Grand Text Auto

June 29, 2003

Beyond Beatmaster

by noah @ 12:44 am

arcade drum game, traditional japanese styleWandering around Shibuya, and into the big Sega arcade, I found people playing a traditional Japanese version of the drumming version of Dance Dance Revolution.

Later, outside the train station, a group of kids were playing bongo drums. The crowd cleared a circle around them so another group of kids could take turns pop lock dancing to the beat. My first experience with hippy/hip-hop fusion. I’m liking being back in Tokyo.

June 27, 2003

What We Write About When We Write About Behavior

by andrew @ 10:22 am

Lately I’ve been wondering how authors of non-linear interactive experiences develop their designs. Specifically, before coding, what are the ways people describe, represent, write down, their designs? Creating a written description of a system gets particularly tricky when the system’s behavior is more complex than what a state machine or graph can represent.
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June 25, 2003

Aleph-one: Borges and Digital Art

by nick @ 3:11 am

My friend Martín Hadis has just written and coded up a new site on the life and works of Jorge Luis Borges. (Martín is coeditor of Borges Profesor, a collection of Borges’s lectures on English literature.) The new site is available in Spanish and English, offers not only bibliographical information but also a Web directory and suggestions on how to begin reading Borges’s stories and poems - and it should continue to grow in the future, hopefully to incorporate more information about Borges’s influence in the digital realm.

Yes, there are some good Borges resources in English out there already, but this extensive site, with everything from syllabi to continually-updated news, looks to be quite nice. And what better excuse to mention that Borges has inspired almost innumerable works of digital art? There’s hypertext fiction - Stuart’s “forking paths” and Victory Garden are two well-known examples that riff on Borges to a greater and lesser extent; there are several dozen other examples out there, based on several stories. There are other sorts of based-on-Borges or Borges-inspired digital works, ranging from Library-of-Babel-like exhaustive programs to Simon Biggs’s Babel to The Intruder, Natalie Bookchin’s art game. Borges has even been linked to Riven. There was certainly a reason that Noah and I chose a story of his to kick off the New Media Reader. I don’t have the energy now to begin a lengthy essay about how my readings of Borges have influenced my work (having just finished proofreading my book), but I’ll invite any of you to at least comment on that, if you like, or to share your thoughts about Martín’s site. Feel free to fill in any of the numerous Borges-inspired works on the Web that I’ve missed, also!

See you There

by andrew @ 2:30 am

Second Life, “a rapidly growing and constantly changing 3D online society, shaped entirely by its residents”, officially started on Monday. Read the press release here. Free 5 day memberships are available; beyond that, it’s $15 / month.

I’ve yet to experience Second Life, but from what I’ve read, I’m pretty excited by this online world. For my taste, I’m much more interested in “real life” style online worlds, such as Second Life or There.com, versus fantasy online worlds such as Everquest. (Although, the screenshots of Second Life and There do seem a bit like “J.Crew” world to me. And, I have to admit, Star Wars Galaxies, which launches tomorrow, has some strong appeal. Hard to beat that brand I guess.)

I’m still not sure that online worlds like SecondLife and There, without strong computer-generated characters / narrative, will be able to sustain my interest. i.e., can the shenanigans of human players alone keep me entertained, or would it require the integration of some sort of interactive drama technology to keep me a paying subscriber?

June 23, 2003

Trek to Utrecht

by andrew @ 11:52 am

The program for the 1st international digital games research conference, LEVEL UP, this November in the Netherlands, is now online. It’s quite a program.

June 22, 2003

Modes of AI-based art

by michael @ 10:13 pm

Harold’s post inspired me to post on what I see as the modes or genres of AI-based art. The modes described here are not mutually exclusive; a single piece may simultaneously explore multiple modes or genres. I would love to hear any comments describing a new mode (with an example) or an alternative categorization scheme.
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June 18, 2003

20 Questions (Okay, Really Only 5)

by nick @ 9:43 pm

In typing up a recent comment to add to the neverending thread on the category “Games in Virtual Environments” I realized that I know very little about which traditional games are played in different cultures. Well, not very little, perhaps - but I don’t exactly know what I do and don’t know about this. Certainly, I’m aware that lots of people will know what chess is, and that all sorts of consumer products (games included) have made their way to other markets, but I think I have a much better sense of what literature and art is known cross-culturally than I do when it comes to non-computer games.

After a discussion with some friends about spelling bees (which seem to have originated in America), we realized that this sort of contest would be absolutely absurd in Japan, where words are spelled exactly as they are pronounced. In crossword puzzles there are plenty of national differences; sources indicate that we find “American, cryptic, quick, freeform, coded, French-style and clues-in-squares crosswords.” But it isn’t only within language games that we can find these sorts of variations.
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June 17, 2003

Harold Cohen on artist programmers

by andrew @ 2:46 pm

As we have been discussing artist programmers and meaning machines on grandtextauto, I sent an email to Harold Cohen, creator of AARON, asking if he’d like to share his thoughts on the topic. To my delight, he wrote back with the following comments.


Harold Cohen:

I wrote my first program early in 1969, at which point, I’m sure you must realize, the option of using an existing package as opposed to writing your own program didn’t exist — there weren’t any packages. If there had been I suspect I’d never have thought computing had anything to offer me.

That reflection leads me to one rather obvious comment; I don’t see anyone saying why they got involved in computing, what they wanted from it. And in the absence of any driving personal need, questions about whether one needs to program or not seem very arbitrary.
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June 13, 2003

Caught my eye

by andrew @ 7:22 pm

The Digital Storytelling Festival is underway in Arizona, blogged here and on Fray. Brenda Laurel presented a project called Backstory she and others are doing at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where she is chair of the media design program. Mark Bernstein calls Backstory “a really ambitious effort … to harness the storytelling power of teens for social change.”

More reading on the topic of artist programmers in an essay, Are the days of the lone programmer numbered?

Some new books: The nature of computer games: play as semiosis, by David Meyers. Ernest Adams, a longtime contributor to Gamasutra, has teamed up with Andrew Rollings to publish a book on game design.

A blog post from OnePotMeal called Weblogs as Literature does an unusual comparison of blogging and text-based interactive fiction. Another interesting blog post on Golublog followed called quick texts and slow conversations.

In a June 5 column Dear Darpa Diary (now only available in the paid NYTimes archive), William Safire was creeped out by Darpa’s LifeLog project, tackling the problem of “how individuals might capture and analyze their own experiences, preferences and goals. The LifeLog capability would provide an electronic diary to help the individual more accurately recall and use his or her past experiences to be more effective in current or future tasks.”

June 11, 2003

Sweden Trip Report (complete with drama management digression)

by michael @ 1:42 pm

I just spent the last week in Stockholm as an invited opponent on a licentiate thesis in interactive drama. While there I was able to visit with a number of folks in the Swedish Institute for Computer Science, the IT University of Kista, and the mobility studio of the Interactive Institute.
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June 9, 2003

You put your left foot in

by nick @ 3:04 pm

As we get serious about studying new forms of art and new sorts of games, the question of how to draw categories for consideration arises. Defining categories isn’t just some tedious Scandanavian pastime; it’s also a way of figuring out why exactly we are more interested in some stuff than in some other stuff. Do we like certain types of literary works because they are presented on a computer, for instance, or because they require effort from the reader, who participates in determining what is read? (This is the implicit question asked in Cybertext and in some of Espen Aarseth’s earlier writing.)

Espen, Stephen Granade, and some others have been discussing the virtues of the category “Games in Virtual Environments,” as an alternative to “computer games,” here on Grand Text Auto. The “virtual environment” is a feature of interest to me (it’s part of my definition of interactive fiction, while “game” is not) and also, I think, of interest to Stuart. In fact, I do think there is something more interesting about richly world-simulating computer games than one sees in computerized versions of card and board games. But this idea for a category also raises some questions.
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June 8, 2003

Moulthrop Feature at TIR Web

by noah @ 11:59 pm

The Iowa Review Web this month features Stuart Moulthrop. In addition to the official publication of Pax (mentioned in this space earlier) the feature includes an interview with Stuart conducted by yours truly. It was this conversation with Stuart that really got me thinking about the notion of “instrumental texts” and I suspect it’ll prove similarly thought-provoking for many. Here’s an excerpt to get you started…


Noah Wardrip-Fruin: Talk with me about the idea of an “instrumental text”…

Stuart Moulthrop: It’s an idea I first heard mentioned by John Cayley at the 2000 Digital Arts and Culture conference, when I think it was relatively new for him. What I’m particularly taken with is the notion of a middle space between literary texts and ludic texts—between interactive fiction, or hypertext fiction, and games. You have, with instruments, a text with behavior and temporal dimensions that in some ways maps onto the temporal experience and interactive possibilities in game design. The idea of an instrumental text is part of my continuing movement away from node-link and disjunctive hypertext. [keep reading]


Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that anyone who hasn’t already should read last month’s excellent TIR Web Joe Tabbi feature. The “Overwriting” essay it includes is — among its many virtues — perhaps the most thoughtful consideration of The Impermanence Agent that I’ve ever seen.

June 6, 2003

Collaborations

by andrew @ 4:19 pm

We’ve had an array of wonderful comments in the two previous posts on artist programmers. (I just added a lengthy comment with a bunch of new links.)

Another facet of this debate: What happens when artists and programmers collaborate? The issues are more than just the potential cultural divide of freaks vs. geeks, but also the (perhaps unpleasant) issue of artistic credit. I’ve heard more than one story of a team of people working on a new media art piece “led” by a “primary” artist, who effectively takes all of the credit for the piece, when those who did the actual programming deserve at least as much credit for the success of the work. Sound familiar?
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June 4, 2003

Meaning machines

by michael @ 11:42 am

Andrew raises the question of whether artists should program. The answer is yes. Here’s why.

Computers are not fundamentally about producing 2D visual imagery, video, or 3D models (everything taught in the typical into to electronic media classes).

Computers are not fundamentally about responding to the input of a user/player/interactor (computer-based interactive everything).

Computers are not fundamentally about controlling motors, lights, projectors, or other electro-mechanical systems (installation art, robotic sculpture).

Computers are not fundamentally about mediating signals from distant locations (telepresence).
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June 3, 2003

Methinks I see some crooked mimic jeer

by nick @ 5:23 pm

I caught up with Michael in Atlanta on my way back from ACH/ALLC. Michael and I got to talking about (among other things) programs to generate stories, poems, and other creative texts. He mentioned that he benefits from looking at thoughtful symbolic architectures for this sort of thing, such as Minstrel, but really finds nothing of interest in the statistical approaches taken by systems like Gnoetry and Ray Kurzweil’s Cybernetic Poet.(Correct me if I’m misrepresenting you, Michael!) On the other hand, I do think there’s something to the way that these statistical systems manage to knit together a new sort of voice - something that makes the process of the generator interesting to consider - and I’ve written about this a bit in an article that is forthcoming in The Cybertext Yearbook 2003. Interestingly, a paper by Greg Lessard at ACH/ALLC described a limerick generator he had developed, called VINCI, so this topic is still a current one.

Our discussion led to questions about how, in this specific case of creative text generation, symbolic/rule-based AI can be integrated with statistical AI to achieve some of the advantages of each. …
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June 2, 2003

Reading Nelson

by noah @ 11:10 pm

In the Narrative as Virtual Reality comments thread, I’ve suggested rather strongly that those who plan to discuss hypertext should read the work of Ted Nelson — as both the term “hypertext” and the ideas it describes come from his writings.

Of course, such suggestions often lead to the question, “Where can I read Nelson’s writings?” Unfortunately, they aren’t found in the local chain bookstore, and perhaps not even in the local research library. So I’ve put together a few pointers.
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