Category Archives: Gaming

Conquering some Psychonauts of my own.

(Crossposted to theexperiencebar.com)

Now here’s a story for you. I was cleaning up my desktop the other day, removing all the now-unnecessary detritus that piles up over the span of a few months – in this case an academic quarter – in the form of icons, folders, file fragments, installers, you know the sort of thing, when I discovered a folder filled with screenshots simply titled ‘Psychonauts.’

It took me a minute to remember why this folder was here, and then I recalled that I had purchased it during a Steam sale, adding it to the 150+ backlog I already had, but this was no ordinary purchase, and this was no ordinary game. It was a test.

I know what you’re thinking: “Uh, Psychonauts was released in 2005. On the Original Xbox. You’re just getting around to it now?” Well, yes and no. You see, completing it wasn’t just a game achievement for me, but a personal one as well. I’ll address that in a moment.

What just happened?

In case you haven’t heard, there are competitions to see who can solve a Rubik’s Cube the fastest. It’s called cubing. And there are sites where you can learn about it and pick up new techniques (such as the Fridrich Method) and advice, such as the importance of keeping your cube lubricated. Seriously. There’s even official Rubik’s Lube. The people who do it refer to themselves as cubers, and the activity of solving a Rubik’s Cube as cubing. And they are fast. Very fast, with some solving it in under five seconds.

There’s even a World Cube Association and they have regulations on how a cube must be scrambled.

Why am I bringing this up? Because as is or will be the case with everything eventually, they were all just bested by a robot. A robot that can solve a Rubik’s Cube so fast the eye can barely register it. In under one second, .887 seconds to be exact, the cube is turned from a random mishmash of colors to a thing of six-sided, solid color beauty.

It was done using an interesting process, in which two open-shutter cameras took a picture of three sides of the cube, an algorithm on a connected laptop worked out the solution, then passed that solution to an Arduino controller that executed the previously-determined solution. It did this by anchoring the center square of each side with an arm, while also using that arm to spin its respective side. It sounds far better if I just paste the description from the YouTube page:

Prior to the world record attempt a WCA-conform modified speed cube was scrambled with a computer generated random array and positioned in the robot. Once the start button was hit two webcam shutters were moved away. Thereafter a laptop took two pictures, each picture showing three sides of the cube. Then the laptop identified all colors of the cube and calculated a solution with Tomas Rokicki’s extremely fast implementation of Herbert Kociemba’s Two-Phase-Algorithm. The solution was handed over to an Arduino-compatible microcontroller board that orchestrated the 20 moves of six high performance steppers. Only 887 milliseconds after the start button had been hit Sub1 broke a historic barrier and finished the last move in new world record time.

What’s truly amazing is that because it still utilized a multi-step process that handed off functionality two separate times, the time could still be significantly reduced! Watch the video, then watch it again because you’ll miss the actual solving-the-Rubik’s-Cube part. It’s quite incredible.