Java Test: Ramping up for 7DRL

I’ve decided to take the jump and enter the Seven Day Roguelike (7DRL) competition starting next month. The challenge? Write a complete “rogue-like” adventure game in just seven days. The additional challenge is that these include WORKING days, so there’s far less time in which to do it.

My first inclination was to do it in Python with the PyGame SDL libraries on Linux. Trouble is, nobody will ever see the game that way. So while talking with Kasul last night, I decided to reach deep into my past and write it as a Java applet.

Years and years ago, I worked for a company called Harcourt, a publisher of textbooks that at that time was looking into running an online university for distance learning. Since the courses were to be web-based, they had a vast need of interactive web applications. I wrote a couple dozen small applets to support the courses, and along the way, I wrote the beginnings of a Java game engine to help make things pretty. The below applet illustrates the dual-slit diffraction experiment that helped prove that photons could be considered both as waves and as particles.

The smooth operation of the controls, the double buffered graphics…. The package also included a graph paper canvas which I used for several applets, including this one illustrating the tangents to arbitrary curves….

So, I have my old game engine available, and examples of my older applets to start with, and I think I’ve just shown I can get sophisticated programs working in a browser. It’s a start! All those years ago, I bet my career on Java Applets instead of Flash. That was a bad bet. Maybe someday they’ll make a huge comeback.

Adventures in Computer Science: Monopoly board computer

Monopoly board computer
Monopoly board computer after calculating 2 * 2

Yesterday, Bear was caught in a bind because he didn’t have a computer to run the Champions Online beta. He didn’t know that he was standing on a computer — the Monopoly board itself.

Before World War II, computers weren’t machines, they were a profession. Rooms of people-computers, usually women, would perform calculation after calculation with mechanical calculators (that could only add and subtract) and paste the results in huge books, which would be shipped to military bases and used to calculate firing solutions for weapons of war.

In 1936, British mathematician Alan Turing described a theoretical primal computer, which could do only a couple of very simple operations. He imagined an infinitely long strip of tape split into cells, which could be either blank, or have some sort of mark. A read/write head could travel along the tape in either direction, one cell at a time, recognize a mark in a cell, write or erase a mark, and modify its internal state.

This extremely simplified computer came to be known as a Turing machine. Turing’s machine worked by the process of recursion, which means simply that a calculation is carried out by the process of repeated steps. Turing theorized that any computable function could be calculated by a Turing machine. Alonzo Church had previously theorized that any calculable mathematical function could be distilled into a series of recursive steps. The Church-Turing thesis proved that a Turing machine and Church’s thesis were logically identical, and therefore, a Turing machine could calculate any calculable function.

It follows, then, that any algorithm or device that can emulate a Turing machine, can calculate any calculable function, and further, that any two devices or algorithms that can emulate a Turing machine, are functionally identical (or Turing complete).

In our Monopoly board computer, the endless strip of tape is represented by the properties on the Monopoly board. Since 40 spaces is not infinite, the Monopoly board computer isn’t Turing complete, and thus can’t be proven to be able to run Champions Online. But it’s good enough for our purposes (technically, since no computer has an infinite amount of storage, no physical computer is Turing complete, which means that there exist problems that are solvable, that computers cannot solve).

Since it would be inconvenient to always be spinning the board, the read/write head is here represented by Bear, who can move freely backward and forward on the board, one square at a time. The state of the Monopoly computer is represented by cash on hand.

Every computer needs a program, the series of recursive steps that control Bear’s actions. This program takes 0, 1 or 2 houses on Mediterranean, 0, 1 or 2 houses on Boardwalk, and places a number of houses corresponding to their product in Go.

We start off with two houses on Mediterranean and two houses in Boardwalk, Bear on Go, and no cash.

Looking up the state of having no cash, and there being no houses on Bear’s square, the instructions state to “take $15 from the bank, build 4 houses and move forward”. After following a couple dozen steps, you’ll come to the state pictured above, with $8 on hand, four houses (the solution) in Go, and Bear building hotel after hotel backward around the board because this Turing machine has no HALT state.

Writing programs for the Monopoly board isn’t the simplest job. Since a Turing machine is a thought experiment, not a basis on which to construct a real computer, it doesn’t care how many steps it takes to perform even the simplest calculations. So since I didn’t feel like figuring out the algorithm myself, I wrote a genetic algorithm (GA) to do it for me.

Alan Turing’s machine works on the principal (s,a) -> (s1,a1,d) where ‘s’ is the initial state, ‘a’ represents a mark (or no mark) at the current position, ‘s1’ is the new state, ‘a1’ is the mark to write (or erase) at the current position, and ‘d’ is the direction to move the head — forward, backward, or stay put. My GA generates all possible (s,a) — states range from no money to $20, and marks from no houses to a hotel. It then makes a thousand random programs by filling in these (s,a) with a random (s1,a1,d). It then runs each of these programs, scores them on the basis of how many of {0,1,2} * {0,1,2} it gets correct, and replaces the least fit programs with a combination of programs created by combining the genetic material of two programs to make a new program, or (1/4 of the time) by an entirely new random program.

Then it repeats it over and over until it produces the perfect program.

Here’s the heart of the GA program that wrote the Monopoly board program (in Python):

gen = 0
while True:
      gen = gen + 1
      print "Gen",gen
      newChromo = []
      for i in range((2*maxchromos)/3):
         if random() < 0.25:             c3 = makeChromosone()          else:             c1 = ranChromo()             c2 = ranChromo()             c3 = {}             for k in c1:                c3[k] = c1[k]             for k in c2:                c3[k] = c2[k]          newChromo.append(c3)       cfitness.sort()       for i in range(len(newChromo)):          c = newChromo[i]          d = cfitness[i]          f = score(c)          chromos[d[1]] = c          cfitness[i] = (f,d[1])

The complete set of instructions for running your own Monopoly board computer are found here -- it's a comma-separated value (CSV) file, and is best opened in a spreadsheet program. The Python program for writing Monopoly board programs can be found here. It's undocumented, but based on how you write the "score" function that determines fitness, should be able to write any number of simple programs for the Monopoly board.


XFire WordPress Plugin — first release

Announcing the XFire Stats WordPress Plugin. This plugin adds a widget that you can place on the sidebar of your WordPress blog to show your gaming stats for the past week — the title and time spent, sorted by decreasing time.

This is the very first release of this, my very first plugin, and feedback is definitely encouraged.

To install:

  1. Right click on this link and choose “Save Link As…” and name it ‘’.
  2. Unzip this file to find ‘xfirestats.php’
  3. Upload ‘xfirestats.php’ to the plugins folder of your WordPress installation — might be the spot, but there will definitely be other plugins there. Automatic installation is coming.
  4. Go to your WordPress dashboard. Choose Plugins, and activate XFire Stats.
  5. In your dashboard, choose Appearance and then Widgets.
  6. Drag the XFire Stats widget where you want it to go.
  7. Edit it, and entire your XFire Id and, optionally, a title for the widget (otherwise the title will be XFire Weekly Stats).
  8. Save changes.
  9. See that it appears correctly in your blog.

Enjoy! Please send me an email at if you have any trouble, reactions, suggestions, untapped rage, etc.

The most recent version of this plugin will always be at the “XFire Plugin” page linked in the header to this blog.

XFire WordPress Widget

… if I could draw your attention to your right, especially you WordPress bloggers …

I’ve written a WordPress Widget that shows your gaming (via XFire) for the past week. It still has one or two bugs issues challenges before I can release it publicly, but if anyone has any ideas of what they would like to see in such a widget, like sorting, or yes for times/no times, or live information or whatever… let me know.