New York Tech Journal
Tech news from the Big Apple

What #VideoGames can do for #AI

Posted on May 28th, 2017


05/25/2017 @ Galvanize, 315 Hudson Street, NY, 2nd floor

Julian Togelius @NYU spoke about the state of competitions to create controllers to play video games. Much of what he talked about is contained in his paper on The #Mario AI Championship 2009-2012

The first winner in 2009 used an A* search of the action space. The A* algorithm is a complete search of the graph of possible actions prioritizing the search based on the distance from the origin to each current node + the estimated distance from each current node to the goal.

The contest in 2010 was won by Bojarski & Congdon –  #Realm using a rule based agent

The competition has expanded to include a trying to create Bayesian networks to play Mario Brothers like a human: Togelius & Yannakakis 2012. See

Another part of the competition seeks to create programs that can play multiple games and carry their learning from one game to the next as opposed to custom programs can only play a single game

Therefore they created a general video game playing competition – games written in Video Game Description Language. ( Programs are written in Java and access a competition API.

The programs are split into two competitions

  1. Get the framework, but cannot train – solutions are variations on search
  2. Do not get the framework, but can train the network – solutions are closer to neural nets


posted in:  AI, Games forum, Open source    / leave comments:   No comments yet

Board #Game #Design

Posted on August 15th, 2016

Central Jersey Mensa @Mensa

08/12/2016 @ APA Hotel Woodbridge, 120 S Wood Ave, Iselin, NJ

IMG_20160812_211308[1] IMG_20160812_203105[1]

Gil Hova @FormalFerretGames, a designer and publisher of #BoardGames talked about how to design a good board game.

Unlike transformative games (only play once, but it changes you), his games are entertaining, but he emphasized that fun is not a general term, but needs to be applied to a specific audience.

To describe his approach, Gil talked about four key terms

  1. flow – feeling of being in the zone. Ways to get players in the flow include
    1. clear set of goals
    2. immediate feedback
    3. goals neither too difficult nor too easy
    4. need to make challenges progressively more difficult
  2. fiero – feeling after triumphing over adversity. emotional peak. counterbalance to flow. its a fleeting moment. For instance, the “take that” mechanism in which you punish another player. The concept of about meaningful play. see Jane McGonigal – “Reality is broken”.
  3. heuristics – rules of thumb that are not part of the rules, but ways that players figure out to play the game – e.g. bluffing in poker. The developer needs to see how rule changes change behavior. Players start with “zero level heuristics” that they use the first time you play a game. As your play more, you “climb the heuristic tree” It’s also called “lenticular design” as we see new things every time we play the game. The heuristic tree can have many shapes:
    1. bush (e.g. tic-tac-toe, only 1 or 2 heuristic rules to win –e.g. take the center square)
    2. palm tree – a long climb before you understand how to play the game and then there are a lot of tools at your disposal
    3. sequoia – lots of heuristic levels with new concepts & tools at each level (e.g. chess)
  4. core engagement – the core that appeals to players. The one thing on which game is based.
    1. Scrabble – mastery of words
    2. Bridge – communication with partner

The key thing is to incentivize interesting behavior: “game design is mind control”

If game is too random, then the play becomes not meaningful. e.g. Flux
The game needs to reward good play. The game needs to get them into the 4 key terms.
Theme and Mechanism – it doesn’t matter which comes first, but it helps if they support each other.
The theme is a promise to the players, so make the mechanism consistent with the player’s expectations from the theme.
If there is no theme, then its better be simple to explain the rules.
MDA – mechanism dynamic aesthetics – dynamics is the intersection of the aesthetics and the mechanism.
Players start with the theme and drill down to the mechanism.
Designer starts with the mechanism and moves to the theme.
In the goal of uniting the theme and mechanism, Gil advises – remove the flavor text on the card (used to describe the card) since the flavor of the card should be implied by how the card plays

Gil then talked about the game development process he uses: 4 stages of play testing

  1. proof of concept – play solo. is this a game? is it interesting?
  2. alpha – plain broad strokes, talk about it, play with other designers. discuss why it broke. discard after each play test
  3. beta functional, balanced, show it. its now a functional game. Google image for graphics
  4. gamma beautiful, graphic tests, release to market

and 3 types of playtesters that he uses during the play testing stages

  1. silent tester – just a silent opponent
  2. brilliant tester – “what if you could do this”
  3. crazy tester – play with a opponent that tries things you have not considered.

Gil closed by talking generally about the game-development industry

you cannot play a great idea!
no one will steal your game.
do not ask for an NDA
don’t be attached to your game
let your game be what it wants to be
he recommends listing to the podcast, flip the table, which looks at obscure board games.

You will need 75 to 100 tests overall to get from idea to published game.


posted in:  Games forum, Mensa    / leave comments:   No comments yet

#Game Changers: Sam Eng – Reflections on #Unity 3D

Posted on October 6th, 2014

NYC Games Forum

10/06/2014 @ Microsoft, 8th ave 41-42, NY

@snowhydra and


Sam Eng talked about his experiences and lessons learned developing games.

His first game was a line graphics game in high school controlled by direction keys followed by a simple first person shooter game. He talked about many issues faced by game designers. These included:

  1. Using good programming practices, such as modular program design. Getting good feedback from initial users and participation at game jams. Make a game design document before coding, but don’t over plan since coding should start before everything is finalized as the game design needs tester feedback.
  2. He did a detailed comparison between the Unreal and Unity3d game engines. Both have advantages. Unreal may be more efficient, but Unity is cross-platform and programming in C# (in preference to C++) speeds development.
  3. Even though the entire game can be coded within Unity3d, Sam recommended looking at the store third party tools to speed development and provide a polished look if using graphics or avatars. He recommended ‘in control’ as an input manager of controllers (Detects the type of device and will map buttons to generic inputs.)
  4. Consider the type of game and platform on which the game will be played. For instance, Wii U is the party console. PS4 and Xbox are more solitary players. This will impact the tools you use and the type of game you make since console manufacturers offer different licenses and dev kits. Also Unity3d may require an upgrade from the free license to the pro license.
  5. He noted how a good game engine makes game development easy.


posted in:  Games forum    / leave comments:   2 comments

Intro to Game Prototyping by Josh DeBonis @joshdebonis

Posted on September 18th, 2014

NYC Games Forum

9/18/2014 @ Microsoft 8th Ave between 41 and 42, NY

Summary: Josh DeBonis provided excellent insights into his process for making games, both board games and video games. He emphasized the need to start with a theme and test the game concept using “paper prototypes”: First on himself and then on others (both familiar testers and new recruits). The game building process is iterative throughout development.

He generates game ideas by considering the following based on his theme:

  1. What is playful? What is interesting about X?
  2. What is systematic? What can be measured or evaluated?
  3. What is active? What actions can you do on the systems?

Josh talked about the processes to create two of his games: Meriwether and Killer Queen. He also illustrate the process by having meeting participants go through the process of creating list of playful, systematic and active attributes for Ramen noodles.

posted in:  Games forum    / leave comments:   No comments yet

#Story #Design for #Games Intro Talk

Posted on July 8th, 2014

Games Forum20140707_202931[1]

David Kuelz @

7/7/2014 Microsoft, 11 Times Square, NY

David Kuelz gave an outstanding presentation of structures uses to build successful computer games.  David talked about the interplay of gameplay, plot, characters, and settings. Games are dissimilar from linear stories, so their development often proceeds from gameplay which leads to a character. This in turn leads to the story line. Setting may enter at any point in the creative process.

Due to their lack of a single linear structure with a fixed time frame, successful games incorporate parts of a high level story, which the player cannot change, and an immediate level story whose ordering is determined by the player. David said that games can have a greater emphasis on either the high or immediate level story, but the most successful games have an emotional progressions that attracts and keeps the player.

The heart of David’s presentation was a division of the story line into 15 chapters making up three acts. Act 1 starts with the Opening Image, have the hero gain skills and understand the longer term goals of the game. Act 2 launches the player into the main section where gameplay is central to the story progression. Successes are followed by a crisis. In Act 3, the player solves the problems and fixes the loose ends by employing the skills and knowledge acquired in Acts 1 and 2.

David skillfully showed how various popular games (such as Legend of Zelda to Minecraft, whether they have embedded or emergent stories) use these concepts of emotional progressions, gameplay, skill acquisition, gradual revelation of the game themes, etc. As in any good entertainment, he emphasized that good games are a mix of action, reaction, and resolution to create an emotional journey.

posted in:  applications, Games forum, UX    / leave comments:   3 comments