The Unknown  10/4/04 - Hypertext by The Unknown

The Unknown is fabulous and hilarious. I've been looking for it for a while. It's awesome enough that I think I can entrust you to it before this review. You might get a kick out of reading it first, because it'll grab you.

Still here? Okay. It's hard to describe it because it's founded on a sleight of hand: it's the blog-like journal of a publicity tour for a book of essays about an anthology that never existed in either our world or the world of the story. The authors know it doesn't exist, but that doesn't stop them from writing about it, publicizing it, handing it out, or linking to it. The entire work swirls around so well that eventually it doesn't matter that the supposed subject never appeared; the real subject is the journey, the self-examination or lack thereof, and the ... aw-hell fun of it. Along the way they discuss hypertext, writing, spoof the publishing industry, parody themselves and what they're doing. It's House of Leaves, but funny instead of frightening.

It's the book tour my friends (known here as "the dudes") would take, and it's how they would record it, with a mix of cold-shower insight, riotous braggadocio, and disturbingly true hyperbole. It's written like it doesn't need to go anywhere, win any awards, be translated or made into a movie because the authors have already imagined it.

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Structure so clear you can really lose yourself in it

Nice Interstices, there

Still getting the hang of this

Chasing Our Tails  10/5/04 - Hypertext by Mark Bernstein

This is the best response that I've seen to Sven Birkerts' The Gutenberg Elegies. It is a thorough excoriation of the state of hypertext criticism. It circles around how criticism of (literary) hypertext is more often a statement of the critic's fears and ambitions than an examination of actual work. It explains in the most articulate manner that I've seen yet why recurrence, repetition, and circles in hypertext are a feature, not a bug: that we learn by connecting something we have just discovered with something we already understand, and that doing so involves revisiting what we have heard.

Wonderfully, the elegant structure of the text itself also demonstrates that point. I visited most of the lexia in this text more than once, and for once didn't mind... each page was illuminated from a different direction by the context of the link that I followed.

And it 'ends' with a call to action, and a good one. My pulse was actually raised by reading this little hypertext, and it began to tie many other works together. And did Mark Bernstein really propose the term breadcrumb as it is used in hypertext?

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The Marathon Trilogy  6/6/06 - Hypertext by Bungie

Wikipedia describes the Marathon Trilogy of games as a series of "science fiction first-person shooter computer games from Bungie Software...." which in 1994 "introduced many concepts now common in mainstream video games," including "dual-wielded weapons, friendly non-player characters, and most notably an intricate plot."

It's that last bit that intrigues me from a hypertext standpoint. The gameplay was novel at the time, and all the more remarkable for being released first on the Macintosh, but it was the plot and narrative which held fans' attention and led to "The Marathon Story Page" where fans were explicating the plot and finding new details and connections more than seven years after the series concluded.

Bungie Studios eventually released the tools used to create the game as well as the game source code itself. Fan communities continue to create new scenarios, stories, and levels for the engine today.

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The Marathon Story

Marathon as a hypertext in form

Marathon as a hypertext in content

Marathon vs. other games

Hamlet  7/9/06 - Hypertext by Mike Young

Hamlet! A Game in Five Acts, by Interactivities Ink, is the first Thespis game I've seen on the market. I picked it up at Ubercon in 2005 and have only played it once through properly. It's not flawless, but it's fun and it's a narrative game, and it's vaguely collaborative, and I'd teach it in an English class, for pete's sake. That's awesome.

To summarize quickly, in Hamlet! as a Thespis instance, you have story elements, lexia perhaps, which you might 'read' or 'play' at any moment. What structures the story is that lexia have constraints on when they may be played or read. Certain plays present the prerequisites for others, or represent an event which makes other plays impossible.

In Hamlet, all actions are on the table at all times. Each player starts the game with a secret goal which takes the form of a set of character 'endings'. One player might have the "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Aren't Dead" ending, for instance, where R&G survive and Hamlet dies in England. Another player might have the "Happily Ever After" ending where Hamlet and Ophelia get married and everyone likable doesn't die. Players take turns which are called scenes, during which they can make a certain number of actions occur. Most actions have constraints, so the "Hamlet practices swordplay" action can't occur while Hamlet is in Denmark, and while "Hamlet duels with Laertes" might happen almost anytime, the chance of Hamlet winning improves the more often the "practice" action has occurred.

When all goes well, what you end up with is a game that resembles a play written by committee in some wonderfully ridiculous ways, with players scheming and collaborating to lay out sequences of scenes which move toward their often contradictory endings. If a player's ending becomes impossible (Hamlet dies, making "Happily Ever After" look pretty Grimm), then the player joins the crowd trying to make the new play turn out like Shakespeare did-- with everyone dead. It's a nice "zombie army" device that keeps players active to the end and makes the whole thing somewhat collaborative.

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Thespis might need a computer