March 29, 2008

Political Responsibility at Last

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 6:15 am

I want it painted black

It warms my heart to see that a major Internet company has turned its Web page black, joining the protest against the Communications Decency Act only 4433 days late.

March 26, 2008

CFP: The Future of Storytelling in Games, Austin GDC

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:39 pm

From the CFP for The Future of Storytelling in Games, Austin GDC, September 15-17, 2008. Submissions are due April 14.

The theme for the Game Writing track is “The Future of Storytelling in Games.” This theme is a designing principle, applied to each day as follows:

  • The Future Is Now: A look at how this year’s crop of games is breaking the storytelling mold in games
  • The Future Is Coming: Revelations on the future of game writing from game projects currently in development
  • The Future Is Yours: A no-holds-barred look at what’s possible in the world of interactive storytelling

Infinite Compos Comp on Wheels

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 5:31 pm

VGNG Competition games

The games are out! Go play the games! No, I’m not talking about the IF Comp or any run-of-the-mill videogaming competition. I sing of The Video Game Name Generator Competition, brought on by the Independent Gaming Source. Entrants had to use the Video Game Name Generator to produce a title and then develop a game to suit that name. Given three weeks to accomplish this feat, forty-eight people have managed it.

Click over to the competition site to see the screenshots and (if you’re brave and run Windows) to download the games that accompany these titles and others:

March 23, 2008

Link Madness, Part 2: Down to Earth

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 4:32 pm

After the hyperbole in my last post, here is a more grounded series of links. First, pieces from three of my favorite game journalists: Clive Thompson, Chris Dahlen and Kieron Gillen.

Link Madness, Part 1: the Hyperbolic

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 3:39 pm

I occasionally make posts composed of link dumps, to help GTxA readers find articles they might enjoy and may have missed. This time I need to split the dump into two parts, the first part being a set of articles ranging from the slightly over-the-top to the truly hyperbolic. I will gently attempt to challenge, refute or debunk each as I go. :-)

  • Hypertext boring? That’s the assertion Ben Vershbow made in a post that leads with a commentary on Hypertextopia, spawned from an earlier GTxA post. I’ve certainly been one to vent my issues with hypertext as a form for fiction, but “boring”, hypertext isn’t. Like Nick’s Portal v. Passage post, Ben’s post spawned a good discussion though, including reactions elsewhere (1 2 3); in the discussion, Ben admits to being deliberately provocative. (As a side note, btw, Ben is a developer of CommentPress, used to implement Noah’s Expressive Processing blog-review project here on GTxA.)
  • In the annual GDC rant session, Clint Hocking asked:

March 21, 2008


from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:30 pm

bleuOrange, a French-language literary magazine, has just launched. The new publication is a project of nt2 and figura. The first issue includes Annie Abrahams’s “Discours populaire sur la violence,” Grégory Chatonsky’s “Sodome@home,” Sébastien Cliche’s “Ruptures,” and Ollivier Dyens’s “De lettres et d’acier.” There are also two originally English works that appear in translation/adaptation. “Ream,” by Nick Montfort, your humble blogger, appears in a multimedia presentation by Anick Bergeron, who also adapted the text as the French “Rame.” The piece “open.ended” by Aya Karpinska and Daniel C. Howe also appears in French translation, and this translation was also done by Anick. Update: Luce Tremblay-Gaudette’s photos of the bleuOrange launch event, which took place at Oboro, are now online.

EP Meta: Milestones

This week we’ve passed two important milestones in the Expressive Processing project. First, the blog-based review has now covered most of the material included in the blind, press-solicited review — and some useful overall impressions have been collected from participants in the blog-based review. Second, MIT Press has sent me the blind reviews. To mark these milestones, Doug Ramsey from UCSD has put together a news release (including video).

Now, looking forward from here, three things have been set in motion. (more...)

March 19, 2008

EP Meta: Chapter Eight

At this point, with chapter eight concluded, we have nearly reached the end of the version of Expressive Processing sent out for anonymous peer review by MIT Press. So now is the time for me to ask for what Ian Bogost, and others, have identified as a real challenge for this blog-based review form: Are there any broad thoughts on the overall project? (more...)

March 18, 2008

EP 8.6: Learning from Façade

The surface experience produced by the Façade’s processes and data is shaped by a series of choices that have clear impacts in terms of the Eliza and Tale-Spin effects. The results are instructive. (more...)

March 17, 2008

EP 8.5: Façade

I first met Andrew Stern and Michael Mateas at a 1999 symposium on “Narrative Intelligence” sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. The symposium was organized by Mateas and Phoebe Sengers, two of the final Oz PhD students. They managed to bring together a number of their mentors, colleagues, and friends with a wide range of people pursuing different facets of the intersection of narrative, character, and AI. The Zoesis team was present, showing off their most advanced demo: The Penguin Who Wouldn’t Swim. Bringsjord and Ferrucci discussed active development of Brutus. Stern described his company’s newest commercial product based on believable agent work: Babyz. Mateas and his collaborators premiered Terminal Time. It felt like the field was blossoming with new projects, pushing the state of the art to new levels. (more...)

March 16, 2008

The Session

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:28 pm

I don’t know exactly what to call this – a script, a scenario, a framework – but I wrote it at the Interactive Narrative conference at UCF to define, or scaffold, how a group of actors trained in interactive performance (knowing improv-like techniques, but with the ability to deal with an untrained performer) could work with a “spectactor,” a person without theatrical background who is not a member of the troupe, to create an interactive experience. The experience is played in the StoryBox, a square space closed off with black cloth, with cameras and microphones to convey what is going on to a remote audience.

The spectactor is given this information before the interactive experience begins:

You are a veteran going to visit your therapist, who you have been seeing for a while. Your therapist, Dr. Baum, is helping you to deal with your experience of a particular firefight during the war. Dr. Baum will discuss this with you briefly and will then invite you to relax and re-experience the firefight. You will be back on the battlefield with your platoon. After a while, you will come back to the world of Dr. Baum’s office and the discussion of your memory will continue. You will be invited to relax again and revisit the firefight in the same way. If Dr. Baum contradicts you or corrects your memory based on things you have previously established in sessions, remember that this is an attempt to help you. Keep working through your memories and reliving the firefight, even though it may be difficult.

Deluge of Digitally Distributed Drama

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:03 pm

Two or three characters in a room, with dark walls… probing, therapeutic conversations that expose repressed feelings about dysfunctional relationships… myriad threads and variations on the topics of marriage, sex and the mistakes we make… All free and digitally distributed.

Sound interesting? Watch the first 15 episodes of HBO’s In Treatment. I’ve been bingeing for the past few evenings. For me, it’s a vision of Eliza vs. Grace and Trip.

Metacommentary available here and here; funky hypermedia trailer here. I do love the Internet age.

March 14, 2008

Interactive Narrative at UCF

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 8:43 pm

UCF’s Interactive Narrative conference kicked off today with a really wonderful keynote talk by Chris Crawford. It was like a live-action video visit into the human brain, with a powerful conclusion about what artists should learn in order to drive the creative potential of the computer forward. Here are my notes – completely unofficial jottings, but ones that I hope will give you a sense of his argument. After these keynote notes, I discuss our encounters with the StoryBox environment.

EP 8.4: Oz

The Oz Project at Carnegie Mellon University — led by Joe Bates from its inception in the late 1980s — has an unusual distinction. While Tale-Spin and Universe could be considered outliers among software systems for the fact that both are widely credited with outputs they did not produce, the Oz Project may be the only computer science research project most famous for an experiment that did not require computers. This was an experiment in interactive drama, carried out with a human director and actors, but aimed at understanding the requirements for software-driven systems (Kelso, Weyhrauch, and Bates, 1993). (more...)

Transparency, or Not? It Remains Unclear

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:20 am

Noah’s analysis of The Sims suggests that The Sims succeeds as a game experience because it exposes the characters’ inner processes to the player. In reaction, Richard Evans, working on a related to-be-announced product, describes the debate he and his colleagues are having over how much of their NPCs’ inner workings to expose. Richard’s position is that players need “a clear mental model” of how the characters operate in order to for players to “project” themselves onto the characters — in particular, to allow players to believe the characters are deeper than they actually are, to believe in them as true characters.

This is a perfect opportunity for me to revive a discussion from about a year ago, “Transparency in the Behavior of and Interface to NPCs“. A very good discussion was just getting underway at the time, that due to time constraints I never added further comments to.

I’d like to continue that discussion, if any of you would like to. Please (re-)read that post, or my attempt here to summarize the discussion’s essential points:

I (Andrew) wrote: when interacting with a system/simulation/world, transparency is highly desirable, since transparency makes a system easy to learn, understand, and use. Simultaneously, we desire to make humanistic NPCs that, via interaction, allow players to experience and gain understanding of the nature of real people, e.g. human behavior, psychology, and culture. An essential human quality is our messiness: people are complicated, mysterious, nuanced, moody, fickle, often surprising and unpredictable under pressure. Similarly (and problematically), compelling characters are not transparent; you can’t control them, and that’s the point. That’s why they’re interesting to interact with. Real people aren’t machines that can be fiddled with once you understand their mechanism. In fact we should build our NPCs to get annoyed if you try to break them or crack them! Furthermore, exposing the inner workings of NPCs can hamper players from believing in them as flesh-and-blood characters, since their artificiality is made so obvious.

In the discussion, Nicolas H. agreed: “We can’t read minds. We can’t be in other people’s heads. … I know many Non-Gamers (especially women) who think that this is the fun in human interaction: Guessing what other people are up to, how they ‘tick’ inside.”

Breslin countered with several insightful points, with a similar view to Richard’s now. “I think it’s wrong to conceal the mechanism entirely, to try to make the mechanism too smart to be gamed, and so on.

March 13, 2008

Journal Issues Galore

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:18 pm

Three new issues of grand, textual, and sometimes automatic writing of different sorts are out. Creative digital writing can be found in the new issue of New River Journal, which includes:

  • “All the News That’s Fit to Print” by Jody Zellen
  • “The Wave” by Heather Raikes
  • “Digital Paintings” by Karin Kuhlmann
  • “A Sky of Cinders” by Tim Lockridge
  • “Marginalia in the Library of Babel” by Mark Marino
  • “Semantic Disturbances” by Agam Andreas
  • “(NON)sense for to from Eva Hesse” by Carrie Meadows

EP 8.3: The Sims

The Sims are arguably the most popular human characters ever created in digital media. The game named after them — The Sims (Wright et al, 2000) — is one of the best-selling games ever released, and has produced chart-topping expansion packs, sequels, and ports to new platforms. Perhaps surprisingly, the game is focused entirely on interaction with and between these characters and their environment. There is no shooting, no platform-jumping, no puzzle-solving, and not a single test of speed or agility. (more...)

March 12, 2008

Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:11 am

A new book by N. Katherine Hayles: Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary was released today from the University of Notre Dame Press. The publication of the book is a major event for the field of electronic literature. In addition to the printed book, each copy comes with a CD-ROM of The Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1. In addition, there is a great website accompanying the book at that includes syllabi for electronic literature courses, a blog/forum, and an additional online anthology of essays by students and scholars of e-lit.

EP 8.2: Understanding Simulations

The concerns about work such as Wright’s get to the heart of what is involved when we use computer models to make non-abstract media. As Ian Bogost puts it in Unit Operations, “the relationship or feedback loop between the simulation game and its player are bound up with a set of values; no simulation can escape some ideological context” (2006, 99). Or, as Ted Nelson put it succinctly two years before SimCity’s release, “All simulations are political” (1987). (more...)

March 11, 2008

Englisc as She Was Reverted

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 8:40 pm

It is too late for you to write the Anglo-Saxon Wikipedia entries for World of Warcraft, Bill Gates, and cell phones, but these and other articles await your writing and editorial work. Don’t try to spend it elsewhere; at least, not officially. The small number of literate children who lived between the 5th and 12th centuries in England are counting on you.

EP 8.1: Eliza and SimCity

In the early 1980s, Will Wright was working on his first game: Raid on Bungeling Bay (1984). Wright was crafting an attack helicopter simulation, focused on flying over islands and open water, attempting to destroy a set of factories working toward the creation of an unstoppable war machine. Then, reflecting on the landscape editor he created for authoring the game, Wright had a realization: “I was having more fun making the places than I was blowing them up” (2004). From this the idea for Wright’s genre-defining game SimCity (1989) was born. (more...)

March 10, 2008

EP Meta: Chapter Seven

I face a dilemma. As of today, the blog-based peer review of Expressive Processing has completed chapter seven (“Authoring Systems”) and is embarking on chapter eight (“The SimCity Effect”). But I’m not sure what follows after chapter eight.

In the version MIT Press sent out for blind peer review, the next chapter (“Playable Language”) is incomplete. (more...)

Rhizome Commissions Program

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:29 am

Rhizome is now in the midst of the sixth year of our Commissions Program — a singular initiative that supports the creation of original works of new media art work. This year, we will award seven artists/ collectives with commissions ranging from $3000-$5000.

Rhizome Commissions Program
Deadline for applications: midnight, March 31, 2008

We support: New Media Art, by which we mean projects that creatively engage new and networked technologies and also works that reflect on the impact of these tools and media in a variety of forms. Commissioned projects can take the final form of online works, performance, video, installation or sound art. Projects can be made for the context of the gallery, the public, or the web.

EP 7.5: Expressive Language Generation

From one perspective, the challenge faced by Terminal Time is the primary focus of the entire computer science research area of “natural language generation” (NLG). This work focuses on how to take a set of material (such as a story structure, a weather summary, or current traffic information) and communicate it to an audience in a human language such as English. On the other hand, very little NLG research has taken on the specific version of this challenge relevant for Terminal Time (and digital media more generally): shaping this communication so that the specific language chosen has the appropriate tone and nuance, in addition to communicating the correct information. Given this, digital media (such as games) have generally chosen very different approaches from NLG researchers for the central task of getting linguistic competence into software systems. (more...)

March 9, 2008

The Color of Radio…

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 8:05 pm

Tuned to a dead channel: Voices from the Paradise Network by John Hudak with flash programming by

Voices from Paradise

In my first recording experiment, I recorded a net broadcast from a friend in France, who provided me with a silent digital signal. This produced a completely silent recording. … After some research, it seemed that the voices required some background noise in order to take shape. The net broadcast transmitted a signal of white noise, that I digitally recorded. While recording the broadcast from France, I asked questions of whomever might be listening and recorded them separately into another recorder with an open-air microphone. I took the white noise broadcast recordings, slowed them down (as the voices are said to be in the higher registers), and filtered out the lower frequencies.

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