In Alien Letter Forms, individual letters are treated as autonomous agents whose typographic characteristics such as font, face, size and color, and dynamic characteristics such as method of movement determine their visual behavior. Evolution is driven by the interaction between these characteristics, and proceeds in both semantic and representational directions.
In the semantic direction, contact between individual produce offspring composed of new letter combinations up to and including whole words. Representational evolution relies on the notion of dynamic fonts, an expansion of the traditional definition of a font as being determined by its visual appearance. In addition to the visual characteristics, dynamic fonts include time- and motion-based characteristics such as letterform animation and movement in two-dimensions. As letters come into contact with one another, they will breed and evolve new dynamic font designs.
The Alien Letter Forms environment is seeded with written texts and augmented externally with real-time speech. Alien Letter Forms samples the captured speech to create the initial set of letters. As larger texts evolve out of the words, newly introduced agents interact with them to change them further, either aggregating with them or breaking them back down into smaller pieces. In this way, Alien Letter Forms constantly cycles between a chaotic system of symbols and sensible texts.
Alien Letter Forms is being written using the NextText general purpose library for writing, displaying and performing dynamic and interactive text. NextText uses an object-based hierarchy to represent texts. This hierarchy makes it easy to work with the ASCII component and pixel component of the text at the same time. Static, dynamic and interactive properties of text can be easily intermixed and layered, and text objects can transfer such properties back and forth. The user can enter and edit text, adjust static and dynamic layout, apply dynamic and interactive behaviors, and adjust their parameters with a common set of tools and a common interface. In a real-time performance environment the user can use external input such as speech, video and/or MIDI commands to introduce text into the environment and specify the behaviors that get applied to the text. NextText is based on the ActiveText software library.
A demo Alien Letter Forms was presented at COSIGN 2004 in Split, Croatia.