Grand Text Auto

December 25, 2007

You Can and Must Understand Giant Brains Now!

by nick @ 7:37 am

A Review of Giant Brains
or Machines That Think

by Edmund Callis Berkeley
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
286 pp.
(DjVu reader required)

Let me begin by admitting that I trudged to this book like a zombie, simply hoping that I might be amused to encounter frequent, non-ironic mentions of computers as “giant brains.” What I discovered was, while not a masterwork, a clearly-written and evidently very influential volume that is fascinating at times. It provides a view that goes beyond a single computing machine but is situated very early in computing history, before the first working stored-program computer (the EDSAC) had been completed. Giant Brains enlarged my thinking about the history of computing, tickling my digital media senses with its speculations about how individuals might use computers. (more…)

December 21, 2007

Digital Media, Games, and Open Access

by nick @ 7:19 am

With regard to your request, I cannot agree to review for your journal right now. If [it] becomes an open access journal, I will be very glad to review articles for the journal.

Having written this in an email recently, I wanted to post about my reasoning and ask what Grand Text Auto readers, commenters, and bloggers think about this issue. Open access journals and other scholarly publishing issues are classic ivory tower matters, but my concern about restricting access to Grand-Text-Auto-like subjects has a lot to do with my concern for non-academic readers and commenters here, as well as academics who aren’t at major research universities with full access to journals. This includes people at small liberal arts colleges, even if they write award-winning papers, and independent scholars, even if they regularly keynote conferences and contribute authored and edited volumes to the academic discourse. It also includes game-makers, electronic literature authors, creators of digital art, and those who arrive here curious about digital media. Not to mention one of our six drivers.

I think there must be a few things that those of us who are part of the scholarly publishing process can do to foster an open-access future. The easiest thing that I’m able to think of is simply not volunteering our labor to lock academic writing away from the public. (more…)

December 17, 2007

On Academic and Game Industry AI

by noah @ 8:40 pm

Via I’m excited to see the Game/AI blog come back to life with an active thread on game industry and academic AI research collaborations. It’s pretty clear that finding common ground for this kind of collaboration is a challenge — though one that people are are trying to address through conferences like AIIDE.

Off the cuff, I think part of the problem here may be that game AI and game graphics don’t have similar relationships to their academic counterparts. Many people in academic circles worked for years on real-time graphics (funded by, say, government flight simulation projects) without any thought that these same techniques might be relevant for games. But, as far as I know, there has been a much smaller body of academic work on AI for things like character behavior (say, the Oz Project, some work at MIT’s Media Lab, some work at Northwestern, etc) and it wasn’t necessarily aimed at the same problems that game AI researchers are trying to solve. Maybe the closest fit is academic AI work toward “the ability to deal with intentional threats from other agents.

Personally, rather than improvements in combat, I’d be more excited if academic/industry collaborations could get us beyond dialogue trees — and toward a somewhat more robust model of what characters say (and when). I’m finding it very frustrating in Mass Effect when I accidentally trigger long pieces of NPC monologue that I’ve already seen. Why are you saying that again? Or, say, when my squad finishes killing a bunch of Husks (technozombies) made out of a group of researchers, then we roll into their abandoned camp and I hear my squadmate say, “Where is everybody?” We just killed them!

December 16, 2007

Façade, Petz, and The Expressivator

by noah @ 6:35 pm

While researching my forthcoming book (about which more news soon) I’ve posted selections from correspondence about a number of influential digital fiction systems, including James Meehan’s Tale-Spin (1 2), Scott Turner’s Minstrel (1 2), and Michael Lebowitz’s Universe (1). Now I’m pleased to continue the series with some information from GTxA’s own Andrew and Michael. I emailed them to learn more about the relationship between Façade and two earlier efforts: PF Magic’s “Petz” series (on which Andrew worked) and Phoebe Sengers’s The Expressivator (created at CMU while Michael was there). (more…)

December 11, 2007

Opening the Static Eye

by nick @ 10:20 am

Lost in the Static screenshot

Lost in the Static
Sean Barrett
Silver Spaceship Software

Lost in the Static is a wonderful little Windows game, one that was quickly developed around an innovative concept. The gameplay is conventional: it is a typical platformer and combines standard jumping challenges with movement through new and interesting spaces. But the means of creating an image on the screen is not at all conventional, as this screenshot should make clear.


ELO Meetup and E-Lit Conference Guide for the 2007 MLA Conference

by scott @ 8:30 am

ELO Meetup at the MLA

As we have for the past several years, we are planning an informal meet-up for people affiliated with or interested in the Electronic Literature Organization at this year’s MLA conference. This year, we are planning on meeting at the “Big Bar” at the conference hotel, the Hyatt Regency, after the “Electronic Literature: Reading, Writing, Navigating” panel, from 5-6 PM on Friday, December 28th. We plan to converge on the bar and have a drink or two. Afterwards, for those who would like to continue the conversation and take advantage of the world’s best deep-dish pizza, we’re reserving some tables at a nearby restaurant. If you’re only planning on joining us for a drink, just show up at the Big Bar at 5PM. If you want in on the pizza, please send an email to Stefanie Boese (sboese2 at uic dot edu), indicating how many people plan to attend and your preference for sausage, spinach, or mixed vegetarian pizza. We’ll put the order in ahead, so we won’t have to wait long in the restaurant to eat. We will “go dutch,” splitting the bill evenly and paying in cash.

Electronic Literature & Related Panels at the MLA 2007

This year’s convention features several panels (”New Reading Interfaces,” “Electronic Literature: Reading, Writing, and Navigating,” and “Electronic Literature: After Afternoon”) that are explicitly focused on electronic literature, and several that are more tangentially related to the subject. Below is a mini conference guide focused on e-lit. (more…)

Flight Paths

by noah @ 8:02 am

I push the loaded trolley across the car park, battling to keep its wonky wheels on track. I pop open the boot of my car and then for some reason, I have no idea why, I look up, into the clear blue autumnal sky. And I see him. It takes me a long moment to figure out what I am looking at. He is falling from the sky. A dark mass, growing larger quickly. I let go of the trolley and am dimly aware that it is getting away from me but I can’t move, I am stuck there in the middle of the supermarket car park, watching, as he hurtles toward the earth.

I’m interested to see, via if:book, that Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph are using CommentPress for a fiction experiment. At the same time, I find myself somewhat disturbed to see them both inviting community contributions of text, images, sound, etc — and also talking about charging for content. Both are experiments, in the world of online fiction, but not ones that seem to go together well.

December 9, 2007

Mass Effect: Am I the Player Character?

by noah @ 11:05 pm
Mass Effect dialogue choices

Recently I’ve been playing Mass Effect. As I expected, so far the story and characters shine. As for NPC interaction, while underneath it looks to be pretty much the same old dialogue trees, there’s the potential for much better performance with the new system. I mean that in the acting sense, rather than the computational sense.

For those who haven’t been playing (or reading about) Mass Effect, during each exchange with NPCs there is a set of options presented for types of things to say (rather than, in games like Knights of the Old Republic, things we assume the player character will literally say). A selection can be made while the NPC is still talking, and then triggered when appropriate. After the trigger, the player character animates and voice acts through a response that expresses the basic idea of the chosen option, but perhaps performed in a surprising or clever way (or sometimes, an unintended one). Apparently this went through 10-12 iterations before the version we see in the game. The result can feel like a nicely-scripted conversation between two characters, and somewhat less like the navigation of an option tree.

On the other hand, it also makes conversation feel a bit less first person — sometimes more as though we’re influencing Shepard (the player character) than playing as Shepard. (more…)

December 7, 2007

Crayons and Goo, but no Bill Viola at IGF08

by andrew @ 11:23 am

The finalists for the Independent Games Festival, held annually at GDC, have been announced.

Much like I felt from the 2D physics-based indie game jam a few years ago, highly procedural and generative gameplay can make for compelling games. Two of the five games competing for the grand prize make creative use of 2D physics: Crayon Physics Deluxe, and World of Goo. Check out the trailers for each; I’m particularly taken by the trailer for Crayon, which taps into the nostalgia for older mediums I wrote about a few months ago. I’m reminded of the excellent Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings animations from my Captain Kangaroo days; sigh… It would have been cool if SketchFighter 4000 were competing this year too.

One of the games competing for design innovation is Fez, previewed at Jason Rohrer’s Arthouse Games. (While you’re there, check out Jason’s new art game, Passage.)

I am very disappointed, though, that The Night Journey, an experimental game by Bill Viola, Tracy Fullerton and others at USC, didn’t make it to the IGF finals! I haven’t played it, so can’t tell how much of an injustice this is, but I have a sinking feeling it’s because it’s a little too artsy for the IGF. If so, what a shame; kind of makes we wish we could body-slam-dance some open-mindedness into the more conservative members of the IGF jury.

December 3, 2007

Moulthrop wins Vinaros Prizes in both Narrative and Poetry

by nick @ 5:20 pm

I’m delighted to announce that Stuart Moulthrop, a longtime friend to Grand Text Auto and a valued mentor and collaborator of mine, has won the 3rd International Digital Literature Award Ciutat de Vinaròs in both categories.

His Deep Surface is the winner in the narrative category.

His Under Language shared the prize for poetry with Isaias Herrero Florensa’s Universo Molecula.

Moulthrop has already put both of his winning works online. I have not found a link to Universo Molecula yet, but will add one when I do. Isaias Herrero Florensa also received the special prize for best work in Catalan. See the announcement of the winners for more details about the award.

December 2, 2007

Want a Better World? Build a Better Game! contest

by mary @ 8:54 pm

Want a Better World? Build a Better Game! Social Impact Game Contest 2007
Submissions due January 1, 2008

The Values At Play project is now accepting submissions to its first Social Impact Games Contest! Values At Play is a three year investigation of social values and games. Selected contest entries will be archived and available for public play in the Values at Play Game Library.

Winning games will be archived and promoted by our not-for-profit team. Contest judges will include game designers Katie Salen, Jesper Juul, and Games for Change President Suzanne Seggerman. (more…)

Values At Play Website Launched

by mary @ 8:43 pm

The Values at Play research project launched version 1.0 of its website,, which offers a wealth of game design and scholarship about games. has also begun accepting submissions for its Social Impact Game Contest. (more…)

From Command Lines to Software Studies

by noah @ 8:19 am
Command Lines illustration

November’s last week marked two major milestones for Jeremy Douglass, of GTxA neighborhood blog Writer Response Theory. First, on Tuesday, he posted his recently-accepted dissertation, “Command Lines: Aesthetics and Technique in Interactive Fiction and New Media.” I’m digging in to this document right now, planning to cite some of Jeremy’s work on the aesthetics of breakdown in my forthcoming book.

Next, on Thursday, Jeremy got a UCSD ID card issued. I’m happy to report that he did this after accepting a postdoctoral research position to work with Lev Manovich and yours truly as part of UCSD’s new Software Studies initiative. As it’s described in the online announcement, Jeremy will be working with us “to develop models and tools for the cultural criticism of software, establish the [Software Studies] field as a compliment to existing research in cyberculture and new media, and investigate how next generation cyberinfrastructure technologies can be used by humanists, social scientists, and cultural practitioners.”

December 1, 2007

Zarf to Punctuate Blurb at MIT on Tuesday

by nick @ 9:10 pm

For our last Purple Blurb of the semester, Andrew Plotkin will be joining us at MIT in the Trope Tank (14N-233) at 6pm this Tuesday, December 4, to share some of his work with us.

Andrew, sometimes known as Zarf, is a leading interactive fiction author, having written and programmed A Change in the Weather; So Far; Spider and Web; Hunter, In Darkness; Shade; The Dreamhold and Delightful Wallpaper. He is also a designer of different sorts of computer games (such as System’s Twilight) and games off the computer (such as Capture the Flag with Stuff, a game which draws several hundred CMU students each semester). His work includes a hypertext piece created as a part of large-scale collaborative art project, a Lisp interpreter for Infocom’s virtual machine, a 32-bit portable virtual machine of his own for interactive fiction, called Glulx, and a detailed digital concordance for John M. Ford’s novel The Dragon Waiting.

Thanks to the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, Comparative Media Studies, Turbulence, and the Electronic Literature Organization for their sponsorship of Purple Blurb. Purple Blurb will continue in the spring. I hope that those of you who are in the area will be able to join us for this exciting conclusion to our Fall 2007 series on digital writing.

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