Imagination Fit to Print

If you’re heading over to look at today’s parodical “Final Edition,” allow me to suggest instead a thoughtful and compelling re-imagination of the New York Times, the special edition of July 4, 2009 by the Yes Men and the Anti-Advertising Agency. Instead of being just a joke that falls flat – one that was released on the 11th day of the month and features a New York skyscraper in flames, very tastefully – the latter “fake” newspaper is actually a productive utopian vision.

I don’t mind when parodists do the end times, but I think we should at least do them right. Take a look at the last daily page from, or, if you want to go back to the 20th century and bust out the microfiche, the final, April 24, 1966 issue of the New York Herald Tribune. (A predecessor of that merged newspaper has a square in New York named after it, as does the Times.) Those who consciously put togther a final edition often strive for summing up, even if their organization is in the final stages of falling apart. Last issues tend to be rich in history and thoughtful about the future.

I don’t see an online record of this quip, but I recall Bruce Sterling (perhaps in the context of the Dead Media Project) stating that being first isn’t nearly as difficult as being last. To be the last in a category means enduring, and continuing to endure, as all others drop away. Even to be writing the last issue of an important newspaper or other serial means to be concluding a tremendous accumulation of context, conventions, and expectations. When it comes, the last issue of the New York Times will be a swan song, not a belly flop. I’d love to see some serious imagination of what that will be like.

SPAG Covers the IF Demo Fair

SPAG 60 cover

SPAG (The Society for the Promotion of Adventure Games) #60 is out – the latest issue of the long-running interactive fiction newsletter. On the cover, a figure in a dark sport coat looms, his face a grim rictus as he hunches toward some computer or iPad. I don’t recall seeing this sinister individual at the festive and very enjoyable IF Demo Fair, which Emily Short organized at PAX East, but I do recall seeing happy interactions of the sort depicted in the rest of that scene.

The new issue includes writeups of the work exhibited at the Fair. This includes some comments on my IF system Curveship, which I showed off at the Fair and spoke about the following day. There’s some discussion by Emily Short and Jacqueline A. Lott. These, along with the discussions of Curveship at PAX East and the Second International Conference on Computational Creativity in Mexico City, will be helpful as I continue development of the system.

An Enigmatic Business Card

TEch WArp: MIT is out of joint. Find an entry point, a placard, and play Tech Warp on your phone or on the Web. Check: A bookstore in Kendall, A mid-infinite location, A former arcade site, MIT’s main entrance, A corner lot dorm, A student street. Align MIT in time & unlock space for imagining the future.

These cards have been seen at MIT. Some say they point the way to an interactive fiction that you can play, if you search the campus and find a way in.

¡Viva ICCC-11!

The Second International Conference on Computational Creativity (ICCC-11) in Mexico City was a great success, thanks in large part to local organizer Rafael Pérez y Pérez and to the support of UAM and UNAM Posgrado.

If you’re interested in computational models of creativity, please take a look at the proceedings. It was announced in Mexico City that the next ICCC will take place in 2012 at University College Dublin. We hope you’ll look forward to joining us there. And from year to year, will keep you informed about conferences in the series.

ICCC-11 is Happening

Just a quick note that ICCC-11, The Second International Conference on Computational Creativty, is going very well here in Mexico City. We’ve had five sessions of brief presentations followed by lengthy discussions among the panelists and members of the audience. The research into computational creativity that is represented here includes work on theory and on creativity in many of the arts. We’re looking forward to this afternoon’s keynote speech by George E. Lewis.

By the way, for those who couldn’t make it here and for those who did, the complete ICCC-11 proceedings are online.

Why Watson Can’t Dance

Here’s the abstract from a presentation I gave yesterday, from my pedestrian stance as a non-dancer, at a high-energy workshop on dance technology:

Why Watson Can’t Dance: Attempts at On-Screen Dance in Popular Digital Media

Nick Montfort

Dance Technology and Circulations of the Social v2.0, MIT, April 21-23, 2011

Of all the ways that computing can connect to dance, one of the simplest but also most pervasive is seen in the animation of dancing bodies on screen. To inquire about how computers have done this sort of virtual dance over the decades, and how it relates to interactive games that require the player to dance, I begin by considering very simple digital media objects that represent dance. The first is a non-interactive BASIC program from the 1982 _Commodore 64 User’s Guide:_ “Michael’s Dancing Mouse.” Comparing this to a dancing computer animation from the decade after — the dancing baby, which was one of the first viral animations or videos online — is instructive in considering the way digital media developed and whether or not the computing concept of dance developed. I then turn to focus on one game originally for the arcade and one home video game: Konami’s _Dance Dance Revolution_ and Harmonix’s _Dance Central._ In examining these systems, I try to articulate the model of dance that underlies them and to understand what aspects of dance are foregrounded and which are left aside. Finally, I consider how well the computer can dance (in this one narrow sense of displaying an animated dancing figure) and how this compares to the computer’s ability in other domains, including the other arts.

Some relevant videos:

Digital Poetry at Dartmouth

My thanks to Mary Flanagan, Aden Evens, and the others at Dartmouth who put on the digital poetry symposium last Friday (April 15). I was very glad to participate along with Marjorie Luesebrink, Braxton Soderman, and my collaborator Stephanie Strickland. With Stephanie, I showed, discussed and read from our “Sea and Spar Between.” I also presented some of my smaller-scale poetry generations, including words from the ppg256 series, “The Two” and its French translation by Serge Bouchardon, and “Taroko Gorge” and its transformations by Scott Rettberg and J. R. Carpenter.

Mary has a writeup of the symposium on her blog, Tiltfactor, describing the excellent work that my fellow presenters showed. I was familiar with and pleased to hear more about the projects that Margie and Stephanie showed; it was great to see the work in progress, a provocative textual platformer, that Braxton was doing with Daniel C. Howe and that he showed.

ClubFloyd Plays Book and Volume

On April 2, “ClubFloyd,” a group of players of interactive fiction, took on my Book and Volume, which was released on the [auto mata] label in 2005. They played the game on ifMUD and conversed online about it. Reading the discussion was a treat for me. Not because every bit of it was positive – I found out about some bugs. For instance, since the current time is only reported in the status line, it can’t be easily determined when playing the game via a bot on a mud, the way this group was playing. But the feedback from these sessions was very useful, and would have been hard to come by otherwise.

I think some of the ClubFloyd players had fun, although I’m not exactly sure how to interpret statements such as “This game boggles the mind.” In any case, the transcript of ClubFloyd’s play is online.

Records of Oulipolooza

Video and audio of Oulipolooza, a festive tribute to the Oulipo in which I participated, is now online. The event was held on March 15, 2011 at the Kelly Writers House at Penn and was organized by Michelle Taransky and Sarah Arkebauer. Speakers were:


It was quite an honor to be part of this group, which included one of my Ph.D. advisors – Gerry Prince. I may have been the least distinguished Oulipo scholar among these speakers, but I tried to make up for that by being the only one to wear a party hat.

An Amazing Linked List

I strongly encourage those of you who haven’t seen it yet to check out Brian Kim Stefans’s Introduction to Electronic Literature: a freeware guide.

Right now it is “just” a list of links to online resources, from Futurism through 2010, that are relevant to understanding different important aspects of electronic literature – making it, reading it, sorting through different genres, and understanding its historical connects.

It’s extremely useful in this form, but Stefans is also hoping to put these selections together in a book that he’ll sell at cost. To that end, he’s selected only texts – work that will fit in a book – as opposed to pieces that need to be read on a networked computer. Stefans also intends to put together a website that collects and mirrors these writings, uniformly typeset in a legible way, as PDFs.

I’m of course pleased that Stefans was inspired by The New Media Reader, which Noah Wardrip-Fruin and I edited for the MIT Press, and that he included a few of my pieces.

As I have a strong preference for assigning publicly available texts instead of scanned articles that live being a university paywall, I find these texts very useful for teaching. Stefans is taking suggestions for how to revise his Introduction over on his post.

Keynote, Papers Announced for ICCC-11

The 2011 International Conference on Computational Creativity will be held in Mexico City April 27-29. We now have information on the keynote address by Prof. George E. Lewis, “Improvising With Creative Machines: Reflections on Human-Machine Interaction.” And, there’s a list of accepted papers and demos. I’m looking forward to seeing those of you who are presenting at the end of April in Mexico City. And if any others with an interest in the field can make it to the gathering and be part of the discussion, attend the presentations, and learn about systems through demos, please do!

My Curveship Talk at PAX-East 2011

I gave a talk about Curveship in the “IF Suite” (actually an ordinary hotel room with a few upturned beds, not a suite) at PAX-East 2011 earlier this month. It was great to present to fellow IF author/programmers from around the world at this event, which was effectively the second annual Festival of Interactive Fiction. The IF Summit was organized by Andrew Plotkin, a.k.a. Zarf, once again this year. Thanks to Jason McIntosh, there’s pretty good-quality video (very good, considering the ramshackle setup) of the first 22.5 minutes of my talk:

The parts where I actually demo the system and discuss how games are written are missing, unfortunately, but my comments do introduce Curveship and its motivation.

Also check out the video documentation of the “Setting as Character” panel with Andrew Plotkin, Rob Wheeler, Stephen Granade, and Dean Tate. (This one took place in the more capacious Alcott Room, which we had on Saturday, March 12 thanks to Dave Cornelson.) Also, there’s video of the panel on “Non-Gamers Gaming,” with Caleb Garner, Tim Crosby, Heather Albano, Sarah Morayati, and Andrew Plotkin.

La Muchacha y el Lobo

In 2001, Beehive was the first Web publication to print a creative digital media piece of mine, “The Girl and the Wolf.” I had written this story back in 1997 in Janet Murray’s Interactive Narrative class at MIT. (These days, I teach this class here at MIT.) It was strongly inspired by the readings of folk tales we had done in Henry Jenkins’s Children’s Literature class. “The Girl and the Wolf” is a very early creative piece of mine, but I remain pleased with the systematic concept and with what I wrote. It’s a simple arrangement of nine versions of a story, allowing the levels of sex and violence to be increased independently. With some contemporary references and a few other turns of phrase, I introduced only a few deviations from well-known folkloric versions of the Little Red Riding Hood story.

Ruber Eaglenest has now translated this “variable tale” into Spanish as “La Muchacha y el Lobo.”

Eaglenest describes himself as a “wannabe” game programmer, but has participated in the Spanish IF community in many ways using the name El Clérigo Urbatain. In addition to writing many reviews and articles and doing several interviews, he has written and collaborated on several pieces of interactive fiction: Por la necedad humana, Astral, Aventurero en el Sega Park, El extraño caso de Randolph Dwight, and an episode of El museo de consciencias. He has also adapted several interactive fiction games and translated several to Spanish – most recently, Graham Nelson’s Relics of Tolti-Aph.

Eaglenest has also provided a lengthy and very useful post about the Little Red Riding Hood story and “The Girl and the Wolf” on his blog (in Spanish).

Death and the Powers Permieres in the U.S.

Death and the Powers had a brilliant and resonant U.S. premiere on Friday at the Cutler Majestic in Boston. I’ve been looking forward to the opera’s completion, and then to its coming to the U.S., for several years. My mentor from the B.U. poetry program, Robert Pinsky, wrote the libretto, and my current colleague Tod Machover composed the opera. Congratulations to all those who put this production together, including Tod’s Opera of the Future group at the Media Lab. Death and the Powers is technically intricate and thematically ambitious, and all of that came together perfectly. (Image source.)