The irRegular Game of Life
The barren intellectual soil of a small town can be a tough place for a growing nerd. His roots dig in fierce and stubby. His under-developed leaves flitter in the wind, searching vainly for light in a landscape dominated by hulking trees who play a lot of football and communicate through headbutts. Before the nurturing biosphere called The Internet hlorched into being, a rural nerd had to find nutrition where he could get it, like a desert rat sucking water out of a cactus.
One of these valuable sources of life was, fittingly, Conway's Game of Life—a system of four simple rules that govern the behavior of squares on a grid. When applied in multiple iterations, these rules produce images that resemble living cellular creatures in some alternate reality where everything is made of math. A simulation of life? That isn't gooey? And doesn't expect you to talk to it? And doesn't make fun of your chin acne? Ideal!
Oh right, the game. So, what irRegular Games has done is to take Conway's Life and apply goals to it, and then name it The irRegular Game of Life. So on one level, you might have to maintain a constant number of living cells. On another, you might need to exterminate them all within a certain limit of turns. At the beginning, the game does a great job of introducing the essential concepts one by one, with a hint for each level and a very limited number of cells to play with. Later, of course, your options bloom outward and the levels get seriously challenging, especially if you're a total Life neophyte. However, if you've secretly spent half your life mastering the ins and outs of Conway's brilliant distraction, now is your time to shine, you crazy nerdy diamond.
Analysis: The reason this works as a game is that Conway's Life is an efficient factory for stories and characters. The winking Traffic Lights. The steadfast Boat. The expanding Bee Hive. And everyone's favorite, the sidewinding Glider... and his nemesis, the Block. These characters, who are merely configurations of cells that exhibit predictable behavior, seem so significant in their briefness and reliability that it's impossible not to root for them.
IrRegular Games can't take credit for inventing these icons—Conway's Life has a long history of dedicated followers, who have plumbed its depths for every recognizable pattern and then, like Adam in a graph paper Garden of Eden, named them all—but they have done a smart job of designing levels around them. If the intrinsic visual pleasure of Life doesn't draw you through the game, the humor might. I found several laugh-out-loud moments myself, and if you enjoy the fruits of internet meme culture, there's some juicy ones in here.
If you find a particularly clever or dramatic solution to a problem, you can save it to your clipboard and paste it here in the comments section. Plus, there's a sandbox mode where you can discover your own stories, and those can be shared as well. Your canvas in this mode is no larger than the one for the tightly-designed levels, which is a little disappointing, but only a little.
It's a nice, complete package, not as intensive as some implementations of Life, but perfect for a casual audience. And whoever decided that Conway's Life should be accompanied by bouncy honky tonk music is either a certifiable genius, or just certifiable.