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Internet Archive

11 Classic Video Games You Can Play Online

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Internet Archive

The Internet Archive hosts an Historical Software Collection, letting you play classic games online. It's a great way to show your kids what games were like in the good old days, without having to lug the old Apple or Atari out of the garage. Now let's fire up 11 classics and have some fun!

1. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

The story surrounding E.T. for the Atari 2600 is so legendary I'll just send you over here to read about it. But you can also play it online and decide whether the game is good, bad, or ugly. Warning: if when you fall in a pit, it's really hard to get out.

2. Pac-Man (1982)

While the Atari 2600 400/800 version of Pac-Man wasn't as pretty as the arcade version, it was surprisingly solid. When you play this one online, keep in mind that F1 is the "start" key and the number pad on the keyboard is used for movement (there's a guide in the reviews here).

3. Pitfall! (1982)

For my money, Pitfall! was the most exciting Atari 2600 game. It featured running, jumping, and even crocodiles. Timing the jumps is the main skill here. It's a bummer that sound doesn't work yet—but I can hear the bleeps and bloops in my head while playing. Try not to fall into the pits!

4. Word Munchers (1985)

Did you spend time in a school computer lab in the '80s? If so, you were likely exposed to Word Munchers, the amazing grammar/pronunciation game. Play it to see how it compares with your memory! ("Get ready to munch words!")

5. Number Munchers (1986)

The hit sequel to Word Munchers, Number Munchers was the same idea, but for math. Get ready to munch numbers!

6. Karateka (1984)

I first played Karateka on an Apple IIe, and it blew my mind. The gameplay was shockingly fluid, and the cutscenes looked like a movie. Always remember to punch the hawk!

7. Akalabeth (1980)

Akalabeth: World of Doom is one of the earliest role-playing video games, and was designed by a teenaged Richard Garriott, who went on to design the hit Ultima series. While I never owned Akalabeth when it came out, now I can play it.

8. The Hobbit (1982)

The Hobbit was an illustrated text adventure. This one is really hard to play due to the weird layout of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum keyboard. (Fortunately, a map of that keyboard is provided below the game, so you can try to figure it out.)

9. Yars' Revenge (1982)

You play as a Yar in the oddly punctuated Yars' Revenge, trying to make your way through a barrier so you can fire a cannon as the evil Qotile. Or at least, that's what I remember. In any case, give it a shot. If you spot multiple Yars, give me a call.

10. Castle Wolfenstein (1981)

While I'm more of a fan of the much later Wolfenstein 3D, Castle Wolfenstein is a classic, introducing concepts later used more effectively in first-person shooters. Play it to see "the grandfather of the FPS." (And consult the reviews here for controls; otherwise it's utterly baffling.)

11. Choplifter (1982)

Choplifter is the rare game that started on personal computers and later made the leap to arcades. I played it on an Apple IIe at school, where I guess the educational value was rescuing tiny hostages. Note that for this one you need to use the number pad to move (ALT fires), and the number 0 turns the copter around.

(BONUS!)  The Print Shop

Okay, The Print Shop isn't a game, but I treated it as one. My favorite activity was making gigantic banners and watching the computer "think" as it prepared to print. While you can't print from this online version, it's insanely nostalgic to fire it up and make a folded card, banner, or sign.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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