Interactive fiction aficianados who aren’t at MiT7 (Media in Transition 7) and who thus missed Jaroslav Svelch’s excellent presentation – please check out the corresponding paper which he’s helpfully placed online: “Indiana Jones Fights the Communist Police: Text Adventures as a Transitional Media Form in the 1980s Czechoslovakia.”
I’ve noted here at MiT7 (Media in Transition 7) that we’re now achieved some very reasoned discussion and understanding of the virtues of different approaches to preserving and accessing computer programs. Not that we’ve solved the underlying problem, of course, but I’ve been pleased to see how our overall approach has evolved.
Instead of simply dismissing emulation, migration, or the preservation of old hardware, we’ve had some good comments about the ways in which these different techniques have proven to work well and about what their limitations are. We saw this in the plenary discussion on archives and cultural memory late this morning – audio of that conversation will be coming online. Update: Here it is.
Clara Fernandez-Vara’s presentation “Emulation as a Tool to Study Videogame History” [Abstract] developed this discussion extremely well with regard to one important tool, the emulator. She presented the idea of a game in emulation as facsimile – not the original edition, but also not the Cliff Notes that we’d have to consult otherwise. She showed us a range of work with emulators that gives reserach, teaching, and casual access to older games, which would otherwise be neglected. Saving state, speeding games up, and even playing several of them at once with the same inputs are all facilitated by emulators.
Fernandez-Vara went on to note some limitations of emulation, such as that the physical controller, often significant to play, cannot be replicated in hardware; nor can particular hardware features such as those of the Dreamcast’s VMU or of a C64 floppy drive, which would whirr when something interesting was about to happen in a text adventure. Boxes and manuals are often very important and can’t always be effectively digitized; with online games and worlds, keeping the context is even harder. Finally, emulators have to be updated for new contemporary platforms every few years.
Much of the work of building emulators, Fernandez-Vara also noted, is done by fans who work as volunteers – institutional support can help them and can allow libraries to accumulate holdings. It would be nice if current platforms (the PS3!) were more backwards-compatible, too. “Abandonware” could be officially made available for use, to clear up legal questions.
The only thing I’d add to Fernandez-Vara’s excellent discussion is a slightly different framing perspective on the emulator. The emulated game may be usefully understood as a facsimile, but I see a different way to understand the emulator itself.
My suggestion is that an emulator can be conceptualized as an edition of a computer.
The first edition would be the original piece of hardware – for the Commodore 64, the August 1982 beige keyboard-with-CPU. Actually, in the case of the Commodore 64, even keeping to the United States there are at least three different “hardware” editions, since there are three ROM revisions, one used in very early machines, one in 1982 and 1983 computers, and one that was used in Commodore 64s and in the C64 mode of the Commodore 128. The three ROM revisions are not the only things that changed during the time the Commodore 64 was manufactured and sold, but they do change the behavior of the system. I suppose these better understood as being different “printings,” since the changes are limited to the ROM. That would be an interesting discussion to pursue. Either way, though, printing or edition, there are three different sets of hardware, three hardware Commodore 64s.
When the creators of VICE (the emulator I use) produce a program that operates like a Commodore 64, I understand this as being an edition of the Commodore 64. Yes, it’s a software edition. It isn’t an official or authorized edition – only being a product of Commodore would allow for that. (There are official, authorized emulators, but this is not one.) It’s not, of course, the original and canonical edition. But it’s nevertheless an attempt to produce a system that functions like a Commodore 64, one which took a great deal of effort and is effective in many ways. Thinking of this an edition of the system seems to be a useful way to frame emulation, as it allows me to compare editions and usefully understand differences and similarities.
At Media in Transition 7 here at MIT, after a good start in the opening plenary and first break-out session, we had a fascinating session yesterday on “Computer Histories.” The papers presented were:
- Sandra Braman presented “Designing for Instability: Internet Architecture and Constant Change.” [Abstract.]
- Kevin Driscoll spoke on “Revisiting Bill Gates’ “Open Letter to Hobbyists.” [Abstract.]
- Colleen Kaman’s talk was “‘Interop,’ Internet Commercialization, and the Early Politics of Global Computer Networks.” [Abstract.] [Full paper.]
The individual presentations were very interesting, and it was a fascinating set to hear together. Two were on the development of the Internet: Braman delved deeply into the more than 6000 Requests for Comments (RFCs) used to develop Internet protocols, doing a line-by-line discourse analysis. In these documents, which people might guess would be dry and purely technical, she found a great deal of embedded political and social thought. The complete manuscript on this topic should be done and available in a few weeks. Kaman looked a different forum for communication that was important to the dramatic expansion in Internet connectivity from 1991-1997: a trade show. Following on discussions in 1996, to deal with the Internet’s rapid growth and the competing European standard for networking, the Interop conference was formulated. It included a demo network, Shownet, where vendors could come to test products and academic and research work could connect to practical experience in a “negotiation space.”
And, there was one presentation on early microcomputing. Discoll began with the image of a book cover featuring a two-tier desk typical of HAM radio operation, declaring: “Hobby Computers Are Here!” He showed a response to Bill Gates’ famous “Open Letter to Hobbyists” and a clip from Revolution OS with an increasingly hysterical reading of the original letter – the dominant understanding of the letter today, as if it were the beginning of opposition to free software. Hobbyists learned to program on calculators and didn’t have contact with, for instance, the Internet protocol developers. In Interface, Art Childs (the editor) questions what software is and deals with many important issues in free software in replying to Gates’s letter. He concludes that a service model is best – just as GNU did later. This antecedent to free software has been overlooked, just as computer culture in much of the country (beyond Boston and Silicon Valley) have been overlooked.
I was fascinated at these two different perspectives on the formation of the Internet (finding surprising non-technical discussion in RFC and surprising technical implications of a trade show) and on the difference between the culture of hobbyist computer builders, programmers, and users and that of those involved with the development and growth of the Internet. Driscoll’s more sensitive reading of Bill Gates’s “open letter,” Braman’s deep analysis of RFCs, and Kaman’s exploration and discussion of Interop provide great models for the understanding of computer histories.
A collaborative story by Jesse Ashcraft-Johnson, Eleanor Crummé, Alex Ghaben, Cisco Gonzales, Ray Gonzalez, Boling Jiang, Nick Montfort, Shannon Moran, Kirsten Paredes, Carter Rice, Tyler Wagner, and Jia Zhu
“Mr. President, can you summarize the events of the G-6 conference?”
“First, a bunch of world leaders surrendered their favorite prostitutes. Then, we all yelled ‘Yeehaw!'” That was what George H. W. Bush thought, anyway, as he delivered a quick straight answer to the question.
“Mr. President, what was your holiday message to the troops?”
“I told the boys: either step up to the challenge or there will be no Christmas presents this year.”
When the photo-op smiles fell away, there was a moment of hesitation between Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Mulroney and Mexican President Salinas. The prepared statements about NAFTA were left on the podium, the talking points and teleprompters left in the press room with the reporters. Music swelled outside closed doors. “Well — either we dance or we lose ourselves in emerging global markets!” Bush blurted out, the twang in his voice inviting them to the hoedown.
Whiskey heavy on his breath, Bush turned to Salinas and elbowed him playfully. “Were you tutoring someone last night in long division? Either that was a very short 18-year-old or you might want to go see a priest. I hear they’re good with that sort of thing.”
He felt Mulroney’s eyes on him and turned abruptly. “Do you have a staring problem, boy? You’re looking at me like a damn homosexual. Either you face me like a man or spend the night. I’ll pound you ’till you’re tender.”
Mulroney flashed a smile, then started. A SWAT team was scaling the White House wall. “Look!” he said, gripping President Bush’s hand. “Either monkeys are flying out of your butt, or we should really rethink what we told the police last night. Maybe that anonymous call to the FBI tip line about hiding little boys in the attic wasn’t such a great idea.”
As their hands touched, Bush remembered the secret NAFTA initiation ceremony of the previous night.
Salinas had been pouring shots of tequila for a while. Stumbling up on top of the table, Bush called for attention and announced: “In order to promote unity, we must remove all barriers to our freedom. That includes our clothing.” Salinas nodded gravely, adding, “we must be pure and unfettered in body as well as soul.” There were noises of confusion from the others gathered there. “Hey, I’m from Texas, bitches. This is how we roll. Go big or go home!” Mulroney reached deep into his pants and pulled out a 12-ounce bottle of maple syrup. “Big enough for you, Bush?” he shouted as he chugged it down with a giant sucking sound.
One thing led to another. In the darkness, having slipped past the Secret Service, they ended up joining hands while riding bicycles naked down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Bush was snapped out of his reverie by the arrival of the NAFTA treasurer who had come to brief the world leaders, who were inebriated once again, on the state of the budget.
“First, take off your clothes,” Bush told him. “Then we’ll talk … ”
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 Suck.com, 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 (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.
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.
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, computationalcreativity.net will keep you informed about conferences in the series.
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.
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
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:
- “Michael’s Dancing Mouse” on YouTube.
- “Dancing Baby” animated GIF.
- Two people playing DDR rather vigorously on YouTube.
- Many Dance Central “Evacuate the Dance Floor” videos from YouTube.
- Many Dance Central “Body Movin'” videos from YouTube.
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.
As the call for papers for ACM Creativity and Cognition explains, we’re only two weeks away from the deadline. Papers, artworks, and proposals for tutorials and workshops are all welcome!
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.
Jörg Piringer has a sweet new video of every displayable character in Unicode, one character per frame.
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:
and NICK MONTFORT
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.
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 Lulu.com 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 netpoetic.com post.