MIT releases time-bending, relativistic clusterfuddle of a game
October 30, 2012
A bite-sized computer game exploring the effects of Einstein's special theory of relativity is the first output from the MIT Game Lab made available online. In A Slower Speed of Light, the player navigates a seemingly rudimentary 3D environment with the goal of collecting 100 orbs. Thing is, each orb slows down the speed of light until, by the 90th or so orb, it has slowed almost to walking pace. The slower light travels, the trippier the effects, and the more taxing the game becomes.
A Slower Speed of Light makes the bold attempt of visualizing a number of relativistic effects concerning the speed of light. Perhaps most noticeable early on the proceedings (the game can be played through at a trot in under four minutes, and at a more leisurely pace in under 10) is the Doppler effect. As the player moves, the wavelength of light from surrounding objects changes, shifting their color towards the red or the blue, and bringing ultraviolet and infrared into the visible spectrum.
The game also ably demonstrates the searchlight effect, thanks to which light from objects in the game is concentrated as you move towards them (thanks to relativistic aberration). Towards the end of the game time dilation and Lorentz transformation come into play (with other effects turned off to emphasize it further). As a result, space and time appear to stretch and contract as the player moves and, because the player character moves with a certain degree of inertia, it's these effects more than any other that make later orbs harder to pick-up due to overshooting to the left or the right. If you want to make the game particularly frustrating, then, try to play it without stopping (i.e. without taking your finger from the W key).
The game is a roughly 100 MB for either OS X or Windows, though (as an anecdotal aside) we found as far as modestly-specced laptops go, A Slower Speed of Light ran much more comfortably in Windows.
As a tech demo or proof of concept, A Slower Speed of Light is thought provoking. Apparently only one of seven games created by MIT Game Lab during the summer, it is thus far the only one made available online. Incidentally, the MIT Game Lab is housed in MIT's Building 26, the Karl Taylor Compton Laboratories, where proto-computer game Spacewar! was made half a century ago. Perhaps gaming historians haven't heard the last from Building 26…
Update, October 31 2012: MIT's Steven Schirra has been in touch to say that the game's website has now been updated with minimum requirements. This looks to be erring on the conservative side, and may be limited by the equipment to hand. If you've a relatively recent Windows PC, it may be worth a try regardless. All the same, here they are: