Indie games 2016

When I started developing games in the late 1970’s, every game was like an independent (indie) game.  Handheld games required at least 3 or 4 persons: typically a software engineer, electrical engineer, model maker, and instructional writer — sometimes an artist and mechanical engineer too.  Early video games for home consoles were mostly created by a single programmer, but artists, instructional writers, sound/audio designers, testers, and others participated as needed.  It took a few months to design and develop a game back then, and then a few weeks or more to tweak the design, debug, and test it before release.

Even in 1995 when I worked on a port of “Double Switch” to Windows 95, there were only 3 programmers involved.  It was probably in the mid to late 1990’s when game developer teams grew, and grew even more in the early 2000’s.

Though I enjoy seeing what’s happening in game design for both large and small games, I do have an affinity for indie games.  Not all, but many are still created by small teams.  This year’s nominees and winners at the 2016 Independent Games Festival continues this 40+ years’ tradition of creative individuals pouring their passion into making video games.

An artificial intelligence just won a major “Go” competition.  Perhaps in the next 25 years, we’ll see an ai that can create a video game knockoff.  But it may be a lot, lot longer than that before we see an ai create video games that match the creativity of human game developers.  Below are some of the nominees this year.

By the way, if you are interested in becoming a video game developer, you might want to check out the degree program at UC Irvine — my alma mater.

Eye on Pi 2016

It’s Pi Day 2016.  Take the first 6 digits of Pi and round off, and you go from 3.14159 to 3.1416.  That’s today’s date: 3/14/16!

My fellow software engineers might enjoy this Code Project article on “Calculating the Number Pi through Infinite Sequences.”  Some algorithms are better than others at quickly obtaining the first several digits of Pi.

Or you might appreciate another algorithm that takes much longer to calculate Pi, but there is beauty in its simplicity.  You may have heard of Buffon’s Needle problem, which asks: “Suppose we have a floor made of parallel strips of wood, each the same width, and we drop a needle on the floor. What is the probability that the needle will lie across a line between two strips?  Turns out the answer is related to Pi.

But have you heard of Buffon’s Noodle problem?  Turns out that even if you bend each needle as if it were a noodle, the probability is still related to Pi.

Finally, many of us know that n! — read n factorial — is n x (n-1) x (n-2) x … 1.  So 4! = 4x3x2x1 = 24.  But what is the factorial of a fraction, in particular the factorial of 1/2?  You guessed it, it’s related to Pi.  It’s remarkable, and I was tempted to say “related to Pi!”, but I thought it might confuse you.

Women in game design and development

This week featured International Women’s Day 2016.  Many women have been inventors, yet — as the Microsoft video below shows — many young girls do not know their names.  Similarly, I imagine that many video game players could not name women who have designed and/or programmed video games.

I list below a few recent articles and exhibits that point out just some of the many accomplishments of women designers, producers, and executives in video games.  I started programming video games in 1979, but it was not until 1982 that I met a professional woman video game programmer.

I do not remember her name or whether she stayed in the business, but I hope that in some small way my blog entry today honors her and numerous other women who have or are working in the video game industry.  Design is about perspective, perspective requires a point-of-view, and men and women everywhere offer unique points of view.  The video games industry needs women to be involved in video game design and development.

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Genealogy television shows

You can see a good partial list of genealogy television shows on the Larimer County Genealogical Society’s website.

Another show I would add is “Long Lost Family” on The Learning Channel.  If you have an interest in genealogy you may find some tips in searching for ancestors, particularly in the early parts of story segments where the show’s experts provide background on how they found a family member.

BYUtv’s “Relative Race” attempts to combine reality television immediacy (e.g. racing across country) with genealogy.  I watched the first episode and didn’t feel that it entirely succeeded, but it is another genealogy-related show.

I still dabble in game design, and this year I hope to release a card game that is based on a family tree concept.  When I’m at that point, I will let you know in my blog.

Family Tree clip art

Paging Dr. Levine

Almost 35 years ago now, I designed and developed “Microsurgeon” (1982 Imagic) for Intellivision.  I wanted game players to experience having to make difficult choices to save patients while navigating through arteries and veins and lymph.  In the TI 99/4a version of the game, I added voice snippets like “Paging Dr. Levine.”  The game told players what problems the patient was experiencing, but I don’t think it really occurred to me back then that an AI would be providing that information rather than Dr. Levine or a diagnostician.

Today there are Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems being created to assist doctors with diagnosis.  Fast Company published an article entitled “Paging Dr. Robot, the Coming AI Health Care Boom” last year.  Much of the article focuses on IBM’s Watson and its ability to provide to hospital physicians expert-level data and analysis regarding cancer and numerous other conditions.  But what about AI for consumers?

In March 2016 MIT Technology Review author Simon Parkin writes about “The Artificially Intelligent Doctor Will Hear You Now.”  This article focuses on Babylon, a U.K.-based subscription health service app that costs less than $10 a month that will offer patients advice on sick care and monitor patient information from wearable devices and other sources.

Both articles show that we are at the beginning of a boom in AI for healthcare, and who knows how fast it will ramp up from there.  Doctors will no doubt still guide the process, especially regarding ethics and critical decision making, but AI may take a larger role in our medical future.  One can hope that this means a better and less expensive medical future.

Stethoscope 1 clip art

Career Simulators

Mark Lautenschlager for “Into Tomorrow” wrote a piece entitled “Pondering the Existence of Career Simulators.”

While I enjoyed the article’s light tone in regards to the value of “Farming Simulator 2017” to most video game players, I was a bit disappointed in his overall findings.  I have written in the past, and still believe, that I think a sort of “career counselor” series of games for a huge variety of jobs would be invaluable to junior and senior high school students — not to mention college students and older adults.

I do agree with Lautenschlager that there is certainly room for more “fun” in these kinds of games, and that is where simulator game makers sometimes miss the mark.  But I believe the ultimate goal in these kinds of games should be to give the player a taste of what the actual job is like.  If the game is also enjoyable enough to entice a great number of video game players, then that’s a large plus.

Beyond that, at some point it would be nice to see a kind of serious game standard — or wrapper — produced for snippets (demos) of these kinds of games, such as one that would include an interview, day on the job play, perhaps an associated questionnaire to determine if it’s the kind of job for the player, and other things common to jobs.

Not that full career simulator games need to fit a standard, but samples from these games that included the wrapper could be compiled and joined into an indexed — or encyclopedic, if you will — career counselor website — a kind of CareersGameWiki with sample gameplay and meaningful associated data and information.  It would also serve as a nice advertisement for the game maker, for anyone wanting to further explore the whole video game.

I’ve always felt that it would be great for both children and adults to have a place to go to find out about any career possibility — even ones that might not exist yet but will in the future.  When I was a child, encyclopedias and career counselor offices or libraries at schools were my choices — or, when really lucky, the opportunity to spend a day and learn with someone on the job.  But with today’s technology, there should be so much more!

Below is a video showing some of the career simulator type games of 2013, including “Farming Simulator.”