while True: learn() Preview

Ever wonder how and A.I. learns? then while True: learn(), and yes that is the actual name, is the game for you. Take the place of a machine learning designer and his fluffy cat companion as you build ever more complex learning programs. Just try not to end up building Skynet.

while True: learn() Preview

Introduction

The subject of computer A.I., or “Artificial Intelligence”, has been explored in various mediums of entertainment throughout the decades. Whether it be in movies like the Terminator franchise or I Robot, or in literature like the book Hyperion and short story I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, the possibilities of A.I have always been something that fascinates people. while True: learn() takes a slightly different approach to this subject, being focused on the subject of machine learning.

To give a brief definition, the field of machine learning is a form of computer science that focuses on the use of statistic techniques to give computers the ability to learn from data without being explicitly programmed. If that sounds complicated, that’s because it is.  Essentially this is the way that a computer learns how to perform tasks on its own through the use of algorithms.  Fortunately while True: learn() (which for simplicities sake a will from now on be written as w.T.l.) is able to gradually ease players into a very complex subject.

while True: learn() is available on Steam early access for $6.99

while True: learn() Preview: Build programs with your cat

Story

The main notion of w.T.l. is that you are a machine learning developer trying to make a living. To do this, you, along with your cat, will use visual programming to build increasingly complex systems. As you earn more capital you’ll be able to upgrade your hardware, learn new programming methods, and invest in your own startup company.

w.T.l. seems to be focused quite a bit on trying to educate players on the actual study of machine learning. After a new node is unlocked, you will often get a brief summary of the subject that node falls under.  These, as well as having info pages on the nodes with links, can give players a bit of a better understanding of what it is they’re trying to do.

while True: learn() Preview
Aside from the educational side of it, most of the writing in the game is focused on the emails you receive for work opportunities. These will range from normal to a bit silly, though nothing way out there. The comedy is ok, but nothing that really made me giggle uncontrollably.

Gameplay

The best way I can describe w.T.l. is that it’s a mix of a simulation and a puzzle game. The players' main goal, in the games current state, is to earn enough money while continuing to progress through the various work tasks you are given.  To do this you’ll need to build programs of increasing complexity, upgrading your hardware as you go.

The main gameplay, the actual building of the learning program, is where the puzzle element comes in. Essentially, you need to make the fastest and most efficient program you can. Essentially, you need to get from point A to point B in the best way possible.  To do this, the player is given access to a variety of subprograms called nodes.

while True: learn() Preview: Start small...
Nodes have a variety of purposes, from being as simple as sorting between colors to more complex ones that improve through use. Each node increases the amount of stress put on the server. The more nodes you have running, the more it will cost to run a program. After a program is run successfully, the server cost will be taken out of the players’ payment. Another feature of the nodes is the amount of data they are able to hold and process, as well as the speed that they can process it. If a node is full, the data will get backed up, significantly hurting your processing speed. As such its important to build a variety of nodes in order to prevent, or at least ease data backup.

Of course, there are things the player will need to watch out for in addition to server costs. Programs will have a requirement of both time taken and the accuracy of the data processed. For example, on one program, you may need to split red data from blue data. If the margin of error is 50%, then you can halve at least half of the data being entered be incorrect. In addition, there are time limits for each program. If the time limit is 30 seconds, then the program must finish within that time or the player will fail. As tasks become more complex the player will have to become quite creative with their node placement.

while True: learn() Preview: ... and get big
While completing tasks will be your main source of income, the player can also earn money by investing in a startup company. After buying a share of the company, you will create a program for it. Depending on how well this program is built, you can make a profit at the end of each week. As you progress you can also go back to the program and improve it with new nodes.  Should you decide you don’t want to be part of the company anymore, you can sell your shares and move on with your work.

While it’s certainly not an easy game, I personally rarely found myself stuck on a program. This is due in large part to the great way that w.T.l. eases players into more and more complex programs. Nodes have quick information pages that give you a summary of their tasks, as well as a test run system to see how your program will work.   That being said, it still takes a fair amount of brain power to solve some of the programs, especially in later tasks, always providing a fair amount of challenge.

while True: learn() Preview: There is a fair amount of info available
Despite doing its main gameplay so well, w.T.l. does have some issues with some of its side mechanics. For example, when it came to startup companies, I always ended up losing way more money on them that I put in. it seemed like regardless of how I improved the program, it would always end up failing. To be fair, this could be more so a case of my own incompetence, but it was definitely a significant issue during my playthrough, costing me a severe amount of capital.

Another issue comes with customizing your cat. Essentially, you can buy different skins for your furry little friend. Unfortunately, these serve no real purpose other than a quick laugh, often costing a fair amount of cash. While this is optional, I would much prefer it to serve some kind of purpose other than being cosmetic.

Graphics and Sound

w.T.l has a fairly simple, slightly cartoonish art style. This works in its favor especially when it comes to the building of programs. The simplicity makes it so that you are able to keep better track of the pathing of your nodes, preventing easy to make mistakes from happening.  And while I may have complained about their lack of purpose, some of the cat heads are cute. One thing I will definitely criticize is that the game just uses the standard mouse cursor. It’s a bit nitpicky, but for me, it’s fairly annoying.

while True: learn() Preview: Simple and easy to navigate
A huge thing that w.T.l. is severely lacking in is sound design. The game has one music track that plays, which is a very simple beat on loop. The only other sound you really hear is your cat occasionally meowing.  Hopefully when the game reaches a full release this will be changed, but for now, it stands out, and not in a good way.

Conclusions

w.T.l. has some issues with it, but overall the main gameplay was solid enough to keep me playing, having a nice, gradual difficulty curve. While I would prefer the startup companies to work a bit better, overall the game managed to provide a decent and fair challenge without making me want to rip my hair out. That being said, the lack of sound design is a significant issue and one that is hopefully dealt with in the final version. A definite recommendation for those who are looking for a simulation game with an interesting concept.

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