February 18, 2008

Throwin the Wrench Old School

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 8:15 am

retro.jpg sabatoge.jpg

A new site, Retro Sabotage, redoes classic games into short interactive snippets that comment cleverly on videogame themes and ideas – and, in the most recent case, make fun of one of the ways gaming has casually changed since the good old days. So far there are multiple parodical remixes of Space Invaders, Pac Man, and Pong.

EP 5.1: The “Metanovel”

In the fall of 1974, James Meehan was a graduate student at Yale University. He had an idea in mind for his dissertation topic, but didn’t know how to pursue it. The topic had been suggested to him by Alan Perlis — one of the most famous figures in U.S. computer science, who had become chair of Yale’s department a few years before — on the first day they met. But Perlis didn’t know how to move forward with the idea, either. In the preface to his dissertation, Meehan describes the idea this way:

February 16, 2008

EP Meta: Chapter Four

This week, when I was talking with Jessica Bell about her story for the Daily Pennsylvanian, I realized one of the most important things, for me, about the blog-based peer review form. In most cases, when I get back the traditional, blind peer review comments on my papers and book proposals and conference submissions, I don't know who to believe. Most issues are only raised by one reviewer. I find myself wondering, "Is this a general issue that I need to fix, or just something that rubbed one particular person the wrong way?" I try to look back at the piece with fresh eyes, using myself as a check on the review, or sometimes seek the advice of someone else involved in the process (e.g., the papers chair of the conference).

But with this blog-based review it's been a quite different experience. (more...)

February 15, 2008

A 256-Character Program to Generate Poems

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:33 pm

My new year's poem for 2008 was a computer program, a very short Perl program that generates poems without recourse to any external dictionary, word list, or other data file. I call it ppg256-1: "ppg" because it's a Perl poetry generator, "256" for the length of the program in characters, and "-1" in the hopes that I will refine the program further and produce other versions. It was an attempt to drive process intensity up, keep program size down, and uncover what the essential elements of a poetry generator are.

To run ppg256-1, you can paste this onto your command line in Linux, Unix, Mac OS X, or (if you have Perl installed) Windows:

perl -le'sub w{substr("cococacamamadebapabohamolaburatamihopodito",2*int(rand 21),2).substr("estsnslldsckregspsstedbsnelengkemsattewsntarshnknd",2*int(rand 25),2)}{$l=rand 9;print "\n\nthe ".w."\n";{print w." ".substr("atonof",rand 5,2)." ".w;redo if $l-->0;}redo;}'

I found the process of developing this program very useful for my own thinking about computation and language. I'll explain a bit about what that process was, in the hopes that I can communicate some of what I learned from it and to encourage you, if you're interested in creative computation, to write short programs to explore the forms and ideas that you find most compelling.

EP 4.5: Learning from Models

How do we learn from making models? Phil Agre (1997) offers part of an answer for the field of artificial intelligence when he writes:

AI’s distinctive activity is building things, specifically computers and computer programs. Building things, like fieldwork and meditation and design, is a way of knowing that cannot be reduced to the reading and writing of books. To the contrary, it is an enterprise grounded in a routine daily practice. Sitting in the lab and working on gadgets or circuits or programs, it is an inescapable fact that some things can be built and other things cannot. (10)


February 14, 2008

Up Right Down, Schlemiel, Schlimazel

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:03 am

For the first issue of Up Right Down, writers and other narrative artists were invited to find various different ways to tell the same story:

In a bistro in Paris a young woman (A) tells her three girlfriends (B, C, and D) about the affair she had with an American tourist, who returned home promising to write, and hasn’t. It’s been over two weeks; something must have happened to him. (She has just learned she is carrying his child, but she doesn’t tell her friends.) B tells her to call him; C to e-mail him; D to forget all about him. Enter a fat American couple; each of them has a different speech impediment. They order food. The man chokes. A performs the Heimlich maneuver on him, and saves his life.

EP 4.4: AI, Neat and Scruffy

A name that does appear in Weizenbaum’s book, however, is that of Roger Schank, Abelson’s most famous collaborator. When Schank arrived from Stanford to join Abelson at Yale, together they represented the most identifiable center for a particular approach to artificial intelligence: what would later (in the early 1980s) come to be known as the “scruffy” approach.7 Meanwhile, perhaps the most identifiable proponent of what would later be called the “neat” approach, John McCarthy, remained at Stanford. (more...)

February 13, 2008

EP 4.3: Abelson’s Ideology Machine

Abelson and Carroll’s paper — “Computer Simulation of Individual Belief Systems” (1965) — describes work that Abelson and his students had pursued since the late 1950s, and would continue to pursue into the 1970s. At the point of their 1965 paper the “ideology machine” consisted of an approach to belief structures and a number of operations that could be performed on such structures. Sample belief structures from the paper range from common cold war views (“Russia controls Cuba’s subversion of Latin America”) to absurd statements (“Barry Goldwater believes in socialism”) and also include simple facts (“Stevenson ran for President”). (more...)

February 12, 2008

EP 4.2: Eliza and the Turing Test

While Eliza is the first well-known digital character, its roots trace back to a highly influential proposal for computer-driven conversation (less than two decades earlier) from the father of general-purpose computing: Alan Turing, mentioned earlier in this book’s introduction. Writing for the philosophy journal Mind, Turing initially proposed to consider the question, “Can machines think?” (1950). However, finding this question hopelessly ambiguous, Turing instead replaced it with a set of questions involving an “imitation game.” (more...)

February 11, 2008

What Digital Community Sites Would You Nominate for a Golden Nica?

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:57 am

I've been asked to serve as an adviser for the 2008 Ars Electronica Competition (the group that gives out the Golden Nicas) for the Digital Communities category, and to suggest some sites that might be worthy of the prestigous honor before the end of this month. I've got a couple of ideas, but I thought I'd ask the GTxA community for some suggestions. Please suggest sites in the comments, along with a couple of lines about why you think the digital community is important. Don't be shy about suggesting a site you are involved in developing.

EP 4.1: Implementable Models

Games are systems — and these systems have varying relationships with the everyday world. Hopscotch, for example, is made up of a small number of rules that structure full-body actions in the everyday world. Most of the challenge of play comes from the way the game’s space is demarcated on the ground, the properties of balance of the human body, and the physics of planet Earth. Scrabble, on the other hand, is challenging because of the rules for what happens on the board (rather than being a physical challenge, as we can see by the fact that it would be permissible for another player arrange my tiles on the board for me, under my direction) but the nature of this challenge is shaped by our knowledge of the English language. And Monopoly relates to our everyday world not, primarily, through the motion of our bodies or our knowledge of facts outside the game, but by being a representation — a model — of the economic system under which it was produced: capitalism. (more...)

EP Meta: Chapter Three

Last week, chapter three looked at the specific case of "Computer Game Fictions." This week, chapter four — "Making Models" — broadens the frame again, wrapping up Expressive Processing's section on the Eliza effect and setting up issues that will thread through the rest of the book.

As before, particular aspects of the conversation stand out in my memory. (more...)

February 10, 2008

HASTAC Deadline Looms

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:52 am

Ian Bogost and I had a great time doing a panel at the last HASTAC conference. Ian presented some of the "platform studies" work he and Nick are pursuing, and I presented some of the first formulations of the ideas in Expressive Processing. The deadline for submissions to this year's HASTAC II is almost here: February 15th. I'm writing mine right now...

February 9, 2008

Tabletop Systems Continued: Second Person part 2

Second Person cover

As I mentioned in my previous post on this topic, one of the goals that Pat Harrigan and I had for Second Person was to provide a set of writings that take tabletop games seriously. This means seeing them not just as computer game incunabula, but looking carefully at their structures, experiences, and histories.

Now these essays are becoming part of the First Person thread on electronic book review. This release includes full-length essays by Will Hindmarch, Rebecca Borgstrom, and James Wallis:

February 8, 2008

EP 3.5: The Game Fiction Dilemma

Authors of game fictions have worked hard — through conventions such as the quest-tracking journal and tree-driven conversations presented as menus — to avoid the Eliza effect. Rather than conceal the operations of their processes, game fiction authors seek to expose them to the audience. But, despite this, game fictions still face a dilemma remarkably similar to that outlined at the end of the previous chapter.

Both Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time take advantage of what games do well — in particular, simulated movement through space and combat. The relatively free-form actions allowed to players in these areas might be seen in parallel with the free-form text composition allowed both to those interacting with Eliza/Doctor and to the students involved in Harold Garfinkel’s yes/no therapy experiment. The difference, again, is in what changes to the state of the system, and influence on future operations, can be produced by this interaction. (more...)

February 7, 2008

5th International Joint Workshop on Computational Creativity

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 5:26 pm

Facultad de Informática · Universidad Complutense de Madrid
17-19 September 2008

April 18, 2008 - Submission deadline
May 23, 2008 - Authors' Notification
June 27, 2008 - Deadline for final camera-ready copies

The aim of the workshop is to facilitate exchange of ideas on the topic of computational creativity. It will bring together people from AI, Cognitive Science and related areas such as Psychology, Philosophy and the Arts who research questions related to the notion of creativity with respect to computers.

EP 3.4: An alternative: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

At the 2004 Game Developers Choice Awards, Knights of the Old Republic had some competition. Another nominee for Game of the Year, a game which won the awards for Excellence in Game Design and Excellence in Programming, was Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (PoP).

PoP is a strong example of game fiction in its own right — which is no surprise, given that its main writer and designer was Jordan Mechner, a legend in the game design field for his pioneering games Karateka (1984), the original Prince of Persia (1989), and The Last Express (1997). (more...)

February 6, 2008

EP 3.3: An example: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

The Game Developers Choice Awards are the Oscars of the game industry — the award with which members of a creative industry recognize achievements of their own. In 2004, game studio BioWare walked away with three awards that are of particular note for this discussion: Game of the Year, Original Game Character of the Year, and Excellence in Writing. All of these were awarded for BioWare’s RPG Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) which also won game of the year awards from a slew of industry publications. While certainly not the most recent major RPG, it provides a good example of the strengths and weaknesses of the quest flag and dialogue tree logics. (more...)

February 5, 2008

EP 3.2: Role-playing games

Games employ fiction in many ways.1 The most story-ambitious genre of computer games is probably the computer role-playing game (RPG) — a form that traces its roots back to a non-computer form of gaming: the tabletop RPG.

February 4, 2008

Digital Poetry Seminar at Paragraphe Laboratoire

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:50 pm

This Thursday and Friday, I'll be attending a seminar, "Questions autor des poésies numériques" at the Laboratoire Paragaphe at Université Paris 8. The seminar will include talks by European, American, and Brazilian digital poets and electronic literature scholars, and the seminar is also intended to launch the development of a European research network on digital poetry. I will take notes and send in a report this weekend.

GTxA Subcommittee Sighted in NYC

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 2:13 pm

Nick and Mary in NYC on Feb 1

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming...

EP 3.1: Digital Fictions and the Eliza Effect

Imagine you’ve checked out your books and walked, through the damp twilight, to the bus shelter across the street. Its fluorescent tubes have flickered on — you can read the schedules and advertisements behind the plexiglass, as well as the stickers scattered over them.

One rectangular sticker catches your eye. It has the name of no band, the number of no locksmith, the logo of no corporation, and no image of Andre the Giant. It’s just a block of text. The first words read, “Why bomb libraries?” (more...)

EP Meta: Chapter Two

Last week the sections of Expressive Processing's second chapter — "The Eliza Effect" — were posted. This week will see all the sections of chapter three: "Computer Game Fictions."

So far I'm quite happy with the feedback I'm getting. As discussed in my previous "meta" post, as well as in some of the comments, I'm pleased to be hearing everything from reflections on the wider field movements in which Expressive Processing participates to very detailed comments about word choices (and, in one case, an ungrammatical sentence). It's all going to help me make the book better, and some comments will certainly influence my work beyond this book. (more...)

February 1, 2008

Frequency: Said (tasteful)

from Scott Rettberg
by @ 11:25 am

SAID (tasteful)

said no way

Maggie discussed her plans for a green burial with her father. This might have been a bad idea. He insisted that she would outlive him, to begin with, that this was just a passing thing and that she would outlive it, first thing. And second, he didn’t think this thing sounded tasteful at all. Her mother’s funeral had been done the normal American way, and that was how it should have been, wasn’t it? Then he was crying. Her sister was the executor, so it didn’t really matter. She just wanted to prepare him.

EP 2.3: Revisiting the Eliza effect

Being a teenager, after my initial interaction with Eliza/Doctor, I did the natural thing: I started to play with it. (Software, of course, doesn’t need to be a game to inspire play.) I don’t remember the exact exchange, but I know that I soon discovered the reason Murray doesn’t go far into talking about ongoing interaction with Eliza/Doctor, just as Suchman and Weizenbaum don’t.5 If they did, it would complicate their discussions. This is because — while the initial experience of Eliza/Doctor can create the surface impression of an incredibly complex internal system — sustained interaction with the system, the verbal back-and-forth, invites play . . . and linguistic play with Eliza/Doctor quickly begins to destroy the illusion. (more...)

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