Last year, MIT Game Labs released a physics simulating game called “A slower speed of light”. The game, which is available for free on PC, Linux and Mac, is centered around collecting orbs which lower the speed of light successively until you manage to bring it down to zero. Now, the engine which powers the game is being released open source to the game-developer community at large. The engine simulates the very strange and fantastical effects of near light speed velocities and makes them accessible for us to experiment and play with.
You see, light speed isn’t quite as simple as it would appear in Star Wars. What sci-fi usually portrays as light beams flying out towards you, is more akin to an acid trip in real life. When you approach the speed of light, two effects will begin to change your perception of the world around you. The first of these effects, Lorentz contraction, arises from he fact that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light in vacuum. To account for this, distances appear to contract in the world around you, and as a result, light seemingly begins to bend around objects. This will allow such impossible feats as seeing the back of an object you’re approaching while you’re in front of it. The second effect, color shift, is similar to the Doppler effect you experience when police sirens approach or leave you and seem to have different pitches: Approaching a light source at near light speed means the light waves become “compressed” and experience a pitch, or rather, a color change. the visible colors like red and blue will fall out of the visible spectrum and be replaced by colors we can’t normally see, like ultra violet, infrared and even microwaves.
The OpenRelativity engine allows for a game to simulate these effects as realistically as science can predict they’d actually be like to experience. Beyond simulating light speed travel, the engine also allows you to use the phenomena as game mechanics, for example allowing you to create light frequency-specific textures that would only be visible under e.g. ultra violet light. You can grab the source code from the programming resource site GitHub, or, if you’re more curious about the effects, you can check out the demonstration video!