Category Archives: Game design

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.

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.

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“.

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.

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

 

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

Is Family Tree Solitaire a good test for Presidential candidates?

I know what you’re thinking.  What a silly question.  After all, my new game Family Tree Solitaire is only currently played — so far — by about 100 people.  Many game players enjoy a challenge, but often they prefer playing something that is easy to learn at the beginning.  Family Tree Solitaire is perhaps a bit harder than that, but once you learn the rules and get the hang of it, you may find that it is a nice difference from other card games you have played.

With all the presidential debates, I’ve wondered why candidates for President are not tested — like many of us are to be qualified for college (SAT) or a job (interview quizzes, etc).  After all, many government jobs still require that job applicants take a qualifying test — Foreign Service job seekers, for example, take the FSOT.  But what would a test for President look like?

Consider that a candidate to be President of the United States campaigns seemingly 24/7 for the job for a couple of years.  On top of that the costs are enormous, so they have a monumental task of funding their campaign.  Debating is a very necessary skill, as is the ability to meet and greet millions of voters.  Achieving notoriety in politics or business or law or some other profession is also often a prerequisite.  These abilities are all extremely important prior to becoming President.

But candidates don’t take a test, as far as I know.  If there was one, what should it look like?  One company that is receiving buzz in terms of hiring and testing software is Aspiring Minds.  Their motto is “Employability Quantified.”  For example, they have something called AM Situations — “Assessing how a candidate will perform in a real-life working environment.”  Maybe something like that would be a good test for a candidate for President.

Although one can identify a number of skills that a President will need while in office for 4 or 8 years, it is impossible to know exactly what kinds of surprise and very difficult decisions the President will have to make.  That’s the main reason I thought of Family Tree Solitaire.  Once you understand the rules of the game and play it several times, you’ll see that there are some tricky situations and decisions to be made.  The more you learn how to handle those situations, the higher your score will be.

So while I don’t really think Family Tree Solitaire would make a good test for a candidate for President, I do think it might be an entertaining diversion for them.  After all, President Dwight Eisenhower played the card game of Bridge regularly while in the White House.

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Family Tree Solitaire on the web now

Now (May 19, 2016) I’ve also posted quick/short rules for the game on my website in text format for printing.  There is also a pdf version of the intro video that you can print.

My latest video game, “Family Tree Solitaire”, is now also on the web for free on itch.io.  You can also find links to the FREE Windows Store, Google Play,  and Amazon Store app versions too.

Get it on Google PlayGet it on Windows 10AvailableAtAmazon

The web version plays in most modern desktop or laptop browsers that support WebGL: Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge (WIndows 10), Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari — in my experience, it doesn’t seem to run on mobile browsers (phones or tablets) yet. It also will not run in Internet Explorer.

Family Tree Solitaire

Now (May 19, 2016) I’ve also posted quick/short rules for the game on my website in text format for printing.  There is also a pdf version of the intro video that you can print.

If you enjoy solitaire, poker, genealogy, and/or memory skills games, I think you’ll enjoy “Family Tree Solitaire”.  Unlike most solitaire games, the main goal is to produce a high score and beat the computer — or your own previous high score.

I have posted detailed rules on my website for “Family Tree Solitaire” in html and pdf format.   I am excited to announce that “Family Tree Solitaire” is available on the Google Play Store.  I hope you will enjoy my new game.

About a year or so ago, I decided to work on a game using Unity3d.  As a classic games developer who has made games for many devices that have come and gone, I like that it has a cross-platform engine.  I enjoy card games, and I wanted to experiment with a different kind of foundation for solitaire: a tree structure — very familiar to genealogists, programmers, and others.  The result is “Family Tree Solitaire”.

Family Tree Solitaire

 I will also be working on putting this game on the Windows Store and possibly a WebGL version.  If I get enough interest, I will also consider a version for Apple devices.

About studying game AI and physics

Recently Gamasutra — The Art & Business of Making Games — featured a couple of useful articles on “7 examples of game AI that every developer should study ” and “7 examples of great game physics that every developer should study.”  Both articles by Richard Moss.

As for the article on physics, the examples are good.  I’m surprised that “Angry Birds” was not in the list.  Perhaps this has already been talked about many times, but it has become a classic that all game designers and developers should understand.

While AI-driven path finding is always useful in games, and playtesting via genetic algorithm is an interesting technique, I did not find an example among the 7 selected which talked about AI in board game opponents?  Perhaps the author doesn’t consider this category to rank high on the list of AI in video games.  I do.

AI in checkers and chess drove my early interest in video games and game AI.  AI in the game of Go recently became a hot topic.  Games like Risk and Stratego continue to challenge AI programmers to produce top players and top video game versions of the board games.  I’m sure there will continue to be AI in board game challenges, as well as card games like Poker and other games that provide incomplete information.

And what about video games that produce new concepts in board and card games?  I will soon release a new kind of solitaire game that I don’t think has been designed before.  Whether it becomes popular or not, I don’t know.  I enjoy playing it.  But at the least I hope it will inspire others to want to make video card games — or board games — that don’t just mimic games we’ve already played many times or seen on toy store and retail shelves.  While my new card game can actually be played with a deck of cards, I do think it is much easier and more fun to play electronically.  More to come on this soon.

Finally, I might also add that serious games like protein folding have something to offer video game designers and developers about intelligence too.  Sometimes the intelligence in the game comes from the users, not the computer AI.  Take a look at what’s out there in serious games.  You might find some very good ideas.

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.

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