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5 Scientists Who Deserve to be Video Game Heroes

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Thursday, Jan 21, 2010

Dark Void ships this week, and for a certain kind of person (science geeks like me) one of the big selling points, aside from the jet packs, is that it includes famed genius inventor Nikolai Tesla as one of its main characters. The sad thing is, like Leonardo Da Vinci in Assassin’s Creed 2, Tesla is shunted off into a supporting role, the genius inventor who creates all the cool gear that the heroes use to fight evil. Sure, Ezio’s a cool cat and fun to play, but when do these inspired inventors get their time to shine? While Half-Life‘s Gordon Freeman is nominally a research scientist, not only does he not talk, we also don’t see him doing much science. But I think that the world is ready for the brains behind the bad-ass gear to lead the fight. We’ve got Iron Man‘s Tony Stark out there blazing the trail in comics and movies and people like the Mythbusters doing it in real life.


I’ve put together a list of some real world scientists and inventors who deserve games all on their own, people who’s historical lives were as interesting as Tesla’s or Da Vinci’s and who would offer thrills and chills aplenty for any gamer.



  
Isaac Newton


Neal Stephenson has already done a lot of the work for me in his fabulous (and long) Baroque Cycle trilogy of novels. There was much more to Sir Isaac Newton than falling apples, gravity, and the invention of calculus (although see Karl Liebnez on this last point). For all his scientific cred, Newton was also a mystically minded man and deeply embroiled in the study of alchemy. With multi-hued potions being such a mainstay of modern gaming, Newton as a hero would have access to some of the greatest potion-crafting skill around. His quest might take him further along these mystical paths for a game with fantasy elements or for a more Assassin’s Creed-style story with his involvement in the political machinations of his turbulent times. Or maybe he teams up with Ratchet and Clank and makes crazy weapons.


The Montogolfier Brothers


Two French brothers who invented the hot air balloon. And while they don’t have mustaches, they do speak a Romance language, and I can imagine a Mario Bros.-style platformer that involves a lot of hovering balloons and wind currents. But I’d rather see a game that celebrates their science and inventiveness. With Dark Void as our current events model, it’s easy to see an errant jetstream whisking the wig-clad brothers through some dimensional vortex or another. Heck, it could even be a prequel to Dark Void, and they’re in the Bermuda Triangle half a century before Tesla gets there.


Heinrich Schliemann


Heinrich Schliemann was a 19th Century explorer/archaeologist/adventurer, who after studying his Homer really closely discovered the lost city of Troy. To repeat, a real world explorer who found a city once thought to be mythical. And while subsequent historians have questioned some of his methods and conclusions, no one doubts his passion or panache. For a real world Nathan Drake, but with a German accent, Schliemann is unbeatable. I can totally see him pushing around giant blocks of stone to activate levers and open hidden passages that lead to buried treasure. Actually, I’d kind of rather never do that in a game again, so hopefully, someone would come up with something more original for this larger than life characters to do.


Richard Feynman


A theoretical physicist with a gift for lecturing might not seem the most likely game protagonist but bear with me. Feynman is a hero to many scientists, widely admired for both his scientific insight and his charming nature. He’s also said to have been a bit of a womanizer in his day. Add in the fact that he worked on the Manhattan Project, and you’ve got all the pieces that you need for an amazing adventure game. A Heavy Rain-style immersive mystery could involve anything from Nazi spies and beautiful femme fatales to other dimensions and multiverses (or all of the above). And maybe, just maybe, we’ll all learn a little something about physics along the way.


Jack Parsons


I’ve saved the best and weirdest for last. Jack Parsons was a rocket scientist, who among other things, helped develop jet assisted take off technology. And you know he was a driven, risk-taking tinkerer and inventor because he died in 1952 as the result of an explosion in his home lab. Or did he? The wonderfully nutty thing about Parsons was that he was deeply involved in ritual magic and the occult and was a disciple of the notorious Aleister Crowley. His involvement in establishing magical lodges and performing huge rituals should send any game designer’s mind reeling with possibilities. Demons from hell, enchanted rockets, dark sex magic rituals, and the conflict between science and superstition can all play a role. This is a game that I desperately want to play.


Those are my top five, but I’m sure there are more. Any suggestions out there?

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