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Visualizing a 3-D Conway’s Game of Life

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I’ve been reading about The IGLU Project that my fellow blogger, unceasingtoe, is working on. The project is essentially a 3D Conway’s Game of Life. If you aren’t familiar with the Game of Life,  you can read about it here. It’s fascinating once you realize how simple the idea is and how complex it’s capable of becoming. 

Anyways, the game of life is in 2D. But the rules are so simple that it can easily be translated into 3D, or n-D if you like. The hurdle is visualization, of course. So I looked on the internet for existing 3D experiments for Conway’s game of life and I found this — a chrome experiment, this — a simple study with great explanation, and this — a cool implementation from codeplex. 

From a design point of view, most implementations are Boxes appearing and disappearing, or at best through gradient transitioning. I guess this is sufficient given that people only care about the end-behavior instead of the transition (correct me if I’m wrong).

But the game has within it, meanings of life. In my mind, the boxes don’t appear, or disappear. Instead, a box dies via shrinking, glows when it comes to life and live onto the next generation, the content of 3-neighboring boxes flow into the new box during reproduction, and the content of a box gets sucked into it’s neighbors during overcrowding. This visual representation will embed the meaning of the rules, and will provide a smooth and meaningful transition. That’s just how I envision it. 

On a side note, people have thought deeply about Conway’s Game of Life. Some say that, in order to succeed in life, you need to surround yourself by the right kind and the right number of people. Other say that, sometimes, certain configurations are meant to fail, from the start. 

Lastly, here’s a picture of me playing Phutball with John Conway, the guy who started it all. He also invented the game, Phutball. He also let me won because it was my birthday 😉 Greatest moment in my life thus far. 



One thought on “Visualizing a 3-D Conway’s Game of Life

  1. The idea of animating the behaviour based on the application of the rules is very interesting, and I must admit, something we hadn’t considered thus far when working on IGLU 😛

    We’ll definitely keep that in mind, as it’s a great idea!

    One thing we had thought of though, was to display data in “zoom-able” levels. So in a similar way to Google Maps; when you look closer, you get a locally more detailed version of the data. In particular I was thinking of using some measure of the configurational entropy of the data for this as that gives a visual measure of the inherent structure and patterns on a larger scale. It’s also possible to calculate the temporal entropy too, and this gives you an indication of how stable certain structures are!

    For example, a completely stable structure will have a 0 temporal entropy, as will something that indefinitely oscillates. Structures that evolve, never going through the same state twice, will have a very high entropy (both in space, and time).

    The range of exotic things you can use to visualise the interesting behaviours of Conway’s Life is quite large, and I suspect some of the results would (will!) be truly spectacular! 😀

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