Category Archives: Games and Puzzles

Guide to Intellivision

I can tell you that countless hours of programming and lots of passion went into developing many of the Intellivision video games.  The long nights of devotion to designing and developing “Microsurgeon” will forever be ingrained in my memory.  I’m not sure I’ve posted this before, but here’s another link to a “Microsurgeon” review — “Games That Made Me: Microsurgeon”.

Graeme Mason contacted me recently and pointed out his new guide to Intellivision published by GamesTM Magazine.

PC version of Family Tree Solitaire

For those game players who would like to use a Windows PC to try my card game “Family Tree Solitaire” you can now download it from Amazon.com if you prefer not to or can’t load the Windows 10 version from the Windows Store.

Since I developed it with Unity3D, it will hopefully install — I only tested on Windows 10 desktop — and run successfully on computers running Windows XP or later.  It’s free, but I can’t guarantee it will install successfully on every Windows PC.

Enjoy!

FAMILY TREE SOLITAIRE FOR PC (Windows XP or later)

 

I’ve been to China

I enjoy many forms of creative expression, including writing, blogging, and game design.  No matter which I’m working on at the time, or thinking about, there’s few better options for enhancing my creativity than to travel somewhere new.  So recently, we headed to China!

My wife was already in Shanghai on business, so I met her in this sprawling and attractive international city of 25 million people.  Upon landing at PVG airport, I couldn’t resist taking the Maglev train at 180 mph for about $6.  If you go, the Maglev direction signs after passing through immigration are clearly marked.  The Maglev gets you within 5 metro stops of Pudong, which was where I was headed.  It’s an easy walk from the Maglev overhead exit across the way to the metro station at Longyang Rd.  The kiosks at the metro station let you choose English, which makes it easy to select the station you are headed to — I was going to Lujiazui, which cost less than $1.  The IFC mall and local hotels — Ritz Carlton and Shangri-La, for example — are very nice.

Other sites we saw in Shanghai: The informative Shanghai History Museum at the base of the Oriental Pearl Tower (an easy walk from Lujiazui station), the historical Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, very fun Shanghai Disney (the Tron and Pirates of the Caribbean rides are terrific, and the park wasn’t crowded on a 45F degree mid-February day), and the Shanghai Museum (cultural artifacts) and People’s Park.  All are easily reachable by metro at a very reasonable cost.  Just be prepared to stand quite a bit if you go during busy periods, which is most of the time.

Guilin, China — about 100-150 miles north of Hong Kong — is the site of the Li River Cruise and famous eroded mountains which line the river.  The view changes which each twist and turn in the river, with each new sight as exciting as the previous one.  The back of the 20 RMB bill depicts a scene from the river.   We loved staying at the Shangri-La Hotel in Guilin.

Chengdu, China, located east of the mountainous regions of Tibet, is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, now with 14-15 million people.  It is a combination of agriculture, manufacturing, and a large hi-tech area — our Hilton Chengdu hotel was great and located in the hi-tech area.  We were there to see the Leshan Giant Buddha — about an hour by fast train away — and the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base north of central Chengdu.  Through Viator, we arranged our Leshan tour with Lily Chen of WestChinaGo, and she provided us with a memorable day.  The next morning, first thing, we took the metro to Panda Ave. to catch the shuttle bus which goes (about 10-15 minutes) to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base.  We even were able to take our luggage along, dropping it at the 2nd floor information desk at the Research Base before seeing all the Pandas.  Afterwards, we caught a cab to the airport for our next days’ adventure in Xi’an.

Xi’an, China is about an hour south of the Terracotta Warriors museum.  The Hilton Xi’an has an amazing lobby and awesome service.  In Xi’an, it is worth taking time to see the ancient City Wall.  It was too cold for us to rent a bike, but if you can it looks like fun to bicycle on top of the wall.  Lily at GuideWe was our excellent Terracotta Warriors tour guide.  She even took time to show us the City Wall on the way back to town at the end of our tour.

We finished our vacation with a trip to Beijing.  The first day we visited Great Wall at Mutianyu.  It was 25 degrees Fahrenheit and it snowed!  We rode the chair lift up and got a work out climbing stairs to the next outpost or two.  Got some great shots of the wall in the snow and then return on the chair lift.  We wanted to take the luge down, but they close it when it snows.  All in all, a great time.  Our last day, we took a cab to the east wall of the Forbidden City, and then walked around to the south entrance.  It was easy to purchase tickets there and then enter the fortress wall.  It’s quite a bit of walking (especially in cold weather), but it’s a beautiful piece of history you just can’t miss.  The walk back from the north exit to our hotel was only about 20 minutes, as we stayed at the nearby Renaissance Wangfujing Hotel.  A very nice hotel and quite convenient if you plan to visit the Forbidden City.

AI and bluffing

I’ve recently been following the progress of computer AI in playing poker.  One area of interest is that the AI responds to bluffing.  Bluffing is a major aspect of poker that makes it interesting from an AI and gaming perspective.

Around 1977-1978, I programmed a chess playing opponent in 4k of memory on my first computer, a Processor Technology Sol-20 based on an Intel 8080 cpu.

I think the 8080 ran at 1 MHz to 2 MHz, so about 1 million to 2 million instructions per second.  Today’s Intel Core i5 processors run closer to 3 GHz — about 3 billion instructions per second — and that doesn’t even take into account multiple cores for parallel processing.  That’s 1.5 thousand to 3 thousand times faster than my 8080-based computer.  So you can see that at the speed of the 8080 an AI couldn’t depend entirely on cpu-devouring depth searches and tree pruning algorithms to determine its next move.   That’s why I added a bluffing component.

I don’t remember if my computer had 8k or 16k or memory, but just for reference today’s phones with 16GB of memory have 16 million times more memory — since 16GB = 16,000,000k.  Okay, so with just 4k of memory allocated to my chess game to handle the display, game logic, input, output, and AI, I was very limited to what I could do with bluffing.  Actually, the bluffing component was coded so simply that it was almost a random move injector.  But I believe it was that aspect of Fischer — the temporary name I gave to my chess program — that allowed it to sometimes compete with other chess programs at the time.  From time to time it would make a bold move — a leap beyond it’s ability to just search for the best next move —  effectively bluffing that it had a plan that the other program could not discover in a depth search of the possibilities.

So bluffing can be useful even in non-poker games, although that only works until the game has been “solved” by computers.  There are games like Checkers that have been solved by computers, meaning that the entire game is known from the start.  Even some games of Poker, e.g. Head’s Up Limit Hold’em, are largely solved.

In poker, bluffing is not a solution for an AI, but rather a necessary tool.  It’s built into the game of poker.  So far, looking at comments on Reddit, it appears that the best poker AI can play with the best poker players.  Good luck bluffing your way through the tournament.  Also, this might be the beginning of the end for internet poker.

If you have further interest in this subject, you might also like this recent research paper.

Playing surgeon

Microsurgeon” (Imagic 1982 and 1983) is the first, or one of the first, video games related to healthcare.  I was never a doctor, but I had a lot of fun making this game and playing surgeon.

My latest interview, with Graeme Mason of Wizwords, is now published (“Making of Microsurgeon”) in the Jan. 2017 issue #163 of Retro Gamer Magazine.  This link is for ImagineShop.co.uk, but I assume issue 163 will be on Amazon and other online stores in 2017.

 

 

Face augmented reality

With augmented reality — think Pokémon Go or Microsoft HoloLens — possibly taking off in 2017-2018, I thought I’d spend a moment pondering the ramifications.

First, there is no guarantee this will be big in 2017-2018.  Though Pokémon Go already took off, it did not involve new hardware.  So I’m really talking about new devices, such as HoloLens and Magic Leap.  Well, Magic Leap maybe not so much, according to some recent reports.

Second, I’m referring to consumers.  If you look at occupations and business, augmented reality is already infiltrating that world.  For example, Dutch police are trying out augmented reality in investigations.

Finally, suppose that augmented reality does become big with consumers over the next couple of years.  Games will no doubt be a large part of that business.  I remember when “Night Trap” (early 90’s, Digital Pictures for Sega CD) was the target of press and concerned adults who didn’t think it was proper to have games that featured young women in scanty clothing.  Now that’s tame compared to the graphic violence in some 3D games.

But what about suggestions of sexual promiscuity or violence in an augmented reality, which consists of both a virtual world (graphics) and the real world (in a building or out on the street)?  We get a little bit of an idea of what to expect in terms of research, backlash, and opinions from a recent article on Aeon.co entitled “Murder in virtual reality should be illegal.”  Although it is about virtual reality, it is food for thought, whether you are planning on making augmented reality games with violence, playing them, or letting your child play games like that.  It is certainly the stuff of science fiction.

In my science fiction writing I’ve touched on related subjects in my stories “Face Facts” and “RemoteDoc”.  “Face Facts” explores a possible side effect of a futuristic facial recognition restoration surgery, while “RemoteDoc” looks at a possible future of robotic surgery.  You’ll find “RemoteDoc” in my latest anthology “Science Fiction: Time Travel and Robots 2“.

Video gamer creates VR surgical simulator

Nice to see ComputerWorld giving recognition to a video gamer (Sam Glassenberg, founder and CEO of Level EX) who designed a VR surgical simulator.

Funny how paths cross.  According to the article, Glassenberg was a lead developer on Microsoft’s DirectX.  When I worked on porting Digital Picture’s “Double Switch” game to Windows 95, I programmed with DirectX 1.0.

We’ve come a long ways since my classic video game “Microsurgeon” (Imagic 1982), but I was happy to be one of the first to tie video game technology to the healthcare industry.

Level EX :60 Trailer from Level EX Team on Vimeo.

Microsurgeon interview in Retrogamer issue 163 — January 2017

Microsurgeon” (Imagic 1982 and 1983) is the first, or one of the first, video games related to healthcare.  It’s been mentioned in numerous magazines, featured on album and magazine covers, written about in books, nominated for awards, recognized at the Consumer Electronics Show, and gotten several good reviews over the decades.

I loved designing and programming “Microsurgeon”, and I always enjoy answering questions about it.  Look for my latest interview — with Graeme Mason of Wizwords — in the Jan. 2017 issue #163 of Retrogamer.

microsurgeon

Robots like to play games too

For years, we’ve read about chess, checkers, and more recently GO and Jeopardy, played by computers with artificial intelligence.  The new trend seems to be robots that play games, whether it is a way for robots to learn or just computer scientists amusing themselves.

There are robots controlled by humans, of course, and drones are a good example of that.  Now there’s drone golf, where a golfer uses a drone to play golf.

Also, artificial intelligence researchers are using games like Minecraft as a testing ground, as well as StarCraft and other games.

Finally, as more evidence, I give you the robot that set the new Rubik’s Cube record.

When does 13 baskets equal almost 20 baskets?

It’s no secret that I like math and games.  It should also be no secret that I like sports.  The first video games I developed were based on the game of Bowling — Mattel Handheld Bowling and Intellivision Bowling.

Sports also permeates a bit of my science fiction writing.  In my latest anthology, “Science Fiction: Genetics“, I’ve included “It’s in the Stars”.  This story is about a couple’s desire to determine the best sport for their child to play, hoping for them to become a star.

I also enjoy watching sports, like baseball and basketball.  So I am very impressed with the new 3-point record set by Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors NBA team last night.  He made 13 out of 17 3-pointers — outside the 3 point arc — to set a new record of 13 3-pointers in a single game.  That’s 39 points just for the 13 3-pointers he made, while it would take 20 2-pointers to score 40 points.

curryshots_11072016_3pointrecord

NBA and VR

I’m all for trying new things with technology, but I think I’ll pass on this one.  My vision for VR (Virtual Reality) is more in line with the “Star Trek” Holodeck like experience, where I’m in VR but my body experiences it essentially the same way I experience reality.

But sports has often led the introduction of new technology, such as 3D TV, computer game consoles, and other devices.   In the new NBA Digital/NextVR teaming up, you can watch an NBA game with a VR headset.  An NBA game is 2 hours long.  But how long can one comfortably wear a VR headset?  I guess some will find out when the NBA season starts next week.

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License Plate Games

License Plate Games start screen
License Plate Games start screen

A popular game — at least in the U.S. — to play while riding in a car is finding a license plate for every state.  You might use an app to help you remember state license plates you’ve seen.  There are quite a few of these on various app stores.

But nowadays there are sometimes hundreds of specialty license plates associated with each state in the country.  What if you want to remember every specialty plate you’ve seen for each state?  That’s where my upcoming (very soon) app “License Plate Games” comes in.  Both a BINGO-like license plate game, as well as a state and specialty license plates game will be included.  Don’t play while you are driving, though, and know your state laws.

Many of the state specialty plates are included in the game, though text is used to describe each plate rather than images.  If you would like to see what each specialty plate actually looks like, below are links to websites that may include pictures of specialty plates.

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Washington, D.C. (Wikipedia)
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii (Wikipedia)
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts (Wikipedia – has link to pdf of plates)
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming

 

Battlebots: Yeti versus Lucky

Researchers are working on all kinds of robots.  There are military robots, robots with emotions, robots that detect our emotions, domestic robots — like the popular vacuum cleaner, chat robots, and robots that even do their own research.  But robots do not yet have consciousness, as far as I know — or as far as I understand consciousness, which is to say that consciousness is a difficult subject.

Robots even make us laugh.  Or at least, I sometimes find them funny.  That’s why I chuckle when I watch BattleBots.  The recent match between Yeti and Lucky was a good one.  They put on quite a show, each destroying parts of the other.  If I suspected the robots were aware, I would not condone the activity any more than I would seeing animals in a fight,  But at least for now, I find the conflict enjoyable to watch — sort of mesmerizing like a good computer-age demolition derby.

Someday, I won’t be laughing at robots quite so much, unless they intentionally want to be funny.  And what about robots that want to laugh?  What will they find funny?  If you find this thought interesting, you might enjoy reading my award nominated story, “A Comic on Phobos”, or one of my robot story anthologies.

By the way, you can get “A Comic on Phobos” for free until the end of July, 2016 at Smashwords.  My anthologies can be found on my homepage.

Appliv and mobile app discovery

As a sci-fi writer and Indie app developer, I know how difficult it is to get e-books and apps noticed on publisher e-shelves.

Appliv recently contacted me.  They are reviewing my unique card game “Family Tree Solitaire” — I’ll post the link soon — as one of their app selections for their website in the U.S.  Appliv is a mobile app discovery platform that aids users with reviews and categorization.  It has millions of users in Japan and this year has been expanding globally, including the U.S.

Just search on the internet for “app discovery” and “problems” and you’ll see that app discovery is a major issue for app developers (especially small Indie developers) and users over the last decade.
Apple, Google, and Microsoft stores all have an abundance of software, but it can be difficult for small developer apps to stand out in the crowd and for users to find new and unique apps that might otherwise interest them.  Apple Siri, Google Now, and Microsoft Cortana attempt to help users find what they are looking for, but they are general purpose tools, not necessarily attuned to the issues specific to app discovery.  Pinterest and Facebook are attempting to help developers and users to find apps through stand-out pins and strategically placed ads.

We are perhaps still in the early stages of app discovery tools that make life easier for both developers and users.  Appliv is one of the companies attempting to satisfy this need globally.

Family Tree Solitaire for cribbage?

My version 1.0 of Family Tree Solitaire uses poker rules for scoring family hands.  But there is no reason why I couldn’t use other card game rules, such as those for the popular game of Cribbage.

There are things in Cribbage that might not work in Family Tree Solitaire, such as pegging or putting cards in the crib — although I can think of various ways to incorporate this game play into Family Tree Solitaire – Cribbage — but ultimately a Cribbage hand ends up consisting of 4 cards.  There is also a fifth card that is used in a Cribbage hand, the card that sits on top of the deck.  Using that card as well, the computer could figure out what the best possible Cribbage hand is for a particular set of cards in a family.

I just wanted to put that out there in case there is interest in “Family Tree Solitaire – Cribbage”.  Feel free to share your own thoughts on this idea by replying below.

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150 people playing “Family Tree Solitaire”

With almost 150 people playing “Family Tree Solitaire”, I want to send out a big THANK YOU to all of you who have tried my new card game.

While I realize it is not as easy to learn as some other solitaire games, I do feel that once you understand the rules and user interface (navigating the family tree) for the game, it provides an enjoyable and different kind of experience compared to other single player card games.

TIP: Use your memory skills to remember where you are building straights, flushes, runs, or other types of poker hands.  The more you remember, the easier it is to return to the family that has the hand you want to add the current card to.

TIP: As a beginning player, you might find it easier to concentrate on building families with just one of two types of poker hands.  For example, if you always try to build families with flushes — cards of the same suit — it may be easier to remember which hands had the suit of the current card.

TIP: Royal Flushes are worth more than any other hand.  It is often worth trying to get a royal flush, even for a family that already has a straight flush.

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Is “The Starry Night” next?

Borrowed Light Studios, below, uses VR to let us  virtually walk through the Van Gogh painting “The Night Café”.  This could become a popular use of VR, allowing both art lovers and VR fans to use the technology to get behind the curtain of the painter’s work.

The Starry Night” is among my favorites paintings — quite possibly my favorite — so I would enjoy seeing a similar VR walkthrough for another of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings.  The town under the surreal stars is a mystery worth exploring.  But could I hike the mountain, and what would I find?

If you, like me, are fascinated by “The Starry Night”, you might also enjoy my short story “Light Echo” in my anthology “Science Fiction: The Arts“.

ScienceFiction_TheArts_Cover