• "All this to fit in, to belong." Alex is good people; this is excellent on all the little things to like – or not – about here, and yet to still love it. And – a reminder how little I know about having had to fit in anywhere else. I hope the gods of paperwork smile on her too. I'm still angry she's even had to go through this. I am still ashamed of all this Brexit nonsense.
  • "I didn’t think I’d ever do a thing this long. I might never again. But it turns out businesses are hard, especially when they involve atoms and even more so if you want to be profitable, legal and have good customer service. Not that much of that is to do with me." In amongst so much of the nonsense of the tech industry in 2014, and East London Technology in 2014, it always makes me happy that Newspaper Club is going so well, and that my friends are doing it.

Infinifriends

10 February 2014

Time to write up something that’s been sitting around on various disks for a while.

Many months ago, I saw Plotagon. It’s best explained as Xtranormal by way of The Sims: reasonable resolution, 3D-animated videos based on scripts; a desktop tool to generate them, and a site to host them.

Most interestingly, it’s scripted with what actually looks like movie scripts, and that got me thinking: what would it look like to feed it with procedurally generated scripts? Could you make the machine make videos? All I knew was two things:

  1. I know, for good or ill, how Markov chains work.
  2. All the scripts for Friends are transcribed on the internet.

After all, given Plotagon’s focus on semi-realistic forms, I decided that it was best suited to the great American artform of the 20th century: the sitcom.

The Infinite Friends Machine was born.

The machines does a few simple things. First, it scrapes Friends transcripts. For now, it works for most of Series 1. It then parses those scripts and chops them up into episodes, scenes, and lines attributed to individual characters. It also strips out some directions. Then, using all that, it offers ways to generate new scripts.

Markov Chains, as Leonard has frequently pointed out, are not always the best way of generating text alone, especially when the corpus you’re working from isn’t particularly consistent. He is, of course, right. Still, I enjoy the mental leap readers make in order to make generative prose actually make sense, and for this project, I mainly wanted to get to scripts as fast as I could.

Still, I didn’t want to hamper their relative crudeness, so I tried to skew things in their favour. To that end, the Infinite Friends Machine generates scripts by copying the structure of existing scripts. When it makes a new “episode”:

  1. it finds the scenes that are in the original episode it’s being copied from
  2. for each scene, it finds each line – who says a line at what point in the episode
  3. then, it generates a new line for the speaking character from their own corpus. That is: Joey only ever things derived from Everything Joey Has Ever Said. What this means is that the main cast have quite diverse things they might say, and the bit players pretty much only say the same thing. Gunther is quite boring.

That’s it. A few seconds later, it spits out a nonsensical episodes of friends. Here’s a scene:

Friends script
and this is a full episode.

The machine isn’t online because it’s quite crude and processor-intensive, but you can get at the sourcecode from Github.

Anyhow: machine to generate scripts. Next stage: get them into Plotagon.

This was where my troubles began. For starters, despite having a nice format for scripts, Plotagon really demands you enter them via its UI – you can’t paste a big block of text in, you have to enter it by hand. Painful.

Next: Plotagon only lets scenes have two characters in. I decided to make a single scene – the tag on the end of the episode. But this turned into many scenes in Plotagon, as four people in an apartment was a bit much for it. I had to keep track of who was where, who was talking to whom at any point.

And then I had to deal with the unfortunate truth: Plotagon is horrible. I mean, Xtranormal used its non-realistic avatars and computer-voices to comic extent. By contrast, here we had disappointing voice acting with clunky visuals. Also, I had to add some ‘acting’. This largely consisted of making Chandler say everything whilst doing the (crazy) emote, to really capture that Series 1 Matthew Perry vibe.

A quick sting later, and Infinifriends S1E1 existed:

It is not exactly high art.

Just one scene took long enough, and I think, proved my point to an extent, but probably can’t be improved on for now. I’m not sure if I’ll ever return to the Infinite Friends Machine, but it was an entertaining enough exercise, and the video rendition is probably worth it for the cringe factor alone.

Theme tune. Credits. Tune in next time.

  • "A bit like Doctor Who’s different incarnations, while still the same company, the spaces we’ve worked in have created very different feeling BERGs.

    And, a bit like Doctor Who, I guess you have one incarnation that you always think is the best, or ‘yours’." All of this.

  • "The ways in which people interact with computation are changing swiftly as we move into more casual relationships with our digital services on tablets, big screens, and across social networks. We believe we have some compelling answers about how digital experiences will evolve into these new contexts. Please, follow along with us and explore these playful, dynamic instruments of discovery together." These guys are going to be worth keeping a very beady eye on; what a team.
  • "I have been an avid gamer since the advent of Pong in 1972. At their best, videogames strike me as a form of art. Like all art, they can augment outer reality and shape our inner reality—but they do this by the very nature of the fact that they are not reality but a Place Apart. Being awestruck at "Halo" does not entail awe any more than "grieving" for Cordelia entails grief. Rather, art at its most serious is a sort of exercise, a formative practice for life—like meditation, only more fun." WSJ review of Reality is Broken; negative, but acute.
  • "This is the part that interests me: What happens to a person's experience of prettymaps when the echoes of their own life start to make up the map itself? What happens when the only streets on a map are those you and your friends have traveled?"
  • "It's the new urban Baroque! Install greenscreens everywhere in an optical infrastructure for the 21st century—a DIY industry of everyday special effects, little greenscreens popping up beside trees, in alleyways, behind buildings, atop roofs, the entire urban environment camera-ready and pierced like St. Sebastian by the arrows of parallel worlds, our cities become effects labs and every sidewalk a set." Chromakey Planet.
  • "I’m basically the James Cameron of PowerPoint 97." Making short films in Powerpoint because it's the only tool you've got. Brilliant.