Category Archives: Main

Nexus Innovation Centre


Over the last month or so, I have been working with the Nexus Innovation Centre at the University of Limerick. Gerry, Shane, Ian and I first met with them on the tenth of October. The idea was to gain experience by helping them add value to their online and offline presence.

The Nexus Innovation Centre aim to help budding enterpreneurs with ambition realise their ideas and connect with a supportive network of like minds. To this end, they have office space which they rent out to companies under their umbrella, as well as a number of free consultation services for companies not yet ready to commit to office space.

There are more than ten companies resident in the building, and several external members. All of these companies have websites, most of which were linked on a Nexus page, yet none of them had an explicit link back to the Nexus website. When trying to establish an online presence, it is important to know the audience, and we knew that the audience Nexus is trying to reach includes enterpreneurs and people who wish to become enterpreneurs. We knew that such people would visit the websites of other enterpreneurs. A simple link didn’t seem like enough, however – so we created a JavaScript button with a Nexus logo that would inform people even if they didn’t click it.

During the summer, the Nexus was putting together an initiative called ‘studio to street’. Enterpreneurs-to-be could collaborate in a targeted environment to develop an idea and then bring it to potential customers. This initiative had a good name but no logo, so we created one that kept focus on the name, while giving a visual association with the building that houses the Nexus.

We also worked on making the entry to the Nexus website a bit smoother. When we looked at their website initially, it was a bit difficult to see answers to the questions ‘what do we do?’ and ‘what can we do for you?’. Our solution was a landing page, which would show up instead of the current home page. Visitors could get an idea of the Nexus without having to navigate through menus to find the ‘about us’ page. Reasoning that visitors fall into one of two groups – students and enterpreneurs – we decided to answer these questions with those groups in mind. We created a page which asked if the visitor was a student or an enterpreneur, and directed each towards another page which explained the benefits the Nexus could hold for them. One more click took them to the current homepage, where they could explore as before, while being a little more informed. Below is a draft of the landing page, which is awaiting some text content.

We developed some poster templates for the Nexus to use in promotion of themselves and their events. We used their highly recognisable logo and photos of the building to personalise these posters.

Finally, we put together some ideas for further promotion of the Nexus in the coming months, including a competition for the best business idea.

I think we learned a lot about working with a client here:

  • Never assume anything about a client.
  • Always respond to client input as promptly as possible.
  • Don’t wait too long to get client input – better yet, have input at every stage of a project.

It was also good to see how useful open-source tools such as Inkscape (used for graphics) and Bluefish (used for HTML/CSS) can be in a professional context.

Advertisements

Blender Game Boy(TM)

In my third year of university I had a project for which I had to construct a textured 3D object using Blender. Having never tried this kind of 3D modelling before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Blender is a highly complex piece of software, and most of its functionality is hidden in multi-tiered menus. However, I took pains to learn some of the many keyboard shortcuts. This let me use Blender with a reasonable efficiency. Once I had been working with it for about a week, I felt comfortable enough to pick an object to model.

A real Game Boy (image credit: Wikipedia). Click to visit the Wikipedia page.

The object I picked was one close to my heart: a 1989 Nintendo Game Boy(TM). I chose this because it wasn’t too difficult so as to be an impossible first project, but not so easy as to not provide any challenge. There are quite a few little nuances to the design. I was able to find a blueprint-style image to work from. I placed this in the Blender scene and traced the rough shape using simple polygons. Then I used the polygon splitting tools to refine these shapes into a better approximation of how the Game Boy looks. It took a surprisingly long time to get to somewhere I was happy with, but it didn’t feel like time wasted. I really enjoyed this project because I did something I probably would not have done outside of coursework, and something I thought was quite difficult.

For a demonstration of the model, we used an XNA project to load and display it. You can access that here. If you don’t have XNA, the model is also in that folder for you to open with Blender.

The model as seen through Blender.

tile_puzzle: A Python tile puzzle emulator with simple solver

During the last couple of months I have been attending a module on artificial intelligence and machine learning in games. One of the basic algorithms the course looks at is the best-first search for making in-game decisions such as the next move in chess. In class, we used A* search (finding the shortest possible path from one node to another – an extension of best-first search) to solve a puzzle like the one below – a selection of sliding tiles in a housing that allows for one tile to move at a time.

A 15-tile puzzle with 16 spaces, also known as a fifteen-puzzle.

Beginning with a scrambled (but legal) board state, the algorithm uses a heuristic to assign values to every possible next state, puts them in a list of open states, and then picks one of those states to move to. Then it does the same thing again, adding new board states to the open list and already-used states to the closed list. This continues until it has reached a predefined goal state – in this case, the start state. The heuristic takes into account not just the closeness of the state to the goal, but also how many moves it took to get to the state. That is what allows it to find the shortest path every time.

I liked this algorithm when I heard it the first time, but it wasn’t as clear to me as I would have liked. This time, I decided to make sure I understood – by implementing it in real code. I began with emulating the tiled board. The board state is simply a two-dimensional list, which is generated in the start (or goal state). Random legal moves are then made on the state to generate a random, legal, board state.

The other part of the program is a solver, which creates an instance of the board and randomises it. Then it uses the algorithm described above to attempt a solution. I say ‘attempt’ because even at the 15-puzzle level, complicated board states can take more than a few hours to solve. The 24-puzzle is considerably more complex, so I don’t even consider it here, although the code will work for a square board of any size from two upwards.

I enjoyed this project because it was fun to use Python in a new context – solving heuristic problems. Previously I had only done this with Java. I learned a lot about how A* algorithms work, and got some experience with designing for general solutions. I designed the code to work with any size board, and made it possible to solve different problems using the same solver.

The code is available on GitHub. Below is a fairly simple execution log of a 24-puzzle with 20 random moves on it.


Size: 5
Random iterations: 20
Randomising: 20 iterations
Tiles out of place: 11
Isolated moves from goal state: 39
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Found it after 10 moves
Total children added to open list: 21691

| 1| 2| 3| 4| 5|
| 6| 7| 8| 9|10|
|11|12|13|14|15|
|16|17|18|19|20|
|21|22|23|24| 0|

| 1| 2| 3| 9| 4|
| 6| 7|13| 8| 5|
|11|12|18|14|10|
|16|17|19| 0|15|
|21|22|23|24|20|

| 1| 2| 3| 9| 4|
| 6| 7|13| 8| 5|
|11|12|18|14|10|
|16|17| 0|19|15|
|21|22|23|24|20|

| 1| 2| 3| 9| 4|
| 6| 7|13| 8| 5|
|11|12| 0|14|10|
|16|17|18|19|15|
|21|22|23|24|20|

| 1| 2| 3| 9| 4|
| 6| 7| 0| 8| 5|
|11|12|13|14|10|
|16|17|18|19|15|
|21|22|23|24|20|

| 1| 2| 3| 9| 4|
| 6| 7| 8| 0| 5|
|11|12|13|14|10|
|16|17|18|19|15|
|21|22|23|24|20|

| 1| 2| 3| 0| 4|
| 6| 7| 8| 9| 5|
|11|12|13|14|10|
|16|17|18|19|15|
|21|22|23|24|20|

| 1| 2| 3| 4| 0|
| 6| 7| 8| 9| 5|
|11|12|13|14|10|
|16|17|18|19|15|
|21|22|23|24|20|

| 1| 2| 3| 4| 5|
| 6| 7| 8| 9| 0|
|11|12|13|14|10|
|16|17|18|19|15|
|21|22|23|24|20|

| 1| 2| 3| 4| 5|
| 6| 7| 8| 9|10|
|11|12|13|14| 0|
|16|17|18|19|15|
|21|22|23|24|20|

| 1| 2| 3| 4| 5|
| 6| 7| 8| 9|10|
|11|12|13|14|15|
|16|17|18|19| 0|
|21|22|23|24|20|

| 1| 2| 3| 4| 5|
| 6| 7| 8| 9|10|
|11|12|13|14|15|
|16|17|18|19|20|
|21|22|23|24| 0|

Did it in 10 moves.

JustEvasion

JustEvasion is a game that I developed in 2011. I wanted to make a simple game to keep my programming hand in over the long summer months. I developed it in C++, using OpenGL and the freeglut library. I was relatively unfamiliar with C++ at the time, but I had some sample freeglut code to learn from. The low-level nature of the libraries made some features quite difficult to implement, but it was a very good learning experience for me.

JustEvasion is a game in which the player moves a star shape around the screen. The star is chased constantly by circles, which use an extremely basic chasing mechanism. As such, the circles often line up or overlap as they attempt to reach the player. Players score points by effecting these overlaps. When two circles overlap perfectly (so that only one can be seen), one of them will disappear and the score will increase. If there is more than one overlap happening at once, the player gets a combo bonus.

I had JustEvasion working to this specification within a relatively short time, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it next. Some time later I was investigating Adam Saltsman‘s Canabalt, a very entertaining one-button Flash game.I discovered that the library he used to make the game, Flixel, is open-source. It is possible to develop a full game using only Flixel and FlashDevelop.

I was very excited about Flixel, so as a first project I decided to remake JustEvasion as a Flash game. Although I had made JustEvasion open-source on Google Code, almost nobody I knew had been able to play it because of its dependence on system configuration. A Flash game could remedy this, and allow everyone to at least try my game.

I started by reimplementing all the features that JustEvasion had, then started to add new ones, like a high score cookie that is stored on the computer for the next time you play, and different behaviours in the enemies. The development in ActionScript3 was slow at first, because I had limited Flash experience before, but once I grasped the differences I made progress quickly.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

JustEvasion was a landmark project for me. Being able to publish a game in a medium everyone could understand and play made for a great feedback loop. Catching bugs was a lot easier with ten or fifteen people trying each build. It also boosted my confidence in my own abilities.

Zeouterlimits's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Smaointe Lambo

Lambo's thoughts on Lambo's intrests.

Colm's Blog

Full of games, programming and overblown opinions

jester252

Just another WordPress.com site

xtremesolutionsie

Just another WordPress.com site

Project Management Blog

Learning in the module

Paul's Plethora of Peculiar Posts

Here be dragons (made of bad jokes, puns and weird imagery.)

Sophie O'Gara's blog

Creativity shall make dreams soar

Les Divagations d'une Jeunesse Imaginative

The ramblings of an imaginative youth

Phil's Blog

A blog about Philip and his opinions on Video Games, Art and just general Navel Gazing

Conor Murphy

Not sure if you know this but, I’m kind of a big deal

Some general vizardry

A novice programmer's musings

andruQuinn

Problem solving in programming. A blog to give new views into problem solving

Player Two

Ludology from a developer

William Laffan

A Portfolio blog

Not Your Blog

Let's go in there and take out that dragon!

LukesDevBlog

Gravity-It's not just a good idea, it's the LAW!

wi11iamcb

The quite mutterings of a madman