December 20, 2005

23,040 Bridges Falling Down, and London

by Nick Montfort · , 8:44 pm

Adam Cadre has a new story, or set of stories, generated in PHP and with a twist. After reading one of the generated stories, you can vote on how five people rank in terms of culpability for a character’s death. Adam will post the statistics before too long, after harvesting some more votes. The project is called “23,040 Bridges,” no doubt because there are 192 of them for each of the (5 * 4 * 3 * 2 * 1) possible rankings of culpability.

In London this weekend I caught up with Michela Ledwidge, creator of Horses for Courses and the in-progress, remixable short film Sanctuary, now in post-production, which caused the fracas that was reported on Boing Boing and Slashdot. Michaela’s work with remixable film content is quite interesting, not only because of the way it’s disrupting the Australian film industry. My own interests are in the book format for computing, rather than the living room experience, and they deal with simulation of a world and textual realization rather than recombination of content, but these sort of remixings are certainly of some interest to me, as the Mystery House Taken Over project should show.

One of the things we discussed was why there was no sort of ontology or mark-up for story elements – an HTML of narrative? I think the issue is that there has been, for small-scale applications, but there’s no Web-scale story system that uses marked-up stories in any extremely widespread way. I don’t think a markup scheme can be done first, in the absence of any idea of what the final system will do; something has to work well for at least one of analysis, recombination, generation, etc. before it can be handy for everything. And people aren’t going to start spontaneously marking up their stories just for kicks, unless there’s some sort of reason to do so. But, do people know of some existing systems that allow narrative structure to be encoded?

I also met up with several other interactive aficionados and ifMUD denizens in London. While we assiduously avoid talking about IF when we meet up, the author of this fine game (which I keep referring to for some reason) did recall some primitive horse-racing computer game from his youth. It was apparently not very good except for the horse name generator, which would produce gems such as “Princess Jim.” This gives me the idea to fashion some lousy games to serve as vehicles for amusing text generators…

4 Responses to “23,040 Bridges Falling Down, and London”

  1. Alea Hoffman Says:

    I’ve just happened on your site and find it really interesting.
    I haven’t had time yet to read very many past posts. How important
    is randomness to what you’re doing?

  2. andrew Says:

    I loved 23,040 Bridges. Very cool. I’m fascinated by stories that repeat in some way.

    I’m looking forward to the analysis results too.

    Alea — yours is a perfect name to inquire about aleatory matters, by the way — I think Adam’s story randomly picks from paragraphs carefully written to work together as a story, no matter which paragraphs are chosen. It’s not so much the randomness that’s important as the fact that the story’s nature changes significantly with only minor tweaks to the characters’ motivations, or other nuances. Randomness, like the shuffling of cards, is in this case just the mechanism to display the story variations.

    (Also, Adam’s not a blogger on Grand Text Auto, but he has a fascinating blog of his own, of sorts.)

  3. nick Says:

    Alea, I assume your question is promped by “23,040 Bridges,” which, as Andrew points out, is Adam Cadre’s piece. If you want to see some of my work, check My guess is that combinatorics is a more fundamental concept to “Bridges.”

  4. Adam Cadre Says:

    “How important is randomness to what you’re doing?”

    More important than it was supposed to be at first. My initial idea, which I may still implement at some point, was to start the reader off with a randomly generated story and then, depending on the responses, deliberately change the next iteration of the story to make the blame more evenly distributed until the reader pushed a button saying that all five characters were equally culpable. Finding an optimally balanced version of the story was the initial motivation for writing this, though I quickly came to see it more as a web toy.

    I’m also thinking about somehow working in reader submissions. I wouldn’t expect that in the very near future, though.

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