Concept Presentation: Mapping mapping and playing playing
Here's my idea: A text adventure that makes noise. Why? Because I'm interested in maps. Let me explain.
These two maps (pictured above) are both, after a manner of speaking, mapping the same thing: a cave in Kentucky—the Bedquilt region of Colossal Cave, to be precise. The top map is an overhead view, representing the spatial layout of the cave to scale. It's a map designed to help cavers navigate the space.
The bottom map is more abstract: it breaks the cave into specific rooms, and shows only the connections between them (not necessarily their physical layout). In fact, this map doesn't directly map Bedquilt cave at all; it's actually an excerpt from a schematic represention of a game called Adventure—widely recognized as the first "text adventure" game (play online here). Adventure was originally designed by Will Crowther, himself an avid caver and co-creator of the first map of Bedquilt Cave. Although Adventure has significant game-like elements, at its heart it's essentially a Bedquilt Cave simulator: an intimate recreation of the cave, designed to evoke some of the wonder experienced in its exploration.
Adventure was one of the primary inspirations for Zork (Infocom, 1980), which popularized the text adventure genre. A screenshot from a Zork play session is shown below.
Screenshot from Zork I
While the geography of Zork is fanciful, rather than (mostly) based on reality (as in the case of Adventure), the structure of the game retains a map-like quality. For this reason, some critics (such as Julian Dibbel) have called the Zork games—and text adventures in general—"interactive maps." This may or may not be a fair summation of the entire genre. But at the very least, I find myself drawing maps in the process of playing text adventure games—mainly as a navigational aid, but also because it's fun.
The interesting thing about these maps is that they show the topography underlying the game. As the game progresses, structures emerge. The most obvious structure is the map itself: the area of explored territory grows, and as it does the connections between nodes becomes apparent. They form branching structures, loops, and rhizomes.
Another equally important structure is the path that the player takes through the map. This path is constrained by the map, but not defined by it: the player must choose which direction to go. Given a map that permits doubling-back, an infinite number of paths are possible. It's even possible to get lost. Movement is further constrained by the game's rules: puzzles that must be solved, obstacles and enemies that can hinder the player's progress, etc. A text adventure, In essence, is a "playable" map.
A "heat map" of Quake III level. Areas where players spend the most time (on average) are drawn with a brighter green color; purple dots indicate where shots were fired. From Orbus Gameworks.
The structures of such games—recursion, repetition, branching—are shared with music, as is the improvisatory nature of "playing" the space. My musical interface is about exploring these analogies. How can the process of exploring and make a map itself "map" onto musical expression? Can you play (in the musical sense) play (in the gameplay sense)?
The performance I imagine consists of the performer (me) playing a text adventure game, using software that has been prepared to react sonically to the state of the game. Possible variables for mapping include percentage of map explored, topology of the player's path, which items have been collected, location of items, etc. The text adventure map itself will be randomly generated, so each performance of the piece will be different. As part of the performance, I'll be drawing a pen-and-paper map of the game as I progress; this might be displayed to the audience (along with a real-time projection of the game in play).
From an aesthetic point of view, this process is appealing to me because it suggests sound with many elements that unfolds over a long period of time. Changes to the music can only be made by entering entire phrases of text, which confines the performer's control of the piece to broader, textural gestures. This is exactly what I'm after.