Get Lamp

Get Lamp is a forthcoming documentary on Interactive Fiction (IF) by Jason Scott. Pax East attendees saw a preview this weekend, with around an hour of fascinating interviews.

Early IF pioneers, scholars, and writers and traced IF’s history from its origins through its commercial peak and on to today’s hobby and amateur scene. It also follows the academic study of IF from the first dissertation in the mid 1980s.

Perhaps the most interesting segment addressed the playing of IF by the blind. Some really fascinating observations came out of this section.One guy commented that the first few times he encountered a dark room, it didn’t occur to him that he needed a light to interact with the things in that room. Another person noted that IF is especially appealing to a blind person because of the explicit explanations of what the player-character can “see,” adding “it’s like role-playing being sighted.”

At the end of the preview, guests were shown the video for MC Frontalot’s “It is Pitch Dark” which has been stuck in my head since the session.

Pax East

HTLit spent the weekend at Pax East, expecting a modest gathering a East coast literate gamers. Whew! Around 60,000 people turned out for the event, and it seemed like neither the venue nor the organizers were prepared for a crowd that big.

After checking out some of the vendors and gaming areas, the first panel on our list was one on “Storytelling in IF,” a panel with some of IF’s leading writers and scholars including Emily Short , Andrew Plotkin , J. Robinson Wheeler, Robb Sherwin and Aaron Reed. I arrived half an hour before the panel to find a line that could put Disney World to shame. The line turned around five different corners before tapering off. A show of hands revealed that in a hall of a few hundred people, about 75% of them had played text games.

But from what I overheard in line, there were also a lot of bored gamers, and with at most three 3 panels each hour – and a modest-sized exhibition hall that only kept most people entertained for a couple of hours– the crowd needed something to keep busy. Unfortunately, many people were turned away for every panel, and I had to beg before I could convince the “enforcers” that I was worthy of them bending the fire codes in the name of HTLit.

The panel was completely worth it. Topics ranged from the artifice of choice, the evolution of character relationships (including the observation that most games unrealistically begin with the player-character not knowing anyone), puzzles, and the question of where IF fits on the hardcore-casual continuum.

Perhaps one of the most interesting points raised was the evolution of the puzzle in IF. Puzzles have been a staple of IF from the beginning, seeming to be the main attraction to the early games like Adventure and Zork. Many of the writers discussed how they used puzzles primarily for controlling the narrative structure and pacing. Recently, however, there has been a shift toward inviting puzzles into the narrative, which allows for more immersive and captivating narrative while still incorporating what is probably still IF’s biggest draw. The example brought up in the panel was Jon Ingold’s Make It Good.

Other interesting points that came up were little observations that pitted IF against commercial games: questions like “Does IF qualify as casual gaming?” and “Why is there so little text in games today? Has voice-acting killed it?” and “What lessons can IF take from commercial gaming for things like keeping track of objectives and navigation?”

Whitney Anne Trettien presents her Masters thesis for MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Program on early modern text-generating poems as a hypertext card-linking piece. The work “forces the reader to participate in the process of making meaning” by presenting nodes linked to adjacent nodes on a map. As the reader traverses these nodes, a master document is created under the heading “Your Text,” which successively adds the text of each node as it is visited.

Though the work raises the much-debated questions of authorship—does the reader really have as much authoring power as she’s lead to believe through the implications of “Your Text” and “You” placed next to Trettien’s name?—the recombinatory practice employed by this work was of particular interest. It has become modern practice to serialize, remix, link, tear apart, and piece together. This thesis views 17th-century poetry through the lens of a culture accustomed to this way of thinking.

At first, the approach seemed ill-suited. After-all, isn’t the attempt toward cultural relativism—including contemporary cultural relativism—one of the first things we learn as scholars? However, Trettien makes a good argument that narrative history tends to oversimplify the complex, and the work proves that even 17th century works were experimenting with the complexity and intricacy we often credit to the emergence of digital work. The medial form of the thesis is appropriate; the hypertext platform is well- (though as she notes, not perfectly-) suited as a platform for expression of complicated similarities and linked ideas.

Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing , The Guardian posted rules on writing offered by several prominent writers, a list spanning from Margaret Atwood to Neil Gaiman. (Previous entries in this series: 1 2 3 4) Here were some of my favorites:

AL Kennedy

3 Defend others. You can, of course, steal stories and attributes from family and friends, fill in filecards after lovemaking and so forth. It might be better to celebrate those you love – and love itself – by writing in such a way that everyone keeps their privacy and dignity intact.
6 Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.

Neil Gaiman

8 The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can.

Esther Freud

1 Cut out the metaphors and similes. In my first book I promised myself I wouldn't use any and I slipped up ­during a sunset in chapter 11. I still blush when I come across it.

Anne Enright

7 Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.

With the premiere of Get Lamp at the upcoming Pax East , and a recent article on Indie Game documentaries on Play This Thing, I’ve been thinking about the 2006 game Super Columbine Massacre RPG, about which the only serious gaming documentary I know of was made. (I’m not counting A Fistful of Quarters )

Super Columbine Massacre RPG is a game centered on the facts and accounts surrounding the Columbine tragedy. The game combines the feel of a SNES-era RPG with real images, diary excerpts, witness accounts, and media outcries from the incident. The player takes control of one of the killers and must then carry out their plans to murder their classmates.

Though the game received enormous criticism from mainstream outlets , the artist notes that balancing respect for the deceased with truth to the shooters’ thoughts was challenging and took a careful moral balancing act. However, he was looking for a game that would challenge players to feel uncomfortable emotions, something video games really hadn’t done before , and mainstream games are only starting to do.

The game is powerful, and at the time the documentary came out, I wasn’t emotionally willing to dive back into the Columbine shootings. Though now that I have a more pronounced respect for the game itself—and don’t get me wrong, I understood at the time how import and powerful it was—and have a bit of distance, I think I’m willing to give it a shot.If I miraculously have time this weekend, maybe I’ll make it a double-feature weekend and watch it following Get Lamp.

Michael Bywater applauds Passage by Jason Rohrer as one of the most important games of the decade:

In 2007 Jason Rohrer uploaded his game Passage, 2Mb of big coarse old pixels moving along a 12px horizontal stripe. In the face of the vast, bigger-than-Hollywood monsters of the decade’s gaming, Passage was a brine shrimp. You -- the player -- were a guy. Shortly into the game, another rough assembly of pixels appeared: a redheaded woman. If you got close to her, lingered for a moment, up flashed a heart. Love struck and then you were bonded for ever.
“Ever”, in Passage, is five minutes. You wander around the maze. You can go up or down, left or right. Obstacles appear in your path. Many, you could edge past if you were single but with your wife you can’t get through. There is some kind of treasure. All the time, the future approaches from the right hand edge. Presently you lose your hair. She goes gray. And then she dies. Suddenly without warning she’s not there any more. There’s a gravestone where she should be. A few more moments and you die too. That’s it. The end.
There is no story. The inherent narrative is more bleakly deterministic than anything Beckett could have come up with. The narrative we can tell ourselves as we move through the game is negligible. Instead -- at least this is what I have found -- that five minutes passes in a sort of white noise of unvoiced ethical and emotional speculation. It’s almost as though Passage approaches Jacques Derrida’s grail of the “transcendental signified”, the thing which transcends all words which can signify it. Words -- “love”, “partnership”, “life”, “journey”, “grace”, “devotion”, “acceptance”, “wife” -- drift through the mind as the notes of a perfume. There’s no conclusion to be drawn. It’s very, very odd indeed. Yet Passage somehow with ridiculous economy of means releases something quite profound and quiet and sad and moving in the player’s own mind. And it stays there.
In the middle of the industrialization, the Hollywooding of the video game which characterized the last decade, Passage stood out like a good deed in a naughty world: something which gave us back our own voice, so nearly drowned out by the thousand-genius crews of the mil. spec. games industry, by handing us a device through which to contemplate things more important than getting to Mage level or avoiding the Hakkar Blood Plague. It changes the player’s mental landscape permanently. And, crucially, it could not have been done in any other medium. All these things qualify it as my game of the decade; more importantly, perhaps, they also qualify it as art.

Charlie Stross asks why novels are the length they are. Not surprisingly, the length of the novel has been closely tied to its medium and economics since the Victorian period. With serially published novels, chapters needed to be short enough that they didn’t dominate a magazine, and the length of the total work depended on the author’s endurance, the publisher’s faith, or the (sometimes-short) life of the magazine.

The length of the novel today has been influenced by such factors as paperback originals, binding technology, and by consumer reluctance to pay more than $24 for a hardcover.

To add to the fun, when you take an 800 page book and split it into 300 page chunks, you do not get two 300 pages bits, or even three 300 page bits; each book has around 100 pages of scene-setting, recaps, and interweaving to make it work as a self-contained module. And stuff proliferates and gets out of hand, and you have to come up with sub-climaxes to make each book work satisfyingly as a book, and, and ... At the end of the day, the 800 page sequel turned into four books averaging 310 pages each; a 50% expansion!

Stross predicts that this model for pricing and length requirement will change dramatically with the adoption of eBooks. He also predicts a revival of some of the neglected forms, including a resurgence of the serial that is already underway.

Jason Epstein, founder of the New York Review of Books and On Demand Books , father of the modern paperback and key figure in the late age of print, predicts the revolutionary future of publishing.

With the earth trembling beneath them, it is no wonder that publishers with one foot in the crumbling past and the other seeking solid ground in an uncertain future hesitate to seize the opportunity that digitization offers them to restore, expand, and promote their backlists to a decentralized, worldwide marketplace. New technologies, however, do not await permission. They are, to use Schumpeter's overused term, disruptive, as nonnegotiable as earthquakes. […]
The resistance today by publishers to the onrushing digital future does not arise from fear of disruptive literacy, but from the understandable fear of their own obsolescence and the complexity of the digital transformation that awaits them, one in which much of their traditional infrastructure and perhaps they too will be redundant.

NINES is a hypertext compendium that links almost half a million peer-reviewed digital documents on the 19th century. Contributing sites include such respected compendia as JSTOR, Project Muse, the Rosetti Archive, and 80 other academic digital humanities projects.

The NINES research proposal reveals a concern with an oft-overlooked question: how will the quality of the work and records continue to be maintained once the creators have moved on? It solves this problem through its federated model, allowing unified access to a vast corpus of academic work, and by adopting a peer-review process that it hopes will keep the site current and accurate.

Stephanie Boluk was part of the remarkable team of graduate students that put together last month’s Future of Digital Studies conference in Gainesville, drawing together many of the leading scholars of digital literature on a shoestring budget.

Boluk presented a paper, coauthored by Patrick LeMieux, that explores eccentric games. Current computer games, as they observed at DAC09, are obsessed with realism. But the world inside the computer is not the world we know: when walls are just bits in memory, teleportation or time-travel can be as real as a cloud on a sunny day. “Eccentric games”, they write, “give the player access to logics indigenous to digital environments. These logics often reference pop-physics theories and paradoxes such as those related to time travel, parallel realities, navigating multiple dimensions, folding time and space, quantum mechanics, probability engines, and the conflation of virtual and actual space.“

These are a class of games that fantasize the mastery of time and space, like Portal, Braid, or Prince of Persia. New experiments turn the idea of game upside down: in Achron , for instance, you use time travel to go back and fix mistakes you made earlier in the game.

Boluk says these games as represent the uncanny, in Freudian terms this is that cognitave dissonance that causes us to be simultaneously attracted to and repulsed or unsettled by something that is strangely familiar yet foreign or other. Eccentric games are not limited to the fringes of the game industry, but seem to be leaking into net art, as seen in Love by Eskil Steenberg.

Patrick and I picked this collection of games because we noticed they have formal elements that tie them together in a way that cuts across the typical genres (rpg, fps, rts, etc.) as well as the social conditions under which they are produced (commercial, independent, community, etc.). We like to think of these games as simulating the DASW rather than producing it as Hansen describes regarding Lazzarini's skulls.. These aren't the only kind of games around (Pat's dissertation at Duke will probably take this further by looking at minimal games, abstract games, procedural games, etc.), but we found it productive to think of these games as producing "eccentric" effects.

She and I have been corresponding since the conference, discussing her work on eccentric games and their implications to both gaming and art. Stay tuned for more on her work, particularly a scholarly anthology on zombies. Boluk and LeMieux will be speaking at the upcoming ELO_AI conference in Providence, June 3-6, 2010.

MIT will be hosting an Interactive Fiction reading by Jeremy Freese and Emily Short on Monday, March 29 from 5:30-7pm. The event is part of MIT’s Purple Blurb series in which authors read and discuss their digital work.

The event is free and open to the public.

PAX East

Boston will be hosting Pax East , a three-day convention for gaming of all types, this weekend from Friday March 26 to Sunday March 28. In addition to most of the typical nerd-con activities —foam weapons and all—Pax will be hosting panels of interest to the hypertext and IF community h , including

  • Storytelling in the World of Interactive Fiction: J. Robinson Wheeler [JRW Digital Media], Robb Sherwin, Aaron Reed, Emily Short, Andrew Plotkin
  • The Death of Print: Russ Pitts [Editor-in-Chief, The Escapist], Julian Murdoch [journalist, freelance], Jeff Green [EA], Chris Dahlen [Managing Editor , Kill Screen], John Davison [Editor-in-Chief, Gamepro]
  • But Thou Must: Choice In Games: Joseph Bulock [Cinematics Designer, Obsidian Entertainment], Shon Stewart [Lead Cinematics Animator, Obsidian Entertainment], Matt MacLean [Lead Systems Designer, Obsidian Entertainment], Chris Avellone [Lead Designer, Obsidian Entertainment]
  • Action Castle!: a group IF session with a human parser: Panelists Include: Jared Sorensen [Game Designer, Memento Mori]

HyperCities is a layered history application built on the geolocation technology that powers Google maps. It allows the user to view a series of historical maps overlayed on the map of the modern city. It also links areas of the map to scholarly works, photos, family geneologies, and interviews on corresponding parts of the map.

HyperCities forms an interesting bridge between hypertext compendia and the layered geo-temporal ideas behind augmented reality and promises to be a valuable resource for students and scholars.


Hoping to bypass the publishing middle-man, the game industry is looking to adopt the strategy already in use by some authors and musicians. Half-Life creator Valve is offering up a new PC platform, Steam, which would allow them to market games directly to players. Though we have seen instances where eliminating publishers has caused problems in game development , Valve hopes the result will be greater artistic control and increased profits.

In promoting the new platform and their upcoming sequel to Portal, Valve is using a combination of in-game updates and cryptic forum posts to leave clues for the community to decipher. Alternate reality games have been on our mind a lot after Zach Whalen’s talk at The Future of Digital Studies, so when I heard about the strange game Valve seems to be offering its community, I was especially intrigued.

Clues so far have included changing the music put out by small radios in Portal to put out morse code sequences, and changing Steam-specific files, which gamers have parsed using a digital art creation method known as “databending” (also known as “glitch art” ) whereby the artist opens a jpg file in a text reader.

Tom Chatfield, senior editor of Prospect Magazine answers our Game of the Decade call with a thoughtful approach to one of the most delightfully witty puzzle games ever created:

Valve Corporation's 2007 first-person action/puzzle masterpiece Portal is, for me, one of the defining games of the last decade. Released as a kind of bonus within the Half-Life 2 "Orange Box" set, it's wonderful partly because of its resolutely old-fashioned virtues, being a self-contained, single-player piece of inspiration that takes a single concept and spins it out through twenty exquisitely designed levels. But it's also wonderful because of another, rare gift: its tone, and the fact that few games have ever conjured a more distinctive, delightful or deranged miniature universe.
For those who've been living in a cave for the last few years, the game is driven by the wonders of the portal gun: a bulbous piece of kit that allows you to open a passageway between any two amenable surfaces. Shoot the blue end at a distant wall, shoot the other, orange end underneath your feet, and your character will drop through the orange hole and pop out of the blue, your momentum miraculously conserved. You can shoot as you're hurtling through the air to stack up a whole chain of these transitions - and to solve increasingly devious spatial problems, involving lava pits, killer robots and a curiously endearing companion cube. Or, of course, you can just hurtle around enjoying the stunts it's possible to pull off with a portable teleportation device. Like the low-gravity antics of the Ziggurat Vertigo level in Quake, few sensations beat the thrill of swooping across the planes of a virtual arena, and there's a joy to using the gun that taps into games' ability to be at once viscerally satisfying and absorbingly abstracted.
Portal is justly celebrated for the genius of this central mechanic. The emergent complexities that it's possible to develop from a really well-executed physics engine have long been one of the jewels in the game designer's crown, and few have achieved a finer combination of ingenuity and intuitive ease than Valve. To understand just why the game deserves its iconic status, however, it's useful to contrast Portal to its lesser-known predecessor, Narbacular Drop. This was the 2005 PC game that pioneered the notion of the "portal" itself, and whose development team were subsequently hired wholesale by Valve. Narbacular Drop is a brilliant, brief student showcase. But it's not in the same league as its sequel. And this is, really, a question of artistic as much as intellectual achievement.
The key is a machine called GLaDos who, in a series of increasingly deranged audio messages, drives forward a plot that is as finely-made as the spatial puzzles of the levels themselves.  Your character is trapped in a subterranean scientific testing facility, and GLaDos is there to motivate you with a bizarre mixture of threats, promises, lies and increasingly hard-to-credit offers of cake. Until, in the end, you get to escape, wind your way through the industrial back-end of the facility, and kill your monstrous tormentor. Who then sings, over the credits, one of the catchiest songs of the gaming era. It's a combined triumph of writing, voice-acting and attention to detail that has lifted hearts and engendered adulation across the world. Although- and I hate to break this to those who have been living in hope - the cake is a lie.

Chatfield’s newest book Fun Inc.: Why Play is the 21st Century’s Most Serious Business is now available.

Camile Scherrer presents a new look at Augmented Reality and its relation to narrative through her “magic book” Le Monde des Montagnes (World of Mountains). The set-up requires a book, a lamp, and a laptop, objects all familiar to the reader but that strive to avoid the artificiality of the tech-systems that serve as the barrier before typical Augmented Reality narratives. The lamp contains a hidden camera that captures the book, allowing the reader to view additional layers on the laptop screen.

"A book is essentially an ordinary object. As this is the first element of the set-up to draw the viewer’s attention, [it's] placed in a position of trust and availability. The same applies to the desk lamp whose familiar shape puts the reader/viewer at ease. The installation therefore stands out from high-tech set-ups with obvious technological devices such as cameras, goggles or tags which tend not only to discourage the viewer, but also to erect barriers between the visible and invisible worlds."

Though arguably not as immersive as a phone-based AR system that uses GPS technology (rather than camera capture), the installment demonstrates the artist’s desire to reconcile the tension between the screen and the page. "The core of the project […] is to generate interaction between two originally conflicting worlds in order to create a new source of creativity," says Scherrer. "Between paper and screen."

J. R. Carpenter has been an author of electronic literature for at least a decade and a half. Much of her work features cartography, using services like Google maps as both visual art and narrative setting. Maps have been used in art and literature throughout history. With electronic literature representing a shift toward media convergence, it seems appropriate that her work would use them to bridge the gap.

Carpenter recently spoke at the Hypermedia Lab at Carleton University. A compilation of print work, talks, and electronic literature is available on her site.

Wade Roush writes an in-depth review of Vooks, the video-book hybrids (see here and here). The review is notable for the fact that it acknowledges the history of interactive media. It’s neither prejudiced against new reading methods and technologies or impressed by the haphazard combination of opposed media. Roush sets forward reasonable criteria for how he rates the work:

First, it must be relevant to, but different from, the text itself—providing information in a way that truly exploits the capabilities of the additional medium. Second, it should have high production values. I’m not asking for Emmy-winning quality here, but at least show me where you’ve put as much thought and work into your video as the author put into his words. Third, the added material should be both balanced with the text (I’m talking about volume—neither too little nor too much; let the main text do the driving) and smoothly integrated into it (meaning, for example, that it should be easy to switch back and forth between the text and the added media).

At the Futures of Digital Studies Conference, Mark Bernstein called for more and better criticism of electronic literature. Roush's thoughtful approach to new technology, might be a step in this direction.

A new iPhone application offers an interactive approach to Miroslaw Balk’s The Unilever Series, How It Is, an installation at the Tate Modern. Reflecting recent Polish history, the commission itself is a giant steel structure under which visitors can walk or enter through a ramp into the dark interior—an allusion to the ramp at the entrance to the Ghetto of Warsaw. The space is designed to provoke feelings of apprehension mixed with intrigue.

The iPhone app, now available in the app store, seeks to provide a similar experience.

Drawing on Balka’s own handwritten notes, playlists and interviews about his Turbine Hall commission, it allows you to immerse yourself in a dark and mysterious 3D world. As an added bonus, if you can get to Tate Modern, opening the How It Is App on your iPhone there will unlock a secret game.

Elizabeth Bear, one of the writers of Shadow Unit, discusses hypertext narrative as the future of literature. She believes both the codex and the electronic story will be around for a long time, and she finds that hyperfiction can be nonlinear, interactive, multimedia – and confusing .

Exploring how Shadow Unit functions as a narrative and some of the lessons she’s learned from writing it, Bear offers a perfect mixture of humility and advice for those looking to hypertext as the future . She admits that compared to what hypertext will eventually become, Shadow Unit may seem rudimentary.

It's astounding how real this world has become to me, and to others.... Sometimes I feel that, to what hyperfiction will eventually become, Shadow Unit is the equivalent of very early television--shot like a stage play, not yet quite exploiting its medium, balancing between fish and fowl.
Which is one of the reasons, I suppose, that our mascot is the platypus. Because what we've got here is weird and curious and hard to classify, but hey, somehow it works, and I, at least, am finding it utterly fascinating.

Over the last ten years, the gaming industry has seen huge innovations in how games are able to tell stories. From creative use of new technologies to an emphasis on the player’s experience of a particular narrative, several innovative games have shaped the way games are played, and also how they are viewed by non-gamers and academe.

We’ve been asking some of the best scholars and critics of games to single out one important game from the past decade. We start with Jim Whitehead from the University of California at Santa Cruz, who is perhaps best known for his pioneering work on WebDAV.

Facade is the breakthrough game of the decade because it demonstrates that you can have dialog-driven gameplay with rich characters where the player has a large degree of influence over what transpires. In the game, you take on the role of a friend of a 20-something married couple, Trip and Grace, interacting with them via conversational natural language. Trip and Grace respond to you--and each other--in real time, both with spoken and body language. During the game, you help the couple work through deep troubles in their relationship, and how you talk to them determines whether they stay together, split apart, or throw you out of their apartment.
Today, the typical computer game provides shallow choices for talking with other characters. You are limited to a small number of choices in what to say, and many times these choices have limited to no effect on the game. Dialog is arranged in large trees of predefined choices and responses. Characters seemingly forget what they have said to you in the past, or say things that expose serious continuity problems. In contrast, Trip and Grace in Facade have internal emotional models, conversational models, and goals they are trying to achieve in their interactions with each other, and the player. They have some ability to remember what you have said. This leads to open conversation that can run in many potential directions, and a feeling of freedom of expression in your interactions. You can literally say anything to these characters.
Facade is not without flaws. Though the faces of Trip and Grace are fully procedural, an impressive feat where they are generated by the computer on-the-fly while the game is running, they compare poorly with the artistry of professional games. Like any work of fiction, a willingness to engage the world as-presented is important to preserve the illusion of reality. It is certainly possible to find the limits of Facade. In one example, a player pretends they have been shot in the street before entering Trip and Grace's apartment; Trip offers the player a drink. But, at its best, Facade makes you feel like you are really in that apartment, adrenaline flowing, nervous, struggling along with Trip and Grace to find a way out, to discover what you can possibly say to make the other person *understand*, to make everything all right. But just like in the real world, sometimes that isn't possible.

Serial fiction plays an central role in narrative today. The serialized novel started in the 19th century, driven in part by the cost of books: people who could not afford to purchase an expensive novel instead bought one piecemeal, in weekly or monthly installments. Recurrent characters in short stories also proved a reliable source of readers, and then radio and television series preserved the tradition of the serial. Whether we’re talking about television episodes, webisodes, or the fact that every film and video game blockbuster seems determined to have a sequel before opening day, serialization has certainly crept into our lives in a very powerful way.

Jo Walton examines the joy of an unfinished series , arguing that an unfinished series leaves us wondering, speculating, and (in my opinion most-importantly) talking about what might come.

If you come face to face with James Clavell in the afterlife, my advice is to tell him first how much you like his books, before asking if he’s had time up there to finish Hag Struan.

Of course, many of us read hypertext narratives serially. Hypertext naturally lends itself to open-ended narrative, and the joy of an unfinished series is relevant whether we’re talking about a hypertext series or just an exceptionally long hypertext. And with the immediacy of Web publishing and hypertext’s ability to be constantly changing and expanding, there’s very little real difference between the two anymore.

Greg Costikyan reviews his narrative improv game Sweet Agatha for Play This Thing! , noting nuances of the mechanics in relation to their predecessors from the game world. Allen draws parallels to the similarities to classic role-playing games through “The Truth” player and “The Reader” player’s speech and roles in narrative building. He also offers interesting insight on the game’s tone:

One of its strengths, and most interesting aspects, is its tone of elegiac melancholy -- not uncommon in noir fiction (and noir is one direction in which you could take the story), but exceedingly rare in a game of any kind.

Our friends at ElectricLit posted an interesting essay by David Shields on remixing . The essay itself is remix, combining original work with excerpts from Emerson, Picasso, and Godard to the pop-culture offerings of Wikipedia. It offers a musical blend of written voices (as only an expertly-remixed work can) while providing useful insight on the history and practice of remixing. The work’s successful use of the technique is enough to justify the merits of remixing.

The piece is excerpted from Shields’ Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (2010).

Julian Opie, an artist known for his digitization in visual art, has just launched a beautiful new Web site.

MemoryMiner is a software application that allows for easy image sharing and publishing with a plentiful metadata and commentary. Users quickly import photos, add tags and tag-comments for faces or any area of the image, attach time and location data, and publish to Flickr or a MemoryMiner gallery that keeps much of the desktop application functionality intact. Metadata can be automatically; for example, if GPS data is embedded in the image, as on the iPhone, MemoryMiner can situate the image on a Google Map. Similarly, it can import face-recognition data from iPhoto. Photos can be located by searching for one or more people in the image, location, time, or relative time in a person’s life (e.g. John as a toddler)

The software bills itself as “Digital Storytelling” software “used to discover the threads connecting peoples’ lives across time and place.” Indeed one could certainly see it as a database of the links between people, times, and places and the natural narratives that emerge from these intersections. It could also provide a useful tool for creating visual hypertext literature that takes advantage of linking people in images, adding text, and using Google Maps for a fun added dimension of realism. A Carmen Sandiego-style mystery immediately comes to mind, however I’m sure a clever author could come up with a very interesting way of using MemoryMiner’s tools to create an immersive narrative experience.