July 30, 2004

On Improving the Form

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 1:06 pm

Via our neighborhood ludology blogs, here are links to two articles with ideas on how to improve interactive narrative experiences. First, a new essay by Timothy Burke in which he strongly advocates agency in MMOG virtual worlds.

MMOGs can never be virtual worlds until they abandon the character as the primary unit of persistence. To be virtual worlds, they have to make the gameworld itself the major unit of persistence. … This is the dream of many MMOG players: they beg for gameworlds in which their actions matter, in which there are events of consequence. Developers promise to pursue this chimera, but rarely implement anything even approaching the most modest dreams of players.

Second, an older essay (1989) espousing the concept of game-stories, by Ron Gilbert, veteran developer of adventure games (Monkey Island) and its technology (SCUMM), posted on his new blog. In the essay, which holds up quite well 15 years later (perhaps suggesting how little progress has been made in interactive narrative since then), Gilbert discusses his “rules of thumb that will minimize the loss of suspension of disbelief” in game-stories. Particularly interesting to me, in light of our current experiment in real-time interactive drama, is Gilbert’s rule that “Real time is bad drama”:

July 28, 2004

Post AAAI Workshop

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 8:21 pm

Robin Hunicke has written a post mortem of the just-ended AAAI workshop she co-organized, Challenges in Game AI, which included a keynote from GTxA’s Michael, who promises a conference writeup as well.

Sounds like this successful workshop may take over for the “AI and Interactive Entertainment” workshops that had happened for several years at the spring symposia at Stanford.

Update: Rob Zubek has done a writeup, and Michael just posted a biggie.

The Port from which it Must Start

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 3:05 pm

I just posted a reply on rec.arts.int-fiction (Google Groups access) about how authentic a port of an old interactive fiction game should be. Roberto Grassi posted eight principles for IF porting being used in an Italian project to port IF. The emphasis is on creating, at worst, superset of the original.

This topic is not unique to IF, of course. I also wanted to mention it because of the issue of formal versus material authenticity — how can we make ports of systems not only produce the same output as the original, but do so in a way that at least recalls or is consistent with the material qualities of early interface, and is appropriate for students, programmers, and computer creatives to learn from? I didn’t really write about that issue specifically on the newsgroup, but here’s what I did write…

… the ideal for a port of any classic game, digital artwork, or other important system — if the port is being done to allow people to see what a historically important program was really like — is that the program work exactly like the original. At least, it should work as close to the original as is possible with modern hardware. So, for instance, there’s a “port” of Spacewar that is a PDP-1 emulator running in Java.

July 27, 2004

Views From the Garage

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 5:48 pm

Two new articles have recently come out interviewing advocates of independent game development — one on Armchair Empire with GarageGames co-founder Jeff Tunnell, and one with Jay Moore, “Evangelist” at GarageGames, on Gamasutra.

When asked how game development has changed in the last 15 years, Tunnell replies,

The standard answer here is that games are much harder to create, have larger budgets and larger teams.  I actually call bullshit on the conventional wisdom!  Games are easier to create than in any time in history and they will get easier.  … Making a game is a lot like being in a rock band.  Get together with a couple of like-minded people, learn your different crafts (programming, art, audio), and make a wildly innovative and fun game.  To quote a beaten phrase, “…the world will beat a path to your door.”

July 26, 2004

There Are 3 New Critical Updates

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:19 am

The first of these updates from ebr (Electronic Book Review is actually four-in-one: the Game Theories section of First Person, with essays by Henry Jenkins, Jesper Juul, Celia Pearce, and Eric Zimmerman. This section was one of my favorites in First Person, offering some solid ideas as well as provocations.

July 25, 2004

Craig Reynolds’ new Game AI page

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 5:47 pm

I’m blogging from the AAAI workshop on challenges in Game AI. I’ve seen many interesting presentations, and will post a trip report later. But for now, I wanted to post a link to Craig Reynolds’ new Game Research and Technology page. It’s a great resource. He’s just made the page public, and is looking for feedback and suggestions for additional pointers, so don’t be shy about mailing him suggestions for the page.

July 24, 2004


from Grand Text Auto
by @ 6:51 pm

Bit of a Bowman battle Bowman provides all the “Animated Blood” and “Cartoon Violence” (as the ESRB would call it) that I’ve been missing since The Bilestoad. Although I don’t think Bowman offers amputations, as The Bilestoad did.

I enjoyed fidding with the interface for a bit in “Practice” and figuring out how to work it, although perhaps it’s more obvious to some and there will be nothing to learn. Modifying the options can make the game more challenging. Thanks to Allen on ifMUD for the link.

July 22, 2004


from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:39 am

Gameblogs.org aggregates dozens of game blogs and their latest headlines into one master list, sortable by recent activity, category, and “popularity” (how often people have clicked on a link via Gameblogs.org, I suppose). Find your old favorites and perhaps some new ones, or add your own to the list.

July 21, 2004


from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:34 pm

This looks like an interesting event for anyone interested in artistic uses of mobile media Spectropolis: Mobile Media, Art and the City, October 1-3, 2004 is a three-day event that highlights the diverse ways artists, technical innovators and activists are using communication technologies to generate new urban experience and public voice. The event explores what is possible when wireless communications (both new and old), mobile devices and media converge in public space.

Video Games and the Last Election

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 3:59 pm

Meanwhile, another sign of stir crazy things going on at the Gore campaign, Chris Lehane, the campaign press secretary — I am told not directly by Mr. Lehane, but by those who have witnessed this — is playing a video game and vowing to continue to play the same video game until he gets a decision from the Supreme Court.
Jonathan Karl, CNN Correspondent

I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of why those Democrats have delayed Opinions. Bad associations from the past?

July 19, 2004

Computer Games, Fiction’s Future

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 4:28 pm

A source at Brown revealed that GTxA‘s own Noah is speaking tonight on “Computer Games and the Future of Fiction.” Sure enough, it’s the only thing on the university’s events calendar today. The details are that he’s speaking in MacMillan 117 at 7pm — hopefully that time, unlike the spelling of Noah’s name on the announcement, is correct. Here’s the whole series of talks of which Noah’s is one.

Word, Image, Computer

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 3:20 pm

In September 2005, Penn will host Elective Affinities, a conference of the International Association of Word and Image Studies (IAWIS). The deadline for a paper proposal (250-300 words) is this October 1.

One session, mentioned on the conference page but not yet described on the detailed description page, is of particular interest to the pedestrians and gang members here at Grand Text Auto. Here’s the description of that session:

Words on Screen: Hierarchies of Text and Picture in Cyberculture

July 17, 2004

trAce Incubation Trip Report

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 9:57 am

Ted Nelson's ibookI’m just about over the jet lag from a brief jaunt to Nottingham, England for the 2004 trAce Incubation Symposium. While the conference didn’t offer any earthshaking new paradigms, it did prove that Electronic Literature is alive and well in the UK, that Ted Nelson is hyperkinetic as well as hypertextual, and that Alan Sondheim still writes more in a week than most of us do all year long. Incubation was a refreshing and energizing gathering of electronic and print writers, performance artists, and teachers who are using the network in a variety of ways. The food was also quite good and the bar kept late hours for thirsty writers.

July 16, 2004

TIDSE 2004 (part 2)

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 1:42 pm

As promised, here is the long-delayed second half of my TIDSE 2004 trip report.

The second day opened with an invited talk from Ron Baeker, a computer graphics pioneer. He described a new initiative at the University of Toronto: Knowledge Media Design (KMD). KMD are computational media that systematically embody knowledge in a way that encompasses data and process, as well as task space and interpersonal space (social component of tasks and media). The focus is on systems that support human creativity and control, rather than on systems that autonomously generate media artifacts. The best part of the talk was some of the videos he showed of his early work. The first video showed the Genesys animation system that he built in 1966 at the Lincoln Labs at MIT. Genesys allowed users to construct animations by tracing animation paths on a screen. Interestingly, given the discussions on virtual humans at the conference, he did some work in the mid-60s on a system that supported the animation of stick figures. It turned out to be difficult to maintain the constraints between the various parts of the stick figure, so he “moved on to easier problems.” Some of his early projects involved looking at program code as a form of human communication, something which, given all the writing I’ve done on GrandTextAuto about programming as an expressive media, why artists should program, and so forth, I heartily agree with. One of these projects explored the idea of a program book. If software is to truly have a long life, the code should be published as a designed book, with the full source code printed in the book in such a way as to facilitate reading the principles, design decisions, issues, and so forth that are expressed in the code itself. He showed some pictures of The Eliza Book, one of the program books that they made. I’d love to leaf through this book!

July 15, 2004

Literary Discussion Online, c. 1975

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 1:14 am

Howard Rheingold writes in The Virtual Community (p. 77) that the first large mailing list on ARPANET was SF-LOVERS, for discussions about science fiction. A 1987 USENET post from the moderator of the list seems to be the best source on when the list started — around 1975. At that point, fewer than 100 hosts were online. It was nice of ARPA to allow users to put its network to literary uses then, almost 30 years ago.

July 14, 2004


from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:42 pm

I wasn’t looking for it, but today I tripped over an old e-mail and fell into MadInkBeard, a new blog to “discuss the idea of formal constraints (mostly in writing, but also in other media) as well as offer explanations and examples of various constraints”. From there I wrestled my way out and into constrained.org, “a community site for short stories that adhere to various literary constraint”, where I was trapped for a while, eventually escaping to endless limitations.

Gettin’ Schooled in Games

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 2:24 pm

Penn’s Masters in Computer Graphics and Game Technology is starting in the Fall, and a course in game design and development has been proposed as part of it. I hope it comes through, as I’d love to take it or sit in on it.

On ifMUD I learned of another new degree program, Champlain College’s Bachelors in Electronic Game & Interactive Development. The curriculum includes game-specific courses throughout the four years, including four courses on game design, an interactive storytelling course with two prerequisites, a course on game history and playability testing, a senior thesis and a senior team project.

July 13, 2004

GDC05 Deadline Nears

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 8:26 pm

A gentle reminder — abstracts for presenting lectures, roundtables, panels and tutorials at the 2005 Game Developers Conference, to be held in San Francisco instead of San Jose this time around, are due July 23, a week from Friday.

Here’s a writeup of the 2004 conference, from just a few months ago.

July 9, 2004

Reading at Risk from Library – um, I mean Internet

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 3:18 pm

This is the first question for a national research agenda that is proposed by a new NEA report:

How does literature, particularly serious literary work, compete with the Internet, popular entertainment, and other increased demands on leisure time?

As someone who writes and reads serious literary work on the Internet, this question seems to be staring up at me from a puddle of its own drool. It would make about as much sense as attempting to determine how libraries compete with serious literary work.

July 8, 2004

The Nature in (not of) Video Games

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 9:36 pm

The editors of Playing with Mother Nature: Video Games, Space, and Ecology are seeking abstracts for contributions to the book. The deadline is November 1, 2004.

July 7, 2004

Leonardo CFP on New Media Poetics and the Digital Prose

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:51 pm

Nisar Keshvani, Editor-in-Chief of Leonardo Electronic Almanac, passes along this call for papers: LEA Special Issue: New Media Poetry and Poetics

Guest Editor: Tim Peterson

The Leonardo Electronic Almanac (ISSN No: 1071-4391) is inviting papers and artworks that deal with New Media Poetry and Poetics. This category includes multimedia digital works(image/text/sound) as examined through the lens of “writing,” specifically any of those concerns central to poetry rather than narrative or prose: reader as active participant in the “ergodic” sense, the use of stochastic methods and chance procedures, and the complex relations between the author, reader, and computer-as-writer/reader which evolve from that interaction. Modes of work that foreground the digital medium (such as “codework”) are also welcome. We would particularly like to emphasize the “poetics” of new media writing as well, that is, the point where aesthetics intersects with politics to create dynamic attempts at social change.

Word Counts

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:40 pm

Steve Ince, a 2004 Game Developers Choice Award nominee for Excellence in Writing, shares his thoughts on writing for games in a GIGnews article, “My Fingers are Blistered and Bleeding“.

New Indie SIG

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 6:50 pm

Always interested in what might be helpful for independent game developers (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9), I thought I’d pass along the following from Slashdot Games: the IGDA has started a special interest group for indie developers — those “interested in pursuing game development and distribution outside the standard channels as presented by the mainstream industry today.” So far, there’s a mailing list, a link to a FAQ about indie developers, a great page of links to engines, tools, etc., and the beginnings of a collection of helpful articles. I’ll add it to our list of resources links.

July 6, 2004

Language (Video) Games for the Military

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:14 pm

In “Virtual Camp Trains Soldiers in Arabic,” the Times reports on a video game being developed at the University of Southern California’s School of Engineering as a tool for teaching soldiers to speak Arabic. The game also uses AI, giving characters such as patrons of a Lebanese cafe “arousal levels” to let soldiers in training see if their use of Arabic and non-verbal cues is effective or not. I think this type of military video game sounds much more useful (and less bigbrotherishly frightening) than first-person shooter recruiting games designed to turn mall rats into soldiers.

Critical Simulation @ ebr

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:05 am

A new installment of First PersonCritical Simulation — is live at electronic book review. It includes essays by Simon Penny, Gonzalo Frasca, and Phoebe Sengers — as well as responses by folks like N. Katherine Hayles, Mizuko Ito, and GTxA’s own Michael Mateas. This section takes up questions of simulation which have also been of concern in essays posted earlier (such as Espen Aarseth’s) but these essays foreground ethical and political concerns. Gonzalo Frasca’s contribution, for example, is his well-known “Videogames of the Oppressed” which (as the title suggests) engages with the work of Augusto Boal.

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