Monday, September 20, 2010

Delaying Laterna Magica: Graduation Project

School has totally got me now. We spent last week in Carinthia and focused completely on the project. It was a great experience and we laid much of the foundation work. Today, we got even more long-term assignments, and my impression is that the difference to our graduation project is not the amount of work, but that the teachers don't give us as much time...

Okay, enough of that. What I really want to tell today is two things. Bad news are always first, so let's get it out of the way: I won't have much (if any) time to work on Laterna Magica in the near future.
And the reason is already the good news: I have a veeery interesting graduation project together with 3 colleagues: We're building and programming a robot to attend a robot competition in the USA.

Okay, to make my excitement clear, let's break this down:
We're building a robot
I think this is pretty clear. The competition consists of a few challenges, and the robot has to reflect these hardware-wise to show optimal performance. The challenges are presented at the end of October; an employee of the competiton's organization visits us personally, because we'd be the first team from Europe to attend.
We're programming a robot
This is probably the most interesting part of it. Our project is sponsored by TU Wien, Vienna's technical university, and our job is not just to program the robot, but to do so using a rule- and agent-based artificial intelligence.
  • Rule-based is basically a programming approach such as imperative or functional. It means to define a program in terms of condition-reaction pairs. It is supported by a framework which checks the conditions and execites the appropriate actions. While this might not seem spectacular, think about it: have you ever written or seen a program using this approach? Note that this is not another name for an event system; events also result in a reaction, but they only allow for reactions on one-time events (if some event happens), not to states (if some condition holds).
    Rule-based systems are good for modelling intelligent behavior. A human reacts to events because of the state-changes they cause, not the events themselves: If a window falls open, you close it because it's cold or loud outside, not because the window has opened.
  • Agent is just another word for actor. Remember how I wrote about the downloader; it's essentially the same. The only difference is that all this is now integrated into a rule system, which also changes the way how the agents exchange messages. Besides that, the concept of parallel processing stays. In our case, the focus lies on the independence of the actors to cooperatively reach a solution for a problem, and not on simpler multithreading by getting away from traditional synchronization.
  • Artificial intelligence always sounds good, but what does it really mean? Our parent project at TU Wien has a very specific goal: To build cooperative robots capable of disassembling Lego models. We won't get anywhere near disassembly, but the cooperation is still there, just in the software though. In the end, an artificial intelligence is always task-oriented, and the border where intelligence begins is not well-defined. The question is very interesting, but more philosiphical than technical, so maybe in a later post. attend a robot competition in the USA
This is a goal we all really want to reach, but if we do will depend on how we perform. Our project is definitely complex, so if it doesn't work out too well, we won't go. I'm positive about it, though.
The competition we would attend is BotBall, organized by the KISS Institute of Practical Robotics, and we have the honor to be invited directly to the final "Global Conference of Educational Robotics", without attending any of the qualification tournaments. (I hope you can read from all this how proud I am^^)

So the last point to check for today is: This is definitely good news for me, but how is it for you? Well, I'll write about it, of course. Some things might be off-topic in terms of Magic, but artificial intelligence is definitely in, right? Be sure to check back in a few weeks, there are definitely interesting things to come!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Static and triggered abilities

Laterna Magica already supports some core functionalities of Magic, but there's still much left. I don't talk about discard and such things; these are effects that just need to be coded, and then they will be there; just a new flavor of an existing thing. I also don't talk about very complicated effects. All cards currently supported in Laterna Magica use the original oracle wording (with the exception that "draw three cards" must be changed into "draw 3 cards"), which won't be possible for all abilities, but such abilities are still not what I'm talking about.

I'm thinking about really new features, like static and triggered abilities, the ability to target, or text changing effects.
Text changing effects are just very hard; they kind of break my concept of "one template, many instances" for abilities: The printed wording can be shared between cards, just its interpretation, the rules meaning, is card-specific.
Targets are currently not my goal; I don't really want to do much UI at the moment, and this in inevitable with giving the player yet another possibility to make a choice.

That neatly leaves behind the two thing I already stated in the title, and they have one thing in common which currently gives me a headache: Scope of influence.

The scope of an ability means in what places and at what times it works. For spells and activated abilities it's comparable to legality, but the big difference is that the user initiates those abilities; static and triggered abilities are around at all times.

There are two ways to handle the situation:
  • keep all abilities at all times and ask them if they should apply on every single occasion
  • let the abilities themselves handle it; registering and unregistering using some events
I don't know why, but my initial though was to use the second. Both have good and bad points of course: The first can result in a performance problem, the second might break in strange corner cases.
A more obvious, but still realistic example is controller changes: Imagine you get control of a Glorious Anthem, but it still pumps your opponent's creatures.
But even the first approach has similar issues, namely abilities that didn't exist at the beginning of the game, for example on tokens or from Auras. If you register all abilities at the beginning of the game, those would be ignored.

If you expected a definitive solution here, I'm sorry. I don't have one. There's no right way to do anything, just several ways with different consequences.

Monday, September 6, 2010


I was kindly brought to a windows incompatibility in my program, so I fixed this. Along with it came an update of the installation, which should make it much easier to update to future versions.

You can see the result here.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

First release!

This is only a short post, but one that makes me proud nonetheless.

This is the day where I put the first release version online. Don't expect too much; the basic rules including combat works, but there are currently nearly only vanilla creatures. Anyway, if you want to try it, or at least see what's there exactly, go to the forums and download it.