The idea of an article about the science behind some aspects of the Half-Life games popped into my head when I was listening to a physics podcast. It was talking about Zero-Point Energy and of course I immediately recognized the term.
I performed a quick search to see if somebody else had already written something and was initially disappointed to find somebody had. However, after scanning it and seeing the author say that the “Zero Point Energy” was just “a pointless quasi-scientific name that has no serious grounding in genuine physics”, I decided I would write my own.
I am no scientist or even have any formal qualifications in physics, but I am interested in the field and have read a fair bit (most of it forgotten though!), so please feel free to correct me if I am wrong. However, remember, I am trying to cover the “idea” behind the science not teach the detailed science to readers.
Over a series of short articles, I will be discussing different aspects of the games and the science in them and today it’s the game names.
So, put your lab coat on & adjust your safety goggles and let’s get to work…
I can’t remember how many times I have seen the following question asked: “Why is Half-Life called Half-life?”. Too often the answer simply give the definition of the term Half-Life and doesn’t discuss the WHY. I’ll try to do that with all the game names.
Actually, let’s come back to this one.
This is the first game with a clear double meaning. Opposing Force describes the fact that you are the military force opposing or fighting against Gordon & the scientists but also is a reference to Newton’s third law of motion, which states that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. So, we have the reason for the game: Opposing Gordon AND a scientific name that relates to that meaning. Pretty clever really.
This is my favourite name of all the games. the scientific name and its meaning IN the game are essentially the same. You have this EQUAL and OPPOSITE concepts. Adrian is just as bad-ass as Gordon. Whilst he never fights him, he is trying to do the same as him (EQUAL) but then finds that somebody opposes him (OPPOSITE). I love the double, double meaning.
This follows the same ideas as Opposing Force. Blue Shift is the name of the work shift that Barney is working. A work shift is the period of time a person works. For locations that work 24 hours a day, the shifts are normally split into three. For example, 6am until 2pm, 2pm until 10pm and 10pm until 6am. These are normally described as Morning, Afternoon and Night shifts, but many places name them. In this case, each shift might have a different colour.
The scientific meaning is related to the Doppler Effect, which describes the change in the frequency of a wave (or other periodic event) for an observer moving relative to its source. This means that if you are on a road and a police car is coming towards you, the frequency of the sound is a little higher than if it were stationary next to you and when it passes, the frequency is a little lower as the sound waves get spaced out. There are two types: Red Shift, when the source is moving away from the observer and Blue Shift when the source is moving towards the observer.
What we now have to ask, is why was BLUE chosen and not RED. Is there a meaning behind that or was it just a random chose. I don’t think ANYTHING Valve do is random, so what theories do you have for Valve choosing BLUE?
Let’s go back to…
From the scientific point of view, Half-life (notice the lower-case L) is the scientific description of exponential or gradual decay, meaning the amount of time required for a quantity to fall to half its value as measured at the beginning of the time period. It is often used with radioactivity (more on that later) but there are also Effective Half-life and Biological Half-life. For the purposes of this discussion, we don’t need to worry about them.
The scientific symbol for Half-life is this: λ. It’s called Lambda and if you take a look at that Wikipedia page, you will see that it has a lot of different uses, both in upper-case and lower-case. We are interested in the lower-case version, because that the one we see in our Half-Life, although it’s actually a stylized version of the letter. This is the upper-case if you are interested: Λ.
Obviously the Lambda symbol is also the logo of the game and is see all over Black Mesa. So we are at that point where we have to talk about WHY. Why is the game called Half-Life?
Well, a search of the internet brings up some crazy theories: It looks like an arm holding a crowbar, half of Gordon’s life was scientist and the other half is as a bad-ass. But the simple answer (and I think Valve has confirmed this) is that they needed a sciencey name that was connected to some elements in the story.
The Lambda Complex is one of the seven main sections of Black Mesa. There are crystals that glow, which probably mean they are radioactive. There is radioactive waste and materials ALL OVER Black Mesa. It all points to selecting a name that relates to the content.
Alas, there really doesn’t seem to be a double meaning to this game. Do you have any well-thought out theories?
So that just leaves us Half-Life: Decay, an add-on included in the PlayStation 2 port of the first-person shooter game Half-Life, developed by Gearbox Software and published in 2001. The word decay is very closely related to the scientific meaning of Half-life: the rate at which something decays.
I looked for a double meaning, especially because Decay is a co-op game but I couldn’t find any. Personally, I would have called this Entanglement, which means that pairs or groups of particles are generated or interact in ways such that the quantum state of each particle cannot be described independently. The idea here is that each person in the game HAS to have the other to progress.
Do you have any theories for a double meaning for Decay?
That’s it for now
Well, there you have the first article. I hope you both learnt something and enjoyed it (see what I did there with the double meaning?!)
The next article is about Weapons and will appear in about a couple of weeks.