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
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
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
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
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
"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."
Secret Volcano Lairs
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.
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