TITAA #23: Simulated Jobs, Cities, and Podcasts that Aren't
The picture above is from Claire Jeannarat's (@theswissshepherdess) Instagram. She is a British woman married to a Swiss French shepherd, who is incredibly generous in documenting and sharing her life online. She posts video stories of their 3 children scritching goats and sheep and rough-housing with giant white dogs, of moving the flocks over the alps seasonally (on foot, kids in backpacks), of birthing lambs in the winter in the new farmhouse and frolicking with baby goats, and generally Hills-Are-Alive-ing it among the bells and wind and clouds and cliffs. It's astounding to watch if you work a computer job and barely leave your apartment. Sometimes there are sad events, like the deaths of two beloved goats this year, but sadness seems inevitable in the feed if you follow real people or animal lives for any length of time.
I'm incredibly grateful for the autobiographies of people on social media, for a glimpse of other ways of life. Social media gets a lot of shit, but it can also open up good worlds.
While watching her stories, I regularly think what a great simulation game her life would make, which sounds like a trivialization, but bear with me, such rich ethnographic detail could feed a kick-ass game. Her life features outstanding scenery that is nevertheless tricky to traverse on foot, via cliff-faced paths and scrambling on vertiginous hillsides; goat and sheep flocks you need to move with dog help; encounters with crusty neighbors who complain that your animals have escaped into their alpage and need to be removed. You have to set up portable electric fences to bound regions of the hillside. Then you get entitled hikers who kick down your electric fence so the flock escapes. You've got GPS batteries on goat collars that die and you need to find the flock to replace them in the fog, by ear (those bells!) and squint. You'll have to move the flock up and down the mountain at spring and fall (the transhumance), which means enlisting neighbors to help, getting the roads blocked in advance, and camping along the way. There's a lot of weather in a Swiss mountain winter. In summer, there are livestock guardian puppies to train and snooze with by the cold blue lake.
It would be like Firewatch, only with animals and kids and fewer creepy government labs. Still hikers, though.
Why are there so many job simulators, some of which look supremely boring? This year we got Gas Station Simulator ("very positive" rating) and Junkyard Simulator ("mixed" but in early access). Car Mechanic Simulator ("overwhelmingly positive"). Train Simulator was updated, Bus [Driver] Simulator is a thing, Euro Truck Simulator is going strong at "overwhelmingly positive" (I almost got it before remembering I can just drive myself on European roads, but maybe I need American Truck Simulator), we're getting Prison Simulator in November (you play a guard) and Farming Simulator 22. There is also a Winemaking Simulator, which (help me) I am going to buy.
IN ANY CASE, why do people like these? Maybe it's because the bounded world means a more "doable" job, with simpler success and failure metrics. I kind of get the appeal, but I think I'd like to herd sheep and goats instead of driving a truck.
AI Art & Creativity Links
StyleGAN3 came out. Results are sharper and better than 2, obviously, which was pretty good. Unfortunately they didn't port one of my fav models, the churches (they are closest to castles for my fine-tuning purposes). Here's nshepperd's colab and some spinoff work here. I especially liked nshepperd's "human becomes tree" video.
There's a new notebook for multi-CLIP models in competition (colab). The palimpsestuous parentage is documented as Crowson-Russell-Dango233&nshepperd-Vark. I got this for my usual test of "A ruined castle on a hill under a stormy sky":
CLOOB outperforms CLIP and some folks (i.e., RiversHaveWings) are using it in generation in place of CLIP, but I haven't found a notebook link yet to share or had time to hack it up myself.
Generating Philippine mythic characters with CLIP & VQGAN, by LJ Miranda, was charming.
Santelmo: A shortened form of St Elmo’s Fire, it appears as a ball of fire and has served as an omen of heavenly intervention to sailors. It is found in fields and swamps and may have been caused by a spirit of a man who died near that area during heavy rain.
If you like this, then you might like the book on Indian folktales (Ghosts, Monsters, and Demons of India) Robin Sloan rec'd recently, or the Brazilian TV show Invisible City that I rec'd this summer.
GenNI: Human-AI Collaboration for Data-Backed Text Generation. An approach to provide a way to give patterns to a language model, in order to constrain generation from data tables. It looks a bit complicated to use (can't I just give it a CFG), but promising. Demo coming end of November.
People are using Clip.Drop's magic eraser to alter artworks, like removing people from Hopper paintings (Sylvain Filoni). Heh. I mean, those paintings are lonely enough.
People as gateways to the past, an AR project by mechpil0t, using historical footage. This is like seeing ghosts through the frame of other people.
JA Miller's Zany Town Generator. So great, with video of the process and one you can play with. Houdini and Substance Designer into Blender. (Thanks to Nadieh Bremer for the RT of this.)
I'm a bit obsessed by the idea of generative towns and architecture, and fell down a small rabbit hole into gawking at SceneCity and Sceelix. See also the recent post by BorisTheBrave on Model Synthesis vs. Wave Function Collapse. And the dungeon generators below. I need a coding vacation where I try to seriously make some 3D cities and put them in VR for myself to explore.
Plotting Perlin Landscapes by Rev Dan Catt.
Generative Art Resources in R by Danielle Navarro.
A Review of Text Style Transfer Using Deep Learning, and A Recipe For Arbitrary Text Style Transfer with Large Language Models.
Integrating Visuospatial, Linguistic and Commonsense Structure into Story Visualization by Maharana and Bansal. This work uses knowledge graphs and parsing to help guide story visualization, for comics-y multiframe visual stories. (There is code.) "We focus on the use of structured commonsense as well as grammatical trees to improve story encoding for the end goal of visualization." The results aren't fantastic as images go, but an impressive advance and combo of tools.
Responsiveness in Narrative Systems - dissertation by Stacey Mason. (Looks good, no, I haven't had time to read it, it was just posted.)
A Guided Journey Through Non-Interactive Story Generation, (2021) by Luis Miguel Botelho. This is 80 pages, but I started it and liked it... It led me to:
A Survey on Story Generation Techniques for Authoring Computational Narratives (2016), Kybartas and Bidarra. This I did read, as it is a bit shorter, and I like the focus on degrees of automation of the components of the story - the "space" (characters, setting, props, etc) vs. the plot, and how they then interact. Many amazing systems are referenced, but I was especially amused by the idea of a system entirely for "betrayal narratives" (called "BRUTUS"; S. Bringsjord and D. A. Ferrucci, Artificial Intelligence and Literary Creativity: Inside the Mind of BRUTUS, a Storytelling Machine, L. Erlbaum, Ed. Psychology Press, 1999).
The MEXICA system sounds like a pre-storylets/quality-based-narrative related method, as far as I understand those:
MEXICA uses a cognitive model of creativity to formulate a story by piecing together a number of plot fragments, which are constrained by a set of pre and post-conditions. The system makes use of previous stories, taking them as input to evaluate and reflect upon the current story being generated. In MEXICA, characters, and specifically relations between characters, are explicitly modelled. The plot is incrementally built by examining potential new events, each event having preconditions relating to patterns that must exist inside the space. [R. P. y Pérez and M. Sharples, “MEXICA: A computer model of a cognitive account of creative writing,” ´ Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 119–139, 2001.]
Procedural Dungeon Generation: A Survey, 2021. By Viana and Santos. Related: Dungeon Alchemist (building dungeons and maps) looks awesome, offering "AI-Powered Map Generation." Also Dungeon Architect, a node-based tool.
Talks from Roguelike 2021 are up, including a few on procgen narratives in games.
Talks from PLIE 21 (Programming Languages and Interactive Entertainment) are up too. All-star line-up including Jon Ingold (Inkle), Kate Compton, Max Kreminski, Robin Johnson, and more. Papers coming soon. I haven't had time to consume all this!
More Tech Links of Note
Analyzing Timeseries Data for Vis, a workshop and materials from friends at Observable (Zan Armstrong and Ian Johnson and Mike Freeman).
A slidedeck mini-course on dealing with uncurated dirty data, from Gael Varoquaux.
Maybe related to the city/dungeon generation above, and exportable to game engines, see World Machine, node-based, for simulating 3d landscapes (thanks to Anatoliy Bondarenko's thread on modeling Dune with it). Also see Terrain, a fast height-map based voxelizer (browser demo).
Window Cities - adding windows to 3D city visualizations. Gorgeous effect.
Nicolas Barradeau worked on a beautiful browser of photos by African photographer "Mo" Ammin and documented how he did the shader work in Pixi to handle the huge image page.
The guy who did the 3d River Runner app this summer, Sam Learner, wrote about how he did it on the Mapbox blog.
An excellent and broadly applicable essay by Jane Zhang, Failing to Freelance in Data Visualization. Thoughts on culture, work ethics, networks, definition, etc. Highly recommended.
★ Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski, and Changeling by Matt Wesolowski. Mystery/thriller. These are both novels in a podcast "frame" -- 6 interviews with people related to a cold case, along with commentary from the podcaster, and there is a strong supernatural or folkloric element to both. (For folklore situation, they take place in the UK.) I loved the creepy folk stories mingled with psychological digging, even if not all surprises were very surprising.
Matrix by Lauren Groff. Lit fic. Marie de France's fictional story, aka lesbian-visionary-feminist nun building an abbey in the 12th century. A destructive act in this book made me nuts. If you like this kind of thing (it is lovely writing), I also recommend Illuminations, a novel about Hildegard von Bingen.
The Last Graduate, by Naomi Novik (Scholomance book 2). Fantasy. A fine sequel, with tighter story and relationships.
The Unspoken Name by AK Larkwood. Fantasy. A good fantasy world romp with an orc-like girl who fled her role as sacrifice to a dark cavern-dwelling god and becomes a thief/errand-girl for a mysterious wizard everyone has relationship issues with. Excellent weird cultures and gods underground.
Far from the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson. SF. A space locked room murder mystery, with difficult AIs and interesting aliens, plus space station and settlement politics.
★ Dune, obviously. If you liked the scenery in Dune, you might give Foundation on Apple TV a try, which starts a bit slow, but is very, very pretty SF. Also don't miss Julia Yu's Goodnight, Dune book.
Midnight Mass on Netflix was a thoughtful, morose, cerebral horror for people who like long soliloquies about faith and guilt. If you liked this, I re-recommend Castle Rock season 1 on Hulu, which has fewer long speeches, but also has some Dark vibes (but really, drop everything and watch THAT if you haven't yet).
Only Murderers in The Building on Hulu was a cute, cozy, podcasty mystery. Very NY.
I, too, binged Squid Game. I am not here to say you should watch it (gore, predictability, etc) but at least I understand the memes now. I'm a bit baffled by its success, especially given the crazy dubbing voices, and wonder if we all needed something violently cathartic to deal with a lot of internalized societal anger?
The Chestnut Man was a reasonable Danish thriller on Netflix, if gory (and CW for missing and abused kids).
★ Outer Wilds. I've been swallowed by this game, like the black hole in it that has swallowed me a million times. You are an explorer in a system of tiny planets, using old alien technology to find out what happened to your ancient precursors. Kind of. It's a deep and long game. It absolutely deserves all the accolades, while maddening me with the amount of grind and skill required for precision flying, leading to my death from many senseless navigation errors and jetpack misfires. Especially via that damned black hole. Luckily, re-spawning is a key part of the time loop here. The art and story and music details are so fantastic, including the alien writing system which is a joy to look at:
They write in spirals, with comments curling off a branch. Luckily, you carry a translator. I hear the new chapter released this year is also brilliant, and will no doubt be eaten by that too.
Trying to get myself away from Outer Wilds is a job, but I'm still enjoying the puzzles in the VR version of historic Talos Principle (despite "God" coming on the speaker sometimes with a patronizing "don't worry, my child, if you can't figure it out, you can come back later"). I'm not usually a "mainly puzzles" game person but I like the setting (ruined temples) and there is some story here about AI and personhood, too.
Brink Traveler is a nice, inexpensive app with photogrammetry scans and information on American national parks (and one site in Iceland). More content coming (I hope). I really like the high-quality visuals and the UI is good and informative.
Cooking Simulator VR might be entertaining, although I have barely cooked anything, only a block of trout with some lemon wedges. I was hoping I could move some of my cooking hobby to virtual and lose weight. But the hand/control registration required for good cooking moves is a challenge. I feel like I might cut myself.
The new Eye of the Temple is very promising: You solve physical puzzles in a quasi-Indiana Jones setting, by standing/walking and flicking a whip. It requires real space to move in. Not for the motion sick-prone, as the stones you step on shoot up into the sky with you on them :)
You have to understand that there are many rooms. Each of them operates by other laws. Here, once you name a thing, you can’t take it back. It has its own life now, one that moves along without concern for you. At first, you go around talking to the trees & for just a moment they turn to face you.
--Cameron Awkward-Rich, from Black Feeling (thanks to Matt Ogle)
It's been a month, huh. I hope you are all doing ok, considering. Who couldn't use some time off?
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Best, Lynn / @arnicas