July 31, 2009

Geek Cred: Confirmed

Poetry and Slashdot collide via XKCD

Poetry and Slashdot collide via XKCD

Slashdot is “News for Nerds, Stuff That Matters”, and one of the most influential news sites in computing circles. Yesterday, appearing in an article titled “Games That Design Themselves” a certain “University of California” professor is named.

Who could this shadowy persona be? With so many campuses to choose from, who could possibly be elevated to such an illustrious status? Why, it’s none other than EIS’s very own Michael Mateas! h+ magazine takes a look at Mateas and Stern’s Façade, and have a look over friend-of-Grand Text Auto’s Jeff Orkin and his Restaurant Game.

July 30, 2009

Pythonic Textuality at NYU

from Post Position
by @ 9:56 pm

I was very interested to learn that Adam Parrish, whose own Interactive Telecommunication Program (ITP) masters project was “New Interfaces for Textual Expression,” is now teaching Digital Writing with Python at NYU’s ITP. The course is concluding; Parrish and his students will mount a final performance on August 5 at 7pm. Parrish eschewed powerful, cryptic Perl for clarity of Python in this course on creating text machines, as I did in putting together The Word Made Digital, which I’ll be teaching again this Fall. His reading list overlaps with mine a bit and includes a nice article on appropriation in writing – I may just rip that right off. I won’t manage to be in New York to hear students read their programs’ output, but I hope the conclusion to the class goes well and that I’ll be able to read and run some things that will give me a sense of the event.

Game Design as a Science

In my recent PhD thesis proposal I described how I am going to tackle game design as a new domain for automated discovery.  A key piece of this is figuring out game design might be explained as the kind of knowledge-seeking effort you might expect from science or mathematics.  With successful systems performing discovery (such as Simon Colton’s HR system which contributed some new and interesting knowledge in pure mathematics) and new projects beginning to automate the process of exploring a space of games (such as Julian Togelius’ Automatic Game Design experiment), the idea of mashing these together into a “game design discovery system” seems quite attractive to me.

Warning: Value of Games May Go Down as Well as Up

Feel Good Hit of the Summer: Battlefield 1943

Feel Good Hit of the Summer: Battlefield 1943

Battlefield 1943 is one of a number of games hitting Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network this summer, countering the traditional summer lull. For just $15 (or £10 for my UK brethren, or 1200 Microsoft Space Bucks for everyone else), one of the most perfect knockabout multiplayer experiences can be had. Want to fly planes into tanks? How about flying a plane above a tank and parachuting on top of it? How about flying a plane into a tank, jumping out at the last second, and watching debris shower over your head? This is gaming, my friends.

At $15, it is one of the best bank per buck games one can purchase, described by John Davidson as an “evergreen” title, destined to be supported with fresh maps and gameplay for many, many hours.

With such value to be had, where happens to the $60 game (or the criminal £55 game)?

July 29, 2009

Edutainment and Lessons “Learned” from Commercial Video Games: Jazz Band Revolution

rock-band“Jazz Band Revolution” …. Trust me, this is a great idea. A fellow EIS labmate recently gave a class presentation about the “Edutainment Fail.”  To its credit, edutainment is responsible for my first interactions with desktop computers.  Games such as Oregon Train, Logo Writer, some lemonade stand game, and that typing game were widely used in my early primary school years.  I suppose as games became more commercially available, the novelty of games in education were upstaged.  Still, it’s apparent that there is a great deal of learning that goes into playing some of the most popular games today, so it begs the question… Why aren’t games used for educational purposes more? Many bridges are in process being built to overcome the gap between the motivation to be entertained and the motivation to learn.  Similarly, there are many educational avenues from the experiencing to building of interactive experiences– whether it is to learn about the technology itself or to be engaged by the technology to learn.  Let’s be honest, everyone knows that games are more than just entertainment, yet why are they mostly seen as entertainment– If I am willing to learn for the sake of being entertained, surely, I am willing to learn USEFUL things for the sake of being entertained (if nothing else).  Being entertained should be assumed for all games; asking for a game that can entertain is like asking for a drink that will quench thirst.  Albeit, not all drinks will quench thirst, but we have more options than just water to quench our thirsts.  So listen up Activision, Harmonix, and Konami: Games are for more than just quenching my thirst for entertainment.

July 28, 2009

Introducing Curveship

from Post Position
by @ 10:37 am

This is the first of a planned series of posts about my interactive fiction system, Curveship. Curveship is an interactive fiction development system that provides a model of a physical world, and its workings, as do existing state-of-the-art IF systems (such as Inform 6, Inform 7, TADS 2, and TADS 3). It will not have as many libraries, and will have no multimedia features, when it is released, but it will provide another significant capability: it will allow IF authors to write programs that manipulate the telling of the story (the way actions are represented and items are described) as easily as the state of the IF world can now be changed. While existing IF systems allow for the simulation of a character who can move around and change the state of the world, Curveship provides for control over the narrator, who can tell as if present at the events or as if looking back on them, who can tell events out of order, creating flashbacks or narrating what happens by category, and who can focalize any character, not just a fixed PC or a hard-coded series of them, to tell the story from the perspective of that character’s knowledge and perceptions.

July 27, 2009

Web Comics Touched by the Brush

from Post Position
by @ 9:46 pm

The Moon Fell on Me is an infrequent, gemlike Web comic by the itinerant Franklin Einspruch, who happened to come to my recent interactive fiction talk at AXIOM. He told me he was trying to do something different with this Web project. Visit his site even briefly and you’ll see that he has done it. No pen was used in the creation of this Web comic. The panels are not organized to lead toward jokes. The lines of images are clearly based on personal experience, but they reach out beyond an individual or subculture. Instead of the occasionally hilarious, forward-a-link, forget-in-moment frames of the typical Web comic – however incisive that comic might be about geeks or life or both – The Moon Fell on Me offers sequential art that is worth looking at again and again, that resonates with its moment and seems worth contemplating beyond it.

Kosmosis – Procedural rhetoric gone wrong (as usual)

gameplayMolleindustria recently created a new game prototype called Kosmosis: “A COMMUNIST SPACE SHOOTER AS AN ARCADE GAME FROM AN ALTERNATE PRESENT WHERE NON-DEGENERATED SOCIALIST VALUES ARE HEGEMONIC.”  The game was created as an entry for the Experimental Gameplay Project competition titled “Unexperimental Shooter.”  Molleindustria are known for tackling controversial subjects including free culture and religious hatred and are some of the few people who create games from the “message up” (i.e. design with procedural rhetoric in mind).

July 25, 2009

Call For Papers: Foundations of Digital Games

Foundations of Digital Games is a fantastic “big tent” games conference that focuses on both technical and humanistic games research. If you’re looking for a one-stop-shop for submitting your games research to a high-quality, peer-reviewed venue, look no further. Hope to see you at Asilomar next June!

FDG 2010: The 5th International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games 19-21 June 2010, at Asilomar Conference Grounds, Monterey, California.

Important Dates
Workshop Proposals: 18 Sep 2009
Paper and Poster Submission: 5 Feb 2010
Doctoral Consortium Submission: 12 Feb 2010
Author Notification: 29 Mar 2010
Demo Submission: 2 Apr 2010
Registration for Authors: 9 Apr 2010
Camera Ready Papers: 23 Apr 2010
Conference: 19-21 Jun 2010

July 23, 2009

Learning in Games

Kodu Game LabThis summer, I’m working with Matt MacLaurin at Microsoft Research on Kodu Game Lab.  For those of you who aren’t familiar, Kodu is an environment for people with no programming experience to quickly create games.  Its visual programming language is designed to be intuitively understandable and its library of characters and objects facilitate rapid game development.  If you’re interested in checking it out yourself, it’s currently available for the very reasonable price of $5 through X-Box Live Arcade.

 One of my goals for the summer is to introduce some interesting AI features to the characters of Kodu.  Among those features is learning.  We want Kodu characters to be able to adapt their behavior based on their experiences.

July 22, 2009

Better Game Studies Education the Carcassonne Way

Following Noah’s lead, I thought I’d post the extended abstract and ask for comments on my upcoming DiGRA paper.  This is joint work with Noah as well as Sri Kurniwan at UCSC.


As game education programs grow, educators face challenges bringing formal study of games to students with varied backgrounds.  In particular, educators must find ways to transition students from viewing games as entertainment to exhibiting deeper insights.  One approach is to expose students to a wider variety of games, particularly German-style board games.  We hypothesize that greater familiarity may lead to improved understanding of game mechanics and test this hypothesis with a study involving students in an introductory game design class.  Initial analysis of the results shows increased understanding and changes in the student’s view of games.  From this we may suggest directions for future research and game education pedagogy.

July 20, 2009

Distant Worlds: San Francisco Symphony Plays Celebrates Music from Final Fantasy


Sold out SF Symphony show

There are 3 takeaways I hope to convey in this post.  First, I’d like to share what it was like to be there Saturday night in the symphony hall.  Secondly, I want to describe what I thought about my second time at an FF concert (my first is described here).  Most importantly, I want to discuss a bit about the significance and meaning of such an event.  I believe that there is great meaning evident in the type of response that a video game event, such as this one, creates.  Unlike what is often described of video games in the media, this is not just an exploitation of fanaticism, rather, it is a celebration of the deeply meaningful presence Final Fantasy has had.  I cannot think of a better example to show that video games, rich and full of meaning, are about more than “just playing a game.”

July 19, 2009

FD, an amuse bouche for the Web

from Scott Rettberg
by @ 12:46 pm

Anyone who likes cute animals, culinary pursuits, and gratuitous profanity will love the shit out of Fucking Delicious.


July 18, 2009

privacy, security, and what is on your machine, anyway?

from tiltfactor
by @ 10:20 am

The ironic debacle this week –  Amazon.com confiscating the mistakenly sold electronic books by none other than George Orwell from user’s Kindle machines across the country — stokes the already hot debate about technological devices and the rights of privacy, ownership, security, and autonomy of a user to his or her  own devices.

Yesterday’s New York Times article describes how Amazon became aware they mistakenly sold the works 1984 and Animal Farm without the proper rights, then remotely deleted them on user’s kindles without warning with the same technology used to synchronize separate electronic devices. “I never imagined that Amazon actually had the right, the authority or even the ability to delete something that I had already purchased,” says one of those customers affected.


from Scott Rettberg
by @ 3:31 am

Cybraphon is a project from Edinburgh-based artist collective FOUND (Ziggy Campbell, Simon Kirby and Tommy Perman). Inspired by early 19th century mechanical bands such as the nickelodeon, Cybraphon is an interactive version of a mechanical band in a box. Consisting of a series of robotic instruments housed in a large display case, Cybraphon behaves like a real band. Image conscious and emotional, the band’s performance is affected by online community opinion as it searches the web for reviews and comments about itself 24 hours a day.

Cybraphon Demo Song from Cybraphon on Vimeo.

July 17, 2009

Digital Humanities 2009: My First Humanities Conference

summer2009 199a

Trying to find traction in my pursuit of academic scholarship is quite daunting at times.  There are just so many people in the world doing so many interesting things, and it often feels like an endless catching up with the many experts of today.  What I do know is my childhood aspiration to tell stories through video games drives me on this adventure of discovery.  What I didn’t know was how many communities of thought there would be along the way: communities that care about stories, communities that care about games, communities that care about stories in games.  (It keeps me constantly feeling like the “the new kid” in school.)  And what I take away from this last conference is a new collaboration of interesting research questions that I could’ve very well been working on.  Not that I’m second guessing the path I’m currently on, but rather, I look forward to bringing my own discoveries to the intersection of all these communities.  So, let me share a little bit of what I learned about the Digital Humanities community.

July 14, 2009

Binary Katwalk’s “Line of Influence” with Kate Pullinger

from Scott Rettberg
by @ 10:45 pm

The new edition of Binary Katwalk features the interactive narrative work of Kate Pullinger and works by Caitlin Fisher, Reneé Turner and Christine Wilks.

Binary Katwalk is an online exhibition space for experimental digital work, edited by Jeremy Hight. Each edition will feature artists from around the world and from different points in the spectrum of new media. This edition features five new mini-stories created for Pullinger’s Flight Paths project which is a mixed media communal net based narrative on a large scale, along with three artists she has selected. The next edition of BK will feature codework auteur Mez.

July 13, 2009

Agency Reconsidered

Steven Dow, Michael Mateas, Serdar Sali, and I have an abstracted accepted for DiGRA titled “Agency Reconsidered.” We’re working on the full paper this month, and will certainly share it when available, but one of the things I value about blogs is that they provide a place to do academic work in public. So I’m posting the abstract here, along with some thoughts on where we’re going for the final paper, and I’d appreciate any ideas/pointers that people have. Suggestions and criticisms that arrive now (rather than after it’s completed) are much more likely to shape the final paper.

Scott’s Salmon and Corn-off-the-Cob Hash

from Scott Rettberg
by @ 9:33 am

Here’s one of my favorite leftover recipes, salmon hash, modified because we also had a bit of leftover corn on the cob.

3 portions leftover grilled salmon, diced
3 cobs grilled sweet corn
10 new potatoes
1 red onion, diced
sprig of rosemary
handful of fresh basil
olive oil, salt, pepper, tabasco, quarter lemon

Serves 4-6 for breakfast or lunch.


July 11, 2009

Two turntables and a microphone and a mac and a website

from Scott Rettberg
by @ 3:24 pm

Just a quick post here to say I think Beck gets the Web in ways that a lot of contemporary recording artists don’t. While a lot of bands give you discographies and tour dates and bios and the like, maybe a few sample tracks, I’m impressed with the Web strategy Beck is embracing on his site. As far as I can tell, he is not directly promoting his albums, his tour dates, or his merchandising on is site at all. Instead, he is using the Web site as an occasion to make and distribute cool stuff with his friends. His new site has features including Record Club, a project to informally re-record a classic album in a day with other musicians, and release a new track on the site every week. “Irrelevant Topics” will feature Beck informally interviewing other musicians at length about whatever comes to mind, released in serial installments. The first part of the first interview, with Tom Waits, is a fantastic discussion with one of America’s best songwriters. Planned Obsolescence is a weekly DJ set mixed by Beck’s crew. In an age when anybody can put on a pirate hat and download any album without paying a dime, this type of creative approach to using the web as a experimental platform for music and its environments is exactly the type of thing that might make me want to support an artist buying his CD or MP3 or concert ticket or T-shirt. Beck’s crew is using Web 2.0ish tools and social media like facebook and vimeo to reach their fan base and share their funky new readymades.

What do Amnesia, Immortality, and Mind Control have to do with Game Design, Immersion, and Suspension of Disbelief?


What breaks your sense of presence in a story? The culture of video game playing has developed a tolerance for the common practices and limitations in designing and producing games.  We’ve stopped asking “why?” and have come to expect the typical input arrangements, the impermanence of death, and restrictions of our own free will.  Although much of the work in the EIS lab is focused on investigating new practices in creating and playing games, I’ve found, in my personal “research” of popular games, that despite the predictability, certain innovations in narrative are notably novel.

July 10, 2009

Story Generation with Pookie and JR

from Post Position
by @ 6:05 pm

Excerpts from the Chronicles of Pookie & JR:
Previously, Pookie and JR had only ever met at parties.
For the first few nights, Pookie and JR keep to their corners.
JR changes Pookie’s water. Pookie makes a mess of his feeding dish.
JR cooks slowly, foraging in this strange kitchen.
Tonight’s dinner puts one withered leek out of its misery.
JR hasn’t been sleeping much lately.
Pookie keeps his thoughts to himself.
To be continued…

Analog Corner #1: …aber bitte mit Sahne

(aka You Have to Divide the Pie)


While there’s lots of great discussion of digital games here, I thought it would be nice to have some discussion of games of another kind: analog games, aka board games, card games, tabletop games, etc.  In particular, I’m a big fan of German-style board games and usually have some opinions about them I’d like to share.  If you’re not familiar with the genre, check out the Wikipedia article or BoardGameGeek.com.

July 9, 2009

Rafael Pérez y Pérez to Speak at MIT

from Post Position
by @ 1:55 pm

Next week, the Purple Blurb series offers a second special summer talk by a leading researcher in creative text generation. Rafael Pérez y Pérez will speak on …

Al Alcorn at 2009 California Extreme show

Al Alcorn

Pong designer and videogame pioneer Al Alcorn will be speaking at the 2009 California Extreme show this Saturday. He will be participating on a panel where he’ll join Mike Hally (Gravitar, Star Wars), Steve Ritchie (Flash, High Speed, Terminator 2: Judgment Day), and Owen Rubin (Major Havoc, Space Duel, Battlezone) and take Q&A from the audience. California Extreme is July 11-12, 2009, in the Santa Clara, CA, Hyatt Regency. The show features hands-on access to 150+ arcade pinball and videogame machines, all set to free play.

Me? I’ll be there on Saturday with 17 hyper-smart students from the COSMOS program, trying hard to avoid Defender p0wnage.

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