Science of Games is a
twice-monthly column that digs deep into the coolest science fiction elements
of videogame universes, and tries to separate fact from fiction. Whenever
possible, we’ll even bring in scientists, scholars, and experts to help us get
at the truth of what’s really going on. Got a game you want to see investigated?
Let us know in the comments!
There's possibly no
other video game series in the world that takes as much joy in science as
Fallout does. It does this with a dual-pronged approach: it's both
scientifically factual, and ascientifically ridiculous. Often in the same
breath. While using the harsh realities of nuclear holocaust as their setting,
the developers were also careful to include a heaping dose of silly science
every once in a while. Fallout 3's vault full of clones named Gary that can
only shout their own name, like a Pokemon, is a great example. Or Fisto, New
Vegas' autonomous sexbot.
Above: Rather less alluring than we’d been led to believe
One of the single most badass weapons in the Fallout
universe is the Fat Man. It's a portable, one-man, shoulder-mounted nuclear
bomb that just about obliterates anything in the immediate vicinity. But could
it actually exist? Is this awesome weapon a part of Fallout's hard-science
side, or its goofy side?
We looked into it, and
surprisingly this is almost 100 percent hard science. But more than that, the
Fat Man actually once existed. Not in
the exact same form as the Fallout version, but pretty damned close.
At the height of the
Cold War (which is pretty much the period that Fallout is based on) a Soviet
invasion of Eastern Europe seemed all but certain. At any moment, it seemed
like Soviet tanks would burst through the Berlin wall and begin a journey of
conquest toward the Atlantic.
To help defend against
this, some Allied outposts along the border were equipped with extremely
low-yield nuclear missiles. Dubbed the "Davy Crockett" (and seen in
Metal Gear Solid 3), the bomb had only a .01 kiloton blast. Even small, early
nukes like the one dropped on Hiroshima had 15 kiloton blasts, and the largest
ever recorded was Russia's Tsar Bomba, which was designed at 100 kilotons (but
was scaled back to 50).
The Davy Crockett (even
the name sounds like it's from Fallout) only had an explosion of about a few
hundred meters. So it wasn't intended to destroy an oncoming Soviet force. The
point of the weapon was to irradiate the land to lethal levels so that the
enemy would be delayed long enough to mobilize Allied forces.
The only difference
between the Davy Crockett and the Fat Man is the DC couldn't be shoulder
mounted (nukes weigh a lot). However, it was wildly inaccurate; it only needed
to get within a few hundred meters, remember. So it wouldn't have done much
good to carry it around anyway.
The part about delaying
a Soviet advance with radiation raises an interesting question: why is
radiation lethal? Fallout includes a persistent theme of managing the amount of
radiation you take in throughout the game.
As in Fallout, real life
contains two different types of bad radiation. There's the kind that hits you
from the outside, and the kind that you ingest. Anybody who ever drank a
Nuka-Cola knows that there are some nasty side effects.
Radiation that hits you
from the outside is more manageable. Unless it hits you in high doses, you may
get away with nothing but a tan. However, when you get hit hard, the effects
are pretty horrible. In that regard, Fallout gets some of it right. Humans can
look pretty ghoulish when their skin and hair start falling off.
It's not just about
environmental radiation, though. The things you eat and drink can be
radioactive, and even more damaging. When you ingest a radioactive food or
liquid, the unstable atoms actually become a part of you, being incorporated
into your cells the same way healthy food would. Except now, the atom is
falling apart and irradiating you from the inside. That said, if you get help
quickly, there are pills that can help protect your sensitive bits (like your
thyroid) from radiation.
The only factual issue
with radiation being a concern in Fallout's vision of 2077 is that
radioactivity may be a solved problem by then. In laboratories around the world,
there are treatments being developed for curing higher and higher doses of
radiation. Radiation is extremely useful in cancer treatment, and the larger the
doses doctors can administer to a tumor, the better hope for recovery. So
rejoice, future wastelanders. Cancer just saved your ass.
Switching gears for a
the final entry in this week's Science of Games, we're looking at the Stealth
Boy personal cloaking system utilized in Fallout: New Vegas. This piece of
technology is particularly exciting, because it always seems to be just beyond
current science's reach.
This type of system has
been theorized about for years, and numerous prototypes have shown up around
the world. A team of Japanese researchers, for instance, designed a system that
utilized a poncho and a projector. The user wore a blank cloak with a camera on
the back that was hooked up to a projector. The projector would then display
whatever was behind the person on the cloak, effectively rendering them
That system can't be
employed in a real-life situation, though, for obvious reasons. Even if you're
invisible, the projector you have to carry around in front of you won’t be (although
it'd probably be fine if you were hiding in a projector factory/warehouse).
Above: It'd probably also be more helpful in an open field than trying to hide behind a small twig
Another model for this
type of system is a type of military camouflage that’s currently only rumored
on military blogs and enthusiast sites. This type utilizes tiny fibrous displays
weaved into the fabric of a soldier's uniform. Small cameras on the suit look
at the surroundings and change the color scheme of the uniform to match the
fighting environment. It's essentially what Old Snake has in Metal Gear Solid
The only issue here is
expense and bulk. These things aren't cheap, and thus aren't practical for the
average soldier. They also require a lot of power, so a marine would have to
carry around large battery packs. Marines already have to lug around as much as
65 pounds in their packs, so adding more weight usually isn't practical. These
systems are currently being designed for humvees, however, since the weight
isn't an issue.
Be sure to check back in
two weeks from now for the second installment in the Science of Fallout where
we'll be investigating the possibility of a Pip Boy, nuclear war with China,