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Flashback: The Quest For Believable Physics December 1, 2008

Filed under: Genres,Retro games,Specific games — haounomiko @ 4:20 pm
Tags: , ,

I finished Flashback: The Quest For Identity, and I have to say it’s actually quite good. The game mechanics– the graphics and scale, and the motions and puzzles– reminded me a bit of Prince of Persia for the SNES, and that makes me very happy. I loved Prince of Persia, and when they came out with the modern sequels, I was so excited– until I discovered that it involved a lot more fighting, and the series has only gone further in that direction since then. I enjoyed the original for the puzzles, and the focus on fighting made it seem rather mundane and rehashed, rather than the unique thing it was. However, I digress.

Flashback seemed, from the credits, to be mostly the brainchild of the director, who had input in many different areas of the game, and my guess is that said director was a big fan of 80’s sci-fi movies in a certain vein. Visually as well as plotwise and thematically, the game seemed like a mashup of some familiar films. Which was a good thing in my estimation, since I think that kind of sci-fi was quite creative. The one thing that didn’t quite match the image was that some parts of the game were actually prettier and less pessimistic than the stories it was probably lifted from, and honestly I liked that too, since the gritty cynical depressiveness of those stories is the only thing I don’t like about them. In sum, the Flashback world and atmosphere was nice for me; however, I can see other players objecting to the fact that the game is neither this classic tone nor that one, so my praise here should be taken as conditional based on one’s own preferences.

I won’t explain the ending in great detail so as not to spoil it, but I was left thinking it was a little awkward in plausibility– the protagonist is in big trouble unless he has a much better idea of how to pilot and program an alien spacecraft than of how to read their star charts, which seems a little unlikely. Still, it was bittersweet, exciting, and not bad at all.

There is one giant hole in the plot that I can’t quite fill, and that is the Bad Sci-Fi Physics. We are told that the aliens disguise themselves as humans, and the way to tell who they are is that the aliens’ molecular density is a thousand times ours. Therefore, they weigh a thousand times as much for their size. If they were actually a thousand times as heavy as humans, they would crash through the floors of all the elevators, subways, and even second floors of the human buildings, which doesn’t support the premise that their disguise works. Therefore they must be very small– probably no more than 1/2500th the size of a human, unless the architects of the future are designing lifts to a much higher specification than presently– with their disguise being mostly a hologram constructed around them. In this case, why are all the buildings in their homeworld, their spacecraft, and so on constructed for creatures that are roughly human-sized? Inquiring minds want to know.

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5 Responses to “Flashback: The Quest For Believable Physics”

  1. Ayulsa Says:

    and honestly I liked that too, since the gritty cynical depressiveness of those stories is the only thing I don’t like about them

    I’m in agreement with this; that’s the only thing I didn’t like about either, when I was interested in exploring that genre at the time. Nowadays it’s something I might be able to look past just to pick out the thematic strands of the story, but back then it felt quite crushing and not something I wanted to wade through.

    f they were actually a thousand times as heavy as humans, they would crash through the floors of all the elevators, subways, and even second floors of the human buildings, which doesn’t support the premise that their disguise works.

    Hmm… maybe they levitate just slightly? That’s about the only thing I can think of that would offset this; their bodies are heavier, but they’re not actually putting their full weight on the ground. But then, how do they tell they’re heavier? A scale wouldn’t work, if they’re levitating. Does someone just attempt to pick one up and go “Urrrgh! Man, I can’t lift this guy! Must be an alien!”?

  2. haounomiko Says:

    Yeah, the sheer crushing (no gravity pun intended) pessimism is the only thing I don’t like about Philip K. Dick novels; I’m pretty sure I would soak them up like a sponge if they were a little bit happier.

    As for the levitation: I’ve seen them die from falling off a cliff, and if they were levitating they probably wouldn’t fall. (And you apparently tell their density by having them walk behind some kind of coloured glass with pixellated fonts that inform you whether they are “NORMAL” and “OK” or not. Their weight is a direct calculation of density and size.)

    An addendum: aliens are usually killed by being shot by the protagonist. The interweb gives me 4600 fps (feet per second) as the fastest gun speed we have at present, and 300 fps (feet per second) as being in the territory of the bullets not really being fast enough to be lethal. So the fastest gun that currently exists wouldn’t be able to kill a human if it shot only 16 times slower.

    Assuming that a bullet would have to be twice as fast to penetrate something twice as dense (which I do NOT know to be true, and cannot vouch for as correct physics!) then something even just 16 times as dense as a human being couldn’t be killed by being shot at point-blank range with Present-Day Guns ™. Of course, that ignores the possibility that futuristic guns are of an entirely different type, although the graphics certainly make them look like regular ol’ present-day guns, which I doubt could be made 63 times more effective than we can presently do.

  3. Ayulsa Says:

    As for the levitation: I’ve seen them die from falling off a cliff, and if they were levitating they probably wouldn’t fall.

    Hm, that’s true. I think what I was picturing in my head was a sort of lift that directly pushed up against the ground and only worked when you were pretty close to it, but I’m not sure if that’s just more Bad Physics or not. =D

    And you apparently tell their density by having them walk behind some kind of coloured glass with pixellated fonts that inform you whether they are “NORMAL” and “OK” or not.

    …poor things, was my first thought. Such blatant prejudice.

    And re: the guns: wow. That is an impressive deconstruction, something I would not have thought of, and almost certainly something the producers didn’t think of (given especially that someone who was capable of thinking up the idea of aliens a thousand times denser than humans and considering it feasible that such a being could blend in with regular human society probably would never even think to consider this, given that I think such aliens are infeasible and I would not have considered this). Assuming your physics is correct, of course; it’s one of those questions that should have an answer somewhere on the internet, but it’s hard to phrase it in a way that would reliably turn up results.

  4. haounomiko Says:

    That kind of antigravity hovering might be possible, especially given that it is The Future and they are also aliens and therefore they can have all kinds of technology that we don’t even know how to do. (In fact, I have a vague notion that fixed-height low-hovering antigravity is easier to do than antigrav that works at any height, although given that we are talking antigrav on the scale of hundreds of thousands of pounds in a tiny area, we’d better not assume that it works by antigrav techniques that our current science can imagine.) Further, it wouldn’t prevent someone from being hurt by a fall, no.

    However, it doesn’t change the fact that if one of these guys accidentally bumped into you on the subway, it would be like getting bumped into by a truck. And I think that might blow the disguise a bit.

    (Yeah, I don’t know how to search for “how does the density of material relate to how bulletproof it is” in a way that gets helpful results.)

  5. Ayulsa Says:

    In fact, I have a vague notion that fixed-height low-hovering antigravity is easier to do than antigrav that works at any height, although given that we are talking antigrav on the scale of hundreds of thousands of pounds in a tiny area, we’d better not assume that it works by antigrav techniques that our current science can imagine.) Further, it wouldn’t prevent someone from being hurt by a fall, no.

    Ah, yay; so I was at least not entirely talking out of my left behind on that front, then. 🙂

    However, it doesn’t change the fact that if one of these guys accidentally bumped into you on the subway, it would be like getting bumped into by a truck. And I think that might blow the disguise a bit.

    Maybe they’ve perfected the art of appearing super-polite and careful so as to never have to blow their disguise. But then again, that would also distinguish them from most humans quite easily. =D


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