Grand Text Auto

December 31, 2003

New Issue of Game Studies

by andrew @ 2:12 pm

Hey everybody, a new issue of Game Studies is out, squeezed in under the wire as their second issue for 2003. The articles include:

“On Virtual Economies”, by Edward Castronova
“Sim Sin City - Some thoughts about Grand Theft Auto 3″, by Gonzalo Frasca
“‘I Lose, Therefore I Think’ - A Search for Contemplation amid Wars of Push-Button Glare”, by Shuen-shing Lee
“When Seams Fall Apart- Video Game Space and the Player”, by Laurie Taylor
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown - Interactivity and signification in Head Over Heels”, by Jan Van Looy

(via Ludology.org)

By the way — happy new year! I think I’m speaking for everyone on grandtextauto by saying 2003 was a fruitful and interesting year. We’re looking forward to more great discussions with you all in 2004 here on grandtextauto and related places in the blogosphere. :-)

Linky lucre

by nick @ 5:16 am

Jill’s recent post on “linktheft” and the fact that I’ve recently read one of the PageRank papers got me thinking about links. Blog spam by those seeking more PageRank has become a real annoyance. We’ve be slogged by spam as well; some other bloggers have taken rather extreme measures in response. I re-read Jill’s paper Links and Power and also looked at some of the descriptions of PageRank online to make sure I understood the article by Larry Page et al. Here are a few observations…
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December 30, 2003

Meetings, Journals, Deadlines

by andrew @ 8:58 am

Every year the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) holds a big yearly conference, this year in San Jose from July 25-29. One of the workshops this time around is “Challenges in Game AI“. Submissions are due March 12 for short papers in areas including AI methodologies, AI and game design, or case studies, including topics such as architectures, action planning, decision-making, multiple agent coordination, dynamic gameplay generation, learning, natural language interaction, characters, emotion, interface standards, and tools.

AAAI also holds symposia in the spring and sometimes in the fall; this spring, March 22-24 at Stanford, includes “Exploring Attitude and Affect in Text“.

Springer’s Journal of Virtual Reality has just released a special edition on Storytelling. And, there’s currently a call for papers for another Storytelling issue, abstracts due Jan 31, papers due Feb 28.

Also, while we’re at it: TIDSE04 (Darmstadt, Germany, June 24-26) is due Jan 30; Agents (NYC, July 19-23) is due Jan 21; SIGGRAPH (LA, Aug 8-12) papers due Jan 21, Art Gallery Jan 28, Emerging Technologies Feb 4; Hypertext (Santa Cruz, Aug 9-13) is due Feb 4; and, the AISB Expressive Characters Symposium Noah recently mentioned, abstracts due Jan 9.

December 28, 2003

And Flights of Monkeys Sing Thee to Thy Rest

by nick @ 11:57 pm

Adam Cadre’s new interactive fiction, Narcolepsy, (top item on the page) is just out and seems at first taste to be curiously strong, magically delicious, etc. Although also named after an affliction, this piece isn’t as intricately puzzling as Adam’s Varicella. Exploration and alternate (and ontologically inconsistent) plot progression is more the idea in Narcolepsy.

While continuing the tradition of car accidents in ergodic literature and computer games, Cadre’s latest is, among other things, a rollicking and wacky conflation of aspects of Galatea, Patchwork Girl, The Manchurian Candidate, etc. I won’t give away which aspects.

I’m one of a dozen authors who contributed short (and expendable) segments of Narcolepsy; the IF community has done well in pioneering certain sorts of large-scale collaborations and this piece may represent yet another new way in which such collaborations can happen.

Also of note: Adam’s “games” page has been renamed “interactive fiction;” he describes on there to what extent game and story play a role in each of his works of IF. He mentioned he was going to make this change in his extensive and thoughtful recent comments about Twisty Little Passages, about which I should probably say something at some point. But not right now - I feel strangely tired …

December 24, 2003

Expressive Characters Symposium

by noah @ 8:07 pm

At NYU I worked with the Improv folks, and I’ve remained interested in responsive animated characters. (After all, we couldn’t have projects like Facade without them.) This year’s meeting of the UK’s Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and the Simulation of Behaviour (SSAISB) is themed Motion, Emotion and Cognition. Included within it is a symposium on “Language Speech and Gesture for Expressive Characters.” The abstract submission deadline is nearly upon us — 9 January, 2004. I haven’t found a copy of the CFP online, so I’ll post a copy of the email CFP here.
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December 23, 2003

Dean Gaming

by andrew @ 3:03 pm

This just in — Ian Bogost and Gonzalo Frasca have just released a new political game commissioned by the Howard Dean for America presidential campaign!

In “The Howard Dean for Iowa Game“, you try your best to help Dean win the Iowa Caucus. You run around trying to get as many people as possible to notice your “Howard Dean” sign, and to knock as many doors as you can. I especially enjoyed trying to hand out as many leaflets as I could to harried passers-by. Made me feel for the people who try to do this out in the cold in real life.

Political videogaming has now reached official status. This is an important moment in the world of political games and game rhetoric, since never before has a candidate, let alone a US Presidential candidate, embraced games as a viable communication medium.

It will be interesting to see what kind of reaction this generates among Dean supporters, and in the media…

Great job Ian, Gonzalo and the Persuasive Games team for pulling this feat off in a very short amount of time!

Also be sure to check out Gonzalo’s newsgaming.com’s first political game, “Sept 12“, and some of the discussion it generated. And, on a very related note, in case you missed it, check out my recent post about “AI Bush”, which from what I can tell was not commissioned by the Bush for President campaign. :-)

Articles Aplenty

by andrew @ 2:26 pm

Today has been some kind of day for new articles…

The future of adventure games is the topic of a series of smart essays by Marek Bronstring of Adventure Gamers (now added to our resources links list). Looks like a really interesting and informative read.

And Gamespot interviews Will Wright about The Sims 2. Advances from The Sims 1 include giving the player control over the camera, and greatly increasing the fidelity of the graphics, animation and probably behavior. I must say the screenshots look *amazing*. It looks scarily good to me. (Start here and keep clicking “previous”) For some perspective on gamers’ dissatisfaction with The Sims 1, read the comments on Slashdot Games.

(via Slashdot Games)

(Dis)Content

by andrew @ 11:35 am

Further reinforcing the point about the need for new kinds of content in interactive entertainment is a new Salon.com article by gamegirladvance’s Jane Pinckard, “Video gaming and its discontents“. (Click on “free day pass” to read the article for free.)

… I just want what every gamer wants — smarter games. More meaningful games. Games that relate to other people. That relate to other things. Games that push me off the screen and off the couch. …

… We’re ready to move beyond games as nicely packaged, salable consumer products. We’re ready for cultural products. Good, bad, and ugly games. Experimental games. Games that are not entirely successful but try out a new idea or a new technology. Games that are more than just games.

Couldn’t agree more!

December 22, 2003

If Monks Had Macs

by noah @ 2:54 pm

I remember this from when I moved to New York in 1994. One of the first new media people I met, I think it was Adrianne Wortzel, introduced me to If Monks Had Macs — a wild collection of HyperCard experiments and more. Now I see Matt Neuburg’s note in TidBits that If Monks is back:

“I’m not sure whether this counts as software, a game, a multimedia experience, a book, or nostalgia. It’s ‘If Monks Had Macs,’ which started life as a HyperCard stack before I even knew HyperCard existed, turned into a Voyager multimedia CD, and is now available cross-platform, thanks to Runtime Revolution. If Monks (as we like to call it) is impossible to describe. It’s a truly visionary hyperlinked collection of books, music, art, games, and activities, plus several applications you can use separately, such as a hyperlinked journal-writer and an ebook text reader that works with Project Gutenberg files and other free online books. It’s genuine New Media - a multi-dimensional, quirky vision from the mind of an eclectic thinker. If you’ve been wondering (and who hasn’t?) what Chesterton’s Father Brown, Heart of Darkness, Schubert, Thoreau, and the Kennedy assassination have to do with one another, this is your chance to find out. I remember the earliest If Monks incarnations with fondness, so this new version, which I have not seen, is on my wish list.”

December 21, 2003

ToySight

by scott @ 10:57 am

I recently downloaded the demo of ToySight, software that uses the mac’s iSight camera to integrate object and motion control into a variety of videogames and “toys.” The demo includes “Freefall,” a game in which you stand in front of the camera with arms extended as your avatar falls through the clouds, trying to collect balloons and land on target, and “Laser Harp,” a toy harp in which you pluck strings that appear in front of your image. It might just be the gee-whiz factor, but I see a lot of potential for this kind of cam-based interaction (admittedly not enough to buy the package, but I looking forward to playing more of the games with my friend’s daughter when she gets it). I wonder what kind of electronic literature we might dream up for this form of interaction? Maybe something like Noah et al’s Talking Cure could soon be coming to a laptop near you.

Form Ahead of Content

by andrew @ 6:43 am

A NYTimes magazine cover story about the interactive entertainment industry, profiling the CEO of Atari, ends with the author’s account of reluctantly picking up the gamepad and giving Max Payne a try.

The whole scenario strikes me (especially after he dies a few more times) as silly and ponderous and overly bloodthirsty, and yet there’s something there — a curious tension between control and no-control — that seems worth feeling solely on the grounds that, over a lifetime of novels and plays and movies and songs and paintings, I’ve never felt it before. The form is miles ahead of the content, and as long as the gold rush is on, it’ll probably stay that way. But, as in the first days of television or radio or the movies, the form is the whole thrill, and it’s more than thrill enough.

Is the thrill still enough? Some of us would disagree.

December 20, 2003

Model railroads and interactive fiction, please

by nick @ 3:54 pm

Here’s one for the Cybertext Yearbook 2004 - IF author and novelist Adam Cadre has taken up a somewhat offhand comment that Espen Aarseth made in his chapter on Deadine, which he dubbed the “Autistic Detective Agency.” He writes that not only does the player character in IF have to behave like an autist, but that IF itself “is geared towards the preferences of the autist.”

Adam’s bloglike Calendar features more interesting fare, often essay-length.

December 19, 2003

Toward a Theory of Interactive Fiction

by nick @ 10:50 pm

I’ve completed my article “Toward a Theory of Interactive Fiction” after about two years of having drafts of the article available online. (The last round of changes was rather minor.) It is a more thorough look at a topic covered briefly in chapter one of Twisty Little Passages - how narratology can inform a formal theory of interactive fiction, one that isn’t restricted to the narrative aspect of the form. Thanks to the many who commented on and criticized the piece, helping me to revise it.

ph33r my 1337 artw0rkz

by nick @ 11:44 am

Hanna made the mistake of mentioning the Killer Instinct exhibition to me before she blogged about it herself. It’s at the New Museum, and features pieces created by these artists who work with computer games, including 8-bit modder Cory Arcangel (mentioned before on here) and first-person appropriationist Eddo Stern (also mentioned). Perhaps in January I’ll get to see the exhibit.

December 18, 2003

Close Readings

by andrew @ 11:57 pm

Word Circuits (now added to our resource links list) has published a collection of seven short papers that “eschew general musings on the nature of electronic literature and instead dive right into a detailed close reading, filled with examples and quotations, perhaps even screen shots, of the text at hand.” The readings are polished versions of student papers from Matthew Kirschenbaum’s Digital Studies graduate course at the University of Maryland. The works dissected include ones by mez, geniwate, Diane Greco and GTxA’s own Scott Rettberg (who has his own blog by the way, with extra goodies he doesn’t post on this group blog).

From the growing field of game studies we’re beginning to see close readings of games as well. For example, at the LevelUp conference we heard a 90-minute tagteam dissection of Super Monkey Ball. But most impressive is Ludologica, a new series of books in which “distinguished game critics, scholars, and novelists explore the production and reception of their chosen video games in the context of an argument about the games social, cultural, and aesthetic importance. Each book presents the author’s insights into a game and its creator selected from a list of the most enduring and influential titles of the last 40 years. These innovative readings are not conventional game reviews or game guides. Rather, they situate the games in terms of the broader cultural debate that they informed.” The close readings include The Sims, Final Fantasy, Ultima, Metal Gear Solid 2, GTA, Doom, Ico, Sim City and more. The series is organized by Matteo Bittanti.

December 15, 2003

Interactive Storytelling Exam

by nick @ 1:35 pm

Although I should have been studying for my preliminary exam on Wednesday, today in the department I heard an unusual WPE-II presentation: “Interactive Storytelling: Coupling the Emotional Range of Drama with the Engagement of Interactivity.” (The WPE-II is the paper-and-talk that is the last of the preliminary exams here in the Department of Computer and Information Science at Penn, and will hopefully be my next stop after Wednesday.) The topic of Michael Johns’s talk (which was possibly closer to interactive drama than interactive storytelling) was hardly alien to me, but it was a bit different from the graph-theoretic or expectation-maximizing algorithmic goodness that we usually get around here.
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G.O.P. A.I., or Being Karl Rove

by andrew @ 9:04 am

I’ve always thought that good conversational virtual characters would require the skills of a politician, to respond to the player’s “off-topic” or “uncooperative” dialog by cleverly and believably turning the conversation back to topics that the virtual character knows or wants to talk about. We certainly do a lot of this in Facade, as needed.

Loebner contest (”The First Turing Test”) winners Kevin Copple and Robby Garner have teamed up with some Chinese researchers to create “AI Bush“:

Play the strategy game “Reelect Bush?” and see if GWB gets reelected, or not. You are a close advisor, whispering into George’s ear. He needs your help making decisions and answering pesky trivia questions that affect his chances of reelection, not to mention the effects various decisions can have on his conscience. GWB’s expressions, voice clips, and tracking polls tell you how things are going.

Yeah, darn those pesky trivia questions about weapons of mass destruction, global warming, etc.
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December 14, 2003

Blog on Blogs

by scott @ 11:19 pm

The students in my New Media Studies course this term produced Blog on Blogs, a review of several different types of weblogs. This semester was the first time we dedicated significant class time to weblogs, along with electronic lit genres including hypertext, new media poetry, and interactive fiction. I think it worked out pretty well as a class assignment, in that it both required the students to put some critical thought into weblogs as a genre, and to regard their own web writing as public discourse.

December 12, 2003

Finalists Announced for the 2004 Independent Games Festival

by andrew @ 1:33 pm

The 20 finalists for the 2004 Independent Games Festival, held as part of the Game Developers Conference in San Jose in March, have just been announced. 111 entries were submitted, and a committee of judges from the game industry picked 10 in the “Open” (i.e., cd-rom-based) category and 10 in the “Web/Downloadable” category to compete. GDC attendees get to play the games on the expo floor at the conference.

We’re thrilled to see that our interactive drama project, Facade, has made the cut!

Update: If you’re new to grandtextauto by way of links from the IGF site, I recommend checking out this past blog post, which contains links to several grandtextauto blog posts on interactive story and drama, including a discussion of a recent Gamasutra article that discusses Facade.

Freshmeat

by andrew @ 7:52 am

Surfing around, I came across freshmeat, which “maintains the Web’s largest index of Unix and cross-platform software… Thousands of applications, which are preferably released under an open source license, are meticulously cataloged in the freshmeat database, and links to new applications are added daily… offers a variety of original content on technical, political, and social aspects of software and programming.” Among many other things, the database includes almost 100 pieces of independent, free, open-source “artistic” software ranging from textual to graphical to aural in nature, many added within the last year, such as:

generate letter-like symbols based on a grammar | an ASCII-art animation tool | vee-jay software for live video processing | a program for generating random text with configurable morphology | an application that draws live, interactive, 2D fractal designed trees | software for jazz musicians | a project management and collaboration tool | a webcam for live ASCII video | a tool for live video processing and interactive installations | source code obfuscation for Perl | a highly scalable and portable audio engine and synthesizer | a tool for making large letters out of ordinary text | a very powerful, flexible language for describing music synthesis | a simplified, entertaining drawing program for young children | a graphical Blinkenlights simulator | algorithmically generated images and animations | an intuitive and flexible musical composition environment | the ultimate sprites factory | a tool for generating high quality raster images of proteins and other molecules | a package of routines for editing, processing, and creating soundfiles | a “generative art” image evolver | a Java-based framework for evolutionary programming | a visual dataflow programming environment for interactive multimedia | a graphical simulation of a lava lamp | a really cool tool for sound visualization and manipulation

Not to mention a huge array of independently made games… It’s amazing how much intelligent, free stuff is available out there if you look for it…

December 11, 2003

Reflective HCI Workshop

by michael @ 3:07 pm

A workshop at CHI2004, Reflective HCI: Towards Critical Technical Practice, promises to be an interesting venue. The phrase “Critical Technical Practice” (CTP) was coined by Phil Agre in Computation and Human Experience as a description for a technical practice that simultaneously questions its own philosophical and cultural foundations while using this questioning to open up new technical possibilities.
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December 10, 2003

Malloy and Halpern at TIR Web

by noah @ 9:00 am

The new issue of The Iowa Review Web is out, and it includes a couple of nice things. First, there’s a new piece from hyperfiction pioneer Judy Malloy. Malloy’s “narrabase” work “Uncle Roger” was one of the first hyperfictions I heard about (in an old issue of Leonardo) and it’s now available on the web in an annotated 2003 edition. The TIR Web piece is a new one, titled “Afterwards.”

Also worth checking out is an Interview with Tal Halpern by Patrick F. Walter. In addition there’s a link provided to Halpern’s “Digital Nature: the Case Collection. version 2.0″ — an artifactual hypertext commissioned by Turbulence that I’m just beginning to explore.

More information is available in the entries for Judy Malloy and Tal Halpern at the ever-expanding ELO Directory (speaking of which, got to submit some additional info there myself).

Darmstadt in June

by andrew @ 8:13 am

The second Technologies for Interactive Digital Storytelling and Entertainment conference (TIDSE) will be held June 24-26 in Darmstadt, Germany, which is near Frankfurt, about a 5 hour train ride from Paris. Papers are due January 30 (ugh, that’s soon…)

I recommend this gathering, it’s a mixture of technical papers / system building and design-oriented approaches. We attended this last year, presenting Facade, and got good feedback and warm enthusiasm. Like the DiGRA LevelUp conference, the attendance was about mostly European, about a quarter North American. There’s a lot of interactive narrative activity going on in Europe, so it’s a great way to meet all those folks and hear about their work. And a big highlight was Chris Crawford’s rousing keynote presentation.

Also Darmstadt is a charming little city, with some amazing Art Nouveau buildings and houses a short walk from the conference center. In late June it should be fabulous.

This year there was an issue that TIDSE overlapped with ICVS, a French version of almost exactly the same conference; it seems the two conferences have now agreed to take turns each year.

December 9, 2003

The Whoa Effect

by andrew @ 8:49 am

Last Saturday, from the bedroom window of our third story apartment, as we were admiring the results of the previous night’s snowstorm, the doorbell rang. Our new couch was due to be delivered that morning, but we thought, surely they would cancel. It seems we underestimated Boston furniture delivery truck drivers; minutes later I was relaxing in the living room on the new sofa with the December 1 issue of The New Yorker. After a brief nap to recover from my interrupted sleep earlier that morning — I always wake up before sunrise when I have lots of new events to process — I came across two articles, different but connected, that made me sit up and think.
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December 4, 2003

Utopian Gaming?

by scott @ 8:58 pm

A link off of Grimmelman’s article led me to the curious AgoraXchange project, which will launch in January. A team including net artist Natalie Bookchin and political theorist Jacqueline Stevens is behind the project, the goal of which is to create an MMG that poses an “alternative to the present world order” guided by four decrees that include the abolition of inherited property rights. The ambition of the project appears to be to create a game that will be instructive in reshaping global society. While such a simulation is unlikely to overthrow capitalism, the idea is a refreshing turn from many MMGs that seem hell-bent on promoting the acquisition of virtual wealth as the highest virtue to which gamers can aspire.

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