Interactive Fiction Hits the Fan

Saturday 31 March 2012, 5:03 pm   //////  

Although a recent IF tribute to a They Might Be Giants album might help to delude some people about this, interactive fiction these days is not about fandom and is unusually not made in reference to and transformation of previous popular works.

An intriguing exception, however, can be found in the just-released Muggle Studies, a game by Flourish Klink that takes place in the wonderful wizarding world of Harry Potter. The player character is of the non-magical persuasion, but gets to wander, wand-free, at Hogwarts, solve puzzles, and discover things that bear on her relationship with her ex-girlfriend. You can play and download the game at the Muggle Studies site.

Big Reality

Sunday 25 March 2012, 10:05 am   ////////  

I went last weekend to visit the Big Reality exhibit at 319 Scholes in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was an adventure and an excellent alternative to staying around in the East Village on March 17, the national day of drunkenness. The gallery space, set amid warehouses and with its somewhat alluring, somewhat foreboding basement area (I had to bring my own light source to the bathroom), was extremely appropriate for this show about tabletop and computer RPGs and their connections to “real life.” Kudos to Brian Droitcour for curating this unusual and incisive exhibit.

A few papers of mine are probably the least spectacular contribution to the show. There are three maps of interactive fiction games that I played in the 1980s and my first map of nTopia, drawn as I developed Book and Volume. The other work includes some excellent video and audio documentation of WoW actions and incidents; fascinatingly geeky video pieces; the RPGs Power Kill, Pupperland, and Steal Away Jordan; player-generated maps; a sort of CYOA in which you can choose to be a butcher for the mob or Richard Serra; and an assortment of work in other media. Plus, the performance piece “Lawful Evil,” in which people play a tabletop RPG in the center of the gallery, is running the whole time the show is open.

Which, by the way, is until March 29.

And, the catalog is excellent, too, with essays and other materials that bear on the question of how supposedly escapist role-playing tunnels into reality.

Computational Narrative and Games T-CIAIG Issue

Tuesday 28 February 2012, 1:04 pm   ////////  

IEEE Transactions on Computational Intelligence and AI in Games (T-CIAIG)

Call for papers: Special Issue on Computational Narrative and Games

Special issue editors: Ian Horswill, Nick Montfort and R. Michael Young

Stories in both their telling and their hearing are central to human experience, playing an important role in how humans understand the world around them. Entertainment media and other cultural artifacts are often designed around the presentation and experience of narrative. Even in video games, which need not be narrative, the vast majority of blockbuster titles are organized around some kind of quest narrative and many have elaborate stories with significant character development. Games, interactive fiction, and other computational media allow the dynamic generation of stories through the use of planning techniques, simulation (emergent narrative), or repair techniques. These provide new opportunities, both to make the artist’s hand less evident through the use of aleatory and/or automated methods and for the audience/player to more actively participate in the creation of the narrative.

Stories have also been deeply involved in the history of artificial intelligence, with story understanding and generation being important early tasks for natural language and knowledge representation systems. And many researchers, particularly Roger Schank, have argued that stories play a central organizing role in human intelligence. This viewpoint has also seen a significant resurgence in recent years.

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

Papers should be written to address the broader T-CIAIG readership, with clear and substantial technical discussion and relevance to those working on AI techniques for games. Papers must make sufficient contact with the AI for narrative literature to provide useful insights or directions for future work in AI, but they need not be limited to the documentation and analysis of algorithmic techniques. Other genres of papers that could be submitted include:

  • Documentation of complete implemented systems
  • Aesthetic critique of existing technologies
  • Interdisciplinary studies linking computational models or approaches to relevant fields such as narratology, cognitive science, literary theory, art theory, creative writing, theater, etc.
  • Reports from artists and game designers on successes and challenges of authoring using existing technologies

Authors should follow normal T-CIAIG guidelines for their submissions, but clearly identify their papers for this special issue during the submission process. T-CIAIG accepts letters, short papers and full papers. See the IEEE T-CIAIG page for author information. Extended versions of previously published conference/workshop papers are welcome, but must be accompanied by a covering letter that explains the novel and significant contribution of the extended work.

Deadline for submissions: September 21, 2012

Notification of Acceptance: December 21, 2012

Final copy due: April 19, 2013

Expected publication date: June or September 2013

A New Paper on the Dreamcast

Sunday 5 February 2012, 10:21 am   ////////  

I’m very pleased to see the article Mia Consalvo and I wrote published in Loading…, the journal of the Canadian Game Studies Association (CGSA). There’s an intriguing lineup of articles in Loading… Vol 6, No 9; ours is:

Montfort, Nick and Mia Consalvo. “The Dreamcast, Console of the Avant-Garde.” Loading… 6: 9, 2012. http://journals.sfu.ca/loading/index.php/loading/article/view/104/116

We look at the connections between the Dreamcast platform, five games in particular (Jet Grind Radio, Space Channel 5, Rez, Seaman, and SGGG) and avant-garde movements and work in art, literature, and other areas in the 20th century. By seriously considering and applying the idea of the avant-garde and looking into these fives games closely (in terms of gameplay, in interpretive ways, and with regard to players’ online discourses about them), we show some ways in which videogames, within gaming, have done the work of the historical avant-garde; the business situations and factors in platform technology that relate to this innovation; and what opportunities for radical exploration in console gaming remain.

Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment!

Monday 2 January 2012, 7:19 pm   ///  

It’s a totally new take on Track & Field. Thanks to inky for the tip … Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment! is by Pippin Barr of ITU-Copenhagen.

Fire in the Cow

Friday 23 December 2011, 12:11 am   /////  

“Fire in the Library” is an article in the new Technology Review about digital archivist, documentary filmmaker, and cat impersonator Jason Scott.

“The Curse of Cow Clicker” is an article in the new Wired about game developer, ontologist, and cowpocalyptic force Ian Bogost.

Enjoy your holiday season with these fine profiles.

Brian Moriarty to Speak at MIT

Sunday 27 November 2011, 11:07 pm   ////////  

In the Boston area? Please join us for a talk by

 

Brian Moriarty

Creator of Wishbringer, Trinity, Loom, and other interactive fiction and graphic adventure titles

and professor of practice, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

“Beyond Zork: Games & Interactive Fiction”

Monday, November 28, 5:30 pm

MIT’s room 6-120

 

Brian Moriarty built his first computer in the fifth grade. He began publishing games in the early 1980s and in 1984 joined legendary text adventure company Infocom, where he authored three award-winning interactive fiction titles, Wishbringer (1985), Trinity (1986) and Beyond Zork (1987). His first graphic adventure game, Loom, was published in 1990 by Lucasfilm Games to wide critical acclaim.

Sponsored by the Angus N. MacDonald Fund

As always, this Purple Blurb event is free and open to the public.

“Electrifying Literature” Deadline

Tuesday 22 November 2011, 3:43 pm   //////////  

An exhortation for those creating or researching electronic literature to please submit to Electrifying Literature: Affordances and Constraints, the 2012 Electronic Literature Organization conference. The gathering will take place June 20-23, 2012 in Morgantown, West Virginia. A juried Media Arts Gallery Exhibit will be held from Wednesday, June 13 through Saturday, June 23, 2012 at The Monongalia Arts Center. Registration costs have been kept down to make it easier for writers and artists who don’t have institutional travel support to be part of the event.

The deadline for abstracts & proposals is November 30, by the way.

Mass Effect 3 Unlocks Gayness

Saturday 8 October 2011, 8:24 pm   ////  

In the Mass Effect series, you get all the intensity of a first-person shooter combined with a sprawling space-opera plot arc. And, the games have another aspect as well: As pan-galactic dating sims.

In the first two games, your customizable human, Commander Shepherd, who is the same paragon or renegade badass whether he’s black or white, male or female, can get it on with select characters. However, even though this is the way-far future sort of world in which there’s no problem with romance between beings from different planets, she or he can basically have only heterosexual relationships.

(Okay, she, if your Shepherd is female, can hook up with an alien character who looks quite a bit like a female human. But it’s made clear that your xenophilia isn’t, stricly speaking, homosexual, it’s just a pheremone thing with this hot alien who is not really a chick anyway.)

In May, the news broke that Mass Effect 3, still forthcoming, will support gay. So, everyone should stop teabagging their opponents in Halo 3 for a moment and celebrate this newfound progressive inclusiveness, right?

Well … the thing is, Mass Effect is a series. (Or franchise, really, with spin-offs … but let’s keep things simple.) The two main games released so far are strongly linked, with great effort made to connect the first to the second game – via importation of a character or play-through of an interactive comic. In the new game, Shepherd is definitely supposed to be the same guy (or butch woman, if you picked that option) that he or she was in Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2.

Which means that if Mass Effect 3 is the first game to support homosexuality … and players choose to take this option … it could suggest that the stress of saving the living universe has somehow turned Shepherd gay.

Unless, I suppose, Shepherd really was before, and you simply have turn somewhere else, other than your XBox or PS3, to read about it.

IF Comp Games Are Out

Sunday 2 October 2011, 11:52 am   /////  

The 2011 Interactive Fiction Competition games! They’re out. Go get ’em.

Games, Stories, and a Three-Part List

Saturday 1 October 2011, 11:43 am   //////  

I’m in Montréal at Experiencing Stories with/in Digital Games Concordia University. I’ll be offering some remarks, entitled “Deinventing the Wheel,” about language and interaction. That will be on the next panel, which focuses on Mass Effect 2.

I won’t elaborate right now, but the current panel, which includes the Tale of Tales folks, made me think about the relationship between Passage, Tao, and The Graveyard.

Electrifying Literature: The ELO 2012 Conference at WVU

Call for Proposals…

ELO 2012

Electrifying Literature
Affordances and Constraints

June 20-23, 2012 Morgantown, WV

Conference Planning Committee

  • Sandy Baldwin, West Virginia University (Chair)
  • Philippe Bootz, University of Paris 8
  • Dene Grigar, Washington State University Vancouver
  • Margie Luesebrink, Irvine Valley College
  • Mark Marino, University of Southern California
  • Stuart Moulthrop, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
  • Joseph Tabbi, University of Illinois, Chicago

We invite titles and proposals of no more than 500 words, including a brief description of the content and format of the presentation, and contact information for the presenter(s). Send proposals to elit2012 [at] gmail.com, using plain text format in the email, or attached as Word or PDF. All proposals will receive peer-to-peer review by the ELO and will be considered on their own terms. Non-traditional and traditional formats will be subject to the same peer-to-peer review process.

Submission deadline for proposals: November 30, 2011

Notification of acceptance: December 30, 2011

Electronic Literature: Where is It?*

The 2012 Electronic Literature Organization Conference will be held June 20-23, 2012 in Morgantown, WV, the site of West Virginia University. In conjunction with the three-day conference, there will be a juried Media Arts Show open to the public at the Monongalia Arts Center in Morgantown and running from June 18-30, 2012. An accompanying online exhibit will bring works from the ELO Conference to a wider audience.

Even if nobody could define print literature, everyone knew where to look for it – in libraries and bookshops, at readings, in class, or on the Masterpiece channel. We have not yet created, however, a consensus about where to find electronic literature, or (for that matter) the location of the literary in an emerging digital aesthetic.

Though we do have, in digital media, works that identify themselves as “locative,” we don’t really know where to look for e-lit, how it should be tagged and distributed, and whether or how it should be taught. Is born digital writing likely to reside, for example, in conventional literature programs? in Rhetoric? Comp? Creative Writing? Can new media literature be remediated? How should its conditions of creation be described? Do those descriptions become our primary texts when the works themselves become unavailable through technological obsolescence?

To forward our thinking about the institutional and technological location of current literary writing, The Electronic Literature Organization and West Virginia University’s Center for Literary Computing invite submissions to the ELO 2012 Conference to be held from June 20-23, 2012, in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Bearing in mind the changing locations of new media literature and literary cultures, the conference organizers welcome unconventional presentations, whether in print or digital media. The point is not to reject the conventional conference ‘paper’ or bullet point presentation but to encourage thoughtful exploration and justification of any format employed. All elements of literary description and presentation are up for reconsideration. The modest mechanisms of course descriptions, syllabus construction, genre identification, and the composition of author bios, could well offer maps toward the location of the literary in digital media. So can an annotated bibliography of works falling under a given genre or within a certain technological context. We welcome surveys of the use of tags and keywords, and how these can be recognized (or not) by readers, libraries, or other necessary nodes in an emerging literary network Also of interest is the current proliferation of directories of electronic literature in multiple media, languages, and geographical locations.

The cost of the conference is $150; graduate students and non-affiliated artists pay only $100. The cost covers receptions, meals, and other conference events. All participants must be members of the Electronic Literature Organization. All events are within walking distance of the conference hotels. Morgantown is a classic college town, located in the scenic hills of north central West Virginia, about 70 miles south of Pittsburgh, PA. Local hotel and travel information will be available on the conference website starting October 1, 2011.

Check http://el.eliterature.org and http://conference.eliterature.org for updates. For more information, email elit2012 [at] gmail.com.

*Note: this title derives from an essay by ELO Board Member Dene Grigar in electronic book review, where selected conference presentations will be published within a few months of the conference.

A New Game Studies Brings Racing Reviews

Wednesday 8 June 2011, 11:09 pm   /////  

A new issue of Game Studies, the pioneering open-access journal that deals with computer and video games, is out. Of particular note – to me, at least – is that among this issues eight book reviews are two reviews of the book I wrote with Ian Bogost, Racing the Beam.

The two reviews are “Hackers, History, and Game Design: What Racing the Beam Is Not” by José P. Zagal and “The fun is back!” by Lars Konzack.

Zagal, who has a very interesting take on our project, calls the book “an accessible nostalgia-free in-depth examination of a broadly recognized and fondly remembered icon of the videogame revolution” and notes that it is “a book that both retro-videogame enthusiasts and scholars should have on their bookshelves.”

It’s important to note that Konzack developed a layered model for how games (and other digital media artifacts) can be abstracted and situated within culture in his article “Computer game criticism: A method for computer game analysis.” With only a few alterations (merging the “software” and “hardware” layer together into a “platform” layer, for instance, and considering the cultural context as influencing all layers), this model is used in Racing the Beam and in the Platform Studies book series. Konzack finds the book “a worthwhile read if the reader wants to know how early videogame development took place and thereby get an understanding of how videogame development came into being what it is today.”

I’m very pleased, as Ian is, to read these critics’ resposes to our book.

“Indy” Text Adventures in the Eastern Bloc

Saturday 14 May 2011, 4:43 pm   ////////  

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.”

Emulation as Game Facsimile (or Computer Edition?)

Saturday 14 May 2011, 4:24 pm   ///////  

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.

A Programmed Data Processor for Your Browser

Thursday 12 May 2011, 8:55 pm   //////  

Using this shiny JavaScript PDP-11 emulator, you can play the influential 1973 game Hunt the Wumpus (type USR/GAMES/WUMP after following the instructions to start Unix) in a very suitable context. The FAQ explains why, for instance, backspace has no meaning on the system.

SPAG Covers the IF Demo Fair

Monday 9 May 2011, 9:02 pm   ///  

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.

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