Sep 13 2012

The Science of Gaming: Half-Life

Greetings gamer! My name is Alex Walker-Ingham, and I will be guiding you through the synonymous worlds of science and gaming! “But what does that mean?” I hear you cry; well it’s simple really. I ask you this, have you ever played a video game and thought “WOW! That device would really assist me in my quest of world domination! It’s a shame it’s just science fiction.” But what if I told you that it wasn’t all fake, in fact you could soon be seeing it in your own households? You would most defiantly want to hear more! Well I am here to separate the science from the fiction, I will leave you astounded at the thought that you could be using devices you once deemed make-believe to enhance your life in the near future, such as using a tractor beam to fling your cat against your wall!

(Please note I am not the ghost of Carl Sagan so this information may not be absolutely correct down to the last detail, just the basic idea)

With the successful Greenlighting of the Black Mesa Half-Life recreation, I thought it would be appropriate to spend my first “The Science of Gaming” article exploring the deranged shenanigans of the scientists in the Black Mesa research facility as they recklessly blast their way through the multiverse or as they invent devices to ameliorate the lives of everyone in the Half-Life universe!

1. Teleportation

Teleportation is a re-occurring theme in the Half-Life series. The scene we are most accustomed to involving teleportation in the Half-Life series is most probably “red letter day” from Half-Life 2. What if I tell you that this is possible? “Teleportation, possible? What calumny!” I hear you say. Well, you would be wrong to say this. In fact, teleportation happens naturally all the time. The laws of quantum physics tell us that each atom has its own gravitational field, and because of this electrons are always orbiting an atom on set orbit paths. Ok, so that seems normal right? But it got stranger when scientists discovered that these electrons are switching orbits seemingly without moving through the space in-between, this discovery triggered an explosion of discoveries about how electrons and atoms behave and the strangest of those discoveries in my opinion was Quantum Entanglement.

Quantum Entanglement is when particles such as electrons have a link, we don’t know what causes this link or why it is there but we can tell you what it does. Think of an electron as a spinning wheel, and put two spinning wheels together. If you were to spin the wheel in one direction, the other wheel would spin in the opposite direction as soon as you looked at it from whatever distance the wheels are apart. But how does that help us to teleport? If we made a device to scan the arrangement of particles in your body we would be able to see your particle structure. In a teleportation device somewhere else would be a group of particles that are entangled to the particles inside the teleportation device in which you stand. The device would destroy you, breaking you down into nothing more than some particles on the floor, and instead of sending you to somewhere else; it would send information to the other device. That information is the particle arrangement in your body, and the entangled particles would create a replica of you with the same memories so that it would behave in the same way as you. The problem with this is that it’s not you actually transport as it is suicide as you are now dead and your particles are still scattered all over the floor of a teleportation device. It’s a bit like killing yourself and having a clone created immediately somewhere else. Scientists have teleported one atom over a distance of 143KM, so let me put that into perspective for you… so far we have only managed to move a 7.5 trillionth of this full stop >>.<< so I don’t know about you, but I think it might be a while until we are using this technology to transport anything the size of a human even though it is still technically possible.

2. Pulse rifle (energy weaponry)

The pulse rifle is a weapon that fires lasers and energy rather than bullets. This idea is not new to science fiction as it has been in all the big science fiction hits, from Star Wars to *insert generic star related name here* but yet again, science has proven this is possible. The Department of Defense in the USA have been researching the weaponization of lasers since 1962 and now there is a whole arsenal of them called “directed energy weapons”. These weapons are researched a lot by the military because they are very accurate and can be used from a very long distance safely. By the year 2015 the military will deploy the cleverly named “tactical high energy lasers” into the battlefield to shoot planes and missiles out of the sky using lasers.

But how does this work? Well the laser cannon condenses large concentrations of electromagnetic radiation into a laser and that causes it to become incredibly hot. Unfortunately unless you live in America where you can buy pretty much any weapon from a gun store for “protection purposes”, you probably won’t be able to use one to protect your house from an unexpected missile attack any time soon. But will we be able to take technology like this and put it into something as small as a rifle? To answer this I think we should look at the computer. In the 50’s one computer would take up the space of entire rooms but as technology advanced we could make them smaller and smaller until we could fit them into tiny phones and calculators. With advances in technology we will always find ways to cram complex technology into small spaces if we try to invest enough funding in to it.

3. Gravity gun (tractor beam)

The gravity gun is a device that would allow me to get food from the fridge without even getting up! Scientists already know how to capture objects and move them around with beams of light due to the fact that the laws of quantum physics tell us that light acts both like a wave and a particle. We can fire these particles at objects and in theory we can push the object. Since the 1980’s scientists have been experimenting with ways of trapping particles with lasers and controlling them. Scientists have developed lots of different theories for this over the years. The simplest way is when you fire a laser at a particle it will become trapped so we can then fire more lasers from different angles to trap the particle in a very specific place, this is used all the time by scientists to study small objects that we would have not been able to hold still before such as DNA.

So we have got the holding and slight pushing of an object sorted but what makes the gravity gun so special is the ability to pull objects. Well scientists have a theory for this too, most beams of lasers have a point that is most intense towards the middle of the beam, but scientists have discovered one kind of beam called a “solenoid beam” in which the most intense part of the laser is around the center but would take the form of a spiral. In small experiments conducted by scientists it has been shown that particles sent through the beam at a slant can in fact be pulled in. The problem with this is that it has only been done on a quantum level so it will be some time before we can use it to fling objects at our neighbour’s windows, but it is still possible so I wouldn’t dismiss the idea of it being used for heavy lifting.

4. H.E.V Suit

The idea behind the Mark IV Hazardous Environment Suit (HEV Suit) is very simple, in fact if you were willing to pay out some of them piles of monies you’re always sitting on you could probably make something like it at home. The idea behind the HEV suit is that it is an outfit that can protect the user from any radiation, blunt trauma and loads more. The main original use is protecting scientists in black mesa from radiation and how I would do this is relatively simple. You would need to place thick lead plates in-between whatever materials you are using to make your suit with, this is because lead is very good at slowing down the effects of alpha and beta radiation particles. For preventing major bullet and shrapnel damage (and the blunt trauma) you would make the outer layer of the suit out of carbon fibre composite material. This is because this material is not very heavy and is VERY strong, because of this it is often used in bullet proof materials.

The idea that the HEV suit would be able to protect Gordon from a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade is fiction as even if the suit could withstand the force of the hit it would send Gordon flying back from the force of the explosion regardless. The fact that this suit can do any of this with no helmet is also not probable as you would have to have a helmet. Having the suit would be pointless if shrapnel and bullets can still hit the head and it would of course nullify protection from alpha or beta radiation particles, so if this suit was to ever work in real life, you would need the helmet.

5. Exploding barrels

Exploding barrels are seen a lot inside the Half-Life series and have a major effect on the game. They are also seen in tacky action movies and other video games so that’s just about everything action related, but an idea that is used so much can’t be made up right? Wrong! In most cases shooting a barrel won’t cause any badass explosions, in fact it comes down to many factors such as what’s in the barrel? What would you shoot it with? From what angle? Let’s say you shoot a barrel with a standard pistol or rifle like in most action films and games, the problem with this is a lot of the energy that was being transferred with the bullet is lost upon impact with the barrel, so let’s fill our barrel with a gas such as propane. A normal bullet would do nothing to the barrel as it would not ignite the propane; the only way it could be ignited is with incendiary rounds (a type of ammunition that contains a compound that burns rapidly therefore causing a fire). It would have to be fired out of a weapon with a high amount of energy that would not be lost on impact with the barrel causing it to actually penetrate the barrel to ignite the propane. Even though it would be difficult to achieve with a gun it would not be anywhere near as difficult just using high-powered explosives instead. Well folks that’s it for this time! And sure it might take a while until we have our own gravity gun or can teleport places; but does mankind really need another invention in aiding them to be lazy? And what would be the consequences for mankind if we fully harnessed this power? Thanks for reading, until next time we explore the science of gaming…

Alex Walker-Ingham is a 16-year-old student/music producer from the UK, but is also a devoted member of the PC gaming populace who’s preferred rendered time burglar’s are Counter strike, ARMA2, Silent hill 2, CIV 4 and Minecraft. In the rest of his spare time he enjoys bitching about people and things on the internet (but who doesn’t?) and rarely venturing out in the house. Hit him up on steam  http://steamcommunity.com/id/Gearwar/  or you can check out his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/officialmungo


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  1. cameron

    Cool article bro, perhaps you should consider an article about Counter-Strike


  2. Mark

    Very interesting article you should write one about the abitles in portal.

  3. James

    Should do an article about Fallout XD

  4. Tony

    Nice article bro!

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