Introducing the Automatypewriter, a new way to experience interactive fiction! It’s still a little rough around the edges (in particular, you can see that the spacebar sticks a little, and the whole thing needs to be tidied up), but you get the idea: the Automatypewriter is a typewriter that can type on its own, as well as detect what you type on it. By reading what it types to you and responding, it can be used interactively to play a game or participate in a story (in this case, Zork).
Though the medium may be the message, a games platform is only as good as its content. To that end I’m collaborating with novelist, graphic novelist, filmmaker, community organizer, and award-winning interactive fiction developer Jim Munroe, who is creating custom software specifically tailored to the Automatypewriter.
Interactive fiction is a great genre that is too often overlooked. By providing a tactile and surprising way to experience these games, I hope to engage a wider audience. More generally, moving the platform to a typewriter highlights the role the user assumes as an “author” in helping to create the story, and not just as a “player.”
Also, the usual hacker reason: because we think it’s cool!
Where can I play with it?
Right now it is being tinkered with at Site 3 coLaboratory in Toronto, Canada. For the next few months you can come see it there on our Thursday night open houses (although it might not always be in working order). Soon you’ll be able to beta test Jim’s software as it’s being developed. Eventually we hope to exhibit it formally, in which case I’ll post about it here.
How does it work?
See the project page for technical details
Questions that may or may not be frequently asked, but that I’ll answer anyway
Isn’t this basically just a teletype machine?
Technically, yes (and it’s not even the first typewriter-to-teletype conversion that I know of). That said, I think the appeal lies in the keys moving “on their own,” and in the fact that it is in the guise of a familiar object.
Why didn’t you use a cooler-looking typewriter?
Cool-looking typewriters in working condition are expensive! I wanted to make sure it would work first. Don’t worry, there are plans to do so in the future.
Are those fibre optic cables at the back?
No, it’s just fishing line.
What happens when you get to the end of a page?
Jim’s software will be designed to have a full experience on a single page. For other software, well, you change the page!
Have you considered having it write “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over again?
Jim Munroe, without whose enthusiasm and support I never would’ve gotten this far on this project.
Dana Sarafinchan, without whose expertise I would probably still be trying to figure out how to turn pieces of wood into a box.
All the members of Site 3, for their support and tolerance while I’ve been working on this.
And, as always, Ali.