Tag Archives: Games

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 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

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

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

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

The story of Adobe AIR and game development

Will Flash ever be able to get rid of it’s tag of being a quick prototype and animation tool? In India where we have a large developer base working on small games and animations for the web, the stereotype that a lot of people hold about Flash will probably always stay true.

Whenever the word Flash appears, people expect magic and quick turnaround times with development. At such times, the fact that “Flash” is going to be used for a more a sophisticated development on limited memory devices is completely ignored.

Whenever we begin work on a game on iOS or Android, my first suggestion is that if technology is not a restriction, we can provide game development services using the Adobe AIR platform. Most of the times there is never an argument on that because we are trusted to know our work well and deliver projects according to the brief given to us irrespective of the framework or tools.

The trouble comes when I explain what Adobe AIR really is. The fact is that Adobe AIR is a cross platform runtime using Flash and AS3 to write applications across platforms. But on hearing the word “Flash”, there is an instant expectation of quick results even for complex games.

So I’m sharing a list of of points that I felt kept coming up during AIR development on mobile/tablet game.

  • Development with AIR may be familiar ground because of AS3, but the development workflow is the same as with other technologies, especially with good OOPs practices.
  • There are plenty of frameworks available which provide support to Adobe AIR to enhance game development. A developer who wants to give the best to the project considers the time he/she will be spending on including those frameworks in the game.
  • Development of game logic or controls is not about copy pasting code from different places. Each game logic has its flow and limitations which cannot be solved by existing code (unless if it is a port of a game owned by the developer).
  • Mobiles have limited memory. There is a possibility of the game taking up too much runtime memory thus leading to crashes and low frame rate. Optimization of code and graphics is top priority when developing for non-web platforms.
  • Sprite sheets, no matter how much fun they may be to work with, are not easy for replacing the graphics in a game.
  • Compilation of game for devices take time. The workflow of deploying and debugging a game on devices is a time consuming process.
  • Comparison to an existing game is fine, but assuming that the game could have been developed in 2 days and wanting the same time frame for a new game development is an unheard story.
  • Any existing game code of a web game cannot be picked and pushed on Adobe AIR. If the game was developed using AS2, the process of converting the code to AS3 is tedious. What’s even more tedious is optimizing badly written code.

I’m ranting about the way game development with AIR is thought of by some people in India and it really saddens me to think they take it for granted. I know this will change over time, but till then we have to bear the brunt and keep educating people about it.

Mariam

Working with Debug Mode in Starling with Box2D – AS3

I recently started work on a Box2D game project using Starling, and one of my concerns was getting the debug mode to display correctly.

Box2D is a very popular physics engine. It has a debug mode which draws shape outlines, defines center of mass and shows joint connectivity, all very useful while debugging shapes behavior in a physics world. Debug mode is also very useful during prototyping when artistic graphics are not ready. Box2D has its own API but still uses native Flash objects and events.

Starling on the other hand is a game framework developed on top of the Stage3D APIs which helps write fast GPU accelerated games without having to access the Stage3D APIs. The Starling API is very similar to native Flash AS3.

Once a Starling stage instance is created, all display objects subsequently become part of this core Starling instance.
Since Box2D uses native Flash Sprite, the best way to work with Starling is to add a native Flash sprite on top of the Starling stage instance. I’ve given a quick example of how this will work in the example below –

The PlayGame Class is where the Starling framework is initialized. Within the PlayGame class, the Box2D debug sprite instance is defined. The Box2D debug Sprite instance is a native Flash and not a Starling class.

The Box2D class

Packt Publishing completes 1000 titles

Packt Publishing is celebrating the publication of its 1000th title. I’ve been reviewing their books so it’s great to see them grow to this milestone.

Packt also supports many Open Source projects covered by its books through Project Royalty Donation, which has contributed over £300,000 to Open Source projects up to now.

As part of the celebration, Packt is allocating $30,000 to share between projects and authors in a genuinely unique way, soon to be disclosed on their website.

Packt is also offering their existing registered members or those who register before the 30th of September, 2012, a surprise gift. This initiates their celebratory occasion as they support their authors and readers both in a productive way.

For more information about Packt, the kind of books they publish, and to sign-up for a free account, you can visit their website: www.PacktPub.com

Mariam

Apps Vs Apps – Nokia Connects yet again!

When Nokia must have decided to recreate the successful Nokia AppTasting magic in Mumbai, they must not have anticipated the tremendous response they got from bloggers all over the city. A roomfull of 250 bloggers managed to get #NokiaAppTasting trending in a country which has 15 million Twitter users.

It sure shows that an “Indi-Blogger” power is strong enough to stir buzz when they get together. Sponsored by Nokia India, organised by the awesome Indiblogger team (completing 5 years) and hosted by the charming Vikas Khanna and the witty Rajiv Makhni, the event was great.

Going to a Nokia event always brings back great memories of the Nokia Developer events I’ve attended in the past. Although this one was not for developers, the passion of all the bloggers, tech and non-tech, was amazing. The Nokia AppTasting event was different and unique in it’s own way.

A lot of people I interacted with were not sure what to expect from the event.

“Technology and Food, Mobile Apps and Food App-etizers, Rajiv Makhni and Vikas Khanna, Tech Guru and Celebrity Chef?”

It was not long before the questions were answered. First by cheering with clenched fists in the air and then celebrating the evening by hugging another blogger sitting besides us. India’s tech guru Rajiv Makhni ensured the love continued by asking us bloggers to stare into our phones and then kiss it. I think it was a good way to break the ice and get started with the event.

As the evening unfolded, we were introduced to many useful apps on the Nokia Lumia and Nokia PureView phones.

The Nokia City Lens app showed a great use of compass caliberation and augemented reality. Depending on the direction the phone is held, the app locates the point of interest and visually shows them on the mobile screen. And because it uses GPS data, network connection is not always needed.

Nokia City Lens

Another app was the Mobile Sommelier by VinoMatch. The app has a complete menu of wine pairing features that helps improve the taste of a meal. Every menu selection is accompanied by a photograph of a generic wine group. This also seemed like a useful app when eating out or when having guests at home.

VinoMatch


Foodspotting was demoed on a Windows Phone. Foodspotting for those who haven’t used it is a food photo sharing app that has a community built around the sharing of food dishes. Vikas Khanna shared thoughts on how many chefs don’t approve their guests taking pictures of their dishes and then sharing them on social networking sites. But for him such apps are a good way to get critiqued.

I personally use FoodSpotting and find it very useful when I eat at a new place. Especially the reviews and rating others give to the food minimizes the trouble I face in deciding what to choose from a menu.

The app showcase was interspersed with some fun interactive sessions, witty comments, funny anectodes and informative quotes from the hosts.

I came back home wiser! I now know that Onion Halwa (a dense sweet desert made from onions) is a heritage of the Chadela Dynasty in Khajurao and there is a city called “Halwa City” in Tamil Nadu.

Nokia definitely scores with the Nokia PureView photography technology which is a strong reason why I will buy the phone.

Some pics from the event –

Nokia Apps take Centerstage
Moviemaking is no longer a painstaking business - Nokia Movie Maker App
An Adobe Photoshop like app for merging the best of multiple pictures into one
The Indibloggers that got Twitter trending

Indiblogger is a platform that brings together bloggers from all over India to share and communicate their thoughts. There are no specific categories that require bloggers to join the group. All that is needed is a passion for writing.

Mariam

Store Wars for the Game of Phones

Apple iTunes and Google Play together dominate consumer attention for application downloads. But when pitted against each other, they can get quite competitive!

App Store Stats

Stats say, Japan is amongst the top 3 countries for app download and revenue on both the stores. It is also amongst the Top 3 for the fastest growing markets for revenue. US and UK are also amongst the top 3 countries.

Google Play considers Brazil to be amongst the topmost countries to tap in terms of revenues expecting 88% growth.

India even with its large population would take some time to build a profitable market for smartphone apps because we still have a majority of our people using feature phones/low end phones.

Mariam