## Friday Fun: Hyper Rogue

Posted in: Friday Fun | December 21, 2012 | No Comments

For those of you looking for a science-game-fix, I’ve got an interesting one this week.  A friend of mine passed this one on to me recently (thanks Piotr!)  It is not a science game per say.  But it has a nice twist.

Hyper Rogue

This is just your standard move around, kill bad guys, collect useless treasure game.  Except for one big twist: the world is non-Euclidean.  I think this is the first time I’ve really seen this executed in a game.  The surface your character is walking on has a negative curvature.  That means it is not curved like a sphere, but like a hyperbolic plane.  More familiarly: a saddle, so named for its shape.  Or better yet, Pringles.  Try flattening out a Pringle.  Even if you could get it from breaking, you’d find it just can’t lay flat.  There’s too much material around the outside, it would have extra folds of stuff.  (The converse is if you took the top half of a globe, and tried to lay it flat.  There’s not enough material around the outside, so it would tear a bunch if you managed to get it flat.)

Back to the game.  Since you’re walking on a hyperbolic plane, there’s a surprising amount of area within a given radius.  On the site, you’ll see pictures of how they game designer depicted this all on a two-dimensional screen.  Your character can see only a certain distance (ahem, radius), but in order to draw all the tiles properly, they get drawn smaller around the edges.  That’s their way of dealing with the ‘extra folds of stuff’ issue.

It’s a curious game to play around with.  I’ll admit, it is very easy to ignore the mathematical twist entirely.  After all, you’re just walking around a world.  And by the way it is drawn, you might almost think you’re just standing on a sphere.  (It’s easy to mistake the smaller tiles around the edges for you being at some North pole, and them being at the Equator.  But, of course, that’s not true at all.)  The geometry manifests itself in a couple different ways in the game.  First, with all that extra (folds of) stuff, the world ends up having a lot of area.  So much packed in such a small radius that it is very hard to get back to where you started.  And of course, parallel lines come up, too.  In flat space, parallel lines always stay the same distance away.  On a sphere, they will cross eventually (think lines of longitude).  But on a hyperbolic plane, the parallel lines will diverge.  So in the game, you’ll encounter sets of walls that are parallel, but diverge.  It messes with your head a bit.

The site has a bunch of pictures and a video of the game, or you can just go for it and download it (free!).   So why not check it out?

-Andy

## Evolution continues to… develop.

Posted in: Evolution Simulation, Wednesday Update | December 19, 2012 | 5 Comments

Another Wednesday, another in-depth update on what’s happening behind the scenes here at TestTubeGames.  Or, at least as in-depth as what you’d want.  (Fine, fine… I had a ham sandwich for lunch.)  This week has been a bit busy with non-TTG related activities.  What with building Tesla coils and getting sick  — unrelated I promise — but there is still plenty to report.

First off, the winter (for me) solstice is coming up.  Make sure to equip your Pocket Sundial to see some very long noon-time shadows.  And also to zoom ahead in time to watch the days getting longer.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have that in real life?

Just like last week, I tried to keep myself mainly focused on the evolution simulator.  I mainly dealt with a lot of nuts and bolts.  Fixing my code, hunting down bugs, putting in small features.  Things like a locking mechanism on the options (always listen to Muldoon).  That way, when people start, they won’t able to access (and be confused by) the whole simulation.  I’m hoping it’ll be more approachable if I parse it out slowly.  And I worked a bunch on the menu screens.  I’m always surprised how long it takes to make menus… and also how boring it is to talk about menu design – so moving on…

I added different tracks for the creatures to race on.  Some are bumpy, some are cluttered with objects, some have deadly pits.  Just as real creatures occupy specific niches, the virtual creatures you’re evolving will generally work best on one of the tracks.  I found the level with pits fun to watch.  The creatures (so far) that have done best find a very neat and mechanical-looking way to fling one limb across the pit, then slowly and carefully slide themselves over.  It looks like it taking a lot of mental effort, but of course, they are just mindless algorithms.  (Or are they?) (Yes… yes they are.)  I’m pleased with the extra tracks so far, and they seem to be giving a nice depth to the simulation.

I’ve also got an idea I’m batting around for an evolution-themed game.  (I’ve been mentioning some game-like-elements to this simulation, of having creatures compete with each other. Sure. But to it is certainly still mainly a sit-back-and-watch simulation.)  Basically, it’ll put you on the other side of the contest.  Creatures will be racing towards you, and you’ll need to stop them (instead of root for them).  I’m pretty excited about the possible directions this game could take… but no more of that for now: the simulation comes first!

-Andy

## Friday Fun: Untangled

Posted in: Friday Fun | December 14, 2012 | No Comments

After last week’s fairly heady Quantum Chess, I’m switching gears a bit this week.  Here’s a sciency game that is quick and ‘easy.’

The game: Untangled.  It is simple to play and works right in your browser, so nothing is holding you back! It’s a puzzle game where you’re trying to untangle (ah yes) a web of objects.  Imagine starting with a jumbled mess of rope, then trying to get it to lay flat.  Right now, the Demo is playable online – so try your hand at arranging the red rectangles.

But what does this puzzle have to do with science?  Electronics.  Electronic circuits and chips are ubiquitous, and can be pretty tough to design well.  You see, there are a bunch of components that need to get crammed side by side, as close as possible.  You want to minimize wasted space.  But on the other hand, you generally don’t want your ‘wires to cross’, so to speak.  It gets confusing fast, and you can tend to end up with a rat’s nest.  So the connections need to be organized nicely.  Whoa.  That’s just the game Untangled!

Well, the ‘red rectangles’ that you end up moving around actually represent electronics components, and the lines connecting them represent conductive paths.  But… why?  Well, it turns out this game is, itself, research.  Designing and untangling an optimal chip can be incredibly time-consuming for humans given the sheer number of nodes in the network.  Why not just have a computer design these things?  Well, humans have a leg up when it comes to visual reasoning.  We’re pretty darn good at puzzles like these, at least in small quantities.

So this game is looking to find out more about how humans do it.  And then, with any luck, we might be able to teach computers some of the strategies that we use.  So the players, just having fun with a simple game, may well be teaching computers some very important things.  Pretty Neat!

-Andy

## Evolution enters the Arena

Posted in: Wednesday Update | December 12, 2012 | 2 Comments

Well, look at that!  I’ve posted so many Wednesday Updates that I’ve decided to give this one its own title!  No more “Wednesday Update: #n.”  The magic number where I get bored with that plan is apparently 3.  (Can I even remember back to two weeks ago?  What was the world like then?)

This week I’ve been majorly focusing on the evolution game.  Just to remind you, this will lie somewhere between a simulation and a game.  You take a very basic creature (a couple of sticks hooked together with a motor, really), and your goal is to make it a lean mean fighting/running machine.  Well, you won’t do that with the original creature.  Rather, you want to make its great-great-great-great-….-great grand-creature lean and mean.  You’ll do it using evolution, which means this simulation takes place over hundreds (thousands?) of generations.  Each generation consists of 6 new offspring, similar but different to their parent.  They race, and the winner gets to become the new parent.  Over time, they get faster.

Just like the picture before. But it’s blue! Also, it works. And it’s blue! …blue.

So what did I do with it this past week?  For one, I took the graphics (like the drawing I showed last week) and stuck them into the game.  Now it’s looking so much better than the black-and-white lines I was prototyping with before!  I added in the competitive section, where your creature will compete against a handful of powerful ‘bosses’.  The two creatures are set up facing one another, and their goal is to race to the opposing side.  The fists (nondescript limbs?) fly, and speed, strength, and wit can help a creature win.  I had quite a bit of fun creating the bosses.  Some are hard to beat.  Others are VERY hard to beat.  But I figure, hey, it’s evolution!  If you can’t beat ’em, let your descendents give it a shot.

“Are you not entertained?!?”

So all in all, I added a slew of new features — and of course a bunch of new bugs.  Ah, well.

What’s this next week hold?  Well, aside from finding our next installment of “Friday Fun,” I’ll be doing my best to get this evolution sim playable by the holidays.  (Note: not released… just able-to-be-played by people-who-aren’t-the-developer.)  And as always, I’m sure my love of shiny objects will take me darting off to explore other ideas.

Speaking of, has anyone encountered a Circuit Simulation that they like?  I’ve been poking around, and haven’t found much past the ‘take a light bulb and put it in this predetermined slot’ genre.  If you know a nice, easy-to-play-around-with simulator, let us know about it below in the comments!

-Andy

## Friday Fun #2

Posted in: Friday Fun | December 7, 2012 | No Comments

Friday has rolled around, and that means it is time for another science game to help you while away the afternoon!

This week, I’m highlighting a quantum game.  (My mind must be lingering on that game I recently put on the back burner.)  There are a handful of interesting games and simulations out there that highlight Quantum Mechanics.  This one, though, has eaten up more of my time than any other…

Quantum Chess!

Of course!  Chess is just too simple.  Sixteen different pieces on each team moving around a board.  Pshaw!  Easy!  Any ol’ supercomputer could find the optimal moves.  I want a challenge when I play a game.  Why not entangle the pieces in strange superpositions?  Instead of a Queen, you now have a piece that has a 50% chance to be a Queen, and a 50% chance to be a Pawn.  You’ll only know what it’ll be AFTER you select it to move.  Hey, you were planning on using the Queen to save your King from check?  Too bad, it’s a Pawn now!

Sure, maybe I’m losing. But there’s a *chance* I’m winning!

Turns out, this isn’t some isolated game idea.  There’s people actually writing papers about Quantum Chess.  (It is formatted in LaTeX, so it is legit.)  Papers are nice and all, but I want to really PLAY Quantum Chess.  And thanks to Alice Wismath an undergrad over at Queens University, I can!  You rock, Alice!

If you’ve ever played Quantum Tic-Tac-Toe, this is like that on steroids.  Imagine a bunch of boxes with Schroedinger’s cats inside them.  The cats are in one of two states (instead of dead or alive, though, they are Rook and Knight, say).  Each different piece-spot (err, making up words now…!) has two different pieces it could really be.  When you select the piece, you make a measurement on it, collapsing its wavefunction.  It becomes one or the other.  At least temporarily.  If it lands on a white square, it stays as the same classical piece.  If it lands on a black square, though, it goes back into superposition.

Now, I’m not a very good chess player.  I quite enjoy the game, but I’ve never played enough to get good at all.  The strategies get intense (so-and-so’s defense, and all that).  And that makes the random element of this quantum chess so fun to me.  I don’t feel so bad losing.  I didn’t lose because I planned poorly… I lost because my Queen turned into a Bishop at the wrong moment!

The Quantum Chess is a java applet that you can play right online.  I’ll note that the AI opponent is pretty good.  I’m curious about the process the creator went through to craft the AI… do you start with some standard computer chess opponent, and then just branch  to the many possible board states?  I don’t know.  But I do know the computer is tough to beat.  I haven’t yet.  If you do, let us know in the comments!  Any tips for a guy who keeps losing?

-Andy

## Wednesday Update #2

Posted in: Wednesday Update | December 5, 2012 | 2 Comments

Another full week!

I had a very pleasant surprise this past weekend when I discovered a new review of Agent Higgs.  You can read it here.  The final verdict: “Buy it.”  Heck yeah!

As for my upcoming games, I mentioned last week that I’m putting the quantum game on hold.  So this week I focused mainly on two other games/simulations.

EMag:

First up, the electromagnetism game.  And there all that quantum work came in quite handy.  In fact, I was able to transform what existed of the quantum game (a standard 2D platformer) pretty quickly to prototype some levels.  The basic idea is that your character (and his/her bullets) are electrically charged.  Of course, this means they attract and repel to certain objects.  But they are also affected by magnetic fields.  And it isn’t at all like the basic notion of magnets that gets used all the time in games (yes, magnets can attract and repel, we get it).  Instead, a moving charge will curve in the field.

I’m looking forward to making some fun levels that make good use of those curving paths.  As I mentioned, right now it is a 2D platformer… but I’m bouncing some other ideas around.  Heck, imagine the strange complexities these extra forces would introduce into a game like Cut the Rope.  Or even your run-of-the-mill space shooter!  Or EVEN — ah, sorry.  I get carried away sometimes.

Evolution:

Mostly, though, I was working on the evolution simulator.  How does it simulate evolution, you ask?  Mutation and Selection.  You start with a very basic creature (imagine sticks attached to each other with motors).  It can move, but not well.  Then it has 6 offspring.  They are similar to the parent, but have very slight mutations in their bodies and behaviors.  The siblings compete in a high-stakes footrace.  The losers are all… sent to a farm somewhere.  The winner, though, makes 6 new offspring.  Mutation and Selection.

It is shaping up nicely.  Just today I was working on the graphics.

Creature 4 seems to have found a shiny object back there

Aside from the simulation side of it, I’ve been thinking of ways to make it a bit more of a game.  So I’m adding in an extra competitive mode. After all, you tenderly create these creatures over hundreds of generations.  They need to make it out into the real world and interact with one another!   In this extra mode, you can challenge your friends, pitting your creatures against one another in an American-Gladiator style showdown.  Who can evolve the better beast?  Well, in a few weeks, you’ll be able to find out!

-Andy