my game designs

Turning Conway’s “Life” into a Game (Part 1)

This post takes up the project described in the previous one, so it makes sense to start there if you haven’t already seen it.

I take it that the essence of Conway’s Game of Life is that cells can die for two reasons.

  1. Isolation
  2. Overcrowding

And that conditions must be in between these two extremes for new cells to be born.

This essence must be preserved in whatever multiplayer game is to be derived from this cellular automaton. And the players must have input into the position, i.e., they must be able to make moves.

Other than these constants, there are many parameters that could be varied

  • Board geometry/number of ‘neighbors’
    • The number of neighbors on a 2D board could be 3, 4, 6, or 8 (as in the original) – the numbers for overcrowding and isolation would be changed accordingly
  • The move mechanism
    • Are moves made by placing tokens down on the board (making that cell alive) or by moving tokens already on the board (turning the starting cell dead and the ending cell alive)
  • Who has control over which tokens?
    • The most obvious idea is that there are tokens of two colors, with the goal being to eliminate the tokens of the opponent’s color, but there are other possibilities, e.g., a neutral kind of token that could be moved by either (or neither) player.
  • Goal
    • Again, perhaps the most natural goal is to eliminate the opponents colony of pieces, but there are others to consider:
      • Making a certain ‘goal cell’ alive. Or destroying a certain stable formation.
      • Territorial goals
      • Last to be able to move
  • Initial position
  • And I’m sure there are other variables that I’m not thinking of…

That’s it for today–just laying out what I take to be the essence of Conway’s Game of Life and some factors that could be varied while keeping that essence constant. Considering just the five variables above there is already the potential to construct many different games on the basis of “Life.” The next step is to try some of these out, and note what tends to work well and produce interesting games, and what doesn’t.

my game designs

Turning Cellular Automata into Multiplayer Games

A cellular automaton consists of a regular grid of cells, each in one of a finite number of states such as on and off. The grid can be in any finite number of dimensions. For each cell, a set of cells called its neighborhood is defined relative to the specified cell. An initial state (time t = 0) is selected by assigning a state for each cell. A new generation is created (advancing t by 1), according to some fixed rule (generally, a mathematical function) that determines the new state of each cell in terms of the current state of the cell and the states of the cells in its neighborhood. Typically, the rule for updating the state of cells is the same for each cell and does not change over time, and is applied to the whole grid simultaneously.

A “glider gun” in Conway’s Game of Life

It is characteristic of many cellular automata, e.g., Conway’s Game of Life pictured above, that relatively simple rules for the evolution of one state to another generate a high degree of emergent complexity. For instance, the rules for the Game of Life are as follows. A live cell is “on” and a dead cell “off,” and the “neighbors” each cell interacts with are the eight adjacent cells.

  1. Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if by underpopulation.
  2. Any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives on to the next generation.
  3. Any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overpopulation.
  4. Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction.

Notably, emergent complexity is also a highly praised feature of many games; a game like Go, for instance, has deep emergent strategy from a simply set of rules. Conway’s Game of Life as it stands is not really a game, or if it is, it is what is sometimes called a 0-player game. In other words, there are no players making moves, that is, changing the game state in the course of its evolution. But it already possesses a quality we care about in games. So this raises the following question for me: Can an emergently complex automata like the Game of Life be transformed into an emergently complex multiplayer game?

I plan to pursue this question in following posts, where I will document my attempt to turn Conway’s automaton into a game, but likely this is not the sort of task that can only be accomplished in one particular way, and I challenge the reader to make a stab at it too!

As we know from The Turk, a mechanical automaton can contain hidden life!

The Turk, an elaborate hoax exhibited as a chess automaton in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.