What Is a Game?

We probably all have a pretty good intuitive notion of what a game is. The general term “game” encompasses board games like chess and Monopoly, card games like poker and blackjack, casino games like roulette and slot machines, military war games, computer games, various kinds of play among children, and the list goes on. In academia we sometimes speak of game theory, in which multiple agents select strategies and tactics in order to maximize their gains within the framework of a well-defined set of game rules. When used in the context of console or computer-based entertainment, the word “game” usually conjures images of a three-dimensional virtual world featuring a humanoid, animal or vehicle as the main character under player control. (Or for the old geezers among us, perhaps it brings to mind images of two-dimensional classics like Pong, Pac-Man, or Donkey Kong.) In his excellent book, A Theory of Fun for Game Design, Raph Koster defines a game to be an interactive experience that provides the player with an increasingly challenging sequence of patterns which he or she learns and eventually masters. Koster’s asser-tion is that the activities of learning and mastering are at the heart of what we call “fun,” just as a joke becomes funny at the moment we “get it” by recognizing the pattern.

Video Games as Soft Real-Time Simulations

Most two- and three-dimensional video games are examples of what computer scientists would call soft real-time interactive agent-based computer simulations. Let’s break this phrase down in order to better understand what it means. In most video games, some subset of the real world -or an imaginary world- is modeled mathematically so that it can be manipulated by a computer. The model is an approximation to and a simplification of reality (even if it’s an imaginary reality), because it is clearly impractical to include every detail down to the level of atoms or quarks. Hence, the mathematical model is a simulation of the real or imagined game world. Approximation and simplification are two of the game developer’s most powerful tools. When used skillfully, even a greatly simplified model can sometimes be almost indistinguishable from reality and a lot more fun.

An agent-based simulation is one in which a number of distinct entities known as “agents” interact. This fits the description of most three-dimensional computer games very well, where the agents are vehicles, characters, fireballs, power dots and so on. Given the agent-based nature of most games, it should come as no surprise that most games nowadays are implemented in an object-oriented, or at least loosely object-based, programming language.

All interactive video games are temporal simulations, meaning that the vir- tual game world model is dynamic-the state of the game world changes over time as the game’s events and story unfold. A video game must also respond to unpredictable inputs from its human player(s)-thus interactive temporal simulations. Finally, most video games present their stories and respond to player input in real time, making them interactive real-time simulations.

One notable exception is in the category of turn-based games like computerized chess or non-real-time strategy games. But even these types of games usually provide the user with some form of real-time graphical user interface.

What Is a Game Engine?

The term “game engine” arose in the mid-1990s in reference to first-person shooter (FPS) games like the insanely popular Doom by id Software. Doom was architected with a reasonably well-defined separation between its core software components (such as the three-dimensional graphics rendering system, the collision detection system or the audio system) and the art assets, game worlds and rules of play that comprised the player’s gaming experience. The value of this separation became evident as developers began licensing games and retooling them into new products by creating new art, world layouts, weapons, characters, vehicles and game rules with only minimal changes to the “engine” software. This marked the birth of the “mod community”-a group of individual gamers and small independent studios that built new games by modifying existing games, using free toolkits pro- vided by the original developers. Towards the end of the 1990s, some games like Quake III Arena and Unreal were designed with reuse and “modding” in mind. Engines were made highly customizable via scripting languages like id’s Quake C, and engine licensing began to be a viable secondary revenue stream for the developers who created them. Today, game developers can license a game engine and reuse significant portions of its key software components in order to build games. While this practice still involves considerable investment in custom software engineering, it can be much more economical than developing all of the core engine components in-house. The line between a game and its engine is often blurry.

Some engines make a reasonably clear distinction, while others make almost no attempt to separate the two. In one game, the rendering code might “know” specifi-cally how to draw an orc. In another game, the rendering engine might provide general-purpose material and shading facilities, and “orc-ness” might be defined entirely in data. No studio makes a perfectly clear separation between the game and the engine, which is understandable considering that the definitions of these two components often shift as the game’s design solidifies.

Arguably a data-driven architecture is what differentiates a game engine from a piece of software that is a game but not an engine. When a game contains hard-coded logic or game rules, or employs special-case code to render specific types of game objects, it becomes difficult or impossible to reuse that software to make a different game. We should probably reserve the term “game engine” for software that is extensible and can be used as the foundation for many different games without major modification.

Clearly this is not a black-and-white distinction. We can think of a gamut of reusability onto which every engine falls. One would think that a game engine could be something akin to Apple QuickTime or Microsoft Windows Media Player-a general-purpose piece of software capable of playing virtually any game content imaginable. However, this ideal has not yet been achieved (and may never be). Most game engines are carefully crafted and fine-tuned to run a particular game on a particular hardware platform. And even the most general-purpose multiplatform engines are really only suitable for building games in one particular genre, such as first-person shooters or racing games. It’s safe to say that the more general-purpose a game engine or middleware component is, the less optimal it is for running a particular game on a particular platform.

This phenomenon occurs because designing any efficient piece of software invariably entails making trade-offs, and those trade-offs are based on assumptions about how the software will be used and/or about the target hardware on which it will run. For example, a rendering engine that was designed to handle intimate indoor environments probably won’t be very good at rendering vast outdoor environments. The indoor engine might use a binary space partitioning (BSP) tree or portal system to ensure that no geometry is drawn that is being occluded by walls or objects that are closer to the camera. The outdoor engine, on the other hand, might use a less-exact occlusion mechanism, or none at all, but it probably makes aggressive use of level-of-detail (LOD) techniques to ensure that distant objects are rendered with a minimum number of triangles, while using high-resolution triangle meshes for geome-try that is close to the camera.

The advent of ever-faster computer hardware and specialized graphics cards, along with ever-more-efficient rendering algorithms and data structures, is beginning to soften the differences between the graphics engines of different genres. It is now possible to use a first-person shooter engine to build a real-time strategy game, for example. However, the trade-off between generality and optimality still exists. A game can always be made more impressive by fine-tuning the engine to the specific requirements and constraints of a particular game and/or hardware platform.

Engine Differences Across Genres

Game engines are typically somewhat genre specific. An engine designed for a two-person fighting game in a boxing ring will be very different from a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) engine or a first-person shooter (FPS) engine or a real-time strategy (RTS) engine. However, there is also a great deal of overlap-all 3D games, regardless of genre, require some form of low-level user input from the joypad, keyboard and/or mouse, some form of 3D mesh rendering, some form of heads-up display (HUD) including text rendering in a variety of fonts, a powerful audio system, and the list goes on. So while the Unreal Engine, for example, was designed for first-person shooter games, it has been used successfully to construct games in a number of other genres as well, including simulator games, like Farming Simulator 15 ( FS 15 mods ) and the wildly popular third-person shooter franchise Gears of War by Epic Games and the smash hits Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City by Rocksteady Studios.

Is Blackjack a Game of Skill or Luck?

Gambling is associated with luck. Everybody knows that when you are in the casino – whether a land based or a casino online you cannot win if you don’t have luck. There is no doubt that this belief is 100% true when it comes to casino games like slot machines, where all you do is push a button to trigger the game and you don’t have any real impact on the results.

But is it also true when it comes to card games like Poker or Blackjack, where your decisions have an impact on the result of the game and at least some thinking and strategy is involved in it?

There seems to be no real answer to this question. When playing Blackjack you have to decide when to take another card (HIT), when to stay with your cards (STAND), when to double your bet and other choices, offered to players in the game.

Your choices have a real impact on your chances to win. The Blackjack strategy chart offers players a list of the best choices in the games – choices that are supposed to increase their chances to win. But even when making the best, most accurate choices in the game – a huge part of winning still involves luck. You can make the best choice, but if the dealer has a better luck then you – you will lose. You can also make the worst decisions, but if lady luck is on your side you will win.

Think about a player that has 2 face cards, which give him a total value of 20. This is, no doubt, a great hand. At this point the player will always be advised to STAND. Now, if the player decides to HIT, he is bound to exceed 21 and BUST. But if he is a really lucky man he will receive an Ace and score a total value of 21 – the best hand in Blackjack.

Now, think about a player that makes the advisable, most sensible decision – he decides to STAND. If he is an unlucky man – the dealer will receive a 21 thus winning the round. That’s how luck impacts the game.

Cards counting is the one thing about Blackjack that laughs at luck in the face – if you know how to count cards you can probably win whether you are in luck or not. The only unlucky thing that can happen to you when counting cards in a casino is to get caught. But don’t forget that counting cards is not an easy task and cannot be done when you play Blackjack online.

Casino Hold ‘Em: The Poker Table Game Where Players Compete Against the Casino, Not Other Players

Casino Hold ’em is similar to the king of all poker games, Texas Hold ’em. The main difference being players compete against the house rather than other players. It is easy to learn and play, as long as you understand poker hand rankings. Novice players need not worry about being intimidated by other players. First let’s list the face value for each card and the five card poker hand rankings in sequential order:

Face Value of Cards

2 through 10 and Jack, Queen, King, Ace (2 is lowest, Ace is highest)

Poker Hand Rankings

High card – Five cards of different values with mixed suits and Ace being the highest.

One Pair – Two of the same cards such as 2, 2.

2 Pair – Two of the same cards twice, 7,7, & K, K

3 of a Kind – Three of the same cards, K, K, K, (AKA Trips)

Straight – Five cards in sequential order with mixed suits, 7,8,9,10, J

Flush – Five cards with the same suit in any order (5 Spades, Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds.

Full House – Trips and a Pair, Q, Q, Q, 8,8, (AKA, Full Boat).

4 of a Kind – Four of the same cards, J, J, J, J, (AKA, Quads).

Straight Flush – Five cards of the same suit in sequential order.

Royal Flush – 10, J, Q, K, A, of the same suit.

How to Play

A standard 52 card deck is used. All players must first make an ante wager before play begins. There is also an optional bonus wager called AA Bonus. The dealer will then deal his or herself two hole cards face down, and place three community cards face up in the center of the table. This is known as the flop. The community cards can be used by all players to complete their hands.

Players examine their cards and must make one of two decisions:

Fold – forfeiting the ante bet.

Call – Make a wager equal to two times the ante bet.

The dealer will then deal two more community cards face up for a total of five, and reveal his or her cards. The players and dealer make their best five card poker hand by using any combination of their own two cards and the five community cards.

The dealer must have a pair of 4’s or better to qualify. If the dealer does not qualify, the call bet pushes and the ante bet will pay according to the pay table listed below.

If the dealer qualifies and player beats dealer, the call bet pays 1 to 1 and the ante bet pays according to the ante pay table below.

If the dealer qualifies and beats the player, the player loses the ante and call bets.

If the dealer qualifies and ties the player, the ante and call bets push.

Pay tables may vary, below is supposedly the most common one:

Ante Bet Pay Table

Royal Flush – 100/1

Straight Flush – 20/1

4 of a Kind – 10/1

Full House – 3/1

Flush – 2/1

All Other – 1/1

Optional AA Side Wager

The AA optional side wager pays if the player is holding a pair of Aces or better. The bet pays even if the player folded the original hand. Here is the pay table:

Royal Flush – 100/1

Straight Flush – 50/1

4 of a Kind – 40/1

Full House – 30/1

Flush – 20/1

Straight – 10/1

Three of a Kind – 8/1

Two Pair – 7/1

Pair of Aces – 7/1

Strategy

Strategy is rather simple for this game according to gaming Analysts. Only the worst 18% of hands should be folded. Which are two low unsuited hole cards with no chance of a straight or flush when matched with the three-card community flop.

House Edge

The house edge has been calculated at 2.16% for the call wager and 2.97% when making the bonus wager, based on the pay tables listed.

Good Luck!