A Great Platform Studies Answer

Sunday 30 November 2014, 3:27 pm   ///////  

To how software keeps getting better and graphics get better-looking on the same old consoles.

Note that for the Atari VCS / Atari 2600, only answers #3 and #4 apply, since developers didn’t use “engines” or even compilers, instead writing their code in assembly langauge. (Presumably the assemblers didn’t improve much over the years.) Also, the VCS had no firmware, flashable or otherwise; although refined versions of the hardware were produced over the years, such as the Atari 2600 Jr., such systems were optimized for cheaper manufacturing and didn’t improve performance.

Still, there are important continuities between the answer to this question for the VCS and for modern-day consoles. And the answer is not obvious, since companies and the press usually emphasize the improvements in hardware that are made between generations of a console.

News Flash: Flash News!

Saturday 29 November 2014, 3:27 pm   /////  

There’s a nice article up at The Atlantic about Flash, written by the two authors of the new Platform Studies book, Anastasia Salter and John Murray. Their new book, I’ll remind you, is Flash: Building the Interactive Web.

Interactive Fiction Meetup at MIT, Again, Tomorrow

Sunday 23 November 2014, 2:27 pm   ///////  

The People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction meets once again tomorrow (Monday 2014-11-24) in its regular meeting-place, the Trope Tank. We meet at 6:30 in MIT’s room 14N-233.

There is much to discuss and celebrate, such as the conclusion of the IF Comp – congrats to Sean M. Shore for his 1st place game Hunger Daemon, and to all the other winners. Besides that there’s the recent release of Hadean Lands by PR-IF stalwart Andew Plotkin. And, today there’s a front-page New York Times article about IF, and Twine games specifically. I’m sure I forgot some things we have to celebrate, so come by to see what those things are.

A Platform Studies Book: Flash

Tuesday 16 September 2014, 10:03 pm   ///////  

I’m delighted that Flash: Building the Interactive Web by Anastasia Salter and John Murray has just been published by the MIT Press.

Flash: Building the Interactive Web

This is an excellent study of an influential software platform – our first such study in the Platform Studies series – and it both traces the history of the platform, its development and the contexts in which it arose, as it also covers many famous and representative Flash productions.

Mark Sample writes of it, “Combining historical research, software studies, and a deep appreciate for digital creativity, Salter and Murray dramatically explore Flash—whose very ubiquity has heretofore made it transparent to media scholars—as the defining technology for a generation of artists, storytellers, game designers, and Web 2.0 companies.”

Dene Grigar calls it “a must-read for all scholars and artists of digital media,” while Aaron Delwiche names it “the best and most provocative work I’ve encountered about emerging technologies since the publication of The Cyborg Handbook.

Flash is still with us, but Salter and Murray nevertheless take up the difficult task of providing the historical context for this platform’s creation, from the days before it supported general-purpose programming through its dominance on the Web. The relevance of this book is not limited to a particular product (now, but not always, an Adobe product). It extends to the Web to interactive computing overall.

Forking Paths and Forest Platformer of Depression

Thursday 28 August 2014, 10:56 am   ////  

I’ve revisited two games about depression which seem interesting to compare. One has been discussed more recently, particularly thanks to its recent release on Steam: the Twine game Depression Quest. (It’s also available on the Web.) The other, which is in Flash and on the Web, is the platformer Elude. The latter was developed at MIT, in the GAMBIT Game Lab.

Both of these games have seen plenty of discussion, but I wanted to mention an aspect that make them interesting to compare. Of course, Elude is graphical and played in real time, while Depression Quest is text-based and allows the user to select CYOA-style options. But that’s quite obvious.

More interesting to me is that “Elude‘s metaphorical model for depression serves to bring awareness to the realities of depression by creating empathy with those who live with depression every day,” while “Depression Quest is a game that deals with living with depression in a very literal way.” Of course, being literal or metaphorical goes beyond having a single axis or slider, and it isn’t tied to whether one has a graphical or textual game. It’s interesting to see two games about the same subject matter that declare their intent to be different in this way. I wonder if there is a pair of games on similar topics where the text game is very metaphorical and the graphical game literal?

Senderos que se … Intimate, Infinite

Tuesday 19 August 2014, 10:33 pm   /////  

Intimate, Infinite by Robert Yang

Robert Yang’s latest is a first-person-shooter version of Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Garden of Forking Paths.” With a lovingly off-kilter translation (befitting its “original”) and with visuals and (quite minimal) interaction that suits the experience, this is an extraordinary set of linked mini-games, well worth the short amount of time it takes to get through them, and worth offering at least a bit for this pay-what-you-will game.

Check out Intimate, Infinite.

Intimate, Infinite by Robert Yang

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.

Advanced Bitcoin Simulator

Thursday 3 April 2014, 3:51 pm   /////  

If you felt like you missed your chance to … profit! … from the ascendance of Bitcoin, try the new, shiny Advanced Bitcoin Simulator, an interactive fiction by a sekrit author. It’s built with yui3, Inform 7, and parchment, but also builds on the simulation of online forums found in Judith Pintar’s CosmoServe, incorporates some of the audacity of several recent Twine games, and offers a bit (no pun intended) of the Ayn Rand pillory found in Bioshock.

Nonstop Interactive Fiction in Boston

Thursday 31 October 2013, 8:15 pm   ////  

Hello from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I’m currently dressed as a grue. The streets are unnervingly lit up tonight for some reason and many people are about. Perhaps my quest to find a dark, quiet place will lead me to Fenway Park.

There is a lot of news about upcoming interactive fiction events, and the first part of a two-part article by Illya Szilak, “A Book Itself Is a Little Machine: Emily Short’s Interactive Fiction,” is just out in The Huffington Post.

If you weren’t there, you missed Arden Kehoe presenting on her visual novel Kindness Coins at Women in Games Boston on October 29, but you can read a bit about her work at the page for the event.

There will be another reading of Lost Pig (the award-winning game by Admiral Jota) on Sunday, November 3, at 6pm, at Pandemonium Books in Central Square.

There will be a reading of Adam Cadre’s award-winning Photopia on Tuesday, November 5, at 5pm in University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Olsen Hall, room 311. Adam won’t be at this reading, and I don’t believe Admiral Jota will be at Pandemonium Books event. Adam did read from Photopia himself at this event in Boston way back in 2001.

The “People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction” (PR-IF) meetup for November will be on Saturday, November 9, 4:00 pm, in my lab, The Trope Tank, MIT room 14N-233. (We usually meet Monday or Tuesday at 6:30pm; this is an exception.) Special guest Emily Short will be demonstrating the authoring tools behind Versu. Emily will also be speaking on Versu in New York City on Wednesday November 13.

PR-IF now is on teh Twitter, as @IFinBoston, which is a good thing since there’s so much going on. Our Twitter presence is backed by the amazing technology known as Jason McIntosh.

An introduction to writing interactive fiction will be offered one week after the Photopia reading, on Tuesday, November 12, same time, same place: 5pm in University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Olsen Hall, room 311. These two events at UMass Lowell are sponsored by that school’s Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

Finally, the 2013 IF Comp is currently going on. There are 35 entries. You can download, play, and vote on the games, with votes due November 15.

Videogame Editions for Play and Study

Tuesday 22 October 2013, 7:20 pm   ///////  

Now available: TROPE-13-02 – Videogame Editions for Play and Study by Clara Fernández-Vara and Nick Montfort.

We discuss four types of access to videogames that are analogous to the use of different sorts of editions in literary scholarship: (1) the use of hardware to play games on platforms compatible with the original ones, (2) emulation as a means of playing games on contemporary computers, (3) ports, which translate games across platforms, and (4) documentation, which can describe some aspects of games when they cannot be accessed and can supplement play. These different editions provide different information and perspectives and can be used in teaching and research in several ways.

Enjoy, and please let us know here or elsewhere if you have discussion about this.

A Science-Fictional Conversation

Tuesday 1 October 2013, 7:05 pm   ////  

Orly Airport from La Jetée

Yar's Revenge

Thanks to Chris Marker, Howard Scott Warshaw, and The Reel Todd.

Indie Games Galore at Boston FIG

Saturday 14 September 2013, 2:49 pm   /////  

I’m here at the Boston Festival of Independent Games (Boston FIG) today. It’s actually in Cambridge, at MIT, but otherwise the title is not misleading: It is festive and full of indie games and discussion of them. I’ve seen an incredible variety of work by individuals and small teams of developers. Just to give some flavor of the event — according to my notes, I’ve seen:

A New Trope Report on E-Lit Readings & Exhibition

Tuesday 23 April 2013, 11:04 pm   ////////  

Thanks to Dr. Clara Fernández-Vara, the Trope Tank has a new technical report, TROPE-13-01: “Electronic Literature for All: Performance in Exhibits and Public Readings.”

This report covers readings of interactive fiction done by the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction, the Boston area IF group, and the exhibit Games by the Book, discussed previously on here. But there is much more detail in this report about how these attempts managed to share computational works (works that are both games and e-lit) with the public. If you are interested in outreach and presentations of this sort, please take a look.

Radical Books of 2012 (3/7)

Thursday 3 January 2013, 1:30 pm   ///////  
Rise of the Videogame Zinesters

Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form
Anna Anthropy

Seven Stories Press · 208 pages

The discussion of mainstream gaming in this book, while it isn’t exactly generous, covers both what is produced and the labor issues of how it is produced. The book’s DIY instructions point readers to tools and sketch the simplest sorts of development processes. (Such pointers may be what a book does best, as there is plenty of relevant information online.) What makes this book valuable and radical (other than the conceptual writing exercise cataloging game topics on pp. 137-139) is the amazing world it presupposes in which Halo and Bioshock can go unmentioned while there are pages about Anthropy’s Gay Sniper. Unofficial games made by individuals are shown to be part of culture and the politial and social discourse. Beyond newsgame and artgame, although not detached from some of their tactics, are many short experiments, games about “putting down your dog” that speak to everyday experience. Games that say what you want them to say and not games that say what someone else wants you to say.

Radical Books of 2012 (1/7)

Tuesday 1 January 2013, 1:30 pm   ///////  
The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail
Gregory Sherl

Mud Lucious Press · 65 pages

Consciousness wobbles between the “real world” of Barry Manilow concerts, streetscapes that look like Frogger, and private Facebook messages on the one hand and a fabled simulation bleeding beyond the phosphors of the computer-connected CRT television on the other. Amid tender moments featuring the wife, child #1, and child #2, these poems also offer reminders of the political context in which Westward expansion was undertaken. “The Oregon Trail 2 Starring Mel Gibson Directed by Mel Gibson” notes, for instance, “We have Manifest Destiny in our cocks.” This book about the American journey, not the destination, may appear to be a nostalgic romp. (Perhaps the book’s dedication, “FOR YOUTH,” and the theme of adult responsibilities invites such an attitude.) There is no home to ache over, though, in these 39 poems that join intimate imagination to a famous if floppy American document, showing that however personal or national memory flows past, in whatsoever form, you can’t ford the same river twice.

Tracy Fullerton this Thursday at MIT on “Walden, a game”

Tuesday 6 November 2012, 7:55 pm   ///////  

Tried of thinking about well-defined regions of red and blue?

… start thinking about PURPLE BLURB, the digital writing series at MIT.

We’ll have our next event with TRACY FULLERTON, an experimental game designer, professor and director of the Game Innovation Lab at the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she holds the Electronic Arts Endowed Chair in Interactive Entertainment. The Game Innovation Lab is a design research center that has produced several influential independent games, including Cloud, flOw, Darfur is Dying, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, and The Night Journey – a collaboration with media artist Bill Viola. Tracy is also the author of Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, a design textbook in use at game programs worldwide.

Fullerton’s talk “Finer Fruits: Experiment in Life and Play at Walden” will take place:

November 8
5:30pm
In MIT’s 32-155 (Stata Center)

This is a joint event with the CMS Colloquium, and supported by the Angus N. MacDonald fund.

Walden, a game, is an experiment in play being made about an experiment in living. The game simulates Henry David Thoreau’s experiment in living a simplified existence as articulated in his book Walden. It puts Thoreau’s ideas about the essentials of life into a playable form, in which players can take on the role of Thoreau, attending to the “meaner” tasks of life at the Pond – providing themselves with food, fuel, shelter and clothing – while trying not to lose sight of their relationship to nature, where the Thoreau found the true rewards of his experiment, his “finer fruits” of life. The game is a work in progress, and this talk will look closely at the design of the underlying system and the cycles of thought that have gone into developing it. It will also detail the creation of the game world, which is based on close readings of Thoreau’s work, and the projected path forward for the team as we continue our sojourn in experimental in play.

We have also added a Purple Blurb event this semester. Prof. Al Filreis of the University of Pennsylvania Kelly Writers House will join us for a conversation with Nick Montfort on December 10 at 5:30pm in 6-120. He’ll discuss his experience teaching modern poetry to 34,000 students online. More about this as the time nears …

For now, I hope to see you this Thursday for Tracy Fullerton’s presentation about Walden, a game.

Purple Blurb at MIT this semester!

Yes we have Purple Blurb! The first event is in less than a week – sorry for the short notice; I hope you locals can join us. Here are the details:

Monday October 1, 5:30pm in 6-120

Rafael Pérez y Pérez, Fox Harrell, and Nick Montfort

In conversation about narrative generation and MEXICA, GRIOT, and Curveship

Three creators of poetic and imaginative systems speak about computational creativity, narrative generation, and the way systems for this sort of work are culturally generated. Rafael Pérez y Pérez is creator of the plot-focused MEXICA system for the generation of stories and is Profesor/Investigador Titular C in the Departamento de Tecnologías de la Información at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Unidad Cuajimalpa, México D. F. Fox Harrell is creator of GRIOT and the Alloy algorithm, which generates literary and multimedia texts based on conceptual structures. Harrell is associate professor of digital media at MIT in CMS/WHS, a principal investigator at CSAIL, and head of the Imagination, Computation, and Expression Laboratory. Nick Montfort developed Curveship, an interactive fiction and text generation systems that allows for parametrically controlled narrative variation. Montfort is associate professor of digital media at MIT in CMS/WHS and head of the Trope Tank.

Thursday November 8, 5:30pm in 32-155

Tracy Fullerton

“Finer Fruits: Experiment in Life and Play at Walden”

A joint event with the CMS Colloquium

Walden, a game, is an experiment in play being made about an experiment in living. The game simulates Henry David Thoreau’s experiment in living a simplified existence as articulated in his book Walden. It puts Thoreau’s ideas about the essentials of life into a playable form, in which players can take on the role of Thoreau, attending to the “meaner” tasks of life at the Pond – providing themselves with food, fuel, shelter and clothing – while trying not to lose sight of their relationship to nature, where the Thoreau found the true rewards of his experiment, his “finer fruits” of life. The game is a work in progress, and this talk will look closely at the design of the underlying system and the cycles of thought that have gone into developing it. It will also detail the creation of the game world, which is based on close readings of Thoreau’s work, and the projected path forward for the team as we continue our sojourn in experimental in play.

Tracy Fullerton, M.F.A., is an experimental game designer, professor and director of the Game Innovation Lab at the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she holds the Electronic Arts Endowed Chair in Interactive Entertainment. The Game Innovation Lab is a design research center that has produced several influential independent games, including Cloud, flOw, Darfur is Dying, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, and The Night Journey – a collaboration with media artist Bill Viola. Tracy is also the author of Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, a design textbook in use at game programs worldwide.

As always, all events are free and open to the public. The Purple Blurb series is supported by the Angus N. MacDonald fund and Comparative Media Studies / Writing and Humanistic Studies.

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