136: Anomalous Materials

Anomalous Materials

"To its credit, Valve's writing staff appears to be fully aware of the humor inherent in Gordon's highly low-tech exploits. In HL2, for example, Barney jokes about Gordon's education while the player performs the difficult task of flipping a switch. But beneath this running gag, the Half-Life series (and its crazy little sister, Portal) betrays a kind of warm ambivalence toward scientific pursuits."

Thomas Wilburn dissects the science reds of Half-Life and Portal.

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Haha, that article was hilarious... and so true.

Excelent read. Games getting their scientific facts right and by doing that increasig the general knowledge of the public is a rather good idea.

Brilliant article Mr. Wilburn. I've been thinking the same, how Valve is making science interesting without being boring, quite the contrary.

A source of alot of chuckles for me is that in all this brilliance and degrees, technology and aliens, Gordon versus the evil combine and the hordes of henchmen, the primary tools are pretty straightforward shooting.

Gordon Freeman has an expensive MIT degree, a fancy HEV suit, some kind of super ability to carry a dozen heavy weapons and - so I assume - some form of military training.

(and no legs)

But even with all that, he still chose the spend half his time throwing chairs at the Combine.

Excellent article!

Bravo. Great article! I never really thought about Half Life not being a treatise against technology, but looking back, you really have to appreciate the story's restraint. It never goes into any Blade Runner style commentary about the evils of technology, but when it does get on its soapbox, it preaches about the evils of men (oppression, violence, betrayal, etc.)

Thats very true. Valve's lead writer is, after all, a Hard SF fan who hates star wars (and probably space operas in general). People sometimes forget these days that among all the Halos, Star Treks, and so forth, there still exist works by writers like Larry Niven and Issac Assimov.

I've noticed it myself: Half-Life is rather Hard, and consistent with science. yes, they take liberties for the sake of story, but not much. Gordon is one of the few action protagonists who isnt a battle-hardened super-soldier, and probably the only scientist. admittedly, a battle-hardened scientist, but a scientist nonetheless.

I also love the way they never descend into the whole "science is bad! You will be happier if you stop poking at things and have faith in stuff!" schtich that I loathe. All of the scientists are real people with real failings (eli is too trusting and optimistic, Kleiner is unassertive and out-of-touch, magnusson is...magnusson), but these failings cant outshine their bravery and back-rank heroism (yeah, they arent on the front line, but they're the drving force behind the resistance, and they put themselves in constant danger of assassination or capture.)

As for the "they caused black mesa, why do the people not hate them" plot hole, it's possible that, in the intervening time, they have redeemed themselves in the eyes of the populace. people who werent with the resistance didnt know they were behind it, and those who joined could see firsthand what they had accomplished. Plus, Gordon's messianic legend might have done much to elevate the general opinion of scientists.

Great article! I've always thought that Gordan Freeman was a fresh and unique protagonist, and Valve's inclusion of science in their games doesn't come off at all like other titles. Too often technology and research are only present to either explain away plot events or provide the player with a new gun, and all with a very sci-fi vibe. Half-Life's model is very positive for the image of sciences, and doesn't ever get bogged down by a PSA atmosphere.

Plus, after Earth is reclaimed and the conflict is resolved, you know you'd rather be in Dr. Freeman's shoes. He gets to leap right back into manipulating space-time in a lab, while the legions of other action heroes will be stuck on an armchair, recounting their ammo.

good article, so one of the half life writes is a star wars hater? good haha.

like somes here i also think that Gordon Freeman is a original heroe and all that, almost a average joe if he wouldnt be suposed to be a expert in physics, with the luck of have the HEV suit at hand, the only thinghe needs is a voice

Great stuff. But I can't think of a better use of my time than to send small and large objects hurtling into the things in my way.

Great read. Really got me thinking about art in gaming again.



Thomas Wilburn:
I like to imagine doing the same thing for other fields - chemistry, for example, which has never been one of my strong subjects but would almost certainly make for amazing puzzles a la MacGyver. To some degree, this progression is already taking place; what's Spore but an expansive biology toy?

That would be a great idea. One day we should make a game where different chemical properties can react with oine another and make results like in real life, be it explosions and making stuff sticky.

Great read. Although I hate it how people point out the fact that Freeman's mute. You're supposed to imprint your own ppersonality (unless you're mute then it's all ok). Why not point out the fact that he has no legs and is just a floating group of guns (and sometimes hands) that people call Gordon.

Great article. To be fair though, chemistry is mentioned once or twice in Portal: according to GLaDOS, the cake should be garnished with "fish-shaped ethylbenzene". The structural formula of ethylbenzene consists of a sort of hexagon with a tail coming out, so if you use your imagination a bit, it is, in fact, fish-shaped. Heh heh. Fish =)

An interesting point about the fact that science and experimentation for the sake of experimentation led to the near apocalypse that the world finds itself in and instead of realizing this or even lamenting it, the scientists in the world are still exploring and experimenting with forces and powers that they don't understand. If Freeman is smart, then once the world is saved, he should kill all of the resistance scientists that have any knowledge about creating these portals and dimensional rifts.

I honestly believe that as soon as the conflict is over they will be back in the lab playing god again with forces they don't understand, Half-Life seems like a great cautionary tale to me, ala Jurassic Park when Ian said that people spend so much time trying to prove that they can do something that they never pause to as whether they should do it.

Good articule, and so true as well
And with Gordon Freeman, the thing that got me is how can he be such an expert in weapons and military tactics if hes just a scientist?

an amazing read. I would love a game that could help me out with my chemistry homework, cause lately it's been slaying me.

I honestly believe that as soon as the conflict is over they will be back in the lab playing god again with forces they don't understand, Half-Life seems like a great cautionary tale to me, ala Jurassic Park when Ian said that people spend so much time trying to prove that they can do something that they never pause to as whether they should do it.

I have to respectfully disagree with you there. The Black Mesa scientists are doing the only logical thing by trying to understand how these forces work. The forces they don't understand are simply a property of creation that has always existed and always will. If they were to suddenly say, "Woah! This stuff is WAY out of our league," and walk away, some other group of scientists will just stumble on it again decades if not centuries later. Thats just how progress works. The property and force is already there to be found and someone WILL find it. If something exists, it will be found eventually. All walking away will do is just sweep it under the rug until some other hapless person trips over the lump and hurts himself.

A beekeeper wouldn't know to protect himself while gathering honey unless some dumb caveman poked a hive with a stick and got stung first. Was it dumb to poke that hive with a stick? Of course. But how was the caveman supposed to know that? He never saw a beehive before. Did poking the hive with a stick somehow "create" the angry bees? No, they were always there. And if that caveman chose to ignore the hive and walk away, would that have solved the problem? No. Some OTHER caveman just would have come across the hive and poked it with a stick out of curiosity. But thanks to the first caveman's efforts, the second caveman has learned a small piece of the puzzle on how to deal with bees. Being stung hurts. Find a way to avoid being stung.

The resistance scientists are just like the first cave man. They poked the portal with a stick , the Xen creatures stung them and it hurt. But portals are something that exist, a fundamental force of nature. Period. If they don't figure out how to properly deal with teleportation and portals now, they're simply condemning the next group of people that stumble on them without the benefit of their research.

Ignorance solves nothing. Ever.

A very good article.
I'd like to see more games with scientific stuff in them (try Polarity, even though it's really short). Anyone remember the Dr Brain games?

Dumb down some of real life's universal principles and you obtain fun video game mechanics.
This was already appleid to fields of mechanics, providing some fun in F1 racing simulations.
But you can't totally respect science either. Can you imagine that Heavenly Sword chick getting her hairs stuck in a door because of *fun and realistic physics*!

*Snort* Ah, Gordon, bless you for your simple introductions into scinence and math:

If Z equals amount of zombies, B equals amount of blows required to kill each zombie, then what value would the sum, G, be?

Answer: Gore.

Seriously, though, It's always nice to play a game and actually learn something, or at the very least not have the 'You must belieeeeeeve' message crammed down my throat like taking tea with a Texan Evangelical Minister. Granted, taking steps forward in complexity and relation to real-life concepts is fun and challenging,but we have to be careful not to leave the market behind - I sincerely doubt many people would be too interested if they have to start considering the molecular compounds of their Greater Healing Potion whenever they play their RPG.

Complexiy is fun, and innovation is the lifeblood of gaming, I just hope Valve and the rest of the market remembers that too much too fast isn't a good thing. After all, most gamers are clearly 'tarded as stoned chimps. We like shiny colours.

*Is distracted by a passing bee*

Really great article. To be honest I never gave it a second thought, about Kliner and them continuing their research.

May Freeman live 'til the end of days

excellent article I like the finishing statement very good question I would like to see the answer too!

My coworkers and I have long agreed that chemistry should be the next big addition to games after physics. You push an old car into the ocean, come back to it a week later, and it's a bit rusted. Not because the game knows that car + ocean = rust, but because the virtual salt water actually rusted the virtual metal through a chemical interaction engine.

And yeah, Valve is king. I always did wonder what Glados' intentions were in the Portal experiment . . . the whole thing seems like it was originally designed to test the limits of the gun, not the user (or perhaps to train the user in it's uses to encourage a soldier outfitted with that gun to think with portals!).

Good article. :)

I doubt very much that he would have seen videogames as the savior to these problems. But I think they have hidden potential.

Most of what I know about how to use a computer came from playing Doom, Quake, and Half-Life. I think making video game experiences more accessible has removed a lot of the educational potential from them.


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