Friday, May 21, 2004


The object in classic mahjong is to remove all the tiles on the playing board-- only two at a time, with pairs of tiles that have the same pattern. Only each of these tiles must have a free space to its left or right, or you can't remove them. To make things even more complicated, the tiles are arranged in a multi-level ziggurat, so it's not always clear which tiles are free on the left or right side, when you're looking at the playing board straight on.

Fortunately, the tiles in the central mahjong board of the Game Parlour-- the competition entry created by Xylor Bayscleft and his team-- stack up about four feet high, and there's plenty of room to move your camera view around the board, to get a look at every possible angle. But perhaps the most striking thing about the game comes right at the beginning: with the click of a button, the giant tiles shuffle and assemble themselves, right before your eyes.

"Just some scripting is all," Xylor says, chuckling modestly. "Little steps. We have chess as well. And spades, but [we're] re-doing it [to adjust] for sim resources."

After team member Hiro Protagonist painstakingly explains (and explains, and explains) the rules of mahjong to me, I'm finally able to play a match without looking too foolish. While Xylor watches me from the sidelines, I ask him to explain how he created the self-assembling program.

"The board/table creates a bunch of tiles," he says, "and tells them where to go. It gets each pattern from a notecard, and just basically tells the tiles to sit there and wait..."

"I'm already getting a headache," I groan. Not from his explanation-- I'm just having trouble finding a new match, and I don't want to click the nearby Help button, which all-too-helpfully points out matching pairs by making them glow purple.

"Once the tiles get there," Xylor continues, "they 'look around' around quick, and see who their neighbors are. Then they can tell if they can be selected or not..."

"I AM THE MAHJONG MASTER, YO!" I enthuse. I've got a momentum now, and I'm gradually beginning to clear the board.

"... Then when you select tiles," Xylor Baysclef concludes, "[the tiles] asks the board if they are a match, and if they are, they go away. Pretty simple. (Over simplifying, but that’s the idea.)"

Finishing the game isn't simple, however, because now I'm stuck once again.

"I'm gonna start screaming like Howard Dean in a minute here!" I warn. And then a screaming comes across the sim: "YEEEEEAARRRGGGH!"

"Xylor," I say more calmy, now that I've given up, "how do you create patterns that are always solvable? Or are they?"

"It is random," he says. "Not always solvable. Same as if you build the pattern yourself in real life."

I look at him with genuine surprise. "People do this in real life?!"

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We have chess, and soon spades too :)

Posted by: Hiro Yamamoto at May 21, 2004 5:41:23 PM

Can you tell me where I can puchase blank tiles that match my set which are white with a dark crimson reverse side. As I play the Jewish version of this game I need to use Jokers??

Posted by: sheila lawrence at Oct 10, 2005 12:54:36 PM