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Conway’s Game of Life
An Illustrated Guide

A Gosper Glider Gun in Conway's Game of Life

The database contains 506 images, 306 patterns, 73 pattern types, 26 terms, 42 people, 21 interactions and 9 extensible families.  Try jumping to a random pattern!  If you spot any errors, please let me know.

Patterns: Terms:
Pattern types: People:

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“LIFE is a classic computer game.  It was invented by John H. Conway in 1970, and has entertained many hackers and wasted many years of computer time ever since.  If you’re smart and creative, it can be very intellectually stimulating.  It’s a simulation game which can generate strange and beautiful patterns, sometimes in complex and interesting ways.”

Opening paragraph of Alan Hensel’s ReadMe on the Game of Life

The Game of Life (also known as Life, or GoL) is played on an infinite grid of square cells, each of which can be “alive” or “dead”.  Each cell interacts with the eight neighbouring cells surrounding it, using the following simple rules:
  • A live cell stays alive if it has 2 or 3 live neighbours, otherwise it dies.
  • A dead cell comes to life if it has 3 live neighbours, otherwise it stays dead.
With rules as simple as these, you might not expect to see anything interesting happen to the cells, but you’d be wrong!  Useful little machines (such as the Glider) often create themselves out of a random collection of cells, and if a pattern is carefully constructed, it can be made to perform complex tasks, such as calculating prime numbers, or printing out a “ticker tape” message!  For a more detailed introduction, check out the Wikipedia article on GoL.

If you’ve ever played with Lego Technic or Meccano, you’ll know how much fun you can have by constructing machines from simple components.  A great example of a GoL machine is Gosper's Breeder.  To help explain how it works, I’ve created a colour-coded diagram – click on the image below for the full-size version:

Annotated analysis of Gosper’s Breeder

Many thousands of GoL patterns have been discovered, and a classic collection of Oscillators is shown below (compiled by Dean Hickerson):

Dean Hickerson’s stamp collection

There is such a vast amount of information available on GoL that I couldn’t hope to make it all available here.  Therefore, I have documented only the most common and important patterns, plus some interesting interactions between patterns.

An RLE encoding is provided for every pattern in the database (more information on this format is available here).  These can be copied & pasted directly into many GoL applications, such as Golly.

Many GoL patterns have not been given official names.  In the database, these patterns are referred to as “Unnamed [pattern type] #”.  For example, see Unnamed Puffer 1.

The information in the database has been adapted from the following sources: The database includes documentation on the 50 most common objects found in Ash, and the 25 most common Oscillators found in Ash, as listed here by Achim Flammenkamp.

Introductions Software Pattern catalogues and glossaries Miscellaneous

The animated GIFs in the database were created using the following programs:

Golly GraphicConverter Photoshop
Golly GraphicConverter Photoshop

I have also created a small Java program to help generate animated GIFs of Spaceships (or Puffers, Rakes, etc).  Here’s how it works:
  • First, create an animated GIF using the “” Perl script in Golly.
  • Scale the GIF to the appropriate size (eg. 400%) using GraphicConverter.
  • Load the GIF into the Java program, and specify the speed and direction of the Spaceship.
  • The program will then apply a panning camera effect, so that the view remains centred on the Spaceship as it travels.
  • The program will automatically crop the animation, so that the edges of the frame just touch the edges of the Spaceship.  Alternatively, a custom crop can be specified.
  • The program will then save the panned and cropped animation frames as PNG images, which can then be assembled into the finished animated GIF using the “Convert & Modify” feature of GraphicConverter.
An example of a processed animated GIF can be seen in the entry for the Space Rake.  The camera is panning right to keep the LWSSs centred, so that they appear to be stationary.  The Block which temporarily appears in the debris appears to be slowly moving left (in fact, the Block is stationary and the camera is panning right).


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Comments Automatic country lookup for comments powered by MaxMind GeoLite Country

    10 Dec 2009
Thank you! Your Game of Life page is excellent and I refer to it in my french gol wiki :
    4 Sep 2010
Hi! Congrats for this GOL page, it's really amazing and clear.
May I ask you the permission to use a pair of your GIF images in the Italian WIkipedia? Actually, I have already uploaded them (sorry), but I'm going to cancel them if you deny your agreement.
More accurately, I need your agreement for uploading in the Wikimedia the following files:
Volcano (oscillator)
Fountain filtering MWSS.
You may find them at the URL:
Thank you very much.
Michael Hogg
    6 Sep 2010
Many thanks for your comment Kamina! Yes, you may certainly use my animated GIFs in Wikipedia. If you would like me to create some specific GIFs to illustrate certain properties of GoL, please let me know!
    7 Sep 2010
I thank you again Micheal! Actually, I do not need any specific images at the moment other than the ones I told you, but, now that I know I can count on your kindness, I will be glad to ask you if I happen to need more images. Have a nice day and good luck for the future!;)
    7 Sep 2010
Ah, by the way (sorry for the double-posting), can I have an e-mail address to contact you? I have found out that I can't upload those files in Wikipedia unless I possess some kind of 'official' written license (that would be an e-mail). I hope this is not annoying for you (in which case, don't worry).
Michael Hogg
    10 Sep 2010
Hi again! Yes, you can find my email address by clicking on the "Contact me" link at the bottom of this page. I'd be very happy to give you "official" written permission.
    2 Sep 2011
Thank you so much for this artclie, it saved me time!
    7 Feb 2012
you can find lots of other formations at . then you can update your site.
    15 Oct 2012
Essays like this are so important to bordeaning people's horizons.
    16 Oct 2012
KDK8fV , [url=]dwsmwjiiqwuz[/url], [link=]mkubxehqtcrv[/link],
    20 Oct 2012
    United States
UCdp8I , [url=]zpoljeiyctcc[/url], [link=]ejnzlutwvbly[/link],
    5 Oct 2013
Thank you, very useful.
    11 Oct 2013
    United States
Do you know if GoL have been performed on different topologies (e.g., sphere)?
Wondered Man
    13 Feb 2015
Can we add patterns to this site?

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Contact me  –  Page last updated on 27th March 2009  –  Website hosted by 5quidhost (highly recommended!)
Michael Hogg