Intro to Game Analysis

Monday 11 August 2014, 9:29 pm   //////  

Intro to Game Analysis, Clara Fernández-VaraJust out: Introduction to Game Analysis, a book that covers many different approaches to understanding games, and particularly (although not exclusively) videogames. (Check the availability of the book online.) It’s by Clara Fernández-Vara, now on the faculty at the Game Center at NYU, who did one of the first digital media PhDs at Georgia Tech and was for many years my colleague here at MIT – I’m glad she was also part my of lab, The Trope Tank, for some of that time. Fernández-Vara is a scholar of games and an award-winning maker of games as well, and in both cases her emphasis has been on adventure games.

It’s been valuable to learn, over the years, how to view games as we would literature or film, and how to bring specific individual approaches to bear in understanding them. Now, Introduction to Game Analysis offers numerous methods of analysis that each treat games as games. These approaches are systematically organized and well thought out, too. Anyone in game studies or digital media should find this book compelling; A person who is coming to video games from another field, or who has been in the field and is looking to teach an introduction to video games, will find it essential.

#! Makes July’s SPD Bestseller List

Thursday 7 August 2014, 3:16 pm   /////  

#! ('Shebang')I was delighted to see that my latest book, #!, a book of programs & poems, made the July Poetry bestseller list for Small Press Distribution. SPD is the distributor for my press, Counterpath, along with many other fine presses that publish poetry. #! (which is pronounced “Shebang”) came in at lucky number 13 last month.

It’s particularly nice to see since the book was just becoming available online and in bookstores around the middle of the month, and given that if you search for the book by title on Amazon.com you get 47,921,926 results, presumably due to the title having no letters or numbers. (You can search for it using my name.) There’s also the issue that the book consists entirely of short computer programs and their outputs, which I think is very neat, but which some believe to be a bit esoteric. Actually, I hope the book is rather intelligible and fun, by connecting some of the popular programming of the 1970s and 1980s to contemporary conceptual writing and poetry.

By the way, if you are having trouble getting the book from a local store or online, you can order it directly from SPD.

While I read some from #! in Michigan recently at the Postscript symposium and exhibit, I’ll be beginning to do readings in earnest next month. The first one is planned for September 18, 7pm, at the Harvard Book Store. More on that soon…

Rage of Poseidon

Saturday 2 August 2014, 6:44 pm   ////  

Anders Nilsen’s latest Drawn & Quarterly publication is a formidable follow-up to Big Questions. The accordion book holds the human stories of forgotten (and current) gods, told in text and striking silhouettes.

Rage of Poseidon

This New Book by Sawako Nakayasu Is Formidable

Tuesday 29 July 2014, 8:06 pm   ////  

The Ants

Stalking the Wily #!

Tuesday 15 July 2014, 12:05 am   //////  

If you’ve been looking for my latest book, #!, and are looking to buy it online, check isbn.nu. At the moment of posting, it’s available from three sellers, one on pre-order. Barnes & Noble is the bookseller with the lowest price and fastest delivery; Amazon.com offers to get it to you 3-4 weeks later.

In Cambridge, I have yet to see the book on shelves, but I know copies are at least on order (if not readied for purchase) at the MIT Press Bookstore and the Harvard Bookstore. And, Grolier Poetry Book Shop also had a few copies.

Update, July 17, 5pm: The local place to get a copy of #!, at the moment, is the MIT Press Bookstore. That’s at 292 Main Street, right outside the Kendall T stop. This is the MIT Press Bookstore, not the MIT Coop, and in the “Faculty Authors” section they do currently stock copies of my latest book.

Update, July 18, 1pm: B&N no longer has the book listed for whatever reason. It can be obtained online, right now, from Small Press Distribution, though.

#! is Published

Wednesday 25 June 2014, 12:56 pm   ////////  

Cover of #! (pronounced 'Shebang')

My new book of programs/poems, #! (pronounced “Shebang”), has just been published by Counterpath.

Read all about it on the press’s page for #!.

The book consists of poetic programs and their outputs. The programs in the book are all free software, and in case you don’t want to type them in, the longer ones are all available in my “code” directory.

I hope you’ll get a copy at your local independent bookseller.

Shebang (#!) with wine

Bitcoin for your Warhol!

Thursday 24 April 2014, 12:59 pm   ////////  

Thanks to Golan Levin’s “atypical, anti-disciplinary and inter-institutional” FRSCI lab, the CMU Computer Club, and ROM hacking bit-boy Cory Archangel, several instances of previously unknown visual artwork, done by Andy Warhol on the Amiga 1000 in 1985, have been recovered.

CA$H for your WARHOL sign

Warhol’s use of this classic multimedia system is but one of the many surprising, rich aspects of Amiga history that are carefully detailed by Jimmy Maher in The Future Was Here: The Commodore Amiga. An early topic is the launch of the first Amiga computer at the Lincoln Center, with Andy Warhol and Debbie Harry in attendance and with Warhol producing a portrait of her on the machine during the festivities. Maher also writes about how Warhol’s attitude toward the computer was actually a bit retrograde in some ways: Rather than thinking of the screen as a first-class medium for visual art, he wanted better printers that could produce work in a more conventional medium. The discussion of Warhol’s involvement is but one chapter (actually, less than one chapter) in a book that covers the Amiga’s hardware development, technical advances, relationship to image editing and video processing work, and lively demos — from the early, famous “Boing Ball” demo to the productions of the demoscene. The Future Was Here is the latest book in the Platform Studies series, which I edit with Ian Bogost.

The Future Was Here cover

With these images surfacing now, after almost 30 years, the age-old question “soup or art?” is awakened in us once again. Do we need to print these out to enjoy them? To sell them for cash? Did Warhol invent what is now thought of as the “MS Paint” style, back on the Amiga 1000 in 1985?

Amiga soup can

Note, finally, that there is a detailed report on the recovery project provided in PDF form.

A Book on the Song “Hallelujah”

Saturday 22 March 2014, 8:08 pm   /////  

Acting on a tip from The Kelly Writers House at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, I recently learned about, and then read, Alan Light’s book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah.” This intrigued me as an admirer of this song in particular, Leonard Cohen’s songwriting and singing generally, and other aspects of his literary art (particularly the incredible novel Beautiful Losers). It also appealed to me as an entire book written about a single, short work. In this case, the work isn’t a Commodore 64 BASIC program – as in the book collaborators and I wrote, 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1));: GOTO 10 – but a popular song with many lines and many covers, one that has been used in a wide variety of contexts.

The author discusses those many contexts well, covering the original release, the famous Jeff Buckley cover, and many other versions. There’s discussion of Shrek, the VH1 9/11 memorial video, manifestations on Idol and X Factor TV shows, and uses in religious ceremonies. The book is not really a deep dive into the music or the lyrics, although the etymology of the world “Hallelujah” and the differences in how the term is used in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles are discussed. Cohen declined to be interviewed, so the book also doesn’t spend too much time on origin myths, just recounting a bit from previous interviews. The book works to tease out the many things the song has meant to people and how it has managed to have all of these meanings.

It’s quite a different book from 10 PRINT, both in methodology and because the BASIC program is quite a bit different, culturally, than the song. I found it a quite enjoyable read.

The Hunting of the eBook

Wednesday 12 March 2014, 6:47 pm   ///  

I’m quoted in this article on the origins of ebooks, published today in The Guardian. The news hook is the exhibition of Peter James’s Host in its 1993 floppy-disk edition.

xkcd’s Answer to World Clock

Monday 17 February 2014, 7:22 pm   ////  

From xkcd comic 1331… is today’s comic.

And it’s true, Randall probably did not know about World Clock (book, code). Maybe he didn’t even know about my inspirations, Harry Mathews’s “The Chronogram for 1998″ or Stanislaw Lem’s One Human Minute.

In that case it’s an unwitting answer.

In any case, it’s a nice one.

BITS Are Now Flipped On

Wednesday 5 February 2014, 11:29 am   ////  
BITS: Stella and Combat

MIT Press has just launched the BITS series of excerpts from the press’s book publications. They are offered as DRM-free e-books, and come with a 40% discount on the purchase of the entire print or e-book from which the excerpt comes. I’m glad to see a collaborator and a colleague topping the list, and I’m also pleased that one of the first selections featured is from my and Ian Bogost’s Racing the Beam.

Warez Copy!

Tuesday 19 November 2013, 8:50 pm   ///  

I’m lucky to have a print copy of Amaranth Borsuk’s Tonal Saw, a long poem created by erasure from the pamphlet National Sunday Law.

But that print chapbook, which was printed in a small edition of only 100 copies, is now sold out.

So, I was pleased to find (for everyone else’s benefit) that Tonal Saw is available as a PDF from the press that published that print chapbook, The Song Cave. Here is is!

You can find other quality PDFs on The Song Cave’s site.

It’s a Good Word. Maine.

Monday 18 November 2013, 11:03 pm   ///////  

Just back from several travels, I’ve found that there’s a video record online of me, Patsy Baudoin, and John Bell presenting 10 PRINT at the University of Maine way back in April of this year. In our presentation, we answer questions and discuss the origin of the 10 PRINT project and the nature of our collaboration. And I do some livecoding. Pretty often, actually.

Please note that 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 is available as a beautiful MIT Press book, designed by our co-author Casey Reas, ans also as a free PDF.

Here’s the video of our University of Maine presentation on the “10 PRINT” program and book.

Fox Harrell’s Talk and New Book

Friday 25 October 2013, 7:02 pm   ///  

Fox Harrell’s talk on evaluation at the Media Systems workshop, in August 2012, was great, and I remember many things from it vividly. Fox really helped us see some of the absurdities of trying to apply the evaluation techniques from one domain (such as engineering) to another (such as the arts) — but also the potential of cross-cutting work for new insights. See “Matching Methods: Guiding and Evaluating Interdisciplinary Projects” on YouTube.

This is one of many Media Systems talks that have been uploaded so far.

Fox, who is my colleague at MIT, has also just had MIT Press publish his book, Phantasmal Media: An Approach to Imagination, Computation, and Expression. I have been following the book from early stages. Reading it has been provoking and informative. It presents a new, powerful concept of digital media that deeply engages with our concepts of identity and our cultural imagination. I highly recommend it.

Gamebooks and IF Conference at Villanova

Tuesday 22 October 2013, 11:37 am   /////  

Gamebook guru Demian Katz is putting on a conference on interactive fiction, print and online, in Villanova’s Popular Culture Series. The conference does have an academic focus, but also seeks to introduce new sorts of academics to IF.

Info is up now at the vupop site, where you can read about the conference or submit a proposal. Or, if there’s enough light available, examine yourself/take inventory!

Aha – and the deadline for submitting something is November 1!

Ouliperrata and Palindromes

Friday 4 October 2013, 7:02 pm   ////  

The End of Oulipo? : An Attempt to Exhaust a Movement by Lauren Elkin & Scott Esposito (2013) claims that “Georges Perec … wrote a palindrome of over 5,000 words …” (p. 15, also mentioned on p. 25). However, this is wrong, unless these authors have access to an extraordinarily surprising never-before published palindrome of Perec’s. His long palindrome does not have this many words.

In 1980, Hachette published Perec’s La Clôture et autres poèmes, which contains “Le Grand Palindrome,” written in 1969. “Le Grand Palindrome” is also online; it is posted on another page without its title but with a declaration that the palindrome is 1247 words long.

Wikipedia states that this text has 1247 words and 5566 letters, and the French entry on Perec agrees. (The number of letters was probably the source of the confusion about 5,000 words in Elkin & Esposito’s book.) Since the palindrome is online, we can do some original research to determine the word and letter count – someone must have, because the cited source does not say how many words and letters there are; the source is simply the text itself. The Web is littered with different numbers that are supposed to be the length, in words, of Perec’s palindrome. David Bellos, who quoted and translated the beginning and ending of Perec’s long palindrome in his extraordinary biography, Georges Perec: A Life in Words, described the palindrome as consisting of two halves, each of five hundred words (pp. 428-429).

Standard word-count programs come up with a larger number of words than either Bellos or Wikipedia have: The Gnu utility wc counts 1367, for example. In part, that’s because some of the punctuation is set off with spaces. But it may also have to do with a reasonable way of counting words in French being different than wc’s method.

So, leaving aside the question of words for the moment — but noting that the answer seems to be in the 1000-1400 range, and couldn’t be 5000 – let’s take a look at the number of letters. I placed the palindrome’s text (all of it, including the strange title that is a reversal of Perec’s name and the place and date of writing) in a file called perec.txt and did the following to count the letters:

% fold --width=1 perec.txt | grep -c '[[:alpha:]]'

The result is 5219. Yes, I checked to make sure that accented letters are being counted on my system. I’m not sure where the extra 5566-5219=347 letters are supposed to be. There are only eight digits, so the ’1969′ at the end (and ’9691′ at the beginning) couldn’t account for the larger number. And I counted 736 punctuation marks, so the puzzle isn’t solved by considering punctuation marks to be letters, since that (in addition to being incorrect) would make the palindrome too long. Unless my text is corrupt, I suppose that some of the punctuation marks were counted as letters before.

You can read in Daniel Levin Becker’s 2012 book Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature that Perec “wrote a palindrome of more than 1,200 words, the world’s longest until a computer program eclipsed it” (p. 181). The approximate word count seems right, but what about the rest of the statement?

On January 1, 2002, the first edition of Nick Montfort & William Gillespie’s 2002: A Palindrome Story was published. This text, published in a much nicer edition later in the year and made available in several formats online, is a 2002-word palindrome that we wrote together. We had actually hoped that the suite of software we developed, Deep Speed, would generate text for us and serve as a third co-author, but unfortunately its main use ended up being to check our work. In the end, 2002 was about as much generated by computer as “Le Grand Palindrome” was generated by typewriter.

(Perhaps Becker was referring to the data-driven palindrome found by Google’s Peter Norvig? That was composed and published on February 20, 2002, weeks after 2002 was first published in celebration of the new year. Also, while I consider it a brilliant hack, and while I certainly think that computer programs can produce literary output, I’m not sure how to understand or learn from this program and this text as a literary project. In terms of pure length, it’s a long palindrome, yes, but so is this; in fact, that one is longer than any that Norvig has produced.)

Now, to reassure Oulipo fans, 2002 and “Le Grand Palindrome” are written in different languages, so it would be awkward at best to claim that we directly outdid Perec. Also, it took two of us to write our English palindrome and only one of Perec to write his palindrome in French, so Perec still holds the record per-person per-palindrome. And finally, as my parenthetical remark and link above is supposed to show, it’s just silly to compare palindromes’ length alone; it’s important to read them and see how compelling they are. Writing a palindrome of more and more words involves conducting a more lengthy and profound exploration of language. Perhaps that type of exploration means falling off a cliff – as some thought Perec did; as some surely thought that William & I did in writing the exceedingly difficult text 2002. But it’s an exploration, and for us, as for Perec, it resulted in a radical and unusual literary work.

2002 received praise from members of the Oulipo and a positive review in the Review of Contemporary Fiction. It certainly wasn’t the usual one-line palindrome fare that many are used to. Although it’s challenging, I hope that more intrepid readers will eventually engage with text. I’m disappointed that a major magazine article on palindromes and the Wikipedia page on the topic don’t mention it. I’m disappointed that scholars and literary critics (who have devoted time to other works of mine and of William’s) haven’t delved into 2002. And it doesn’t give me much hope when the well-known long palindrome of a tremendously famous and influential French writer, however well-known it is, is still widely unread. We can’t even figure out how many words and letters it has.

Books O’ Poems

Thursday 29 August 2013, 12:15 pm   ///  

I’ve read a few books of poetry recently that I found particularly interesting, so why not mention them here?

Man Years by Sandra Doller. Beautifully damaged utteraces that are highly unusual, resonant with known ways of speaking, and allusive. E.g., in the poem “Eggphrasis,” which begins “eggs / eggs / baby”.

The Container Store by Joe Hall and Chad Hardy. Urban space is explored, and its commercial division and compartmentalization. The typography is compelling, with black blocks often occluding the text like the blind eyes of office buildings.

Meditations 1-52 by Matthew Klane. Also quite engaged politically, also quite well-done typographically, but in another interesting mode. Includes a list of things Vannevar Bush did not invent.

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