Cambridge Science Festival

Posted in: Bond Breaker, Electric Shocktopus, General News, Gravity Simulator | April 22, 2014 | No Comments

This past weekend, I took part in a Science Carnival here in Cambridge.  There were dozens of booths filled with sciencey-stuff.  Most of what I saw was in the Games Corner, a room devoted to the intersection between science and games.  There was a 3D printer making Minecraft figurines, a game you controlled with a potato (think potato battery), and a giant chessboard controlled by robots.

And of course, there was me, showing off a bunch of stuff.


Games games games!

Games games games!


I brought three of the games that I’m working on right now – which was a fun challenge.  Before I’ve always shown off one game at a time… which is difficult enough.  It would be *madness* to prepare three games for a single event.  Probably true, but boy am I glad I did it.

There were perhaps a hundred people or so that came by the booth and played one or more of the games.  And in general, the event skewed a bit younger than I’m used to (more early-elementary schoolers, say).  But I got great feedback, and learned quite a few lessons.

1. Thank goodness none of the games needed much explanation!  I was worried I’d drive myself crazy splitting my time introducing people to three very different games.  But with tutorials at the beginning of each one, people were generally able to simply sit down and play.  Phew!

2. The Gravity Simulator has an extremely wide appeal.  I’m used to talking with some of the… well… ‘advanced’ users of the simulator in the forums here.  People who push the bounds of the sim, setting up and sharing complex creations.  But on Saturday, I was able to place the simulation in front of a bunch of kids and adults who’d never heard of it before.  (And thankfully, I’d added a bit clearer instructions than in the original iteration.)  And, to a person, they found something cool to do.  Whether it was an attempt to get two planets in orbit around a star at the same time — or just a kid seeing how many planets she could spam onto the screen — people found ways to entertain themselves.

3. Shocktopus is a work-horse.  People really get into that game.

4. This was Bond Breaker’s first time out, and it performed admirably.  It kept people engaged, which was nice to see — and I was able to get a bunch of great ideas for ways to improve the game.  Mainly: ways to tweak the tutorials and explanations so people would have a better idea what was going on.

All in all a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon, chatting with people, seeing them enjoy my games, and learning a heck-uva lot myself.  A big thanks goes out to the Cambridge Science Festival, and all the people who stopped by the booth, spending a beautifully sunny Saturday playing video games inside.


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Gravity Simulator A-Go!

Posted in: Gravity Simulator | March 31, 2014 | No Comments

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably played around with my original Gravity Simulator, posted way back in 2011.  And you’ve probably heard me talk about the upcoming update to the simulator — with tons more bells-and-whistles.



It’s here.

I present: the *New* Gravity Simulator


Lets' DO This!

Lets’ DO This!


The simulation has a bunch more power (3000 planets is handled with ease), a bunch more options (change planet colors, track objects, tweak the calculation precision), and a bunch more gravity (citation needed).

There’s a free online version, just like before, that you can play here.  And if you really like gravity, you can always download the Full Version, which lets you play in full-screen mode, runs a lot faster, and will have even more features than the online version.  (Available on PC/Mac/Linux)  And, if that isn’t enough, you’ll be supporting me in developing this simulation.

Both are in alpha still, which means they’re constantly being changed and improved.  (In fact, as of this blog post, an update has already come out… Version 0.26.02).  So if you find a bug, or see room for improvement, swing by the forums to let us know about it.  Your suggestion might just make it into Version 0.26.03!


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Gravity Simulator 2.0

Posted in: Gravity Simulator | February 19, 2014 | No Comments

I’ve been hard at work over here on the Gravity Simulator 2.0.  But wait — you say — I’ve played with the original.  What’s so special about the new version?


More Colors!



Change the color of the planets.  Change the color of the trails!


Less lag!

Here’s a version of the game with 1000 planets on screen at the same time.  All pulling on each other. (Don’t see it? Watch it on YouTube)


More Power!


One reason for the speedier performance?  The game is running in Unity instead of Flash.  And Unity zooms.  There will even be downloadable versions of the game for PC/Mac/Linux that will run even faster.


More Options!


Track planets.  Collide planets!  Vaporize planets with the Death Star!  (Eh, not-so-much with that last one)


Where on earth could I go to *play* with this new simulator, you ask?  Well, it is still in development, *but* I have posted it online so everyone can play around with it.  Right now!  If you find bugs or have feedback, you can email me or pop by the forums to let us know.


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Boston FIG Recap

Posted in: Electric Shocktopus, Gravity Simulator, Wednesday Update | September 18, 2013 | No Comments

So… FIG happened.  And it was crazy.  It took a few days, but I’m finally coming out of my post-FIG coma.  Long story short, it was a great day.

Short story long, here’s some highlights from the day:


There were over seven thousand attendees at the event, nearly three times more than last year.  There was a constant flow of people stopping by to watch other people play The Electric Shocktopus.  As for the players themselves… well… while my laptops were all being used, there was a bit less of a constant flow.  You see, my game was addictive.  The players did not want to relinquish their seats — they were determined to beat more levels/the next level/level 30.  Some were at my booth for a half hour.  Some for an hour.  And I was not about to stop them, It was fantastic seeing frustration turn into dedication.

Special Guests

One part of the day I didn’t expect were the special guests.  Unbeknownst to me, there were people at the event who already *knew* about TestTubeGames.  Some had come out specifically because a friend posted about Shocktopus on Facebook, and told them they had to come play it.  Others planned out coming to the day in advance.  I was blown away by this, and felt really honored that people cared enough about the games to do that.

Business Cards

I put out a couple hundred business cards.  I returned with five.  Whoa.  Good news: I can start designing TTG business card 2.0

Zappy Zappy

No good day is complete without a little chaos.  Or a lot of chaos.  The Electric Shocktopus *refused* to stay in my laptops — he insisted in coming out into the real world.  No, I’m not talking about the Shocktoplush (which was a big hit), but rather about my laptop’s power cord *exploding*.


The Magic Black Smoke came out

The Magic Black Smoke came out


Yikes!  There were some bad power issues in that room, what with all the devices plugged in.  So at some point, about halfway through the day, things on our end of the room started flickering.  And then I heard a nice, loud zapping sound and caught the whiff of fried electronics.  I feverishly unplugged everything, and thankfully, the power cord was the only casualty.

I wasn’t about to plug back into that power source (other people tried, and lost more equipment), so I ran of laptop batteries the rest of the day.  Not ideal — sadly I couldn’t show off the game on the huge monitor.  But it worked.

First Gravity Look

As a benefit to the loss of power, when one of my laptops ran out of juice, I got to try out the current prototype of the Gravity Simulator I had on my iPad.  Just as I hoped, the artistic spirals and loops drew people in — and they got a kick out of flinging planets to see what happens.  It was just the most basic of versions, too, so I’m excited for how people will react to the full thing.

All in all, a full, amazing, and exhausting day.  I learned a bunch by watching people play with The Electric Shocktopus, and hopefully players learned a thing or two, too!  And though I’m gonna need some time to decompress before it rolls around again, I’m already looking forward to Boston FIG 3.0


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Brief Technical Interlude

Posted in: General News, Gravity Simulator, Wednesday Update | June 20, 2013 | No Comments

Out and About

First up, TestTubeGames was featured in an article this month by STEMwire.  It is an article (er, slideshow, sorry) about various creative toys and games to teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).  Check it out here.  That ‘Compounded’ game looks neat — I suggest checking out its Kickstarter video for a good ol’ fashioned Bill Nye parody.



Making a Game for Everywhere

(Warning… technical details ahead!)

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about platforms. (iPhone/browser/PC/Mac/Android/the list goes on).

So far, I’ve made Flash games and iOS apps.  And each game is one or the other of those.  So if you want to use my Pocket Slide Rule, well you better have an iPhone.  And if you want to play Velocity Raptor, it’ll be in a browser.  Occasionally I’ve bridged the gap between those two — so you can play Agent Higgs on you iOS device, or you can play an abridged versions of it as a Flash game.  But that’s really like making two games.  I needed to recode it, rearrange it, change the art around so it fits the screen…  All in all it’s a lot of work.

The reason I’m thinking about these things is because of the update to the Gravity Simulator.  One of the big plans for the upgrade has been to move it *beyond* just being a Flash game.  It’d work great (and be fun) to touch and fling planets on mobile devices, I figure.  My goal: Browser/iOS/Android… possibly downloadable simulations for PC and Mac, too.  That’s a lot of platforms I’ve never made games for.

There are, it turns out, some newfangled ways to do this ‘easily’… and so far I’ve explored a couple.



If you make your game in HTML5, it’s playable right in the browser just like Flash.  But the neat thing is there are ways to turn HTML5 games into official Apps which you can sell in iOS/Android app stores.

Neat in theory, so I started making the new Gravity Simulator in HTML5.  In fact, I even used a framework — Game Closure — to streamline everything.  (Frameworks are like having an assistant to deal with the boring technical stuff — so you can just worry about making a game.) Boy, that was a headache.  I’ll admit, for starters, that my background *is not* in programming… I’m just picking things up as I go.  But I had constant issues getting an HTML5 game (with Game Closure) to work.  The game would work in browsers, but break on iPads.  Or there would be bugs — so many bugs, and often they wouldn’t even be bugs in *my* code, but rather with the framework.

The *biggest* issue I had was with orbits.  The drawn orbits in the Gravity Simulator turn out to be the toughest piece of the whole system.  Why?  Because you need to be able to draw a line that that grows longer and longer *forever*.  It starts off simple:

What's so pretty about r^2 gravity?

What’s so pretty about r^2 gravity?

And the lines keep growing.  You get 10,000… 50,000… 100,000…1,000,000… and more vertices on these lines that loop back and forth over each other.

Ahh... that's what's so pretty about r^2.

Ahh… that’s what’s so pretty about r^2.

Eventually the system can’t handle it.  In order to do that without crashing the system/killing the framerate, it takes some sneaky work-arounds.  Maybe you turn the lines into a picture.  That way the most you’ll ever need to draw is a picture the size of the game… you won’t have to worry about a million+ vertices.  Or better yet, just forget about the lines, and just make a list of pixels that are colored in.

Well, it turns out that, at least as far as I could find, HTML5 (and namely Game Closure) wasn’t well suited to the task.  ‘Line Drawing’ is barely present in that framework… and invariably something that worked in the browser wouldn’t work on my iPad.  Try as I might, it gave me a bunch of headaches and it never came together.  HTML5 is often criticized for being ‘not finished yet’, and now I can understand why.



This is another popular way to make games for a bunch of platforms, and it is much more polished than HTML5.  (It outta be, it’s a commercial product, after all!)   I’ve been trying it out for the past few days, and I like what I’ve seen.  There is a much more robust system for *drawing*, which is key.  Lines, pixels, it’s all good.  I can even draw a surprisingly high number of lines before I need to resort to tricks.  And so far, what I’ve found, happily, is that the tricks work both in the browser *and* on an iPad!  I write one set of code, and it does seem to work similarly in multiple places.

So at the moment, that’s where I am… working on prototyping the Gravity Simulator in Unity.  The path towards ‘easily making a game in a bunch of places’ has been a tough and winding one.  Here’s hoping that Unity will fit the bill.  Then I can get down to real things, like actually making the simulator (better).


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This week, it’s about *you*

Posted in: Electric Shocktopus, General News, Gravity Simulator, Wednesday Update | May 30, 2013 | 4 Comments

For this week-in-review, it turns out I’ve got more questions than answers.  Questions for you, in fact, the player/reader/steward of science.



I’m thinking of adding some forums to the site.  The hope is, a forum would provide a nice place for science/game discussion.  It’d be a spot to chat about:

  • The science in these games. Got a question about the relativity in Velocity Raptor, or about the math in the Gravity Simulator?  Ask away!
  • The games themselves.  Say you’ve made a picture in the Gravity Simulator, or created a level in Agent Higgs.  Perhaps you’re stuck on a level and want some help.  Maybe you have a feature you’re dying to see in a game.  Bring it to the forum!
  • Science Games in general.  There are a bunch of other neat science-y games out there in the world/internet.  You’ve probably come across some that we need to check out.  Share and share alike, I say.

Those are *my* thoughts, but I’d be interested to hear from you.  What would you want out of a forum?  Would you have any use for it?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.



The newest version of ~~The Electric Shocktopus~~! is ready.  Let’s call it the ‘pre-alpha version 3.’  I’ve already got some helpful playtesters are giving it a trial run, which I’m so thankful for.  If you’re interested in helping out, too, send me an email.  When it comes to playtesters, the more feedback I get about the game, the merrier.


Gravity Simulator

With Shocktopus back out of my hands for the next week or so, I’m working on the Gravity Simulator again.  There will be two big changes to the preexisting game.  For starters, it won’t just be a flash game anymore, it will be playable on a bunch of devices — online, android, iOS, the whole gambit.  Also, there are going to be a lot more features.  You’ll be able to, say, change the colors of objects.  Or add them easily along evenly-spaced grid lines.  Or modify the celestial bodies mid-flight.  All the things I’ve heard people say that ‘they’d love to see’ in the simulator.  Is there something you’d like to see in the new update?  What is the current simulator missing?  Again, leave it in the comments, or send along an email.


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The Newest Gravity Changes

Posted in: Gravity Simulator, Wednesday Update | May 8, 2013 | No Comments

The new gravity simulator has been making some great progress.  I’ve been spending a lot of time translating the game over to HTML5, and hoping it’ll be worth it.  I can’t wait to see the game on tablets and mobile devices.

But, as always, it’s not so much about what progress I’ve made (zoom capability, fast loading times… uh, not-crashing), it’s about what progress I’ve made that *looks good in pictures.*  So here are a couple new features that I’m excited about:


The old game always had white lines against a black background, but now you’ll be able to change that at will.


Brightly colored gravity

Go Pink, Go!

Dust Particles

In the old version, you could fling up to 7 asteroids.  Now?  No limit!  Even more than that, there’s a new tool where you can put ‘dust particles’ into your solar system.  Basically it’s a set of bodies with semi-random positions and velocities.  Helpful for charting out the gravitational pull in your system… and also just plain cool.



Galactic dust mites are having a field day


So all in all things are moving along for the Gravity simulator.  I’m still (as always) taking suggestions and comments about the old version and features you’d like to see in this new version.




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Gravity Coming to Mobile!

Posted in: Gravity Simulator, Wednesday Update | April 25, 2013 | No Comments

Because I was not working on nearly enough over here, I decided to add something else to the plate.  (Yikes?)  As I wait to finish the first round of feedback about the Electric Shocktopus, and with the Circuits game under-development-part-time… I’ve turned my attention briefly back to the Gravity Simulator.  Why?

The Gravity Simulator was one of the first things that I made and put up on the site.  At its core, it is a very simple idea.  (Play around with it if you haven’t yet, this will all make more sense.)  I’ve never invested too much time or effort in developing it, and I certainly never marketed it at all.  Yet in spite of all that, it remains to this day one of my more popular creations.

So when I got some feedback from a player that he’d like to see the game playable on tablets — I realized everything fit perfectly.  I had a bit of time to squish it between other projects, people seem to enjoy it, and it was always really designed for touch screens.  And to boot, I’ve been learning HTML5, which is a great tool for making games cross-platform.  So I’m picturing a new browser version, yes… but also putting it on iPads, iPhones, Android, the works!

I’ve just started working on it, and in spite of hitting my head against a bunch of tech-issues (learning a new language and using new software tends to lead to a bumpy ride), I’ve got a version working on my iPad.  Check out something I drew… with my fingers!



Gravity on iPad

Tatooine ain’t got nothing on this solar system


There are two big things I’m looking to get out of this.  One, of course, is to make the game playable on a bunch of new platforms.  But the other is to really improve its design & use-ability.  I don’t just want to transfer the simulation, I want to improve it.  So, to that end, I turn to you, the users.  What could be better about the Gravity Simulator?  What features are you dying to see?



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Major Website Overhaul

Posted in: General News, Gravity Simulator | November 20, 2012 | 2 Comments

As you may notice (if you’ve been here before), there are a bunch of changes to this website. Not the least of which is the new existence of a ‘blog.’

No longer will my musings and updates be listed haphazardly on the front page. Pshaw! Instead they will be here, with an amazing organizing scheme holding them in place. (Thanks to WordPress!) You can browse my posts by category, by month, or even by search for words and phrases! And let’s face it, who hasn’t wanted to do that?

Also in the new blog, we’ve now got a comment system. So let’s say you are reading this post, and you’d like to remark that this blog is snappy. Well, friend, just head on down to the comments section and post it for the world to see!

Of course, there are a bunch more changes to the site than just the blog. Not much remains from the old site, in fact – except for the games, of course. There is a new gallery for the gravity game, for instance, which you can find here. You’ll find social-media links all throughout the site now, making it easier for you to share things with your friends. And by all means, do!

Finally, you can’t miss all the visual changes to TestTubeGames.  A big thanks to my wife (who has a great artistic eye) for helping me edit the site appropriately.

Caveat: I tried to test the website in different browsers, but if you seem to be having a problem (broken links, or strange distorted layouts) let me know so I can try to fix it.



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Some Changes

Posted in: Gravity Simulator, Velocity Raptor | October 5, 2012 | No Comments

In the past weeks, I’ve made a couple minor updates around here. I went through and updated Velocity Raptor based on some of the comments I’ve received (tough levels, confusion, etc) and also some things I just wanted to improve. (Prettier drawings, mainly) You can see the results yourself!


Velocity Raptor Main

Shiny and New!


And after doing that, I realized that my Gravity simulation could use the same treatment. In spite of the fact that it was one of my first projects, and I have never promoted it anywhere, it gets a fair amount of traffic. I guess people like playing around with planets! So I made some of the drawings for that one prettier, too.


New Gravity

Shiny and New!





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