Sunday, 10 July 2016

Playing a science-based video game? It might be all wrong

Alex Leith, Michigan State University
You look down from the sky, manipulating the world and seeing how it responds to your changes. You are able to alter vegetation and climate while watching their effects on the surrounding organisms. In this way, and many others, digital games provide excellent opportunities for players to learn about complicated subjects, including the concept of evolution through natural selection. Even games designed for fun and not specifically for education can provide rich, concise, dynamic representations of complex science, technology, engineering and math topics.
Since I was young, digital games have successfully supplemented the educational process in a range of topics, including math, science and biology. Research shows that if these games are going to actually teach those concepts, they must represent them accurately. Games that include incorrect depictions teach the wrong lessons.
Since Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, evolution has been understood as a process based on genetic differences between individual organisms of the same species. There are three key principles:
  1. Organisms with genetic advantages for their environment are more likely to survive and reproduce, while organisms whose genes make their bodies less suited will die more quickly and reproduce less effectively.
  2. Because these characteristics are genetic, they are passed on to offspring.
  3. Organisms with genes that improve their survival will have more successful offspring, which will in turn pass on their advantages to the next generation.
Some colleagues and I looked into how well current games could serve as educational tools, specifically about evolution. We examined how Darwinian evolution was represented in 22 games, which we located either through game databases like GameSpot or IGN, or through Google searches. Most games got evolution at least partly wrong. Only five accurately represented all three key principles of evolution.

The five that got it right

A screen-capture of a Norn interacting with its environment in ‘Creatures 2,’ developed by Creatures Labs and published by Mindscape. Wikipedia

Creatures” provides a rare example of the three principles. In that game, players create cartoon-like creatures called “norns,” through a process that allows norns to be altered not just in terms of appearance, but at the genetic level. For the most accurate representation of evolution, the game offers a play mode called “wolfling run.” In that mode, players cannot directly affect their norns, but can observe their relative fitness for a particular in-game scenario. The potential variations in both norn creation and the environment they must survive in provide for an astonishing number of evolutionary possibilities.
Maxis, best known for creating the “SimCity” game series, and its spinoff “The Sims” collection, also made a set of games called “SimEarth” and “SimLife.” Like “SimCity,” both give players top-down control of a world. “SimEarth” was designed for players to make major changes to the weather, landscape and animals to create an environment. Players were then able to see how the animals would fare in this created environment. “SimLife” was more specific: it has players engage with the animals (rather than merely creating them) to learn about the biology surrounding their survival.

A screen-capture of ‘Who Wants to Live a Million Years,’ playable on the Science Channel website. from

We also found two academically oriented games that loosely presented the three mechanics of evolution: “Selection Game” and “Who Wants to Live a Million Years” (which was later renamed “Charles Darwin’s Game of Survival”). The two games were designed to be simple tools that could be played quickly in places like museums. Despite the limited mechanics present in such games, they still clearly show each element of the evolution process.

Market success doesn’t mean accuracy

The most commercially popular game we found didn’t quite get evolution right. “Spore” left out something many other games did, too: Organisms' genetic differences didn’t affect their survival rates. Instead, organisms whose genes were unfit for the environment would not necessarily die more often, in keeping with evolutionary principles. Rather, players could intervene and increase an organism’s likelihood for success by, say, helping it move more intelligently and strategically, beyond the scope of its genetically predisposed movements.
Nevertheless, “Spore” does a reasonable job presenting the broader concept of evolution to players, and is the best such game made this century. (“Creatures,” “SimEarth,” and “SimLife” are all from the 1990s.) “Spore” is also still available for purchase, so it is the only game readily usable by the average educator or student.
But other findings were disappointing. Most games inaccurately portrayed evolution, usually in the same way Spore did – allowing player intervention to save organisms that were unfit for survival.
For these other games, evolution becomes more akin to mutation during a single organism’s life than a process that occurs through generations. In “E.V.O.: Search for Eden” and “L.O.L.: Lack of Love,” players earn points they can spend to modify their organisms. In “Eco,” at the end of each level, the player arbitrarily changes an attribute, though not necessarily one that affects an organism’s survival prospects. In each of these cases, what the game calls “evolution” is actually external genetic manipulation, rather than inheriting particular traits.
These inaccuracies may confuse those unsure of what evolution actually is. If other scientific subjects are similarly poorly depicted in video games, the potential educational benefits of these games could be lost. However, as game designers become more adept at modeling scientific themes, it could herald an educational revolution.
The Conversation
Alex Leith, Doctoral Candidate in Media and Information Studies, Michigan State University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Still Alteration Update

After Jessica reviewed my still alteration, I have altered it to be a bit more generous with its bounty of chemicals.  I have also included three variants.

All variants include:
  • 40 Hunger decrease
  • 20 Need for Pleasure decrease
  • 40 Starch
The Alcoholic variation includes 5 Alcohol with each sip, and the Dancing variation includes 15 Purple Mountain Alcohol/Dancing.  There is also a plain, non-alcoholic variation.

Download new version here!

 I recommend using the still alteration with Muppetboy's Bees and Hives Upgrade 2 as that updates the beehives to give a slurp of honey with each push, giving even greater consistency between vendors in C1. 

As only Muppetboy's Yin Yang Norns have instincts to use vendors, I recommend explicitly teaching your creatures how to use the still at first, particularly if they've had a run-in with the beehives. 

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

How to Save Webpages to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine

If you don't know it yet, the Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library "offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format". Taking inspiration from the Library of Alexandria, the Internet Archive includes texts, audio, moving images, and software (DOS games!) as well as archived web pages, and provides accessible services for people with disabilities.
We can use the Internet Archive to see what the web was like in the early days - including Cyberlife's Welcome Mat, circa January 1997. You might even have a browser extension such as Resurrect (Firefox) or Go Back in Time (Google Chrome) that makes it easier to call up the Internet Archive when faced with a 404.
You may not know that in addition to accessing archived websites, we can also proactively save webpages and downloads to the Internet Archive as follows:
Open the Internet Archive in a new tab and go to the bottom left corner.
Copy the URL of the website you want to archive into the Save Page Now box.

A box on the screen will appear saying that the Internet Archive is saving that page, then it will redirect you to the newly-archived copy of that page. You can then browse around the site and direct the Internet Archive to save any other pages (adoptions, information) that you see.
Another way you can use to save pages easily is to use a JavaScript bookmarklet to add that feature to your browser, available at To add the bookmarklet, simply drag and drop from the blue button to your browser toolbar.

A link item will appear saying 'Save Page to Wayback Machine'. From then on, you can simply click that link to send any webpage you are on to the Internet Archive.
Not all pages will be able to be archived - some webmasters exclude access to the Internet Archive by using the robots exclusion standard, also known as robots.txt. The potential to be opted out of the archival process must be explicitly opted out of if desired.
Note also that when saving a page to the Internet Archive, any pages linked to from that page (such as downloads) must be visited by you in order to be saved.
Go forth, and happy archiving!

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Usborne 80s computer programming books

An explanation of a subroutine.

Usborne Publishing have released a series of computer programming books they published in the 1980s as free downloads!
These series of books got a lot of Gen X and Gen Y kids into programming in Basic, using computers like the ZX Spectrum, the BBC Micro and the Commodore 64.  Steve Grand himself cut his eyeteeth on a microcomputer like these.

While the programs themselves will no longer work on computers, these books are nostalgic primers on how programming used to be.  There are still some insights and analogies that might be interesting for a beginning programmer.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Stuck pregnancy

In my hippy world, I have come across a strange stuck pregnancy.  The female norn you can see in the picture is 1 hour and 23 minutes old, is experiencing her first pregnancy, and still has a menstrual cycle, and does not have the month counter showing in her fertility kit. 

If you look at her Female Hormones chart, it doesn't exactly represent the typical result:

Child Moniker:1ZFK

Biochemistry: Reactions - Mismatch, Child Has 96, Mother has 92, Father has 92
The half-life gene has mutated....  Still not sure how to read that one easily.  Does anyone have any suggestions?

Gene 01 01 11 has mutated:
       Mask:          **           
      Child: 01 02 01 4A 00 0D 04 02
    Parents: 01 02 01 42 00 0D 04 02

      Child: 11 Y F Mut/Dup/Del Creature : Reproductive : I am pregnant (egg & Sperm ready). NONE released from emitter. Threshold level=00 Sample Rate=0D Gain=04 Emitter type= Digital (o/p = Gain (If signal > threshold))
    Parents: 11 Y F Mut/Dup/Del Creature : Reproductive : I am pregnant (egg & Sperm ready). Progesterone released from emitter. Threshold level=00 Sample Rate=0D Gain=04 Emitter type= Digital (o/p = Gain (If signal > threshold))

Gene 01 02 1F has mutated:
       Mask:    **             **     
      Child: 01 43 02 3F 01 41 00 00 28
    Parents: 01 41 02 3F 01 41 01 00 28

      Child: 1F Y F Mut/Dup/Del 1 Glycotoxin + 2 Oestrogen -> 1 Gonadotrophin, Rate=40
    Parents: 1F Y F Mut/Dup/Del 1 Gonadotrophin + 2 Oestrogen -> 1 Gonadotrophin, Rate=40

Not sure why she's got Gonadotrophin, as she hasn't experienced glycotoxin poisoning.

I suspect that she could live out her entire life without laying her egg, as she does not secrete progesterone, and that triggers egg laying.

If anyone would like to investigate her genome further, it's available for download below:

Download her genome here!

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

How to Add Chemicals to the Science Kit in C1

If you've read the promotional material for the purple mountain norns or the life kit norns, you know that they use new chemicals to produce new effects and behaviours in the norns.  The trouble for mad scientists is how do you track and measure these new chemicals?

This is how you can manually add new chemicals to your in-game Science Kit. 

Firstly, if you're using The Albian Years, use the remastered patch to make sure your Genetics Kit can talk to the game.  Before you get started, the relevant files to make backups of are 'allchemicals.str', 'chemicals.str' and 'themes.str'.

Open the official Genetics Kit and go to the Biochemistry tab.  Scroll down to chemical 80 (purple mountain alcohol or dancing) and click on the leftmost number.  Then click "Add Here".  It will pop up a window giving you the option to name chemical 80 (if you've chosen "Add" by mistake, it will give you the option to name chemical 73), and then provide a caption.  Captions can be added later, and they won't show up in-game.  Scroll down to 91 (Activase), 92 (Turnase) and 93 (Collapsase) and use the "Add Here" button to add names to those chemicals.

When you're happy with it, go to the advanced menu at the top and choose Save Chemical List, then Install Chemical List.  It will give you an option asking you if you're sure, and let you know if it can make a backup or not.  (Yes, you are sure, because you made a backup at the beginning.)

The next time you open your game and scroll through the Science Kit's list of chemicals, you should find the new chemicals in between Vitamin C and Energy.  This graph shows the results - a hippy purple mountain norn enjoying the altered pianola with chemical 80 named 'Jive'. 

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Mysterious Death

Ah, life is cruel.  Dancing happily to the pianola one minute (courtesy of injecting and then removing the cave flies - leaving the purple mountain alcohol behind), then you become a woman at the ripe old age of one hour and twenty minutes old... and promptly keel over dead.  

The norn autopsy (courtesy of CrEd32) suggested Sudden Import Death Syndrome, which didn't make sense, because I hadn't imported her:  
  • NFP 151
  • Hunger 254
  • Tiredness 110
  • Sleepiness 45
  • Loneliness 1
  • Boredom 255
  • Sex Drive 99
  • Hunger-- 3
  • Reinforcement 2
  • Reward Echo 4
  • Ageing 193
  • Glucose 233
  • Glycogen 185
  • Oestrogen 111
  • Purple Mountain Norn Alcohol 150
  • IV Cough Medicine 255
  • Antibody 0, 1, 2 and 3: 228
  • Antibody 4: 69
So I delved into her genes.  While there were several genes that had mutated slightly, these ones have surprised me:

Child Moniker: 4YOG

Gene 01 00 03 has mutated:
       Mask:          **            
      Child: 01 05 02 02 00 00 FF 00
    Parents: 01 05 02 03 00 00 FF 00

      Child: 03 E - Mut/Dup/Del Creature : Drive : Hunger. Need for Pleasure binds to receptor. Threshold level=00 Nominal Output=00 Gain=FF Output=Neither
    Parents: 03 E - Mut/Dup/Del Creature : Drive : Hunger. Hunger binds to receptor. Threshold level=00 Nominal Output=00 Gain=FF Output=Neither

- does NFP now drive her hunger?

Gene 01 01 01 has mutated:
       Mask: **                     
      Child: 01 08 01 34 00 01 FF 01
    Parents: 00 08 01 34 00 01 FF 01

      Child: 01 E - Mut/Dup/Del Creature : Unknown Tissue (8) : . conASH released from emitter. Threshold level=00 Sample Rate=01 Gain=FF Emitter type= Analog (o/p = (signal - threshold) * Gain) (Clear Source after reading)
    Parents: 01 E - Mut/Dup/Del Brain : Lobe 8 : # Loose dens/cells type 0. conASH released from emitter. Threshold level=00 Sample Rate=01 Gain=FF Emitter type= Analog (o/p = (signal - threshold) * Gain) (Clear Source after reading)

- What's an unknown tissue, and what did this gene do originally?

Gene 01 00 14 has mutated:
       Mask:    **                  
      Child: 01 03 00 3F 00 00 FF 00
    Parents: 01 02 00 3F 00 00 FF 00

      Child: 14 Y F Mut/Dup/Del Creature : Immune : Die of Non-Zero!. Oestrogen binds to receptor. Threshold level=00 Nominal Output=00 Gain=FF Output=Neither
    Parents: 14 Y F Mut/Dup/Del Creature : Reproductive : Become fertile if high. Oestrogen binds to receptor. Threshold level=00 Nominal Output=00 Gain=FF Output=Neither

- Did she die because she started menstruating?

Gene 01 02 26 has mutated:
       Mask: **                        
      Child: 00 FB 04 3A 01 F3 01 05 50
    Parents: 02 FB 04 3A 01 F3 01 05 50

      Child: 26 E - Mut/Dup/Del 0 Antigen 3 + 4 Glucose -> 1 Antibody 3 + 1 Hotness, Rate=80
    Parents: 26 E - Mut/Dup/Del 2 Antigen 3 + 4 Glucose -> 1 Antibody 3 + 1 Hotness, Rate=80

- So, pretty much constant antibody 3, in exchange for a permanent drain on glucose?

Gene 02 05 11 has mutated:
       Mask:                      **   
      Child: 03 0B 00 00 00 00 0B 39 FF
    Parents: 03 0B 00 00 00 00 0B 31 FF

      Child: 11 C - Mut/Dup/Del If the following is present: Verb | Travel East, - and if you ::Travel East:: (Chemical 57 is released) - Level 255
    Parents: 11 C - Mut/Dup/Del If the following is present: Verb | Travel East, - and if you ::Travel East::  you get a reward of 255

- So if someone says 'left' and you travel left, you get a really big meal out of it???

Could she have died from starting menstruation?  Looking at her father's genome, all of his female-related genes look fine - so it must have just been a spontaneous mutation at birth.  

If anyone would like to investigate her genome further, it's available for download below: