Grand Text Auto

July 30, 2005

The Daughters of Freya

by noah @ 7:12 pm

Starting Monday (August 1) the Alternate Reality Gaming Network will host a group read of The Daughters of Freya. You can sign up on the site for The Daughters of Freya, at a price of $4 USD.

I read a “review copy” of The Daughters of Freya and found it an interesting experience. DoF isn’t usually performed for its readers simultaneously, as are email narratives such as Blue Company. Instead, usually any individual who signs up starts getting messages shortly after registering, which might make it seem more like Online Caroline in its approach. But — unlike Online Caroline in which you seem to be getting normal email messages from Caroline, with normal headers, today’s date, etc. — DoF doesn’t actually create a correspondence between the messages you receive and the messages characters send. A single message you receive might contain several messages from different characters, and the dates of the messages are driven by the story (which, in my reading, took place during a different time of year than my reading).

The result made me realize that there were more types of email narratives than I’d considered. DoF wasn’t trying to create the feeling of corresponding via email with a fictional character, nor of voyeuristically listening in on the email correspondence of others. Instead, it was using email to (a) change the context of reading and (b) build suspense. (more…)

Millennial Bunk

by noah @ 3:19 pm

Thanks to a tip from Mark at WRT for pointing out Haberdashery — a new text created in a collaborative jam by the writing collective Millenium. It’s published in the summer issue of Bunk Magazine and created using the network-based simultaneous collaborative writing tool SubEthaEdit.

July 29, 2005

Drunken Boat’s First Annual Panliterary Awards

by noah @ 7:16 pm

And here’s another potentially interesting deadline…

Deadline Extended to: August 15th, 2005
Judges: Annie Finch, Sabina Murray, Alexandra Tolstoy, Talan Memmott, David Hall, and DJ Spooky

Drunken Boat, http://www.drunkenboat.com, international online journal for the arts, announces its First Annual Panliterary Awards in Poetry, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Web-Art, Photo/Video, Sound. Submit up to three works, either via email to panlitawards@drunkenboat.com or via physical mail to: Drunken Boat, 119 Main St., Chester, CT 06412. A $15 entry fee must accompany all submissions, either via check or money order, else submitted electronically at: http://www.drunkenboat.com/db7/donate.html. Winners in all categories will be featured in a subsequent issue of Drunken Boat, and will be invited to perform at future multimedia events and performances. All other entries will be considered for publication. (more…)

Don’t forget deadlines

by noah @ 2:32 pm

Future Play - July 31
http://www.futureplay.org/

ISEA - Aug 1 (some submissions, others later or past)
http://isea2006.sjsu.edu/calls.html

GDC - Aug 1
http://www.cmpevents.com/GD06/a.asp?option=N&V=1

DAC - Aug 8
http://www.itu.dk/DAC2005/

So Many Articles, Links Included

by andrew @ 3:24 am

On game development: Adventure Developers has an extensive four part series on the state and future of adventure games. Via Game Brains, a fascinating and torturous series of diary entries from an indie game studio with a truly awesome game prototype that everyone agrees is amazing, yet they can’t get a publishing deal. At the Cultural Gutter, an interview with some of the folks at 42 Entertainment who say, “[Alternative Reality Games] are the sound of the 21st century. They sound like what today feels like.” Finally, recent GTxA commenter Borut Pfeifer writes an inspiring Gamasutra article The Rise of the Auteur & the Return of Indie Development (”there are a number of factors coming together over the next five to ten years that will change the nature of indie game development”).

Speaking of new Gamasutra articles on story, don’t miss the following: Active Storytelling in Games (”cinematic is a four-letter word”), Playing on the Boundaries – NTI* (”exploration into growing closeness between the game and movie industries”), What Every Game Developer Needs to Know about Story (”what has always worked, and what will work in every form of story, including games?”), and Ernest Adams’ rebuttal. Also, don’t miss the lecture notes from Ernest’s GDC05 talk, “Interactive Narratives Revisited: Ten Years of Research“.

On procedural text: IF extraordinaire Emily Short reviews Chris Crawford’s book on interactive story, and via Collision Detection, White Smoke, “piece of software that takes a normal document and adds management doublespeak. This is not some Orwellian parody… This is a real, serious $49.95 tool intended for a business audience.”

On bots: Jonah Brucker-Cohen reports from ArtBots 2005, including “a large Madagascan Hissing Cockroach perched atop a modified trackball that controlled a three-wheeled robot”; sounds impossible to debug. Via Emotionally Challenged, Philips’ iCat, a cute Gumby-like user-interface robot, as if Kismet had a pet. And finally, guess what, Furby is back!

July 28, 2005

An Ernest Review of Façade

by andrew @ 3:26 pm

The Gamasutra column “The Designer’s Notebook” by Ernest Adams just came out with a knock-down fabulous review of Façade. Wow!

It’s particularly nice how Ernest discusses the distinction between drama and game, and how he breaks out the various design and technology fronts that the project pushes on.

And he didn’t even tease us again for requiring installation to the c: drive! :-)

July 27, 2005

An Invitation to Poetry in Motion

by nick @ 7:17 pm

Poetry in Motion
CD-ROM
Directed by Ron Mann
Voyager
1992

Poetry in Motion II
CD-ROM
Directed by Ron Mann
Voyager
1995

An Invitation to Poetry
Book and DVD
Edited by Robert Pinsky & Maggie Dietz
W.W. Norton and Company
2004

Watching and reading from some compelling multimedia poetry collections has gotten me thinking about their different approaches. The two Poetry in Motion CD-ROMs espouse a very different view of poetry and its place in culture than does An Invitation to Poetry, and this difference seems more interesting than the differences in interface, format, and publication dates.

Now, I say “very different,” but of course even the most radically different poets actually agree on a lot when it comes to language and poetry: it should be pleasing in its sound, its meaning, and the interplay between these; in general a poem manifests itself on the page, in the voice, and in the mind. It should work to do things that the newspaper does not. If you’re going to throw open the doors to every possible perspective on language and include, say, Joseph Goebbels, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Karl Rove, then we’d have to say that poets are all pretty much allies - it would hardly be worth noting the differences even between poets of very different stripes, such as Derek Walcott and Amiri Baraka.

But, from a standpoint within poetry, these collections of texts and videos are indeed quite different. The poets documented by Ron Mann posit an image of poet as performer, physically present and supplying the expert voice that is uniquely qualified to utter the poem. Pinsky and Dietz, on the other hand, actually don’t even include the poets in their videos.

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G4 2 QT?

by andrew @ 1:25 pm

Tonight at 10pm EST on the videogame channel G4 is the premiere of a Cinematech episode called “Who’s Afraid of Interactive Drama?“, featuring Façade.

Are there any tech-savvy volunteers out there able to record and make a Quicktime movie of the show? (I don’t pay enough money per month to Comcast to get access to G4; plus, it’d be nice to have a digitized version of the episode for the archives.) Any help would be much appreciated!

July 26, 2005

Confusion of Codes

by nick @ 11:59 am

Acting on a tip from Stephanie Strickland, I’ve been reading Florian Cramer’s Words Made Flesh: Code, Culture, Imagination, a PDF book that is an impressively broad compendium of creative uses of code, stretching back deep into pre-computer times. It’s well worth checking out for those interested in the history of computational art.

Near the beginning, though, Cramer repeats a confusion that I’ve seen hinted at elsewhere. Although it doesn’t end up being important to the book, this point confuses clarity with obscurity and secrecy, so I thought I’d take the excuse to pick this nit before the infestation becomes more widespread:

As speculative codes, Egyptian hieroglyphs (in their two different historical readings), the Voynich Manuscript and Travis Dane’s CD-ROM render “code” ambiguous between its traditional meaning of a cryptographic code, i.e. a rule for transforming symbols into other symbols, and code in its computational meaning of a transformation rule for symbols into action. Ever since computer programmers referred to written algorithmic machine instructions as “code” and programming as “coding,” “code” not only refers to cryptographic codes, but to what makes up software … (p. 9)

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July 22, 2005

City of IF

by noah @ 5:23 pm

I just finished reading a fantasy novella titled The Archer’s Flight. As the book’s introduction notes, it was the result of an unusual process:

It was serialized, appearing in seventeen chapters over a year’s time, but that’s not what’s unusual about it. It was published on the Web, but that’s not the unusual part either. What is unusual (and as far as I know, unique) is that this story’s readers chose the actions of its main character. Each published chapter ended in some dilemma for the protagonist, Deica; the audience collectively decided what she would do (via posting and voting on a web site), and their decision led to the next chapter. This was not a group of writers offering advice on what would make the best story; rather, the readers took on Deica’s role, as they would in improvisational theater or a roleplaying-type game. They decided what they would do if they were her.

Mark Keavney is both the author of The Archer’s Flight and the originator of the method used for its creation. He calls this method “storygaming” and describes it in detail in his essay “The City of IF Story.(more…)

Trouble’s Brewing

by nick @ 1:18 pm

Absolutely not,” say Grand Text Auto executives. Bloggers at the popular site have categorically denied that, with the aid of a program freely available on the Internet, “secret content” can be unlocked and the blog can be revealed as being laced with sex and obscenity. The sharp reply came after the Entertainment Blog Rating Board, at the behest of Senator Hillary Clinton, issued a ruling revoking Grand Text Auto’s previously awarded rating of “serious hypertext.”

Furthermore, Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern released a statement in which they denied that the real reason Façade is 800 MB in size is that hidden sexual content exists in the game. (Reports had surfaced early in the week that after undertaking only a three to four year research project, players could simply download the resulting “mod,” apply it to Façade, and then coax either Trip or Grace into dressing up in a mascot outfit.) The statement claims that Façade contains “only nice and fun things” such as a marriage breaking up, drunken behavior, nagging, emotional manipulation, and social discomfort.

The dark, swirling scandal has taken on the appellation “enterprise espresso beans” in the blogosphere, for some reason. A hastily removed 60 second story included, as a clever plot point, the revelation that this scandal was “virally” manufactured by Grand Text Auto bloggers themselves to increase T-shirt sales, but no statement has been released by the bloggers on this matter, and their contact information is not easily available.

July 21, 2005

Reading Processes: Hartman’s Virtual Muse

by noah @ 12:41 pm

Last week I wrote about my interest in reading processes (and discussed Marjorie Perloff’s Radical Artifice). Today, in the same vein, I’d like to discuss a rather different book: Charles O. Hartman’s Virtual Muse: Experiments in Computer Poetry (1996).

Hartman’s book is presented as a memoir — in which the author reflects on his experiments, as a poet and teacher, with computers. These include assembling his own Sinclair ZX81, designing new computer programs used in the process of composing poetry, employing a famous text generation program created by others, and implementing a program for performing (and student learning of) scansion for poems in iambic and anapestic feet. Hartman continues this work, a decade later, and in fact his scansion program is now available in a new version (Scandroid 1.1) which is GPLed, written in Python, and certified by the Open Source Initiative.

Early in Virtual Muse Hartman tells us of his poetic experiment for the ZX81, a BASIC program called RanLines that stored 20 lines in an internal array and then retrieved one randomly each time the user pressed a key. This sort of random arrangement of fixed possibilities is a common first experiment for those considering combinatory poetry. What Hartman offers in Virtual Muse, however, is an unusual attempt to think through this sort of randomness (chapter 3). (more…)

July 20, 2005

New Dissertations on AI-Based Interactive Art, Character and Narrative

by andrew @ 5:28 pm

I thought I’d link to a few dissertations that have been published recently that may be of interest to GTxA readers. Perfect for a summer read on the beach with your laptop, right? Here are excerpts from their abstracts.

Autonomous Expressionism and Network Arts: New Paradigms in Art, Emotional Interaction, and Information Retrieval, by David Ayman Shamma, Northwestern University
In this dissertation, I depart from traditional computer science metrics and methodologies and introduce a new framework for building computer systems with an emphasis on the creation of new artistic installations and interactions. Specifically, I introduce Autonomous Expressionism, an extension of Abstract Expressionism, whose goal optimizes the emotional experience in human computer interaction.

Narrative Planning: Balancing Plot and Character (pdf), by Mark Riedl, North Carolina State University
In this dissertation, I explore the use of search-based planning as a technique for generating stories that demonstrate both strong plot coherence and strong character believability. First, I describe an extension to search-based planning that reasons about character intentions by identifying possible character goals that explain their actions in a plan and creates plan structure that explains why those characters commit to their goals. Second, I describe how a character personality model can be incorporated into planning in a way that guides the planner to choose consistent character behavior without strictly preventing characters from acting “out of character” when necessary. Finally, I present an open-world planning algorithm that extends the capabilities of conventional planning algorithms in order to support a process of story creation modeled after the process of dramatic authoring used by human authors.
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July 15, 2005

Reading Processes: Perloff’s Radical Artifice

by noah @ 12:09 am

Yesterday I wrote about my interest in reading processes.

Today, in that vein, I’m sharing some thoughts from reading Marjorie Perloff’s Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media (1991). Given its subtitle, you’d think I would have read Perloff’s book a decade ago. But I just picked it up for the first time this summer. In part this is because Perloff’s focus is primarily on writing in a media-saturated culture, rather than writing which employs media other than traditional print (though a number of such examples are considered). As it turns out, I found that Perloff’s book has much to offer someone coming from a perspective such as mine. In particular, her focus on the procedural work of John Cage is of interest. In fact, while Cage is more often mentioned in connection with music than poetry, as Perloff notes in her preface (p. xiii) Radical Artifice is a book about poetry “written, so to speak, under his sign.” (more…)

July 14, 2005

Reading Processes

by noah @ 6:39 pm

Part of the argument for procedural literacy (Michael’s article, my reply) is that we must learn to “read processes.” That is, we must learn to interpret the operations of systems… not just the outputs. There are a number of reasons for this, a few of which I’ll briefly sketch here.

First, as Ted Nelson began arguing in the 1970s, we’re living in a world increasingly defined by processes — processes designed and implemented by humans. These processes can be designed poorly, or implemented poorly, or designed and implemented to help some people and make life difficult for others… but this is the fault of humans, and it can be corrected (and sooner rather than later, if we can learn to spot bad designs before they’re widely adopted). To put it another way, “the computer just works that way” is a non-argument. The importance of this knowledge lay behind Nelson’s now-famous cry from the front of Computer Lib / Dream Machines: “You can and must understand computers NOW.”

Second, more specifically, we’re entering a period in which the results of computational processes are increasingly used to form assumptions or offered as evidence. This is one thing if we’re forming our assumptions about whether the weekend will be sunny while we’re trying to decide whether to have a picnic — but the results of computer simulations are also increasingly used when we’re in the process of trying to make more weighty decisions about matters such as city planning and greenhouse gas emissions. To take one of my favorite examples, Jay Forrester’s urban dynamics simulations (which inspired SimCity) can be used to try to figure out how to build a healthy city, but we need to view any results from his work through an interpretation of the structures and processes of the simulations — which Garn and others have argued are deeply flawed (for example, by their cities’ lack of dynamic interaction with suburbs). (more…)

Anthropomorphizing Nuvo

by andrew @ 1:33 pm

More frolicking with robots — here’s an amusing NYTimes article on living with a 15-inch-tall walking, seeing, listening robot named Nuvo. It’s a new $6000 product recently released from a Japanese company named ZMP. From the article, “I came to understand that for all their purported helpfulness, home robots are largely about companionship.”

GDC06 Call For Abstracts

by andrew @ 11:16 am

Submission abstracts to speak at the 2006 Game Developers Conference are due August 1st.

July 13, 2005

A New Twist on the Gaming Magazine

by nick @ 11:02 am

A certain documentary filmmaker who reads GTxA pointed out to me that the first issue of The Escapist is out. I don’t tend to be a big reader of PDF-based zines, but the “cover” of this one lured me in, and hey, there’s some interesting writing in here.

The magazine “covers gaming and gamer culture with a progressive editorial style.” An article by Jennifer Buckendorf takes on the stereotypical construction of the gamer as someone who plays FPSs (rather than Everquest or classic games) and who doesn’t pursue other hobbies, such as reading. Kieron Gillen investigates the nature of video game forms, answering those (such as a lawmaker bent on restricting video games) who see the simulation aspect of games as at odds with games being able to express anything. John Tynes argues that controller and display innovations (a la the Nintendo DS) are dead ends in a market where people want to push out the same standard game across as many platforms as possible.

In an article by “Tycho Brahe,” a chart relates the common chestnut, “Gaming is bigger than the Box Office - and has been since 2001,” while a caption goes on to explain “even more telling, gaming’s biggest release day is more than twice that of the biggest blockbuster day one to date.” Well, people don’t have to fit physically into a movie theater in order to get a game from a store; and they pay $60 instead of $10 for games. But this also is another sign that the distribution of first-day game revenues is more strongly peaked - the blockbusters are even bigger blockbusters, and, as we know, commercial indie games are more or less nonexistent. Throughout, this zine has other interesting bits of research, perspectives, and commentary.

The Escapist is edited by Julianne Greer. promises updates every weekend (also in PDF), and of course plans further issues to help fill the space between drooly popular gaming magazine and the sometimes impenetrable-seeming academic discourse. Welcome to the space!

July 12, 2005

Game Curriculum Questions

by noah @ 5:43 pm

I recently had an interesting email from Jim Whitehead, a CS faculty member at UC Santa Cruz (who did a great job chairing the 2004 ACM Hypertext conference).

I’ve developed an undergraduate course teaching the fundamentals of game design for non-programmers, pitched at a general undergraduate audience. It’ll be offered next Winter for the first time…

I’m thinking that in this course it makes sense to have students experience and perform critical analysis on some classic video games, to really take apart what makes them fun, see how they create dramatic tension, and determine how the rule system contributes to the game play. I think it would be best to have students study older games, since they’re generally simpler, and don’t take quite as much game play to experience a larger part of the game. Since the graphics are simpler as well, the games have to focus on game play fundamentals to create a fun experience.

So, here are the questions for you, and for Grand Text Auto (assuming this blog has a “Ask GTA” feature, akin to “Ask Slashdot”).

* Is there any consensus on the canon of best games for, say, the Nintendo Entertainment System (or any other older platform for that matter)? Mario Bros. and Zelda seem like shoo-ins, but are there others? Castlevania? Ys?

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networked_performance on empyre

by noah @ 1:36 pm

Helen Thorington and Michelle Riel of the excellent networked_performance blog are this month’s guests on the empyre mailing list. To get a feeling for the conversation you can check out the two initial posts and a recent contribution from Chris Salter.

July 9, 2005

One Word, Much Conversation

by mary @ 4:27 pm

This past week, an incredible group of women met at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London as part of the workshop/talks in the Cybersalon series put on by London’s SMARTlab and the ICA. The participant’s backgrounds spanned disciplines from game design to mobile technology design to arts activism to organizational collaboration. To fuel the discussion, speakers (including yours truely) were asked to choose their favourite misused word in technology-culture and speak about it.

Participans and their words included Dr. Lizbeth Goodman (”presence”), Diane Fox Hill (”X”), Katie Salen (”blog”), Mary Flanagan (”new”), Zann Gill (”acronymitis”), Niki Gomez (”wearable computing”), Eva Pascoe (”wireless”), Emma Westecott (”interactive”), and Suzanne Stein (”mom”). I was surprised to find myself captivated by these talks and the overall format was so effective! In particular I’d like to note Stein’s discussion of the word “mom” or “mother,” a word used now in technology development arenas when desiging for the lowest common denominator user –ie, “its so easy even your mother can use it.” From her first hand industry point of view Stein problematised this positioning of the mother, noting that design teams want to use this category to replace the old adage “so simple, a monkey could use it.” What might be more effective is to design for those users in terms of their needs, not in the existing use of language in which ‘complex’ or ‘cutting edge’ designs are ‘dumbed down’ for a larger and larger audience. Great observations, Suzanne; ones that are particularly difficult to spot as problematic from colloquial use.

In my segment I discussed the rhetoric of the “new” including the newness of computer game studies, arguing for another look at the role of games and play in history and in particular 20th century art movements. I then took the liberty of discussing a second problematic term in my own realm of research, “girls”; designing for girls is a very complex and admittedly too-far-reaching a term to be effective unless one is working with girls and tries to address through design the complex nature of their diverse experiences.

The resulting talks created a multifaceted and fascinating set of mini-conversations focused on the role of technology in everyday life and in particular the gender implications in these locations. I wish I could experience more of the series.

July 8, 2005

IKEA Tetris

by andrew @ 7:20 pm

On GTxA we’ve already seen IKEA as adventure gameyou are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike — but once you make it out of the maze and you’re packing the trunk of your car with your acquired inventory to head home, how about a mini-game of IKEA Tetris?

July 7, 2005

Documentaries to Come: Digital Culture in Brazil

by nick @ 3:28 pm

The creators of the free documentarty Gamer Br (GTxA post, English home page) are gearing up for another project: a three-episode video on the way digital technology is influencing cultrual production, and the distribution and reception of media, in Brazil. The first, “Skip the Intermediary,” will cover the struggles of musicians and record labels. The second will cover the IP revolution that Creative Commons licenses and other challenges to traditional copyright are bringing in Brazil. The final video will cover the free software movement and its cultural effect.

The plan is to make the video available for free download, for free on DVD, and for free on VHS, so that poorer Brazilians with older consumer electronics can view it, too. The filmmakers (who provided well-translated English subtitles for Gamer Br have an English version of the prospectus online. (I hesitated a long time before clicking on this, but yes, the domain “nakedpictures.utopia.com.br” is actually the wiki for this documentary project.) Good luck to these gamers as they head to the next level and start on this project!

new doctor escapes danger

by mary @ 9:27 am

greetings from London in the middle of all this. London is completely locked down!
I have been here completing my PhD thesis work entitled ‘Playculture’. The work is the first attempt to create a feminist game design methodology through the triad of art practice, critical theory, and activism/intervention.
My viva voce at the SMARTlab on Tuesday 5th July was successful, with esteemed examiners from the US, UK, and Germany! (This is the ‘dissertation defence’ in the British system.) While here have also participated in a Furtherfield / ID Runners workshop on areas of work where art, cultural production, technology, personal development and social action all overlap, and a panel at the ICA (separate post forthcoming). . . lots of excitement!

July 5, 2005

Finally, the Curtain Opens on Façade

by nick @ 1:12 pm

I am extremely pleased to announce the release of Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern’s Façade!
Grace and Trip in Facade

This long-awaited one-act interactive drama, featuring a 3D environment and voice-acted, AI-driven characters, has been a testbed for research in and development of new discourse-based NLP techniques, a new drama management framework, and new ways of allowing behavior hierarchies to interact. It has been the source of more than a dozen academic publications co-authored by Michael and Andrew, as well as Michael’s Carnegie Mellon University Ph.D. dissertation. A pre-release version of Façade was a finalist in the 2004 Independent Games Festival. Façade is also delightfully entertaining and abundant in its dramatic and artistic merits. It offers a fairly short dramatic experience that is intensive and compelling, and unlike anything else I have seen in video games or other interactive systems. The New York Times called Façade “the future of video games” and one person who has devoted his life to interactive storytelling, Chris Crawford, said the system was “the best actual working interactive storyworld yet created.” You can read the official press release on Façade, read on for more about the release, or skip directly to the the download page on InteractiveStory.net.

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