Generominos (Kate Compton)


Generominos is a deck of cards designed to help the user think of possible generative art and visualization projects. Some of the cards describe input types (words, images, geographical locations, etc); others describe output formats (3D printed shapes, light changing glass, and so on); and then there are a number of cards that describe ways of transforming one type of data into another. The ideas generated would be suitable for lots of applications, from alternative game controllers to computational-creativity crafts to data visualizations to museum installations.

There are additional project modifiers that suggest purposes for the project (making a creative activity for a senior center, for instance, or put it someplace where no humans can see it).

The cards make a cool teaching (or self-teaching) tool, both around process — how might you change one kind of data into another? — and about specific techniques. Kate has a wide experience with generative art forms in both physical and digital space, which means she includes ideas like “express your output in colored fire” or “attach a webcam to a microscope to observe microbes moving” or “get ocean condition data from NOAA’s API”. Even with a fair amount of experience in related spaces, I found a shuffle through the cards suggested a lot of possibilities I hadn’t considered. So it’s an interesting place for beginning-to-intermediate users to start thinking about generative art design. It also provides a bit of framework for more advanced users: you can add your own cards as you think of new methods and inputs, and then play with how those might generate interesting new combinations.

The flip side of this: the cards may suggest a cool project that would be prohibitively difficult or expensive to build at home, or that would require a dive into new code or algorithms to realize. And in some cases, a little more context might be useful. For instance, the card on word2vec accurately explains that you put a word in and get a vector out, but there’s not enough room on the card to talk about the ways word2vec is often used to get from one input word to another, or to calculate analogies.

So actually building a project based on these ideations is possibly not a beginner-level task; or, to be more precise, the cards may not give enough information for a beginner-level user to tell which concepts would be accessible enough for them to implement from scratch. One might need to do some additional research into particular techniques, or be encountering the cards in a classroom or workshop context.

Bonus recommendation: Rich Vreeland gave some great talks at the AI Summit this year about the procedural music for Mini Metro and about sonification in general as a way of understanding data (instead of or alongside visualization). If you happen to have GDC Vault access for 2018, that material is definitely worth checking out.

Human Errors (Katherine Morayati)

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Human Errors is a new piece on Sub-Q, by the author of (among other things) TAKE and laid off from the synesthesia Factory.

Human Errors describes a world in which human attention (and empathy, care, and understanding) are a severely limited resource. The player plays the role of a contractor brought in to triage support tickets on a product that (we quickly realize) has a rather alarming range of functionality. What you’re supposed to do is close as many tickets as possible, while prioritizing only the undeniably critical ones.

You also have the option — not preferred by the company — to follow up with particular users and try to get more of their stories. Here, you can engage either as a nameless QA figure or via personal email.

But engage too much, with too many people, and the company will start to view you as inefficient, or as going outside the proper parameters for engagement, and your access to the system will be cut off entirely. So you’ll have to budget your sympathy, dole it out cautiously, try not to get in trouble too quickly.

A single interaction node looks like this:

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There are, of course, other games out there working through the interface of simulated email or other computer-mediated messaging — I recently covered Grayscale, which puts you in the role of an HR employee resolving complaints, for instance. Several of Christine Love’s pieces act similarly.

But what I particularly like about the system in Human Errors is the way it combines the guided and the open-ended, the effective and the reflective choices. If you choose to close an issue, it goes away, is no longer your problem. If you write an email to a user, you get a brief time — enough to type a short sentence or two — to type whatever you want before the text box fades to “Sent.” It’s not expressive in the sense of a parser input, because you’re not constructing a complex command all of whose aspects will be understood by the game; but it does allow and indeed encourage the player to express something. Continue reading

Mid-May Link Assortment

May 16 is the next meeting of the People’s Republic of IF (Cambridge, MA). The agenda is to play something from Spring Thing.

May 19, the Oxford/London IF meetup does a workshop on Tracery and building your own Twitter bots. This is a great introduction to basics of text generation, if you’re interested in that.

Feral Vector is May 31-June 2 this year. This is a joyous, playful indie conference in Yorkshire and has always been delightful when I’ve been able to attend. (I can’t make it this year, alas.)

June 1 is the deadline to vote in the final round of 2017 XYZZY awards.

June 2 is the next meeting of the SF Bay IF Meetup.

June 9, the Oxford/London IF Meetup hears from Graham Nelson about Inform 7’s latest progress, and we look at the parser game space.

June 16, the Baltimore/Washington DC group meets to talk about Grayscale (ideally, play in advance).



illuminismocoverCongratulations to Michael Coyne for winning Spring Thing 2018 with his parser puzzle game Illuminismo Iniziato (my review here, and he has also written a postmortem).

Robin Johnson has a postmortem for Zeppelin Adventure, and Karona for House, also from Spring Thing.

Congratulations also to all of the finalists for 2017 XYZZY Awards, including Best Game finalists

  • American Angst (m3g1dd0)
  • Eat Me (Chandler Groover)
  • Known Unknowns (Brendan Patrick Hennessy)
  • The Owl Consults (Thomas Mack)
  • The Wizard Sniffer (Buster Hudson)


Katherine Neil has written up a medium post comparing a lot of basic features between Twine 2 and ink, for those who are curious about what it’s like to write in each of those systems.


Aaron Reed is Kickstarting a new tabletop storygame called Archives of the Sky. He also talks more about the game on DelveCast.

Mailbag: Applying Filters to Character Dialogue

The following letter fits right into this month’s topic on procedural generation. I’ve edited (just a little) for length:

Hi Emily! I read your chapter in the Procedural Generation in Game Design book, and was really impressed. I tried to follow up on some of the sources you mentioned (e.g. the Spy Feet game) but I wasn’t able to get a lot of details, and we have a pretty specific use case, so I’d love to beg a moment of your time to get me pointed in the right direction. Or, if answering my question properly takes more than a moment, I’d be happy to talk about a consulting fee…

We’re doing a bunch of what I’d call dynamic writing, which you can read more about here or on our wiki if you’re interested in the specifics. We have procedurally generated characters (heroes in a fantasy setting) with personality stats tied to their histories, and our system allows writers to take those personalities (and other details) into account in 2 main ways. The first is by picking who takes what role in any given story, (e.g. the highest goofball stat in the party might be picked to be telling the joke in a particular story) and the second way is by inserting markup in the text to add variations for specific personality traits (or relationship status, class, age, etc..) For example we can say things like, if the leader is more bookish, they’ll say something academic, but if they are more hothead, they’ll say something aggressive. This markup is also how we handle gendered words and attraction.

One of the things our game supports (due to the 2D art style and just the stories we want to tell) is really dramatic character transformations, like, to take a simple example, you might find a wolf shrine, and make a deal with the wolf god, and get your head replaced with a wolf head. Now you have a bite attack, cool. But it would be great if we could alter the character’s speech to reflect their condition. Likewise for other conditions or origin stories, or frankly (eventually, maybe) personality quirks.

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Expressive Range in Tarot Decks

I collect Tarot decks, and I’ve been meaning for a while to write about why. Even with a fairly standardized set of cards and suits, Tarot decks demonstrate how a procedural system can be focused on particular domains of meaning and types of significance.

The cards may be dealt randomly, but the card names, images, suits, and interpretive booklets create a space in which certain meanings can be expressed and other types of meanings cannot (or can be expressed only in a veiled and oblique way). This is the expressive range of the procedural system.

The Tarot decks I find most interesting are the ones that go beyond minor re-arting/re-skinning and instead significantly rethink or revise the expressive range of the Tarot, inflecting their decks towards particular problems or meanings — often via conceptual blending between the original Tarot elements and the new theme domain. For instance:


Urban Tarot, Robin Scott. This is my favorite deck, grounded in the iconography of New York City. The images are dense and detailed, providing plenty to think about and read. Most of the cards, not just the arcana, have human figures on them, and many of those that do not are associated with specific landmarks. The Moon is the crescent formed by a displaced manhole cover; the Wheel of Fortune is a ferris wheel from Coney Island, desolate and abandoned. The Tower is — inevitably — the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11.

There’s a lot here about being a human in a society — or withdrawn from a society — and about how we regard justice, celebrity, wealth and poverty. I especially connect with the Aeon from this deck, which shows a woman visiting the memorial at Ellis Island.

At the same time, it’s very personal, with narratives about the card models often forming part of the reading. In this deck you’ll find public defender Verena Powell as Queen of Wands, or the artist’s own grandmother as Queen of Disks. The human reality of these individuals is inspiring — or disquieting, as in the case of the seductive Knight of Cups.

Robin Scott spent many years on this deck, and that shows in the evolution of style from somewhat more stylized and blocky cards like the Fool or the Knight of Souls to the bright realism of Satiety (10 of Cups) or the painterly quality of Art. Arguably that makes the deck less coherent, in some abstract sense, but I like having this evidence of growth and personal change built into the deck.

But I think what I like best about Urban Tarot is the diversity of mood and attitude it contains. Some Tarot decks are predominantly upbeat or predominantly grim; some focus on a small range of human experience or human problems. Urban Tarot encompasses a wider range of human possibility, the dark and the joyful, the healthy and the sick, the personal and the communal.

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Writing for Video Game Genres: from FPS to RPG (Wendy Despain)

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I’ve mentioned this book before; it’s been around for a while, published 2009. Writing for Video Game Genres is (as the name might suggest) divided up into chapters by genre, with contributions by writers experienced in different areas.

As the introduction explains, it’s not a book about how to write in general, or even a guide to getting started in games; it’s meant to provide a deeper dive into the specific challenges associated with various genres, which are often very unlike each other. That said, these chapters are often rather introductory: genre-specific observations, certainly, but likely to be most useful to people who are first considering engaging with that genre, or who want an overview of areas where they haven’t worked before.

The book includes a section on parser interactive fiction, written by J. Robinson Wheeler. Some of the other genres covered are what we might think of game genres (MMOs, sports games, action games, adventure games, platformers, casual games, alternate reality games, serious games…); some are book genres (science fiction/fantasy, horror); and some are focused on particular platforms (handheld, mobile). These days, I’d probably expect to see an additional chapter on writing for augmented and/or virtual reality (and perhaps less about ARGs).

Continue reading