Autodesk Animator

Autodesk Animator: This was my favorite use of my computer as a child. Unfortunately I never did anything that amazing, and anything I did do is now lost in the hull of a Packerd Bell 486 that I’m sure is long gone. I never did anything too impressive, my favorite thing to do was get a GIF image of some “hot babe” in a bikini, and have a “mucus worm” crawl out of her nose into her bellybutton. Ah the pleasures of 11 year old dweebs.

Boyhood information overload aside, I just found out that Animator has been made open source and can be downloaded from GitHub. It runs great on BOXER, an emulator I mentioned in an earlier post.

Download URL:

Demo Reel:

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Thoughts on THATCamp NYC 2012

I attended THATCamp NYC this weekend, and it was a great time, and I met some cool people, and really got to know some classmates. The organizers did a great job, served some really great food, and beyond just being gracious they made sure everyone knew where to go, and when. It was really inspiring to see so many great minds from the NYC area do their best to explain some very complex projects in time limits often under 5 minutes. Here is a list of those I managed to scribble down in my notes:

NYU School of Medicine – Literature Arts and Medicine Database – Medical Humanities

CUNY – JiTP Editorial Collective

CUNY – Writing Studies Tree


NYU/Cornell – “Archive Notebook”

Greenwich Village History – NYU

Princeton – Hypertext Research Platform (19th Century Manuscripts)

Yaddo Circles – Fordham

Pratt – Linked Jazz

Green Maps

Fordham History Dept – South Street Seaport

John Jay Library – DH Curation Guide

More Thoughts:There seem to be a lot of projects dealing with maps, trees, and timelines and a lot of debate about whether or not there should be a deeper look at coding in the Digital Humanities. I heard one of the senior THATCampers, a Computer Scientist, emphasizing collaboration between computer scientists and scholars in the humanities; He suggested that when humanists go after coding skills, mistakes are made that slow down processes. His example was that learning a language like PHP was most often counterproductive. This struck me as funny, as my old high school friend (a computer scientist out of North Carolina) said I was making a huge mistake when I told him I was trying to teach myself PHP so I might understand these WordPress How-To books I’ve invested in.

I think that while collaboration (with Computer Scientists) may be important, this act is easier said than performed. My sentiment leans toward institutions offering computer science courses designed to speak to scholars more at home with humanities based cirriculuum over traditional computer science pedagogy. That said, there were some really great workshops on software essentials that would be of interest to a Digital Humanist of either opinion: Mapping software like Gephi, Home Server software like W/L/MAMP, and collection management systems like Omeka.

I was also involved in a discussion about how archives can be explored online, which seemed to shift into a conversation about making archives relevant in the blogosphere. I brought up my opinion that visual or acoustic textuality often becomes a necessary driving mechanism for an audience considering time devotion to long form offerings. In other words if you want to drive an audience to a long form piece of writing, there should be an immediate and novel visual or aural cue to give license of value to the writing. At least one other attendee thought I was “on to something” but still seemed to think I was talking about marketing, which is a word I hate to use/hear outside of the corporate sphere.

I could ramble a few hours more on THATCamp, but it is getting late and I have homework. I will conclude by saying it was an experience I will definitely value, and it definitely gave me some really great insights into the state of humanities projects nested in the digital world. Look forward to seeing a lot of the attendees that are doing great work get more and more recognized for it as time moves forward.

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Preserving Virtual Worlds Final Report

The Preserving Virtual Worlds Final Report from The Graduate School of Library & Information Science @ Urbana-Champaign (Aug 31, 2010)

Preserving Virtual Worlds is nothing new, and I initially found my way to this project through The CUNY Digital Humanities Resource Guide. This robust report is a must-read. It isn’t just packed with information, it is fun to read. The “Final Report” portion of the title had me expecting something very dry, but there are anecdotes and illustrative writing that work as a great framework for proper exploration of video game nostalgia.

The final report can be found here:

Games Investigated:
Star Raiders
Mystery House
Warcraft III
Second Life

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Emulators: Engaging With The Past

I’m currently reading Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence and in the introduction she makes the point that digital forms of writing could be more prone to obsolescence than print:

Consider, for instance, the obsolescence one encounters in attempting to read classic hypertext fiction such as Michael Joyce’s Afternoon on a Mac these days:  Apple fully retired its support for “Classic” mode with the advent, on the hardware side, of Intel-based processors that can’t boot into OS 9, and on the software side, the release of OS 10.5, which eliminated Classic support for PowerPC machines as well (Fitzpatrick, 6).

She makes some really good points here, and I like that she emphasizes the Mac, because I really do think Macs are the choice of your typical humanities guy or gal.  I’m a Mac guy as a rule;  This is not because I have some religious appreciation for Steve Jobs, really it all has to do with my love of the OS X interface.  It’s clean, it’s pretty, and is at root the same OS that it was when I started using it in 2002.  It is true, that if you are pulling all of your mac software from the App Store, you are going to have a pretty hard time running old software, but if you are downloading from the web, there are plenty of ways to pull in some beautiful, intuitive, easy to use emulators.  Here are some of my favorites:

This is a DOS emulator, for all of you out there that miss typing out your colons and backslashes.  DOS was always my favorite, as a child when all my other friends were upgrading their Nintendos to Super Nintendos my parents scoffed at the idea of buying a video game machine that wouldn’t play the old games they had spent hard earned money for, so being the precocious little brat I was, I convinced them I needed a 486SX Packard Bell.  Sure it had Windows, but all my favorite games were in DOS.  This emulator is a time machine to my lonely, overweight childhood.  Space Quest anyone?  Anyone?

Ok, so remember in that last paragraph where I said I wasn’t allowed a Super Nintendo.  Yeah, well, I’m still kind of bitter about that, but I got over it by the time I hit college and downloaded (probably illegally) my first Super Nintendo emulator.  Mario is definitely more fun in 256 colors.

This project is sort of an artisans version of DOSBOX.  All super-nerds from the 80s knew that computer games in the early 90s were like soft drinks.  You had your Coca-Cola classic and you had your Wal-Mart brand Sam’s Colas.  While DOSBOX and derivitives like BOXER attempt to emulate any file that could run on DOS (sometimes successfully, sometimes less so), ScummVM focuses on perfecting the emulation of the Citizen Kanes of Adventure Gaming, the point-and-click-I have an invntory of crap-type of game.  If you ever want to see the kind of game where the gameplay itself takes a hard back seat to narrative, download ScummVM and seek out the games that it can emulate.

And because I have no memory of a life without this first computer in my home, I’ve included a very groovy emulator for Apple ][ files.

So as you can probably see, all the emulator selections I chose are suited to my tastes, and they’re all compatible with my favorite operating system, OS X.  If you have a Windows or Linux PC your choices of emulators are probably even more extreme than mine.  You could probably emulate your childhood graphing calculator if you wanted to.

The issue I’ve had with emulators is not starting them up, but running certain types of programs that have a productivity component to them.  My big example is a program that basically ruled my time during middle school: Autodesk Animator Pro.  Yes, it was made by the same people who make such products as Sketchbook and Maya now, but back then it was a much simpler interface, that I’d do anything to run now.  I mean, look at the animations that people were able to make with that thing:

I’m sure a more hard nosed techie could push me out of my computer chair, type a few things onto my machine, and could run the programs, and I’m sure there are some open source players that could run anything I created on the program.  That said, at least in terms of use by a layman, old software that is used to create a deliverable is often a challenge to operate.  If this is a challenge to operate, how can we expect to move back to earlier forms of narrative creation that were not fully explored?

I would argue that we can look at retro design techniques, study constraints that operators often worked under and compare those to ways we have of breaking those restraints, and making the decision to hold ourselves to them or break through.  I plan on this thought process to be a core concept as I move forward with my academic study in Digital Narratives.


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Recalibrating the First Person Shooter

The First Person Shooter or FPS for short is one of the most interesting genres of video games in my opinion.  Not so much because of all the button mashing in hopes of killing demons, pedestrians, wizards or anybody else that gets in the way of the phallic device portraying the constant in-game avatar, but because of the immersion factor that can come from even the most pixellated of offerings from years past.

I’d like to take a look at a few examples of FPS innovation, some I think are heading in the right direction, others I feel have some potential but are lacking focus in the correct areas for my own selfish wants.

First lets take a look at a utilization of the most well known of all FPS software: DOOM.  Now DOOM’s been out for quite a while, and the most interesting article I’ve found on using it to accomplish something more transcendent than squelching beasties from Hell hails all the way from 2001.  Yes I’m citing a paper that was written over a decade ago.

Dennis Chao of the Computer Science Department at the University of New Mexico wrote a paper for The CHI 2001 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.  In the paper he speaks about a modification of DOOM, as its source code was released under the GNU General Public Lisence.  The modification allowed (allows?  I haven’t exactly seen this DOOM variant available in the Apple App Store) system admins “perform useful work” by using the avatars in the game as symbols for tasks that either needed to be left running or needed to be stopped (i.e. decimated with a bazooka).  I’m really interested in finding out if anything similar to this has been done in the decade following this paper.  You’d think by now your favorite barista could pour the perfect espresso by properly navigating through a level of Wolfenstein 3D, but alas, I’m about 99 percent sure this is not a thing that’s happening.  If anyone can point me in the direction of the use of an FPS or any other classic game, that has been released as Open Source and modified to perform productive tasks, please let me know!

The other FPS designs that I’d like to talk about are a bit more recent.  First I’d like to speak to the phenomenon of MINECRAFT.  MINECRAFT, for anyone that isn’t familiar, is a sort of graphical sandbox that allows players to build worlds using pixellated blocks and from there the player can commune with other players doing the same thing within the MINECRAFT world.  What I like about Minecraft is that by taking exacting rules out of the equation, people have done some pretty extraordinary things:

The complaint I have with MINECRAFT is the complaint I have in relation with a lot of open environment offerings being celebrated by those that adopt them: the inability to construct an enclosed and dynamic and personal narrative.  This is not to say that MINECRAFT isn’t some kind of real achievement, as there are no guns, and I know of several libraries, specifically the Darien Library in Darien, Connecticut that have had real successes in using the game to open up all kinds of dialog and creative energies with young people in their communities.  I’ve played with the free version online a time or two, but I’ve probably spent more time watching YouTube videos of projects people, that seem to have a lot of time on their hands, have accomplished.

Finally I’d like to speak about my favorite as-is FPS offering, a little game called BIOSHOCK.  Now when I was a kid, there was this game called SYSTEM-SHOCK that I played a few times, bit it sort of bored me to tears after I got over the pretty incredible graphics.  What was different about SYSTEM-SHOCK than say DOOM (they weren’t many years apart) was that tape recordings were left all about in these abandoned corridors you would explore.  You were on a Space Ship where something went horribly wrong, the more tapes you collected and listened to, the more you started to realize what was happening.

Fast forward a decade from System Shock and a very similarly constructed game called BIOSHOCK was released.  There are a few things that seperate BIOSHOCK from it’s predecessor, and yes, obviously one of them is that graphics improved, and sound improved… The Unreal Engine is a beautiful thing… but instead of the old tried and true “Scary shit went down on a Spaceship, it’s like ALIEN you guys!” narrative, what the player got instead was a trip to an underwater city that had been decimated.  As if the fact that the city was underwater wasn’t enough, the year is 1960!  So it’s a futuristic city from a 1950s point of view with you playing a 1960 player thrown into this environment.  Talk about a great narrative.  Now, if that isn’t enough, as you move through the game you come to realize that in between fighting off these mutated citizens that want to saw your head off with saws (Sigh, we still have to satisfy the 12 year old boys buying these games) you are picking up tape recordings… and when you listen to these things you realize the creators of BIOSHOCK have basically scripted an insanely brilliant F#&% YOU to Atlas Shrugged.  Me, I don’t particularly like Ayn Rand (have a pretty strong distaste for her), but this game is so well done, I bet even Paul Ryan would enjoy firing up this game in between jam sessions with his Rage Against The Machine cover band.


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This site is an attempt to explore narratives in the digital space and to highlight such explorations as they are recorded around the web.  

My name is Anderson Evans, I’m a grad student at CUNY Graduate Center (in Liberal Studies with a concentration on Digital Humanities).  My initial intentions for this blog involve considerations of how storytelling is best carried out in digital spaces, how the infrastructure of digital worlds impacts narrative in video games and simulations, and what ludic techniques can be put to use in creating a digital experience that educates on a cultural, emotional, and academic level.

One of the biggest issues for me in this world of digital narratives is that in pressing forward with the intricacies of graphical realism, immersive sound, and profit generating themes of violence and phantasmagoria the benefits of ludic forms of scholarly application are often hidden in plain site.  It is easy for the scholar to scratch his/her head when trying to find the benefits in using an evolved form of the video game in the classroom.

Simpler infrastructures from earlier eras in video game history, I hold, have far more to offer the academic then do the multi-million dollar games played on the most up to date gaming consoles.  Many such infrastructures have become popular once again with the rise of mobile gaming, but primarily to a novel degree.

My hope is to highlight the work of scholars that illustrate the idea of digital/ludic narratives in their projects, and to find a project of my own to move forward with as I go through my masters courses.  I’ve no doubt my intentions will ebb and flow, and I may drift away from some of these emphases and construct new ones — This blog is to be a digital narrative in its own right.

[Featured Image is a screencap from Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge]


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