Grand Text Auto

February 28, 2007

living game worlds 2007

by mary @ 10:15 am

Georgia Tech has announced their annual Living Game Worlds III, this year themed “PLAYING WITH REALITY” @ 29th March 2007. It’s presented by the GVU Center and the Graduate Program in Digital Media in the School of Literature, Communication and Culture, with Katy Salen and Tracy Fullerton keynoting.

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February 27, 2007

String of Pearls in the Sandbox

by andrew @ 7:12 pm

Among mainstream game developers, Warren Spector is one of those putting significant effort into building more sophisticated interactive stories. To the list of exciting GDC talks next week, we need to add Spector’s newly announced talk “The Future of Storytelling In Next-Generation Game Development” (as well as Ernest Adams’ “Rethinking Challenges in Games and Stories” for that matter). Recall Spector was a participant on a GDC panel on interactive story I moderated two years ago, although his attitude was somewhat dour at the time.

These days, after founding and reportly getting funding for his new studio Junction Point, Spector seems more optimistic. He was interviewed in this month’s print magazine Game Developer (owned by CMP, the same company that runs GDC and Gamasutra.com). Since few of you may get the magazine, I’ll type in a few highlights from the article:

There is a middle ground [between sandbox games like The Sims, and roller coaster rides like Half Life], and I don’t think it involves the choose-your-own-adventure approach. … The key for me is creating linked sandboxes and letting players explore those little narrative chunks on their own. [As the game developer] I’ll determine why it’s important that you get through a door, but how you get through it, what happens, and whether you kill, talk to, or ignore everyone on the other side belongs to you. That concept of sharing authorship is where the sweet spot of game narrative is… it’s a hybrid of a linear string of pearls game structure and a sandbox approach.

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February 25, 2007

Time to Blow

by andrew @ 2:21 pm

Arthouse Games has gotten a sneak peek at the close-to-final version of Jonathan Blow’s Braid, and an interview with Blow. You might remember Braid from last year’s Indie Game Festival at GDC, where an early version won for Innovation, or from last month, when Blow was first to withdraw from Slamdance 2007 over the Super Columbine controversy, or maybe you remember him from the Experimental Gameplay Workshop (EGW) at GDC, which he organizes each year.

I missed GDC last year (had a newborn at home), so haven’t gotten a chance to play Braid, but it looks very innovative indeed — not your grandmother’s platformer. Looking forward to the final release.

Also intriguing is a new game Blow mentions that will be shown at this year’s EGW, by Rod Humble, VP of the Sims Studio at EA:

The Marriage… is 100% about expressing a complex theme through gameplay. The understanding conveyed by the game is very different from what you would get with words, or with pictures. It communicates to the audience in a way that is unique to games, and furthermore, that is different from what most game pundits have been describing as the communicative power of gameplay. The Marriage is a very simple game, but I think it’s a promising start.

It’s a Blur

by nick @ 12:44 am

February 24, 2007

Weekend Restaurant, No Reservations Required, BYOB

by andrew @ 1:35 am

Jeff Orkin, experienced industry developer cum grad student — a transition I wish more developers would make! — is building an AI-based interactive narrative of some sort called The Restaurant Game, with a pretty cool implementation method:

The Restaurant Game is a research project at the MIT Media Lab that will algorithmically combine the gameplay experiences of thousands of players to create a new game. In a few months, we will apply machine learning algorithms to data collected through the multiplayer Restaurant Game, and produce a new single-player game that we will enter into the 2008 Independent Games Festival. Everyone who plays The Restaurant Game will be credited as a Game Designer. It’s never been easier to earn Game Designer credentials!

Jeff needs your help: throughout this weekend, he’s asking players to play his system, which will match you up with other human players, so he can gather data for the single player version. Impressive. He’s asking that you try at the top of the hour (any hour, e.g. 5pm in your time zone), to make sure you find other participating players.

Read a bit more on his group blog.

(BYOB = Bring Your Own Broadband)

February 23, 2007

This Just In… AI-Based Mashup at Seven

by andrew @ 2:04 pm

The work of AI-oriented Northwestern University grad students has been interesting for quite some time (1 2 3) — and here’s a new project to add to the list. Nate Nichols and Sara Owsley, in Kristian Hammond’s InfoLab, have created a system called News at Seven, that intelligently and autonomously combines news text, images and video from the Web, related commentary from the blogosphere, avatars from Half Life 2, speech synthesis, and broadcasting via YouTube, to create a daily short newscast. It’s an AI-based mashup.

Exploring the archives, I think they only recently tuned the system to create a tighter shot on the news anchor, which is a good thing. I kind of like the remote camera for their “blogosphere reporter”, a guy standing against throngs of bland voices in a snowy dystopian wasteland. (A somewhat harsh characterization of the blogosphere perhaps, and more a product of the limited number of avatars available in the Half Life 2 engine, but amusing nonetheless.)

Lots of interesting papers by this group to be found on their site.

Timelapsed Tempest

by andrew @ 2:03 pm

Via Raph Koster’s blog (and Gameology before that), an artist named Rosemarie Fiore has created beautiful long-exposure photographs of old arcade games such as Tempest, Gyruss and Qix.

Gorgeous. (I feel bad for all the young’uns who never got a chance to play these games in the 80’s.)

For you, Nick!

February 22, 2007

Libraries Check Out Games

by nick @ 3:49 pm

I was delighted to read about two recent developments which involved one of my most beloved institutions, the library, working to preserve and provide access to one of my favorite forms of expressive, aesthetic media: the video game.

I learned from Jason R. Finley that UIUC’s undergrad library now offers video games. You can visit their gaming collection site, read all about their mission and use policies, and even suggest titles to buy. (I presume that suggestions from UIUC affiliates are weighted more highly.) The consoles listed are ones that are on the market today, but the library also boasts “a selection of retro/vintage games for use in-library only (including NES, Atari 2600, Sega Genesis, etc.).”

And, in the UK, Loughborough University in Leicestershire is advertising a full-time studentship (Ph.D.) in the preservation of computer games, “To investigate perceptions of the cultural, educational and social value of games amongst researchers and preservation institutions; To assess if and how computer games are currently being preserved and identify any barriers to preservation, if appropriate; To identify possible approaches to overcoming barriers to preservation, if appropriate.” Deadline is March 14.

UC Santa Cruz also has console/game kits as part of the library’s circuulating collection, too, as I heard long before these two news items.

Where Are They Now?

by nick @ 1:32 pm

From Street Fighter: The Later Years

Street Fighter: The Later Years. (The first three episodes are out.)

February 20, 2007

Video Game Playing Surgeons Are Better

by scott @ 4:29 am

The Guardian reports that a study of surgeons at New York’s Beth Israel hospital who spent at least three hours a week playing video games performed 42% better at keyhole, or laparoscopic, surgery than doctors who had not. But what games were they playing?

Marginalia + Paraphernalia = Story

by nick @ 3:56 am

Mark Marino, one of the people named Time Magazine’s man of the year last year, has turned his bleeding-edge writing implements to the task of Web annotation. Travelogues and journals were in use for a while before Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe, and A Journal of the Plague Year, and, more recently, email had existed for a at least few decades before Carl Steadman wrote Two Solitudes, Rob Wittig Blue Company, and Scott Rettberg Kind of Blue. As Marino has noted, literature of annotation exists, too, but Nabokov and Wallace, for instance, had a long tradition of “real” endnotes and footnotes to build on. Web annotation isn’t even out of beta (and specifically, the Diigo system isn’t) and Marino is already digitally scribbling a story in the form.

The dog-eared tale is called “Marginalia in the Library of Babel” and, appropriately, annotates the referred-to Borges story as told to us by a little fish. Marino has offered some context for the project in another post, saying,

“Marginalia” offers one example of annotation used to write upon the web and to use the web as writing. Borges seems an uncanny muse for this project for a variety of reasons, explored in the tale. After introductory text post, the story begins with a machine translation of Borges’ tale, posted on the web. Floating over the text, are the reflections of a meta-narrator, who sends the reader to other places on the web. As a result, the story is also reading over the shoulder of this character. The bookmarks themselves are the story.

Important! System requirements ahead. To read, you must:

1. Install the magical Diigo button in your browser.
2. Use a supported browser (Firefox on OS X works; Opera doesn’t)
3. Be patient, since annotations will take some time to load. (more…)

February 18, 2007

ACM Hypertext goes five

by noah @ 3:34 pm

The Eighteenth International ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia is operating under the banner “Five Autonomous Programmes, One Unified Conference.” The programs, each with its own chair and committee, are: Hypertext Models and Theory, Practical Hypertext, Hypertext and Society, Hypertext and the Person, and Hypertext, Culture, and Communication. The deadline is May 7th. (more…)

February 13, 2007

Some Joe Schmo Was First to Experience True Interactive Drama

by andrew @ 4:58 pm

Matthew Kennedy Gould is a lucky guy. Not just because he won $100,000, a trip to Tahiti, and got playfully handcuffed to a buxom blonde while they soaked in a hot tub after wrestling together in a pit of honey. No, Gould is lucky because he is the first person I’m aware of to have experienced true interactive drama.

The good news for us is, it was all videotaped, edited, broadcast on cable in 2003, and is rentable on Netflix.

The vision of interactive drama I’m referring to, first put forth by Brenda Laurel in her 1986 dissertation “Toward the Design of a Computer-Based Interactive Fantasy System” and 1991 book Computers as Theatre, and expanded upon in the mid 1990s by Joseph Bates’ Oz Project team at CMU, has a single naive player entering an artificial, dramatic story world, with all the other characters played by improvisational actors guided by a drama manager, who is monitoring the plot as a whole to fashion a coherent, Aristotelian tension-arc style story, centered around the player.
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Mazes through Bits and Ink

by nick @ 2:18 pm

One day, while playing the 1980 arcade game Berzerk, Abbott imagined a maze where the solver would have to avoid a robotic opponent.

Theseus and the MinotaurTony “Tablesaw” Delgado’s column on puzzle mazes traces the twisty path of maze design from the basic spatial variety, through logical mazes or “mazes with rules,” into the digital, and back into logical form. The main maze discussed is Theseus and the Minotaur by Robert Abbott. The short article is a fascinating read that sheds some light on how digital and non-digital games and puzzles exist in an ecology, how they evolve together, and how computer-based play differs from paper-based attempts at solution.

February 12, 2007

The Future of Electronic Literature at MITH

by nick @ 1:07 pm

The Future of Electronic Literature, a symposium of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities and the Electronic Literature Organization, will take place in College Park, MD on May 2 & 3. Registration is now open. Registration is free for ELO members and University of Maryland students (optionally, you can pay a small amount to get lunch), and it’s very cheap for others. Please register if you’re planning to attend!

Here’s the official word:

MITH and the Electronic Literature Organization are pleased to announce a public symposium on the Future of Electronic Literature, May 2 and 3 at the University of Maryland, College Park, with co-sponsorship from the University Libraries and Department of English. The keynote speakers will be Kate Hayles (John Charles Hillis Professor of Literature at UCLA) and Kenneth Thibodeau (Director of Electronic Records Archives Program, National Archives and Records Administration).

At least Noah, Scott and I will be there from the blog - half of Grand Text Auto - and many luminaries will be joining us, from blogger Jill Walker to botmaster Mark Marino to poet Stephanie Strickland to text/art/machinist Talan Memmott. The up-to-date list of confirmed attendees tells all. There will be panels and talks on May 3; the evening of May 2 will feature an open mic/open mouse space & time for electronic writing sharing and discussion.

February 11, 2007

Beavers All

by nick @ 6:51 pm

Photo from hacks.mit.edu Here’s a note about my academic life: I’ve recently accepted a position at MIT as assistant professor of digital media. I’m planning to move up to the Cambridge area this summer, after I finish my dissertation here at Penn, and will start teaching in the fall. I’ll be joining the MIT Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies and will be working with Comparative Media Studies and that program’s founder, Henry Jenkins. Of course, I’ll keep blogging - although I won’t possibly be able to write at the rate Henry does. I’m hoping to get a lot of great creative, teaching, and research work done at MIT; to learn a lot from my colleagues there, students and faculty; and to generally have a great time.

February 10, 2007

Turn Out the Link…

by nick @ 11:36 pm

And then turn out the link? Note that links to the many good pages of the trAce Online Writing Centre (1995-2005), at trace.ntu.ac.uk, will no longer work, and should, in theory, be updated to point to tracearchive.ntu.ac.uk. Of course, there’s no easy, general way to deal with link rot; from a searcher’s perspective, you can try to find the old page on the Internet Archive, or maybe you know enough about the resource to re-Google what you’re seeking. You can read further about the trAce de-linking and the specific fracas surrounding it.

What is the Avatar by Rune Klevjer

by scott @ 8:28 am

Yesterday, I witnessed Rune Klevjer’s highly entertaining and presumably successful defense of his dissertation What is the Avatar: Fiction and Embodiment in Avatar-Based Singleplayer Computer Games at the University of Bergen. In the Norwegian tradition, Rune had to dodge the slings and arrows of his “opponents,” Espen Aarseth from ITU Copenhagen, and William Urrichio from MIT, which he did most skillfully. An amusing and elucidating exchange occurred between Aarseth and Klevjer on the importance of the concept of fiction within computer games that included an extended metaphor in which imaginary tree stumps were agreed to be bears, though Aarseth insisted that the bear behind him was in fact dead and therefore not a threat. Klevjer’s most clever response to an Aarseth jab was to illustrate the difference between indirect and direct discourse as the difference between “throwing you over my shoulder and carrying you out of here” and “politely asking you to leave the room.” Though I have yet to completely read and absorb the above-linked dissertation, my initial impression is that it is a very careful and well thought-out examination of the nature of the avatar(s) in computer games, with a particular focus on the relationship between the player and the avatar in the first-person shooter genre.

February 9, 2007

ITU Seeks Two Game Profs

by nick @ 11:13 am

Gamer academics, take noteL T.L. Taylor sends word that ITU-Copenhagen is now looking for two game development professors. The university’s building is even cooler-looking than in the illustration below, and don’t worry - it isn’t that dark most of the time. Animations of the building, hopefully the same ones that had the great techno soundtracks, are also available.

ITU-Copenhagen

The IT University (http://www.itu.dk/), home of the Center for Computer Games Research (http://game.itu.dk), is seeking applicants for two positions as Associate or Assistant Professor of game development. The faculty will teach in our international English language program that focuses on game design, analysis, and technology (http://www.itu.dk/mtg/). Relevant areas of research and teaching are:

- Game AI,
- Game Interface Design and Playtesting,
- Game Development and Project Management,
- Software Engineering for Game Development,
- Game Systems Architecture,
- Game Graphics and Animation

For full information about the positions and application procedures please visit http://www1.itu.dk/sw58262.asp. Application deadline is 16 April 2007 at 12:00 noon. Questions about the position can be directed to Associate Professor T.L. Taylor (tltaylor _at_ itu.dk).

How Green is Your Avatar?

by scott @ 7:55 am

An interesting post at Nicholas Carr’s Rough Type estimates that the average Second Life avatar consumes about 1,752 kWh per year. That compares to the average worldwide per capita consumption of 2,436 kWh per year. A lot of juice.

February 8, 2007

Interactivity a.k.a. Narcissism

by andrew @ 8:52 pm

I just got the latest Atlantic Monthly in the mail, and in it there’s a letter to the editor commenting on November’s article about our efforts to build interactive drama. It contains an unusual critique, one that I’d never considered; I think it’s worth posting here for discussion.

Here’s a link that expires in 3 days, but I’ve taken the liberty to cut-and-paste the whole letter here:
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Double Digital Events in Philly

by nick @ 6:10 pm

I’m just back from a talk by Daniel C. Howe at Temple University. He showed us Phoneme.Machines, Code.Re(a)d, Open.Ended, Cave.Boxing, text.curtain, and Live.Text.Mix, many of which are linked from his home page.

And I’m about to head to the Flarf poetry festival at the Kelly Writers House, which starts at 6pm and is part of the MACHINE reading series that I founded. If you can’t make it but still want to Flarf out this evening, check out the YouTube videos of Flarf in action.

Dead IF Lies Dreaming

by nick @ 1:26 am

Joshua Birk of the blog Cathode Tan sheds some new, phosphorescent light on an H.P. Lovecraft story. His The Case of Randolph Carter is an AJAX hypertext, well-written and frequently engaging, designed to play out in nine different endings and to incorporate some elements of interactive fiction. One clicks to select words and actions rather than typing commands. While I don’t find the interface as appealing as the standard textual exchange of IF, those who aren’t fans of typing to their fiction may have a different opinion. Perhaps this tale will be of particular interest to some of those who reside in the eldritch birthplace of hypertext?

While we’re on the topic, I’ll use the excuse to mention some notable Lovecraftian IF: Dave Lebling’s The Lurking Horror (Infocom, 1987), Michael S. Gentry’s Anchorhead (1998), Gunther Schmidl’s And the Waves Choke the Wind (2000), and Santiago Eximeno and Guillermo Lafuente Moraga’s La Llamada de Cthulhu (2001).

February 7, 2007

Emily Short on Second Person and IF

by nick @ 4:47 pm

Leading IF author Emily Short has just posted a review of Pat Harrigan & our own Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s Second Person - perhaps the first full length review of the recently-released book? At the risk of providing spoilers, I’ll mention that Short, who contributed a two-page article to the volume, gives a detailed assessment of what the book has to offer to those interested in interactive fiction, and concludes:

Second Person blew me away. I was expecting good things when I saw the contributor list, but I wasn’t expecting anything quite this good. The book explores abstract theoretical and political questions that come with the kind of work we do; it also provides thorough, detailed discussions of design problems and solutions, illustrating many articles with images, diagrams, code snippets, and even full-length sets of RPG rules. It spans the production spectrum: professional games intended for large commercial audiences, start-up games by indie designers, hobbyist and fan freeware, academic experiments, pedagogical tools, one-time art installations.

The result is both grounded and inspiring. Of all the books on game design or new media I’ve read, Second Person is the one I would most strongly recommend to IF authors seeking a deeper understanding of their own work and of the work being done in related fields.

February 5, 2007

an inky tribute to them

by nick @ 3:40 pm

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a new column by Katie Haegele: DigitaLit. As you might guess, it is about digital literature. The first one introduces the concept and the online novel Mortal Ghost, by Lee Lowe.

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