November 30, 2007

Second Person on the Front Line

Front Line Awards Logo

As Game Developer publisher Simon Carless notes over on GameSetWatch, the magazine’s editors have announced the 2007 finalists for their annual Front Line awards. Pat Harrigan and I are pleased to see Second Person listed as a finalist in the Books category!

November 29, 2007

Discovery Channel on Videogames

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 4:24 pm

Here is another documentary to report, this one a 5-part series on the Discovery Channel called Rise of the Video Game, airing each Wednesday night over the next few weeks. Episode One, a week ago (that I unfortunately missed), included discussion of the Cold War’s influence on the creation of the first videogames.

November 28, 2007

Weizenbaum, Rebel

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 5:02 pm

This looks interesting: filmmakers Peter Haas and Silvia Holzinger began making a documentary film about computer pioneers and “grandfather nerds”; they ultimately turned their focus to the now 84-year-old Joseph Weizenbaum. The resulting piece is called Weizenbaum, Rebel at Work.

At a time when the German capital, Berlin, was struggling with famine after World War II, Joseph Weizenbaum was soldering and programming the world’s first computers. He created the first banking computer in the world, was perhaps one of the first computer nerds ever and pursued an unprecedented career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the “mighty” MIT in Cambridge, where he invented the first virtual persona, ELIZA/DOCTOR, a program that engaged humans in conversation with a computer.

November 27, 2007


slippingglimpse welcome screen

One of the memorable moments of May’s Future of Electronic Literature symposium was a first look at slippingglimpse — a new work of e-poetry from Stephanie Strickland, Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo, and Paul Ryan. It’s a great combination of text, visuals, and a thought-provoking concept, resulting in water reading text reading technology reading video. Or, as they put it:

the water reads the poem text (full-screen mode) using motion capture coding that assigns the text to locations of movement in the water;

November 26, 2007

Reminder: ELO 2008 Conference Submissions Due Friday

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:27 am

Submissions for the Visionary Landscapes ELO conference, at WSU near Portland, Oregon, are due Friday. You can submit presentations and/or creative work.

November 25, 2007

The Lost Boys of Hacker Culture

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 2:05 pm

Hacker Culture cover A Review of Hacker Culture
by Douglas Thomas
University of Minnesota Press
296 pp.

This is a fine book that already seems antique, and not just because of the Commodore PET on the cover and the centrality of WarGames and Hackers to the discussion of the cultural situation of hacking. Not because of any dated analysis, either: there are good arguments in here about the importance of secrecy in hacking, the way the hacker becomes a locus for technological anxiety, and questions of the body in the digital realm. The book seems to raise the question, though: Where have all the hackers gone?

Computing and the Internet now seem to be fully productized and anything but an “electronic frontier.” Eternal September hit long ago like nuclear winter. The very concept of a long-distance call has almost been forgotten by most phone users. The computer-savvy obediently turn to iPhones for world wide access, to make use of whatever applications have been developed by Apple, Inc. in partnership with AT&T – all other uses being prohibited. Quite an irony, considering that the two Apple Computer founders first went into business selling phone phreaking equipment. Once hackers, now hacked.

November 23, 2007

PDF of Trigger Happy Hits the Commons

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 8:41 am

Something to be thankful for: Steven Poole placed a PDF of his 2000 book Trigger Happy online under the CC by-nc-nd 3.0 license. Trigger Happy is an important early book about video games and aesthetics. The electronic edition, revised in 2001 and 2004, has been noted on Mefi and elsewhere; thanks also go to ifmud’s inky for the tip.

November 20, 2007

Eludamos, a New Computer Game Journal

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 2:45 pm

A reminder about a call for papers recently ended up in my inbox – quite a surprise, since I had not seen the original call and didn’t even know that this journal existed. But there is a new open-access, peer-reviewed journal on computer gaming that has already published its first issue. The journal is called Eludamos, and these are the people behind it. I’ve pasted the call for papers below.

November 19, 2007


from Grand Text Auto
by @ 6:56 pm

That is, the Society for Literature, Science, and Arts ’07 conference, CODE, vis-a-vis the AAAI Fall Symposium on Intelligent Narrative Technologies (INT).

Recently I participated in a conference in Portland, Maine, the SLSA ’07: CODE, and then, the next weekend, the AAAI 2007 Fall Symposium on Intelligent Narrative Technologies in Alexandria, Virginia. Andrew has already offered very detailed notes about the AAAI symposium, but I wanted to mention, more briefly, a few things about both of these interesting events.

Michael Lebowitz on Universe

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:31 am

My interest in story generation, heightened by work on my book manuscript, has brought me to correspond with the authors of a number of seminal systems. I’ve been posting what I can share publicly, leading to posts about Tale-Spin (1 2) and Minstrel (1 2). Now I’m pleased to add a post with more information about Michael Lebowitz’s Universe.

I outlined the approach taken by Universe last year, in a series of posts contrasting it with Minstrel (1 2 3 4 5). But, as with my writing about other systems, this was entirely based on reading publications about the work — I hadn’t yet heard directly from the authors. In this post I’m including some of the thoughts and memories shared by Lebowitz in our recent correspondence:

I’ve got to admit to being surprised that anyone has run into UNIVERSE after all this time. It was a pretty small piece of work but one that was fun and I rather liked. We could have done a lot more with it these days — we were quite limited by computing power.

November 18, 2007

ELO Archive-It Project with the Library of Congress, Call for Participation

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 5:06 am

The United States Library of Congress is archiving 300 electronic literature web sites in collaboration with the ELO (Electronic Literature Organization) and To suggest sites to be included in this project, please see and note there is a FAQ linked on that page,
Electronic Literature: Collections of Works: Sites that aggregate works of electronic literature by multiple authors, such as online journals and anthologies.

Electronic Literature: Individual Works: Individual works of electronic literature and collections of works by a single author, as opposed to collections of works by multiple authors.

Electronic Literature: Context: Sites related to the critical, theoretical, and institutional contexts of electronic literature.

November 16, 2007

Grunk win award!

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:19 am

The winner of the 2007 Interactive Fiction Competition was just announced. It is Lost Pig And Place Under Ground, a brilliant work which may quickly become my main example of what interactive fiction can do. It has a character you can converse with, unusual physical laws that allow for a system of magic, a riddle-like object recognition puzzle, a mini-maze, pants, fire, and loads of in-jokes. There is a good explanation of how IF works, and the writing is brilliant. The game is attributed to the orc Grunk although the author’s “real” name (in the IF community) is Admiral Jota. Grunk explains the concept of interactive fiction on his livejournal:

In normal story, one person tell story and other person listen to story. … But this not like that. In this kind of story, one person tell story and other person help tell story. It other person job, figure out what person in story do next. Some time, person in story have really tricky problem, so person that helping can only finish story by thinking really hard to figure out how person in story can do that thing. Like “PUT BUTTER ON BOTTLE THEN TAKE FROG OUT OF BOTTLE AND EAT FROG”. Or some time it easy like “EAT FROG”. It depend on story.

Congratulations also go to Christopher Huang, who wrote #2 An Act of Murder, Sam Gordon who wrote #3 Lord Bellwater’s Secret, and all the others who fielded games that people played and enjoyed. The game with the highest standard deviation

November 15, 2007


from Grand Text Auto
by @ 4:18 pm

are there args going on all around me, or am I paranoid? Wait, don’t answer that!

This ad says, “the secret of the L-system is our amazing growth formula” and mentions Lindenmayer… Who talks about L-systems in Times Square advertising? : )

November 14, 2007

Intelligent Narrative Technologies 2007

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:38 pm

Last weekend, the AAAI Fall symposia were held in Arlington, just outside Washington, DC. Nick, Michael and I were there for the Intelligent Narrative Technologies symposium, among 60 people in attendance from the Americas, Europe, Australia and Asia. Like the 1999 symposium on Narrative Intelligence, this was a gathering of both accomplished researchers and new faces to the field. (My first foray into academia was at one of these meetings, exactly 10 years ago, at a Socially Intelligent Agents AAAI symposium at MIT, where I co-presented Petz and first met Michael and several other Oz Project members.) Unlike the 1999 NI symposium, this time around it was almost completely academic computer scientists, with almost no industry folk in attendance and few who would identify themselves primarily as artists or writers.

An important general point brought out during the symposium was the need for a standard platform for interactive character and drama research, which if adopted by multiple groups, could greatly increase sharing of research results. I couldn’t agree more; we started talking about how to make that happen.

For me, the most exciting talks were on the final day, focusing on story generation and representation. But I’ll run through the program chronologically, quickly summarizing most of the talks, and going into detail on a few. I’ll link to those pdf’s that are currently available online.

November 12, 2007

accurately reproducing kansas

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 9:23 pm

someone has to mention the South Park Guitar Episode, I’m afraid. As of tonight the only clip on youtube is this legit preview. I found the closeups profound, and the sound, ah, the sound of the plastic interface… Meanwhile, Jonah Brucker-Cohen forwarded me this. Seeing as I’m from Milwaukee, this strikes a particular, ah, chord. Don’t you cry no more!

November 11, 2007

civic media @ mit

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 1:40 pm

Hi all, watch for materials emerging from the Center for future civic media at MIT (C4FCM) made possible by a four-year grant from the Knight Foundation.

“The Center for Future Civic Media aims to create technical and social systems for sharing, prioritizing, organizing, and acting on information.” The group, led by an MIT team spanning Comparative Media Studies (Henry Jenkins) and the Media Lab (Mitch Resnick, Chris Csikszentmihalyi), has a goal of developing new technologies that support

November 10, 2007

The Killing Machine Comes to the U.S.

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:36 am
Smart Machines at Boston Computer Museum

The Killing Machine and Other Stories 1995-2007 features 11 installations by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. Previously on view in Germany, it’s now at the Miami Art Museum and Freedom Tower, October 21, 2007 to January 20, 2008. These two artists use sound and space in a way that evocatively pushes at the edges of what we might consider fiction.

Check out the Turbulence post for more detail, or peruse sample pages from the book (which also comes in a collector’s edition).

November 8, 2007

GTxA in Your Cache?

Yesterday I posted that we expected to be back to normal today. Unfortunately, we’re not. After GTxA’s uninvited guest on Wednesday (we got “0wn3d” — keep your WordPress up to date) we’re missing a number of images and sounds from the last month. And, unfortunately, we found out that the folder in which they were stored was, mysteriously, being skipped on the nightly backups. So what follows is a list of files for which we’d really appreciate you checking your browser caches.

Sucking on Words

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:28 am

There’s a great short documentary at Ubuweb, Sucking on Words, by Simon Morris, about the conceptual, “uncreative” writing practice of Kenneth Goldsmith.

November 7, 2007

Image Issues

As some of you may have noticed, Grand Text Auto has had some changes of appearance today. And some images from the last month are currently missing. But things should be back to normal soon. Thanks for your patience.

The Context of Minstrel‘s Creation

Last month, when I got in touch with Scott Turner (author of Minstrel) I asked if he would be willing to share some memories of the context in which his landmark story generation project was created. I also hoped he would let me publish his thoughts on Grand Text Auto — as James Meehan had last year let us publish some of his memories of the creation of Tale-Spin. This came to fruition yesterday, when Scott sent me the thoughts below and agreed to let us publish them. I enjoyed the stories (as will most who’ve gone through the grad school process) and I think they offer an interesting perspective, especially when combined with Scott’s contributions to our ongoing discussion of Minstrel and the future potential of its approach.

I came to UCLA for my graduate work in the Fall of 1982. I was actually recruited to UCLA — they paid to fly me out to visit the campus, meet with professors and graduate students, and even offered me a “bonus” to enroll during my recruiting trip. The bonus turned out to be book money, but they could have saved themselves the trouble — I was already committed to attend before the trip.

As a senior I had spent part of the year trying to construct an equivalence between token networks and finite state automata. I wasn’t successful, but I thought it was pretty fun, and I was interested in UCLA primarily because Sheila Greibach (of “Greibach Normal Form” fame) taught there. So I arrived in the Fall of 1982 excited to start graduate school and plumb the mysteries of formal machines. Somewhat to my dismay, I discovered fairly quickly that Prof. Greibach wasn’t very accessible or very interested in taking on any new graduate students. It also became apparent that the students working in theory and formal machines were quite a bit smarter than I was.

November 6, 2007

Playing it Safe

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:19 am

This week’s The Escapist is about stories in games, including articles about the literary significance of the Half Life series, roleplaying in online Myst worlds, and advanced facial animation in David Cage’s new game.

And most interesting to me, an article by Mark Yohalem suggesting that game developers should back off on making character-driven games with interactive dialog, and instead make physical action-oriented games that reveal some sort of backstory as you play. For example, how the original Myst did it.

Why? Because making good interactive characters is somewhere between really hard to impossible. Yohalem says developers have a “misguided notion that it’s worth sacrificing a player-driven game to achieve a character-driven story”.

November 5, 2007

New Site, Familiar Human Values

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 9:04 pm

I’d like to make a preliminary announcement about our site– including the “gametalk” blog, our growing game repository, our games contest (which will be annnounced formally here shortly), game designer interviews, and curriculum material for the Values At Play initiative at Hunter College+ NYU. Check it all out at the Values at Play site. Of note is a recent team blog post on the new Manhunt by Jay Bachhuber. Enjoy, contribute, and let us know of any glitches!

November 2, 2007

Zabaware Wins 2007 Loebner Competition

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:07 pm

Robert Medeksza of Zabaware, pictured left in the Zabaware t-shirt, creator of the Ultra Hal chatterbot assistant, has won the 2007 Loebner Prize Competition, the annual Turing Test competition now in its 17th year. Past multi-year winner Rollo Carpenter is pictured in orange.

The chat logs of this year’s top three placers can be downloaded on the competition’s information page. This year, Loebner has implemented an application that plays back the chat sessions as they happened in real-time, including logs of the human judges versus both the bots and the human confederates. Very cool.

Trip to the Stars

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:03 pm

In a small step towards ractors, Andy Bayiates, writer and performer known for his work with the Neo-Futurists, perhaps best known among GTxA readers as the voice actor for Trip of Fa├žade, is now at your service, over the Internet, as your own personal astrologer. First person astrology indeed!

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