Play with knowing the future

September 1, 2007

This is an experimental gameplay simulation of pool. Don't expect a full finished game - its just a toy really - but you may still be surprised by the way this plays. This is Oracle Pool by Jonathan Blow:

http://www.number-none.com/blow/prototypes/billiards/Oracle_Billiards.zip

The twist here is that you're playing pool with a superhuman ability to see the future. As you line up the shot (wasd to aim and set power, z/c for fine tuning) the computer quickly figures out the future of your prospective shot and displays the outcome for you.

Granted Team 17 did this with their Amiga pool game years ago, but computers then weren't powerful enough to see to the end of the shot that fast. They are now.

Things to try:

1. Aim at something and set the power to minimum. Gently increase the power and you'll see how the first collision happens. Fine tune the direction to instantly visualise how the direction is affected.

2. Line up an absurd trick shot. Use the above idea to aim the first colliding ball at a second. Adjust the power some more until the second ball is hit. Fine tune and repeat. Can you get all the balls in the corners in one go?

3. See how hard it is to set up a 4 ball cannon. We've all tried a cannon where you hit ball A, intending for it to hit ball B into a pocket. The more ambitious pool player may have tried to set up a 3 ball cannon where ball B then hits C into a pocket. How much harder is it to make the shot with each extra ball added in? Now you can get a feel for the probability of making those sorts of shots.

4. Search for the magic opening game winner shot. I've often wondered with some pool sims whether there's a particular shot that'll pot the black from the break. You'd imagine with the chaotic ill-conditioning of the balls' interactions, the possibility is there. Take a look. Is it? (use 1, 2, 3 keys to set different initial rackings)

5. Get a feeling for the chaos effect. Yes, small changes in the initial conditions will lead to large changes in the outcome. Usually. But line up a break with full power and use the fine tuner. It won't necessarily lead to as much variation in the final positions as you might expect. You'll often see pairs of balls end up in chaotic positions with small changes, but most of the rest of them seem to land more or less in the same place. You should be able to get a feel for how there are windows of continuous change, with singularities of sudden total change (presumably an early collision is now missed or similar). Wouldn't it be great to be able to try this with real life and test if the butterfly effect really exists!

6. Be surprised by still not really knowing the future. You can see how the balls end up, but you can't really see how they get there until you take the shot. Aim at a group of balls with plenty of power, and imagine how the interactions will take place. Take the shot and see if you were right. I bet you get it wrong more often than you nail it.

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