SFTW Thinking Machines 4

Each week Iain Simons selects a game for you to while away hours. Read about it, play it but don't l

Often the most fascinating parts of the game aren’t the outcome, but the decisions that lead one there.

Hearing a great commentator discussing a sport about which you know little can be one of the most exciting and illuminating of experiences.

That sensation of being rapidly inducted into strategies which were apparent, but not wholly understandable never fails to intoxicate.

I often feel this when hearing developers talking about videogames. In particular, some of the best demonstrations I’ve seen have seldom been about breathtaking new graphical capabilities, but artificial intelligence (A.I.).

Whilst new rendering technologies providing near photo-real graphics are usually touted as the enablers to making worlds which we can truly believe in, the truth is that the algorithms which determine the behaviour of in-game elements are far more persuasive.

The pursuit of convincing A.I. is a fascinating subject. To understand and create persuasive A.I.

Behaviour, one has to understand at least a little of what it is to be human. Fascinating though it is however, there’s always a slight feeling of discomfort that someone, somewhere is attempting to distill that slight feeling of discomfort into something that can be algorithmically reproduced.

Thinking Machines 4 is a more palatable version of that man-machine relationship, moreover - it’s also beautiful. Taking a rudimentary Chess program, with each turn it exposes the potential moves the computer is considering through a gracefully sketched diagram overlaid onto the board. The experience reveals its real depth only in the play of a full game. As the machine gradually refines and rejects strategies, the narrative of the game thinking before you becomes more and more compelling. The developer has posted an example gallery which demonstrates this well, although this is well worth a few minutes of your quiet attention to actually play.

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Thinking Machines 4

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
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Recess confidential: Labour's liquid party

Sniffing out the best stories from Westminster, including Showsec, soames, and Smith-side splits.

If you are celebrating in a brewery, don’t ask Labour to provide the drinks. Because of the party’s continuing failure to secure a security contractor for its Liverpool conference, it is still uncertain whether the gathering will take place at all. Since boycotting G4S, the usual supplier, over its links with Israeli prisons, Labour has struggled to find an alternative. Of the five firms approached, only one – Showsec – offered its services. But the company’s non-union-recognition policy is inhibiting an agreement. The GMB, the firm’s antagonist, has threatened to picket the conference if Showsec is awarded the contract. In lieu of a breakthrough, sources suggest two alternatives: the police (at a cost of £59.65 per constable per hour), or the suspension of the G4S boycott. “We’ll soon find out which the Corbynites dislike the least,” an MP jested. Another feared that the Tories’ attack lines will write themselves: “How can Labour be trusted with national security if it can’t organise its own?”

Farewell, then, to Respect. The left-wing party founded in 2004 and joined by George Galloway after his expulsion from Labour has officially deregistered itself.

“We support Corbyn’s Labour Party,” the former MP explained, urging his 522,000 Facebook followers to sign up. “The Labour Party does not belong to one man,” replied Jess Phillips MP, who also pointed out in the same tweet that Respect had “massively failed”. Galloway, who won 1.4 per cent of the vote in this year’s London mayoral election, insists that he is not seeking to return to Labour. But he would surely be welcomed by Jeremy Corbyn’s director of communications, Seumas Milne, whom he once described as his “closest friend”. “We have spoken almost daily for 30 years,” Galloway boasted.

After Young Labour’s national committee voted to endorse Corbyn, its members were aggrieved to learn that they would not be permitted to promote his candidacy unless Owen Smith was given equal treatment. The leader’s supporters curse more “dirty tricks” from the Smith-sympathetic party machine.

Word reaches your mole of a Smith-side split between the ex-shadow cabinet ministers Lisa Nandy and Lucy Powell. The former is said to be encouraging the challenger’s left-wing platform, while the latter believes that he should make a more centrist pitch. If, as expected, Smith is beaten by Corbyn, it’s not only the divisions between the leader and his opponents that will be worth watching.

Nicholas Soames, the Tory grandee, has been slimming down – so much so, that he was congratulated by Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, on his weight loss. “Soon I’ll be able to give you my old suits!” Soames told the similarly rotund Watson. 

Kevin Maguire is away

I'm a mole, innit.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser