August 27, 2009

Nonlinear Storytelling in Games: Deconstructing the Varieties of Nonlinear Experiences


What is “the mark of the narrative”? In chapter 1 of her book, Marie-Laure Ryan, discusses the transmedial nature of narrative and gives a broad definition provided by H. Porter Abbott:  Narrative is the combination of story and discourse.  I believe the distinction of story and discourse is quite novel and under-appreciated in the area of interactive storytelling.  For the purposes of this discussion, I’d like to deconstruct the nonlinear in narrative to give deeper insight into what this relationship between story and discourse actually entails.  The term nonlinear takes many meanings depending on context, which is a result of the complexity in the meaning of both story and discourse.

August 26, 2009

Rationalization’s reception

rationalization-thumbRationalization was covered on the Indie Games blog and reviewed on Rock, Paper, Shotgun.  It was great to see that people were interested in checking out the game.

Though, on Rock, Paper, Shotgun people did far more than just check it out.  There were over 50 comments and many of these were very thoughtful interpretations of the game.  It excites and surprises me that the audience of this primarily mainstream game industry focused blog would be interested in dissecting this admittedly strange “proceduralist” game.

Using Playtime Productively!

from tiltfactor
by @ 11:37 am

Tiltfactor director Mary Flanagan was interviewed in, “Labeling Library Archives Is a Game at Dartmouth College” in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the new NEH project called “Metadata Games.” The interview perhaps overplays the “free labour” aspect of the game itself. Using play time in novel, productive ways likely harms no one. If the game is fun, engaging, and playful, it will attract players, and players will like to play regardless if the hours are “productive” or “wasteful.”
players collaborate with [giantJoystick]
At Tiltfactor, we have a philosophy that play is not a useless activity. Players are constantly learning and growing through game play. Play promotes collaboration and experimentation. If it does even more than that? We say, YAY! – IF it contributes to the Commons and to access to knowledge for the public.

August 25, 2009

oh oh multitasking

from tiltfactor
by @ 7:05 pm

Social communications expert Clifford Nass, with researchers Eyal Ophir and Anthony Wagner, Stanford University, just completed a study of multitasking and productivity among college students. The resulting paper, “Cognitive control in media multitaskers,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The results of “digital overload” were similar to past research: multitasking does not make one more productive. See the CNN article here. Do you self identify as a ‘chronic media multitasker’?

Blog collaboration recognized

from tiltfactor
by @ 5:38 pm

How nice that Grand Text Auto, a collaboratively written blog to which Tiltfactor contributes, is recommended in the 100 best blogs for new media students. This nice long list should serve as an excellent resource for students and scholars alike!

August 24, 2009

Xorex: An Abstract Matching-Shooter

Screenshot showing the players ship charged with pink ammo, carrying some yellow inventory.

Screenshot showing the player’s ship charged with pink ammo, carrying some yellow inventory.

Xorex is a haphazard pastiche of various games I’ve played over the years.  It has several elements you’ll feel right at home with: gems to be arranged into color-matching linear groups, a forward-firing ship with flexible inventory and ammo storage, a grid-based board to which you can add and remove tokens, an unstoppable source of new clutter to be blown away, and a timer and leader-board for use in posturing with friends.  While making this game was a fantastic first-experience with open-source Flash development tools like HaXe and FlashDevelop, I must admit to a hidden agenda.


from tiltfactor
by @ 1:25 pm

This blog post seems to be getting much more attention than we had expected. It was originally concocted to be a quick set of notes for an introductory “what is machinima” presentation conducted by students in our class… But, since there is interest, we’ll add our core screening list here, and add student final proejcts from class — once they are finished!

in FS49: MACHINIMA, we ask

How should we approach the study of machinima?

How do the aesthetics of machinima differ from traditional video or film?

What is the role of the creator in machinima? Whose work is it?

August 21, 2009

Tiltfactor awarded NEH

from tiltfactor
by @ 1:20 pm

Tiltfactor has been awarded a new National Endowment for the Humanities grant. Hear it from Peter Carini, Dartmouth College Archivist:

Dartmouth College, Metadata Games — An Open Source Electronic Game for Archival Data Systems

Mary Flanagan, the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College, in collaboration with Rauner Special Collections Library, has received an National Endowment for the Humanities grant to develop an open source computer game for the Internet that would supplement library metadata on holdings in collections with descriptions provided by the public.

Girls Tend to Avoid First Person Shooters and Circular Saws

halo3 In my experiences, many girls don’t seem eager to try new things if they cannot predict the consequences and are without someone to explain how the new thing is done.  This is especially true of things that they don’t see other girls doing.  In particular, I rarely see girls playing games such as first person shooters and real time strategy, nor do I see them using circular saws and nail guns.  Now, I’m sure that studies show many reasons for this, but I’d like to speak of my own experiences with how little effort it takes to break the stereotype when the opportunity presents itself.  I just have a hard time believing that most girls would really rather watch their guy friends play Halo, than trying it out for themselves (if given the right circumstances).

Games and Mental Health

from tiltfactor
by @ 5:55 am

Does Bejeweled calm the savage beast? In a recent study funded by the game makers Popcap Games reported in the Washington Post, researchers found improved moods and heart rhythms in players– coherent, equally spaced rhythms. The researchers note that mental health benefits for many could lie in the zone between stressful arousal and boredom.

August 20, 2009

sweatshops, machinima

from tiltfactor
by @ 9:03 am

the PLAYCUBE is home to a performative sweatshop today as students trace where all of their ‘free campus t-shirts’ come from; taking place on the Dartmouth College campus, 1-3pm today. Next week, on the 26th of August, we will host a locally produced Machinima show in the PLAYCUBE at 8pm in Hanover NH.

August 19, 2009 Surfaces, Launches, is Erected

from Post Position
by @ 9:31 pm, a rather massively multiposter blog, is now hosting writings, news, and conversations about digital poetry and electronic literature: “On these pages you will find links to new digital poetry/literature, ideas about what the heck that might mean, experiments, calls for work, exhibitions, activities, news, his/herstories and just about anything that the authors feel needed.”

Recently on the site I’ve read Sandy Baldwin’s discussion of permissions (”How does chmod relate to the absent body?”) (part 1, part 2) and have learned that Brian Kim Stefans’s has been reskinned. I’m going to make whatever contributions I can to the site, too.

Digital Writing and Readings

from Post Position
by @ 9:27 pm

[As I wrote on] Adam Parrish recently taught a class at NYU in the ITP program: Digital Writing with Python. I was very interested to learn about it and to see documentation of the final reading/performance, with some links to students’ blog entries about their projects. Here at MIT, I teach a class called The Word Made Digital in which students do poetry, fiction, and less classifiable writing projects using Python and other systems and languages. And, I know that Daniel Howe has taught the RISD and Brown class Advanced Programming for Digital Art and Literature.

Presence in Interactive Fiction

from Post Position
by @ 11:33 am

The first issue of the Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds, from earlier this year, sports a nice article by Alf Seegert, “Doing there’ vs. ‘being there’: performing presence in interactive fiction.” In it, Seegert sharpens the existing discussion of reader-response theory and IF to explain how IF may need to balance between boredom and overstrain and how the writerly role allows for new sorts of presence. He then conducts some good discussions of Jon Ingold’s All Roads (highlighting how the body of the player character is indicated) and Paul O’Brian’s Luminous Horizon (looking particularly at the subjective narration).

August 16, 2009

Software Engineering as Artifact Creation

if (sandWeight != idolWeight) { throw new BoulderException(); }

if (sandWeight != idolWeight) { throw new BoulderException(); }

Geek disclosure: I’ve become fascinated by the different facets of Software Engineering. Not just as a means to an end, but as a practice, as an art and as a historical artifact. I feel like I’m in Indiana Jones and the Java Temple, full of Pythons, with the riches of Perls and Rubies.

My desire for faster, better, stronger code has been spurred on by being bitten one too many times by unchecked exceptions in Python, leading me back to the comfortable blanket of Java, unit testing and a framed photo of Kent Beck on my bedside table.

August 14, 2009

Rationalization – a new game

gameplayI created a short game called Rationalization to help me think through some ideas.

The game is very abstract and its message is primarily procedural.  I look forward to hearing any reactions you may have.


August 13, 2009

The Great Flu: Pandemic Education for the Masses

TheGreatFluIn my last post, I discussed how games are being used to communicate, not just to entertain.  Today, I want to discuss The Great Flu, a game recently released by Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.  The game attempts to educate the public about the dangers of and difficulty in containing flu pandemics.

Read and Jump in Silent Conversation

from Post Position
by @ 1:27 pm

“I had with me many tools, and dug much within the walls of the obliterated edifices; but progress was slow, and nothing significant was revealed.”

– H. P. Lovecraft, “The Nameless City”

Gregory Weir, who fashioned the very nice piece The Majesty of Colors, has a new game with levels built out of existing texts, including “The Nameless City.” The new platformer is called Silent Conversation, a title taken from poet Walter Savage Landor’s description of reading.

The Prufrock level in Silent Conversation

The second Nameless City level in Silent Conversation

August 12, 2009

new work at INDAF

from tiltfactor
by @ 8:57 pm

Mary just returned from showing the new work [] at the Incheon Digital Art Festival. The work is a two channel video installation, projected on a double sided screen. One side features a Sims 3 slowed machinima of everyday life in New Songdo, the new economic freezone city of the east owned by the multinational Gale International. In the future perfect city, it’s, well, a bit boring. The reverse projection features a live action performance of Mary engaged as a member of Gale, dreaming of her own virtual utopian city and hacking the game in ’speed programming’ style. Thanks to Jennifer Jacobs, Peter Ciardelli, Thomas Garbelotti, and Steve Toole for their assistance with the project!

When Technology Isn’t Enough

Riddick and his Ulaks (read: sharp knives)

Riddick and his Ulaks (read: sharp knives)

Between being laid out with a kickboxing injury on my foot (not as manly as it sounds, I’m afraid) and food poisoning (which really is as non-manly as it sounds), I’ve had plenty of time to play some more games, without having to write it off to any significant others or advisers as “research”. Gamefly delivered “The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena”, which has touched a nerve that has been twinging a long time (not in my foot): while technology is a great gameplay enabler, it’s also no panacea when the game design is flawed.

August 11, 2009

From nn to Curveship

from Post Position
by @ 10:08 pm

This is the fourth in a series of posts about my interactive fiction system, Curveship.

I was recently asked to elaborate on the difference between nn (the research system I developed during my dissertation work at the University of Pennsylvania) and Curveship.

The most important difference is that nn is a research system that I used for making some advances related to computer science, computational linguistics, and narratology. The system was developed to prove certain points; it was used only by yours truly to implement narrative and text generation ideas and to run demos.

Expressive Processing Arrives

Expressive Processing Cover

I’m happy to announce the publication of my first monograph, Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies. As the subtitle suggests, this book is a software studies take on the past and future of digital fictions and games. As of today it’s available in bookstores as well as online — and a PDF of the introduction can be downloaded from the MIT Press site.

August 7, 2009

Worlds, Spin, and the Revolution of Curveship

from Post Position
by @ 10:33 pm

This is the third in a series of posts about my interactive fiction system, Curveship.

Before I start descending into detail, I’ll explain why I think Curveship is a big deal.

Curveship does the usual work of an interactive fiction system when it comes to simulating a world: There are discrete rooms that make up the fiction’s locations, actors can inhabit and wander around these rooms, and things can sit in them, be taken and carried off or otherwise moved around. Items can change state, so that a lamp, for instance, can be turned on and off. Items can go into or onto other items, if they allow it. None of this is surprising; plenty of interactive fiction development systems already do all of it very well.

August 6, 2009

Learning from Games

I don’t need to tell this audience about the momentum building behind educational games.  Even when I was an elementary student, going to the computer lab to play Math Blaster, Odell Down Under, or Oregon Trail was a special treat.  These days, kids grow up on video games: game consoles are nearly as common as TVs in households; cell phones are standard issue for kids of all walks of life; the internet is available to everyone, with its countless easily accessible, free games.

Super Mario Bros. AI Competiton

The Super Mario Bros. AI Competition is a fantastic competition being run by Sergey Karakovskiy and Julian Togelius in conjunction with the IEEE Symposium on Computational Intelligence and Games (CIG 2009). Were it not for the fact that all members of the EIS lab are terribly busy working on our research (our advisers read this too, you know!), I’m sure we’d be all over this.

The video above is our favorite entry so far, which wins three million EIS bonus points for escaping from a fall.  Amazing!

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