Grand Text Auto

January 31, 2004

Information Retrieval Humor

by nick @ 1:43 pm

Who knows what happened here? An honest error? Most likely, but it’s funnier to think that even “prominent” newspapers might give in to the urge to intentionally feed the wrong page title/headline to Google News once in a while, in an attempt to get some extra bang for their advertising buck. Of course, such an attempt could go horribly arwy…

Cannibal who fried victim in garlic is cleared of murder
Guardian - 2 hours ago
He arrived laughing and joking. Just over two hours later Armin Meiwes, the self-confessed German cannibal who killed and ate another man, left a stunned courtroom scarcely able to believe his luck.
A German Court Convicts Internet Cannibal of Manslaughter New York Times
Bag a family holiday to the Magic Kingdom The Sun

January 30, 2004

Emotion in games

by michael @ 4:09 pm

There’s a new article at on the future of emotion in games, a topic we like to talk about here on GTxA. A variety of game developers and researchers are quoted, including Andrew and me. It describes our work on Facade as an example of the advances in AI required to support emotion-rich game experiences.


by michael @ 11:36 am

The exhibition Machinista 2004 is currently accepting entries until February 28th 2004.

Machinista is a yearly unmediated open-submission online exhibition. Creative and technological practices including visual and software art, science and design projects, moving image, experimental music and performance are featured in various scales and stages of development ranging from documentation of prototypes and exploratory installations to fully operational systems.

Submissions for the following three themes are welcomed in all media.

  • Art from the Machine: gleams of the inhuman
    Works created completely or mostly by a machine or an artificial intelligence system.

  • Artists Against Machinic Standards
    Breaking, destroying, hacking, unexpected (non-utilitarian?) usage of customary programs as an art experiment.

  • Full-Screen Robovision
    Moving image works (experimental/scientific imaging, audiovisual code, short films, animation and VJ mixes) illustrating “the world as seen by machines.”

In 2003 there were 128 submissions featured in Machinista plus offline events in Moscow and Perm in the Urals.

January 29, 2004

Blog Fiction

by andrew @ 7:44 pm

trAce’s Digital Writer-in-Residence and recent commenter on grandtextauto, Tim Wright, has a new article of interest called Blog Fiction.

… it would seem natural for the world of the blog to become a fertile ground for new forms of digital storytelling and the development of new independent authentic fictional voices. Strange then that there are only a handful of writers out there currently experimenting with the idea of the fictional blog. …

40 Pixels and a Tool

by andrew @ 10:39 am

If you’re an aspiring game designer, this looks to be a good opportunity for getting your hands dirty with creating your own game. Actually I’d imagine this would appeal both to people trying to break into the game industry, as well as experienced designers. Even if you don’t win, it’s a platform to get real experience designing and building a game — which looks good on the resume. (via

The Game Initiative and Linden Lab, creator of online world Second Life, announced the Second Life Game Developer’s Competition today. Second Life is a constantly evolving 3D online society, shaped entirely by its residents. In-world building and scripting tools allow game developers and aspiring game developers to build almost anything they want. Developer teams will be asked to submit proposals for games that engage multiple users and can be played for at least an hour. The competition begins January 31, 2004 and coincides with the Game Initiative’s “How To Break Into Video Game Industry: Mini-Conference and Resume Workshop” taking place on that day in San Francisco. Up to 8 development teams will be chosen on March 8, 2004, given a plot of land, free Second Life accounts and 3 months to create their game in-world. Winners will be announced on June 14, 2004.

January 27, 2004

Bullet list Gettysburg

by michael @ 12:44 pm

Peter Norvig, of Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach fame (the most commonly used intro to AI textbook), has created a Powerpoint presentation for Lincoln’s Gettysburgh Address. This work is in the tradition of Powerpoint art, generally critiquing the Powerpoint communication style, pursued by artists such as Michael Lewy and David Byrne.

January 25, 2004

Where You Going with This, IKEA Boy?

by nick @ 10:39 pm

Upon entering the warehouse, you need to go:

N, N, E, N, S, SW, U, N, W, U, W, W, W, U, NW, N, NW, S, E, W, W, W, N, W.

Now you are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. A skeleton, probably the remains of a luckless consumer, lies here. Beside the skeleton is a rusty SKARPT high-quality steel knife with hard plastic handle and a shopping cart. Search the body. Take the IKEA GIFT CARD (still has $43 on it).

I know there are plenty of you who need the rest of the walkthrough. (Thanks to ifMUD’s ctate.)

Unity Update and Musings

by nick @ 8:13 pm

The Yak has fed us some additional screenshots of the in-development Unity, screenshots I mentioned in a comment ealier, but since I couldn’t include an image in the comment … here:

A nice, short, and to-the-point interview with the Yak (a.k.a. Jeff Minter) is on GameSpy. Elsewhere someone noted that “Jeff hates people saying its like REZ.” Just to clarify my earlier post: I didn’t say it was like Rez! I said it was (going to be) better!

But really, I hardly think that making this comparison is derisive … Tempest 2000, Rez, and Unity clearly have something in common: they push beyond representation into a new, extraordinarily imaginative space. “Being, in Rez means being (as) an instrument, being in time – engaged, entranced, and embodied in/by one’s environment.” The same statement holds for Tempest 2000; I suspect the same will be the case for Unity. I suspect this isn’t alien from the experience of early video game such as Asteroids. How many people who played Asteroids remember the music and sound design? I certainly do, and I suspect the sounds of that game are much more memorable than in more “advanced” game such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, and are a much more integral part of the experience. “In Asteroids … the pace is never yours. The rhythm of the game belongs to the machine, the program decides. When the play picks up, Asteroids pounds out a beat that stands between a pulse and a drum. … You play to the relentless pulse of a machine heart.” Sinister? Maybe, but dancing to any recording or instrument is also playing to a machine-produced beat.

Unfortunately, still no release date for Unity

Back to the Future at Musée Mécanique

by michael @ 5:01 pm

A month ago I finally had a chance to go to Musée Mécanique in San Francisco. While wandering through this mechanical arcade, I found myself comparing these turn-of-the-century machines with contemporary game genres, looking for commonalities in design approaches and player/viewer experiences. A number of distinct machine types were immediately apparent.

Fortune Telling Machines
The classic in this genre is the gypsy or old crone who waves her hands over a crystal ball before dispensing a fortune, though many other forms, such as the Love Meter and Career Meter are on exhibit. Fortune telling programs have certainly been popular in computing; I remember many horoscope programs being sold for the TRS-80, Apple II, and Atari 800 (the first few computers I used). And there are more contemporary efforts, such as classic Mac program Synchronicity, by Paul O’Brien, the “father of interactive divination”. Interestingly, a number of the responses to project 1 in my class last fall involved horoscope or fortune telling programs. All such systems, whether implemented in gears or code, harness brute randomness to create a (more or less) engaging experience. Even when the systems involve some amount of interaction, such as grasping the levers at a specific time on the Love Meter, or sensing the exact timing of keystrokes in Synchronicity, these interactions are mediated by highly random processes, inducing almost no agency. So how do such systems elicit any sort of engagement at all? They work by giving ambiguous responses that can be interpreted by individuals in the contexts of their own lives; by having the responses relate to important life themes, such as love or career, these systems effectively push most of the sense-making onto the human participant instead of into the system. The participant does all the work of reading meaning into a random process.

January 23, 2004

Time To Stop Playing Now?

by andrew @ 12:26 pm

Tim Wright, one of the developers of Online Caroline, poses a question that I think deserves a new discussion thread. With his permission, here’s his post:

Being partially responsible for this thread I thought I’d better chip in. When I talked about people stepping over the line I was thinking of behaviour such as:

a/A soldier in the British Army sending pictures of himself in full uniform, and then offering to kill Caroline’s boyfriend for her. Seriously.

b/A woman flaming Caroline about how sad and lame the site is and how only pathetic lonely old men would ever interact with it. Meanwhile on the same email account the woman’s husband is telling Caroline how unhappy he is in his marriage and how he’d like to run away but is too scared of his wife - who hits him regularly.

c/The man who tracks down *my* home address as a tech admin contact for one of the Caroline servers and comes peering through my letterbox at half-eight in the morning looking for Caroline.

d/The schoolboy who writes to Caroline to say ’stay away from my Dad he has my mum and does not need you’.

e/The man who phones my office seriously worried that because he had complained to our (fictional) chief exec about our treatment of Caroline that we were about to send the boys round to turn over his place.

I could go on. I have tens of thousands of mails. Thousands of pictures and phone messages. These people are not acting. Well, I guess some are.

The key question is: how responsible should I feel as the author for these people and their responses. And how should I respond to these situations? Should I write back as Caroline and try and create a soft landing for everyone within the realms of the fiction. Or should I just come clean and say ‘this is a fiction, Caroline is not real, it’s time to stop playing now…’?


by nick @ 10:45 am

Four bloggers interested in academic discussion of video games have launched Ludonauts: Exploring the Videogame, which is to be updated thrice weekly. It looks promising!

They’ve taken on some interesting topics, like genre in video games. This post begins with a casual discussion of how it is hard to classify certain films into genres; I wish there had been some discussion of what exactly genre means (some literary and film theorists have certainly thought about this a lot), and what genres of non-computer games there are (this would be a good hint as to how the term can be meaningful for video games).

Thanks to the newly-Danish Gonzalo for mentioning this site.

Reflections of a Larger Issue

by andrew @ 8:58 am

Our making, not telling terminology debate is a reflection of a larger issue, often framed as game vs. story or ludology vs. narratology, but I’d rather frame it as high-agency vs. low-or-no-agency. Let me quickly state, I’m not saying I don’t like stories or experiences without agency — I love them! I consume tons of books and movies and comics and music — but they’re not the new form I and many others are envisioning here… I think “gamers” or “ludologists” often have a distaste for interactive stories in their current forms not because interactive stories are not “games” per se, and not even because they’re often text-based instead of visual, but because the interactive stories built to date don’t have much agency. I feel the same way. (Go here for more on story vs. game.)

If you’re a developer or critic shying away from all-out-advocating of high-agency experiences, perhaps experiences leaning more towards the “telling” end of the spectrum are just what you prefer, or you don’t want to advocate / prefer one form over another, that’s fine. But another reason I could imagine is because high-agency experiences are really hard to design, and even harder to implement. But a lot of us believe they’re an extremely promising future for interactive entertainment, a holy grail that people want, evidenced by the most popular interactive experiences out there, e.g. the Sims, GTA3, which have high agency relative to others. Many of us have faith (e.g. informed by experiments over the last 15 years, often with mixed results) that high-agency interactive stories are theoretically buildable, with enough time and effort.

I’m not intending to attack anyone with this post, by the way, I’m merely stating my position on the directions I’d love to see developers and critics pushing towards.

January 22, 2004

Making, Not Telling

by andrew @ 3:10 pm

Sorry to possibly set off yet another terminology debate — I’m really tired of them — but does it bother other people as much it bothers me to hear the term “digital storytelling” or worse, the oxymoron “interactive storytelling”?

If you assume a primary pleasure of interactive experiences is agency, as I do, then the suffix “-telling” should be avoided. I’m interested in experiences in which the player is collaborating with the system to help make, to co-create, to have meaningful affect on the story, not be told a story.

I prefer more open terms such as “interactive story“, “interactive drama”, “electronic literature” or “interactive fiction”.

The only way I can understand the use of the term “storytelling” is for an experience in which the player has little or no agency, which is one that holds much less interest for me.

January 21, 2004

narr@tive: Digital Storytelling

by nick @ 2:30 pm

Noah and I will be speaking at the next UC system graduate conference, narr@tive: Digital Storytelling, as will UC faculty Kate Hayles and Rita Rayey. The conference is at UCLA and will end with a reading of student work at the Hammer Museum. The call for paper abstracts and electronic literature is out - deadline, March 1. Although the site doesn’t mention the date of the conference, I beleive it will take place April 22 and 23.

January 20, 2004

Trying To Break It

by andrew @ 8:45 am

In a recent discussion about interactive works that try to fuse fiction and reality, the lead writer for Online Caroline mentioned how it can be disturbing if players step over the line when interacting with a virtual character who is supposed to be real and have real feelings.

I’ve noticed that when it comes to somewhat fully fleshed-out and reactive virtual characters, the first thing players (or at least males) usually try to do is push it to its limits, to try to break it, to see how far things can go — e.g., behave badly or cruelly, swear, act lewdly or inappropriately, flirt excessively, etc. So, for an experience in which a virtual character is supposed to be real, when players act inappropriately, I could see how it would seem more disturbing.

Or not. My theory is that even if players willingly suspend their disbelief that the character is real (which can be tough to do, since today’s virtual characters are pretty crude!), players intellectually know the character is fake, and so can get an emotional thrill by acting provocatively to a character who is posing as real. There is no true guilt you should have in torturing your virtual cat with a water spray bottle for hours on end, or allowing your Sims to wet their pants, or running over pedestrians in GTA3 (although none of those characters are posing as actually real). In fact one of greatest pleasures of virtual reality and interactive drama is getting to do things you’re not allowed to do in real life.

Or not? If it’s that easy for you to torture or kill virtual characters, especially ones posing as real, what does that say about you as a person? It’s a slippery slope, right?

In any event, when designing virtual characters, we should expect inappropriate behavior to be the first thing most people do. My question is, since we know players are going to behave badly, as designers, should we reward that behavior, or discourage it?

Juul Be Pleased To Know…

by andrew @ 8:02 am

… that Jesper (”The Ludologist”, and frequent commenter on GTxA) has successfully defended his PhD, at the IT University of Copenhagen. His dissertation is entitled, “Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds“.


January 18, 2004

Cosign 2004

by michael @ 4:41 pm

Cosign 2004: Computational Semiotics, will be held at the University of Split, Croatia, September 14-16, 2004.

The creation and interpretation of meaning in interactive digital media requires the manipulation of signs and/or pre-existing structures of meaning. The focus of COSIGN is the way in which meaning can be created by, encoded in, understood by, or produced through, the computer. As such, it is of interest to computer scientists, digital artists and designers, HCI and AI practitioners, and a broad range of other critics, theorists and researchers.

The full call for participation is available here. The submission date for papers and artworks is April 29; the submission date for posters and demonstrations is May 24th. The programme and proceedings of the COSIGN 2001, COSIGN 2002 and COSIGN 2003 conferences are all available online.

January 16, 2004

New Issue of SPAC

by nick @ 7:33 pm

Continuing our Spanish trend: There’s a new issue of the newsletter of SPAC (Sociedad para la Preservación de las Aventuras Conversacionales / Society for the Preservation of Interactive Fiction) just out. (Disable JavaScript before visiting the Spanish SPAC #33 or the hosting company’s ads will obliterate the content.) The issue includes an interview with me which is available in English on my site.

Beyond Productivity in the Bay Area

by michael @ 5:06 pm

For San Francisco Bay Area GTxA readers, there are two public presentations of the National Academies of Science report, Beyond Productivity: Information Technology, Innovation, and Creativity on Jan. 22 and 23. This report, authored by an all-star committee of artists and scientists, explores the ways in which information technology and art mutually inform each other, describing promising areas of interdisciplinary art/CS work, and proposing models to foster such interdisciplinary work.

This report was previously mentioned in a GTxA discussion of the artist/programmer debate.

January 14, 2004

More Close Readings

by michael @ 12:35 am

The book Close Reading New Media: Analyzing Electronic Literature, edited by Jan Van Looy and Jan Baetens, offers close readings of work by Mark Amerika, Darren Aronofsky, M.D. Coverley, Raymond Federman, Shelley Jackson, Rick Pryll, Geoff Ryman and Stephanie Strickland. The editors contrast their aims with hypertext theory of the 80s and 90s that saw hypertextuality as a literal realization of poststructuralist thought. Instead of abstract theorizing, their book seeks to identify interesting points and problematics through detailed, concrete engagement with specific works.

January 13, 2004

Another Life on the Net … Real Life

by nick @ 12:03 am

An article by José Luis de Vicente in the January 9 El Mundo takes on some important issues with virtual worlds (focusing on MMORPGs) and describes some of the ways in which what goes on in them is real. Here’s the original article in Spanish, or you can see how well the Google translation reads. Here are some highlights that I translated:

… In the digital worlds of The Sims, Everquest or Red Moon organized crime, illegal gambling and casinos already exist. Antiglobalist activists demonstrate against the same fast food chains that exist in reality. The disputes that originate there end up being solved in real-world courts. The places that attempted to be virtual amusement parks are turning into territories of social, cultural, and political action. … While The Sims works according to strict capitalist rules and does not permit more than the simulation of an American suburb, with riotous consumption as the only way to advance, [Second Life and There] offer more utopian options. …

The article goes on to describe the much-ballyhooed controvery over Peter Ludlow’s Alphaville Herald, which was mentioned to me by Fernando over the Winter break. (I was going to blog about it, but there was so much news coverage that it seemed unnecessary.) Ludlow was expelled from The Sims after he reported on prostitution and other seamy matters that were going on online.

Muchas gracias, Elastico.

January 12, 2004

Writs of Passages

by nick @ 12:31 pm

I was very pleased to note that the first two English reviews of Twisty Little Passages were posted online yesterday. One of these reviews is from an IF author, editor of the SPAG Newsletter, and longtime, active member of the IF community, Paul O’Brian. The other, entitled “Wor(l)d Games,” is from Matt Kirchenbaum, assistant professor of English at the University of Maryland and author of the forthcoming book Mechanisms: New Media and the New Textuality (MIT Press, 2005).

Six Billion Veterans of Foreign Wars

by noah @ 3:20 am

The new issue of Six Billion is titled “Veterans of Foreign Wars.” Six Billion is an online magazine that “showcases narrative journalism’s many forms — text, photography, sound, film/video, illustration, and interactive — in a single, versatile medium.” The new issue includes:

  • BETTY MORRIS’ dispatches from late-1930s Europe, on the brink of “the great war”
  • A film by Cambodian director RITHY PANH that confronts Khmer Rouge agents of torture
  • WILLIAM T. VOLLMANN’s portrait of the war on immigration at the U.S.-Mexican border
  • A radio-documentary of disaster in Afghanistan by SCOTT CARRIER
  • And more …

Ken Perlin at Whitney Artport

by andrew @ 12:06 am

Ken Perlin, a longtime pioneer of computer graphics and interactive virtual characters at NYU, has 77 “pages of his sketchbook” online at the Whitney Artport — an extensive collection of the inspiring interactive graphical applets Ken has written over the years. He’s the January installment of the rotating-monthly Gate Pages (which also recently featured GTxA’s Noah). (via Rhizome NetArtNews)

Also still at the Artport since about a year ago, is the amazing software art group show CODeDOC — more really great stuff. (Leading me to discover CODeDOC II, part of last September’s Ars Electronica.)

January 11, 2004

trAce New Media Article Writing Competition

by noah @ 11:52 pm

At GTxA we tend to focus on the non-non-fiction uses of new media, but this is worth noting. The competition for unpublished new media articles. The deadline is April 30th.

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