DARPA Verigames Make you Unintentionally Productive

Thursday, December 5, 2013
DARPA is a name I associate with unmanned drones and terrifying robots. It is not generally speaking, a name that comes up in talk of videogames. And yet, I would be wrong. DARPA has released five puzzle games. They are free to play and most are browser based. What's the catch?  By playing these games, you are helping create more stable software for the military.
The process is known as formal verification. It's a complicated process that involves creating proofs to check mathematical algorithms for holes or errors. It's a process usually overseen by specially trained engineers. What DARPA has done with these five crowd sourced games is provide a way for the general public to contribute to the process and reduce the workload for the engineers who specialize in this kind of work. 

How that all comes together is a bit complicated. The press release describes it thusly;
Finding faster, more cost-effective means to perform formal verification is a national security priority, so DARPA’s Crowd Sourced Formal Verification (CSFV) program has developed and launched its Verigames web portal (www.verigames.com) offering free online formal verification games. The CSFV games translate players’ actions into program annotations and generate mathematical proofs to verify the absence of important classes of flaws in software written in the C and Java programming languages. CSFV aims to investigate whether large numbers of non-experts playing formal verification games can perform formal verification faster and more cost-effectively than conventional processes. 
CSFV has developed an automated process that enables the creation of new puzzles for each math problem the program seeks to review. If gameplay does reveal potentially harmful code, DARPA will implement approved notification and mitigation procedures, including notifying the organization responsible for the affected software. Because CSFV verifies open source software that commercial, government and/or Department of Defense systems may use, prompt notification is essential to correct the software rapidly and mitigate risk of security breakdowns.
There are five games currently available as part of the program. Users must be at least 18 years old to participate. The games a playable with the unity web player extension. The games, while fun, are all variations on a theme. The instructions aren't always clear, and there were some points when they disappeared altogether during a tutorial.

I really don't understand what's happening, but... cool?

Of the five, the one I enjoyed the most was Flow Jam. It's a circuit based puzzle game. Players change the colors of "widgets" to modify their connections and earn points based on the number of accurate connections they make. It's easy to learn and pretty absorbing.

Flow Jam maintains no association with Flo Rida

If you're interested in giving the games a go, I suggest starting with Flow Jam. You'll save yourself a lot of headache.The first steps of any new process are bound to be rocky; all five games are all still in beta, and will hopefully be improved as development continues. For now, many feel more like a novelty than a game. Until the tutorials become clearer and the gameplay less vague, I'm afraid they won't be seen as anything more.