To Immerse or Not Immerse: Designing VR

To Immerse or Not Immerse: Designing VR

(Photo: Brainstorming VR models for “Shockwaves” with illustrator/game designer Matt Moores and NYU videogame designer Clara Fernandez, NYC Interactive Fiction at ITP/NYU. May 8, 2015)  May 10, 2015: Virtual reality (“VR”) as we know it today first emerged in the 1950s and ‘60s. For an engaging oral history of VR, visit “Voices from a Virtual Past” published by The Verge. In the 1990s, we studied VR at the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at New York University. Coding in VRML and Java 3D – skills now deemed “useless” by VR pioneer Jaron Lanier – graduate students donned clunky Darth Vader headsets and fretted about roll, pitch and yaw – i.e. how things fly. Fifteen years later and you can create VR with a smart phone, free software and a cardboard headset. As VR hardware comes of age, VR gear makers face the pressing issue of content. Where is it? What is it? Meanwhile content creators grapple with the language of a new medium. Producing cinematic VR involves a workflow similar to that of a film, albeit you shoot with multiple cameras to capture a 360-degree panorama, and then stitch the footage. While this process can be complicated, what happens when you add narrative/story and interactivity? How to design VR content? We pose this as a question because no one knows the answers yet. It’s still too early in the development of this new medium to be rubberstamping a process that requires discovery, experimentation and a boatload of failures. However, we can tap on other mature disciplines, such as games, interactive theatre, performance and digital art, film, and even architecture, to...
Sherlock and the Internet of Things

Sherlock and the Internet of Things

Feb 11, 2015: Fifteen years ago, I tried teaching developers and videographers about the mechanics of story structure in London. These British stalwarts on the tech side piled into an office after-hours and sucked up that tenth cuppa. Fish-eyed, they were bludgeoned with “story” after eight hours of coding. Whereas a 20th century Writers Room consisted only of writers, the 21st century Writers Room involves a multiplicity of players from different disciplines. It wasn’t easy. Moreover, that process didn’t quite work. If it takes years for playwrights to learn how to craft a full-length piece, it’ll require more than a few off-the-track lessons for developers to spin drama. But I sensed then what I know now. As story and code blend to an ever greater degree, the need for a common language amongst storytellers, designers, technologists and makers becomes a necessity. How to drill down on the Internet era’s collaborative creative process and distill a new lexicon and design methods poses the challenge. ENTER SHERLOCK AND THE INTERNET OF THINGS IN 2015 Lance Weiler, founder of the Digital Storytelling Lab at Columbia University and pioneering filmmaker, and Nick Fortugna, co-founder of Come Out & Play and game designer, are hosting a yearlong experiment that’ll lead to some type of collaborative project. The prototype of this project will be performed in the 53rd New York Film Festival (October 2015) at Lincoln Center. The partners of Sherlock and the Internet of Things include the Digital Storytelling Lab at Columbia University, NYFF Convergence and the Brown Institute for Media Innovation. In his 2014 article “The Art of Narrative Deduction” in Filmmaker Magazine,...
Why Europe Led the Way in Interactive

Why Europe Led the Way in Interactive

Jan 27, 2015: London, 2000. The move abroad meant being plunked into a vortex of creative and entrepreneurial energy in the digital space. During the first dot-com wave, Europe paved the way for cross-platform (convergent) programming in media and entertainment. Given the European’s habitual use of teletext, the transition to interactive digital platforms was as natural as gulping a pint of ale. Among the pivotal events were: The Emergence of Interactive TV: BBC’s Red Button The Birth of a Digital Entertainment Portal: Channel 4’s E4 The Rise of Reality/Event TV: Endemol’s “Big Brother” IMT-2000: A Single Standard (G3) for Mobile Services and Applications At <kpe> Europe, we were not only building Channel 4’s E4 (e4.com) – heralded as Europe’s first broadband channel – but also creating short-form digital entertainment for the new online space. Most viewers didn’t have broadband at the time; Britons accessed E4 via dial-up modems. Drip feed. It didn’t stop E4 from livestreaming “Big Brother” over the Internet. I. THE EMERGENCE OF INTERACTIVE TV – THE SWITCH FROM ANALOGUE TO DIGITAL Before anyone knew about the Internet, Europeans were using teletext and interacting daily with their televisions. Few homes in England went without a teletext-enabled TV set. Developed in the 1970s, BBC’s analogue teletext service, Ceefax, allowed users to access news headlines, weather, traffic updates, train and flight schedules, stock prices, TV program schedules, lottery results, sports scores and even recipes. Teletext users leafed through text menus on their TVs as easily as today’s smart phone users thumb through apps. In contrast, the FCC shied away from setting a teletext standard in the 1980s, and left...
Extending Narrative in Transmedia – Mobisodes and Digi-Novels (Pt 2)

Extending Narrative in Transmedia – Mobisodes and Digi-Novels (Pt 2)

Jan 24, 2015: In looking at Q Chronicles and Bridget Jones transmedia formats circa 2000 (Part 1), some of the early cross-platform concepts explore how to distribute narrative across multiple platforms as well as how to extend narrative. In Q Chronicles, we were expanding the story world by using TV interstitials to tell a parallel story – the murder mystery of Fox’s mother – via a series of flashbacks. The parallel story and the main (macro) story converge in the final episode of the series. Today, the techniques for expanding narrative across multiple platforms have been more clearly defined. In 2009, Carlos Alberto Scolari specified four techniques in his article “Transmedia Storytelling: Implicit Consumers, Narrative Worlds, and Branding in Contemporary Media Production” in the “International Journal of Communication.” FILLING NARRATIVE GAPS WITH “LOST: MISSING PIECES”  “Lost: Missing Pieces” is an example of using microstories to expand the story world of the hit TV series. Thirteen mobisodes, averaging two to three minutes, aired from November 7, 2007 to January 28, 2008. While Verizon wireless subscribers could view these microstories on their mobile phones, non-subscribers were able to view them later on ABC.com. Created to complement “Lost” scenes already broadcast on the small screen, the mobisodes filled in narrative gaps in the TV show. If you weren’t a die-hard fan and tracked the show’s labrynthine throughlines, you may not have understood the import of these mobisodes. However, “Lost: Missing Pieces” allowed for a deeper and more complex understanding of character motivations. Microstories (interstitials) are a flexible tool. Media creators can use three different strategies – temporal (time-based), spatial (location-based) or character-based...
Q Chronicles – Cross-Platform Story Engine (Pt 1)

Q Chronicles – Cross-Platform Story Engine (Pt 1)

Jan 22, 2015: The convergent programming concepts we created during the first dot-com wave have yet to be fully realised. These concepts can serve as learning vehicles for current cross-platform creators. In 2000, I devised the “Q Chronicles,” a cross-platform format that wove together a TV show, interstitials, website and mobile devices. The William Morris Agency in London jumped on the “Q Chronicles” cross-platform story engine as a blueprint for key-in-lock (mysteries, detective, science fiction, etc.) programming. But TV producers shied away. The technology to execute was still crude and costly. With the widespread adoption of broadband and the rise of web video, complex convergent programming may emerge in today’s media universe. This article will unfold in two parts: 1) Q Chronicles Cross-Platform Story Engine and 2) Extending Narrative and Zuiker’s Level 26, the Digi-Novel. At <kpe> Europe, we envisioned the anchor of the “Q Chronicles” to be a TV show – police drama – that featured veteran homicide detective Richard Kew (nicknamed “Q”) and rookie Sonya Fox. Kew has kept a journal of his hard-won cases – hence, the “Q Chronicles.” Kew suffers from dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease and must (eventually) resign from Scotland Yard. Fox is slated to move into Kew’s cubbyhole. Initially, Kew battles with Fox – a young/old, man/woman conflict. Over time, Fox gains the trust and respect of the old inspector. A father-daughter relationship forms as they team up to solve homicides. When Kew’s mind begins to disintegrate, Fox delves into Kew’s chronicles to learn the techniques that made Kew a star inspector. In the final episode, Kew dies. Now operating solo, Fox...