’t seen a fictional medium this up to date with its real-world scientific information since Star Trek.

To explain how a starship can mask its engine signature I must start off by breaking some sad news. I hate to say this, but the movie Predator 2 lied to you. If you haven’t seen Predator 2, let me give you a little backstory. A government agent, played by Gary Busey, wanted to capture an alien hunter who was having a grand old-time in Los Angeles. With knowledge gained from Arnold in the first movie, the government deduced that the predators could only see in an infrared spectrum of light (it could only see based on body heat). When Busey tried to capture the predator with his team, he had them all wearing bodysuits which completely masked their heat signature with the hope it would block the predator’s infrared vision. However, it turns out that the predator can also see in other light spectrums such as ultraviolet, and detects the team coming for him by the beams of their flashlights.

In real life, if you were to wear a suit that rendered your body heat undetectable, you would die (and I’m not talking about from a predator attack). Heat cannot simply be masked or destroyed, only transferred. You can’t completely mask the body heat of a human being, as it would dangerously contain that heat, and without a way to vent it the suit would continue to build up heat until whoever was wearing it overheated and possibly died. Even if the suits contained some sort of air conditioner, the heat would still need to be removed from it through some sort of airborne exhaust system (which would have been visible to the predator) or a series of tubes (which they did not have). Your refrigerator, for example, doesn’t just cool your food by adding cold, it cools itself by removing the heat inside the box and dissipating it out the back. Even an air conditioner cannot cool the temperature of a room without first removing the hot air from it.

The Normandy’s engines actually have a pretty ingenious solution to the problem of what to do with its heat output. Ships in the future are tracked by the heat trail left by their engines. In order to move through space undetected the Normandy masks its heat trail by storing the heat generated by the engines in massive heat sinks, instead of releasing it as exhaust. The ship does not bend light around itself like a Star Trek cloaking device would, so it would certainly be visible by looking out of the window of another space ship in close proximity, but it would be next to impossible to track its trail with typical sensors, and with space being as big as it is, the chances of another ship in open space being close enough to the Normandy to be in visual proximity is quite slim. However, the ship cannot operate in stealth forever. Eventually the ship will have to vent the heat it is storing or it would risk catastrophic overheating.

In Mass Effect, in order for a starship to travel faster than light, a ship needs to pass through a mass accelerator, which are massive relays spread all throughout the galaxy by a long-lost alien race. By traveling through one, the ship gains speed as the accelerator, um, accelerates it. As the ship leaves the accelerator it will be travelling faster than light towards its destination. When it comes to light speed travel, scientific workarounds must be written because Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (and the reason why so many say faster than light travel is impossible) says the faster an object goes as it reaches the speed of light, the more mass it gains. Pesky little problem, right? Mass Effect says that while traveling at light speed, the mass of the ship is reduced to zero. This gets it around the Law of Relativity similar to how a starship in Star Trek must slip into subspace in order to reach warp speed.

The mass accelerators that a spacecraft like the Normandy travels through, pushes the spacecraft to faster than light speeds, and releases it. This reminded me a lot like how a linear electric motor works. Since nothing is faster than an electrical impulse, a projectile can be moved along a series of magnets placed end to end. The accelerated object gains speed as it is being pushed from magnet to magnet. gaining great speed over a short period of time. With this system, the vehicle’s speed is limited only to your craft’s design. This kind of technology is also used in a rail gun, which uses the same concept to accelerate a projectile. In fact, the animation of the Normandy using a mass accelerator to travel faster than light looked very similar to how a rail gun accelerates a projectile out of a barrel.

The stealth drive is not supported during faster-than-light travel, the amount of heat generated by the engines during that procedure is so massive that no amount of containment would be enough to mask the ship’s engine trail. So any ships tracking it would be able to know if they had entered a star system, and if they had left, but not where they were while they were in there.

I also wanted to talk about the other little vehicle included in the Normandy’s cargo hold, which you can take when cruising around uncharted planets and asteroids, called the M-35 Mako. The Mako is a fully enclosed six-wheel-drive vehicle designed to hold three occupants and allow safe travel over great distances of difficult terrain in hazardous atmospheres. It even has its own life support systems and can withstand high pressure or extreme temperature environments which could be fatal to a person if exposed for very long.

The Mako actually has a real world counterpart. NASA has constructed a similar vehicle with the intention to send it on a manned trip to Mars or the moon. Called the Lunar Electric Rover, or LER for short, this vehicle is just plain awesome. Last time I checked, astronauts were testing it on Earth under simulated Martian terrain conditions. The vehicle has a very similar redundant wheel configuration to the Mako, and also has high tork to help it travel over rocky uneven terrain without getting stuck. It is entirely electric with power from solar panels on its exterior. If you’re curious I believe its top speed is about fifteen km/hr. So not only was the design of the Mako plausible, a real world analog to it actually exists!

Okay, I just spent a few paragraphs drawing from what scientists have been debating for half a century. Would it work in reality? Right now, there’s just no way to know, while Mass Effect clearly had its scientific principles grounded in the most recent information available, the human race has not used this information yet to build a starship capable of traveling faster than light, and because of that I can’t put a verdict on it. Okay NASA, I’ve talked about it, now build it. If this method works, it will get a pass from me.

Mass Effect 3 is coming March 6th, 2012 to Xbox 360, PC and PS3.

Science Check: Jurassic Park January 25, 2012

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Science Check.
add a comment

Back in 1993, when the first Jurassic Park movie released to theaters, my family took me to a local museum which had an extensive collection of dinosaur fossil exhibits.  The museum was getting quite a lot of attention following the release of the movie and was more than happy to pass out pamphlets filled with scientific information about the dinosaurs that fascinated us.  Inside the pamphlet I clearly remember reading an entire page entitled “Why Jurassic Park Would Not Work”.  Well, a brand new Jurassic Park game has been released by Telltale Games and I found myself enjoying it quite a bit.  Playing through the game twenty years after the first movie released made me think back to just how plausible a concept Jurassic Park was.  I’m sure like a lot of other people, they are wondering just how accurate the science and technology of Jurassic Park was.  Well, have a seat because there is plenty to talk about.

Sometimes, you’re forced to make some severe leaps of logic as to just how plausible a video game’s grounded reality can be.  Some things we’re willing to take for granted, like enemies will simply just carry health and ammunition supplies with them at all times, and you will be immediately able to make use of them.

But then sometimes there will be moments in gaming which skirt the bounds of reality and you are forced to ask yourself…COULD THAT REALLY HAPPEN?  Fortunately for me, I happen to have a bunch of friends on speed dial with science backgrounds and when I ask them questions, they have no problem filling me in on just what reality would do in these situations.

So this is Science Check, where I take a look at the leaps and bounds of scientific logic that games have made over the years and check if it would indeed work, or if you tried doing it in the real world, you’d be totally screwed.

Now I want to mention that I’m going to be talking about the whole of the Jurassic Park movie franchise.  I will sprinkle in facts taken from the various Jurassic Park games and if needed anything presented in either of the bi-coastal theme park rides.  I’ve never actually read any of Michael Crichton’s original books, but I am familiar with a few factoids in them that did not appear in the movie when applicable.

For those of you who have not seen the Jurassic Park movies (seriously, go watch the first movie, its one of the greatest movies of all time), here’s the concept behind it.  A theme park was able to create living dinosaurs by extracting DNA from intact blood left behind in fossilized mosquitos.  Mosquitos existed alongside dinosaurs 65 million years ago and would bite them.  Sometimes the mosquito with this dinosaur blood still inside would land on a tree and get stuck in its sap.  The sap would fossilize after millions of years, preserving the mosquito and the dinosaur blood inside it.  Jurassic Park scientists would find the fossils inside massive mines, extract the blood from the mosquito and use it to create dinosaurs.  Using the DNA of a frog they filled in any gaps in the gene sequence.  It was similiar enough and saved time, had they used a complete intact DNA strand it would have taken much longer.  With a complete genetic code, a dinosaur could be created inside an empty ostrich egg.

The whole park was monitored by an automated system programmed by Dennis Nedry.  The animals were kept enclosed inside electrified pens to keep them from getting out (or other animals getting in).  The point of the movie was to show that even with the most sophisticated control system imaginable you can’t keep living creatures under control, especially ones that don’t belong in modern day.

While I don’t have the museum’s pamphlet with me any more (I was 9 when I went to see Jurassic Park for the first time) I do clearly remember the case that the museum made as to why the cloning of dinosaurs on the scale that Jurassic Park used would not have worked.  The museum did not deny the possibility that fossilized amber could hold intact DNA from fossilized mosquitos. They did argue however that with the technology available at the time, it would have taken fifty years to go through all the DNA and create a dinosaur with it. If there was any mistake, they would have to start the process all over again.  In fact the Jurassic Park movie clearly stated that if you looked at a fast moving screens of genetic codes once per second for eight hours a day, it would take two years to read the entire DNA strand.  They claimed that using “virtual reality” (yeah that was big at the time) they could break down a strand in minutes and show the scientists where the gaps were in the DNA sequence.

Here’s the thing.  These numbers were crunched based on 1993 figures (or 1987 figures if you want to base it off of the book’s timeline) of computing power.  In the game Trespasser, John Hammond did confirm that InGen spared no expense to the computing power for the genetic scientists and had access to multiple Cray supercomputers, which were used for the gene sequencing.  At a cost of about fifteen or so million dollars a piece, they had about half the power of an original model Xbox.  Computing power was still very low, and even if Jurassic Park spared no expense with what kinds of computers they were able to buy, they were still limited by the computing power of their day.  Nowadays a current model iPhone costing around 300 dollars is about ten times more powerful than a computer costing fifteen million dollars was back in 93.  Would it take less time now?  Well, we were able to map the human genome in less than fifteen years, and during the time it was being worked on there were already other organizations trying faster methods to do it in less time.  I’m sure if you put some of today’s fastest and most expensive supercomputers in the world at the task they would be able to do it in a hell lot faster than fifty years.

The funniest part I found after watching these movies nowadays is that the computing technobabble (most of it spouted by Dennis Nedry) is actually quite accurate for the time.  He made it clear that any changes he made to the park’s code base would use up the memory and cpu cycles used by other portions of the park while it was operating.  This was quite accurate.  With software as complex as what it took to fully automate Jurassic Park with a minor staff, its software would take a while to debug, reprogram and compile.  The computing hardware that would be available to the park at the time was limited by today’s standards but accurately used.  Nedry had his own set of Macs to debug and build the park’s computer code.  In the movie they mentioned the park used a UNIX system designed for SGI workstations.  Back in the day, SGI workstations were considered the cream of the crop when it came to design power.  I’ve seen plenty of people online use them to replicate the interface Jurassic Park used, so it’s quite possible they can operate as shown in the movie.  To provide the computing power needed, Nedry networked together eighteen connection machines, which is typical for that kind of system.  If the server drives which contained the park’s operating system was set to read only, resetting it would clear out any changes made to it since it was installed, however it would have been a lot simpler and safer to restore a working backup.

As far as I can tell, if there was one thing the movies got completely wrong it was the electrified fences.  Modern electric fences, like the ones that are used to keep animals penned in wild preserves are only dangerous when touched by something grounded.   This still would be effective against ground based animals (I can’t imagine a T-Rex or Triceratops would be jumping very high).  However, Monkeys are notorious for violating electrified pens like this by simply jumping onto the fences.  There was no way Tim would have been shocked while climbing the perimeter fence, but he would have needed to jump off once it had turned on.

So that’s Jurassic Park, science checked.  If you haven’t seen Jurassic Park yet, you really should.  The Jurassic Park game is out for purchase on the Xbox 360, PC or Playstation 3.  You can find the PC version for download on Telltale’s site, the Xbox 360 version at retail and the PS3 version for download through the PSN.

Science Check: Portal 2 October 27, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Science Check.
add a comment

Sometimes, you’re forced to make some severe leaps of logic as to just how plausible a video game’s grounded reality can be.  Some things we’re willing to take for granted, like enemies will simply just carry health and ammunition supplies with them at all times, and you will be immediately able to make use of them.

But then sometimes there will be moments in gaming which skirt the bounds of reality and you are forced to ask yourself…COULD THAT REALLY HAPPEN?  Fortunately for me, I happen to have a bunch of friends on speed dial with science backgrounds and when I ask them questions, they have no problem filling me in on just what reality would do in these situations.

So this is Science Check, where I take a look at the leaps and bounds of scientific logic that games have made over the years and check if it would indeed work, or if you tried doing it in the real world, you’d be totally screwed.

Today, we’re going to be talking about the game that has been the most requested for this series.  Portal 2.  Don’t know anything about Portal?  Take a look.

First off, I want to tell everyone right now that this is going to be a very different Science Check than what I have done before.  Science Check has prided itself with grounding all components of scientific leaps in video games to what already exists, I am at a loss for what to write about here.  Portal prides itself with taking theories and putting their own theories on top of those for the sake of the fun of gameplay, and as a game it works fantastically.  In reality however, I honestly don’t know if it would work or not, and I don’t think any modern scientist could either.

In the game, the player has control of a Portal Gun created by the Aperture Science Enrichment Center.  The company was founded by Cave Johnson who believed in “throwing science to the wall and seeing what sticks.”  A noble endeavor, his company didn’t waste its time with theories on top of theories (like I’m going to have to with this article), his philosophy was to learn by doing.  If it works, make it better.  If it doesn’t work, throw it in an incinerator and board up access to all the lower floors it was developed on.  The gun allows the player to create two holes in space (on top of any compatible surface material, moon dust working the best) which automatically bridge between the two points, no matter how far away they were.  They could only be disrupted if the gun passed through a special field which if passed through, reset the gun and removed all existing open portals in the area.  Any momentum earned while passing through a portal (even in regards to orientation and gravity) would sustain itself on the other side, either to the benefit or despair for its user.

Now the closest thing that has been theorized to exist as a way to link two points that are great distances apart in space has been dubbed an Einstien-Rosen Bridge, or simply a Wormhole.  You’ve probably seen them or things like them in various science-fiction movies or shows.  Sometimes they are depicted in these fictional stories as existing naturally in space, and in others they can be created artificially by intelligent beings as a way to travel great distances.  In reality, an Einstien-Rosen Bridge is something that has not even been SEEN existing normally in the universe, nor has mankind been successful in creating one, and that is the basis of the problem I’m in right now writing about this.

I have no idea if a human would simply be able to pass through a naturally existing Einstien-Rosen Bridge let alone an artificial one without being killed in thousands of ways that are possible and even a few ways that may be impossible!  Since we haven’t found any, there are no studies I can look up.  It would be useful to know if probes survived going through them, if they could transmit from the other side.  Portal depicted going through one as instantaneous (and you would be able to see through to the other side).  For all we know, traveling through one could take thousands of years.  In Portal, momentum (either by human power or external forces like gravity) could be sustained for a time after going through.  There’s no way to know if momentum would continue to exist while passing through a portal, it’s just as likely momentum could be stopped completely at the moment the test subject entered!

Other interesting things to ponder would be about the device that created portals itself.  What could power something that powerful and yet be so small?  Older signs in the lower floors of the Enrichment Center depicted a portal gun much larger and bulkier than the sleek, handheld recent design you get to make use of, so like with everything techie, it can be made smaller over time.

The device would need to have some kind of internal memory for the spacial coordinants of where the portals are, because the portals will erase themselves when you pass through the force fields at the end of each testing area, showing that it is indeed the gun which is controlling them.  If the fields in question were electromagnetic in question, this might cause any internal power source to blink out for a second, erasing the internal memory in the gun and with it the control over the placed portals.  This is given credibility to the fact that the portals will only erase when going through the field, simply going around them will do nothing, and if you don’t pass through it, you would be able to place portals on either side of it without the danger of them getting erased.  It could also be blocking the wavelenths that the portal beams fire at (similar to how a pair of sunglasses block certain wavelenths of light), which is why you can’t fire a portal through them, but that’s just my theory (Looks like I got into theorizing myself now! -ed).

Moon dust in itself is quite reflective in nature.  We know this because we can see the moon at night so long as the light of the sun shines on it (the Earth will sometimes partially or fully block that sunshine).  We’ve even seen its effects in pictures taken by the men who visited the moon (that’s the reason there’s no dark shadow on the man on the ladder).  This could be the basis of why it is such a good portal conductor, but by that reasoning metallic glitter could be the absolute best, and I don’t think you could place a portal on a metallic surface.  You could however, place a portal on the moon itself (in SPACE!), which is what happens in the game’s finale.  However, if you look closely at that final puzzle moment, you’ll notice that Valve intentionally altered the perception of time at the moment the gun fires, you know, because of that whole speed of light thing.  Nice little touch.

I know it’s not as factual a Science Check as I usually do, but this is a game where the mechanics are based upon theories, which while may be scientifically valid, may be just as realiistically invalid.  Its still a fantastic game and a lot of fun, and I recommend it to anyone interested in picking it up!

Science Check: Heavy Rain October 19, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Science Check.
1 comment so far

Sometimes, you’re forced to make some severe leaps of logic as to just how plausible a video game’s grounded reality can be. Some things we’re willing to take for granted, like enemies will simply just carry health and ammunition supplies with them at all times, and you will be immediately able to make use of them.

But then sometimes there will be moments in gaming which skirt the bounds of reality and you are forced to ask yourself…COULD THAT REALLY HAPPEN? Fortunately for me, I happen to have a bunch of friends on speed dial with science backgrounds and when I ask them questions, they have no problem filling me in on just what reality would do in these situations.

So this is Science Check, where I take a look at the leaps and bounds of scientific logic that games have made over the years and check if it would indeed work, or if you tried doing it in the real world, you’d be totally screwed.

I was going through my shelves eyeballing various games I have in my collection this time around, looking for something that grounded itself in reality enough for me to talk about it for this article, and low and behold I came across Heavy Rain by Quantic Dream. I picked up this game on day one based upon my enormous love of the previous game Quantic Dream had made, Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit for you Europeans and American Director’s Cut owners). A Playstation 3 exclusive, the game has you control four different characters as you try to determine the identity of a serial killer to stop him before he kills his next victim. The game had a gripping story and intuitive controls, either on the Dual Shock 3 or Playstation Move.

One of the characters you play as in the game is Detective Norman Jayden, with the FBI. He’s assigned to the NYPD as a Profiler in order to help them out with this case. Jayden’s unique ability is his use of the ARI system, which was given to him by the FBI to use for the case. What is ARI? Take a look at this and fast forward to about three and a half minutes in.

The ARI system that Norman uses in the game comprises of a pair of VR Goggles (made up to look like stylish sunglasses) and an interface glove. They provide the player with Night Vision, as well as a full uplink to an identification and analysis database, probably the FBI crime lab. In short, they’re a forensic scientist’s dream, able to immediately identify clues in a crime scene with a few waves of Norman’s gloved hand. He can examine trace evidence from a multitude of clues including blood, tire tracks, and identify objects. It stores all this information so it can be investigated further at the user’s convenience. Finally, ARI even comes with a few minigames the user can select from when killing time off duty. That sure is a great device! Can we get a pair of our own someday? Well, I’m going to tell you. Since ARI has multiple functions in one device, I’m going to have to break down the device into its basic functions and determine if it is indeed a plausible device as shown in the game, and if it is, tell you how they could be made in reality.

First off I want to talk about the Night Vision, or if you prefer, Light Amplification, feature. Night Vision as we know it can amplify light with usually a green and black or black and white color spectrum. There are other options for seeing in the dark as well, such as infrared which reads only heat, usually responding well to body heat or starlight vision, which can also be used to film at night. ARI’s Night Vision appears to be light amplification, which is very common and is also used by the military for night missions. Heck, you could probably buy yourself your own pair of goggles that can do light amplification for around $100. However, I would be negligent if I didn’t mention night vision goggles are usually big and bulky and trade light enhancement at the cost of depth perception, at least for civilian models, but I must remind anyone reading this that ARI’s tech is not civilian, it is government, which is usually a few years ahead of whatever civilians can get a hold on, and remind you that we never actually see what ARI’s interface looks like from behind Jayden’s eyes, only in third person, so it is possible that Norman could have depth perception problems while wearing them that the player isn’t aware of. This gets a pass.

While investigating, Jayden can just take his gloved hand and do a down motion with it, which ARI recognises as a command to sweep the immediate area for clues. Once the area has been swept, any clues will be highlighted, allowing for Jayden to investigate them further. This interface is almost exactly like what the Microsoft Kinect can do. The way the Kinect works is by shining an infrared light over a whole area. The light is invisible to the naked eye but the effect would read VERY similar to how the player sees it when investigating. The Kinect then reads the infrared spectrum with a 3D camera which can only read in infrared. The 360’s software compares the motions read by the camera and compares them to the motions it is programmed to recognize, and if it recognizes the move from the user, it registers it on the TV. If there was some kind of IR transmitter inside of the ARI goggles, and a sensor that picked up the infrared light, it would be able to take real-time 3D images of a crime scene almost instantly. It could also be programmed to only recognise the interface glove, and specifically take commands only while the user is giving them with it on.

It looked like the ARI had a direct uplink to some sort of FBI crime database since Jayden could instantly pull information, rap sheets, and other data in real-time that only the FBI or other local Police would have access to. There must be some sort of wireless antenna inside the ARI that allows for the fast transfer of data. Since ARI operates in areas that do not have WiFi hotspots the immediate assumption is that ARI must have some sort of cellular modem which can transmit data directly to the FBI and receive responses back. Of course, the downside would be what would happen if ARI operated in a cellular dead zone (which are quite common where I’m from, even though tons of people live here)?

The thing that the game fudges with is that ARI would not be able to take samples of what it sees like it does in the game. It may be able to identify two-dimensional images and identify what they were if the crime database already had it on file, such as fingerprints of ex-convicts or even tire-tracks of previously cataloged tires. It would NOT be able to identify DNA evidence and attribute who it belonged to just by closely examining it. Norman would need to collect a sample of the evidence, by putting it into some kind of sample container for processing. It is not enough for Norman to simply touch a DNA sample, even with the ARI’s interface glove, because in order for DNA to be processed, it must be done in a sterile environment free of ALL contaminants. Doing a DNA test in a live outdoor crime scene would be a bad idea.

ARI also has the ability to identify trace objects, even if they are invisible to the naked eye, like plant pollen. In reality, ARI would need an EXTREMELY high-resolution camera in order to identify objects that small, since even the smallest blur around the edge of a microscopic object could alter its identification. Since there are a nearly infinite amount of variations of objects, ARI or the crime database would need to have an extremely lengthy three-dimensional database of all kinds of objects for ARI to have to compare to. They would all need to be pre-scanned into the ARI database in 3D or else the ARI system will not be able to recognise what the object was. I would hate to be the FBI intern who would have to spend every day digitally scanning new coffee mugs with the hopes that some FBI field agent would run into one while on assignment.

But once ARI has all that information recorded, what do you do with it? In one of my favorite scenes from the game, Norman appropriates a decrepit abandoned office he’s given by the NYPD to make it compatible with ARI’s specifications. He moves his desk up against the wall and pushes all the clutter on top of it to the floor so he can use the desk’s surface to help him interface with ARI. When he puts his glasses back on, he’s almost magically transported to a virtual world of his choosing, rendered by the ARI glasses. He could be underwater, on top of a cliff side, or on the surface of Mars, all to go through his clues. Imagining that the lenses of his glasses would be able to display a 3D VR environment to him, as well as use the same interface system in the crime scene to respond to his commands, ARI would need a high-end central processing unit and graphics card to render that kind of environment in real time, and they would need to be small enough to fit in a pair of sunglasses, making them have to be smaller than even they would be inside the tiniest of cell phones. It would also need to have all these environments in memory as well, or else ARI would not be able to work at all in areas with no wireless coverage, and I honestly don’t think that’s a limitation the FBI would be willing to have in such an important device they would be giving to field agents.

But the ARI is more than just for work, just like your iPhone or Android, ARI includes minigames that Norman likes to play around with. While we don’t actually get to play with more than one minigame, the interface showed it had a few games in its memory. Devices like the Playstation Vita and iPhone already have the capability to augment reality. With the use of the device’s cameras, an image can be displayed over them in 3D which the user can manipulate using the device’s controls. Gyroscopes and GPS systems allow the rendered image to stay in place even if the camera is moved or the user’s perspective changes. The Kinect also was designed to play games, and using the assumption it would have similar hardware to the Kinect, that interface could be used for gaming. ARI’s games were pretty simple, like throwing a virtual baseball against a virtual brick wall, and that should be doable even with low processing power.

The problem is that basically ARI would be a device with high-definition cameras, night vision, a high end CPU and GPU, a cellular modem, an infrared transmitter, and all have to function on a battery no larger than one that could fit in a pair of sunglasses. I don’t think batteries that small with that much power (even rechargeable ones) exist quite yet. The other thing is that these things were implied to be cheap, almost throwaway technology. In one possible ending of the game, Jayden quits the FBI. When he offers to turn in his ARI along with his badge and gun, his superior tells him not to worry, that they were expecting the shipment of an updated model and were planning on throwing away the current models anyway. Even if you could build one of these devices yourself, it would not be as cheap as the game implies, at least not with technology made today. Maybe someday some of the advances in technology we would need to make ARI a possibility will come, like the smaller high-capacity battery, but for now the goggles, it seems, do nothing.

Science Check: Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater October 11, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Science Check.
1 comment so far

Sometimes, you’re forced to make some severe leaps of logic as to just how plausible a video game’s grounded reality can be.  Some things we’re willing to take for granted, like enemies will simply just carry health and ammunition supplies with them at all times, and you will be immediately able to make use of them.

But then sometimes there will be moments in gaming which skirt the bounds of reality and you are forced to ask yourself…COULD THAT REALLY HAPPEN?  Fortunately for me, I happen to have a bunch of friends on speed dial with science backgrounds and when I ask them questions, they have no problem filling me in on just what reality would do in these situations.

So this is Science Check, where I take a look at the leaps and bounds of scientific logic that games have made over the years and check if it would indeed work, or if you tried doing it in the real world, you’d be totally screwed.

This time, I’m talking about Metal Gear Solid 3, and if you’ve played the game you know if I’m talking about Metal Gear Solid 3, I’m probably going to be asking about the Shagohod.  You are correct.

For those of you who haven’t played Metal Gear Solid 3 and don’t know what the Shagohod is, please enjoy this scene from the game which goes into explicit detail about what it is, what it does, and how it works.

That’s right ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to be talking about a Rocket Tank.

Inter-Contentental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) are enormous rockets which carry a nuclear payload.  They are so massive that they have to be housed in missile silos, where they are buried deep underground on military owned unmarked land.  The locations of these silos are pretty well-known by the opposition, and they are supposedly monitored by spy satellites constantly.  During the Cold War, if one side was to launch their nuclear payloads, the deterrence was that the other side would know pretty quickly and launch their own missiles in retaliation, simultaneously destroying each other (and probably taking the rest of the planet with it).

Neither side liked this stalemate very much and each tried to do the best they could to gain an advantage over the other.  The most famous of which was when the Russians tried to install WMDs into Cuba, causing the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Other attempts to gain an advantage included when each side built nuclear equipped submarines, which were equipped with nuclear missiles of their own, capable of firing against their opponent, but these subs could be detected by sonar systems or the opposing country’s own submarines and turned away.

The Shagohod represents the extreme case of these conditions.  Obviously during nuclear war, you want to be able to launch anything against your enemy in secret .  To gain an advantage over the Americans, in Metal Gear Solid 3, the decision was made to build a nuclear equipped tank capable of firing from any point in Russia to hit anywhere in the mainland United States.  Since any ICBM capable of traveling that distance would require two stages (it needed to be big enough to contain all the fuel it would need for making that distance) a standard ICBM would be too big to fit on any tank.

The brilliance of the design of the Shagohod is that in order to make up for the lack of a second stage on the projectile it was equipped with two rocket engines that could bring it up to speeds of 300 MPH, which fired a payload while at top speed with the intention that by firing the rocket while at speed, the total possible distance of the launched missile would increase by three times, eliminating the need for a second stage on the missile thus allowing it to be small enough to fit on the tank.

The idea of firing a weapon in motion is an interesting concept that goes back as early as weapons themselves. In fact, earlier cultures would train to use a bow and arrow while on horseback.  The idea was that firing the bow while the horse was galloping at full speed would transfer some of that speed to the arrow while it was fired, giving the arrow the chance to penetrate the target further and increase the chance of a lethal hit.  Penetration, when it comes to a nuclear weapon, is completely useless.  A nuclear weapon does not explode on impact, it detonates in the atmosphere because its more effective that way.  The game specifically says this method was designed to increase the total distance of the missile and that is what we’re going to judge it by.

Unfortunately, in reality it doesn’t look like something like the Shagohod would ever be able to get off the ground.  The physics experts I’ve talked to have informed me that you can only transfer motion in that way if whatever is launching it has a much larger motion than the projectile its firing.  In this case you have a very large tank going at 300 miles per hour firing a projectile which has a much smaller mass but travels at a much faster velocity.  The problem is that the mass of whatever’s firing the projectile is meaningless, only the mass of the projectile and its velocity are what matters.

As you can see in the theoretical video, the Shagohod is firing its nuclear missile at an angle, which means it is not launching at the same exact direction that the tank is at.  After any projectile leaves its launcher, it will immediately start decreasing horizontal velocity and things like gravity will start to kick in and work against it.  Any initial speed it would have gotten from the launch boost would be lost in a matter of seconds.

The final nail in this coffin is the fact that rockets are designed to be fired from a standstill.  You don’t want high acceleration in a rocket as it would make things harder to change.  A high mass object going at high acceleration is difficult to control, and an uncontrollable weapon is not useful to a major government power.

It makes sense that something like the Shagohod was never actually made, because in reality it wouldn’t work.  On paper the concept is terrifying (and makes for a great video game threat) but in reality, the physics in place would not work as the game said it would.  I appreciate that the game did give specific numbers in order to make the threat the Shagohod possessed seem more immediate, but the laws of inertia are not on the Shagohod’s side.

Science Check: Alone in the Dark October 9, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Science Check.
add a comment

Sometimes, you’re forced to make some severe leaps of logic as to just how plausible a video game’s grounded reality can be.  Some things we’re willing to take for granted, like enemies will simply just carry health and ammunition supplies with them at all times, and you will be immediately able to make use of them.

But then sometimes there will be moments in gaming which skirt the bounds of reality and you are forced to ask yourself…COULD THAT REALLY HAPPEN?  Fortunately for me, I happen to have a bunch of friends on speed dial with science backgrounds and when I ask them questions, they have no problem filling me in on just what reality would do in these situations.

So this is Science Check, where I take a look at the leaps and bounds of scientific logic that games have made over the years and check if it would indeed work, or if you tried doing it in the real world, you’d be totally screwed.

The first game I want to talk about is 2008’s Alone in the Dark, which released for the PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 2, Wii and Playstation 3.  This game has universally been considered a major disappointment by critics and gamers alike.  It has a fantastic graphic, fire and physics engine, and I happened to like its story and atmosphere quite a bit.  The gameplay, however, was totally garbage, ranging from the bad controls, tedious gameplay mechanics, and frustrating puzzles.  Even the Playstation 3 port, dubbed Alone in the Dark: Inferno, which released six months after the other versions were released and was considered the superior version with its tweaks could not save what was just a badly designed game.

Eden Games was going for something interesting with this game during development.  They designed a real-time inventory system that could make use of anything you found along the way, including plastic or glass bottles, tape, or glow sticks.

For those of you who would like a better idea of how this system worked, here’s the official videos Eden released showing just how the inventory system worked.

Anyone else calling bullshit on all this?

Well, first off, that sticky tape is probably some stuff that 3M would be pretty envious to have.  That stuff can stick to ANYTHING, even in the final version of the game.  However, adhesive, even the almighty duct tape, almost completely loses its stick when wet.  Most of the creatures you encounter in the game have what appears to be a wet or slimy sheen to them.  The idea that tape would stick to their skin is pretty implausible, but this kind of logic is required to get through some of the game’s many puzzles.

Over the course of the game you can find discarded bottles in the trash.  Some of these bottles will contain anything from leftover alcohol (like wine) to lighter fluid.  You can use various flammable fluids, either left over in the bottles you found, or if you absolutely needed to, you could punch a hole in a car’s gas tank and fill up empty bottles with gasoline and use that.  Plausibility of finding those items in Central Park’s trash cans aside (I don’t think you can even bring alcohol in Central Park unless there’s some kind of event going on you can buy it) this game treats all flammable liquids the same, and in reality none of these flammable liquids would be all that useful as the game pegs them out to be.

First off, alcohol and gasoline are not explosive.  If you threw a container of alcohol or gasoline and fired upon it, nothing would happen except it would disperse everywhere.  If you threw a container with a lit wick attached to it (to say nothing of the fact that you’d have to be an expert marksman to make a shot like that), the liquid might have a chance to ignite in air, but it would not send out a shockwave.  In the game, if you fire upon an improvised bottle filled with flammable liquid at close range, you risk the chance of severely injuring yourself from the blast wave.  I’ve talked to several people knowledgable about chemicals and they agreed a shockwave could not occur from such an event, and the fluid would only have a chance of ignition if a flame had been already attached to it.

That having been said, a molotov cocktail has been a widely used improvised device for a reason, it does actually work as a flammable weapon.  Alcohol is a low temperature burn fluid and very good at sustaining fire as long as there’s plenty of oxygen.  Since many of the enemies of Alone in the Dark can only be destroyed by fire, simply throwing a molotov cocktail at them would indeed be harmful if not fatal if they were in the range of the flame.

Another slight plausibility can go to the ability to leave flammable trails of liquids.  The Mythbusters proved that various flammable liquids like gasoline can have trails ignited, and as long as there were no gaps in the liquid trail.  This is unlikely to happen if you threw the leaking container, but likely if it slowly emptied out while being carried at a steady pace.  While testing this, the Mythbusters discovered that once ignited, a flame trail would take a while to hit its destination, but even with a time delay it would be good enough for its use in the game’s puzzles.  It would get a pass, but I don’t recommend anyone try it in the heat of a battle with the undead.

Oh and the Unknown Camerman would like to point out what the logic would be of demons from Hell being harmed by fire in the first place?  You’d think things born of the stuff would just shrug it off.  I do however comprehend that the game’s logic is the body needs to be destroyed or else something that’s not alive in the first place would not be able to be killed and would just continue to get back up unless completely destroyed, and that makes…some sense…until you start to think about the next gameplay mechanic.

I want to mention something that is not shown in the demos and that is another important gameplay mechanic that is required to beat some of the larger enemies quickly, and that is fire bullets.  In the game, the fire bullets can only harm the vulnerable points (depicted as body scars that can show through clothing) of the enemies, and you must target and destroy each scar to completely destroy your enemy, even though the rest of the body does not need to be set on fire.  To make fire bullets, you can pour flammable liquid on your gun’s barrel while its loaded, and when the bullets fire, they will leave a fire trail in the air, setting whatever the bullet impacts with on fire.  Well, I asked a gun expert about the likelihood of this working, and he said a resounding, “no.”  He said any flammable liquid on the bullet would be all surface related, and would burn off instantly when the gun was first fired.  It sounded to me like doing this would have a better chance of harming whoever fired the weapon opposed to whoever it was aimed at.  In short, DON’T try that.

Clearly, Alone in the Dark is a broken game which used broken leaps of logic to design its broken gameplay around.  If, based upon this article, you find yourself really interested in trying this game out, I must plead with you to choose the PS3 version, which trust me, while it isn’t much of an improvement, is an improvement never the less.