At its core, A Slower Speed Of Light offers one of the oldest setups in gaming. You run around an arena-like playground, attempting to gather 100 collectable spheres. But here’s the catch: with every successful pick-up, the game incrementally decreases the simulated speed of light.
If you’re a physics bod you can probably guess what happens next, but everyone else is in for a surprise. Initially your task seems to be laughably easy, but the better you fare the more distorted your perceptions become. The game realistically depicts principles like Lorentz transformation, time dilation, and the Doppler effect, which in layman’s terms means that the graphics swiftly hitch a ride on the Wackjob Express.
The colours in your surrounding begin to shift and glow and eventually the hue and tone of the world depends on the direction in which you face – I’m reliably informed that this is the Searchlight Effect. Objects begin to violently warp as you enter their vicinity, and there’s a watershed moment the first time you catch sight of a strange, conical figure, and realise that you’re watching your past self.
A Slower Speed Of Light is the work of MIT’s Game Lab. As you might expect, it’s less successful as a game, in the purest sense, than as an exercise in exploring physics. All the same, it’s a lot of fun – particularly on the last stretch of your collect-a-thon quest. By then you’ll find it near impossible to navigate your environment with any degree of finesse, sliding around a kaleidoscopic wonderland. If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to be a rock ’n’ roll roadie in the ’60s, this is probably a fairly accurate depiction.
In addition to releasing the game for free, the MIT Game Lab plans to publish its engine as an open-source package later this year. In theory, that could lead to a whole new crop of distorted-light games. Is Mario’s Doppler Freak-out just around the corner? Here’s hoping.
Neon Kelly is deputy editor at Videogamer.com