May 31, 2003

(Sharing) Control

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 2:22 pm

In the comment thread of Narrative as Virtual Reality, Lisa asks, “Why would an author *want* to yield the authorial control of a piece to some sort of AI engine?”

That’s a really good and interesting question. To me the issue of who has control (or, similarly, agency) of an interactive artwork is primary. There seem to be at least 3 parties who could be in (or share) control of an interactive artwork: the original author, the user, and the work itself (e.g., the AI).

May 30, 2003

Artist Programmers: an ongoing discussion

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 3:40 am

An issue we want to address on grandtextauto, as we discuss the practice of making computer-based art, literature, poetry, drama, etc., is the question of artists as, or needing to be, programmers. How can artists to learn to be programmers? Why aren’t more artists programmers? Can tools simplify or take the place of programming? What kind of programming languages are amenable to artists? At what point do artists need to be programmers? Isn’t it enough for artists just to collaborate with programmers? Are programmers artists?

This topic is too big to address in just a post or two – so we’ll be addressing it in blog posts over time. Please join in with comments, ideas, and opinions.

May 29, 2003

Digital Arts and Culture 2003

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:36 am

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. May 19 – May 23.

DAC is my “home conference” and the only place I know of where art, literature, music, performance, and games for the computer come together with serious scholarly discussion of new media. I’ve presented work there since the second time they put it on, in Atlanta in 1999, and the conference has been host to an array of great discussions and ideas, as well as leading me rather immediately to collaborate with Noah and with William Gillespie. Thus, I was determined not to miss DAC this year, even if it meant traveling halfway around the world in a pet carrier. Fortunately, it wasn’t that bad.

May 28, 2003

Shameless Plug #1

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 5:07 pm

Speaking of books, today in the mail I just received my copy of Narrative Intelligence, from John Benjamins Publishing. If you’re interested in “the confluence of narrative, artificial intelligence, and media studies,” this book is for you. It’s an edited volume that collects together some of the papers from the Fall 1999 AAAI symposium on Narrative Intelligence organized by Michael Mateas and Phoebe Sengers, with additional new papers by Brenda Laurel and Phil Agre. And, it’s got a cool lime green cover.

May 26, 2003

Narrative as Virtual Reality

I’ve been working on a review of Marie-Laure Ryan’s Narrative as Virtual Reality for Computers and the Humanities, the journal of the Association for Computers and the Humanities. It needs to be short, explain why the journal’s audience might be interested in Ryan’s topic, and also give my personal take on the book. I’d be very interested to hear comments on the draft below.

Last year Andrew Stern sent out an enthusiastic email message about Marie-Laure Ryan’s Narrative as Virtual Reality. He called it one of the best books to address interactive drama.

Interactive drama is an area of investigation that attracts scholarly and popular audiences. At its broadest, it covers the wide range of computer experiences that have story content, some form of performative enactment, and a means for the audience (whether a full theatre or a single person in front of their PC) to alter some aspect of this story or enactment. The group interested in interactive drama includes English professors who see it as a future form of literature, media scholars who see it as an approach for understanding computer games, computer scientists who see it as the next major application for artificial intelligence, and entertainment executives who see it as the next stage of cinema. Interest in interactive drama has contributed to the success of past books such as Brenda Laurel’s Computers as Theatre, Janet H. Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck, Espen Aarseth’s Cybertext, and Mark Stephen Meadows’s Pause and Effect.

Stern is one of the leading practitioners in the area of interactive character and drama. After getting his email I decided to do a web search and see what else I could learn about Narrative as Virtual Reality. To my surprise, I found almost nothing. There were some weblog comments, but few did more than mention the book’s existence. I didn’t find a single online review, and I found few references to offline ones. At the end of this process, my interest was piqued. A book came out from a major academic publisher on a topic of current interest — and to someone as well informed as Stern it was an exciting addition to the literature, but the field as a whole had largely ignored it. It was a bit of a mystery. And so, in order to have a reason to delve into this mystery myself, I set out to review this volume.

May 25, 2003

Comic Book Dollhouse

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 9:23 pm

Chaim Gingold, a recent graduate of the IDT masters program at Georgia Tech, has put his excellent written thesis (pdf) and thesis project (mac pc) online at His thesis provides a description of a miniature worlds aesthetic derived from the work and thoughts of Shigeru Miyamoto, Will Wright, and Seymour Papert, introduces the idea of “magic crayons” as lightweight computational languages that integrate conventions of artistic practice, and describes his thesis project, Comic Book Dollhouse.

His treatment of miniature worlds unpacks the design aesthetic of Shigeru Miyamoto. As Chaim states:

May 24, 2003

Your Own Little World

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:50 pm

I thought this sounded promising… If you’re looking for a way to get into developing your own small graphical virtual worlds for your own interactive stories or games, but aren’t sure how to get started, this might be of help. Flipcode, a great site for independent game developers, recently posted a link to the Reaction Engine, described as “a hobbyist game engine designed specifically for beginner programmers, making small fun games, or prototyping game ideas quickly.” It’s $60.

May 22, 2003

discourse intensity

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 3:33 am

Thanks to the link from Greg Costikyan’s latest post, I just discovered the intense debates underway on the Games Research Network listserv, recently established by DiGRA. Lately the discussions there have revived classic debates such as “what is interactivity” and “ludology vs. narratology”, as well as debating lots of other really interesting new topics and ideas contributed by some very bright people. Requires registration.

Meanwhile, a parallel debate apparently continues to rage down-under at DAC over the identity of ludologists.

Damn there’s a lot to read on the web these days.

May 21, 2003

They called me mad on USENET … I’ll show them!

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:42 pm

Here at DAC I’ve seen many great presentations and had several discussions that were provocative. I won’t try to repeat what’s been blogged about this already on the conference site; I do hope to post more on the conference later. Among many digital artist and researcher friends here, several are part of the new Center for Computer Games Research at the IT University of Copenhagen. (Of these folks at the Center, Espen, Lisbeth, and Susana are here at DAC.) I haven’t actually talked to Espen much about this, however; he and Noah and I instead have been spending time (and lots of money) trying to defeat House of the Dead 3.

The Space of Interactive Narrative

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:35 am

Last semester I taught a course on interactive narrative. One of the challenges in teaching such a course is presenting a unifying framework within which the many computer-based “story-like things” that people have made can be understood as a unity, as all being instances of interactive narrative. (The alternative is to present a hodge-podge of approaches to interactive narrative, but this isn’t nearly as much fun.) My approach was to present a design space organized around four degrees of freedom:

  • Interaction – the interactor’s relationship to the narrative. Is she interacting as a first-person character within the story, sitting above the story-world manipulating it from afar, constructing stories out of pieces provided by a story construction kit, etc.?
  • Narrativity – in what sense is the interactive experience a story? Is the experience a heroic journey in which the interactor must complete a quest, an ironic commentary on a specific story genre in which interaction is used to expose the limits of the genre, a single situation designed to be experienced multiple times with variation, etc.?
  • Segmentation – what are the pieces of the story? Are the fundamental pieces snippets of dialog, dramatic situations, story events constrained by a grammar, pages of text, etc.?
  • Representation – the sensory display, what the player actually sees, hears, etc.

May 20, 2003

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:16 am

[several of the other bloggers are traveling at the moment, not easily able to post for the next day or more, so I will continue to hog the blog]

No one has complained (yet), but in my blog posts so far I wonder if it appears like I’m bashing some of the approaches to digital fiction-making, e.g., hypertext, or IF.

We didn’t start this blog to bash, or be negative. If my posts have appeared that way, let me say that’s not how I intend it. And if possible, I preemptively apologize for bashing I may appear to be doing in the future. :-)

While I’m definitely critical (no apologizes there), my intention is to offer what could be fruitful directions towards making deeply interactive digital fiction.

See, there I go again, implying that what has been built to date has not been deeply interactive. Well, sadly, from my perspective, that’s true.

May 19, 2003

Slate Debate on Online Worlds

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:16 pm

An interesting debate about the current new crop of online worlds can be found here on

Prate, Prattle, and Roll

I’m posting from the Digital Arts and Culture conference in Melbourne, Australia. I’m presenting Tuesday, and while I might find myself prattling, it’s actually prate that I’m excited about. prate is Brion Moss’s new project — an n-gram text generator in the tradition of the DOS program Babble! My DAC presentation, along with this post, is the first announcement of its availability. It’s written in Java and works well cross-platform (I used it for a performance at Brown last month, running on a Mac). This is an initial ‘geek release’ (light on documentation) of a project that’s going to evolve, and that will also provide the basis for some future collaborative work that Brion and I have up our sleeves (our past projects together include The Impermanence Agent).

May 18, 2003

Chopped Fresh, not Canned

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 3:08 pm

In the comments of last week’s Expressive AI thread, Noah and Nicolas both make great points.

I think Noah is right that, for the foreseeable future anyway, lots and lots of human authoring will be required to make rich, quality digital fiction. Story generation AI is still in diapers.

But Nicolas is quick to point out that watching / reading chunks of human-author-created content – i.e., non-computer-generated, “canned” content – whether that be a paragraph of text, a snippet of video, a cutscene, what have you – makes the player / reader feel like the fiction is limited, too inflexible, too rigid, too prescripted. Doesn’t it? Fixed chunks of content make me feel like too much of the possibility and potential of the scenario have been sucked out of the experience, too often leaving me only a few table-scraps of variation, of agency. (If anyone feels differently about this, please disagree!)

My guess is that a way to progress towards richer, more deeply interactive fiction, will be, as usual, somewhere in between the ends of the spectrum – somewhere between large-ish chunks of hand-authored content and pure procedural generativity.

May 16, 2003

The New World Order Ate My Assignment

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 3:53 pm

Long ago, after the version of myself on whom I blame rash promises got me into this blogging thing, I figured I would somehow find the time to say something remotely interesting every week or so. That version of myself, since discontinued, did not reckon up all the hours needed to do my day job, design a new undergraduate degree in games and simulation (, and finish what had become a year-long multimedia project. So for this week at least, please accept as booby prize my latest cybertext, “Pax” ( Soon to appear in Iowa Review Web and (minus alas its author) at DAC.

May 15, 2003

Digital Stories in the Desert

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:46 pm

Take Route 66 to Arizona next month for the Digital Storytelling Festival, “a three-day showcase (June 12-14) that features ground breaking projects created and implemented in a variety of areas of Digital Storytelling. Digital Storytelling is recognized as a creative movement that uses digital technology to create media rich stories to impart meaning. It is successfully being used in areas of education and training, entertainment and creative design, personal and legacy storytelling, community building and corporate identity through branding and marketing. … The Festival program appeals to: practitioners, visionaries and enthusiasts of new media, educators, historians, genealogists, storytellers, community builders, activists, artists, journalists, corporate creatives and technologists.”

May 14, 2003

Expressive AI

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:50 pm

Hi, I’m Michael Mateas. My particular interest in the topics of this blog is thinking about, and making, artificial intelligence-based interactive experiences. AI techniques enable interactive art to be more porous to human meanings, to generate responses that more deeply incorporate interaction. In my work I’m interested in developing AI techniques and architectures that enable new forms of interactive experience. I’m currently working with Andrew Stern on the interactive drama Façade, which he described in more detail in his first post. Previous work includes Terminal Time, an interactive video piece that constructs ideologically-biased documentary histories in response to audience feedback, and Office Plant #1, a desktop robot that responds to the social and emotional tone of the email you receive.

May 13, 2003

‘Literary Devices’

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:59 pm

At the Chicago Humanities Festival last winter, I heard Richard Powers give a reading called “Literary Devices”. Powers is an unusual writer, perhaps best known for his humanistic novels about artificial intelligence (Galatea 2.2) and virtual reality (Plowing the Dark).

May 12, 2003

How to Destroy Possibilities

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 5:56 pm

I’ve been corresponding with IF author and theorist Emily Short recently about an issue that relates to all sorts of digital practice and interactive design — perhaps to all sorts of art-making. One thing I’ve heard over and over in discussion of the design of virtual spaces, computer games, and other sorts of works is that creators have to constrain the interactor, limiting a world of possibilities to just a few so that the experience can be controlled and contained.

I don’t like this assumption. It harkens to the “Pirates of the Caribbean” approach: put the docile participant in a little car on a track and bring them the experience of the space in exactly the order you want. Of course, some might say that this destruction of possibility is exactly what Oulipian techniques, of which I am so fond, enforce. Italo Calvino talked very directly about this idea of eliminating possibilities, specifically in relation to the computer generation of literature, in his lecture “Cybernetics and Ghosts.”

May 11, 2003

Hypertext Fiction Never Tried?

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:20 pm

I just got back from eNarrative 5, part of the last weekend of the Boston Cyberarts Festival. One of the most interesting moments for me was this morning, when longtime hypertext scholar George Landow said (to my ear) that we haven’t really tried hypertext fiction.

He said most hypertext fictions that we see as successful really use hypertext as their container, not as their fundamental structure. Works like afternoon and Patchwork Girl use links as the connections between narrative loops. Landow’s done a lot of work in non-fiction hypertext (e.g., The Victorian Web) and in these works such loops don’t tend to exist — instead each page stands nonlinearly related to many others in the work. He speculated, building upon a comment he attributed to Robert Coover, that such total nonlinearity in literature might actually be more appropriate for what we think of as poetry (functioning by analogy) than for fiction.

May 10, 2003

introductory post

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 8:14 pm

Hi world. I’m Andrew Stern, happy to be making the first post on our new group blog, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Nick Montfort, Michael Mateas, Stuart Moulthrop and I have been meaning to get this blog started for some time now. We’ve got lots of stuff we need to discuss about digital narrative, poetry, games and art, with each other and anyone who wants to join in.

We’ve been greatly inspired by the other wonderful, thoughtful, substantive blogs out there on digital practice and theory, such as Gonzalo Frasca’s, gamegirladvance from Jane Pinckard / Justin Hall / et al, Jill Walker’s blog, Greg Costikyan’s blog, etc., just to name a few.

For me this will be a chance to have a focused public discussion about where things are going with digital fiction, and some ways to get there. By digital fiction, I *don’t* necessarily mean what one might call stories, or games. More generally, I mean deeply interactive experiences involving characters, situations, and conflict, in whatever new forms these experiences may take.

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