March 9, 2008

Gary Gygax, 69

The co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons rose in fame, in his lifetime, to the point of gathering an obituary in The New York Times. But Pat Harrigan pointed me to Paul La Farge’s 2006 essay in The Believer as a more substantial reflection on the history and hobby of D&D.

XYZZY Awards and New Get Lamp Trailer Handed Out

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 2:28 pm

The big annual awards event for interactive fiction, the 2007 XYZZY awards, has just concluded. Admiral Jota’s Lost Pig, winner of the IF Comp, took four XYZZY awards including the big one, Best Game. I was pleased to see that the uncanny Deadline Enchanter by Alan DeNiro won the award for Best Use of Medium. Congratulations to these and other winners: James Webb, Maryam Gousheh-Forgeot, David Fisher, Stephen Granade, and Christopher Huang. And, congratulations to all the nominees this year.

March 8, 2008

Joseph Weizenbaum, 85

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:56 pm

Creator of ELIZA/Doctor, awarded the Norbert Wiener Award by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, author of Computer Power and Human Reason.

March 7, 2008

Gravitation, a Game about the Creative Process

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:31 pm
Play with a nice child
Face the dark winter
Hair on fire!
Have your head spontaneously catch fire

Gravitation is a new, free, low-res game for Windows, Mac, and Linux by Jason Rohrer, creator of Passage. After you play, you’ll probably want to read Jason’s note on the game.

EP 7.4: Terminal Time

Picture a darkened theater. An audience watches, presumably somewhat disconcerted, as “a montage of Tibetan Buddhist imagery and Chinese soldiers holding monks at gunpoint” unfolds on screen. A computerized voice tells them that:

There were reports that Buddhist monks and nuns were tortured, maimed and executed. Unfortunately such actions can be necessary when battling the forces of religious intolerance. (Mateas, 2002, 138)

Underlying the words, one can hear a “happy, ‘optimistic’ music loop.” (more...)

March 6, 2008

Say It All in Six Words

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 4:43 pm

If I’ve been remiss at blogging over the past few months, it’s not from lack of interest; my finite time at the keyboard has been consumed with work. (Even keeping up with the daily unfolding of Noah’s excellent book takes a bit of time — well worth it though!)

About 9 months ago (time flies!) I posted my thoughts on an improved natural language understanding interface for interactive comedies/dramas. NLU is one of the R&D fronts I’ve been working on since that post — improved drama management and authoring tools being the other major fronts.

In that post I talked about the advantages, from an AI-implementation perspective, of limiting the player’s input to only eight words. After some further design work, I’ve now brought that number down to six. In my estimation, six words of natural language, per utterance, seems to be the smallest number that still allows a player to be highly expressive in a natural, conversational way.

EP 7.3: Brutus

Given its name, it is probably no surprise that Selmer Bringsjord and David Ferrucci’s Brutus system specializes in stories of betrayal. Here is the beginning of one:

Dave Striver loved the university. He loved its ivy-covered clocktowers, its ancient and sturdy brick, and its sun-splashed verdant greens and eager youth. He also loved the fact that the university is free of the stark unforgiving trials of the business world — only this isn’t a fact: academia has its own tests, and some are as merciless as any in the marketplace. A prime example is the dissertation defense: to earn the PhD, to become a doctor, one must pass an oral examination on one’s dissertation. This was a test Professort Edward Hart enjoyed giving. (Bringsjord and Ferrucci, 2000, 199–200)

The story continues for roughly another half page. (more...)

March 5, 2008

EP 7.2: Universe

Michael Lebowitz began work on Universe at around the same time that Scott Turner began his work on Minstrel, and the two systems bear a number of similarities.2 Both focus on the importance of authorial actions, rather than simply character actions. Both emerge from the scruffy AI tradition — Lebowitz had recently written his dissertation at Yale under Schank’s supervision, contributing to Schank’s model of dynamic memory, especially in relation to story understanding.3 Descriptions of both also emphasize the importance of the “point” or “theme” that the system is working to communicate through each act of generation (Lebowitz, 1984, 175). (more...)

March 4, 2008

EP 7.1: Writing Software

My early experiences of digital media were as an audience member. I remember playing text-only games like Hunt the Wumpus on mainframe terminals at my mother’s university — as well as interactive fictions like Zork I on my father’s early portable computers (a Kaypro and an Osbourne). I remember playing graphical games like Combat on a first-generation Atari console that belonged to my cousins — as well as Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator on my friend Brion’s first-generation Atari home computer. Brion would later guide me in more arcane explorations of computer code, as we attempted to creatively alter the binary files of games we played, saving them back to the Atari’s tape deck. But I think it was earlier, when I was ten years old, that I first sat down to program at a “blank slate.” (more...)

EP Meta: Chapter Six

Yesterday’s post finished up chapter six (“Character and Author Intelligence”) and today’s begins chapter seven (“Authoring Systems”). As it turns out, number six was another informative chapter, for me, in terms of the blog-based peer review process.

The best thing, undoubtedly, was the opportunity to hear comments from the creators of systems discussed in the chapter: Jeff Orkin and Scott Turner. Of course, many book authors are able to interview system authors when researching a book, but I suspect it’s unusual to get involved in a public conversation (before publication) around the specifics of how the manuscript characterizes the work. I’ve found this very helpful. (more...)

March 3, 2008

EP 6.5: Beyond Anthropomorphic Intelligence

Given the history of AI, it is no surprise that systems such as Tale-Spin and Minstrel were built to embody models of human cognition. The assumption that human and machine processes should — or must — resemble each other runs deep in AI. It continues to this day, despite the counter-example of statistical AI.

With Tale-Spin and Minstrel both emerging from the “scruffy” end of symbolic AI, we might assume that this area of AI was particularly given to building its systems on human models. And perhaps it is true that a neat researcher would not have made Turner’s opening assumption from his description of Minstrel: “To build a computer program to tell stories, we must understand and model the processes an author uses to achieve his goals” (1994, 3). (more...)

March 1, 2008

When Platformers Attack

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:39 am

I Wanna Be The Guy China Miner

I Wanna Be the Guy: The Movie: The Game is an ultradifficult pastiche of early platformers. You could play that, or you could play, or watch someone painfully play, China Miner, a genuine early platformer that is exceedingly difficult. (Thanks to Jesper for first telling me about the amazing China Miner.) Both of these are hilarious and well worth dying for – repeatedly.

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