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!
The newer Mega Man games have kind of gone off the deep end when it comes to preserving the series' roots as a science-fiction story, but the original games feature some really cool concepts that actually have their roots in reality.
Unfortunately, we won’t be discussing whether or not we'll ever be able to fly around on robot-dog surfboards. However, if you're curious about that, then just go take a look at Boston Dynamic's Big Dog and Cheetah robots. Suffice it to say, flying robot dogs seem inevitable.
The first bit of real science from the Mega Man series is, believe it or not, the Blue Bomber's blaster. Though it might seem like pure science fiction, directed-energy weapons are in development right now, and are based on very well-accepted science.
Above: This stuff is no joke. There are laser weapons in use all the time today, and the technology is getting better all the time
They take several forms. The coolest, but perhaps least relevant type is actually a form of heat ray. It's called the Active Denial System and was developed by the United States military as a form of perimeter control. It's non-lethal, and it works by transferring a ray of energy directly onto a person. The effect of this is an extreme sensation of heat on the target's skin. For obvious reasons, this wouldn't be too useful against robots.
The US military has also developed laser cannons that can be mounted to humvees, tanks, or aircraft. They’re not very useful in a battle situation, but their use is as a missile deterrent. By directing enough laser heat onto the incoming missile, these devices can cause them to explode in midair before reaching their target.
The final version is a fascinating device that was also developed by the US military. Announced earlier this year, the HELLADS system is a weapon small enough to be carried by an individual soldier, but strong enough to shoot down an enemy aerial drone.
The only disadvantage to all of these weapons is their colossal energy requirements. However, Mega Man actually gets that right as well, as battery packs are essential in nearly all MM games.
We may not have had arm-mounted laser guns by the year 200X, but it does appear that we'll have very efficient arm-mounted energy weapons by 20XX.
Characters like Mega Man, Zero, Protoman etc are a type of android in the Mega Man universe called a reploid. Just like the energy weapons talked about above, we don't exactly have these in production yet, but we're quickly assembling many pieces of the puzzle.
Above: The ones on the left even look like Zero and some other middle-era Mega Man characters
The first thing you should see is this borderline horrifying video of a Japanese android. After viewing that you might think that a sitting, speaking robot is a long way from a running, jumping hero like Mega Man. And you'd be right, but we've got that under control too. For that, we refer you again to a pet project of Boston Dynamics: PETMAN. He can even do push ups!
Putting these two technologies together, there's no reason to believe that a Mega Man-esque reploid is impossible within the 88 years we've got left in 20XX… in appearance and mobility, anyway. Artificial intelligence is where this gets a little hairy.
We wanted to know if it's even theoretically possible to create an artificial intelligence that's as capable and flexible as a human being, so we asked an AI researcher for his thoughts.
"I and most AI researchers do believe that AI systems will someday be considered self-aware," said David Chin, professor of artificial intelligence and programming at the University of Hawaii. "This view is not without controversy, though. There are a number of prominent philosophers that consider this impossible and make strong arguments to try to prove their position. For example, one of my former mentors, John Searle, posited the ‘Chinese room’ thought experiment to argue that AI may eventually become so advanced that the AI looks intelligent to a non-expert in AI, but if you look closer, they cannot really be considered intelligent."
This category isn't going to go very in-depth, because it's kind of stupid, but we just couldn't resist the urge to talk about secret volcano lairs. In Mega Man Zero 4, there's a location called the Aegis Volcano Base which, as its name implies, is located inside an active volcano. Not just any regular volcano, though – it's a constantly erupting volcano that spews magma at all times.
That part isn't so unbelievable. There are actually volcanoes on Earth that haven’t stopped erupting for thousands of years. Not in the cinematic, Tommy-Lee-Jones-battling-a-magma-river-in-downtown-LA kind of way, but there are volcanoes that spew at all times. Stromboli, for example, is a constantly erupting volcano in Italy (and also a delicious, greasy Sbarro's menu item).
Above: It's important to remember that few volcanic eruptions look like this
There are three things that you need to know before attempting to construct a base inside this volcano. The first is that it's pretty stupid, but it's not impossible. Volcanologists are constantly climbing around on volcanoes (although it's important to note that doing so often gets them killed). The second bit of news is a bit more encouraging: Constantly erupting volcanoes could possibly be the safest volcanoes to build your secret base in. The biggest danger would be your volcano blowing its top and exploding your base. Volcanoes with constant eruptions are more stable, because there's less pressure building up that would cause it to blow its top. So if you're forced to make a choice of what kind of volcano to build you base in... this kind isn't too horrible.
However, the third thing you should know isn't good news. Persistent lava flow can sometimes lead to the emptying of the magma chambers. Which can cause a collapse on part of the mountain. Even if there isn't persistent flow, there can still be side collapses, as was the case in the enormous Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980. It's rare, though, so it's unlikely you'd experience a collapse in your lifetime. But if you intend to pass your base down to future generations, it'd be best to build it elsewhere.