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.

T-CIAIG (Computational Narrative & Games) Due October 5

Wednesday 19 September 2012, 10:48 pm   ////////  

The tickets are now diamonds!

Ian Horswill, Michael Young and I are editing a special issue of IEEE Transactions on Computational Intelligence and AI in Games (T-CIAIG), and your submissions are invited — until October 5, 2011. We have extended the deadline two weeks.

Specifically:

The T-CIAIG Special Issue on Computational Narrative and Games solicits papers on all topics related to narrative in computational media and of relevance to games, including but not limited to:

  • Storytelling systems
  • Story generation
  • Drama management
  • Interactive fiction
  • Story presentation, including performance, lighting, staging, music and camera control
  • Dialog generation
  • Authoring tools
  • Human-subject evaluations of systems

I posted the full call here way back in February: “Call for papers: Special Issue on Computational Narrative and Games.” We are very interested in submissions dealing with computationally involved work on the important topic of narrative.

Friday’s the Deadline: Special Issue on Computational Narrative and Games

Tuesday 18 September 2012, 8:57 am   ////////  

As mentioned here before, Ian Horswill, Michael Young and I are editing a special issue of IEEE Transactions on Computational Intelligence and AI in Games (T-CIAIG), and your submissions are invited. Specifically:

The T-CIAIG Special Issue on Computational Narrative and Games solicits papers on all topics related to narrative in computational media and of relevance to games, including but not limited to:

  • Storytelling systems
  • Story generation
  • Drama management
  • Interactive fiction
  • Story presentation, including performance, lighting, staging, music and camera control
  • Dialog generation
  • Authoring tools
  • Human-subject evaluations of systems

I posted the full call here way back in February: “Call for papers: Special Issue on Computational Narrative and Games.” So it seems appropriate to remind everyone now, as the deadline for submissions is this Friday, September 21, 2012.

All author/submission info is online. Submission is done through Manuscript Central.

Let me know (soon!) in comments or by email if you have questions.

Games by the Book, an Exhibit

Sunday 9 September 2012, 9:01 pm   ////////  

Games by the Book
Videogame Adaptations of Literary Works in the Hayden Library

The Hayden Library (in MIT’s Building 14) is hosting an interactive exhibition starting on September 7th. Visitors to the second floor will be able to play four videogames that are adapted from literary works, from Sophocles and Shakespeare to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Douglas Adams. The exhibit explores the range of approaches taken to create video games of literary works, The result is often whimsical, turning the worlds of these stories into spaces to be explored, often transforming them according video game conventions.

The games featured in the exhibit invite players to become Nick Carraway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, dodging drunken partygoers in his way to meet Gatsby; explore the world of Shakespeare’s plays; carry out an exercise of introspection based on Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus; or revisit the events of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Games by the Book, curated by Clara Fernández-Vara and Nick Montfort, will be open to the public until October 8th, in the Humanities library, on the 2nd floor of the Hayden Library. Further details can be found at:

http://trope-tank.mit.edu/games_by_the_book/

The exhibit is sponsored by the De Florez Fund for Humor, the MIT Council of the Arts, the MIT Game Lab, the Electronic Literature Organization, and Comparative Media Studies.

Fire Up Your Computational Narrative and Games Submissions

Wednesday 1 August 2012, 10:51 pm   ////////  

Ian Horswill, Michael Young and I are editing a special issue of IEEE Transactions on Computational Intelligence and AI in Games (T-CIAIG), and your submissions are invited. Specifically:

The T-CIAIG Special Issue on Computational Narrative and Games solicits papers on all topics related to narrative in computational media and of relevance to games, including but not limited to:

  • Storytelling systems
  • Story generation
  • Drama management
  • Interactive fiction
  • Story presentation, including performance, lighting, staging, music and camera control
  • Dialog generation
  • Authoring tools
  • Human-subject evaluations of systems

I posted the full call here way back in February: “Call for papers: Special Issue on Computational Narrative and Games.” So it seems appropriate to remind everyone now, as the deadline for submissions is September 21, 2012.

I recently updated the URL for author/submission info. Submission is done through Manuscript Central.

Let me know in comments or by email if you have questions.

An Insight Gained from Re-Watching Tron

Friday 27 July 2012, 1:47 pm   /////  

Enron (logo)

+

Infocom (logo)

=

Encom (logo from Tron still)

The Problem with “Videogames”

Thursday 19 July 2012, 4:37 pm   ///  

For years, many people have been use the word “videogames” to describe various different things – often a similar category of games playable in arcades and at home thanks to digital electronic technology and using video displays. Sometimes this category is distinguished from “computer games” which are played on general-purpose home (or, if one is lucky, office) computers. Often people nowadays who think about gaming don’t think of specific classic titles (Zork, Hunt the Wumpus, Star Trek) as videogames but are willing to consider them computer games.

It’s not universal to use the single-word term. The OED has only an entry for “video game” (with 1973 and 1983 references), although “videotape” is listed as a single word. In Racing the Beam, Ian Bogost and I compromised on using “videogame” as the adjective form and “video game” as the noun form, so we wrote phrases such as “videogame players” but also wrote of “popular video games.” Perhaps this was the worst of both worlds, but no one, not even our copy editor, railed at us about it.

The problem that I see is that I like to explain to people, often in writing, that I study “computer and video games.” If I use the term “videogames,” what would I say? “I study computer games and videogames”? “I study computer. Also, I study videogames”? “I study video- and computer games”?

In an effort to make videogames seem like their own special thing (which was provided to me by one editor as an explanation for why the one-word version was used), Bioshock for PC is verbally classed in an entirely different category from Bioshock for Xbox 360. Given my work as an editor of the MIT Press Platform Studies series, I certainly recognize the real importance of the subtle difference between these two – but it seems awkward as a digital media scholar to actually go and call them different things, and it seems like that is what the sleek and special term “videogame” compels us to do. Maybe I need to become retro and go back to the two-word version of the term.

Islands of (Text) Adventure

Friday 13 July 2012, 1:00 pm   ///////  

In the “Michelangelo” room of the Portofino Bay hotel, at Ascendio (the latest and last in a long series of Harry Potter fan conferences), just down the lagoon from The Islands of Adventure and the Harry Potter area of that theme park, Flourish Klink presented her interactive fiction, “Muggle Studies.”

(In Michelangelo the women come and go, talking of rooms…)

We had a reading/playing of the game, to start, in the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction public reading style. It worked well; another option would have been to “demo” the game using the successful format we tried out at the New School, Penn, and some Purple Blurb IF readings. The audience was game to try commands, though, and a volunteer read the game’s text aloud.

Then, Flourish provided some context, describing a bit about IF and Inform 7.

Given the vigorousness of fandom and the way interactive fiction production continues apace, it’s particularly good to see a demonstration of and call for more crossover work.

A Note on Stacking

Wednesday 4 July 2012, 11:32 am   /////  

In February 2011 Tim Schafer’s Doublefine Productions released a game, Stacking, in which the anthropomorphic figures are Russian nesting dolls. Set in a nicely developed Victorian world of social ills and technological marvels and making use of a toy-like mechanic, Stacking is somewhat like Lego Star Wars without either the Lego or the Star Wars brand. It combines charming play with plenty of cutscenes.

Some aspects of the game don’t seem to have been mentioned online in the past year and a half, so I’m compelled to mention them now: You play by controlling a young boy and nesting this character, and then others, inside one another to gain access to different areas and accomplish tasks. Your current stack of dolls can grow only by entering another doll. It’s not possible to stack another doll if it’s facing you and looking at you, only if you sneak up on it. That is, it’s necessary to enter dolls from behind. When you do pop yourself inside, onlookers gasp in shock.

Just saying.

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