Ya boy Shark here about to spit mad equations at you!
Okay, maybe not like that. But now that the first milestone of my dissertation is past, I am feeling the need to talk about it a bit. This will be the first of a series of posts about what I’m doing.
An overview of the project
My dissertation title is “Relativity Simulation: Develop a physics-based game that utilises the principles of relativity, complete with GUI”.
The opportunity to study relativity on my third year project was something I could not turn down or substitute with another choice despite the depth of challenge in front of me. The impetus for the choice stems from my previous year’s team-based workshop assignment, which saw me developing the realistic gravitation physics behind our team’s game. With other aspects of the game put aside, the end resulted in a profound experience for me when I saw our little own Newtonian universe come to life. Now inspired to take on more advanced physics programming so that one day I can do it again more realistically and better, this project presents me with that opportunity to learn the physics I need with a hands-on project!
The first step of this journey was interpreting and narrowing down exactly what I want to do within the confines of the given title, since there is only so much I can do given the time constraints of the predetermined milestones and the time it will take me to digest everything I learn (something I hope these sort of blog posts will help me). My project aim is to create an educational and interactable simulation that demonstrates how relativity works and how everything changes when you alter relativistic (and by extension; applicable Newtonian) constants such as the speed of light, Planck’s or universal gravitational, which you need to do to complete game levels. Basically, you skew how all game objects interact because you’re basically altering how the virtual ‘universe’ is working. I’m hoping this can evolve into a fun game where you don’t interact with the objects themselves to complete the levels, and the player gets a visual idea of what relativity is without being bombarded with straight up equations, etc.
Milestone one saw me set out the aim and objectives, write my literature review and background research, and design the solution I’m working from (which will be a Windows OpenGL project). Right now, I do not have my game design specified since I am still in the process of researching relativity and deciding what aspects I am gonna use to build a game out of. Milestone two will ultimately have it though, which is due early-February. However, thanks to research I have done, I have indeed found an aspect of special relativity that I can potentially use as a game mechanic. So please, read on for part one in this journey to understand relativity!
But first, a bit of context
Actually, first we need a disclaimer: I possess up to A-level physics education, so please forgive any inaccuracies should there be any since I do not study physics as a part of my course. When I do study physics it is in my spare time – I’m trying my best!
Anyway. Relativity is perhaps one of the most important developments in physics in the 20th century, and today is a prime example of successfully-observed theoretical physics. It encompasses two related theories proposed by Albert Einstein that were built upon the results and findings of other physics such as Albert Michelson, Hendrik Lorentz, and Henri Poincaré. The two theories are special relativity (1905) and general relativity (1916). As stated before, special relativity (STR) will be the focus of this post since its within it that I found my potential ‘playing cards’ for this project. (Don’t worry about general relativity for now, since I will be posting about it closer to the next milestone once I’ve finished my research into it.)
So, STR! It describes the formerly-separate concepts of 3-dimensional space and 1-dimensional time as a 4-dimensional spacetime continuum, replaces the Newtonian Galilean transformations with Lorentz transformations (layman’s: a method of examining different perspectives of time, size and position in space), and states that the speed of light is an absolute constant.
Focusing specifically on the latter two tenants of STR, fixing the speed of light means only time, mass, and length change in calculations from now on. Hence we have consequences that you might of heard of, namely time dilation (event perceived at different times by observers at different velocities), relativistic mass (object’s mass increases with velocity), and length contraction (object’s length decreases with velocity). Each one is possible thanks to having a fixed reference (the speed of light as a constant) to calculate a velocity/light speed ratio with. This ratio is a part of the Lorentz factor, which is key to this idea of what I can make a game out of!
Beware, maths and formula ahead!
The Lorentz factor
The Lorentz factor is pretty much the key to calculating the most well known and visually-representable special relativistic effects. The factor arises from derivations of the Lorentz transformation that allows us to measure how time, mass, and length are affected by time dilation, relativistic mass, and length contraction respectively. The base factor is expressed as:
As aforementioned in the context, the factor relies on a ratio of comparing the velocity against the speed of light so that we know how time, relativistic mass, and length of an object changes when said object moves. The factor should return a value between 0 and 1, where 1 shows absolute lack of velocity. 0 would mean velocity is the same as the speed of light. We can then divide or multiple the factor by specific properties of an object to calculate relativistic values. Below shows three applications of this:
If you’re paying attention to the first two straight away, you might notice that if velocity is the same as the speed of light (299,792,457 metres per second), the result of the factor (as aformentioned, would be 0) would yield an error like “Math ERROR” on a scientific calculator or “#DIV/0” on Excel. This is normal (duh, you can’t divide by 0!), but there will be some additional relativistic explanations later for each specific case.
Starting with time dilation, I’ll be trying to explain these applications in a way that can be somewhat more easily digested that what you might find on Wikipedia (for example).
So, observer time is the time measured by an object that takes into account the relativistic effect of moving at extreme velocities (as opposed to “proper time”, which is time measured without any relativity taken into account). Suppose we have a stationary Shark named Wrex and an in-motion Shark named Princess travelling one-quarter the speed of light (0.25c or 74,948,114.5 m/s). Let the proper time (from an independent clock) measure the time as 1PM (or 46,800 seconds from midnight).
So we can see that at high velocities, Princess’ clock is no longer synchronized with Wrex’s observed time or the independent clock that provides us the proper time reference. The extra ~1,535 seconds or ~25.58 minutes is something no human can presently experience since we do not have any sort of vehicle that can propel us to the sorts of speed required to experience it. If we COULD reach the speed Princess is travelling, the subject would age slower since it would take them ~48,335 seconds to experience the same events a stationary observer does over 46,800 seconds. But let it be clear we do indeed ‘experience’ time dilation daily when we are at some sort of motion, although we ourselves cannot notice. To put this into perspective: the fastest thing the average human could experience, a commercial jet aircraft, would register an observer time of 46800.0000000157 seconds assuming velocity is the average jet speed of 885 kilometres per second or 245.833 m/s (source) and proper time is provided by the same clock used in the Wrex/Princess example. This is something only an atomic clock could register.
Relativistic mass (kilograms) is the measurement of “effective” mass that takes into account the increase in its inertial mass at high velocities, with inertial mass essentially being a parametre of mass that specifies it’s resistance to changes in motion. Using Lorentz factor, we can measure and prove that at higher velocities, the overall mass will increase. So now suppose we have a Shark named Benedict who has a “rest” mass of 50 kilograms and is travelling at one-quarter light-speed (0.25c or 74,948,114.5 m/s).
So Benedict’s mass increased by 1.6397779494322 kilograms at 0.25c! One consequence of relativistic mass is that an object with a rest mass more than 0 cannot travel at the speed of light – as an object approaches c, the object’s energy and momentum increase without bounds. It is possible that you might have heard about this if you’ve ever looked into the challenges of deep-space travel within realistic and liveable time-frames.
Another interesting note is that we can calculate the relativistic mass of an object using its energy value, something possible thanks to Einstein’s famous equation that states mass and energy are equivalent:
Length contraction is the phenomenon of an object’s length being shortened in the direction of motion. Once again, we can use Lorentz factor to calculate this BUT formula is set out differently than in the last two uses, since we are calculating the contraction of the value in question and not the increase. So suppose we have a Shark named Louise who at rest (actual) length is 1.5 metres and is travelling at half-light speed (0.5c or 149,896,229 m/s).
So Louise became ~20cm shorter at half-light speed, but there is not much more to say about length contraction other than it is also known as Lorentz-FitzGerald contraction since it was postulated by George FitzGerald in 1889 and Hendrik Lorentz in 1892.
So, can we conclude this already?!
Yes, we can!
I think all three examples presented today can be invaluable in my game design, since what I need are mechanics that can be incorporated into the game that are both innovative (since there are very few relativity-based games out there) and representable. The latter is going to be a challenge, since in order to visualise any of these I need to scale the universe and its constants down to manageable levels. So constants such as the speed of light might be hundreds or even thousands of times smaller than actuality in order to make velocity/light speed ratios small so that changes to the effects can be noticeable on screen.
Anyway, that’s all folks! 😀 Hopefully this might be interesting for someone!
- STR in general
- Time dilation
- Relativistic mass
- Length contraction
- “ON THE ELECTRODYNAMICS OF MOVING BODIES”
- The defining paper for the Special Theory of Relativity
- Dated 30th June 1905, by Dr. Albert Einstein
- Translated from German to English, prepared by John Walker
- The defining paper for the Special Theory of Relativity
- All shark-based diagrams are free to use provided they are referenced to this blog
- All equation images are free to use without reference!