Homework 3

From the book, page 440, question 13.

Skills needed to complete this assignment:

The mathematician John Horton Conway invented the “Game of Life” (not the board game). Though not a “game” in any traditional sense, it provides interesting behavior that is specified with only a few rules. This homework asks you to write a program that allows you to specify an initial configuration. The program follows the rules of LIFE to show the continuing behavior of the configuration.

LIFE is an organism that lives in a discrete, two-dimensional world. While this world is actually unlimited, we don’t have that luxury, so we restrict the world to 80 characters wide by 22 character positions high. If you have access to a larger screen, by all means use it. It is your choice to make the edges “wrap around” or not.

This world is a 1D or 2D vector (of char or bool perhaps) with each cell capable of holding one LIFE cell. Generations mark the passing of time. Each generation brings births and deaths to the LIFE community. The births and deaths follow the following set of rules.

Examples available from the article Scientific American 223 (October 1970): p. 120-123

These examples are stolen from Wikipedia.

Still lifes
Block Game of life block with border.svg
Beehive Game of life beehive.svg
Loaf Game of life loaf.svg
Boat Game of life boat.svg
Blinker Game of life blinker.gif
Toad Game of life toad.gif
Beacon Game of life beacon.gif
Pulsar Game of life pulsar.gif
Glider Game of life animated glider.gif
Lightweight spaceship Game of life animated LWSS.gif

These may prove interesting starting conditions (see Wikipedia for more options).


You will “hard code” a starting configuration. The user need not be able to provide a different starting configuration (that would just complicate your program).

Suggestions: Look for stable configurations. That is, look for communities that repeat patterns continually. The number of configurations in the repetition is called the period. There are configurations that are fixed, which continue without change. A possible project is to find such configurations.

Hints: Define a void function named generation that takes the vector we call world (call-by-reference or using a pointer), which contains the current (or initial) configuration. The function scans the vector and modifies the cells, marking the cells with births and deaths in accord with the rules listed earlier. This involves examining each cell in turn, either killing the cell, letting it live, or if the cell is empty, deciding whether a cell should be born. Note that the game will not work if your code counts neighbors in the same vector it is modifying. A copy of the world vector must be created before it is modified, and this copy is used to count neighbors, while cells are turned on or off in the original vector.

There should be a function display that accepts the vector world and displays the grid on the screen. Some sort of time delay is appropriate between calls to generation and display. To do this, your program should generate and display the next generation when you press Return/Enter. You are at liberty to automate this (put in a real time delay, and not wait for the user to press a key), but automation is not necessary for the program.

If you want to “delay” the display of your grid, rather than wait for the user to type something and press enter before displaying the next grid, then you will need to pause or “sleep” your program somehow. If you are using Microsoft Windows, do this:

#include <windows.h>

// ...

Sleep(800); // pause 800 ms

On Linux or Mac OS X, do this:

#include <unistd.h>

// ...

usleep(800000); // pause 800 ms

Go to http://www.qotile.net/blog/wp/?p=600 to see some cool 3D visualizations of the game over time. A ridiculous amount of further information is available here: http://www.conwaylife.com/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page

Download Golly (for Windows, Mac, Linux) to play with cellular automata and some amazing creations by researchers.

Here is an app that generates music based on cellular automata principles: Otmata.

Cellular automata is serious research; see a list of journals that publish articles about cellular automata.

CSE 230 material by Joshua Eckroth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Source code for this website available at GitHub.