Microbit Life

11 October 2016


Conway’s Game of Life is a programming classic used in katas, to teach TDD ideas and even features in the annual code retreat events around the world. It’s a wonderful example of fairly simple code giving rise to some complicated and often beautiful behaviour. It’s also a good demonstration piece because it doesn’t require any human intervention to run and will often carry on generating new patterns long after it has been started.

You’re way ahead of me, aren’t you?

If it’s such a programming classic, my thoughts went, it should be easy - or at least possible - to write it in Python for the microbit? And so the challenge began to form in my head.


Traditionally, game of life is often implemented using recursion or other exotic device to make the code more expressive and beautiful and use fewer lines of code. My first cut of the program tried a recursive algorithm but I found that even though the program worked, occasionally it would crash with a stack space error. This seemed to be related to the current and evolving pattern, derived from the random starting configuration. Not all patterns would crash the program, only a select few but in each case it seemed to be that the program interpreter on the microbit was running out of stack.

To get around this and still keep a hope of having minimal code, I tried falling back to Python list comprehensions. This worked slightly better but our random startup code still could generate an initial pattern that could crash the interpreter.


So, what I have as a working solution can be seen below.

It’s true that there is a lot of repeated list iteration code and it feels like it could be shorter but I have left it like this based on feedback from some beginning coders who found this version easier to follow.

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