From this article on the Fossil / ABACUS Palm PDA watch, on the blog for Make magazine.
August 30, 2005
CGAMES, the 7th international conference on computer games, will be held November 28-30 in Angoulême, France. CGAMES follows on CGAIDE 2004, a conference focusing on game AI, design, and education. See below for the full description of the call for papers. Submission deadline is September 30th. The timing is perfect for combining this with a trip to DAC.
August 29, 2005
Lisbeth Klastrup is a visiting scholar here this semester. It’s great to have her be a member of the game research community at Tech for awhile (she’s actually been her for three weeks already, but better late than never in welcoming her…). As an ethnographic self-study project, she’s moblogging her life while she’s here, to get a sense of what moblogging feels like. So far her moblog posts have a melancholy feel, focusing on breakdowns in the physical and social infrastructure in Atlanta. Of course, adjusting to living in a new country is bound to make one feel a bit melancholy. I look forward to seeing Atlanta through her eyes via her moblog. I’ll have to have her visit my neighborhood so she can record impressions. Welcome Lisbeth!
August 28, 2005
The call for papers is up for ACE 2006 - Agent Construction and Emotions:
Modeling the Cognitive Antecedents and Consequences of Emotion. This is the latest in a series of workshops on modeling emotions in autonomous agents.
While this topic is obviously relevant to anyone building autonomous characters, there’s an interesting tension between functionalist models of emotion that are concerned with how emotion serves as an internal resource for guiding decision making (emotions make us more rational), and computational models of emotion for believable characters that must respond to and convey emotion. (more…)
August 26, 2005
Atlanta-based Kaneva has a beta release of their Kaneva Game Platform. What makes this different from the myriad other modding frameworks and game engines out there, is that this engine supports the creation of MMO games, hosted on the Kaneva website. Currently the engine seems targeted at supporting FPS and RPG style games. According to their licensing faq, you can use the engine for free to create your game, and host the game for development purposes (up to five simultaneous players) on Kaneva’s servers. You can self-host games for free, with up to 30 simultaneous players, but can’t charge for your game. Or you can get a commercial license to host your MMO on Kaneva’s servers; you decide how much to charge for your game, Kaneva runs the infrastructure and billing. The royalties the developer gets on the net revenues slide from 50% - 70%, depending on the monthly net (this handy table lets you fantasize about how much money you’d receive in royalties a month on a $10.00 monthly subscription). It’s an interesting model, requiring no upfront cost to license the engine, reasonable royalties on the subscription income, and no investment in billing or server infrastructure. This should allow indy developers to get into the MMO market relatively risk free…
Over at Tea Leaves Peter Berger has done a really nice interview with game designer David Mullich. While the preface to the interview and Mullich’s discussion of Heroes IV is interesting, a particular treat for me was the discussion of Mullich’s famous Apple II game, The Prisoner, in the second half of the interview, which covers how the game was programmed in Applesoft BASIC, how permission to refer to the The Prisoner TV series was “secured,” and how playtesting was done. (Spoiler warning - after the playtester question!)
August 24, 2005
There were protests, but none of the violence that had been expected, as the last books left the former Undergraduate Library at the University of Texas. The facility, housed in the Flawn Academic Center, opened in 1963 and was the campus’s first open-shelf library for undergraduates. The removal completes the planned disengagement.
The presence of the Undergraduate Library, or UGL, was always regarded as a “bone in the throat” by computer-savvy academics, as the staffing and machinery necessary for circulation and restocking got in the way of computer labs (such as the Student Microcomputer Facility or “Smurf,” the first large-scale undergraduate lab) and facilities for computing research (such as the Computer Writing and Research Lab), which was relegated to the basement with the undergraduate literary magazine.
August 23, 2005
They’ve had vending machines that dispense cigarettes for a while, but one that dispenses Cigarettes? Indeed, bibliophiles can now discreetely partake of French letters at convenient automatic dispensers. There are certainly precedents, but many found it newsworthy that Maxi-Livres has rolled out five book vending machines in Paris. The machines have only 25 best-sellers; there’s no print-on-demand press nestled inside.
Laurence Sterne (1713-68) wrote The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy in Shandy Hall, Coxwold, York, in the 18th Century. The innovative nonlinear novel is often cited by contemporary new media writers as an influence on their creative practice. It was recently announced that Shandy Hall will now house Asterisk*, a center for the study and development of narrative. Rather than simply developing the site as a museum dedicated to Sterne’s life and works, the center will be dedicated to innovation in both old and particularly new work. Asterisk* will support residencies for artists, “we envisage that these residencies will take forward current practice in a variety of narrative engagements: with diverse media, non linearity, digression, interactivity and audience participation, particularly (though not exclusively) where these intersect with technology.” The center will also commission new works, host exhibitions and performances, lectures and events, and a web forum. Last year hypertext author Deena Larsen completed a short hypertext, Shandean Ambles, during a three-day residency at the site. Asterisk* is now accepting applications for two three-week residencies this fall, one intended for a new media artist and the second for a writer with minimal technical background interested in integrating new media into his or her practice. Asterisk* also intends to gather an extensive library of innovative interactive literature at Shandy Hall.
August 17, 2005
The somewhat surly NYTimes new media critic Sarah Boxer (if you recall, she wrote a pretty harsh review of the last Boston Cyberarts Festival) has been browsing web comics lately, and she’s concerned.
The comics that use digital technology to break out of their frozen boxes are really more like animated cartoons. And those that don’t are just like the old, pre-digital ones, without the allure of the printed page and with a few added headaches for reader and creator alike.
She describes several examples of what bothers her, backed up by a quote from Gary Groth of Fantagraphics, who when speaking of what artists are doing with comics on the web says, “the greater the use of technology, the closer we get to film”.
As we’ve discussed before, there’s a lot you could do with digital technology applied to comics that doesn’t turn it into film. It’s probably true that the easiest eye-catching technology to apply to comics, that some artists are doing, is to use techniques like Flash, and yes, that risks changing the form so much that they’re not comics anymore. I agree with Boxer’s last statement:
If comics want to exploit the Web without losing themselves, it looks as if they will be walking a very fine line.
I wish Boxer has seen this piece, for example.
The designers of the 8-room Tressants Hotel in Menorca, Spain, designed each room to be representative of one of the conceptual cities described by Italo Calvino in Invisible Cities.
August 16, 2005
Every night for 1001 nights, Barbara Campbell is performing a short text-based work via web video. Her project 1001 Nights Cast is structured around the frame of tale of Scheherazade and 1001 nights. Participants contribute stories through the following procedure: each morning Campbell wakes and scans the headlines for a short phrase to use as a prompt. She then creates a watercolor image of the text of the prompt, which she posts to the site. Reader participants then respond to the prompt, writing story 1001 words or less in length. Each night Campbell reviews the day’s submissions and adapts one for performance, or, if she’s received no suitable submissions, generates a text by other means, such as a Google search. The stories are preserved in on the site as a text archive, though the video performance occurs only live, at a scheduled time published on the site. As of August 15th, fifty-seven nights into the project, it seems to be going well. Thirty-four different authors have contributed stories. The stories don’t seem to be interwoven into each other outside of the frame tale, so each story stands on it own. Although the editing process is expedited, the 1001 word length, longer than a short short but shorter than a typical short story, is conducive to concise stories with a well-honed sense of economy. (more…)
August 12, 2005
Given the enormous influence of Espen Aarseth’s Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature on studies of elit, it’s no surprise that people new to the field have asked me, from time to time, to clarify for them what Aarseth’s neologisms “ergodic” and “cybertext” mean. I’ve been happily supplying people with my understandings of what the terms mean, and have only in the last week or so begun to realize that I was probably wrong in my explanation — every time.
I’ve been telling people some variation of this: ergodic literature requires the reader to undertake “non-trivial” effort in order to traverse the text, and cybertext is the kind of text one reads ergodically. Two sides of the same coin. And I’d point them to this paragraph (p. 1-2):
The concept of cybertext focuses on the mechanical organization of the text, by positing the intricacies of the medium as an integral part of the literary exchange. However, it also centers attention on the consumer, or user, of the text, as a more integrated figure than even reader-response theorists would claim. The performance of their reader takes place all in the head, while the user of cybertext also performs in an extranoematic sense. During the cybertextual process, the user will have effectuated a semiotic sequence, and this selective movement is a work of physical construction that various concepts of “reading” do not account for. This phenomenon I call ergodic, using a term appropriated from physics that derives from the Greek words ergon and hodos, meaning “work” and “path.” In ergodic literature, nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text. If ergodic literature is to make sense as a concept, there must also be nonergodic literature, where the effort to traverse the text is trivial, with no extranoematic responsibilities placed on the reader except (for example) eye movement and the periodic or arbitrary turning of pages.
Calling all indie gamemakers: entries for the 2nd Annual Independent Games Competition at Slamdance are due October 24 for a modest $40 fee, or submit by Sept 30 to save $10. The competition, held in January in Park City, Utah alongside the Slamdance and Sundance film festivals, includes a category for student work. Check out last year’s finalists and winners.
In the past at other festivals there’s been some contention over what “indie” means; here are Slamdance’s rules this year:
Developer(s) cannot have sponsorship money exceeding $25,000.
Games published or distributed for profit before the final deadline of October 24, 2005 are ineligible.
Innovative and unusual formats, such as interactive fiction and drama, are encouraged to apply. Games must display interactivity, and be in an electronic format to be considered for the competition.
That last paragraph… hmm…
Here’s the full press release. (more…)
August 11, 2005
A recent New York Times article describes a new Pentagon research project in which 15 researchers are being trained at the American Film Institute on how to write sellable Hollywood screenplays. The reason?
Fewer and fewer students are pursuing science and engineering. While immigrants are taking up the slack in many areas, defense laboratories and industries generally require American citizenship or permanent residency. So a crisis is looming, unless careers in science and engineering suddenly become hugely popular, said Robert J. Barker, an Air Force program manager who approved the grant. And what better way to get a lot of young people interested in science than by producing movies and television shows that depict scientists in flattering ways?
It’s an uphill battle, though; with 75,000 screenplays floating around Hollywood, only 500 movies are made a year. Maybe they should train scientists in game design so that games depict scientists in flattering ways (since it’s so much easier to pitch new IP in the games industry). Maybe this is a good Persuasive Games area - Ian should get right on this. I’d prefer government grants to pay for researchers in, say, interactive drama, to participate in screen-writing workshops.
Alison Mealey is creating procedural visual art using Unreal. She sets up custom maps, has AI bots play against each other on the map, logging each bot’s (x,y) location once a second, and then uses Processing to render the log file as an image. Thanks to Jose for the pointer.
August 10, 2005
Clive Thompson, that squid-loving journalist who often writes about games, collision detection blogger and sometimes GTxA commenter, has a well-written new piece in last Sunday’s NYTimes magazine called “The XBox Auteurs“. Be sure to read it before it expires to the archive. The article spends most of its time profiling Rooster Teeth, a group of machinima-makers in Austin who have been producing the ongoing Halo-shot series, Red vs. Blue; read the FAQ here. Clive really likes…
…the idea that faceless, anonymous soldiers in a video game have interior lives. It’s a ”Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” conceit; ”Red vs. Blue” is what the game characters talk about when we’re not around to play with them. As it turns out, they’re a bunch of neurotics straight out of ”Seinfeld.” One recruit reveals that he chain-smokes inside his airtight armor; a sergeant tells a soldier his battle instructions are to ‘’scream like a woman.” And, in a sardonic gloss on the game’s endless carnage, none of the soldiers have the vaguest clue why they’re fighting.
In rather disturbing news, CNN reports that a South Korean man died after playing “online battle simulation games” for 50 hours in a Taegu cybercafe, almost non-stop.
On a happier note, Abdner Ashman broke the Ms. Pac Man record last year, getting through 141 screens and scoring 921,360 points. Twin Galaxies has finally approved the record and posted an extensive writeup of the game along with a board-by-board recap. There is some very interesting and detailed description of Ms. Pac Man in there, along with the wonderful sports-like commentary:
One stage from the kill, and the game is not done yet with throwing him a few fast ones. In the middle of clearing the board, the ghosts break pattern. Abdner reacts quickly and defensively, running to the nearby upper right energizer, but this is still not enough this time, and he is herded, literally towards the top left energizer. Already way off his normal pattern, he is left with a veritable mess of dots to deal with.
“Jamie Kane is the new online adventure from bbc.co.uk. It’s part game, part drama, part murder mystery…” The alternate reality game went live this weekend. You know, for kids. Mysteriously, some people have not been able to sign up for it. Unmysteriously, I’m not likely to have the time to try, but I’d be interested to know if anyone checks it out and wants to share their reaction - particularly those in the UK who can benefit from the mobile-phone-based aspects and the full alternation of reality.
August 9, 2005
It’s been five weeks since we released Façade, and we are hard at work at recuperating. :-) Those last few months of development work were brutal, and we’re still feeling fried, like when you cross the finish line after running a marathon and you’re bent over trying to catch your breath (not that either of us have actually run a real marathon to know what that truly feels like). That it’s summer right now is good timing, it makes our recharging more sun-filled. It’s nice to get our lives back after so long.
Here’s a “thank you” again to those who helped out during the project, from beta testers and demo assistants, to blog commenters and well-wishers offering moral support, to those proselytizing interactive drama to the non-believers, and for everyone patient enough to keep their vaporware-radar and hype-o-meters at bay during the past few years.
Thank you to those who have already donated a few bucks or euros to the project. If you enjoyed Façade (or hated it) and haven’t tossed an electronic tip our way, it’s never too late! We’re continuing to add juicy secrets to the invaluable “Behind the Façade” guide /cook’s tour — this all can be yours for a mere $5 donation. “A must-have for the interactive drama enthusiast.”
The release has been pretty smooth — we’ve just passed the 100,000 downloads mark! (more…)
(Since my title for this post is ten times more obscure than my usual obscure jokes, I’ll mention that the text adventure Mystery Mansion, originally programmed in the 1970s for the HP-1000, would tell you that you had successfully taken some item by saying “YOUR BOOTY NOW CONTAINS THE [ITEM],” as you can see depicted in lovely computer graphics on the premier Mystery Mansion page.)
August 8, 2005
I’ve never made it to one of the E-Poetry festivals, but I’ve heard great things from those who’ve attended. This is a bad travel year for me, but I’m very tempted…
London: Wednesday, 28 September - Saturday, 1 October 2005
E-Poetry 2005 is both a conference and festival, dedicated to showcasing the best talent in digital poetry and poetics from around the world. E-Poetry combines a high-level academic conference and workshop (examining growing trends in this young art form) with a festival of the latest and most exciting work from both established and new practitioners.
The festival is scheduled to take place at Birkbeck College, University of London, with performances at the ICA, Tate Modern, and other important London venues. There will be performances by numerous leading digital poets with guest appearances from major literary figures, as well as installations and exhibits throughout the week. The festival organizers are Loss Pequeño Glazier & Piers Hugill, with the assistance of John Cayley. http://epc.buffalo.edu/e-poetry/2005
There’s a new research study beginning today about chatbots, surveying people who have played with them or other conversational agents (Façade counts!), as well as those who build them.
Subject: Seeking chatbot study participants
Calling all: Chatbot Users and Chatbot Makers
If you have used or have built chatbots, or conversational agents, please participate in my online study of these research communities and their priorities. I am looking to get a sense of who make bots, who use them, and in what ways. The questions will only take a few minutes to answer, but participants can return to participate in ongoing discussions.
To participate, go to: http://wrt.ucr.edu/wordpress/chatbot-survey/
The study will begin August 8 and continue until October 15.
This is a confidential study. Please see the site for information about privacy and participation.
Mark Marino, Ph.D. Candidate, UCR., mmarino @ WriterResponseTheory.org
August 3, 2005
Alan Liu has finished many months of work on a report that will help to keep electronic literature working for readers, scholars, students, and authors in the future. The result is Born-Again Bits: A Framework for Migrating Electronic Literature, which outlines two main approaches to keeping e-lit functioning over the years, across changes in platform. While the responsibility of putting it all together fell to Alan, the report is an outcome of the Electronic Literature Organization’s PAD (Preservation, Archiving, and Dissemination) project and is co-authored by David Durand, Nick Montfort, Merrilee Proffitt, Liam R. E. Quin, Jean-Hugues Réty, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. There’s an announcement on the ELO site; of course, please check out Born-Again Bits itself, and feel free to comment here about it.