Grand Text Auto

September 30, 2007

Conference, Installation, Books, Dead Media

by nick @ 10:17 am

Those who won’t be able to join us in Los Angeles on October 3 and 4 for the Grand Text Auto exhibit opening, symposium, and performance, but who are able to make it to Brown University in Providence, should certainly attend the October 4-7 Reading Digital Literature, a US-German conference that Roberto Simanowski has organized. There’s an exhibition and screening, a full two days of events plus an opening before that and a day of wrapping up on Sunday, and a great slate of people who will be offering close readings of particular works and other discussions of e-lit. I wish I could make it, but I’ll look forward to hearing about how it went … and to telling the folks there about how great the Grand Text Auto gig was out at UCI’s Beall Center for Art + Technology.

And there’s more in the museum and text world… (more…)

On Software and Its Bad, Bad Lameness

by nick @ 1:36 am

A Review of Why Software Sucks … and What You Can Do About It
By David S. Platt
243 pp.

A tissue of yarns, Microsoft and computing jokes, and the occasional bit of discussion of software deficiencies. Initially, I liked the idea of a book-length rant about software. I did manage to find some high points and things that at least made me smile. For instance, there’s the section about how the “save changes” dialog in Microsoft Windows Notepad needlessly exposes the underlying workings of the program. It is not clear why the average computer user or would be interested in most of this when they could turn to some more coherent discussion of the main topics of substance: user interface, privacy, and security. And, I feel that developers will probably not want to consult this book regarding specific systems or topics of interest to them. Why Software Sucks has no index, so the author must have felt the same way. (more…)

September 29, 2007

Updates on the Pursuit of Interactive Story

by andrew @ 3:03 am

It’s amazing how often I learn about a new group or individual with their own particular approach to building interactive stories. Here’s a couple dozen (!) descriptions and/or updates on the efforts that have caught or re-caught my eye recently.

September 28, 2007

Games, a Backward-Looking Medium

by andrew @ 8:09 pm

If you’ve read this blog over the years, then you’ve heard it all before, but perhaps not quite so succinctly, eloquently, and certainly not as an op-ed piece in the New York Times! But here it is, by journalist Daniel Radosh.

If games are to become more than mere entertainment, they will need to use the fundamentals of gameplay — giving players challenges to work through and choices to make — in entirely new ways. … Like cinema, games will need to embrace the dynamics of failure, tragedy, comedy and romance. They will need to stop pandering to the player’s desire for mastery in favor of enhancing the player’s emotional and intellectual life.

There is no reason that gorgeous graphics can’t play a role in this task, but the games with the deepest narratives were the text adventures that were developed for personal computers in the 1980s. Using only words, these “interactive fictions” gave players the experience of genuinely living inside a story. The steps required to advance the plot, though often devilishly perplexing, felt like natural behavior rather than arbitrary puzzle-solving. Today’s game designers should study this history as a starting point for an artistic revolution of the future.

September 27, 2007

re:skin Hits a Nerve

by nick @ 12:33 am

re:skin... book coverA Review of re:skin
Edited by Mary Flanagan and Austin Booth
The MIT Press
370 pp.

In re:skin, Grand Text Auto’s own Mary Flanagan and co-editor Austin Booth suture essays, stories, and documentation of projects to flesh out a book that explores our ever-present bodily boundary. The items collected in re:skin are not just about the metaphorical “re-skinning” that one can undertake with a browser or with WinAmp, and not just about the virtual covering that some seek to wrap around 3-D characters. Rather, the book explores how we allow our actual, literal skin to define and segment us and how it can be a medium for expression or a provocation to rethink our concepts of boundary.

From plastic surgery to fur implants, from illegal tattooing to skin grafts, the use of technology to alter the physical body is, for women writers, less a tool for empowerment than a means to construct alternative, multiple selves. Bodily boundaries are malleable, and bodily markers which distinguish bodies are reprogrammable. The pieces gathered in re:skin claim that the technologically mutable body is neither simply liberating nor limiting, but offers instead narratives of ways of living in, and adapting to, a technological culture.


September 26, 2007


by mary @ 8:50 pm

Michael Mateas and I are both representing at DiGRA 2007 in Tokyo. As you will see by the website, there are plenty of sessions here going on all week. I hope Michael and I can blog a few of the talks we found compelling.

Edward Castronova hosted an unusual interactive keynote yesterday, with a goal to demonstrate two things: the importance of the magic circle and fantasy, and the importance of creating sustainable systems.


September 25, 2007


by michael @ 8:38 pm

So my day at the Tokyo Game Show was predictably exciting, overwhelming, and just plain loud. There is plenty o’ detailed online commentary on the TGS out there, so here I’ll just briefly mention the games that caught my eye.

Echochrome is a puzzle game that plays with Escher-like optical illusions. The player’s job is to allow a small walking figure to traverse a platform construction by rotating the construction, and thus changing the camera’s perspective. The figure’s ability to navigate the platforms depends on the subjective truth of the current visual perspective, rather than the objective truth of the 3D model. You can play with the game engine online.

Patapon is a rhythm game in which you control your army of cute little 2D procedural critters by tapping out rhythms composed of different button combinations. The lines to play were too long, so I didn’t get the chance, though I definitely love the visual style. Gamespot has a nice description of actually playing the game.

September 24, 2007

The Tell-Tale Brick

by nick @ 9:51 pm

A Review of Pilgrim in the Microworld: Eye, Mind, and the Essence of Video Skill
David Sudnow
Warner Books
227 pp.

The King of Kong’s Steve Wiebe looks like a casual gamer compared to David Sudnow. While Sudnow may not be a video game champion, it is evident that he had the same relationship with Breakout that Ishmael had with whales. I know of no story of monomania, since those in the tales of Edgar Allan Poe, at least, that can match Sudnow’s memoir of his obsession with one single Atari VCS cartridge. For the love of God, Sudnow! How can you break down those luminescent, rainbow bands of bricks again and again, so attentive to your own physiology, almost ready to report to us your galvanic skin response at the moment of breakout?

The text of Pilgrim in the Microworld, after briefly visiting the finer points of Missile Command, fixes its gaze upon the arcade port of Breakout as intently as Sudnow fixed his grip upon the paddle controller - or “knob,” as he calls it to distinguish it from the virtual paddle. Sudnow’s struggles with “the slam shot,” his joy at the music of the rebounding ball, his attempts to learn a precise opening, midgame, and endgame - all are chronicled in what is certainly the most fanatical report of video game play that has ever been provided. (more…)

And the Winner is . . .

by scott @ 3:41 am

After much deliberation with my blue ribbon panel and the neighborhood kangaroo, I’m pleased to announce that the winner of the first Annual Alan Turing Memorial International Grand Text Auto T-Shirt Competition is Alex, for his “Grand Text Auto Matrix” design. I thought all of the entries were very creative, from the appropriation of the Grand Theft Auto logo to the Patriotic model to the Lettrist version and Grand Text Eliza and my love of Scrabble nearly drew me to the courageous first entry, but in the end, I was pulled to GTAM because of the fact that it evinced so much reading on the part of the designer (a rare and enviable combination), and because I think it will look cool both at a distance and for the squinty-eyed chardonnay-swilling electronic art lovers who will doubtless pull close to my chest to read it at the GTxA exhibition opening in Irvine. Alex, if you’ll send your address to me at scott at retts dot net, I’ll get your T-shirt and other prizes on their way. I’m ordering mine right now. Hopefully it’ll get there in time for me show up wearing it in Irvine. Thanks to everyone for participating and making this first competition such a success. Remind us this time next year if we haven’t announced the second round.

September 23, 2007

Join the fun at UC Santa Cruz

by michael @ 10:11 pm

So, I’ve been pretty remiss about blogging lately, with all the usual excuses (moving, new job, adjusting to parenthood, buying a house, going up for tenure - I like to engage in every life stressor at the same time). But I’m getting my feet back under me, and one of my new year’s resolutions (new academic year, that is) is to get back on the blogging scene.

So, without further ado, I’d like to announce that we’re looking for, not one, but two, new faculty to join the game design program in computer science at UC Santa Cruz . We’re looking for applicants with demonstrated research excellence in either:

  • Computational aspects of videogame design, such as artificial intelligence, real-time animation/graphics and Human Computer Interaction (CS) or
  • Computational digital media in the context of video games, including game design, game studies, and game art (DM)


DAC 2007

by mary @ 9:51 am

My recollection of the Digital Arts and Culture Conference (DAC) 2007 is unfortunately a bit blurred by some type of flu contracted in either Perth, Kuala Lumpur, or Tokyo, where I am now at my desk, writing amidst sniffling. But due to Scott’s invocation, I must post! Because I’m in Tokyo for the next conference up, DiGRA, and that’s sure to generate more reasons to post soon enough.

As a typical and enjoyable DAC, a cross-section of practitioners and scholars were in attendance,

September 22, 2007

The Ass Wants to Be Free

by andrew @ 1:03 pm

Sandbox games populated by NPCs invite players to screw around. One of our design goals when developing Façade was believability; we put significant effort into supporting and rewarding what we called “crazy guy” behavior from the player.

A few players over at Something Awful desire that kind of gameplay in mainstream games — charmingly describing it as “Asshole Physics”. A manifesto on the topic was recently updated from the original from 2003.

A link to Façade in the article created a big spike in downloads this week… Grace and Trip are surely being thoroughly abused as you read this.

September 20, 2007

DAC 2007 Dance Party Explosion

by scott @ 3:40 am

I’m sure that many of you are interested in the DAC 2007 Perth conference goings-on. There were a lot of good presentations of papers, good people, and some weird bio-art. I’m sure Mary will post some intelligent thoughts here about the content of the conference, and I may as well, at some future date or if I get bored on the plane. In the meantime, here is some low quality footage of the dance party with which we ended the last night of the conference. Fox Harrell is an excellent dancer, and Mary Flanagan does some amazing hyperkinetic lawnmower-and-grocery-shopping-moves. Lisbeth Klastrup was clearly the most agile of the Scandinavians, though Jaakko was nearly as fluid and he won the prize for the coolest T-Shirt — the “conference moderator” shirt with the built-in-clock. I was shuffling at about an equivalent level to Raine Koskimaa, average Finnish dancer.

Dress Scott Rettberg

by nick @ 1:24 am

Scott needs a t-shirt, pronto! If you don’t end up entering his contest and designing him one by Friday, he might end up wearing one of these…

GTxA If I T-Shirt GTxA Che T-Shirt GTxA Other T-Shirt

September 13, 2007

GameWorld Expansion Pack

by andrew @ 11:58 pm

Starting next week the GameWorld exhibition , ongoing at Laboral in Gijon, Spain (1 2), is expanding the show with Playware, adding more experimental commercial games, individual-produced games and installations. (via Rhizome News)

Check out this excellent YouTube video documenting a few of the works in the initial launch of GameWorld in April, including several of the installation pieces. The video also shows off the architecture of the museum space itself, designed for the show by Leeser Architecture.

September 11, 2007

Shadow Monsters and Revealing Light

by andrew @ 1:48 pm

I’m not sure how we missed this at GDC last March… a brilliant interactive installation by Philip Worthington called Shadow Monsters. Taking a page from the works of Camille Utterback, Zack Simpson and the 2003 Indie Game Jam, Worthington’s Shadow Monsters has players collaborating with the system to create real-time animated, vocalizing monsters. Wow! Watch the video at Kotaku.

And if you’re into playing with shadows and light at home, Adam Frank has a new product for you, Reveal. (Adam made the installation Shadow with Zack Simpson, as well as Petz and Babyz with me.) Makes a great gift!

September 8, 2007

Purple Blurb Digital Reading Series at MIT

by nick @ 2:14 pm

Purple Blurb logo

Update: There’s now a Purple Blurb Web page which will be kept up to date with information about the seties.

This Fall, a new reading series for digital writing will take place in the salon-like environs of the Trope Tank at MIT. The series is sponsored by the MIT programs in Writing and Humanistic Studies and Comparative Media Studies along with local arts organization Turbulence and the Electronic Literature Organization. It will feature readings and presentations by digital writers of all sorts - poets, fiction writers, writers of nonfiction and criticism, and others engaged in language, narrative, and letters on the computer.

The readings will start at 6pm at MIT in 14N–233 (second floor of building 14, in the wing that is across the courtyard from the Hayden Library).

The first reading is happening soon - next week! We’ve got you a flyer for the series that lists what is coming up, and the inaugural schedule for Purple Blurb is also provided right here:

September 18
Robert Kendall - Clues, Faith, Logozoa, Pieces

October 16
Vika Zafrin - RolandHT, Words’ End

November 13
Barbara Barry - Mindful Documentary, One Degree Narratives

December 4
Andrew Plotkin - Shade, So Far, The Dreamhold, Delightful Wallpaper

I hope to see some of you there!

September 7, 2007

Read this Play This Thing!

by nick @ 12:14 am

Greg Costikyan has just introduced a separate but Manifesto-Games-owned site for game reviews, focusing on independent games. It’s called Play This Thing! It will feature - already features - games with online demos as well as free games. Reviewers will intone Csikszentmihalyi, Huizinga before commencing their daily posts, and will then go on to provide short and punchy takes on fun games that accessibly explain their cool aspects. The site already features reviews of:

  • Introversion Software’s Defcon, a demo-available strategy game, reviewed by the99th
  • Adam Cadre’s Lock and Key, an unusual interactive fiction piece, reviewed by Emily Short
  • Chris Swain’s The Redistricting Game, a Flash piece
  • Pop & Co’s Bible Fight, a Flash piece
  • Urban Legend, Ticket to Ride, Alien Abduction, and dozens of others that have at least capsule descriptions, with support for user ranking

Well, it needed to be announced and added to the blogroll, but enough reviews of the reviews already. Read these reviews! Then play these things!

September 5, 2007

Announcing the Grand Text Auto Alan Turing Memorial T-Shirt Design Competition — Enter Now!

by scott @ 7:35 pm

It just occurred to me. The name is great and the logo is familiar, but sometimes I look at the blue, and the orange, and the sort off-brown and the, what, light blue, same logo, same site, and I think to myself, “I don’t even have a Grand Text Auto T-shirt and if this site was a T-shirt I’m not even sure I’d wear it, man.” We need some cool T-shirts, and I think we need something fresh, textual, vivid, new. Therefore, I announce the first annual Grand Text Auto Alan Turing Memorial T-shirt design competition. Here’s how it works: you design a Grand Text Auto T-shirt at Cafe-Press and post a link to your design here by Friday, September 21, 2007. We select the best T-shirt from the submissions, and I send the winner a T-shirt, and additionally, wear that T-shirt to the Grand Text Auto symposium at the Beall Center for Arts and Technology on October 5, 2007, and maybe some of these other people buy T-shirts too. That’s right, I’ll buy you a T-shirt if you design a cool one. I’ll also send you an autographed photo of Interactive Fiction guru and MIT professor Nick Montfort wearing either a white T-shirt, no logo, or a blue button-down shirt, also no logo. If he refuses to autograph the photo, I will do so myself. Either way, if you win, you get a T-shirt. If you are creative, and strong, and brave, and you act now, and win. What are you waiting for? Add a Grand Text Auto T-shirt to my closet and yours.

Incidentally, the T-shirt need not have anything to do with Alan Turing. I just feel bad about the way he was treated while he was alive, and thought something important should be named after him.

The Sequence of Intimate Exchanges

by andrew @ 3:14 am

Or, Choose Your Own Choose-Your-Own-Adventure.

Choice #1, re-blogged here from Save the Robot: a play called Intimate Exchanges recently staged in NYC, as part of the annual Brits Off Broadway festival.

‘A 750-page epic by Alan Ayckbourn that asks 2 actors to play 10 characters in 8 interconnected plays.’ The two actors’ decisions at the beginning lead to different middles and ends. If the actress lights a cigarette in the first scene, it sets them down one path; if not, they go down another. Theatergoers have gone multiple times to catch the different permutations.

Also read about it in the NYTimes. Talk about let’s do it again, groundhog!

Choice #2 (more…)

Save the Robot

by andrew @ 2:44 am

Chris Dahlen is a profilic writer of many great reads on games, music, tech and beyond, for such outlets as The Onion A.V. Club, Pitchfork, Paste, The Escapist… at one point The Boston Phoenix (for which he reviewed Façade)… He has interviewed all kinds of folks including Paul McCartney, Daryl Hall, David Sylvian, Chris Ware, Ron Moore, Richard Garriott, the Penny Arcade guys… He’s also a software project manager and Java developer. If you like Clive Thompson, you’ll like Chris too.

And since March, Chris has an excellent blog, Save the Robot. Tons of stuff there, lots of insight into today’s popular games, including an in-depth discussion of the recently released Bioshock. Particularly relevant to GTxA readers are his posts on interactive characters you can flirt with, including a link to a 2006 Escapist article he wrote about the subject that I had missed. He also has a nice post on games as art.

Via Save the Robot (now added to the blogroll) I also found this, this, this and the very interesting link on my next post…

September 3, 2007

Dragonic Concordance

by nick @ 10:50 pm

IF legend Andrew Plotkin has assembled the site Draco Concordans, a detailed multithreaded commentary on John M. Ford’s 1983 novel The Dragon Waiting, which won of the 1984 World Fantasy Award. This exceedingly detailed take on the novel looks to be a contribution that can play with the finest of Web commentaries, such as Stuart Moulthrop’s Watching the Detectives: An Internet Companion for Readers of Watchmen. Check it out.

Powered by WordPress