Grand Text Auto

November 30, 2003

Joining Zoesis

by andrew @ 12:01 am

I liked the Oz Project so much, I joined the company. Tomorrow’s my first day at Zoesis, a startup company in the Boston area developing AI-based interactive character and interactive drama technology. (This helps explain my recent move to Boston, in case you were wondering.)

November 29, 2003

‘Bang the Machine’

by andrew @ 10:54 am

We’d mentioned this before, but now there’s more details: the press release for the game-art show “Bang the Machine” at Yerba Buena Arts Center in San Francisco, mid-January through early April.

November 27, 2003

Ludology vs. Narratology: They Will Fight Eternally

by nick @ 11:13 am

In the latest installment of the ludology vs. narratology debate, Gonzalo Frasca says “that’s not an argument! there never was such a debate!” and I say “yes there was!”

Happy Thanksgiving; I’d like to give thanks to the military-academic-industrial complex for general-purpose computing and the Internet.

November 26, 2003

Patent Poet

by andrew @ 9:29 am

Ray Kurzweil has been awarded a patent for his AI-based cybernetic poetry software. (via NYTimes)

Kurzweil, a successful developer of AI-based technologies and author of several books including The Age of Spiritual Machines, has an elaborate website promoting AI — that is, “accelerating intelligence.” (I just discovered his AI-oriented newsfeed; I’ll add it to our resource list…)

As you can see on his cyberart website — “we create software that creates art” — Kurzweil has collaborated with veteran AI-based artist Harold Cohen, with whom we had a discussion on this blog last June.

Wired on Affective Computing

by andrew @ 9:02 am

Found by way of the newsfeed mentioned above, Wired has a new article about Rosalind Picard’s Affective Computing group at the MIT Media Lab, describing a virtual, conversational exercise coach character developed by Tim Bickmore (who had in years back helped develop the virtual real estate agent Rea in Justine Cassell’s Gesture and Narrative Language group). Michael and I have met Tim regularly at various AAAI symposia, he’s a good guy.

A lot of the research discussed in the article has overlap and potential for application in interactive art and entertainment. Towards the end of the article the hype dissipates a bit and more cautious, critical voices are heard — Shneiderman, Norman.

November 25, 2003

ICVS Trip Report

by andrew @ 5:29 pm

Nicolas Szilas contributed this summary of the recent Virtual Storytelling conference. Thanks, Nicolas!

Back from Toulouse

ICVS was in Toulouse this year, in the southwest of France. Once again (after TIDSE’03), this European conference managed to gather researchers on virtual storytelling from both Europe and US. Three other continents were even represented, by researchers from Japan, South Africa and Australia.

The term “virtual” in the name of the conference reveals an orientation of the conference towards Virtual Reality, hence some papers which to my point of view (and others’!) were not totally on the topic of interactive story… I will focus here on papers related to narrative, obviously.

“State of Play” Papers Online

by andrew @ 4:44 pm

Find them here. Good stuff. (via misc is the largest category)

November 24, 2003

Teaching Computation as an Expressive Medium

by michael @ 12:40 pm

I haven’t been blogging much the last couple of months; this semester has been overwhelming. As the semester winds down and I begin blogging again, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on my experiences teaching Computation as an Expressive Medium.

As I described before, this class is a graduate introduction to programming for students coming from arts and humanities backgrounds. It contains a mixture of students in LCC’s Information Design and Technology program, as well as students in the HCI master’s program (many of the HCI students come from non-programming backgrounds). For the theoretical component of the class, I’m using Nick and Noah’s New Media Reader.

The initial syllabus was far too ambitious, both in terms of programming projects and readings. We ended up doing only the first four projects, not six, and reading about half the readings. Class presentation of the programming material took longer than I had initially planned.

It was challenging coordinating the readings with the projects. I tried to coordinate the readings with the conceptual backgrounds of the assignments. For example, while working on Project 3, the “build your own image manipulation tool” project, we read:

  • Man-Computer Symbiosis (Licklider)
  • Sketchpad: A Man-Machine Graphical Communication Systems (Sutherland)
  • A Cyborg Manifesto (Haraway)
  • The GNU Manifesto (Stallman).


November 23, 2003

Reaction to Littlejohn

by andrew @ 12:33 pm

Randy Littlejohn recently wrote a Gamasutra article (free registration required) in which he’s “agitating for the creation of a new kind of interactive experience that is comfortable and compelling for the masses,” namely interactive drama. This post is a reaction to the article, in the process sounding the same horn you’ve heard from me in previous posts, but with a few new comments inspired by the article. As usual I’ll use Façade in most of my talking points even though very few people have gotten the chance to play it, as it’s in its final months of development; again we apologize for that.

These reactions will make the most sense if you’ve already read the article — if you haven’t yet, I encourage you to do so!

November 21, 2003

Flying Monkey Spotted Online

by nick @ 4:34 pm

AGNI, a literary magazine I worked for when I was at Boston University, is now publishing some material exclusively online. (The magazine’s logo, incidentally, is a flying monkey.) AGNI was founded by Askold Melnyczuk, who ran the magazine for 30 years, but it has taken wing online under its new editor, none other than the famous book reviewer and famous book elegiast Sven Birkerts, who wrote in introducing the website:

Had you given me the crystal ball ten years ago, when I was putting out anti-technology jeremiads one after the next, I would have thought about going into the next room with my service revolver and doing what used to be called “the right thing.”

We could of course continue to pillory Birkerts, author of the rather anti-computer book The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (the line forms over here…) but we could also ask whether we’d be willing to change our own opinions about technology to such an extent, and whether we’d be willing to put in similar amounts of effort to make the computer, and the online space, reflect the values and arts (literary or otherwise) that we care about.

Skotos StoryBuilding on Social Gaming

by andrew @ 12:31 pm

More multiplayer madness coming at you… A new article about social gaming by Shannon Appelcline on Lots (er, tons) of articles to be found there.

I’ve yet to play any Skotos games/stories (see the FAQ’s for what it is). Their flagship games, “multiplayer prose roleplaying games,” sound interesting. How much does this community overlap with the text-adventure IF community?

Particularly impressive-sounding are the authoring tools for non-programmers. “A cornerstone of the Skotos community is the ability to create your own games. Our goal is to make it easy and intuitive for game designers and story tellers to share the ideas that live in their heads.” Can anyone share for us their experience creating and playing these games / stories?

‘Real Life: The Full Review’

by andrew @ 9:08 am

Gamespot gives “Real Life” a whopping 9.6 rating out of 10, and an Editor’s Choice Award!
;-) (via the PowerPill)

November 20, 2003

Deadline Approaches for Only eWriting Grad Fellowship

by noah @ 10:28 pm

So you’re an artist, and you work with new media, and you want to go to graduate school. If you’re a composer, you go to an electronic music program. If you’re an installation artist, you go to an electronic art program. But what if you’re a writer?

As far as I know, there’s only one writing program in the world that offers a yearly fellowship in electronic writing — Brown’s. And this year the deadline for application has been moved up to December 15th. Anyone who wants to throw their hat in the ring had better get movin’.

For more information, check out Brown’s web page on electronic writing.

ICVS Underway

by andrew @ 10:30 am

Today in Toulouse is day one of the two-day 2nd Int’l Conference on Virtual Storytelling (the 1st one having been held in Avignon, so it appears to be a French affair ;-) Michael and I would love to be there of course, but we’ve each travelled to Europe twice this year for conferences and have to draw the line somewhere… We did help review papers though. Nicolas Szilas, a regular commenter here on GTxA and presenter at ICVS, will hopefully be writing up a conference summary for us.

The program looks good, I’ll highlight a few titles that stood out to me: “Building virtual actors who can really act” from Ken Perlin of NYU (check out his Polly’s World demo if you haven’t already; more on Ken in an adjacent post); “Character-focused Narrative Planning for Execution in Virtual Worlds” from the NCSU Liquid Narrative group; “Authoring Edutainment Stories for Online Players (AESOP): Introducing Gameplay into Interactive Dramas” from U.Penn (more in an adjacent post); “Storytelling for Recreating Our Selves: ZENetic Computer” from Naoko Tosa et al; “The Art of Mixing Realities” from Sally Jane Norman; “Just Talking About Art - Creating Virtual Storytelling Experiences in Mixed Reality” from Ulrike Spierling and Ido Iurgel (who helped organize TIDSE03); “Users Acting in Mixed Reality Interactive Storytelling” from Cavazza, Charles et al; “Authoring Highly Generative Interactive Drama” from Nicolas Szilas et al.

Also a company called Immersion will present “the first laser device projecting information onto the retina”. Hmm, I’m not sure I’d volunteer to try that one out…

Notable New Research

by andrew @ 9:58 am

The above post on ICVS gives me the excuse to highlight three new academic researchers / projects that seem very interesting: procedural literacy, stealth learning, and computational (proto)ethics…

November 18, 2003

The IF Comp is Over — Long Live IF!

by nick @ 5:58 pm

The results are in from the 2003 Interactive Fiction Competition! The collaborative work Slouching Towards Bedlam by Star Foster and Daniel Ravipinto took top honors. In second place was Michael Coyne’s Risorgimento Represso, then Quintin Stone’s Scavenger, then Daniel Freas’s The Erudition Chamber, and then Aaron A. Reed ’s Gourmet. And many of the 25 other entries are worth playing. For those who didn’t get to play during the Comp, you can still download all the games in one file.

What is there to do after finishing the comp games and reading the slew of thoughtful reviews, for instance, the ones by Dan Shiovitz, or those by many others that have posted on Well, you might want to try matching these 30 drawings each to one of the IF Comp entries (this topical art is by XYZZY award winner J. Robinson Wheeler).

Or you could always read Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. It has just been published — I haven’t gotten a copy myself yet, but I got a note from MIT Press about it today.

New Issue of Dichtung-Digital

by andrew @ 4:00 pm

The current Scandanavian-focused issue of dichtung-digital has several new articles that should be of interest to the grandtextauto crowd, such as The Elements of Simulation in Digital Games by Äkin Jarvinen, Paradigms of Interaction: Conceptions and Misconceptions of the Field Today by Lisbeth Klastrup, Is There a Place for Digital Literature in the Information Society? by Raine Koskimaa, and The Geography of a Non-place by Torill Mortensen. Genießen Sie die Papiere.

Jill pulls an interesting quote from one of the papers.

November 17, 2003

Copyright and Missing the Point of the Computer

by nick @ 9:31 am

A week and a half ago I went to Copyright and the Networked Computer. Noah was there too. There were lots of lawyers.

I enjoyed and learned from the presentations and questions and from many of my conversations with lawyers, computer scientists, and others. It was nice that some people appreciated the public domain and appropriationist art (and that all art is appropriationist to some extent), but hearing from staffers on “both sides” of the issue in the House of Representatives left me feeling unwell. The framework of the discussion simply seemed wrong. So I’ll leave the trip report duties to Noah and post something polemic instead.

I gave a short talk, “Condemned to Reload It: Forgetting New Media.”

The shorter talk I should have given is “Stop Handcuffing My Mind.”

November 16, 2003

Follow Your Shadow, or Vice-Versa

by andrew @ 7:10 pm

This Friday at the Eyebeam gallery in Chelsea, NYC, is the opening of Beta Launch: Artists in Residence Part2, which includes Shadow, “an interactive installation that projects a disembodied, autonomous, human shadow on the ground. This apparently living, intelligent shadow attempts to merge itself with the viewer’s real shadow. When this occurs, the invisible figure, implied by the virtual shadow, inhabits the viewer’s own personal space.”
This is the kind of interactive art I really like, and wish there were more of. I strongly believe that there are so many interesting art pieces one can do with realtime autonomous characters in a gallery space — this is a frontier just waiting to be pioneered. For example, Simon Penny’s Petit Mal (1995), and Mark Bohlen and Michael Mateas’ Office Plant #1 (1998). Works likes these are both compelling conceptually and entertaining to experience.

The artists behind Shadow are Adam Frank and Zack Simpson. Adam and I worked together at PFMagic for several years on the Virtual Petz and Babyz projects, and I’ve been much looking forward to seeing his interactive art installation ideas get realized. Check out some of Adam’s now older but still fun online artwork. Adam will be speaking at Eyebeam on November 25 about Shadow on a panel called “Tracking Behaviors”.

Zack’s one of the people behind Shadow Garden, both a series of interactive artworks and an innovative full-body user interface. Shadow Garden was used as the platform for last year’s Indie Game Jam, part of the Experimental Gameplay Workshop (which now has a new call for proposals for 2004’s event, by the way). Zack’s page also lists lots of interesting game programming papers and source code.

Congrats Adam and Zack! I’ll try my best to make the trek from Boston.

Home Intelligence

by andrew @ 4:55 pm

A NYTimes article by James Gleick discusses new innovations in artificially intelligent houses. “Our technolust and Luddite impulses have rarely been so provoked — and at the same time and in the same people.”

Concerto for Videogames

by andrew @ 4:32 pm

Last August in Leipzig, Germany was apparently the world’s first symphony concert to feature music from popular Western and Japanese videogame soundtracks, including Final Fantasy, Battlefield 1942, and Zelda Wind Walker. Andy Brick conducted the Czech National Orchestra. (via Game Developer Magazine)

November 14, 2003

Second Life Gives Users IP Rights to their Characters

by scott @ 7:10 pm

Lawmeme reports that Second Life, an avatar game discussed in recent posts, has made a decision to let player-characters keep the intellectual property rights they create. Players, for instance, have the right to sell movie rights for their character. See Participant Content under the Second Life terms of service agreement. Of course, the player also grants Second Life nonexclusive rights to the content, but nevertheless, this is a fascinating decision with regard to virtual property. I think it also has some interesting implications regarding the idea that games can be a creative environment, in which players actually make new “works” that could have some economic value.

Agitation Reaction On Gamasutra

by andrew @ 4:48 pm

I haven’t yet had the chance to write a reaction to Randy Littlejohn’s impassioned article about interactive drama on Gamasutra from two weeks ago (requires free registration); I hope to post something next week. However I just discovered a discussion board hidden within Gamasutra called “Letters to the Editor“, where a lively debate about the article has already been going on. :-)

Actually it’s best to start reading the discussion starting from an October 3 letter that responds to Craig Lindley’s excellent game taxonomy article (that I had linked to in the midst of the Frasca fracas we had about a month back), and then work your way up through the next 17 or so “letters”.

It’s amazing how many active forums for discussion are out there; makes me wonder what other valuable discussions we’re missing out on. I’ll add a link to the Letters part of Gamasutra to our blogroll.

November 13, 2003

DARPA/IPTO Program in Narrative Intelligence?

by nick @ 12:51 pm

No time for a full report on this conference or even on the last one that I went to, but, speaking of narrative intelligence and America’s Army, one program awaiting funding from the DoD is called “Episodic Memory” and seeks researchers who take something of an NI approach to memory and experience. There have been many interesting things at this DARPA/IPTO Cognitive Systems conference, which announces another big AI push, the presentation on this program by Doug Gage is one thing that stood out as being of to Grand Text Auto folks. Since many of us know already why, in general, it can be helpful to think of memory as being organized into narrative, I’ll instead mention the specific military uses that Gage discussed:

  • Supporting human episodic memory
    • Recall what happened and when to help people deal with the fog of battle; help people in an operations center deal with things that happed on the last shift when they weren’t around
    • Build military assistive applications to aid in decisionmaking
    • Build military training applications to help train at all times (including during battles)
    • Build military query applications to help locate appropriate staff resources for tasks
  • Create cognitive systems that themselves use episodic memory

More soon, I hope…

November 12, 2003

New Phd Program in Digital Media

by andrew @ 5:35 pm

Janet Murray is announcing a new PhD program in Digital Media at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Applications are due Feb 1.

I must say, it looks pretty tempting… great people, warm weather, land of soul food… I’d want to go there if I were looking to get a degree.

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