Category: Lectures

Hacking / modding / remaking the classics

Some genre-defining games that are still inspiring new designs today.

Lunar lander (1969-73-79)

Almost educational, sciencey sim.

The original lunar lander from 1969 looked like this. Good luck.

Site specific, custom controllers, multiplayer co-op
Free Download

Pong (Video Olympics for Atari 2600) (1972)

Or maybe a pong-like?
First arcade game by Atari, ripped off from Magnavox, followed a lawsuit.

Although Atari and Magnavox were making “official” versions of Pong various clones began to flood the market made by a whole slew of manufacturers. Eventually the demand for the simple paddle game dwindled and companies that had invested large sums of money were seeing a staggering drop in sales as the bubble burst. Some refer to this as the “video game crash of 1977″, a clear foreshadow to the eventual crash of 1983.

Fluid simulation, less direct control, 2 extra actions, rich functional aesthetics

Also check Painstation, what happens when the act of playing is less consequence free?

Breakout (1976)

Programmed by Steve Wozniak and Jobs. An attempt to innovate on the pong concept.

Breaksout Pippin Barr’s 36 variations on the classic

Gun fight/outlaw (1975)

First human vs human violence. Same creator as Space Invaders.

Platform specific gameplay and port, interesting tactical negotiations and resource management

Indy 500 (1977)

That’s exactly how it looks

Adaptation of Indy 800, obscure 8 player arcade by Atari.

Early top down racing game. Similar to Deathrace, the first “controversial” game created the year before.
Moral Panic!

Play online
Bonus for not hitting obstacles reinforcing the alternative theme

Space invaders (1978)

Image results for: space invaders etsy
Massive hit both arcade and on Atari (killer app). Iconic. What are the design choices that make it good?

Not my best but interesting case study
Play Online
Event/campaign specific, twists to convey a political message (some notes here)

Asteroids (1979)

Inspired by the first video game Spacewar! – paddle + button. Vector screen, try the real deal at Games’n at

2 player Co-op, navigation subsystem

Luftrausers is also kind of asteroid derived

Frogger (1981)

First avoidance/stealth/nonviolent/empathy/environmentalist game?

Gesture based delayed control, similar theme

Robotron: 2084 (1982)

Perfecting Berzerk (top down dungeon crawler). Dual controls, still influential (geometry wars, binding of isaac). Precursor of WASD + mouse

Chain reactions, sound effect blended with music, levels with different feels and strategies, enemies following a complex organic behavior

ET (1982)

“Worst video game EVAR”. Along with the terrible Pacman port was blamed for the video game industry crash of 1983, saturation/overproduction crisis. Terrible tie-in result of the loss of control of designer and growing influence of publishers.

The legendary Alamogordo, NM landfill

BUT Some interesting features: opening screen, disempowered protagonist, open world-ish.

E.T.’s core gameplay is based on Adventure from 1978, which is the precursor of most action/adventure games (dungeon crawling, mazes, keys…)

Super Mario Bros. (1985)

Teaching without tutorials.

NES saving the industry marketing it as toy. That’s why we associate games with kids. Boy toy.

Time warping mechanic transforming the puzzle-platformer genre

Canabalt (2009)

indie hit. Retro graphics. Flixel. One button game genre, procedural generation, environmental storytelling.

First person changes everything, press and hold, bonus, added vertigo/ilinx

Flappy bird (2013)

Random viral hit. Prankishly difficult? Masocore goes mainstream?

Play Flappy MMO online
Doesn’t change the mechanic or dynamic but aesthetically it does change the experience.


Adventure (first dungeon crawler, Zelda, rogue like), Centipede (Ed Logg & Dona Baley), Custer’s Revenge, Beat ‘Em & Eat ‘Em, Donkey Kong Atari crappy port and Donkey Kong Atari homebrew.

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Sound toys – art instruments

There is a fine line between making an interactive artwork and making an expressive tool or an instrument.



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Drawing Machines

Ivan Sutherland MIT 1963 (Action starts at 4:20)

Computational art before computers?

Tinguely, swiss kinetic sculptor known for the self destructing machine.
In the 50s produced a body of work known as metamatics. A parody of American action painting.

In the same period matematician and artist Ben Laposky (American from Iowa),
made the first computer generated images, photographing the output of an oscilloscope.

Desmond Paul Henry (British) used bombsight analogue computers which were employed in World War II bombers to calculate the accurate release of bombs onto their target.

These artists seemed to be fascinated by the apparent randomness (unpredictability) of these machines and let them “do their thing”.
On the opposite side of the spectrum there is Sol LeWitt who didn’t use computers but conceived many of his works as a series of instructions. As if they were meant to be created by machines (art gallery interns).

This is the result of the sequence of instructions. What is the status of authorship and ownership when the works are just instructions that anybody can execute?

Computer art

Georg Nees 1965-1968.
In the mid-60 computer begin to become relatively more accessible and the first printers (plotters) become available. Georg Nees – Schotter 1968.
Nees had to write his own graphics libraries. His works often deals with order vs disorder. He also made the world’s first computer-generated sculpture in 1968 using a computer aided milling machines. Vera Molnar Interruptions-1968-69.
The computer art movement was international. Vera Molnar was a French Hungarian artist.

Manfred Mohr – Random Walk 1969 Frieder Nake, Nr. 2 (also known as Hommage to Paul Klee) 1965 Herbert W. Franke’s Serie Mondrian (1980), a software created for the Texas Instruments TI 99/4 home computer. Serie Mondrian produced Mondrian-style images according to user defined parameters.

Mark Wilson – STL D30 (1986)
In the 80’ computer generated abstraction grows in complexity. And can be printed in full colors. Mark Wilson – Small Three Skew (1983)

Many of these artists are still around but in the ‘90s computer art morphed into new media art and interactivity and social engagement became the main focus for artists working with technology.

With the democratization of robotics, drawing machines started to get out of the gallery (see graffiti writer) and became more autonomous.

Or self-aware?

Mechanical Parts by Matthias Dörfelt a robot that draws randomly generated “connectors” aka robot genitals.
Mechanical Parts by Matthias Dörfelt

Mechanical Parts by Matthias Dörfelt 2

Cory Arcangel gradient works are a playful post-modern legacy of computer art.

Cory Arcangel
Photoshop CS: 110 by 72 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Spectrum”, mousedown y=1098 x=1749.9, mouse up y=0 x=4160 Cory Arcangel
Photoshop CS: 110 x 72 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Spectrum,” mousedown y=27450 x=6700, mouseup y=4800 x=13400, 2010
The preset gradient as pop culture reference that many recognize. Cory Arcangel
Photoshop CS: 110 by 72 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Spectrum”, mousedown y=1098 x=1749.9, mouse up y=0 x=4160
Low end sloppiness vs high end packaging
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Infinite Monkeys


The “modularity” principle we found in new media is the basis of all languages: we combine a set of symbols to compose words, words to make sentences and so on.
The part of a text are clearly distinct and easy to recombine, and especially in poetry new unexpected meanings can emerge from arbitrary juxtapositions.
Many writers, poets and artists experimented with loss of control in writing.

Given enough time, a hypothetical monkey typing at random would, as part of its output, almost surely produce all of Shakespeare’s plays.
– the Infinite Monkey Theorem

Not to be taken literally…

In an experiment conducted in a Zoo in England, zookeepers left a computer keyboard in the cage of six macaques for a month. The monkeys produced only a five page document, consisting mostly of the letter S, until the alpha male bashed the keyboard with a stone and all the other monkeys urinated and defecated on it.
– Dario Maestripieri, Primatologist

Writers and artists have been fascinated with randomness and with the combinatorial properties of text since DADA.

To make a Dadaist poem
Take a newspaper.
Take a pair of scissors.
Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.
Shake it gently.
Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.
Copy conscientiously.
The poem will be like you.
And here you are a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.
– Tristan Tzara, 1920

Writer William Burroughs in the ’50s applied this technique, dubbed cut-up technique, to his own writing and recordings. (And David Bowie, and Kurt Cobain, and Thom Yorke…)

At that point, artists were applying randomness not only to text:

In John Cage’s Music of Changes (1951) the composer selected duration, tempo, and dynamics by using the I-Ching, an ancient Chinese divination method for arriving at random numbers.

Principle of variability in new media

A new media object is not something fixed once and for all but can exist in different, potentially infinite, versions. This is another consequence of numerical coding of media and modular structure of a media object
Lev Manovich – The language of New Media

The first example of Computer based text generator is Loveletter by Christopher Strachey (1952)
Web version

A House of Dust – Alison Knowles

Context free grammars
Generation of text according to formal rules.

Taroko Gorge by Nick Momford. Derivative works using different databases and algorithms.

Text generation as parody:
Postmodernism generator

Automatic CS Paper Generator

Art critique generator

Artist Statement
Bad literature

And so on…

Machine imagined art
– based on the Tate database

Game Definitions

Jim Campbell – Formula for computer art

Meaning by Eugenio Tisselli, 2005
Each time this page is visited, one of the words in the following section will be replaced by a synonym. The replaced word is shown in bold. Refresh the page to replace another word.

Twitter Bots
By Darius Kazemi
You must be – from dictionary
Two headlines – from headlines
Amrite – from twitter trends and ryhmes
– from dictionary
freestyle 80s battle rap generator – dictionary and fixed templates
Tiny Starfields
Flight Patterns
Every Word

Horse ebooks
(turned out to be fake)
Olivia Taters
in dialog with the Met museum bot.

Markov Chain generation
The algorithm analyzes a source text and stores all the variations of a sequence of n letters.
Text generation starts from a random 5-character sequence present in the table, then out of the possible resolutions it randomly picks the next symbol.

'hello ' -> [m,w,p] chooses 'm' (randomly)
'ello m' -> [a,a,a,o,o] chooses 'a' (randomly)
'llo ma' -> [m]
'lo mam' -> [a,b]
'o mama' -> [' ']
' mama ' -> [w,!]
'mama w'....

The result is text that sounds right but doesn’t make any sense.

Example Dissociated press

The most common and utilitarian use of Markov chain for text generation is type of Spam

living with bubble bounce fairy from diskette.
Still eat her from cream puff
from, ignore her around widow with fairy living with freight train.cleavage
ignore from industrial complex.

Because is predestined friends,
Designer Shoes
we meet by chance in the space,
because is sincere,
we become the friend who separates the screen,
a blessing,

Wholesale designer shoes
our invariable subject
stays behind in your space
belongs to my footprint
to remain the regard your space
to wish your joyful happy each day!

From Spam Poetry Institute

What would I say
– based on your Facebook updates

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Branching narrative from Borges to Twine

Linear story

Branching story

The problem with branching stories

The most common solution

Or another solution…

From You chose wrong

Your first assignment is a branching story.
The most popular artifacts of this kind are the Gamebooks or Choose Your Own Adventure. Very popular teenage literature in the 80s and 90s.

CYOA diagram – Michael Niggel

PDF here

Or you can check this impressive formal analysis of Choose your own adventure books:

Visualizations, playable books and essay here.

Before computers

We have to go back in time to find more “noble” precursors of non-linear and interactive storytelling.

Apollinaire – il pleut 1916 F.T. Marinetti and the Futurists “Words in freedom” (1909 – 1916)

And the DADA movement

To make a Dadaist poem
Take a newspaper.
Take a pair of scissors.
Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.
Shake it gently.
Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.
Copy conscientiously.
The poem will be like you.
And here you are a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.
– Tristan Tzara, 1920

Writer William Burroughs in the ’50s applied this technique to his own writing.
(And David Bowie, and Kurt Cobain, and Thom Yorke…)

Jorge Luis Borges

The Garden of Forking Paths (1941)
In the short story a character named Ts’ui Pên tells everybody that he wanted to write a book and build a labyrinth. Nobody ever found the labyrinth, only a very confusing and contradictory book. We then discover that the book *is* the labyrinth. In the fictional book, every chapter is followed by “every” possible continuation.

"In all fiction, when a man is faced with alternatives he chooses one at the expense of the others. In the almost unfathomable work of of Ts'ui Pên, he chooses - simultaneously - all of them. He thus creates various futures, various times which start others that will in turn branch out and bifurcate in other times. This is the cause of the contradictions in the novel"
The Garden of Forking Paths - Jorge Luis Borges

Agusto Boal’s Forum Theatre (1960)
In this process, the actors or audience members could stop a performance, often a short scene in which a character was being oppressed in some way (for example, a chauvinist man mistreating a woman or a factory owner mistreating an employee). The audience could propose any solution, so long as they conveyed it on stage, working, acting, and directing not from the comfort of their seat.

Starting from the Mid-20th century even an inherently linear form like cinema starts to experiment with non linear storytelling and interlocked and contradictory plots.

Kinoautomat by Radúz Činčera 1967 – the first interactive film

“The film is a black comedy, opening with a flash-forward to a scene in which Petr Novák (Miroslav Horníček)’s apartment is in flames. No matter what choices are made, the end result is the burning building, making the film —as Činčera intended— a satire of democracy”

Raymond Queneau

Founder of Oulipo – Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (workshop of potential literature).

Hundred Thousand Billion Poems (1961)

web port here

Also by Queneau: Story as You Like It (1984)


Computer Lib / Dream Machines – Theodor H. Nelson, 1974. Self produced later republished by Microsoft.

Like many early geeks, Ted Nelson saw computers and networks as empowering tools and advocated for the democratization of these technology (You can and you must understand computers now!).Personal computer = personal liberation.

Ted Nelson coined the term Hypertext in the 60s.

“A system of non-sequential writing that would allow the reader to aggregate meaning in snippets, in the order of his or her choosing, rather than according to a pre-established structure fixed by the author.”

Years before the world wide web was implemented. A visionary application called Hypercard (1987-) already tried to make hypertext creation accessible to anybody


The concept of hypertext is now familiar to anybody thanks to the World Wide Web (invented in 1990 and popularized in 1995 with the invention of modern browsers) but in the 80s it was a quite exotic medium, especially for non-utilitarian uses.
Still some fiction writers started to experiment with the hypertext as literary form.

Afternoon, a story by Michael Joyce (1987) used a tool very similar to what we are using today Twine.

A cool example is “253” by Geoff Ryman here originally published in 1996.

Interactive fiction

Adventure games popularized another way to control and navigate interactive texts: the parser.

The most vital legacy of hypertext literature and parser-center storytelling is Interactive Fiction.
IF uses more sophisticated structures than the simple branching and a parser for the interaction, usually employed to navigate spaces, interact with characters and objects in a game-like fashion.

IF is a kind of universe on its own which deserves its own course. A great introduction and a collection of resources can be found on Emily Short’s website.

In the last years a movement of game makers revived the hypertext fiction tradition adopting a tool called Twine. These authors were attracted by the accessibility and flexibility of hypertext creating a variety of experimental and personal works.

Try some of these in class:

Queers in Love at the End of the World


A Kiss



Even Cowgirls Bleed

The Matter of the Monster (not Twine but similar)

With Those we love alive

Here are some other good collections:

Here are some very short examples from a game jam

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What is new media art

Let’s start with a cheesy question:

This second part is crucial. New media artists use the same technologies used by engineers, military, advertisers etc. But they do it in a different way.

Art made in Photoshop or with a digital production tool is not automatically new media art.

Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr at the Tissue Culture & Art Project.
The artists based the jacket on a biodegradable polymer, coated it with 3T3 mouse cells to form connective tissue and topped it up with human bone cells in order to create a stronger skin layer. Although the technologies can be new, the artistic concerns are not. The conceptual and aesthetic roots of New Media extend to the Dada movement in the ’20. There are many common strategies: use of multiple physical media, appropriation and subversion, irony and absurdity, everything can be used for art (Fluxus will further elaborate on this). Net.flag is an interactive work hosted on a museum’s website. It contains images of all the national flags in the world. Each flag is broken into its respective components, which are then categorized according to several broadly descriptive terms; users may pick and choose from a menu of these components to form a new flag, which they may then save to the site. In addition, the project features a browsable history, through which users may look over past creations which have been saved and titled.
Internet as a new post national space. Pop art is another important influence. Many works of New Media art refer to and are engaged with commercial visual culture.

Like concept art New media art is often more focused more on ideas rather than on objects.

And now an embarrassing question:

(if you are a painter, sculptor etc…)

The new media field tends to include a lot of things that don’t belong to the traditional gallery formats. by One year of GPS self-surveillance. The artists even put their own telephone under control for the entire month. All Internet users had real-time access to any phone conversation trough the website. And their hard drives and email correspondence as well. Data-nudism. Anticipating the post-privacy era.

(In)Security Camera from ben chang on Vimeo.

Contestational Robotics – Institute for Applied Autonomy from Rich Pell on Vimeo.

Sometimes certain ideas are too visionary to have a place in the market.

Myron Krueger – Videoplace, Responsive Environment, 1972-1990s

Hand from Above from Chris O'Shea on Vimeo.

Traditional visual artist may find materials and concepts that can inform their practice.

Emily Gobeille & Theo Watson aka Design I/O
“Jungle” and “City” are the first two in a series of experimental posters for children that combine science, nature, algorithm and design, to feed children’s imagination and curiosity.

Because our contemporary visual culture is deeply informed by the internet and the digital world

Oliver Laric's Icon - an artist associated with the "post-internet art" trend Oliver Laric’s Icon – an artist associated with the “post-internet art” trend
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