Posts tagged ‘video games’

The photograph lies at my feet, falls from my fingers, is in my hand.

Dearest Internet, I write you today to share a discovery that excited my very being. I have found a wonderful connection between two ideas in which I merely dabble, and the way they complement each other so perfectly has given me new insight into both. The phrase “strawberries and cream” comes to mind. I am, of course, referring to quantum electrodynamics and video games.

If the complementarity is not immediately obvious, let me direct your attention to a particular video game, Braid. Oh, Internet, it is a marvelous game, full of challenge and fun! In the way that Portal is a puzzle game wherein you must manipulate space to solve the puzzles, Braid is a puzzle game wherein you manipulate time. Braid is also an homage to Super Mario Brothers, which gives it a nostalgic feel. But on top of the usual “go left,” “go right,” and “jump” commands, you have at your disposal a “rewind time” button that is your main tool throughout the game. You control a character named Tim, whose goal is to go from the door on the left of the level to the door on the right side, while solving any puzzles preventing this (yes, I am simplifying, but that’s the important part for now).

Although the connection to QED may already be coming into focus, I should like to take a moment to remind you about the discipline. As you may recall, Internet, a man named Richard Feynman worked many a year on QED. He invented something called Feynman Diagrams, which are a very simple way to visually represent interactions between particles. He drew them as graphs with time along one axis and space along another, such as this:

In this image, the horizontal axis is time and the vertical axis is space. Depicted is one possible interaction between an electron and a photon. If one views time as monotonically moving forward (in the intuitive sense by which one normally perceives it), the photon coming down from the top spontaneously degenerates into an electron-positron pair (note that the positron is an anti-electron), and then the positron encounters the electron near the bottom of the diagram, and the two annihilate each other and turn into another photon.

However, there is another way to view this event. Anti-particles behave just like their (non-anti) counterparts moving backwards in time, since they have opposite charge and opposite spin but are otherwise identical. In other words, my good Internet, we could just as easily view this diagram as depicting an electron moving along the bottom of the diagram, then spontaneously “turning around” and moving backwards in time, while shooting off a photon as it reverses direction. It continues to move up the diagram, traveling backwards through time, and then spontaneously reverses its direction once more to travel forwards through time, sending out another photon as it does so. Although this photon gets sent backwards in time, we would perceive it normally because the photon is its own antiparticle (because it has no charge).

This reminded me quite strongly of certain levels in Braid, wherein time goes forwards as Tim moves to the right and backwards as he moves to the left. Here is an example, though it contains spoilers if you have not yet played the game. To give a better illustration of their similarity, consider the following diagram. Living things are in blue, photons are in red, and objects and platforms are in black.

If one were playing the game, one would see Tim come out of the door at the bottom left of the image, travel to the right (going forwards through time) until time E, then shoot out a photon, turn around, and jump up onto the platform (going backwards in time), jump over the Goomba at time B (Goombas can only be killed when going forwards through time). Tim would then turn around at time A (shooting a photon to the left in the process), jump forwards through time and land on the Goomba to kill it, then jump at time D to get to the platform with the door and exit the level.

If, instead, we needed to watch these events as time monotonically increased, we would observe a photon on the platform and a Tim on the floor. At time A, the photon spontaneously decays into a Tim-antiTim pair. The Tim jumps immediately, while a moment later the antiTim unjumps. At time B, a Goomba comes into existence and is killed by the descending Tim. The antiTim, meanwhile, is high above and dodges the event. At time C, the Tim and antiTim collide, annihilate each other and become a photon again, though this photon decays into another Tim-antiTim pair at time D. The Tim jumps and the antiTim unjumps. Then the platform winks out of existence, and the antiTim falls through the space where it used to be. At time E, the antiTim encounters the Tim from the floor, the two annihilate each other and become a photon. The platform materializes above, the remaining Tim lands on it and encounters the final door, finishing the level. When I first realized this, it was a very exciting connection for me. I imagine, dear Internet, that you now share my spark of insight.

If you desire to play Braid for yourself, it is available for download on XBox, Windows, and Mac. The demo is free, and the entire game is $15.

Ah, crappy video games!

I had dinner with Michael and Robert yesterday, and somehow Michael mentioned in the conversation that E.T. was made into a video game for the Atari 2600, and is widely considered the worst-selling video game of all time (they apparently buried tens of thousands of cartridges in a landfill because it was the most profitable way of getting rid of them). Well, we actually managed to find a copy of this game and play it, and there’s a reason why it didn’t sell well. Here is a synopsis of the game, as best we could piece together by reading the manual and playing it:

  • You control ET. The object of the game is to get ET to collect 3 pieces of telephone and phone home. Telephone pieces are hidden at the bottom of large pits that you can fall in.
  • The location of the pits appears to be uncorrelated with anything else on the screen: you can fall into a pit without seeing anything unusual on the screen, and you can step into the differently colored parts and only sometimes fall into a pit.
  • You can extend your neck to levitate out of and over the pits. Also, sometimes you can extend your neck to change zones. We’re not sure what a zone is (we think it’s like a mode), but we often cycled through the “eat candy zone” and the “call Elliot zone.” One zone changes the terrain around you, which is confusing as hell. Sometimes you can also change zones by moving in a different direction. We have no clue about this.
  • Moving around costs energy, and the amount of energy you have left is displayed at the bottom of the screen. When you run out of energy, Elliot comes by and gives you 1500 more units. This means that the game ends either when you win or when you get bored and stop playing. To the best of our knowledge, you can never lose.
  • If the FBI man catches you, he takes you to the Parthenon and steals all your candy.
  • If you manage to call Elliot while in “call Elliot zone,” he will come and take your candy. He will then pretend to run off and find a piece of telephone for us. We don’t know why he does this, however, because he never actually returns with one.

A quick piece of advice

If you’re playing Zelda: Twilight Princess and get the iron boots, you should save to a different save slot. The next part is so awesome that you’ll want to play it over and over. Oh, man. This game is amazing.

An idea for a video game

Take a classic game that makes heavy use of a simple physics engine (such as Asteroids), and add in general relativity to the physics engine (and set the speed of light so that the game has very noticeable relativistic effects). For the Asteroids example, asteroids traveling at high speeds relative to you would exhibit Lorenz contraction, asteroids coming towards you would be bluish and those going away would be reddish, firing your gun would propel you backwards a little, etc. I’m not sure if accelerating would have different behavior than in the usual version (sure, the asteroids would age faster, but that wouldn’t be noticeable in-game). Stuff displayed on the screen would be what the spaceship pilot would perceive “now.” I suspect it would be an interesting twist on a classic game, and give people a better intuition for relativity (assuming people like it and play it a bunch). I can’t find such a game already created on the internet, but I haven’t looked too hard.

Any thoughts?

Wm. Eli Trashes London!

I realize the title is a bit forced. The worst thing is that if you unscramble the anagram, it’s still a bit forced. Oh, well; they’re both cromulent titles/headlines.

First, some heartening news, as horrible as it is: the Iraq Study Group’s report, which says again that we’re losing the war, our troops, and the hearts and minds of all people involved, has made a lot of people unhappy. However, public opinion seems to be pretty much in line with its claims (which seems unusual; typically expert analysis disagrees with “common knowledge”). The UN seems to be pretty upset with this whole imbroglio as well. It appears that even some Republicans are starting to view the situation from a more realistic point of view, and are beginning to search for a way out of this quagmire before it ruins the political party. Could there be a glimmer of hope for a withdrawl from Iraq? I am not aware of any way to do it without leaving Iraq less stable than it was with Saddam around, but it might still be for the best at this point.

How’s this for some really shiny news: a Firefly MMORPG appears to be on the horizon. Assuming this is as cool as I hope it is, it almost makes me wish I owned a Windows box. Almost.

NASA has announced plans to go ahead with Bush’s (perhaps ill-conceived) plan to put a permanent base on the moon by 2020. This could be really cool, or it could be a huge waste of money. I’m not sure anyone knows which it will become, but several other countries are interested in joining in on this project. We shall see what happens.

There has been another ceasefire between the Israelis and Palestinians, even though the Palestinians continued to launch rockets into Israel several hours after the supposed ceasefire began. Ordinarily I wouldn’t put much stock in this, but it has lasted a surprisingly long time. There was a bit of intra-Palestinian violence recently, but the truce has lasted remarkably well. In fact, this seems like the best news in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict since about 1993.

For the first time in a really long while, I don’t have any really bad news to post. Huzzah!

People to watch out for: Jack Thompson

First off, I could really go for a cold placenta sandwich right now.

Having said that, you should all know about a guy named Jack Thompson. He’s been saying for years that video games promote violence in children. He calls many games “murder simulators” and appears to be trying to get stricter regulation of the industry. He has attacked the Grand Theft Auto series as well as Bully and Manhunt for promoting violence. He has even claimed that since The Sims 2 has an unofficial patch which makes characters appear naked, it should be banned for nudity and pedophilia. This alarmist rhetoric has brought him to the limelight, and many television shows have interviewed him. However, by and large, he was ignored.

Recently, however, things have begun to change. He recently wrote an open letter called A Modest Proposal, in which he said he would donate $10,000 to charity if a video game company created a game in which a man whose family was killed by gamers gets his revenge by killing the video game industry. It just so happened that such a mod of Grand Theft Auto was created a week earlier, in which you play as Jack Thompson going on just such a rampage. In response to this, however, Thompson claimed that his proposal was satire, and he had no intentions of supporting such a game or donating money to charity. However, the makers of gaming webcomic Penny Arcade donated $10,000 to the Entertainment Software Association Foundation on Thompson’s behalf. Thompson seems to have responded to this by attempting to get the Seatle Police Department to arrest the Penny Arcade people, and to have responded to other gestures of goodwill with a flurry of hollow lawsuit threats (he’s a lawyer). Moreover, the National Institute on Media and the Family, a fellow anti-video games organization has distanced themselves from him. In response, Thompson has admonished them for not going as far as he appears to be going.

The thing that gets me is that the man is clearly nuts, yet the mainstream media seems to regard him as fairly rational (for instance, he was on CNN today). He is supposedly a lawyer, but I have not yet seen him pen any well-composed writing (this is regardless of content; he can’t seem to make eloquent sentences, let alone valid arguments), despite reading his Proposal, his responses to the NIoMatF, Penny Arcade, VG Cats, and the SPD.

The truth is that the vast majority of gamers do not turn out to be psychotic killers, but instead normal people. The vast majority of video games are nowhere close to the “murder simulators” he raves about (Katamari Damacy, Sim City, Animal Crossing, and Tetris leap to mind, not to mention games with violence that could not be construed as realistic, such as any RPG, any roguelike game, Smash Brothers, any Mario game, etc). The vast majority of the responsibility to keep “Mature”-rated video games out of the hands of children lies with their parents, rather than any two-bit lawyer trying to impose his will on Florida.

I hope the people will wake up and come to their senses soon, before men like this acquire even more control over the policies in this country.