February 27, 2005

Sweating the Small Stuff

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 5:55 pm

Why should we study simple, old computer programs that no one at the time (including the programmers) ever thought would be studied? I didn’t want Andrew’s reply regarding my study of Combat to take over the other discussion Noah began about going beyond procedural literacy – this is a side comment based on a parenthetical question Noah asked about studying source code. But I did think it is worth a response…

I find it charming that Nick (and others?) are studying the assembly code of Combat and other early computer games. I think they’re worthy of study because of their place in history, they have some elegant features, their necessary use of abstraction (as opposed to the ever-increasing realism of today’s games), their extremely constrained operating systems (so little memory, CPU speed, squeezing in computation in between drawing of frames when the raster gun was travelling back to pixel 1, etc.). I find it amusing because I’d bet the mindset of the folks making those games at the time was simply to get a dumb little tank to move around and shoot the other tank.


from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:45 am

Robin Allen’s Hapland arrived this month. Those who like adventures (and puzzles) in Flash should check it out – it can be a bit annoying, employing some puzzles that rely on timing or repeated clicking and allowing you plenty of ways to get into unwinnable states. It’s not too elaborate or difficult, though. The clicky interactivity works pretty well with the stick-figure gore. Since the manipulation of the world/machine takes place on one screen, this isn’t as adventuresome as Samorost, but its mechanical workings make it similar in some ways, also giving it some affinity with Grow. In terms of Grand Text Auto-like convergence and confluence, it’s interesting to see that this self-proclaimed game debuted on deviantART, “an online art community for artists and art lovers to interact in a variety of ways, ranging from the submission of art to conversations on a number of topics,” where much of the work isn’t even originally digital, much less interactive.

February 26, 2005

Beyond Procedural Literacy

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:08 am

I didn’t have a chance to comment on Michael’s Why Johnny Must Program post back in January. I started to write a comment earlier this evening, but then realized I should just make a new top-level post. In this post I’m going to agree with Michael about procedural literacy, disagree with him on the same point, argue for the unavoidable synthesis of my two opposing points of view, and then make the case that we need another layer on top.

To put that a bit more clearly, the short version of my argument is that procedural literacy is only one of three types of education around these issues that we should be offering students of digital media (students focused on scholarship and/or creation of computational media).

February 25, 2005

Electronic Thumb to London

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 2:56 pm

I found news of this March 3 London event posted on rec.games.int-fiction:

In honour of the BAFTA award nomination for the BBC’s new Internet edition of the classic Infocom computer game, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”, we present two titans of the text adventure: STEVE MERETZKY AND MICHAEL BYWATER, IN CONVERSATION (on interactive fiction, Douglas Adams and other lost worlds)

Lifelike Characters Who Ultimatum Bargain

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 2:48 pm

Colin Camerer of Caltech gave the 7th Annual Pinkel Endowed Lecture on Mind/Brain Paradigms at Penn today, describing his work in behavioral game theory and neuroeconomics.


from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:22 am

At the University of Colorado/Boulder they’re having a Special Year in Art and Mathematics and calling now for conference papers and digital artworks. Deadline March 1!

February 24, 2005

Not/Non Feeling Content: The Unfairness of Programming

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:13 am

Before Will Wright regales us with The Future of Content, I’d like to get in a few words, to “put down on blog” a few concerns I’ve been mulling over.

There is a serious problem, I believe, that doesn’t get enough attention: by and large, people are not enabled to create dynamic content for interactive experiences. Many people want to do it, I’ve noticed, but most are unable to. And, the path to allowing this to happen is not an easy one.

What does dynamic content mean? In an interactive medium, this means content that is alive, not dead; that reacts to and acts upon other content; content that is not immobile or frozen. Not mere skins, static models, layouts of walls and hallways, or chunks of linear text — but moving, behaving, reactive content: machines, automata, manipulators, generators, even intelligent characters and lifeforms.

First a few words on why users creating dynamic content matters, then some thoughts on solutions.

February 22, 2005

“Lyn Hejinian does not have a blog!”

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:01 pm

Not Lyn's blog! says Lyn Hejinian. At the Kelly Writers House today, she described this blog, where someone else is posting a sentence of her well-known book-length poem My Life each day, as the closest she’s come to being stalked. She doesn’t intend to sue anyone over it, though. Although alleging to be technophobic and saying that this was the first webcast event she’s been part of, Hejinian is actually quite astute when it comes to computer technologies and language. She described how she wrote The Fatalist by taking a year’s worth of saved communication on her computer and carving away at it, finding poetry within it as a sculptor finds a figure in a stone block. A record of her reading yesterday and discussion today are available form the Writers House in Real Media format; you can read more of her thought about poetry in The Language of Inquiry, the introduction to which is online.

February 21, 2005

Marginal Moulthrop and Cryptographic Coover

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:58 pm

Here are quick pointers to two literary pieces I’m currently playing. Stuart Moulthrop’s Marginal Effects: A Disorder of Attention is now online at Tekka (and available to non-subscribers). This was presented, in its first version, at DAC 2001’s A Night at the Cybertexts. Along with John Cayley’s Instrumental (also presented there) this was one of the first pieces that got me thinking about “instrumental texts” — texts which can be played, but aren’t quite games. Meanwhile, Robert Coover offers his Chicago Cryptogram — which can’t be manipulated, but can be played and won. It’s online at the site for the new “twice-yearly print journal of politics, literature, and culture” n+1.

February 20, 2005

The Gates

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:48 pm

The Gates
MP4 video, 0:34, 1MB

Everyone’s talking about The Gates, and the first thing they say is that everyone’s talking about The Gates. Tonight at my neighborhood coffeehouse/bar, a loud man behind me discusses the project and the use of the word “saffron.” At a party in Philadelphia last night, a Bulgarian woman, claiming Christo for Bulgaria, says that she’s seen the piece. On the train back from New York before that, a women in line in the café car explains that although she was skeptical at first, she found a metaphor for the decisions we make life, the way that we must make decisive choices that put us on one path or another. She says it made her cry.

Jouons un Drame

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:17 pm

The next International Conference on Virtual Storytelling will be held November 30 to December 2, 2005 in Strasbourg, France. Submissions are due May 27. See our trip report from 2003’s ICVS.

Janet Murray is already lined up to be one of the keynote speakers; two more are to be announced.

(Uh oh, speaking of scheduling conflicts — ICVS overlaps with Digital Arts and Culture, a few hundred miles to the north in Copenhagen! Hmm, maybe a flight to Paris, a train to Strasbourg, a commuter jet to Copenhagen…)

By the way, if I butchered that French, please blame it on Lycos.

February 18, 2005

Inventory of the Toolman

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 6:01 pm

Mobile PC has just released “The Top 100 Gadgets of All Time,” a 5-part article: ( 1 2 3 4 5 ). I think gadget #37 is a device that annoyingly splits a Web page into five parts.

February 15, 2005

Frames are Required

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 3:27 pm

Grafik Dynamo by Kate Armstrong and Michael Tippett feeds images from LiveJournal into a comic strip generator, juxtaposing them with curious captions, speech, and thought bubbles. (Quite apropos of the discussion about computer-generated comics that we had on here…) Although the resulting comics aren’t exactly Love and Rockets, the system is interesting. Framing disparate images from LiveJournal as art and as part of a narrative is effective and amusing. Crawling for images, rather than texts, makes for an interesting twist on projects such as Microsoft Comic Chat – not to mention another Turbulence commission, News Reader, by Noah et al. I do think that there’s still interesting work to be done that engages the meanings of images and texts. The non-automated site Exploding Dog provides proof of how effective such interplay can be in a project on the net.

February 14, 2005

DAC is Back!

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 3:09 pm

The 6th Digital Arts and Culture Conference will take place at the IT University in Copenhagen on December 1-3, 2005. “Digital Experience: Design, Aesthetics, Practice” is the tag line for this conference. Deadline: August 8. You can read about the history of DAC and the organization of the current conference; also, see the CFP.

February 13, 2005

Doomo Christo, Mr. Roboto

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:50 pm

Head over to Central Park West this Thursday to check out some innovative art — yes, that, but also a presentation at the American Musuem of Natural History comprised of folks from Amorphic Robot Works and the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots. “Three artist-programmers, each of whom specializes in building robots, show and tell how they make machines that mimic humans and create art.” (via NYTimes)

Palindromes on 2/12

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:21 am

William Gillespie (co-author with me of 2002: A Palindrome Story) and Mike Maguire (Drawn Inward) were in town yesterday to lead the “2/12” Palindrome Workshop at the Kelly Writers House – two workshops and a reading, actually. One group of 8th-grade students and another group from the Writers House community wrote reversible language, discovering some interesting things about literary composition. While people have written palindromes in classes before, this was the first stand-alone event we know of that was dedicated to palindrome writing. Scott made it into town for the writing games, too. Some of the word- and line-palindromes we drafted are online.

What really rounded off the day was the palindromic feast prepared by Adrienne Mishkin and volunteers from the Kelly Writers House’s Exquisite Corps. There was “go hang a salami, I’m a lasagna hog” and Doc Evil’s live cod. I should emphasize the desserts – yes, stressed desserts: Emily Ek key lime and a fruit salad with no lemon, no melon. Red ice cider and face decaf were provided, too. I might be able to coax Scott into providing a photo or two here at some point…

Update, Feb 17: See below the fold for two details from the feast.

February 11, 2005

ELO + University of Iowa

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:41 pm

The University of Iowa just announced its partnership with the ELO. (That’s the Electronic Literature Organization, an organization from the 1990s to facilitate and promote the writing, publishing, and reading of literature in electronic media – not to be confused with any light or heavy electric orchestras from the 1970s and 1980s.) The partnership is thanks to Thom Swiss, a professor of English and the Rhetoric of Inquiry at Iowa who is the new president of the organization. The ELO is based at UCLA; this partnership initiates a new form of the organization, where different campuses will be able to participate as “nodes,” helping the ELO reach its goals in different ways.

February 10, 2005

Is ‘Story’ a Catch-all?

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:40 pm

An article in today’s NYTimes about the success of the World of Warcraft MMPORPG ends on a curious note. After describing how the developers have endowed, and continue to endow, their virtual world with a rich history, culture and environmental design, we get this quote from Blizzard’s VP of creative development, Chris Metzen:

You might spend hundreds of hours playing a game like this, and why would you keep coming back? Is it just for the next magic helmet? Is it just to kill the next dragon? … It has to be the story. We want you to care about these places and things so that, in addition to the adrenaline and the rewards of addictive gameplay, you have an emotional investment in the world. And that’s what makes a great game.

February 9, 2005

Living Game Worlds Symposium

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:21 pm

The schedule and registration information for the Living Game Worlds Symposium at Georgia Tech is now available. This is the symposium in honor of Will Wright that I mentioned earlier.

February 8, 2005

Logics People Play

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:00 am

Spacewar! on a PDP-1Not all playable computational media is graphical. In fact, some of the most popular early computer games were entirely textual. Games like Adventure and Zork were even at times played on teletypes, with the interaction recorded on scrolling reams of paper, rather than on terminals with screens. (Of course, an excellent tracing of the history of this textual interactive fiction can be found in Nick’s Twisty Little Passages.)

But when we think of playing with computers, we generally think of graphical experiences, those that follow in the tradition of Spacewar! rather than Adventure. Created on the PDP-1 at MIT in the first years of the 1960s, Spacewar! was the first modern video game. Two players each had a custom-made controller, which they used to control the flight of a virtual spacecraft on the PDP-1’s CRT. The spacecraft were pulled toward the star at the center of the screen by simulated gravity, and could fire projectiles at one another. A spacecraft hit by the central star or a projectile would be damaged. These are still among the central logics of graphical gaming today — the ability to move graphical objects that on some level represent the player, the ability to fire projectiles, a simulation of some form of physics, and “collision detection” when one thing runs into another. These logics aren’t only the basis for play in experiences such as Half-Life, but also (leaving aside projectiles) in pieces such as Text Rain.

We’re accustomed to seeing successful combinations of graphical logics and game rules repackaged repeatedly. Games such as Pac-Man and Tetris have had many authorized and unauthorized versions “skinned” with different surface graphics and different graphical arrangements, but with the essential logics of graphical movement and gameplay preserved. Such combinations, within a larger range of variation, are also the basis for our identifications of game genres such as “side-scrollers” and “first-person shooters.”

February 7, 2005

Dead Shark Game

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:22 pm

A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we’ve got on our hands… is a dead shark.

— Woody Allen’s Annie Hall

The latest postmortem article online at Gamasutra (postmortem indeed) is an informative writeup of an ambitious student project at Full Sail game design school. A group of six took on the challenge of the Love Story panel from GDC 2004, to create some sort of love story game. Their concept was interesting, their art was good, team morale was high, women dug it — only they hadn’t figured out what players actually do in the game…

February 6, 2005

Terra Nuova

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 9:43 pm

No, I don’t mean that earth – there’s a new issue of Terra d’IF, Robert Grassi’s Italian interactive fiction zine. I can discern that issue 5 holds reviews of the recent Flamel by Francesco Cordella and the older L’anello di Lucrezia Borgia. For those who, like me, have no Italian, Grassi’s interview with Paul O’Brian is available in English. Two of Grassi’s reviews from earlier issues have been translated into English by Emily Short, too.

February 5, 2005

I’m Seeing Spots

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:59 pm

Rather than sit in front of the TV for four-plus hours tomorrow, I plan to tape the Superbowl and watch it later, allowing me to fast-forward through those annoying breaks in the action. Through the game, that is. Generally I’ve found Superbowl contests to be mediocre entertainment — it’s the ads that are more intriguing. I’ve gotten into the habit of taping the whole event each year, and usually find a handful of very, very expensive pieces of commercial video art worth watching. The whole viewing process takes about 45 minutes.

News Readers

no news is goodChristiane Paul was Lo-fi‘s guest curator for January, and the show she put together is called News Readers. The pieces range from large public artworks to small rectangular applets made with Processing. Monika Fleischmann & Wolfgang Strauss’s Energie_Passagen (Energy_Passages) “reproduces the linguistic space of the city in form of a data flow. Hundreds of catchwords taken from current newspaper reports appear in a projected ‘information flow’ and are spoken by artificial computer voices. As soon as passers-by select individual words, thematically related networks of terms start to perform in this flow, which can also be experienced as an audiovisual echo.” Ed Burton’s Recent Events “dissolves three texts into a fluid suspension of letter tokens. The dissolved texts are drawn from a live source, updated on the hour, every hour. In their gathering stream, these tokens grow sticky tendrils towards potential neighbours, coagulating to form clots of recovered text.” I’m also pleased to say that my News Reader collaboration with David Durand, Brion Moss, and Elaine Froehlich is included. (Thanks to Turbulence for the tip and the commission.)

February 4, 2005

She Wore Blue … Renga …

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 5:24 pm

Jason Dyer, an IF author who has the distinction of having placed well in the first IF Comp in 1995, has started a new blog about IF, Renga in Blue. He’s got three posts up already – pretty good for the first day’s work. We’ll look forward to more. You can find the link on here under “Related Blogs,” too.

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