Posts Tagged ‘games’

Fallout 3 Teaser

Posted: 10 November 2008 in Uncategorized
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Fallout 2 was one of the best games I’ve ever played.  Post-apocalpytic, satirical, and gritty.  Good times.

The trailer for the next one is awesome, and apparently it’s due out soon…

GWAP Gender Guesser

Posted: 22 October 2008 in Uncategorized
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I don’t have a lot to say about the mechanics behind it, since I’m not privy to them, but my former project GWAP is testing out a gender guesser.  Based on your preferences for 10 pairs of images, it seems to achieve decent accuracy guessing your gender.  At least of the 10 or so times that I took it, it got it wrong twice.

GWAP's new gender guesser

GWAP's new gender guessing game

Spore Creature Creator

Posted: 18 June 2008 in Uncategorized
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Spore is probably the most anticipated game of the year.  Indeed, it has been anticipated for quite a while.  It’s by the same dude who did SimCity and the Sims, yada yada, if you want to know all that you can check out the myriad gaming articles out there who care a lot more about the particulars than I do.  The main thing of interest to me is the creature creator at this point, since Maxis just released a demo version of it.  You can also buy a non-disabled version for $10 (digitally starting at noon CST today).  The demo version limits the variety of parts you can add pretty significantly.  What it does let you see is how well it animates and interprets the morphology of the creatures you make.  And it’s pretty frickin’ cool.

Below is one of my creations, Otzertzen.

GWAP Promo

Posted: 18 May 2008 in Uncategorized
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Figured I’d post this promo video the GWAP group did.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate in the filming of it since I was visiting my dad and family in Ohio for the first time after many years.  So unfortunate in that I missed the filming, but the alternative was worth it.  Johnny Lee had a not insignificant role in the making of the video, I believe.  Check out his stuff if you haven’t, he’s doing some pretty amazing things with Wii remotes.

Today is the official opening day of GWAP: Games with a Purpose. This is one of two research projects I have been working on for the past few months, though my involvement with GWAP so far has only been in the form of attending meetings, minor testing, and offering my sage gaming advice (and by sage, I mean the herb). GWAP is the next phase in Luis von Ahn‘s human computation project. If you visit and play some games, not only will you be rewarded with a good time, but you’ll be helping science! Science needs you. To play games. Now.

The Idea

Artificial intelligence has come a long way, but humans are still far better at computers at simple, everyday tasks. We can quickly pick out the key points in a photo, we know what words mean and how they are related, we can identify various elements in a piece of music, etc. All of these things are still very difficult for computers. So why not funnel some of the gazillion hours we waste on solitaire into something useful? Luis has already launched a couple websites that let people play games while solving these problems. Perhaps you’ve noticed the link to Google Image Labeler on Google Image Search? That idea came from his ESP game (which is now on GWAP).

The Motivation

What researchers need to help them develop better algorithms for computers to do these tasks is data. The more data the better. Statistical machine translation has improved quite a bit over the past few years, in large part due to an increased amount of data. This is the reason why languages that are spoken by few people (even those spoken by as few as several million) still don’t have machine translation tools: there is just not enough data. More data means more food for these algorithms which means better results. And if results don’t improve, then we have learned something else.

The Solution

Multiple billions of hours are spent each year on computer games. If even a small fraction of that time were spent performing some task that computers aren’t yet able to do, we could increase the size of the data sets available to researchers enormously. Luis puts this all a lot better than I can, and fortunately, you can watch him on YouTube (below).

So, check it out already.

I attended some of the final presentations of an undergrad class on Game Programming today with a friend. We went in expecting something more like a poster session, where people are arrayed around a room showing their work off to a few people who managed to crowd around them. The poster session is ideal for brief browsing, because you can skip anything you’re not interested in. Instead, it was a series of power point presentations followed by an on-screen demo.


A French-built supercomputer beat a 5 dan Go master in France a couple weeks ago.  Go is a game I became very interested in in January 2007.  I played several thousand games between then and a month ago, when I deleted my account on an online turn-based Go server.  My reason for quitting was that it was taking too much time I should be using for studying, and I was letting it frustrate me too much.  Go is a game that requires mental peace.  You know how when you became a Jedi, you had to let go of your anger?  Same helps for Go.  I’ll take it back up again at some point, because it is a great mental exercise, but my obsession was just becoming too great.

The reason I picked up Go in the first place was that it remained outside the reach of computers.  Of course, it was only a matter of time before it too fell.  And actually, it hasn’t yet.  Just because it beat a 5 dan French master, doesn’t mean it can beat a 9 dan master from China.  So we’ll see.

The method this system used to beat said master was a Monte Carlo method.  These are brilliantly simple in theory.  You basically generate a multitude of random games for a set of moves and score each resulting game state.  The next move with the best scoring set of random game states is chosen.  This can also be thought of as voting.  A set of random models each vote for a move.  The most (or strongest) votes win.  And when 10,000 monkeys agree…

Go Snapback Symmetry

Posted: 26 February 2008 in Uncategorized
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Go (围棋, 碁, 바둑) is one of my obsessions. I’ve been playing for a year, mostly as ealdent on Online Go Server (OGS) and am currently about 12.5 kyu, though I shift around a bit. At the moment, I’m in a bit of downswing, mostly because stress and not concentrating is leading me to make foolish moves, plus I don’t have a lot of time to devote to analyzing what I’m doing wrong. One of the coolest things about Go to me is the fact that it is an accepted fact in the Go world that your health and mental state contribute to your ability. It makes sense: when you sit down to a game that requires hours of concentration, if your health isn’t good, you will be distracted.

Two snapback symmetries in a game of Go.

So in one of my games against a lower-strength player (about 7 kyu lower), I just noticed the emergence of a really cool symmetry. I have a double snapback (I am the white stones) set up right now. If he plays at E12, I can kill the three stones at F11, E11 and E12 by playing again at F12. If he kills my stone at G13 by playing at H13, I can kill those three stones. Two identical snapbacks back to back. Cool huh? Plus, if he plays at F14, he will put my stones at E16 and F16 in the exact same snapback position by playing again at E15. Go is a beautiful game.

I recorded what this would look like via my cell phone, so sorry for the crappy video. I need to look into some sort of desktop recording software.

Fun Theory

Posted: 17 December 2007 in Uncategorized
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At a meeting at school last week, we discussed several ideas about just what made games fun. There were a variety of topics, from the definition of a game (versus a puzzle, a challenge, etc) to gender differences in game appeal. What interested me the most is the actual theory about what it is in a game or puzzle that translates to the experience of fun in the human brain. Many of the ideas we discussed came from the book A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster. I am just beginning to think about these things, so the ideas expressed below are sketches and are still evolving (actually, I believe every idea should be either evolving or evolvable).

One of Koster’s main points is that the human brain is a pattern matching machine. We find patterns everywhere, be they sequences of moves in chess or where to aim in first-person shooters. When the patterns are too complex or are just random (essentially the same thing from an information theoretic standpoint), the brain grows bored or annoyed. When the patterns are too simple and we discover them all (as in Tic-Tac-Toe), that is also boring. Koster says the following:

“If I were Will Wright, I’d say that ‘Fun is the process of discovering areas in a possibility space.'”

My advisor made the point that there is a certain zone you get into during a game where everything else goes away and you are totally focused. This can also happen with an Excel spreadsheet or coding (or knitting or playing sports). So we seek the zone. I think the zone is a state of mind where your brain is attuned to certain patterns and you are able to find new, related patterns quickly. The zone is a feedback loop that arises from the successful discovery of certain initial patterns that allows you to solve increasingly complex patterns.

When I used to play Halo, the zone was the most awesome experience of all. I would charge a base, kill all the guys between me and the flag, grab the flag, rush back out and zoom back to my home base to score. It was addictive (so addictive I had to get rid of Halo).  So how do you make a game that encourages finding the zone?  Koster’s book has some tips, which I won’t go into, but it’s worth checking out.


Posted: 21 November 2007 in Uncategorized
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I love puzzle games that really challenge your mind.  Planarity is such a game.  You are presented with several vertices connected by edges.  The vertices are shuffled and many of the edges overlap.  The goal is to move the vertices so that the edges are no longer intersecting.  Simple enough, right?  As you progress in level, the challenge increases.  More and more vertices are added.  After beating level 7, I was too tired to continue, but that has nothing to do with the game.  Too much homework and insomnia.  Anyhow, the game is really awesome and I strongly recommend checking it out for anyone who wants to exercise their brain.