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Would you like to play a game?

May 2, 1997
Web posted at: 10:33 a.m. EDT (1433 GMT)

In this story:

From CNN Interactive writer David Mandeville

Falling colored blocks are my favorite lunchtime distraction.

I love games. Any kind of game. Happily, Java has opened whole new vistas on the Internet for people like me. From arcade-style games to classic exercises in strategy, the Internet blossoms with interactive games built with Java.

What is this Java stuff anyway?

Java is an object-oriented programming language that allows programmers to develop dynamic, interactive objects, called applets, and make them available via the World Wide Web. It actually does a lot more than that, but your Web browser is probably the first place you will encounter it.

One of Java's greatest strengths is platform independence. A well-built applet can run on Windows, Macintosh, or UNIX systems through any Java-enabled browser.

Java's biggest drawback is security. In order to safeguard you from less-than-scrupulous programmers, Java's creators have implemented some fairly restrictive security measures. Some of those restrictions mean very few applets will be available to you if you are behind a firewall.

'Hello World'

Cata's Tetris applet

Long-standing tradition among programmers requires that the first thing you learn to do with any programming language is learn to print "Hello world!" With Java, it seems the second program you learn to build is Tetris. Most of these are the standard game you remember from arcades in the late 80s, but a few stand out.

The best Tetris applet I've found so far is at in the Game Center on Cata's Pages. It has fast response times, good graphics, and a pause feature. The game can be configured for varied skill levels and for playing a Tetris variation, Pentrix, with blocks of different sizes and shapes. It also keeps track of the top 100 hundred scores. The applet plays best on Windows 95 and with slightly degraded performance on a Macintosh. It is also compliant with basic firewall security.

Another fun one is Columns on Patrick Lundin's pages. Columns varies the Tetris theme by requiring you to match six different colors rather than shapes to clear lines. If things get too difficult you can switch to the black and white version.

Add a little class to your Web site

Java Boutique

Jason Gurney's Java Boutique offers more than just games to play. It also offers you the chance to add those games, or any of the other applets available on the site, to your own pages. If you are a Java developer, you can submit your applets for inclusion on the site.

The Java Boutique showcases applets that may be distributed freely. They are conveniently divided either alphabetically or by category. Short descriptions follow each link, telling you what to expect. Each applet page includes the HTML for putting that applet on a page and links to download the necessary files. You will also find a link to the applets creator. The handy help page tells you how to build the generic HTML for a Java applet and links to a Java FAQ and developers newsqroup should you run into trouble.

My favorite game on this site is Adventures in 4 Dimensions. It's reminiscent of Infocom's Zork games. In it, you are an adventurer who must visit a maze of different rooms, defeating monsters to gain their treasures. The maze map can be customized for play in 2, 3, and 4 dimensions. It plays on Windows 95 and Macintosh and is compliant with basic firewall security.

A bit of Netiquette -- give credit where it's due. If you decide to add one of these applets to your page, link back to the Java Boutique and the applet's creator.

Explorer take note

Not all firewalls are configured the same way. You may run into firewall violations that I did not when I tested these applets. At home you probably don't need to worry about firewalls at all. Most Internet service providers do not maintain firewalls for their consumer access.

For full Java functionality you will need a Java-enabled browser and a Runtime package for your operating system. These are available for free at Apple, Microsoft, Sun, and other sites. Check the related sites below for the appropriate link.

Finally, don't stop with just the few I've mentioned. I've found hundreds of applets on dozens of sites. Some work only on one platform, some work on all platforms. Firewalls block some and not others. Keep surfing until you find a favorite and starting honing your game skills.

Related sites

  • Learn more about Java
    • Sun Microsystems Java site - The inside story from the creators of Java; plus applets, support for developers, and technical news
    • Gamelan - Java news, support, and feature applets from Developer.com, which also offers information for Java, JavaBeans, JavaScript, VRML, and ActiveX
    • Java Applet Ratings Service (JARS) - Java applet reviews, industry news, support and resources for developers
    • JavaWorld - IDG's online magazine peresenting tutorials, tips, reviews, tools, and news for and about Java
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