Grand Text Auto

December 30, 2005

Wiktion and Poetri

by nick @ 1:44 pm

Chris Klimas, author of the interactive fictions Blue Chairs and Mercy, sends word of his TiddlyWiki-based site featuring nonlinear stories: Gimcrack’d. Chris is also accepting submissions of nonlinear stories for the site.

The Wikifiction proposal lists several other fiction-writing and fiction-oriented wikis. Where there are lightweight “personal” wikis such as TiddlyWiki and DidiWiki, the wiki has had widespread success as a tool for collaborative writing. So, I find some of the projects that play on this capability most interesting, at least as ideas, although I don’t know that there’s any novel or story-style wiki to match that already classic pre-wiki romp, The Unknown.

My favorite fictional wiki project has to be the large-scale collaboration Uncyclopedia, a parody of Wikipedia that is sloganized as “the content-free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” Just take a look the Uncyclopedia article on Wikipedia and you’ll notice that it is much more enjoyable than the Wikipedia article on Uncyclopedia. It does lead me to wonder if all the best rollicking, collaborative online fictions are going to start with “Un.”

December 28, 2005

Book and Volume News & Reviews

by nick @ 12:44 pm

A bit of Book and Volume news: I just finished release 8, incorporating very few changes - not much more than a handful of additional synonyms. Hopefully the most pesky bugs have been squashed by now and the rough edges smoothed over.

Also, there are two new reviews: Josemanuel’s review in SPAC #43 (in Spanish). And there’s Jonathan Goodwin’s slightly spoilery article in The Value - A Literary Organ.

Here is an excerpt (just the nice bits, of course) from Josemanuel’s review, in his English translation:

It is my great pleasure to write the review of the game that brings back to the genre one of the best authors and theorists in the IF community. Book and volume, Nick Montfort’s latest work, possesses two fundamental virtues: it is extraordinarily entertaining and intellectually stimulating. … the game leaves, like good wines do, a great taste and a strange melancholy. Not only because the ending opens the door to multiple interpretations and passionate reflections, but also because all the craziness that wraps it up finally finds its sense — even though it never ceases to be just that: craziness.

Update: I just updated the Book and Volume page with links to reviews, resources, etc.; also, yes, the metadata at the beginning of the SPAC review is leftover from another review, but it’ll be fixed at some point. (Further update, Dec 30: It’s fixed.)

December 27, 2005

games in the news - driveby wifi

by mary @ 3:36 pm

Please note a few of the new games articles from the past week or so, such as “Pricey Games: Moms Don’t Play”, from the 21 December 2005 Washington Post, “The Year That Games Discovered Their Star Power” from 25 December 2005 New York Times, and “See Baby Touch a Screen, but Does Baby Get It?” from the 15 December 2005 NYTimes.

To keep up to date on the digital community for educators and activists, check out
The Digital Divide. The site offers a listserv and features blogs and projects that promote equity and access in both the use of and creation of new technologies.

(This is a driveby wifi event: posting from an automobile)

December 23, 2005

Please Send Us Façade Stageplays!

by andrew @ 12:08 am

We’re working on an improved version of the Façade parser, and could use more raw data of what players tend to type to Grace and Trip.

If you’ve played Façade, please do us a big favor and email us the stageplays you generated. Each time you’ve played, a trace of your dialog was automatically saved in c:\Facade\stageplays. (Even if you’ve uninstalled Façade already for some reason ;-) it will leave behind the stageplays folder.)

You can email your stageplay files to us as individual attachments, or ideally your entire stageplays folder as a single zipped-up file, to info -at- interactivestory -dot- net.

Your stageplays will be put through a batch analysis process that makes all lines of dialog anonymous — we won’t be keeping track of who wrote what.

Thanks very much for your help! Happy holidays.

December 22, 2005


by nick @ 12:24 pm

Yesterday I met up with MUD genealogist Martin Keegan and his fellow digital rights activist Julian Midgley, coordinator of the UK Campaign for Digital Rights. Martin was a wizard of Island, an early carved-out-of-C MUD, and he came to my talk last Tuesday, interested to hear about IF.

Cambridge really seems to be the centre of UK interactive fiction development, as far as I can tell, with the IF games for the Phoenix being the most notable applications of that university-wide computing service and with conversions of these games becoming the first commercial IF in the UK. Check out the current Wikipedia article on Phoenix, for instance, which mentions first off “Several large early British interactive fiction games, including Acheton, Sangraal, and Fyleet, were developed on Phoenix before being sold commercially for microcomputers by Acornsoft and, later, Topologika” and then continues with an offhand note “(To do: add more about the serious uses of Phoenix)”. Jonathan Partington (now at Leeds) and Graham Nelson (now at Oxford) represent two academic generations of important IF work here, and there are further generations - Jon Ingold (now in London) has done significant IF work here more recently. There are a few Cantabrigian folks currently on ifMUD, too. Given that, and the nice turnout for the Michael Bywater/Steven Meretzky event in London, one would think that, despite lackluster official search results, Cambridge might be ripe for some sort of interactive fiction fest.

December 20, 2005

23,040 Bridges Falling Down, and London

by nick @ 8:44 pm

Adam Cadre has a new story, or set of stories, generated in PHP and with a twist. After reading one of the generated stories, you can vote on how five people rank in terms of culpability for a character’s death. Adam will post the statistics before too long, after harvesting some more votes. The project is called “23,040 Bridges,” no doubt because there are 192 of them for each of the (5 * 4 * 3 * 2 * 1) possible rankings of culpability.

In London this weekend I caught up with Michela Ledwidge, creator of Horses for Courses and the in-progress, remixable short film Sanctuary, now in post-production, which caused the fracas that was reported on Boing Boing and Slashdot. Michaela’s work with remixable film content is quite interesting, not only because of the way it’s disrupting the Australian film industry. My own interests are in the book format for computing, rather than the living room experience, and they deal with simulation of a world and textual realization rather than recombination of content, but these sort of remixings are certainly of some interest to me, as the Mystery House Taken Over project should show.

One of the things we discussed was why there was no sort of ontology or mark-up for story elements - an HTML of narrative? I think the issue is that there has been, for small-scale applications, but there’s no Web-scale story system that uses marked-up stories in any extremely widespread way. I don’t think a markup scheme can be done first, in the absence of any idea of what the final system will do; something has to work well for at least one of analysis, recombination, generation, etc. before it can be handy for everything. And people aren’t going to start spontaneously marking up their stories just for kicks, unless there’s some sort of reason to do so. But, do people know of some existing systems that allow narrative structure to be encoded?

I also met up with several other interactive aficionados and ifMUD denizens in London. While we assiduously avoid talking about IF when we meet up, the author of this fine game (which I keep referring to for some reason) did recall some primitive horse-racing computer game from his youth. It was apparently not very good except for the horse name generator, which would produce gems such as “Princess Jim.” This gives me the idea to fashion some lousy games to serve as vehicles for amusing text generators…

December 19, 2005

ICVS Reportage

by andrew @ 7:09 pm

Nicolas Szilas, friend of GTxA and fellow interactive drama researcher, has written up a summary of last month’s Int’l Conference on Virtual Storytelling in Strasbourg, France. (Also see his summary from 2003.) Thanks again, Nicolas!

In Nicolas’ summary I’ve inserted a link to Ernest Adams’ ICVS keynote presentation, “Letting the Audience onto the Stage”. Ernest tells us he’s lately been questioning some of his long-held assumptions about agency and interactive story, which is evident in his slides.

Nicolas writes:

This was third edition of ICVS, after Avignon in 2001 and Toulouse in 2003, a conference focused on digital/virtual storytelling. ICVS is a computer oriented conference with a flavour of Humanities and Art.

Regarding the core issue of Interactive Drama — no dramatic change! The topic was discussed, but I was expecting more concrete solutions. Ernest Adams reminded us that Narrative and Interactivity are hard to combine (pdf), and did not omit discussion of Façade as one of the most advanced approaches. Ken Perlin advocated for a procedural approach to Interactive Narative, but did not go beyond the stage of general advice and intuitive narratology. Sandy Louchart and Ruth Aylett presented an interesting comparison between Reality TV and emergent narrative, but how this will be effectively exploited in a computer system is yet to come.

The graph-based model is still largely in use, often (but not always) inspired by the Propp Model: (more…)

Nerve and NYTimes Book Review on Games

by andrew @ 6:57 pm

It’s getting weird when quotes from Will Wright are showing up in the NYTimes Book Review. Terra Nova’s Ed Castranova’s new mmorpg book Synthetic Worlds and Heather Chaplin and Aaron Ruby’s Smartbomb are reviewed. On, this excerpt (chapter 1) from Smartbomb paints quite the enthralling picture of videogame designers.

Also, everybody’s favorite sexy zine Nerve has a new, extensive series of articles on sex, relationships and games, being doled out over time, including an amusing review of Façade and a series of questions posed to familiar game designer/researcher types. I like the visual juxtaposition of Grace’s and Aeon Flux’s faces in the column listing.

December 16, 2005

Trip and Grace Enter “The Pit” at Slamdance

by nick @ 2:53 pm

The 2006 Slamdance Guerilla Gamemaker Competition Finalists have been announced, and one of them is Façade! Congratulations, Andrew and Michael, on another accolade for this interactive drama.

It looks like several other interesting pieces will be moshing at the festival (January 19-27, 2006 in Salt Lake City), including two games that have been featured on Grand Text Auto: Ian Bogost’s Disaffected! and Aaron Reed’s Whom the Telling Changed (GTxA discussion, download page.) Congratulations to these two as well, and to the other indie game developers who will be bringing their clouds, gems, labyrinths, wildlife, and body parts to encounter Sumerian fires, photoduplication, and marital dissolution at Slamdance.

medi@terra 06 Call for Papers and Games

by noah @ 12:07 am

The medi@terra 06 festival will run September 27 - October 1, 2006. They’re calling for papers about games, and also for games (and machinima).

If submitting a paper, you’ll give an abstract (March 10, 2006), then find out if you’re accepted (May 8, 2006), and then need to turn in a full paper (June 12, 2006). For games it’s simpler. Just submit your material (April 28, 2006) and then hear back (June 9, 2006). They’re particularly interested in “games with socio-political content” and “games that constitute tools for education and other scientific fields.”

Festival statement and full call follows. (more…)

December 15, 2005

‘Nother New Neural

by nick @ 1:33 pm

Just wanted to note that a new printed, English issue of Italian magazine Neural is out, and there are many items of artistic and hacktivist interest firing away on the news feed.

December 14, 2005

99 Ways

by andrew @ 11:35 pm

Matt Madden, an experimental comic artist/writer (mentioned in our generative/interactive comic discussion a while back) has released an excellent experiment in narrative form called 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style. Read this review by Stephen Frug for a good overview of this work.

Also see American outpost of the Oubapo, the comics equivalent of the Oulipo.

Speaking of which, Frug also mentions that a new edition of the out-of-print Oulipo Compendium is now available, published by Make Now Press in the US and Atlas Press in the UK.

I’m going to order both and have my own little oulipolooza.

December 12, 2005

Interactive Fiction Talk at Cambridge

by nick @ 4:26 pm

I’m speaking on interactive fiction at the University of Cambridge tomorrow. Room 911, New Cavendish Laboratory.

December 11, 2005

Juul’s Half-Real

by noah @ 4:49 pm

On the plane ride back from DAC 2005 (the second day of which was certainly one of my favorite conference days ever — the papers were great) I read Jesper Juul’s brand new book Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds (GTxA post, Jesper’s post, book site).

I’m too caught up with my own manuscripts at the moment to write a full review, but suffice it to say that I heartily recommend it. I particularly think it should be used for teaching immediately. It’s a short (~200 pages), well informed, and carefully thought out book. For those already involved in the field it provides good grist: strong arguments and an appropriate framework. For new folks it builds things up from the beginning nicely, showing the current state of the field by demonstration and description, while providing the pointers for further research that one would want. (more…)

December 10, 2005

CFP for Human Technology Special Issue: Culture, Creativity and Technology

by noah @ 12:09 am

Guest editors: Mark Blythe, University of York; Ann Light, Queen Mary, University of London; Shaleph O’Neill, University of Dundee. Deadline: February 24th 2006.

Advances in interactive computing technology have blurred the line between art, social studies and science. The age of digital reproduction is making radical changes in how art is created, distributed and perceived. Recent work from the humanities and arts has constructively critiqued traditional Interaction Design theory and practice. Studies of experience with technology can provide new insights into the potential of interactivity in contemporary arts and performance, as well as new tools for creativity. (more…)

December 9, 2005

The Agrippa Files

by nick @ 11:33 pm

Agrippa, small edition Tonight red lanterns are battered, laughing, in the mechanism. The Agrippa Files, a site fashioned as part of it Transcriptions Project at UCSB, has gone online, documenting the 1992 Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) - the 1992 collaboration between artist Dennis Ashbaugh, author William Gibson, and publisher Kevin Begos, Jr.

Read on for news from the press release. (more…)

CFP : Video Games and the Alien / Other

by noah @ 10:32 am

The University of Florida’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is pleased to announce the 2006 UF Game Studies Conference: “Video Games and the Alien/Other,” which will be held in Gainesville, Florida, on April 7-8 2006. Keynote Speaker: Lee Sheldon (more…)


by andrew @ 3:33 am

The ALICE bot developers (Richard Wallace and co.) are making an interesting resource available for purchase: based on 10 years of conversation logs between their award-winning chatterbot and thousands of users, they have compiled a list of ALICE’s most common 10,000 user inputs. (Their bot is in fact comprised of short responses to 4x that number of inputs.) Further, they’ve abstracted this raw data into the top 10,000 patterns of input, which I’d guess is drawn from the top 30,000 inputs or more. This “Superbot” data, in the form of Excel spreadsheets, can be yours for $999.

I actually think that’s a decent value for such data, even if it’s somewhat tied to the general design and interface of ALICE. That is, there’d be all kinds of new inputs users would say that are not on the list, once you make a conversational agent that can have deeper conversations than the very broad but shallow ALICE, or if you made agents with a more focused, less generic domain, such as Grace and Trip in Façade. Still, I’m sure many items on this list would be said to most any bot, at least in this early era of overall bot intelligence.

Speaking of bots and what people say to them, I came across the webpage for an intriguing symposium held at Interact 2005 as well as a sequel to be held at CHI 2006: Agent Abuse, the dark side of human computer interaction. Here’s the symposia’s abstract: (more…)

December 8, 2005

Robert Coover on Bookworm

by scott @ 9:43 pm

There is a superb interview of Robert Coover available in RealAudio from KCRW’s Bookworm program. The first part of a two part interview was broadcast today, and the other half will be broadcast on the 15th. The first part of the wide-ranging interview provides an overview of Coover’s career and some insights into his process, themes, methods and interest in formal innovation. There are some gems in the interview, such as the fact that Coover finished writing The Public Burning, his novel about the Rosenberg execuations and Nixon, in the British Library while sitting on the same hard wooden benches where Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto.

Brown E-Writing Fellowship Deadline

by noah @ 9:43 pm

There’s just one week left to apply for what I believe is the world’s only graduate fellowship specifically for electronic writing (deadline December 15th). It comes with two years of support, three workshops with world-class writers, four other courses at Brown of your choice, and a nice MFA at the end. Last year’s graduate was William Gillespie, and the year before’s was Talan Memmott.

Scott Fisher @Tech

by michael @ 2:05 pm

Scott Fisher gave a talk at Tech today on ubiquitous storytelling. Scott’s been visiting Tech for the last couple of days - Ian and I enjoyed a nice dinner out with him last night.

December 6, 2005

Whom the Telling Changed

by nick @ 12:23 am
Whom the Telling Changed

If you liked this, you very well might like this.


December 5, 2005

DAC 2005: Notes on Mateas and Montfort’s “A Box, Darkly: Obfuscation, Weird Languages, and Code Aesthetics”

by scott @ 12:54 pm

(Update: The full paper “A Box, Darkly: Obfuscation, Weird Languages, and Code Aesthetics” by Michael Mateas and Nick Montfort is online.)

They approach the podium. The screen goes dark, then blue. There is some struggling with cords and configurations. Fingers and bodies struggle with the oppressive apparatus, and conquer it. Their title and names appear on the screen. Then we begin.

Montfort, looking dapper in a trademark wrinkle-free button down blue shirt, black pants, black shoes and wearing a multiplicity of university-issued rings, began the presentation by invoking Donald Knuth’s discussion of reading the program SOAP as like “hearing a symphony.” Montfort then discussed the idea of code as having an aesthetic for human readers. He cited the observation from Maurice Black’s dissertation that while terms like “elegant” and “beautiful” flow freely in discussions of code in computer science, they have been exiled from the vocabulary of literary and cultural theory. This idea of an established notion of coding aesthetic provides a context for the discussion of the “dark side to coding,” obfuscated code, which is “contrived to foil human legibility rather than enhance it.” (more…)

December 4, 2005

DAC 2005 ELINOR reading

by scott @ 7:13 pm

I really enjoyed the ELINOR reading Friday night at the Copenhagen LiteraturHaus. I get so used to seeing the same crowd of folks presenting work in electronic literature, that it’s always a wonderful and pleasant shock to see people from other parts of the world than the one I’m accustomed to exploring ways of working with literary texts in digital environments in their own ways, in their own language. Performing artists included poet Christian Yde Frostholm from Denmark, Johannes Helden from Sweden, Marko Niemi from Finland & Noah Wardrip-Fruin from Northern California and elsewhere. Helden read his poem to an accompanying digital animation and soundtrack. Frosthelm’s work was a fascinating version of what from the perspective of a non-Swedish-speaker seemed to be a Beckettian story adapted in Flash making use of patterns and repetitions, words clumping and clustering and rearranging themselves on the screen. Of the Scandanavian authors I was most impressed with Marko Niemi’s work, a variety of simple but distinctive and thoughtfully language experiments in flash and html. Niemi writes both in Finnish and English, and presented English language work at the reading. Jill Walker was the emcee, and the host of the Literaturhaus kept the bar open late, as the DAC attendees clustered round tables with old friends and new. Noah’s reading of Talking Cure and video demo of Screen were also highlights of the evening. Torill posted a great photo of Noah’s reading from the portable Talking Cure intallation on Flirckr. Jill also posted several photos of the reading.

December 3, 2005

DAC 2005 Session 11b

by noah @ 8:43 am

This session includes:
- Ole Ertløv Hansen: Neuroaesthetics and the Digital Interactive Experience
- Lewis, Nadeau: Inter-inactivity
- Robert Sweeny: Net_work_ed


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