Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Steganography: Hands-On approach

Stumbling upon Steganography (Inspiration behind this post):

Have you heard about the site called 300 Mechanics?

Well, I guess, many have heard about it. It’s on the first page of Google search for terms like “game mechanics” and it’s quite a class of its own. I have hunted this website often for game ideas and though I am not a great admirer of turn-based and card mechanics (which is a considerable portion of the mechanics posted there), there is a lot of food for your thoughts.
And there was this one post, about saving game save files as images.

I liked the idea, though I wanted to generalize the idea like this : Saving any file as image (not just changing the extension, actually making a picture out of it) and restoring the original file from that image alone.

Now, you are going to shoot me, I know: This is almost what Steganography is, though the original file is hidden in another innocent picture.
But unfortunately, until one of my friend (to whom I described the idea) told me about this “Steganography” thing, I believed it was one of my new ideas and I was super-excited about it.

So, here it is: It is not really an original idea, so I decided to make a “How-to” tutorial on it using Gamemaker ...

Concept Briefing: Saving the file as image

Once you get started, you can easily see how easy the concept is:

Let’s say there is a file “”. At first, somehow we need to draw it to the screen and save the screenshot. This screenshot will be our stand-alone image (instead of the file) and we can restore our original file from this image (using the algorithm I will describe later).

The process we will use

So, lets come to the most important term here: “somehow”.

How exactly are we going to draw a file to the screen? 

Here is my approach: 

At first, read the file byte by byte (so, it doesn’t matter what type of file it is as every format is similar in binary) and return in decimal format (for e.g. “A” should be read as 65, its ASCII value and not as the binary equivalent of 65 ). 

[Now. Let’s talk about RGB colours a bit. Every colour in RGB format (HSV format is also possible) consists of a value of Red, green and Blue (in the range 0-255) because red, green and blue are three primary colours and every colour can be made using a variation of these.]

Our primary task, now, is to convert this number returned in ASCII format to a unique colour, which is to be drawn on the screen. One of the facts, which might appear astonishing at first, is that extended ASCII table has 256 values (0-255) and range of value of red, green and blue each in RGB format is also 0-255. [This is probably due to the fact each of them is allotted one byte (8 bits) of memory space. So, there are (2^8)=256 possible values.] So, now we have to choose any one-to-one function which has equal range of domain and co-domain to convert ASCII value to RGB value. For sake of simplicity, we are choosing a easy relation between the two: Blue value of RGB=ASCII value of the character, Green value=0 and Red value=0. What it simply means is that we use the ASCII value as the blue value in RGB colour format and we use the value 255 for both red and green in the RGB colour.

Now for each byte of data, we have one specific colour. Next, we decide to draw these colours on the screen. It is quite simple: Just as in notepad, we start from the top-left corner of the screen  by drawing a pixel with the colour corresponding to the ASCII value of the first byte and then we move towards right (1 pixel at once) by considering the next byte of data and so on. There is just one thing- Similar to text wrapping, we have to use a wrapping function so that this drawing function moves to the next line when it is about to go out of view.

So, here we have our file drawn to the screen. The final task is to take a snapshot of this drawn screen and save it as the stand-alone picture instead of the file. Our next section deals with how to restore the original file from it.

 Concept Briefing: Restoring the original file from the screenshot

The actual process of Steganography

We are almost finished with our steganography tutorial. This part is easier than the earlier and shorter too.
So, we already have our screenshot. Let’s get the original file back from it…

Here, we need to have a function which will help us pick any colour from the screen and tell its red, green and blue values. Fortunately, Gamemaker has the draw_getpixel()  and colour_get_blue() functions to help us with this situation.

Initially, we need to clear the screen and load the screenshot as the background.
Then, we will need to start from the top-left corner of the screen [(0,0) in Gamemaker], pick the colour  at that point, get its blue value, convert it to its ASCII equivalent (which is actually equal to the blue value here),write the character equivalent of this ASCII value to a “new” file,  move towards the right one pixel at a time and continue this process until there is only the background left. [Also, we will need to use the aforementioned wrapping function to make sure that we move to the next line of the screen when the colour-picking function is about to go out of view.] To identify the background, I used black colour as the background. As the R, G and B values of black are 255,255,255 respectively, we can easily identify the black colour by getting just the red or green value (as we are using red=0 and green=0 for our drawn points).

So, when this whole process completes, we will have the content of our original file back in the “new” file. Just make sure to give it the same extension as your original file to access it properly.

Problems and suggested improvements:


Two most important drawbacks of this tutorial is that it will support only small files (about 350KB) and the process is very slow in Gamemaker.
To increase the file size limit, there is an easy solution: use surface (applicable with Gamemaker only) to draw instead of the screen, because the maximum possible dimension of any surface is much more than the screen size. There will still be a limit in the file size because surfaces do have dimensional constraint (due to memory constraint), but still it is a lot higher. Also, you may use multiple surfaces wisely to get rid of this drawback. Theoretically, this problem can be solved.
The sloppy performance you’ll experience is only due to the slow performance of the draw_getpixel() function. Unless you can re-create a faster version of this function with an external DLL or extension written in a faster programming language, you’ll have to live with it.
As always, here are the links: .GMK file and .EXE file

Few Facts:

What we just did isn't real steganography, it's just a part. Steganography involves the removal of a particular sequence of pixels of an image with other pixels which contain the hidden data. We created this pixels which contain the hidden data, but we didn't do the removal part. The removal part isn't that hard, and you can easily try that. Also most of the times, a password is used to vary the sequence of removed pixels.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Storing two integers in one integer: Encoding and decoding



Let's start with what a basic understanding of how integers are stored in the computer ....

Whatever programming language you use, in almost all cases,  there is a range of the value you can store in an integer variable. But, in practical cases, this range is quite high and it is not reached with optimized calculations.
And the most interesting fact is that, irrespective of the value of the integer, it is internally converted into a binary number of a fixed length (32 or 64, depending on the system and mechanism of conversion). In case of relatively small integers, their binary equivalents are much smaller in length than that fixed length and hence, these binary equivalents are filled with zeroes in the left to make them of that fixed length (filling with zeroes is done to keep the decimal equivalent  same). Now this binary number, always being of a fixed length, consumes the same amount of memory space.

This is where the process described in this post will come to use...

This process takes benefit of the fact (described earlier) that small intgers are also converted into a binary of larger length (than optimally required to store it). We will try to convert two integers into one bigger integer which retains the both numbers in the order supplied (referred to as encoding, I really like that term :D) and later recover both the integers from that bigger integer in the order supplied (no prizes for guessing.. referred to as decoding).

Just for those interested, the approach I describe in the later section, was originally inspired by the use of the escape character, \  in JavaScript.


Encoding logic:

Note: I will be using zero as the "separating" number in this example and referring to the two original numbers as numb1 and numb2.

So, the rules for encoding goes below:

1. Whenever one of the digits in numb1 or numb2 is zero, one extra zero is added before (or after, it doesn't really matter) that original zero. But, what is important is that this newly added zeroes should be just left as they are and should NOT be subjected to the previous part of this rule, as that will cause an infinite loop.
Also, this step should be done only once for the whole number.
In short, whenever there is a zero in the original number, they become a pair of zeroes in the modified number.
For e.g. after applying this rule on 1203, it becomes 12003 and similarly, applying on 1002 makes it becomes100002.

2. To get the final encoded number, the modified first number is to written side by side to the of the modified second number and a single zero is to be inserted between those two. (The whole thing can be done more easily in the form of a string but remember, no spaces anywhere.)
For e.g. if numb1=202 and numb2=0, the encoded number becomes 2002000. (The bold zero is the single zero inserted between the two modified numbers 2002 and 00).
Similarly, if numb1=120 and numb2=5, the encoded number is 120005.

 This is how we get the encoded number and to be true, this final encoded number makes little sense to anyone. So,we need to decode it now to get back those original integers.

Decoding logic:


So, you think it'll be quite easy right?

Well, I can't disagree more.

Let's deal with the most easy case first and the harder next:

1. In the encoded number, there are no 3 successive zeroes and there is one and only one single zero.

A:  This is actually the case where numb1 and/or numb2 contains non-zero digit in the terminal position (the front terminal position doesn't count because a number can't start with zero. Even if you write 012, it is considered as 12 by the compiler).

This case can be decoded by the following logic:
  • 1.1 The encoded number is separated into two separate numbers at the position where a single zero is found, such that this zero is not considered within any of the separated numbers. The respective position (which number was in the front and which was in the back in the encoded number) of these two separated numbers must be remembered for the later step.
  • 1.2 Now, with both of these separated numbers separately, whenever there are two zeroes in a number side-by-side, one of them is removed. This process will leave us with the two original numbers.
  • 1.3 To get the original numbers in the order specified, the logic is that, whichever number was in the front in the encoded number leads to numb1 (after the previous two steps) and the other one is numb2.
  • Example: If the encoded number was 12001023, then the numb1 and numb2 decoded in this process should be respectively 1201 and 23.
2. There is no single zero in the encoded number or there are more than 2 successive zeroes.
A: This is actually the case where numb1 and/or numb2 contains zero in the terminal position (again, only the last position i.e. digit's position counts). For eg., numb1=20 and numb2=0.
So, in this case, numb1  and/or numb2 can be equal to zero.

Logic for decoding:
  • 2.1 When there are more than two successive zeroes in the encoded number, moving from left to right, the first two are considered as a pair and one of them is removed and this process continues for the rest of the digits of the number. 
  •     2.1.1 If a single zero is left out after completing this process and it is not in the terminal position, then apply logic 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 to get numb1 and numb2.
  •     2.1.2 If a single zero is left out after completing this process (logic 2.1) and it is in the terminal position, then numb2=0 and numb1 is equal to this processed number.
  •     2.1.3 If no zero is left out after this process (logic 2.1), then this processed number is equal to numb2 and numb1 is equal to zero.
  • 2.2 When there are no zeroes, then numb1=0 and numb2=encoded number.



That is pretty much the end of encoding-decoding logic, but there are some more things to say. 

First of all it's better to use the number with the least number of total appearance in numb1 and numb2 as the "separating" digit instead of zero.

And secondly, this whole process will work fine only when you are working with relatively smaller numbers, because else the encoded number may get bigger than the highest possible value that can be stored successfully in integer variables.

And thirdly, as you might have guessed, I have made a small app for this with Gamemaker : GML link and Exe link

So, till the next time, good bye.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Arrays in GML : 5 things you probably don’t know

What is GML?

You have most probably heard of Gamemaker, the popular game design software.

Along with Drag-and-Drop (D&D) feature, it also features an extensive coding language, which is formally called “The Game maker Language (GML)”.

According to Mark Overmars, the original creator of Game Maker (which has been recently re-named as Gamemaker), “Game Maker contains a built-in programming language. This programming language gives you much more flexibility and control than the standard actions. This language we will refer to as GML (the Game Maker Language).”

Why this article?

The only official documentation of Game Maker is the help file included with the software. This help file, though complete, documents only what happens when something is used and the correct syntax to use it. But, it leaves out necessary details in some cases.

Among the many features of GML, I find the “Array” portion of the help file least detailed, which is (probably) supposed to be known by the user. Though this is acceptable, it often causes a lot of confusion when using arrays extensively for the first time in a new project. A lot of things have to be guessed. Now the problem lies with this guessing: Everyone with prior programming knowledge tries to think in terms of their previous concepts and experiences. Unfortunately, this often differs considerably due to the different approach of different programming languages.

This problem is concentrated further by the fact that compiled languages like C/C++ (which are most popular among programmers) support only fixed length arrays (without using dynamic memory allocation, of course) compared to GML which supports dynamic arrays (so, practically their lengths are not fixed and can be changed whenever required). Thus, for many programmers, previous concepts have to be tested in GML. This article tries to solve this problem, testing and publishing the result of every exceptional situation that may arise with arrays in GML. I have tried to answer every weird question about arrays that popped up in my head and thus, exposing some of the lesser-known facts about it. But on other hand, you are expected to know what is written in the help file.

Just a word of caution: You probably won’t find anything worth experimenting with arrays after you complete reading this.

So, let’s start…

1.     What does arr refer to when arr is an array? 

A: In GML, nothing is practically defined as a variable of some specific data type. The data type is instead implied based on the value assigned to it at any time. A variable is implied to be an array only when it is assigned a value in this format:
  • a)      arr[ind]=value;   /* in case of 1-D arrays or */  variable_local_array_set(name,ind,value);
  • b)      arr[ind1,ind2]=value; /*in case of 2-D arrays*/variable_local_array2_set(name,ind1,ind2,value);
Now that it is implied as an array, arr actually refers to the arr[0,0] ( which is the same as arr[0] ) position. 

2.     How are the 1-D and 2-D arrays related when a 1-D array is converted into 2-D array and vice-versa? 

 A: After a lot of experimenting, this is the final decision I came to: arr[ind1] is the same as arr[0,ind1] for all practical purposes. The value of arr[ind1] changes to the new value whenever the value of arr[0,ind1] is changed to a new value and vice versa.

3.     Is there any relation between numbers, strings and arrays? 

A: Two-dimensional arrays can be considered as the general data type for both numbers and strings as well as 1-D arrays (Hence, these are the special cases of an 2-D array).

      They are related in the following way:

  • Any number or string variable (let’s say,the variable  named numb_or_string , usually used in code like this:  numb_or_string=something;) is actually the [0,0] position of the 2-D array of the same name(i.e. numb_or_string[0,0] ). Thus, numb_or_string can be alternatively called as numb_or_string[0,0] and vice versa . 
  • Any 1-D array (for eg. arr[ind], used in code like this:  arr[ind]=something;) essentially refers to the [0,ind] position of the 2-D array with the same name(i.e.  arr[0,ind] ).
This answer generalizes the answers given in the first and second question.

As a side note, this is the reason why the same variable name can’t be used for two variables even when they are of different data types.

4.     Which elements of an array are filled with the default value?

 A: This idea is quite simple: I’ll explain it in terms of a 2-D array, though it can be easily applied with 1-D arrays (following the previous rules). The first and second index of a 2-D array is referred to as row and column respectively, for visualization purpose.

   The rules for filling up the elements of an array with the default value (zero) are:

  •   If it’s a global 2-D array, then the [0,0] element is filled with zero.
  •   In both local and global arrays, for any row, all the undefined elements between any two defined element is filled with the default value, zero.
5.     Is there always an error when a negative index is passed to an array?

 A: In terms of 2-d array, an error is always thrown when you use this type of syntax: “arr[ind1,ind2]=value; “ (where atleast one of the values among ind1 and ind2 is negative), to set or get a value. But only in one exceptional case, when you use variable_local_array2_set(name,ind1,ind2,value)  to set a value, such that ind1 is positive but ind2 is negative, no error is thrown. 

     I found out this last exception just out of curiosity. Though practically it is not of much use as the memory is ultimately leaked and so, the value can’t be accessed. IMO, it is some sort of a unimportant bug, so you should probably check if ind2 is negative, before using it in that function.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Neon BBXD HD : A review


So what happens when you hunt the Gamemaker Community (GMC) forum for a game to review?

Well, you come across 4 types of games:

               1. WIP (Work-in-progress)

[ These are the guys I don’t have much to comment on: 
While some of them are pretty good games on the rise, others have a lot of room to improve upon]

         2.Novice games

[ These are mostly first or second-time projects. 
 Actually, most of the novice games are usually in WIP section, but a small number of them make it to 
 the  ”Finished Games” section.

 Now this finished ones are  playable, but usually buggy or easy projects. 
 Not really the kind of stuff you’ll like playing.

 They are usually very small in number, and are not continued for sake of better projects.]

     3. Intermediate games

[ These are the most in number. 
 While a lot of them are interesting, they are usually not totally bug-free.

 Most popular genres remain RPG, tower defense and platformers.

 Many of them are “just another game” and are not quite polished, but they are usually continued/updated for a reasonable amount of time.

A few of these games, which have interesting content, through continuous development, evolve to the next section of games. ]
            4. Jewel Games

[ The rarest kind and the ones worth waiting for- usually made by GMC veterans and becomes very 

 Highly polished games (not in term of graphics, but in term of game design), usually with quite 
 innovative  gameplay and intelligent level design – the ones you’ll always be coming back for.

 Many of the GMC Jam winners (usually continued even after the jam ends) fall in this classification.]

The first look:

 As this is my first review, I wanted to clarify how I classify most games in the GMC so that I can refer to the class of game whenever I review one.

So, let’s  come to the real stuff …..

When I decided to write a game review, I had the lucrative offer of choosing one of the ( recently ended) GMC Jam 6 games.

But I decided to act otherwise: 

I think those games have fair amount of spotlight on them and so, it will be justified enough to review one of the “not-so-popular” games from the “Finished Games” section.

So, by quite random choice, I picked up this game called Neon BBXD HD

I wanted to see how MisuMen49  (the creator of this game) have changed the classical Brick-breaking game. Also the description read “2 years in the making” – so that kind of interested me.

Frankly, at this moment,  I expected the game to fall into the Elite class of “Jewel games”. So, let’s see how it fares finally…

The moment you start the game you see a screen shake and some 3-D boxes thrown at your face followed by the name of the company (or group, maybe). 
This effect does look professional when you run the game for the first time; but when you come back at it later, you may find it a bit annoying and long (in duration).

Then, when  you finally start in the “Normal” mode, you get a screen filled with bright, colourful and outline-based brick arranged in a fashion, as you normally expect it to be.

 Those bricks get a lot of your attention due to their sleek and beautiful look.

 Now, when you start playing the game, you just wish that you knew each of the “power-up”s and “power-down”s  showing up on the screen (some of them may look similar).

They are broadly classified into good and bad category, recognizable from the colour of the bubble around them, so you don’t get confused. 
This is a nice addition to the concept of “power-up”s,  I suppose.

This is how your journey starts in this 100-level game….

To be true, it wasn’t possible to play the whole game, but I tried my best to get the whole picture and below are my opinion on specific elements in the game:


This is where this game really rocks!!

Neat attractive sprites and beautiful particle effects gives a edge to this modern-day version of Brick-breaking game.

I just wish that there were different backgrounds for different levels.
 The background is good enough, but it may get repetitive to the player.

 Also, the “Death screen” (when the player misses a ball) in which the colours were apparently just reversed, looks like a cheap effect – could have been done better.

Verdict: A (Very Good)


Clearly, not the best gameplay I have experienced.

The game is perfectly playable, but there are some problems under the hood.

These are a few bugs which can make the whole gameplay experience bitter:

1.  The real "bugs" in the game get stuck among themselves as well as the wall.
 2. The "bat" goes outside the screen:

a) if you move the mouse hard towards one wall, 

b) also at times with the keyboard.

The frustrating part is that both of this either kills you directly or freezes your bat, which is again
( effectively) going to kill you.

       3. In "mouse mode", if your cursor is on the side brick walls, when you are reborn due to your 2nd or 3rd 
           life, the new bat is also created there and so it practically means one more unjustified death.

Verdict: B (Average)

Level Design:

I will be super-cautious about my comments here:

As a whole, this game takes a new take on the old “Bick-breaking” genre.

I didn’t go through even 50% of the game, so it’s not justified for me to give a rating here.

But from whatever I experienced, I liked the varying number of power-ups and attacks and specifically, how they can make a long level, a lot easy.


The sound effects did make the whole experience more awesome, but the background music was kind of repetitive, so that should be changed.
The collision sound effects were quite  energetic and I loved them.
Also, the sound accompanying the screen shake was pretty good.
So, in short, whatever sound is present in the game is lovable, but I expected some more variations for the background music.
Verdict: B+ (Good)

Overall recommendation:

This game is more than worth downloading: definitely a lot better than average games, but still a “Intermediate level game”.

You are surely going to love the flashy neon graphics, but watch out from those nasty bugs.

I recommend not using the “Mouse Mode” due to the bug told earlier.

Finally, I am just hoping that all the problems of this game gets addressed by MisuMen49
and we have one more perfect game to play.
Verdict: B+ (Good)