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Cave Writing HowTo

(These notes were written by Professor Robert Coover in an email exchange intended to assist with installing and using Cave Writing 2006.)

This is how the editor works: it translates hard computer code into XML files, and these in turn launch an easy-to-use Graphical User Interface.

Click on the icon to open the GUI. Go up to the FILE menu and click either NEW or OPEN. You will be asked if you wish to save the current news screen, and you don't, though of course if you go on making things, you'll want to save them. What you'll be saving is an XML file. (You can actually create and edit your piece with XML code alone, ignoring the GUI, if you want to, but I don't know why you'd want to; type gedit FILENAME.xml.)

Also, inactive now, but later if it asks you if you wish to upgrade, you always say YES.

To start, open a few samples via the FILE menu OPEN to see how it works. These will probably be in a new folder called CaveWriting. Not sure what you'll have as I have added some things to my folder, but you will at least have samples. A simple one to start with is sample.xml. This is a demo of moving simple text from one position to another in the Cave by way of a single link hanging in the middle of the Cave. You can see how it is made on the GUI.

Click on either DESKTOP PREVIEW or FULLSCREEN PREVIEW and a 3D wireframe simulation of the Cave itself will appear on a black screen.To change camera position/angle, tap the TAB key once to enter the camera mode, then use the W/S/A/D keys to move around and the mouse to rotate. As a computer games player, this will be familiar to you. You can actually turn the Cave completely around and look at it from the side or back if you want to (e.g., you can check that that piece of text is actually in the center and not on the front wall, as it might seem at first). To get the cursor back (needed for clicking on links etc.) and steady the Cave representation, tap TAB again. (The letter B is a toggle that removes and restores the frame image.) When you want to get out of the preview (especially if viewing full screen), just hit the ESC key and it disappears.

If SAMPLE is up, click on "Fly Front," which is a hyperlink hanging in the center of the Cave (the 0.0.0. point on the xyz axis). When you do, "Some Text" will move there, changing scale and color as it does so. The hanging text dissolves into a new command, etc. You can look at the GUI again to see how this movement was accomplished, and the scale and color changes were done, etc.

As it is an 8 foot cave, it is plus and minus four from the center point to the physical edges in all three directions, though of course you are not limited to that. You can write your piece using that 0.0.0. point, but, as you'll see by this example, you can also place things directly on or relative to all four Cave walls.

You can play with all the samples, and hopefully there will be a demos folder as well, with the student work accomplished last fall. The editor was only completed in the last three or four weeks of the semester, so most of that work was composed in a very short time. The fact is, the editor is amazingly easy to use and once you get the hang of it, simple projects can be whipped up overnight, the challenge then being to see how far you can push the system and what new things you can ask it (or some programmer) to do.

An interesting one is sound.positional. You can click on each number to play your own tune. Or you can play the "melody" and/or play the notes at "random" (and at the same time click your own extra notes). And you can make the numbers fly around. As they do, they carrying their sounds with them positionally. Easier to experience in the Cave, but if you wear earphones and stand in the "middle" of the Cave you can get some idea. A simple button restores everything to the start point.

Your own projects are loaded into your account in the Cave itself by way of an uploader. Of course you don't have an account yet, and will have to wait until you actually get into a workshop. But once you do, you can upload your projects and then go to the Cave and, using one of the dedicated machines in there, run your pieces in the Cave. This used to require a computer programmer, as did everything else, and without one you could do nothing at all, so the early years were laborious and slow. Now, when you call up the GUI on a Cave machine, there will be an addition tab at the bottom that simply says "RUN IN CAVE." You punch that and step into your piece. Amazing. (For that reason, it's usually best to set a five- or ten-second delay at the start of the timeline, so as to have time to get your glasses on and step in.)

The basic elements are OBJECTS and TIMELINES. Objects are text, models, images, sounds, etc. There can be absolute clock timelines, but there can also be multiple timelines created by links. Easiest thing at first is to make a clocked piece, second by second, using the "duration" commands. That's how the fascinating "braxton.snowing" piece works, for example, if you do have a demos folder.

To make something, click on "Objects" to open the interface and click upper right on "Add" to see your options. You name your first object where the cursor is probably blinking (the long yellow line waiting for your typing) and if the object is text, the page is ready to continue as is. You can choose your font and color and scale and type your text in the sizable yellow space under the menu bar that says text (click on the down arrow and you will see that you can also place images, 3D photos, sound files, and models in much the same way you place text, using the .obj names in place of typed text). You have alignment options and just above that placement options. You can use absolute xyz coordinates, or you can use the walls relatively, adding or subtracting to move the text relative to the chosen wall. If you use absolute coordinates, and want to place the text on any but the front wall, you will have to rotate it to make it readable, which is what the rotation axis is for. Hit the Desktop Preview to see what it looks like.

And finally there is the link below (the blank menu bar below the text-writing space). The main feature in many ways, because spatial hypertext is what we are trying to do. Clicking on it opens more things to do (including color choices etc.) and clicking on "Add" opens up your action options. If there are simple untimed links, that's as far as it goes, but if you wish things to happen along a timeline, that's what that section is for. The piece may have its "absolute" timeline, but each link may also launch its own timeline. Objects can be grouped so as not to have to move them one by one in complex projects. A group can act as a single object, but then it can also disintegrate with individual commands.

Perhaps the greatest virtue of this is that you can now revise your piece just as you would while word-processing. You sit at a terminal in there, run your piece, see the adjustments that have to be made, go back to the terminal and type them in, run it again, etc., and when you're finished, email the revised XML file back to yourself to continue to work at home. This is completely new and, having struggled through all the hard years, it's quite glorious.

If the demos folder of student work isn't there, by the way, I believe you can still access those projects via:

If that doesn't work, I can email you the XML files.

CaveWriting needs Java 1.5 or higher. You can try downloading the latest from Java Runtime from:

Their site is confusing. Select "J2SE(TM) Runtime Environment 5.0 Update 8" and then "Windows Offline Installation".

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