21W765j/21L489j (U) (12 undergraduate credits)

21L989 (G) (12 graduate credits)
Interactive and Non-Linear Narrative: Theory and Practice

Dr. Janet H. Murray


Assignment Weeks 9 and 10: Making An Interactive Character Due 4/7 and 4/14

We will be making interactive characters like Eliza and Julia using the Character-Maker web-based authoring system which has been created especially for this class. This year it is totally web-based for the first time and it has a significant new feature -- the ability to add pictures.

We will be making the characters first as a Draft Version and then as a Final Version. The Final Version will be entered in the class contest.

The Contest

The goal of this assignment is to create a character who can sustain the longest consecutive coherent interactionwith interlocutors. Everyone will participate as both anauthor and an interlocutor. As an author the goal is to build a fictional character who can sustain an engagingand coherent conversation.As an interlocutor with other people's characters you will also be a contestant by collaborating in keeping the conversation going. The prizes (Toscanini sundaes ) will go to whoever creates the winning character and whoever sustains the conversation longestas an interlocutor. There will also be prizes for funniest conversations, and whatever other catagories may seem appropriate to this year's gang.

April 7th: Draft Version of the Character

Log into the authoring environment. REMEMBER NOT TO USE YOUR USUAL PASSWORD since the protection on the system is very weak. You should start two separate programs in two separate browser windows, one for EDITING and one for CONVERSING with your character. As you make the character, try out some conversations with it to make sure it does what you think it should. Your attempts at conversation should also suggest new keywords.

We will go over the authoring system in class, so I will not describe it in detail here. There is also an on-line context-sensitive HELP button on every page of Character-Maker.

Draft characters should have a minimum of 20 key words and 80 possible responses.

Writer's Tips:

Pick a character who demonstrates dramatically or comically predictable behavior, and who will "script the interactor." The opening words of the character should immediately set up the situation. You can also script your interactor by mentioning things that you expect to be picked up on -- that is, you should use the character's responses to feed potential key words to the interactor.

Pay particular attention to the "dummy" or default responses. This is what the character will say when the system does not recognize any key words. You can make these responses into an unfolding story by not selecting either the "randomize" or the "repeatable" buttons. This will make the program choose them one at a time, one after the other, whenever it does not know what else to do. You could use it, for instance, to indicate that it is getting later and later for a character in a hurry.

Remember this is an anti-turing test, in which the user is asked to sustain the interaction not break the program. Therefore, you have to give the interlocutor a situation that is familiar and compelling in which to improvise.

Finally, be sure to motivate the inevitable unresponsiveness by making it reflect a lifelike situation or some comic shtick in which unresponsiveness makes for a good fictional scenario (Rogerian shrink, a bratty child, an insistent salesman, a deaf grandpa, a shop-a-holic valley girl) .

April 14: Final Character Due / 4th Annual ELIZA Contest

Use the responses you received the previous week to improve the responsiveness of your character.

Final Characters should have a minimum of 40 key words and 120 possible responses. They should also have at least one picture for the character and the interlocutor.