The deadline is December 15th for applying to Brown University’s graduate program in Literary Arts, the only organization I know of that offers a two-year fellowship for electronic writers. It’s a great opportunity to work in the company of writers who care intensely about language and innovative forms, support and appreciate deep engagement with computational media, and don’t have to deal with the weird politics of differing funding levels (Brown’s program only accepts as many people as it can support). Fall 2005 will mark the fifteenth year of writing workshops for electronic media at Brown.
November 29, 2004
November 28, 2004
I didn’t mention it in my review of the just-released Gamers, but the concluding piece in there, by Nic Kelman (a novelist and graduate of the Brown MFA program) contains a “Video Game Arts Manifesto.” The to-do list begins by declaring that video games must “become more than simply entertainment” and ends with a challenge to game developers: “Make someone cry.”
Funny thing is, squeezing out the tears has been an explicit goal for game designers for more than 20 years.
Mark Marino and his collaborators have rolled out Grand Thieves Audio, a set of MP3 “modologues” that are ready to be played within Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, as you play it. With these, you can supplant the uncannily accurate radio fare that is included in the game with the appeal of an army recruiter, the caring voice of Mama Vercetti, and helpful hints from a driving instructor who provides some history and tells of his past as a shop teacher. These first three monologues, written by Mark, are voiced by various talent. The speeches have their amusing period touches: The recruiter refers to recent victories in Granada rather than Iraq, and he and mom make mention of then-current video games rather than more recent developments, such as America’s Army. The fourth recording offers a (slightly anachronistic) reading and commentary from now-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (Mark Unpingco). This “book on 8-track” is excused by the fact that time travel does, after all occur, in Terminator. I’m not sure if these pieces will become a habit and replace my usual soundtrack for GTA: Vice City, but they are worth listening to in-game, and provide an interesting twist - one that is a bit more subtle and nuanced than converting the Barons of Hell into Barney.
November 27, 2004
A Review of Gamers: Writers, Artists & Programmers on the Pleasures of Pixels
Edited by Shanna Compton
Soft Skull Press
Like a piece of summarization software run with extreme parameters, I have located the single sentence that I believe best characterizes Gamers: Writers, Artists, and Programmers on the Pleasures of Pixels. It is found in Aaron McCollough’s essay, about two-thirds of the way through the book:
“When I attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, playing Madden was one of the few things that helped me briefly forget about being a fraud.”
According to the Library of Congress cataloging-in-publication data, which is often indispensable when attempting to understand unusual volumes such as this one, this is a book about Video Games - Social aspects and Video games - Psychological aspects. According to the press release, it’s “The first book to ever seriously explore the culture of video and online games.” Actually, Gamers is probably best characterized as collection of personal essays, with a handful of rather impersonal ones thrown in to keep them company. The personal essay genre is not my favorite, and a video gaming theme doesn’t necessarily make the genre more palatable. I approached Gamers with some of the trepidation I might have felt starting in on Drivers: Writers and Visual Artists Discuss Their Fond Memories of Cars. Still, when I received Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (the bibliophilic, single-author equivalent of such a volume) as a gift not long ago I did go ahead and read it, and I even found things to like. Never one to be a snob for books about books, I was willing to read the confessions of common gamers, too.
November 24, 2004
Finally, a fresh take on the concept of direct interaction with virtual pets, something I’m pretty familiar with :-) . I’ve been waiting almost 10 years now for something new in this space, since a group of us at PF.Magic initially released Dogz and Catz in the mid-1990’s.
(via Intelligent Artifice)
- A recent AAAI symposium on “Style and Meaning in Language, Art, Music and Design“. The papers are available online. (Was organized by not one, but two Shlomo’s; what are the chances?)
- A new issue of Dichtung Digital, derived from papers presented at “Under construction: Digital literatures and theoretical approaches”, last April in Barcelona. The essays written in English include Laura Castanyer addressing “disenchantment” with hypertext, and in fact cries “murder”; Markku Eskelinen “shed[s] some ludological light into the recent trend of building textual instruments and instrumental texts”; and George Landow offers ways to judge “good or bad” hypertext.
- Difficult Questions About Videogames, a survey of opinions from 71 contributors of varying perspectives, is now available.
- At Gamasutra, Doug Church advocates more agency in games.
- A conference at UF in March called “Playing the Past: Nostalgia in Video Games and Electronic Literature“. Guest GTxA driver Mary Flanagan and fellow blogger Ian Bogost are keynote speakers. Submissions due Jan 1.
- Interesting NYTimes article on Second Life, “Do-It-Yourselfers Buy Into This Virtual World“.
November 22, 2004
Here at the real Experimental Game Lab :), we’re pleased to announce the symposium Living Game Worlds: Community, Simulation and the Future of Entertainment, to be held in honor of Will Wright March 15-16, 2005. Wright will be at Georgia Tech to accept the prestigious Ivan Allen award in recognition of his ground-breaking work in game design (the previous two Ivan Allen award winners are Jimmy Carter and Sam Nunn). Based on conversations with Will, we’re putting together a custom symposium organized around topics that Will wants to engage. We’ll have panels on Procedural Narrative, Procedural Content, and New Entertainment Genres, as well as demos/performances by leading machinima and demoscene practitioners. I’ll post a link to the final schedule when it becomes available.
The New York Times today has an article on story generation: Computers as Authors? Literary Luddites Unite! The article mentions several well known systems, including Selmer Bringsjord’s Brutus and Callaway’s and Lester’s Storybook. The most amusing single line: “Still, what has been accomplished so far is scary enough, and surely there is more to come, thanks to rapid advances in computing power and the rise of “narratology” (how stories are told) as an academic field of study, among other unwholesome trends that are making the novelist’s life ever more perilous.” I particularly like the scare quotes around “narratology”, especially given the infamous debate that never happened.
November 20, 2004
He’s kept a low profile for quite some time now, but the Micrys Pages, an ongoing series of critical essays on game design and game studies by a Red Storm developer who goes by Eyejinx, very much deserve your attention. I only just discovered them following a link to his site from one of his recent comments on a blog.
Eyejinx, who also has a background in literary theory, has written an extensive series called the “Pitfalls of the Working Game Designer”, which offer great insight on the true nature of the job, and attempt to debunk the romanticism often associated with it. I found the essay “Pissing in the Sandbox” particularly good, probably the best breakdown I’ve read yet of the sandbox analogy to contemporary game design.
November 18, 2004
Wow, this is great! Google has released a beta of Google Scholar, which offers search on topics, authors, etc. and returns links and beaucoup info on academic papers. Ooh, this is going to enable us to so easily dig up all kinds of papers that we didn’t know about yet. I feel like I just got a major scholarly power up.
Here’s their heuristic for ranking links:
Just as with Google Web Search, Google Scholar orders your search results by how relevant they are to your query, so the most useful references should appear at the top of the page. This relevance ranking takes into account the full text of each article as well as the article’s author, the publication in which the article appeared and how often it has been cited in scholarly literature. Google Scholar also automatically analyzes and extracts citations and presents them as separate results, even if the documents they refer to are not online. This means your search results may include citations of older works and seminal articles that appear only in books or other offline publications.
Thanks to Ludology.org for the link, who got it from T.L. Taylor of Terra Nova.
Now, off to ego surf the Ivory Tower. (Hey, when are they going to include scholary blogs in the search results? It could be a feature you could turn on or off, kind of like dirty pictures in Google Images.)
UCSD’s Experimental Game Lab (I wasn’t aware they had one, until reading this Gamasutra blurb) has received some support from Sammy Studios, a subsidiary of Sega Japan. The support includes a $290K donation for research in MMOG technology, character animation and rendering, as well as free use by UCSD students of Sammy Studios’ proprietary game engine SCORE, for making student projects. Cool.
One of the UCSD EGL projects is a piece called What I Did Last Summer, generated by bl0gb0t with Alex Dragulescu. bl0gb0t “is a software agent in development that generates experimental graphic novels based on text harvested from web logs.”
November 17, 2004
Today in the department here at Penn, I heard David S. H. Rosenthal, of Stanford and Sun, speak on “Lots Of Copies Keep Stuff Safe: Peer-to-Peer Digital Preservation” - the Stanford-based LOCKSS program for providing academic journals in a distributed, reliable way, through libraries.
The brief description of LOCKSS on their site does a much better job than my summary of the talk would do. I will mention one very clever thing about the project, though. Those who developed it began by considering why it is that libraries have already worked so well for centuries: They provide access to massively replicated texts that they keep copies of, for their community. That concept, rather than some more techno-utopian one or some more technically motivated one, is the basis for the project. Libraries keep copies of journals (with publishers’ permissions) as backups, passing through requests to the publishers in most cases, querying each other to make sure the copies they have are and remain uncorrupted. While the project is technically impressive, can resist failures and even severe attacks of many sorts, and allows for greatly improved access to texts at lower costs than print journals would provide, what really impressed me is how it is thoughtfully based on an existing institution in our culture.
In my previous post on writing Fable I outlined some of the work that the Lionhead writers (lead by James Leach) undertook while crafting the game’s story and the lines delivered by the more than 200 speaking characters in that story. But the story is only part of Fable. There’s also a sizable virtual world — and it not only provides a setting for the story, and a sandbox to play in when not concentrating on the story, but also another means of controlling some of the characters in the story. This means that the two types of writing that are discussed in these posts can both provide lines for the same speaker, and that in some cases the logic of the story and the logic of the world are connected via characters, widening the possibilities of Fable. More on this below.
First, however, let’s take a look at the writing of Fable’s world.
November 16, 2004
The last votes from Iowa have been counted, and the 2004 IF Comp results have been released. Paul O’Brien’s Luminous Horizon, part of his Earth and Sky series, is the big winner. In second is Blue Chairs by Chris Klimas; third place goes to All Things Devours by half sick of shadows. 174 judges rated the games in this year’s competition. The whole slew of games is still available as a single download from the IF Comp site, and the traditional comp reviews are now being disgorged upon the traditional USENET newsgroup. (Update: zarf’s reviews and Dan Shiovitz’s reviews were posted early on and have been placed on the Web, too, so I’m adding links to them. Do check out the newsgroup if you’re interested in reading more.)
In other IF news, Kent Tessman’s Future Boy!, the demo of which was previously discussed here, has been released, and you can also buy a codex copy of The Hugo Book, the manual for the free IF development system Hugo there. (The book is available for free as a PDF.)
The new issue of Aspect: The Chronicle of New Media Art is now available, and is a great collection for those with an interest in electronic media and writing. Titled “Text and Language,” this issue’s DVD includes full-screen video of projects such as Text Rain and Screen. Each piece also has a commentary track by a noted curator (e.g., George Fifield for Text Rain, Christiane Paul for Screen). An issue of Aspect can be viewed in a computer or in a stand-alone DVD player.
November 15, 2004
Just what I needed after hearing that my PowerBook hasn’t even been sent to Apple yet (after a week) and that it will take up to 10 business days to be repaired and returned.
My friend Swarat came to the IF Walkthroughs reading and must have liked it, since he wrote a column about interactive fiction in The Statesman for a few 100,000 of his readers in Calcutta.
On another obliquely self-promotional note, if you’re still puzzled about how Scott and I claim to have written a novel on stickers, I really encourage you to watch the video of Scott reading from Implementation in Bergen. Scott mentioned it already, but it’s worth repeating that there is video there from the rest of the Digital Og Sosial conference there, too. Such documentation is a real boon to us landlubbers here in the states.
I talked with Mark Napier earlier this year at Eyebeam about the new work he was doing. Now he’s posting some of it on his website. It’s remarkable. Check out King Kong Revisited (and then perhaps some related demos and source code). I want to play art games with this sort of attention to graphics, to visual innovation.
November 14, 2004
Co-director of the Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center Randy Pausch spent last spring in residence at the headquarters and major production branch of the world’s most successful game company, Electronic Arts Redwood Shores, and wrote up an informative document “useful to academics interested in how to prepare students for EA.” It’s also a good peek into the corporate culture of EA. The writeup paints EA as a pretty great place to work, which from my understanding of EA as a whole has a lot of truth to it, although this season’s heavy crunch time has been overly brutal in many’s opinion. (Pausch writes that 40% of CMU ETC grads get hired at EA, plus 10 summer interns per year.)
Whether you’re in academia or industry, I recommend reading the document, I think everyone can gain some additional insight from it. In case you’re pressed for time, here’s a few interesting quotes that stood out to me. (Any comments from me are in parentheses.) From Pausch’s document:
It immediately became clear to me that neither EA nor academia have any real understanding of how the other operates.
November 13, 2004
Cory Doctorow’s talk was one of the highlights of the Digital Og Sosial Conference yesterday in Bergen. The talk is available as a Quicktime video. I encourage you to watch the video for yourself, but here are some notes for readers who prefer text. Doctorow made a case that the audience of the conference, primarily librarians, authors, and archivists, ought to take an active interest in the doings of technology and entertainment consortiums looking to enforce copyright and patent laws and to create new ones. When it comes to technology, Doctorow argued, consortiums have a nasty habit of turning features into bugs, of disabling rather than enabling new technologies, and of doing everything they can to take control of technologies (such as the general purpose computer) away from the people who purchase them. Doctorow, on his way to a WIPO meeting where he will represent the EFF, joked that the WIPO in Geneva is for copyright what Mordor in Lord of the Rings is for evil in Middleearth.
November 11, 2004
Howdy from the Digital Og Sosial Conference in rainy Bergen, Norway. It’s been a good conference so far, even though I can’t completely understand the Norwegian language discussion. Talks in the conference have ranged from moblogging to wikis to digital libraries to electronic literature. Tonight was particularly enjoyable. I had fun reading on Implementation on a program with Norwegian e-lit artists Anne Bang-Steinsvik and Morten Skogly, both of whom have authored quite beautiful multimedia pieces. The conference organizers have also done a great job of archiving the event. Quicktime videos of most of the talks, including Howard Rheingold, Torill Mortensen, Danah Boyd, Lisbeth Klaustrup and yerz truly are online on the conference videoblog.
UC Riverside isn’t the only place discussing GTA: San Andreas. This last Monday, in the Experimental Game Lab at Georgia Tech, we held a group play-session and discussion of the game (part of the Game Night series we’ve started in the lab). At our next Game Night we’re discussing Fable: we want to compare two recent, large open-world games back-to-back.
The discussion left me feeling disappointed with San Andreas. With all the positive reviews, I had expectations for an even higher-agency GTA III experience. While there are some hilights (the rhetoric of poverty implied in only being able to eat crappy fast food, the character-appropriate accessorizing, the gang reputation system), I actually felt like I had less agency in this game than in previous installments. The fundamental gameplay is almost identical to GTA III: now the game is just really really big, with a simple RPG stats system attached.
There have been AAAI workshops on interactive entertainment for years, but now we finally have AAAI’s First Conference on AI and Interactive Digital Entertainment (AIIDE), to be held June 1-3, 2005 in Marina del Rey (Los Angeles), CA. Abstracts and papers are due January 23 and 25, respectively. There will also be a demonstration track and exhibit space.
The conference is targeted at both industry and academia, and encourages work that spans both research and commercialization. Invited speakers for this first AIIDE are Chris Crawford (recent post), EA co-founder and CCO Bing Gordon, Sony researcher Craig Reynolds, AI checkers guru Jonathan Schaeffer, and the perennial Will Wright of Maxis.
Between AIIDE and DiGRA, June will be busy.
Recent activity that needs linking to:
- The fifth Game Design Workshop was held in Seattle a few weeks ago, a private gathering of 25 or so prominent game designers and writers, focused on story. Attendees that briefly described the workshop on their blogs include Ron Gilbert (which includes a comment by almost-attendee Scott Miller), Lee Sheldon, and Greg Costikyan, who was inspired to write a new essay on “games as the cultural complexification of play”.
- The November issue of Game Developer includes an article called “Writesizing” by Stephen Jacobs of RIT, which asks “what’s the difference between game writing and game designing?” and how do games “need to evolve to establish a professional standard of writing”?
- At Terra Nova, Nathan Combs wonders if use of player language in MMO’s (i.e., in-game chatting) could become an explicit part of the game, even a game world resource: “What if, some day, we were indeed measured by the number and the *kind* of words we use? Could this be leveraged by designers to make our words magical, again? If all our incantations were not so spilt lightly, but carefully crafted, considered, and measured, could this not lead to role playing?”
- Update: Steve Ince has a blog he started a few months ago now, called writing and design. On the left column of his page you’ll find links to a series of articles called “Developing Thoughts”, such as this one on interactive story, and these on dialog (1 2 3).
An anonymous “EA Spouse” writes an impassionated plea for better quality of life for game developers, describing how his/her spouse has had to work such insane hours for months on end to finish a product, that it’s upended their lives. The 400+ comments include several other very unhappy spouses and developers speaking up, several of them bitter EA employees. A parallel discussion ensues at Slashdot Games. IGDA’s Jason Della Rocca (Reality Panic) has been addressing this Quality of Life issue lately.
This comes back to need for a viable independent game development scene, of great interest to us on GTxA. Not that working at a startup company will reduce your workload, but at least as an indie you’d be slaving away for yourself.