Saturday, May 17, 2014

What Color Is 4096?

Do you play computer games? I do.

Everyone needs recreational relief, and I (try to) have no judgment about the choices others make in that regard, so long as it doesn't hurt anyone. (I have a problem, for example, with people who blow off steam by going into the woods and kill things.) In any event, I spend a frightening portion of my work day in front of a laptop, and it's convenient to turn to computer games (and tracking sports results) as an enjoyable counterpoint to plowing through email and crafting reports.

I don't go to the movies often (and don't subscribe to Netflix), I haven't lived with a TV since it was stolen from the living room of our group house in 1972 (and I don't subscribe to Hulu), I don't troll the internet (and therefore don't get lost in the fun house of TED Talks), and I don't do Facebook.

On the other hand, I do read books (the things made out of paper that do not require a power supply) and I have regular dates to play duplicate bridge on Wednesdays and board games on Mondays—where the current favorites are Settlers of Catan (Cities & Knights), Ora & Labora, Trajan, and Agricola. It's the golden age of board games… but I digress.

My history with computer games goes back as far as my history with computers—it was a natural extension of my lifelong interest in gaming and was easy to indulge because the person who introduced me to computers, Geoph Kozeny, loved games as well. To be clear, we enjoyed games that required geometric perspicacity, manual dexterity, and spatial perception, sprinkled liberally with a sense of strategy, logic, and probability. (Games where you shoot people or conquer enemies are not recreational for me, and I don't go there.)

My all-time favorite was Lode Runner (the 1983 classic from Brøderbund), which goes back to my earliest days in computing, circa 1990. (Sadly, it's not operable on OS X, and there's no way I'm switching to a PC just to have access to Lode Runner.) After that, Tetris owned a part of my soul for many years.

In recent years, I've relied on my daughter (Jo) to infect me, which has meant Bubble Spinner (my personal best is 1,474,268—level 99) and Cube Attack (top score of 1,996,823—level 76). Every now and then I do Bloxorz, which is challenging both to pronounce and to play elegantly (I'm a sucker for geometric puzzles).

Last month Jibran (my 17-year-old stepson) casually introduced me to 2048, a deceptively simple number/geometry game that is apparently all the rage right now. When I asked Jo about it last week while we were together for a family wedding, she replied, "Oh yeah, I have it as an app on my smart phone." (Why did I think I could introduce a new game to my daughter?)

Anyway, after Jibran suggested I give 2048 a look I didn't come up for air until I finally won the game two days later. Talk about infectious!

The game is played on a 4x4 grid where either a 2 or a 4 appears semi-randomly in an open square after each move (with 2s being far more prevalent than 4s). A move consists of using an arrow key to slide everything in one direction (up, down, left, or right) so long as there is at least one open square for a number to move into, or there is at least one pair of identical numbers adjacent to each other that can be pushed together in that direction.

Whenever two identical numbers collide orthogonally (because the arrow key pushed them into each other), they merge to become their sum, which means that all of the numbers are orders of two. Essentially, you win by getting the number 2048 to appear somewhere in the grid, which can only be accomplished by getting two adjacent 1024s to collide, which can only be done be getting neighboring 512s to join, etc. When you reach the point where there are no more legal moves, it's Game Over (duh).

One of the delightful aspects of the game is the unique color combo used for each number:
2s are black on a light gray background
4s are black on a tan background
8s are white on an light orange background
16s are white on a dark orange background
32s are white on a dark rose background
64s are white on a red/orange background
128s are white on a pale yellow background
256s are white on a medium yellow background
512s are white on a deep yellow background
1024s are white on a bright yellow background
2048s are white on an intense yellow background

One of the clever features of this game is that if you persist long enough (and learn the secret of how to sequence the numbers for efficient advancement), once you reach the promised land—manifesting a 2048—the game pauses to congratulate you and then gives you the option to continue playing. And why wouldn't you?

Shortly after reaching the game's namesake for the first time, I decided my life goal would be to reach 4096 (that is, I added it to my bucket list of 1000 game accomplishments to achieve before I die—see Aunt Sylvia's Game for more on that). While it took me five weeks (during which I did non-game things also… really), I finally get there this past Tuesday:


Answer to today's trivia question: white on a black background.

Now I wonder if I can finagle an 8192…