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Saturday, 30 August 2014

Velvet Worms last!

Peripatoides novaezealandiae - Peripatus

I first read about velvet worms - aka. peripatuses - in Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life - a book about the burgess shale fossils (among other things) and immediately went to look them up on youtube and wikipedia. They are beautiful creatures that, unfortunately, live nowhere near scotland.

Peripatoides novaezealandiae - Peripatus
However I had noted that they do live in New Zealand, so when I decided to take a trip to Auckland, peripatus went straight to the top of my list of things to see!

Over the weeks and months of looking under logs and asking people, I slowly came to the realisation that they are a pretty rare and hard to find animal in New Zealand. Perhaps their range and fecundity have been affected by the massive environmental upheavals of the last few centuries - like so much of the rest of the native fauna.

After three months of nothing, I eventually engaged the enthusiasm of a very experienced local bush man, who had seen peripatuses before and thought he might know a likely spot in the Waitakere ranges.

Peripatoides novaezealandiae - Peripatus
Sure enough, under the first log we looked at we found a small, formless, velvety blob. As I held it in my hands,  it extruded feelers and legs and elongated until there was a fully formed, caterpillar-like creature gliding sinuously over my palm.

We placed it back on its log, and took some photos and videos as it walked about. They are nocturnal, and it was obviously uncomfortable being out and about during daylight on a cold winter's day.

Although we continued looking, that was the only velvet worm we found, and it may be a very long time before I see one again.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Caravan Defender

It's been a long time since my last successful game jam - that was the dotBrighton Game Jam in september 2012.

In the meantime I have tried to do Ludum Dare a few times, working at home, on my own, but I never get close to a finished product in the time allowed.

So it was great to sign up for Kiwijam 2014 - they set up a maker space in Auckland University and did a great job of organising stray individuals like me into teams ready to attempt the impossible - make a game in 48 hours!

Kiwijam maker space - humming with energy on Sunday afternoon, as the clock ticks down - will we get our games done?

My team decided to use Unity3d - such a good tool for rapid prototyping - and eventually we went with the idea of doing an RTS game about creating and defending caravan trade routes, and although we didn't have time for graphical niceties, or game structure, we did get the game engine functional within the time limit.

Screenshot from the version of Caravan Defenders presented at the end of Kiwijam.
I've published the game on for anyone who would like to mess around with the system. There is no way to win, unfortunately.

Click here to play!

Markov Text Generator

I wrote this simple Markov text generator last week - mostly as an exercise in getting to know the Dart programming language and tools.

The generator works by being presented with a body of text, and it goes through the text, recording statistically what letters tend to follow on from the various sequences of letters. Then it uses this data to generate more text using the same statistical probabilities for each letter sequence. See this wikipedia link for more details.

For such an inanely simple algorithm, it is capable of coming up with beguilingly complex results:

Seeded with a 234k chunk of The Lord of the Rings.

I'm scheming on how I might use it in computer games... NPC background chatter might be one use, or libraries full of books - you could insert useful text on a particular page, and have the players get a clue about what to look up in the book to get useful results, rather than just inane babble!

But text is only a sideline - Markov Chains might also be useful in ai routines, random level generators - anywhere where you want to approximate a complex system without modelling all the underlying processes.