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Archive for the 'Games' Category

“undercover as orcs and blood elves”

Careful, World of Warcraft gamers.  The NSA is looking for terrorists among you.

Spies with surveillance agencies in the United States and United Kingdom may have spent time undercover as orcs and blood elves, infiltrating video games like “World of Warcraft” in a hunt for terrorists “hiding in plain sight” online.

That’s the finding of the most recent round of documents released by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to British newspaper The Guardian.

Agents from the CIA, FBI and Pentagon and England’s Government Communications Headquarters infiltrated WoW and virtual world “Second Life,” as well as collecting information on the Xbox Live gaming network, according to the documents.

A 2008 NSA memo called online gaming a “target-rich communications network” where terrorists could communicate “in plain sight.”

Really the best comments were from Rose, who shared the link with me:

I can just imagine a bunch of NSA guys sitting around saying “I bet we can get paid to play WoW.”
“Yeah, we’ll say we’re looking for spies, yeah, that’s it!”
Try as I might to be less cynical, the article provides more evidence for that position:
But apparently so many agents were engaged in playing video games for national security that a “deconfliction” group was created to make sure government agents weren’t accidentally spying on each other.
Well played, guys.  Well played.
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Gamers solve decade old HIV puzzle in ten days

This one speaks for itself.

Hat tip to my brother Jared for the link.


Puzzled by the intricate structure of the M-PMV retroviral protein… scientists have striven to find its chemical key for ten years now. Each enzyme has millions of possible combination in which it can fold its atom bonds, and determining its precise structure is a very laborious enterprise even for high-end computers with large processing power.

As a long-shot University of Washington biologists sent the virtual 3D model of the M-PMV to the online game Foldit, where gamers folded and turned it into a myriad of combinations. Eventually, and remarkably enough, the gamers obtained the optimum one – the state that needed the lowest energy to maintain….

“They actually did it in less than 10 days.”

Yeah gamers!

The reason why computers haven’t been able to do this, despite their evidently superior processing capabilities, is that they’re still far from being capable of having human-like spatial reasoning.


I buy that argument as part of it.  I also wonder about the characteristics of the neural super-net that is collaborative human interaction.


Interestingly enough, Foldit records the players’ actions and processes them in an algorithm which will eventually help the AI behind the game to someday be able to compile successful structures on its own.


Well, whether you buy that might depend whether you believe that algorithms can generate strong AI, or not.


Good stuff.

P.S. Let’s see if this successfully cross-posts to Facebook and Twitter…
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The 100 Games Cupcakes… Game!

This is just a little piece of internet wonderfulness that was emailed to me by a friend.  The web page begins:

Every year, we throw a big, game party to ring in the new year. This year (2010) is our house’s 100-year birthday, so we celebrated with cupcakes…
…and the cupcakes were a game.

Here they are in random order – see how many you can guess!

Indeed, it is 100 cupcakes, each themed after a popular [board | video] game.  Most anyone who will read this blog will recognize quite a few of these.  I did well except for a couple of video games and board games from the last decade.  I guess I need to catch up to the present.



HRSFAN achievement: Rush or Relax?

Jessica Hammer ’99 and her research team recently won a grant to design iPhone games that will help people stop smoking.  The grant speaks for itself:

The game is intended to be an alternative to smoking with the goal of reducing or eliminating tobacco use in players’ lives. The game involves breathing into a microphone to control gameplay, and is coupled with sound, color, images, challenges and feedback to mimic the stimulant and relaxant effects of smoking. The design elements within the game result in two modes of play (“Rush” and “Relax”). These will be tested for their stimulant and relaxation effects through emotional response and physiological (EEG, heart rate, galvanic skin response) measures, and compared to subjects after smoking or who play the game in lieu of smoking. If successful, the game will emulate the effects of smoking as a replacement therapy for smokers who want to quit. It will do so by allowing smokers who crave the physiological effects of smoking to reach for this five-minute game rather than for a cigarette.

I think it’s a great idea.  Although I also thought about this, and it creeped me out.  (Spoiler alert for that link, if you read beyond the first page or so.)

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Abstract Boardgame Site

Apparently my father’s friend has a website that contains a large assortment of interesting abstract boardgames (including descriptions and links to the rules) and java applets that allow you to play them online against a computer or another player.  I didn’t recognize most of them, but gipf and its fellows were there and seemed pretty representative.  For those of us who enjoy this sort of game, this could be an awesome way to waste time and meet likeminded people. Hey– if a bunch of us sign up, we might find each other. We could even use it to follow up on the longstanding notion of an online gaming SIG (presumably alongside other similar sites that support other games)…


Cheapass, RIP?

While Elisabeth is on the subject of cool websites with witty imagery and language where one can buy cool stuff for not much money, I am taking the opportunity to lament that Cheapass (forgive my language–that really is the brand name) appears no longer to be publishing games.


On the plus side, some of their games are still being sold. At a website with a purple golem mascot. Which beats all hollow many of the alternatives.

On the other freaking hand–Kill Doctor Lucky “in a new full-color, high-quality deluxe edition featuring components on par with the best European board games”?!? WTF? Is James Ernest rolling over in his warm hole in the ground?

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Catan in cupcake form

Everyone loves Catan. Especially when it’s made of sugar.

Catan in cupcake form

Click the picture for a full-resolution version. It’s entirely edible, down to the fondant rocks and robber. Most impressive. This birthday cake (actually, 19 cupcakes) was made by housemates Cassia and Kim for our friend Tony’s birthday. I believe that the inspiration came from Cupcakes of Catan.


Who did it better?

This week‘s New Yorker has a “Talk of the Town” about a version of Assassins at a private high school in NYC. You can see a summary of the sketch here or find the full one online for subscribers (or, of course, search out a hardcopy!).

Fond, frightening, and mixed memories of the 1999 HRSFA-HCS Assassins War. Which reminds me that someone really ought to create a stories page on the HRSFANS wiki. (Yes, I realize that having said that, I am accepting de facto responsibility…)

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Settlers to overtake Monopoly? Not yet…

Wired has a story on Settlers of Catan, “Monopoly Killer“. It’s a nice mix of discussion of the game’s mechanics, the story of its creation and its inventor, and the status of German games in general, among other things. But what really piqued my interest was this graph:

The article says that Catan has started to really sell better over the last few years in the US, and speculates on it (and German-type games generally) overtaking more traditional games like Monopoly. I remember when I was HRSFA’s External, talking with Rob Daviau at Hasbro–he said something I found very interesting at the time, though it seems obvious in retrospect. He said that because of its brand recognition, Monopoly was Hasbro’s big board game, and that most of its money came from various licensed versions of it; that the more special-interest board games were a much, much smaller sliver of the pie.

Maybe this will start to change that, and push smarter board games more into the popular culture in the US. I’d certainly be excited to see more of that. But from the graph (which you’ll note is cumulative sales), the growth is relatively stable. Although it does appear to have increased recently, the per-year increase doesn’t look tremendously large–about 100,000 sold up to 2004, then 100,000 in 2004 and 2005; 150,000 sold in 2006 and 2007. 600,000 copies sounds pretty good for a single board game–but remember that with approximately 100 million households in the US, that’s still under 1% penetration. Hasbro is reticent to let out detailed data on Monopoly sales or estimated number of copies in the US (as was Mayfair, the source of the data in the article), but a New York Times article reported that they sell “several million copies” in the US each year, and they claim to have sold over 250 million copies total worldwide. So while Catan has an undeniably growing public awareness and acceptance, it would have to multiply its sales fiftyfold before it reaches Monopoly.

Finally, a couple of other interesting links: