Grand Text Auto

February 26, 2008

Grassroots Media Conference March 2 NYC

by mary @ 11:32 am

This Sunday in NYC, Hunter College is hosting The 5th Annual Grassroots Media Conference!
The Conference is a chance for media activists to come together, compare notes, and stratagize. It’s always worth attending. This year, the Tiltfactor Lab will be facilitating a game design workshop

EP 6.1: After Tale-Spin

by noah @ 7:47 am

As the previous chapter described, James Meehan’s Tale-Spin — built on a simulation embodying the “scruffy” artificial intelligence theories of Roger Schank and Robert Abelson — generated coherent accounts of character actions and interactions in a fictional world. This set the foundation for the field of story generation. Considered today, it also raises an inevitable question: What next?

This chapter considers two different responses. (more...)

Message Me, Videogames

by nick @ 7:17 am

"I have poured the message of love and peace and happiness in Space Channel 5. These were the emotions and desires of this game." -Tetsuya Mizuguchi

"Well, there are lots of message games coming out now. ... [but] a lot of people like cake." -Erik Wolpaw

What does it mean for a video game to have messages? Do any good ones have messages? Are there games that aren't really fun to play, don't have messages, but are still good games? That is, can games have anything besides message and gameplay?

Following up on recent discussion, I'll describe here why I think Portal has more of a message than Passage. (I've tried to keep the spoilers to a minimum in this one...) (more...)

EP Meta: Chapter Five

by noah @ 6:45 am

Last week was pretty quiet around Grand Text Auto. I was at the Game Developers Conference (or with friends who'd flown out for it) much of the week — and so, apparently, were many of our readers. The good thing about this is that it allowed me to experience a new facet of the blog-based review form: people who haven't been commenting, but have been reading, telling me what they think in person. (more...)

February 25, 2008

IndieCade Submissions are Open!

by nick @ 8:02 pm

Okay okay, just one more short post and I'll quiet down for a few hours. You can now submit to IndieCade: International Festivals of Independent Games. The main fest takes place July 10-13, 2008 in Bellevue, Washington, and there are year-round showcases of work as well. Check the IndieCade site for further details. Deadline: Midnight April 11, 2008 PST.

Recent IF News

by nick @ 7:36 pm

Andrew Plotkin, of interactive fiction fame among other types of gamey fame, has been blogging at The Gameshelf of late. His first post, early this month, was on games that don't exist.

Emily Short has started a cover art drive and, to put a more appealing face on IF, is seeking contributed illustrations for existing works of interactive fiction.

In Hypertextopia did Web 2.0 a stately pleasure dome …

by nick @ 7:05 pm

A radical rehypertextualization of the Web appears with hints of Storyspace maps and multi-colored links of various sorts: Hypertextopia. There's a library of marked-up work ready for your perusal and even a tray of wacky textual tools. (Via qumbler.)

EP 5.6: Re-Reading Tale-Spin

by noah @ 6:21 am

The Tale-Spin effect has had a huge impact on previous interpretations of Tale-Spin, even when the interpreters have come from very different positions as scholars. Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck (1997) and Espen Aarseth’s Cybertext (1997) provide helpful illustrations of this. In these cases, the Tale-Spin effect not only causes the authors to misinterpret Tale-Spin, but also to miss opportunities for making fruitful connections to their own areas of interest. (more...)

February 24, 2008

PvP: Portal versus Passage

by nick @ 2:37 pm

Portal partial screenshot Passage partial screenshot

How is it that a 2D, five-minute, public domain videogame with an effective resolution of 100x12, developed by one guy who uses a 250 MHz PPC computer, can be better than a 3D, five-hour videogame that runs at 1080i, is the product of a well-funded and well-equipped corporate workplace and has been named the best game of 2007 by numerous publications?

I'll explain. (more...)

Mixed Messages at GDC

by noah @ 11:04 am
Power to the Publisher Join the Revolution

These were almost directly across from each other on the expo floor.

February 22, 2008

Jeff Howard’s Quests

by nick @ 6:26 am

Quests by Jeff Howard Many of you will be interested to know that Jeff Howard's book Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives is now out from A K Peters. Jeff's dissertation was discussed on here, and he sent us a writeup of an ACM symposium. The book is a very nice contribution which I read shortly before publication. Here's the endorsement of it that I wrote:

Jeff Howard's Quests is an incisive and highly accessible book that leads the reader on an exploration of literature, computer games, and a connection between them. Howard includes valuable tutorials and exercises which draw on literary works, including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, while also dealing with the specifics of how to use tools to create computer RPG modules. The book offers useful discussion of the history of adventure games and detailed analysis of quest elements using concepts from narrative theory, poetics, game studies, and other fields. Quests equips students and scholars as they journey onward to read, play, and fashion games and narratives.

EP 5.5: Tale-Spin as Simulation

by noah @ 6:01 am

Of course, the Tale-Spin effect, as described above, mainly considers Tale-Spin as a piece of media. But, in its context at Yale, it was positioned as something else — or something more. As Meehan emphasizes repeatedly in his dissertation, the structures of Tale-Spin were not chosen because they were the most efficient way to have a computer output a story. If this were the goal, some method like that of Klein’s “automatic novel writer” would have been appropriate. Instead, Tale-Spin was meant to operate as a simulation of human behavior, based on the then-current cognitive science ideas of Schank and Abelson. (more...)

February 21, 2008

Kriegspiel in Brooklyn Tomorrow

by nick @ 3:19 pm

Partial screenshot from Kriegspiel, RSG’s version of Guy Debord’s board game

A special situation obtains near Bedford Avenue tomorrow - the opportunity to play a newly computerized version of Guy Debord's 1978 Kriegspiel. For those who can't make it, you can still download Kriegspiel in beta form and play it. For those who can, the event is at the gallery Over the Opening, 60 North 6th Street, 2nd floor, Brooklyn (L train to Bedford Avenue). It takes place tomorrow (Friday February 22, 2008) from 7pm to 10pm. Prospective players should bring their own laptops.

The official word from the group RSG, creators of the computer version, follows...


EP 5.4: The Tale-Spin Effect

by noah @ 6:12 am

In Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (1974) two characters named Kublai Khan and Marco Polo sit in a garden. Polo tells the Khan — sometimes in words, sometimes through symbols, sometimes through the relation of pieces on a chessboard — of cities he has visited within the vast empire. Here are a few. In the middle of Fedora is a metal building with a crystal globe in every room, each containing a model of the city as it might have been in a possible future, constructed at a different stage of its history. At every solstice and equinox, around the fires of the marketplace of Euphemia, there is trade not in goods but in memories. In Ersilia, the inhabitants stretch strings between all the houses — marking relationships of blood, of trade, authority, agency — until one can no longer pass, all but the strings are taken down, and Ersilia is built again elsewhere. Thekla is continually under construction, following the blueprint of the stars, while Andria already reflects the heavens precisely — in every street, building, job, and ceremony — but those who live there must carefully weigh each change to the city, given the changes it will produce in the heavens. Polo and the Khan each propose a model city, from which all others can be deduced. They look through atlas pages that contain not only all the cities of the Khan’s empire, but all those that will one day come to exist (Paris, Mexico City), and all imaginary lands (Utopia, New Atlantis).

It is not hard to picture Tale-Spin as an addition to this list of imaginary lands. (more...)

February 20, 2008

Taking Play Seriously

by mary @ 7:14 pm

Check out the NYTimes supplement Taking Play Seriously from the 2/17/08 NYTimes Magazine. It's a brief update on current thinking on play from psychology to education.

EP 5.3: Tale-Spin’s Fiction

by noah @ 6:07 am

That was a significant amount of detail about Tale-Spin, more than I will offer about any other system described in this book. I hope it gave some sense of the type of undertaking involved in creating even a first-generation story system. There’s much more going on — at the levels of character and story — than in something like Eliza/Doctor or a standard computer RPG. Further, it illustrates how a computer system that seeks to generate representations of human behavior can be built as an operationalization of theories about human behavior.

But it’s also worth noting that the story produced in our Tale-Spin example wasn’t a particularly strong example of fiction. While Tale-Spin creates character behavior, this behavior doesn’t necessarily take the shape of a traditional story. This is something to which I’ll return later. For now, I want to consider what it means to say that Tale-Spin produces fiction at all. (more...)

February 19, 2008

EP 5.2: A Tale-Spin Story

by noah @ 8:38 am

Tale-Spin, as described in Meehan’s dissertation, has three storytelling modes. Two modes are interactive, asking the audience to make decisions about features of the story world, while one mode “fixes” the world to assure the production of particular stories.4 Chapter 11 of Meehan’s dissertation gives a detailed account of an interactive story, about a hungry bear named Arthur, that I will use to illustrate Tale-Spin’s operations and their backgrounds. (more...)

February 18, 2008

Throwin the Wrench Old School

by nick @ 8:15 am

retro.jpg sabatoge.jpg

A new site, Retro Sabotage, redoes classic games into short interactive snippets that comment cleverly on videogame themes and ideas - and, in the most recent case, make fun of one of the ways gaming has casually changed since the good old days. So far there are multiple parodical remixes of Space Invaders, Pac Man, and Pong.

EP 5.1: The “Metanovel”

by noah @ 6:25 am

In the fall of 1974, James Meehan was a graduate student at Yale University. He had an idea in mind for his dissertation topic, but didn’t know how to pursue it. The topic had been suggested to him by Alan Perlis — one of the most famous figures in U.S. computer science, who had become chair of Yale’s department a few years before — on the first day they met. But Perlis didn’t know how to move forward with the idea, either. In the preface to his dissertation, Meehan describes the idea this way:

A metanovel is a computer program that tells stories that only a computer could tell, stories of such complexity of detail that only a computer could handle, stories with more flexibility — even reversibility — of events and characters than a human could manage. A metanovel time-sharing system tells a story to many people at once, no two of whom read the same thing, because they have each expressed different interests in the events and characters they want to hear about, and because they may each desire a different style of storytelling. And yet, among all these readers, there is but one story — the Metanovel itself — and each reader is only following those threads of the story that interest him. (1976, ii)


February 16, 2008

EP Meta: Chapter Four

by noah @ 7:07 am

This week, when I was talking with Jessica Bell about her story for the Daily Pennsylvanian, I realized one of the most important things, for me, about the blog-based peer review form. In most cases, when I get back the traditional, blind peer review comments on my papers and book proposals and conference submissions, I don't know who to believe. Most issues are only raised by one reviewer. I find myself wondering, "Is this a general issue that I need to fix, or just something that rubbed one particular person the wrong way?" I try to look back at the piece with fresh eyes, using myself as a check on the review, or sometimes seek the advice of someone else involved in the process (e.g., the papers chair of the conference).

But with this blog-based review it's been a quite different experience. (more...)

February 15, 2008

A 256-Character Program to Generate Poems

by nick @ 12:33 pm

My new year's poem for 2008 was a computer program, a very short Perl program that generates poems without recourse to any external dictionary, word list, or other data file. I call it ppg256-1: "ppg" because it's a Perl poetry generator, "256" for the length of the program in characters, and "-1" in the hopes that I will refine the program further and produce other versions. It was an attempt to drive process intensity up, keep program size down, and uncover what the essential elements of a poetry generator are.

To run ppg256-1, you can paste this onto your command line in Linux, Unix, Mac OS X, or (if you have Perl installed) Windows:

perl -le'sub w{substr("cococacamamadebapabohamolaburatamihopodito",2*int(rand 21),2).substr("estsnslldsckregspsstedbsnelengkemsattewsntarshnknd",2*int(rand 25),2)}{$l=rand 9;print "\n\nthe ".w."\n";{print w." ".substr("atonof",rand 5,2)." ".w;redo if $l-->0;}redo;}'

I found the process of developing this program very useful for my own thinking about computation and language. I'll explain a bit about what that process was, in the hopes that I can communicate some of what I learned from it and to encourage you, if you're interested in creative computation, to write short programs to explore the forms and ideas that you find most compelling. (more...)

EP 4.5: Learning from Models

by noah @ 7:56 am

How do we learn from making models? Phil Agre (1997) offers part of an answer for the field of artificial intelligence when he writes:

AI’s distinctive activity is building things, specifically computers and computer programs. Building things, like fieldwork and meditation and design, is a way of knowing that cannot be reduced to the reading and writing of books. To the contrary, it is an enterprise grounded in a routine daily practice. Sitting in the lab and working on gadgets or circuits or programs, it is an inescapable fact that some things can be built and other things cannot. (10)


February 14, 2008

Up Right Down, Schlemiel, Schlimazel

by nick @ 7:03 am

For the first issue of Up Right Down, writers and other narrative artists were invited to find various different ways to tell the same story:

In a bistro in Paris a young woman (A) tells her three girlfriends (B, C, and D) about the affair she had with an American tourist, who returned home promising to write, and hasn’t. It’s been over two weeks; something must have happened to him. (She has just learned she is carrying his child, but she doesn’t tell her friends.) B tells her to call him; C to e-mail him; D to forget all about him. Enter a fat American couple; each of them has a different speech impediment. They order food. The man chokes. A performs the Heimlich maneuver on him, and saves his life.

That they did; at the time of the issue's launch today, there were two plays, eight stories, three poems, one animation, and two illustrations. This set includes "Around the Bush," a play by Paul Fournel, president of the Oulipo. The site also hosts five univocalic versions of the story. My own contribution is a poem entitled "He Did, Eh?" You can get a sense of the (initial) reach of the project by checking out the people involved so far - the contributors and URD's editorial board. New tellings of this tale will be added regularly to the site, and are still being accepted. You are invited to submit your own version.

EP 4.4: AI, Neat and Scruffy

by noah @ 6:11 am

A name that does appear in Weizenbaum’s book, however, is that of Roger Schank, Abelson’s most famous collaborator. When Schank arrived from Stanford to join Abelson at Yale, together they represented the most identifiable center for a particular approach to artificial intelligence: what would later (in the early 1980s) come to be known as the “scruffy” approach.7 Meanwhile, perhaps the most identifiable proponent of what would later be called the “neat” approach, John McCarthy, remained at Stanford. (more...)

February 13, 2008

EP 4.3: Abelson’s Ideology Machine

by noah @ 6:15 am

Abelson and Carroll’s paper — “Computer Simulation of Individual Belief Systems” (1965) — describes work that Abelson and his students had pursued since the late 1950s, and would continue to pursue into the 1970s. At the point of their 1965 paper the “ideology machine” consisted of an approach to belief structures and a number of operations that could be performed on such structures. Sample belief structures from the paper range from common cold war views (“Russia controls Cuba’s subversion of Latin America”) to absurd statements (“Barry Goldwater believes in socialism”) and also include simple facts (“Stevenson ran for President”). (more...)

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