Mar 20, 2006


A friend of mine who happens to be a regular reader of this blog brought to my attention this story about a new formulation of black hole theory. Now, I’m certainly no genius, but I have long included physics among those academic areas which I keep abreast of as a hobby (economics being another notable) despite a lack of interest in holding a job at which I might employ this knowledge. I understand the actual physics involved here only to a very limited extent, but I can appreciate the significance of the idea being presented. Namely, that objects that have crossed the “event horizon” (previously thought to be a mathematical boundary around a black hole whose transversal essentially relegated the wayward traveler to complete disappearance from the knowable universe, with no trace to ever be seen again) could actually theoretically be revealing residual information through radiation.

The reason that I am writing about this is that the aforementioned friend told me I should make a game about black holes. Now, I certainly would not be the first person to incorporate a black hole into a game. It is often seen in games acting as a whirlpool of certain destruction for ships foolhardy enough to venture near.

However, this new development opens a potential avenue of originality in dealing with the subject.

Let’s interrupt this for a moment to state that I have no intention of actually making the game I am about to propose. As I’ve said previously, I like to do quick and rough game designs entirely in my head merely as a thought exercise to not only hone my interpretive design skills, but also because I find it amusing. Of course, I never intended on making Television Executive either, but you know how that turned out. Still, don’t take the following too seriously, as I am not really trying.

So, let us go back to the opportunity for novelty in black hole mechanic design. To incorporate a black hole in a way that is distinguished from previous implementations I now need only base it on the heretofore-unknown “retrievability” of information from black holes. There is more than one way to deal with this.

The most obvious and least interesting would be a game based on fishing items out of a black hole. This of course stretches the science quite a bit, but I will claim poetic license based on the fact that I once wrote a dirty limerick. Perhaps players compete to find the most valuable objects, which are pre-seeded in the black holes. This could even lend itself to a magnetic dexterity game of sorts. You need to carefully use your “tractor beam” (fishing rod) to grab items without being sucked into the black hole (through magnetic attraction to your ship) and turned into a salvageable lump of metal yourself.

For a more serious take, the black holes effects can just be simulated through calculable rules, perhaps with gravitational spikes or radiation thrown into the game as random events with controllable levels of probability and defense depending on your ship’s adventurousness in trawling for treasure.

A far more interesting way to approach this would be as a deduction game. Players all launch items into the black holes, but only know which items they personally sent in. The black holes can then be examined and the results of the examination can be used to deduce the contents of the black hole somehow. This approach would require a either a moderator (such as in Mastermind or Zendo, one of my favorite games), a complicated physical mechanism, or a simple computer to translate the contents of the black hole(s) into some kind of abstraction/hash from which players must figure out the contents by performing experiments to discover how the black hole reacts and what that must mean about the interior of the event horizon. I probably would avoid anything where the players question each other, as Clue and Mystery of the Abbey have really taken that mechanic further than it has any right to go.

Damn, the more I think about this the more I’d like to actually try and tackle this game. Utopia was a failed attempt of mine at a deduction game. It would be nice to be able to make something in that genre that at least I found some merit in. I have way too many designs which I’m working on, or rather failing to have time to work on, as things stand. I’m gonna stick this in my file for a time when my design plate isn’t so full. Hopefully it will still be (assuming for the sake of argument it is now) an original idea when that time presents itself.

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