Need for video games

New research provides evidence for what we already knew.

A recent article by Reuters, Video game playing may fulfill innate human need, gives some conclusions from research into the positive effects of video games, or more specifically into what makes game play compelling. This research is somewhat unusual in that it does not start with the intent to study game violence (nor the goal to prove a negative impact of games). The research was conducted by Immersyve, a “virtual environment think tank”, in collaboration with the University of Rochester (home of the “Nipple of Knowledge”).

The research, or at least the limited information available online, suggests that games can fulfill basic needs in a meaningful way, and that those games which do so “predict better psychological outcomes for players” as well as “commercial success for games.” This is one point that I made (albeit without research citations at hand) when testifying before a committee of the Michigan Senate a couple of years ago. The gist of the results, obviously, is that players who have their needs met by a game will tend to continue to play and enjoy that game, whereas players will move on from games will do not fulfill such needs as well.

Personally, I have some clear ideas about what kinds of game experiences produce psychological well-being, and I will be interested to see how my perceptions match with the research results, as well as whether there are different types of game players who respond innately to different stimuli.

Pretty Good MahJongg 2.32

This is our fourth product release in 2007.

Yesterday, Goodsol Development released Pretty Good MahJongg 2.32, an update to our unique tile solitaire game. This product contains not only traditional tile matching, with 280 different layouts (plus a layout editor), but also includes 55 different solitaire and puzzle games played with mahjongg tiles, most of which are original and exclusive to this product. One can download a 30-day trial version here.

This version of Pretty Good MahJongg, as with all of our recent release updates, provides better compatibility with Windows Vista, including a nice new program icon. Admittedly, this is the smallest of the updates, since we had already released an update back in November (2006) which added HTML Help to this title. In fact, that was the reason that we shipped the other updates (Pretty Good Solitaire 11.0.1, Action Solitaire 1.12, and Most Popular Solitaire 1.12) before this one.

One wonderful thing about our industry, and in particular, the virtual working environment, is that it is not as susceptible to certain types of business interruption (as long as ones internet connection remains functional). This release (as well as final build and testing) was published while Springfield was buried in snow. It was not substantially delayed by a driveway in need of shoveling nor by the tons of snow on the ground outside. Meanwhile, here in East Lansing, we have had relatively little snow, but we have not been forced to venture out into the very cold temperatures recently.

Anyway, this release completes all the Windows Vista updates for our major titles (though Thomas Warfield will still be updating his “Wizard” products that use the same library that we wrote for Pretty Good Solitaire). However, we still have an aggressive release schedule planned, and the fifth release is already in alpha testing. We currently have playable prototypes for the next two Goodsol titles, one needing some polish before beta testing, and the other awaiting artwork and requiring additional games to be implemented.

Everything looks positive, except this cold…

QuizBusters information

Here is some information on the most intelligent game show on television.

QuizBusters is a game show, based on quiz bowl competitions, that is produced and aired locally (to us) by WKAR, the public broadcasting station from Michigan State University. The show, now in its 17th season, is hosted and produced by Matt Ottinger. Each season, 64 teams of high school students, with 4 students on each team, compete in a single-elimination tournament, with half hour games/episodes taped over the course of several months. That, of course, means that 63 games are contested throughout the year.

One might be inclined to call QuizBusters a trivia contest, except that the answers are (usually) anything but trivial, covering mathematics, science, literature, history, geography, and other topics. The knowledge that it takes to compete, and especially to win, is impressive. Two teams, one in each division (Green Division being larger schools, and White for smaller schools) win $5000 college scholarships to MSU, and the ultimate victors also receive book scholarships.

Last year, the team from East Lansing High School won the Grand Championship, and my son, James, was an alternate (by virtue of having joined the team after QuizBusters had already started). This year, James has played every game so far and is doing quite well. Here is a summary of the results so far:

The first game was versus the Hastings Saxons, which is the alma mater of my wife, ironically. This game originally showed on January 28, but it re-airs tomorrow afternoon. It may also be viewed (reputedly) from the web site: Hastings Saxons vs. East Lansing Trojans. East Lansing won 560-140.

The next game, in what is (confusingly) called the “first round”, the opponent was Eaton Rapids. This game was first aired on February 4 and will show again on February 15. This game can also be viewed (if one has RealPlayer) here: East Lansing Trojans vs. Eaton Rapids Greyhounds. East Lansing won 650-90.

Note: Everything hereafter is a spoiler.

This victory led to the Division Quarterfinals against Okemos, a neighboring community also known for excellent schools. This game was taped on January 29 and will not air until April 1, and again April 10, so no pictures or video are available online yet. East Lansing won 630-210.

That moved East Lansing into the Division Semifinals against Howell. This game, for the honor of playing in the Division Championship, was taped tonight and will not air until April 29 and May 8. Again, the score was not particularly close. East Lansing won 630-170.

The Division Championship tapes next Tuesday, February 20, and will be against either Lansing Everett or Hartland (to be determined tomorrow). The Hartland Eagles are very good and, as the #2 seed (behind East Lansing), should be considered the favorite. The Everett Vikings, however, are one of two teams that have beaten East Lansing during Quiz Bowl league this school year, so they certainly stand a chance.

In any event, I am certainly looking forward to next week; it should be a great game.

Vista program icons

There are significant changes to program icon handling in Vista.

When I first started Windows Vista, I did not anticipate any differences regarding program icons. Although I had heard that larger icon sizes were supported, my expectations were that our traditional 32×32 (and 16×16) icons would continue to work fine. Technically, they work correctly, insofaras they are displayed and do not cause the program to malfunction, of course. However, changes in Vista render standard icons insufficient.

The first, and most obvious, change is that the default icon size on the Vista desktop is 48×48. With a standard icon, the 32×32 pixel icon bitmap is stretched to 48×48 (125% larger), which looks pretty bad in most cases. Of course, the icon sizes can be changed, and smaller settings are fine. However, a user may select a larger size than 48×48, in which case a standard icon is (get this) stretched to 48×48 and then surrounded by a frame of the desired icon size. Note that Vista does not leave the icon at the designed size, but rather stretches it to ugly first, and then puts a box around it for emphasis.

There are two places where icons are commonly displayed: 1) the desktop and 2) Windows Explorer, now known simply as ‘Computer’. On the desktop, the user can select from small (32×32), medium (48×48, default), and large (96×96) icons. In Computer, the user has additional view options, including tiles (icons shown as 48×48), details and list (16×16), and extra large (256×256). Better yet, there is a sizing slider that allows icon sizes to be set at somewhat arbitrary sizes up to the full size, 256×256 pixels.

Program icons can contain several different image sizes, at different bit depths, and a standard icon usually has 32×32 and 16×16 sizes. Vista makes use of 4 different base icon sizes: 32×32 and 16×16 are the (old) standard sizes, 48×48 is the new default size (stretched up from 32×32 if missing), and 256×256 is the full size (extra large) image that is scaled down to any size larger than 48×48 (replaced with 48×48 in a frame if missing). Fortunately, Vista fully supports 32-bit icon images (as does Windows XP) and scaling down from the full size works well.

Obviously, in order to have decent looking program icons, then, one needs to add 48×48 and 256×256 icons to the main icon resource, to handle icons displayed at the default and larger sizes. Indeed, that is the recommendation for Vista program icons, along with providing all four sizes at 32-bit (a.k.a., XP), 256-color, and 16-color bit depths. A quick calculation shows that, while the (9) images for the three smaller sizes take only 19.25K of data, combined, the full size (256×256) icons take 352K of data. To help reduce this overhead, the ICO file format was extended to support PNG compression. This is all described in this good tutorial by Axialis Software; unfortunately, there is one major omission.

Based on the published recommendations, and having received new icon artwork just for the occasion, we licensed an icon editor that supported Vista icons, generated a new .ICO file, and then naively replaced the old standard icon with this new Vista-ready one. All it would take was a quick rebuild and…

error RC2176 : old DIB in vista.ico; pass it through SDKPAINT

No dice (and there is nothing at all on my development system named ‘SDKPAINT’). With some frustration, I launch Visual Studio 2005 and (lo and behold!) the latest development environment from Microsoft produces the same error. Really. Some research shows that the only current way to add a proper Vista icon is by adding or replacing an ICON resource to a compiled executable file. Fortunately, make that very fortunately, there is a tool available on The Code Project to do exactly this.

So, with the ‘ReplaceVistaIcon’ tool installed as a post-processing step to my build (in Visual C++ 6.0), the program builds fine and the icon works as desired in Windows Vista. Tip #1: When updating an existing project, insert two copies of the old standard icon in the program resources. The new Vista icon can replace the first (default), but users will still be able to manually select the older icon if desired. Tip #2: To clear the (aggressive) Vista icon cache, change the default font size (i.e., to or from large fonts). This requires a reboot, but it does the trick.

There was one final concern, that turns out to be a non-issue. In my research, I found reports that Windows 98 would reject any icon that contained images larger than 72×72, so programs with Vista icons would not work on Win98 machines. Fortunately, my testing indicates that this is simply false. Of course, the 256×256 icons cannot be displayed on older systems, but they read and recognize the 32×32 (and 16×16) images just fine. (I did not test this under Windows 95, however.)

Well, there you have the tricks to getting decent program icons under Vista. Once you know them, the process is pretty simple, but finding all the issues takes some time. Hopefully, this article will help you save a little time and avoid the same pitfalls.

Most Popular Solitaire 1.12

This is our third 2007 product release, of several planned.

Yesterday, Goodsol Development released Most Popular Solitaire 1.12, an update to our traditional card solitaire title, which (as the name suggests) includes 30 of the most popular solitaire games of various types. This version is a maintenance update primarily intended to provide better compatibility with Windows Vista. A 30-day evaluation copy can be downloaded here.

Unlike the other major products, the version number is not displayed prominently on the Most Popular Solitaire web site. This title is positioned as a piece of software for players who want to be able to play a fair variety of popular types of solitaire, or patience, without needing the (sometimes overwhelming) variety provided by Pretty Good Solitaire (PGS), which currently has 660 different games, with more on the way.

Although Most Popular Solitaire (MPS) seems to be something akin to “PGS Lite”, under the hood it is actually considerably different from its older, more established, brother. The two games use entirely separate engines that are not even written in the same language. MPS is written entirely in C++ (using Visual Studio 6.0) and was actually based more on the code from Pretty Good MahJongg and Action Solitaire, than from PGS. Still, most of the design was derived from the flagship product, as it should be.

This deep into the Vista update schedule, we finally have most of the glitches worked out, and this release went smoothly, with the first installer build passing muster. I still have a list of Vista lessons learned during this process to share. Next up… Icons.