Games that help medical researchers with their study

If you have played a game that communicates your responses in the game to scientists in the form of research data, then you are a citizen scientist.

Citizen science refers to the practice of participating and collaborating in scientific research to increase scientific knowledge. To participate in citizen science, you may not necessarily be a paid volunteer or be a professional at the subject being researched. All you need to do is contribute to data monitoring programs through your skills and mind.

Games have become an excellent medium to collect such information. Medical research has benefited a great deal through games because games cater to a large global audience consisting of different ethnicities and cultures.

Let me take you through some of the games used for medical research which I have played and have found quite interesting.

Sea Hero Quest

Sea Hero Quest

 

Sea Quest Hero is a mobile game specifically designed to study “spatial navigation”; one of the inital symptoms while identifying dementia. Dementia make it difficult for people to navigate in familiar places and environments.

In the game, players are expected to make their way through mazes of islands and icebergs, every second of which gets translated to scientific data. Two minutes spent playing Sea Hero Quest is equivalent to five hours of lab-based research.

The player is tested through 3 tasks – the first requires the player to remember 2D maps and navigate through 3D mazes, the second requires the player to collect flares in the maze and shoot at the buoy at the starting point, testing the players’ orientation, and the last task is to chase creatures and capture pictures of them.

The data collected from the game enables scientsists to study how thousands of people from different countries and cultures navigate through space. This also sheds light on how the players use their brain to navigate, thus aiding the future work on diagnostics and drug treatment programs in dementia research.

2.5 million people have contribute to this research which has been made in association with Alzheimer’s Research UK, University of East Anglia, University College London

Link : http://www.seaheroquest.com/en/

EteRNA

 

In EteRNA, the player assumes the role of an RNA Scientist to help invent new RNA molecules to combat infectious diseases like Tuberculosis.

What is an RNA you might want to know? RNA or Ribonucleic Acid is one of the three major biological macro-molecules that are essential to all known forms of life (the other being DNA and proteins).

Each RNA molecule is made up of 4 bases – adenine, guanine, uracil and cytosine.

In the game, the player has to connect these four bases and design complex new RNA molecules. While doing this, the player also unknowingly gives feedback on the biological function of the existing designs presented at the start of each level. Re-designing molecules, also known as folding molecules is key to combating infectious diseases, and the game does just that.

The game makes use of pattern matching skills of players. The game has no winning or losing criteria. The player either creates a design and moves to the next puzzle, or keep working on the existing design puzzle until a pattern is formed. There is a leader-board which shows the player where they stand among other players in RNA design creation.

Developed by scientists at Stanford and Carnegie Mellon universities, it is these folks who use the designs created by the players to decipher how real RNA works.

Link : http://www.eternagame.org/web/

Phylo

Phylo

 

Phylo is a game aimed at comparing genomes of various species that have existed down the centuries. Comparing genomes is known to help break down human DNA and identify new genes.

genome is any organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes.  

Sequence Alignment is a way of arranging the sequences of DNA, RNA or protein to identify regions of similarity.

This game has been designed around the pattern recognizing and problem solving skills of humans. Sequences are presented to the player in the form of different colored blocks. The player has to attempt to create the highest score for each set of sequences by aligning or matching as many colors as possible and minimizing gaps between them.

All alignments in the game are said to contain sections of actual human DNA which have been speculated to be linked to various genetic disorders such as breast cancer. This alignment when rearranged by the player is received, analyzed, and stored in a database.

Phylo is supported by McGill University, Canada Foundation for Innovation, Genome Canada, CIHR.

Link : http://phylo.cs.mcgill.ca/

Foldit

Foldit

 

Foldit has been around for a long time. Infact EteRNA is a descendant of the Foldit game.

But while EteRNA revolves around designing RNA molecules, Foldit revolves around folding proteins.

Proteins exist in every cell of all living things. This includes cells in the muscle, brain, blood, and every organ. Inside those cells, proteins perform their own individual function to keep the human body running.

Proteins fold up into a very specific shapes. This shape specifies the function of the protein. For example, a protein that breaks down glucose for the cell to convert it to energy, will have a shape that recognizes only glucose. Likewise for proteins that send nutrients to your blood or signals to your brain.

For a scientist, knowing the structure of a protein is key to understanding how it functions independently or when targeted with medicine.

The game therefore uses the player’s pattern-recognition and puzzle-solving abilities to design or fold proteins in new ways.

This game is supported by UW Center for Game Science, UW Department of Computer Science and Engineering, UW Baker Lab, VU Meiler Lab, DARPA, NSF, NIH, HHMI, Microsoft, Adobe, and RosettaCommons

Link : https://fold.it/portal/

Stall Catcher
StallCatcher

 

Stall Catcher is a game designed to help researchers with their study on the Alzheimer’s disease. The goal of the game is to observe the sequence of images and decide whether the blood is flowing through the vessels or is stalled.

Alzheimer’s is known to occur when there is reduced blood flow in the brain. This is detected during imaging of the brain where blood vessels appear clogged by white blood cells that stick to the walls, blocking blood flow and causing a stall.

The game is designed to help researchers at Cornell University to search the brain for stalled blood vessels. Although the researchers are experienced enough to identify stalls, the team working on research may not be that large to analyze magnitudes of data they receive by themselves. The game therefore aims to speed up this research.

Link : http://stallcatchers.com/virtualMicroscope

Mariam

The year gone by, the year that is!

I’m writing after a really long time. Approximately after a year.

Do people still read blogs? Not sure, but I’ll still write one!

It’s been a long year, lots of reasons to celebrate, and lots to think and ponder over.

The year began with a visit to the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco last year. This was my first time at GDC and it was a great experience being around creative talent from the gaming industry and learning from them. I came back to India feeling a lot more motivated to start working on good ideas.

One of my games won a Brandon Hall Gold Award for the ‘Best Use of Games and Simulations for Learning‘. Brandon Hall Awards are one the most prestigious awards in the field of learning, so winning a GOLD was quite exhilarating. The game that won an award is called ‘Develop Your Drug’ and it takes the player through an end to end development cycle of a new drug.

I became part of the NASSCOM Special Interest Group for Applied Games and got an opportunity to learn about some very interesting serious games and their best practices, specifically those from the Dutch Applied gaming industry.  My shift from the commercial gaming industry to applied games enabled me to speak about my projects at the first NASSCOM SIG Applied Games meet-up at TCS.

I started developing games with Unity. It was long overdue since my focus till recently had be the Adobe Flash and AS3 platform. But the web just made Flash the bad guy, so Unity and HTML5 is what naturally came next!

Jordan was a destination I had been planning to visit since a long time. But the plans never transpired because I had my apprehensions about visiting a country whose geographic location is in the center of the Arab Spring chaos in the Middle East. But then in an instinctive moment, I went ahead and booked myself a trip last November, and thought I’d take each day as it comes. Turns out, it was one of my best decisions and the time spent in Jordan was indeed fantastic and memorable.

I spent lesser time online and sometimes never got online. But a digital detox always does good, right?

As the New Year is running in full swing now (a month has already gone by), I have no plans set for the rest of the year. But I do intend to write more, travel some more and build some great games.

Cheers and keep reading my posts!!

Mariam

The GDC week and all that’s new in technology

While thinking about the week spent at the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC), I can’t help but recall the immense learnings I had there. And learning was not all, there was a lot of inspiration to bring back home and start the new year building games using that inspiration.

Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality (VR) was one of the biggest draws this year. No one can say for certain whether this technology will thrive or cease to exist in the future. But at the moment, the VR experience is realistic and engaging, similar to living the game world created by the developer.

Some of the VR devices that I tested included the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Sony Playstation VR, the Samsung Gear VR and even the good old Google Cardboard. I found the Vive and Playstation VR to be outstanding, but thought that Samsung Gear VR had an edge as well.

The great part of VR is that when it is combined with other hardware simulators, it gives VR a whole new dimension.
For example, the motion simulator along with the VR device from Nexperience brought about an awesome 6D experience.

Nexperience

And then there was Birdly that used VR with a mountable stand to explore sensory-motor, wind generator along with strong visual impact to create a fantastic flight simulation experience.

BirdlyUnlimited Hands was another interesting technology that used VR along with a haptic game controller to help the player feel the objects in the gaming world. This controller used muscle sensor, 3D motion sensor and multi-channel electronic muscle stimulator to detect the users hand movements for responsive feedback.

Virtual Reality Games

The Virtual Reality devices were incomplete without the games. Some of my favorite games included –

The Climb powered by the CRYENGINE gave a thrilling experience of climbing a rock mountain. There were times where I missed on catching a grip on the rock, the experience of falling down the rock thereafter was terrifying.

Paranormal Activity, the game is built on the popular horror film franchise. As a player, you will see yourself inside a house at night time interacting with objects only to realize you are not alone. The game does a fabulous job of making you feel uneasy!

The Everest is a must try, especially if you love the Himalayas. The virtual experience of of climbing one of the highest and riskiest peaks of the world is just as terrifying!!

Alt. Ctrl
In today’s age of technological advancement and gaming gadgets, the alt.ctrl at GDC was quite a pleasant surprise. Alt.ctrl stands for alternative controllers and almost all the participants were entertaining with their ideas. Some of the ones I played and liked included –

Crank Tank powered by Aurdino used crank controllers to play a multiplayer arcade game.

CrankTanks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Threadsteading is a two player strategy game using a modified quilting machine.

Threadsteading

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palimpseste is a first person exploration game that makes use of Filtered Reality i.e. Using a mounted device to view the game through the independent RGB filters. When a color filter is changed, it can show the player areas of the game unseen through the earlier filter.

Augmented Reality

Image Metrics is a face and expression recognition technology. It can capture head movements and rotations, as well as extract face textures. It then uses this facial data to overlay it with graphics. I played around a little with their IOS app Turned which used this technology brilliantly to create zombies out of our faces.

On the subject of Augmented Reality, I must mention another AR technology – Magic Leap. Although I did not see this at GDC, there is so much I’ve heard and read about it.

It is said to be the most exciting thing in Augmented Reality right now. It’s basically a startup which is working on an augmented reality technology. It overlays digital 3D graphics onto your view of the real world via a headset with transparent lenses or smartglasses.

I’m looking forward to Magic Leap opening up to developers soon.

Development Engines

Unity is one of the most popular engines that developers use to make games. CRYENGINE, UNREAL, and Amazon Lumberyard are other interesting game development platforms.

Google had a large space of their booth dedicated to PROJECT TANGO. Project Tango is a technology from Google where it uses vision sensors on devices to move through the world just as humans do. It uses 3D motion tracking and depth sensing to understand position, orientation and depth of objects in the real world. For example you can measure your floor using the phone before you go carpet shopping. Or walk into a maze and use Tango to quickly give you its plan in 3D for you to escape out of it.

Overall GDC was a massive event. There was so much to do that the week was not enough. But the good part is, the inspiration that I drew from it, will be enough to make me keep reading, learning and experimenting more till the next GDC!

I would personally like to thank Blake Merriam and the GameDesignersNetwork to enable the scholarship and provide networking opportunities with game developers within India and outside.

If you too are interested in attending GDC 2017 next year with a scholarship from GDN, make sure you fill out the form and stay in the loop for the announcement.

Mariam

A Round-Up of the NASSCOM Game Developer’s Conference 2015

Usually November is the time when Indian game developers start prepping themselves to attend the annual gaming event in Pune, India – The NASSCOM Game Developers Conference.

NASSCOM GDC has carved a niche for itself for being the premier gaming event in India. Since its inception in 2009, it has become almost ritualistic for game developers to attend the event every year. Some attend it to network, some to learn the new trends of the industry and some to show their games and get feedback.

The game development community is no longer naive. There are stories of acquisitions, funding, publishing deals, startups and new indie studios. And making these stories are the talented bunch of game designers, artists, programmers, producers, analysts and students with a curiosity of what beholds them. It is always great to meet and hear the personal triumphs and challenges of the game developers. Most of them don’t shy from talking about their games and are always open for feedback. This is how the community thrives.

Students demoing their games
Students demoing their games

According to The NASSCOM Developer Survey, nearly 65% of developers are employed with Indie Studios. 40% of developers have no prior gaming experience while the number of women in the industry is 15%. These numbers are good considering how fragile it is to survive in the industry. Those who are there, are because of their passion for games and motivation to build something beautiful.

This year the event started with a day full of workshops followed by 2 days of the conference. There were 5 tracks running simultaneously –Indie Development, Game Design, Game Art, Technology, Marketing and PR, with a mix of Indian and international speakers.

Women in Game Dev Meet-Up at ABC Farms
Women in Game Dev Meet-Up

Apart from the workshops and sessions there was an Investor Meetup, Games Pitch and Women in Game Dev Lunch meetup.

The tracks had informative content that was catered for the casual mobile gaming industry.This was one particular session conducted on serious gaming where the speakers shared ideas on Gamifying Maths and Geography for school students. It was interesting to see how they converted the concepts of Fraction into visuals for learning. The same visual learning could be applied to any subject be, it School Maths or other domains.

The postmortem on the game UNWYND, took us through the journey of a game where the developer explained how they uplifted a failed game on Android to Editor’s Choice on iOS. The developer emphasized on showing games to as many people as possible and implementing feedback early. Attending conferences and using social media to know people and maintaining friendships is definitely a catalyst to getting visibility.

The track on Game Design about making your players love your game in the first session explained how using minimum steps to reach the core game loop was critical. Only 20% of games make it past the first session therefore it was recommended to never dump the player with too many layers at start of the game, stimulate the player’s senses with animations and use notifications wisely to get your players back to the game.

The panel discussion on Indian Publishing deals had contradicting views. While some on the panel felt that Publishers help get a new game gain visibility, others felt that the presence of publishers could invalidate the original vision of the game. All agreed that it is possible for both the developers and publishers to have a win.

The Secret Sauce of App Stores Talk
The Secret Sauce of App Stores Talk

India may start seeing more gaming events in the future. At least that’s what the developers hope for. PocketGamer Connect already happened last year in Bangalore. But NASSCOM GDC will continue to drive developers. Looking forward to the event next year!

The Science Behind Mobile Gaming Addiction

Everyone who loves playing games, is at some point at risk of being converted to a full fledged video game addict (although this may not be a very bad thing :)).

And those in the business of making games, always aim at owning atleast one title that can lead to such addiction.

Mobile games today is a multi-billion dollar industry where just 0.15% of the mobile gamers bring in 50% of the revenue. The paying customers are small but they can be attributed as video game addicts. But they are not the only ones. There are some persistent players who keep grinding through levels without making any purchases, and they can be just as guilty of being addicts.

What makes games so enticing? Well, the science of mobile game addiction has been explained with an infographic below. Read it to find more –

AddictiveGamingSource: Online-Psychology-Degrees.org

Number Guessing Game using CreateJS

I’ve created a simple “Guess the Number” game in which the objective of the player is to guess the random number selected by the computer within the least possible moves. I’ve used the CreateJS libraries to create the game.

The advantage of using the CreateJS library for game development is that it helps manage graphics on the Canvas in a way that is similar to the Adobe Flash display list. It helps maintain a cleaner work-flow and gradually introduces you to building complex games. This does not mean the other libraries are any lesser in performance or capabilities. I chose CreateJS because I’ve been working with it recently for app development.

The game has been created using CreateJS has been uploaded so that you can play it before attempting to code it. (Refresh the page incase the game doesn’t open)

The game code below primarily covers the most essential features required to learn basic game development using Canvas, HTML5 and CreateJS. This includes –

  • Drawing shapes on the canvas with a fill and outline
  • Creating text and changing the value of the text at runtime
  • Working with Mouse Events
  • Working with Containers (grouping graphics into one object).

To see the complete code including the HTML file, you can download it from this game link.

Mariam

The Ups and Downs of HTML5

I’ve been off writing for a while mostly because most my time had been taken up with work. If I did get any time off, I preferred spending that time away from the desk. But lately I’ve been missing writing, so thought of starting off with a short article on how I view the platform I’m investing my time in – HTML5.

Rewinding back by four years

It all began in April 2010 when the then CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs issued a public letter titled “Thoughts on Flash” dismissing it as platform no longer relevant for web based content. All of a sudden it sparked debates in the media and developer circles with HTML5 by being pitted against Flash, threatening to topple it down. The general opinion was that HTML5 is King and will change the way people look at content on mobile, as Flash will languish in oblivion.

As time passed, the glory of HTML5 starting fading a bit. In 2012 Mark Zuckerberg was quoted saying at the Disrupt conference that his biggest mistake was “betting too much on HTML5 as opposed to native”.

In 2013 LinkedIn too switched from mobile web-based apps to native because of performance issues and crashes.

In 2012 at the Intel Developer Forum, Intel admitted that HTML5 was over hyped, while continuing to be a strong developer supporter for HTML5 development even today.

HTML5 games was a small, almost non-existent market.

Back to recent times

Times are better today. There is still a constant conflicting debate on whether HTML5 is sustainable in comparison to native or platforms like Unity.

Native and web based apps can never be compared because they both work differently. While a native app runs on a mobile’s OS and machine firmware, HTML5 apps run within a browser. It is upto project stakeholders to decide whether their product is best designed for native or web.

SpilGames and SoftGames have the largest catalogue of casual HTML5 games. They have built this catalogue to target their casual game audiences that play games on the web. They along with FGL are encouraging developers with an ecosystem that includes monetization across platforms. Amazon too has started excepting HTML5 web apps.

GREE, a Japanese social games company recently announced a shift of focus from HTML5 to native apps. I don’t see this as a news that will damage the current HTML5 ecosystem. It is known that HTML5 can never compete with console quality games, especially on mobiles. What HTML5 can provide though, is quick access to games when a user visits a website without having the pains of connecting to app stores, downloading content or paying for it. HTML5 is best suited for quick game-plays and easy discovery through web browsers.

What I also loving about the platform is its community. The community is responsive and constantly building and improving frameworks to make the process of HTML5 development easier.

So to sum it up, the adaption of HTML5 has been like a wave curve. It’s seen adaption and  abandonment. The platform is yet evolving, and it’s only going to get better, while mobile phones will get more powerful.

If you have thoughts on the HTML5 ecosystem please feel free to share it. I to hope continue sharing more articles on developing games and apps using HTML5.

Also check out

Chrome experiments; they have some fantastic work but never tested them on mobiles

Mozilla Developer Network

Mariam

Adobe Playpanel shows the best in online gaming

Playpanel from Adobe is a desktop application that automatically bookmarks all the Flash games played in your browser. It is a perfect tool for online and social game players because it helps to discover new games and also see what others are playing.

image2

What’s convenient about the app is that it silently runs in the background capturing your gaming behaviour without you having to manually do anything. The app captures information such as the games you’ve played, the game links, publisher information, the date you last played the games, number of times you played them etc.

The app is also browser independant, so you could be playing a game in any browser and it will automatically make it available in your Playpanel game list. I tried it with Google Chrome, Firefox and IE and it worked fine.

Playpanel requires you to login with either your Facebook login or Adobe login. I think this login compulsion could have been avoided because not everyone is comfortable inputting their login details. But then looking at it from a product perspective, it also needs to reach out to a wide audience through Facebook invites and virality through game sharing, so it can’t be avoided.

image1

The feature I like most is the discovery of new games from the “Discover Games” tab. This list contains high quality games from well-known publishers. The games are divided into Featured games and Popular games. The featured games are hand picked by the game editors while the Popular games are chosen based on their ratings by other players. You too can rate/comment on these games or see what others have commented about it before you start playing it.

image4

A feature called “Pinning” games helps to pin games which are then made available to your Facebook friends. You can also see what games your friends have pinned, thus collaborating with them on a multiplayer or social game mission.

It almost feels like Playpanel is like a mobile app store, the only difference being, the games are free and played in a desktop browser. Also, with so much gaming content out there it is almost impossible to know what to play or not to play. An app like Playpanel just makes it easier to identify good content.

However, it’ll be interesting to know how much further this product will evolve. One feature that I can think of is arranging games according to genres. Another is showing “similar games” thumbnails on a particular game details page. Also, it will be nice to have the game details page show whether the game is cross-platform.

With Adobe focusing heaviliy on HTML5, will it also serve as a future platform for those games? Just a food for thought!

Mariam

At the NASSCOM Game Developers Conference

ngdc stage

Another year of the NASSCOM Game Developer’s Conference, India has ended. Another year with a better turnout than the last! What a way to celebrate the gaming community of India.

The NASSCOM Game Developer’s Conference (NGDC as we call it) took place on the 15th and 16th of November 2013 at the JW Marriott at Pune. Located right in the hub of the Pune university area, the location is better connected than the earlier one in Pune city and probably encouraged more to attend the event.

The conference had 3 simultaneous tracks focused on Indies, Business and Technology. There were also workshops on Unity development, Game Design, Mentorship by industry experts, BYOG (Build Your Own Game) and Nasscom Gaming Awards.

I went to the event not just as a delegate but also as a speaker. As delegate I attended a lot of the indie talks. My favorite was the talk by one of the founders of Simogo. With just two people in their company, they have done some amazing games. Their postmortems were precise to each game but it was great to see their unique game mechanics.

A workshop for Unity got me introduced to working with 2D on the new Unity 4.3 platform.

Another good talk was by Martine Spaans from Gramble.com on Best Practices for Publishing Mobile Games in the Western Market. While some of the points were known from the best practices materials available online, the presentation was good with points from personal experience.

Interesting it was to attend the Crowdfunding and Kickstarter session by Pyrodactyl Games because they are a success story on Kickstarter from India for their game Unrest.

I spoke about Adobe AIR games on Multiple platforms. The presentation was basics of Adobe AIR but there was so much to share when talking it – Tools, Scout, Stage 3D, Starling, Native Extensions, Feathers UI, Away3D and it just goes on. I hope the audience (a lot of them non AIR developers) could understand it well.

The best the conference had to offer was meeting old friends, colleagues, twitter friends and networking with new people. Waiting for the event to repeat the success next year!

Mariam

Build a URLRequest with headers of multipart/form-data content type with ActionScript

BitmapData

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posting an image on a platform which requires it to be of a ‘multipart/form-data’ content type is different from posting a URL link of an image or sending an image as binary data.

For example, both Flickr and Facebook APIs require the ‘multipart/form-data’ type for uploading images and in the latter case I never realized it because there was an existing Facebook API which was doing the work behind the scenes.

Incase of Facebook, if you are using the Facebook Actionscript3 SDK for posting images to your own wall, you are required to convert your image into a ByteArray and then use the API to POST the image. The classes that handle this are the FacebookRequest.as, AbstractFacebookRequest.as and PostRequest.as, but as a developer you may never know of these classes or use them directly.

For instance the code below captures a Movieclip from the stage as a bitmap, encodes it as a PNG and then uploads it to your Facebook wall using the Facebook Actionscript3 SDK.

In my case I did not have any SDK or classes to work with this particular content type. That’s when I read about the UploadPostHelper.as class written by Jonathan Marston. It is an old class written in 2007 so it needed minor modifications to work with today, but nonetheless, it served the purpose of building a POST request with properly formatted headers required by the server to interpret the content of multipart/form-data type.
Assuming if I had to rewrite the code to post an image to Facebook without an SDK, the code below would work just as well.

Write to me if you want the UploadPostHelper.as class with the changes I’ve made to it or have suggestions to work with image data.

Mariam

Games, Devices, Technology