February 29, 2008

A Game is Worth 300 Ideas

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 6:59 pm

Check out josh g’s post about a heated discussion dealing with the inclusion of Lost in the Static (discussed previously on here) in the GDC program while a list of 300 game ideas (one of which was the basis for Lost in the Static, two of which were realized in other GDC-discussed games) didn’t make the cut.

I guess the main thing at issue is what status game ideas posted online should have when compared to actual games.

The truth is, executing a project is often a very important part of it – you can then show it to others, and you can adjust your concept and redesign repeatedly when you start working through the actual process of producing.

EP 6.4: Statistical AI

We can see, in Minstrel, symptoms of a much larger problem. One which Turner, alone, could have done little to address. By the late 1980s it was clear that AI systems in general were not living up to the expectations that had been created over the three previous decades. Many successful systems had been built — by both “neats” and “scruffies” — but all of these worked on very small sets of data. Based on these successes, significant funding had been dedicated to attempting to scale up to larger, more real-world amounts of data. But these attempts failed, perhaps most spectacularly in the once high-flying area of “expert systems.” The methods of AI had produced, rather than operational simulations of intelligence, a panoply of idiosyncratic encodings of researchers’ beliefs about parts of human intelligence — without any means of compensating for the non-simulation of the rest of human intelligence. Guy Steele and Richard Gabriel, in their history of the Lisp programming language (1993, 30), note that by 1988 the term “AI winter” had been introduced to describe the growing backlash and resulting loss of funding for many AI projects. In this vacuum, assisted by steadily increasing processing power, a new form of AI began to rise in prominence. (more...)

February 28, 2008

Philip M Parker’s Book Generator

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:21 am

Speaking of Scott Turner (author of Minstrel, a major subject of the EP chapter currently being discussed) he recently drew my attention to an article in the Guardian titled “Automatic writing.

Philip M Parker, a professor of management science at Insead, the international business school based in Fontainebleau, France, patented what he calls a “method and apparatus for automated authoring and marketing”.

EP 6.3: Modeling Human Creativity

Scott Turner, like many before and since, first became interested in story generation after running upon Vladmir Propp’s analysis of Russian folktales (1968). Propp provides a grammar that describes the structure of many folktales. As linguists and computer scientists know, grammars can be used for describing the structure of given things — and also for generating new things. But, as Turner soon discovered, this task is not easily accomplished with Propp’s grammar. Its elements are rather abstract, making them workable for analysis but insufficient for generation.5

Turner was a senior in college at the time. A few years later, while doing graduate research in UCLA’s Computer Science department, he began work on a radically different vision of story generation, embodied in his Minstrel system. This would culminate in an dissertation more than 800 pages long (setting a new record in his department) that he distilled down to less than 300 as the book The Creative Process: A Computer Model of Storytelling and Creativity (1994). (more...)

Fibreculture Futures of Digital Media Arts and Culture Issue

from Scott Rettberg
by @ 1:46 am

Issue 11 of the online journal Fibreculture is now out. The journal features a collection of essays from the 2007 Digital Arts and Culture conference, including my essay “Dada Redux: Elements of Dadaist Practice in Contemporary Electronic Literature“, as well as eleven other notable essays from the conference. Among the highlights: Axel Bruns on Produsage, Jim Bizzocchi on African Diasporic Orature and Computational Narrative in the GRIOT System, Tracy Fullerton, Jacquelyn Ford Morie, and Celia Pearce on the Gendered Poetics of Space in computer games, Jaako Suominen on Retrogaming and more.

Fibreculture Futures of Digital Media Arts and Culture

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:29 am

Issue 11 of the online journal Fibreculture is now out. The journal features a collection of essays from the 2007 Digital Arts and Culture conference, including my essay “Dada Redux: Elements of Dadaist Practice in Contemporary Electronic Literature“, as well as eleven other notable essays from the conference. Among the highlights: Axel Bruns on Produsage, Jim Bizzocchi on ambient video, Fox Harrel on African Diasporic Orature and Computational Narrative in the GRIOT System, Tracy Fullerton, Jacquelyn Ford Morie, and Celia Pearce on the Gendered Poetics of Space in computer games, Jaako Suominen on Retrogaming and more.

February 27, 2008

Imaginative, Aesthetic, Executable Writing

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:20 pm

I just wrote up some notes toward a talk at the Codework workshop at WVU. I figured I’d drop them in here, for those interested in the aesthetics of programming and the relationship of programming and creative writing.

I start with a difference between computer programming and what is traditionally called creative writing: Code has both a human meaning and a formal machine semantics, while creative writing in the usual sense has only human meaning — it cannot be compiled and executed on a computer.

EP 6.2: Beyond Compartmentalized Actions

The finite-state machine is much like the quest flag or the dialogue tree. Each is conceptually simple, easy to implement, places low demand on system resources, and — over a certain level of complexity — becomes difficult to author and prone to breakdown. A quick look at the structure of FSMs shows the reasons for this.1

An FSM is composed of states and rules for transitioning between states. For example, an FSM could describe how to handle a telephone. In the initial state, the phone is sitting on the table. When the phone rings, the FSM rules dictate a transition to picking the phone up and saying “Hello.” If the caller asks for the character who answered, the rules could say to transition to a conversation state. If the caller asks for the character’s sister, the transition could be to calling the sister’s name aloud. When the conversation is over (if the call is for the character who answered the phone) or when the sister says “I’m coming” (if the call is for her) the phone goes back on the table. (more...)

February 26, 2008

Grassroots Media Conference March 2 NYC

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:32 am

This Sunday in NYC, Hunter College is hosting The 5th Annual Grassroots Media Conference!
The Conference is a chance for media activists to come together, compare notes, and stratagize. It’s always worth attending. This year, the Tiltfactor Lab will be facilitating a game design workshop

EP 6.1: After Tale-Spin

As the previous chapter described, James Meehan’s Tale-Spin — built on a simulation embodying the “scruffy” artificial intelligence theories of Roger Schank and Robert Abelson — generated coherent accounts of character actions and interactions in a fictional world. This set the foundation for the field of story generation. Considered today, it also raises an inevitable question: What next?

This chapter considers two different responses. (more...)

Message Me, Videogames

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:17 am

“I have poured the message of love and peace and happiness in Space Channel 5. These were the emotions and desires of this game.” -Tetsuya Mizuguchi

“Well, there are lots of message games coming out now. … [but] a lot of people like cake.” -Erik Wolpaw

What does it mean for a video game to have messages? Do any good ones have messages? Are there games that aren’t really fun to play, don’t have messages, but are still good games? That is, can games have anything besides message and gameplay?

Following up on recent discussion, I’ll describe here why I think Portal has more of a message than Passage. (I’ve tried to keep the spoilers to a minimum in this one…)

EP Meta: Chapter Five

Last week was pretty quiet around Grand Text Auto. I was at the Game Developers Conference (or with friends who’d flown out for it) much of the week — and so, apparently, were many of our readers. The good thing about this is that it allowed me to experience a new facet of the blog-based review form: people who haven’t been commenting, but have been reading, telling me what they think in person. (more...)

February 25, 2008

IndieCade Submissions are Open!

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 8:02 pm

Okay okay, just one more short post and I’ll quiet down for a few hours. You can now submit to IndieCade: International Festivals of Independent Games. The main fest takes place July 10-13, 2008 in Bellevue, Washington, and there are year-round showcases of work as well. Check the IndieCade site for further details. Deadline: Midnight April 11, 2008 PST.

Recent IF News

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:36 pm

Andrew Plotkin, of interactive fiction fame among other types of gamey fame, has been blogging at The Gameshelf of late. His first post, early this month, was on games that don’t exist.

Emily Short has started a cover art drive and, to put a more appealing face on IF, is seeking contributed illustrations for existing works of interactive fiction.

In Hypertextopia did Web 2.0 a stately pleasure dome …

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:05 pm

A radical rehypertextualization of the Web appears with hints of Storyspace maps and multi-colored links of various sorts: Hypertextopia. There’s a library of marked-up work ready for your perusal and even a tray of wacky textual tools. (Via qumbler.)

EP 5.6: Re-Reading Tale-Spin

The Tale-Spin effect has had a huge impact on previous interpretations of Tale-Spin, even when the interpreters have come from very different positions as scholars. Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck (1997) and Espen Aarseth’s Cybertext (1997) provide helpful illustrations of this. In these cases, the Tale-Spin effect not only causes the authors to misinterpret Tale-Spin, but also to miss opportunities for making fruitful connections to their own areas of interest. (more...)

February 24, 2008

PvP: Portal versus Passage

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 2:37 pm

Portal partial screenshot Passage partial screenshot

How is it that a 2D, five-minute, public domain videogame with an effective resolution of 100×12, developed by one guy who uses a 250 MHz PPC computer, can be better than a 3D, five-hour videogame that runs at 1080i, is the product of a well-funded and well-equipped corporate workplace and has been named the best game of 2007 by numerous publications?

I’ll explain.

Mixed Messages at GDC

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:04 am
Power to the Publisher Join the Revolution

These were almost directly across from each other on the expo floor.

February 22, 2008

Jeff Howard’s Quests

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 6:26 am

Quests by Jeff Howard Many of you will be interested to know that Jeff Howard’s book Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives is now out from A K Peters. Jeff’s dissertation was discussed on here, and he sent us a writeup of an ACM symposium. The book is a very nice contribution which I read shortly before publication. Here’s the endorsement of it that I wrote:

EP 5.5: Tale-Spin as Simulation

Of course, the Tale-Spin effect, as described above, mainly considers Tale-Spin as a piece of media. But, in its context at Yale, it was positioned as something else — or something more. As Meehan emphasizes repeatedly in his dissertation, the structures of Tale-Spin were not chosen because they were the most efficient way to have a computer output a story. If this were the goal, some method like that of Klein’s “automatic novel writer” would have been appropriate. Instead, Tale-Spin was meant to operate as a simulation of human behavior, based on the then-current cognitive science ideas of Schank and Abelson. (more...)

February 21, 2008

Kriegspiel in Brooklyn Tomorrow

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 3:19 pm

Partial screenshot from Kriegspiel, RSG’s version of Guy Debord’s board game

A special situation obtains near Bedford Avenue tomorrow – the opportunity to play a newly computerized version of Guy Debord’s 1978 Kriegspiel. For those who can’t make it, you can still download Kriegspiel in beta form and play it. For those who can, the event is at the gallery Over the Opening, 60 North 6th Street, 2nd floor, Brooklyn (L train to Bedford Avenue). It takes place tomorrow (Friday February 22, 2008) from 7pm to 10pm. Prospective players should bring their own laptops.

The official word from the group RSG, creators of the computer version, follows…

EP 5.4: The Tale-Spin Effect

In Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (1974) two characters named Kublai Khan and Marco Polo sit in a garden. Polo tells the Khan — sometimes in words, sometimes through symbols, sometimes through the relation of pieces on a chessboard — of cities he has visited within the vast empire. Here are a few. In the middle of Fedora is a metal building with a crystal globe in every room, each containing a model of the city as it might have been in a possible future, constructed at a different stage of its history. At every solstice and equinox, around the fires of the marketplace of Euphemia, there is trade not in goods but in memories. In Ersilia, the inhabitants stretch strings between all the houses — marking relationships of blood, of trade, authority, agency — until one can no longer pass, all but the strings are taken down, and Ersilia is built again elsewhere. Thekla is continually under construction, following the blueprint of the stars, while Andria already reflects the heavens precisely — in every street, building, job, and ceremony — but those who live there must carefully weigh each change to the city, given the changes it will produce in the heavens. Polo and the Khan each propose a model city, from which all others can be deduced. They look through atlas pages that contain not only all the cities of the Khan’s empire, but all those that will one day come to exist (Paris, Mexico City), and all imaginary lands (Utopia, New Atlantis).

It is not hard to picture Tale-Spin as an addition to this list of imaginary lands. (more...)

February 20, 2008

Taking Play Seriously

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:14 pm

Check out the NYTimes supplement Taking Play Seriously from the 2/17/08 NYTimes Magazine. It’s a brief update on current thinking on play from psychology to education.

EP 5.3: Tale-Spin’s Fiction

That was a significant amount of detail about Tale-Spin, more than I will offer about any other system described in this book. I hope it gave some sense of the type of undertaking involved in creating even a first-generation story system. There’s much more going on — at the levels of character and story — than in something like Eliza/Doctor or a standard computer RPG. Further, it illustrates how a computer system that seeks to generate representations of human behavior can be built as an operationalization of theories about human behavior.

But it’s also worth noting that the story produced in our Tale-Spin example wasn’t a particularly strong example of fiction. While Tale-Spin creates character behavior, this behavior doesn’t necessarily take the shape of a traditional story. This is something to which I’ll return later. For now, I want to consider what it means to say that Tale-Spin produces fiction at all. (more...)

February 19, 2008

EP 5.2: A Tale-Spin Story

Tale-Spin, as described in Meehan’s dissertation, has three storytelling modes. Two modes are interactive, asking the audience to make decisions about features of the story world, while one mode “fixes” the world to assure the production of particular stories.4 Chapter 11 of Meehan’s dissertation gives a detailed account of an interactive story, about a hungry bear named Arthur, that I will use to illustrate Tale-Spin’s operations and their backgrounds. (more...)

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