By Ryan Paul | Published: November 10, 2007 – 10:10AM CT

Electronic Arts announced yesterday plans to donate the original version of the SimCity computer game to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project so that it can be distributed to schoolchildren in developing countries on OLPC’s XO laptop.

The original SimCity game, which won numerous awards and paved the way for an immensely successful franchise, transforms the player into the mayor of a virtual city. The simulation encourages cultivation of problem-solving skills and requires users to plan elaborate city infrastructure and respond to the needs of virtual citizens. The idea of including SimCity on the OLPC XO laptop was conceived by Electronic Frontier Foundation cofounder and OLPC advisor John Gilmore.

The game is currently being ported to the OLPC by Don Hopkins, the man responsible for the original multiplayer Unix port of the game. Hopkins created the Unix port of SimCity—which uses TCL and Tk—for DUX software in 1991. When the ten-year distribution contract between Maxis and DUX expired, Hopkins contacted Maxis parent company EA and attempted to negotiate for licensing rights so that he could adapt the program for educational uses and continue distributing. He didn’t succeed at the time, but now that EA is gifting the program to the OLPC project, Hopkins finally has a new chance to reinvent SimCity for academic uses.

Hopkins has already managed to port the game and make it run on the XO laptop and is now working on making it integrate well with the OLPC’s Python-based Sugar environment. Hopkins says that the final version of SimCity for the XO will be fully scriptable in Python and he hopes to make much of the underlying components reusable in order to provide generic building blocks for building XO games.

“The goal is to enable the open-source community to renovate SimCity and take it in new educational directions, by applying Seymour Papert’s ideas about constructionist education, Alan Kay’s ideas about interactive user interfaces and object-oriented programming, Ben Shneiderman’s ideas about direct manipulation and info visualization, and many exciting ideas about multiplayer games, blogging, storytelling, game mods, player created content, and lessons learned from World of WarCraft, The Sims, Spore, etc,” Hopkins wrote in a comment at Slashdot earlier this year.

Those of us who have fond memories of the original SimCity know that EA’s contribution will provide many students with a valuable and entertaining learning experience. The continued involvement of Don Hopkins in the porting effort is a promising sign that the game will remain true to its roots while it continues to evolve.

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Target Health Inc. has spoken with Will Wright at one of the PopTech conferences 2 years ago. He is one of the most interesting visionaries we’ve met and happens to be the creator of Sim City. His latest creation is his dream of a universe game — one in which the player could evolve life from the simple cellular level all the way up through galactic scale civilizations. This game is called Spore. Wright wanted to create a game that would enable players to experience the wonder and creative potential of the universe at all levels of scale. If it sounds amazing, try it; it is!

Engineers at New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have transformed a 1) ___ found in common brown seaweed into a device that can support the growth and release of stem cells at the site of a bodily injury or at the source of a disease. The findings mark an important step in efforts to develop new medical therapies using stem cells. A 2) ___ has been developed for stem cell culture that can degrade in the body at a controlled rate. With this level of control, the growth of stem cells can be controlled in the scaffold as to how, when, and where to release them into the body. This device is created from a material known as alginate. Alginate is a complex 3) ___ found naturally in brown seaweed. When mixed with calcium, alginate gels into a rigid, three-dimensional 4) ___. The device has a wide-ranging potential for use in regenerative medicine. For example, the scaffolds could one day be used in the human body to release stem cells directly into injured tissue. The scaffold could eventually be used for medical therapies such as releasing healthy bone stem cells right at the site of a broken bone, or releasing neural stem cells in the brain where cells have been killed by diseases such as 5) ___. The research team encapsulated healthy neural stem cells in the alginate mesh, producing a three-dimensional scaffold that degrades at a controlled rate. Once the scaffold was implanted, an enzyme called alginate lyase was used, which eats away at alginate, to release the stem cells. Alginate lyase is naturally produced in some marine animals and bacterial strains, but not in humans. In order to control the degradation of the alginate scaffold, varying amounts of alginate lyase were encapsulated into microscale beads, called 6) ___. The microspheres containing the alginate lyase were then encapsulated into the larger alginate scaffolds along with the stem cells. As the microspheres degraded, the alginate lyase enzyme was released into the larger alginate scaffold and slowly began to eat away at its surface, releasing the healthy 7) ___ cells in a controlled fashion. The microspheres also can be filled with more than just alginate lyase. Drug or proteins can be added to the microspheres along with the alginate lyase that, when released into the larger alginate scaffold, could influence the fate of the encapsulated stem cells. By adding these materials to the larger scaffold, the stem cells can be directed to become the type of mature, differentiated cell that is desired, such as a neuron. This will prove very valuable for applications of stem cells in 8) ___ medicine. The findings are detailed in the December 2007 edition of Biomaterials.

ANSWERS: 1) polymer; 2) scaffold 3) carbohydrate; 4) mesh; 5) Alzheimer’s; 6) microspheres; 7) stem; 8) regenerative