Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mobile Augmented Reality

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Make Machinima!

Today we are going to have a workshop on making machinima (machine+cinema). We'll do a variation on the activity I do in my Language of Film course, which is to go into class, improvise a scene/short film in silent film style (so there is no pesky sound to record/edit/match in editing) with the props at hand, film it during class, and edit it later using our laptops. We'll go into Second Life, and instead of emptying our backpacks and pockets for props, look in our inventories. Instead of using the classroom and hallway for the set, we'll pick a sim in SL. Like in the actual world class film shoot, we'll be the actors, and can take turns (on my computer rather than through my camera) shooting.

I am very curious to see how this goes, whether it takes longer to do in SL (this is my hunch), because no one ever crashes in the classroom, or at least hasn't yet, and pulling a banana out of a backpack does not take any time to rez, or place, etc. BUT I have yet to see anyone fly in the Film Scoring hallway or make the moviola dance.

We can also think about the kino-eye, what Dziga Vertov hoped for, and what we can so easily do in making our machinima on our laptop computers. Theoretically, we could each shoot our own version simultaneously as we acted in them . . . would we gain anything from that? What?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ten Questions to Ask about Technology

Here are Ten Questions (ok there are more, because some questions are kind of nested) to ask about a new technology tool that help us think about it in its wider cultural context. I am working off of, as usual, Cultural Studies founder Stuart Hall's idea of the circuit of culture, in which production, consumption, regulation, representation, and identity are all mutually informing. When we combine this with the historical trajectory perspective I am always harping on--which puts any given cultural text (game, device, app, film, dvd menu, etc) in a lineage of antecedents, looks for its peak if it has had it yet, and then speculates wildly on what might come next--we will always have a lot to talk about when we talk about any new aspect of technology, beyond the thumbs up/thumbs down reaction from which we might start and then come back to at the end, perhaps more thoughtfully.

Ten questions to ask about a new technology:

1) What is its purpose?

2) What was its analog, if there was one? How does a mediated, digital, or networked version of the tool or technique change it?

3) Who uses it? How? When? Where? Why? Does the use change over time? Do different users use it differently?

4) How does a user learn how to use it?

5) Who makes it? Who profits? How?

6) How is it regulated?

7) How does it spread?

8) Does it create or fill a need?

9) What is the interface? Is it also an object? Or a practice? Both? (think cell phone)

10) How does the user change the technology as he or she uses it? (mods and hacks and appropriations) How does the technology change the user? How does it become part of a person's sense of self?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Where Gaming Meets Social Networking: Farmville and (hopefully) Beyond

Just read an article by Soren Johnson on Game Guide Reviews about Farmville, which concludes with this: "Obviously, developers are wary of how Facebook gaming will change the industry in the years ahead. (Compare the importance of business metrics now with 1997s Ultima Online, which lead designer Raph Koster points out wasnt designed around any business model in particular.) The irony is that Facebook games typically share four characteristics that really do promise great things for both gamers and designers: -True friends list: Gaming can now happen exclusively within the context of ones actual friends. Multiplayer games no longer suffer from the catch-22 of requiring friends to be fun while new players always start the game without friends. -Free-to-play business model: New players need not shell out $60 to join the crowd. Consumers dont like buying multiplayer games unless they know that their friends are all going to buy the game as well. Free-to-play removes that friction. -Persistent, asynchronous play: Finding time to play with ones real friends is difficult, especially for working, adult gamers. Asynchronous mechanics, however, let gamers play at their own pace and with their own friends, not strangers who happen to be online at the same time. -Metrics-based iteration: Retail games are developed in a vacuum, with designers working by gut instinct. Further, games get only one launch, a single chance to succeed. Most developers would love, instead, to iterate quickly on genuine, live feedback. These four pillars are the reason why many game developers are flocking to Facebook. (Of course, many of these characteristics are not exclusive to Facebook, but combining them together with such a large audience makes Facebook the obvious choice right now.) However, Jesse Schell is right; a war is brewing over who will call the shots. The question is not simply one of suits-vs-creatives. The question is will designers take the time to learn the business, to learn how to pay the bills while also delivering a fantastic game experience? As BioWares Ray Muzyka put it during a panel on connected gaming, ultimately all decisions are made with a goal to make money, but the goal may be short-term revenue (can we sell more blue hats tomorrow?) or long-term growth (does our community believe in what we are doing? are we creating life-long fans?). The successes will not come from open conflict between design and business but from developers who internalize the tension and attack the problem holistically. I have to admit my own reservations about this transformation; game design itself simply might be not as much fun as it used to be. I cannot easily sum up how enjoyable brainstorming a game is during the early, heady days of blue skies and distant deadlines. With a release-early-and-iterate mentality, these days are now over, for good. Games will no longer be a manifestation of an individuals (or a teams) pure imagination and, instead, will grow out of the murky grey area between developers and players. The designer-as-auteur ideal is perhaps incompatible with this model, but I believe the best game designers are the ones willing to get dirty to engage fully with a community to discover which ideas actually work and which ones were simply wishful thinking. Loss of control is never fun, but as Sid is fond of saying, the player should be the one having the fun, after all, not the designer."
Very interesting, those four characteristics. The idea that asynchronous play is appealing for one's real friends is a really important one, because a game can become the mode through which contact and shared experience can continue even if your lives make it hard to have synchronous computer-mediated quality time never mind face to face interactions. So building that into a game goes against so much of the MMO kind of thing, or the synchronous virtual world, where the social interactions are predicated on who is around at the same time.

Using Video Games to grade a College Class

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On Jenkins's "Game Design as Narrative Architecture"

Henry Jenkins explores and goes beyond the split between "ludology" and "narratology" in what we focus on when we think about games. His distinctions between the kinds of stories that are told in games and the stories that make up games are helpful.

He uses the term "micronarrative" and the example of The Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potempkin:

Let's also discuss Jenkins's ideas of: emergent narratives and embedded narratives.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thinking through Digital Narrative: Discussing Terms & Visualizing Concepts

On Tuesday, we met in Second Life to discuss "Tools for Creating Dramatic Game Dynamics" by Marc LeBlanc, in a volcano. We'll start off Thursday's class with an assessment of that experience, of what it's like to have class in a virtual environment instead of the face-to-face, brick and mortar (or whatever that metal stuff is we have on the walls and ceiling that is supposed to be soundproofing) classroom. What difference do the avatars make? Is it better to be taught by a centaur? Worse? Makes surprisingly little difference? Is it like being on the phone? In a game? (stuck in a class in a game!!) Why or why not?

Here are some of the slides from our discussion, and we can pick up with the last one:

In today's reading, "Interaction & Narrative," Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern distinguish between STORY: "experiences that have a tightly organized plot arc, progression towards a climax, beginning, middle, and end, etc" and NARRATIVE: " the abstract properties or qualities of stories, and more loosely structured, 'experimental,' story-like experiences" (643 in The Game Design Reader). Are these helpful definitions and distinctions, and if so, why? Where do interaction and narrative intersect? See my previous blog post for how some of the television industry's smartest most innovative minds reacted when someone suggested that interaction would be more compelling some day than story.

Mateas and Stern write: "Where gameplay is all about interactivity, narrative is all about predestination" (643). They go on to explore ideas about interactive drama that seeks to combine the two, rather than accept them as antithetical. In developing their "Neo-Aristotelian Theory of Interactive Drama," they draw on Laurel, and Murray. Murray offers three categories for analyzing interactive story experience:

1) Immersion: the feeling of being present (or telepresent) someplace other than where you are physically, and connected to Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief"

2) Agency: I define agency as the ability to effect change in the world, or the game world. Murray explains that agency is connected to intention and not just to interface activity.

3) Transformation: as a) masquerade that allows the player to transform into someone else during the game; b) as variations on the theme that the player can explore and exhaust; and c) personal transformation as a journey on which the game experience takes the player.

They use Murray's terms to conclude: "a player will experience agency when material and formal constraints are balanced" (661).

So, for questions to get us started: how much narrative is there is in the games you like? Do you want to be involved in interactive drama? What about what the authors call the middle ground positions (see pp. 664-65)?

For Project 2, which is the plan/design, I am going to ask you to think of your project as both a story and a game. You'll only make one thing in the end, for Project 3, and you can blend it up any way you want, as long as you have an understanding of how much interactivity, how much story, how much agency, immersion, point of view, self-design, and social interaction is involved in your digital narrative.

I still think gaming is very closely related to story, although I am rethinking why that is. I am curious to hear if and why you think they are connected, and whether Digital Narrative is a good umbrella term for what we are doing in here this semester.

Last and not least, I want to raise the question of how to visualize some of the concepts we have been talking about in a 3-d model I want to build in Second Life that our avatars can be immersed in, maybe even interact with. Here is one kind of model, that takes a taxonomy of teaching objectives and makes it into a 3d pyramid kind of think you can walk (or trot as the case may be) around on, and get definitions of each term in local chat as you do. It is above the EduGolf course on L1's land in Boga: That slurl will put you on the "experiment" square.

Any ideas for immersive diagrams? What concepts are the most important ones? I am leaning towards Caillois, but maybe you have other priorities?

Monday, March 22, 2010

LA Story: SCMS Conference Wrap-Up, Digital Narrative Highlights

Here is my highly subjective report from the SCMS (Society for Cinema & Media Studies) conference in LA. Hearing and seeing the producers of the tv show Lost, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, on a panel on Transmedia was incredibly cool, and meeting them afterwards was amazing. Talking to the showrunner of syfy's Caprica, Kevin Murphy, about virtual worlds after he was on a panel about writing, was another highlight.

All three--and the others who were on these panels--highlighted the importance of storytelling, and for us in Digital Narrative, the story is what it boils down to, as well, because the form or technology, in the end, is not what is primary, is not the thing that drives the audience, but the story. In the industry, the tv show or movie of the franchise is called the "mother ship" and they see it as always being more important than the other transmedia components, whether it be a website, game, or Alternate Reality Game. In the example of Lost, Carlton Cuse used the metaphor of the show being the cake and the mythology being the frosting, but that a lot of people were interested in the frosting. But, as Damon Lindelof said, Kate and Sawyer don't care about the Hanso foundation, and they couldn't tell that backstory in the show itself in great detail, but they could in the highly successful ARG. The other platforms become ways to tell other stories, related stories--and note that they are still talking about STORIES.

Kim Moses from the Ghost Whisperer talked a lot about giving the viewers an experience --a "total engagement experience" that would be like a playground that would extend the show and then gently bring viewers back to the show, creating more loyalty and emotional investment.

There was also discussion of "monetizing" the other platforms, but this wasn't the speakers' primary focus in this forum, although I bet it is in others :) Lindelof, Cuse, and Javier Marxuach, who worked on the Lost Experience ARG, all talked about trying to incorporate sponsors and how difficult that was, and that ultimately what the ARG did was to keep the buzz alive during the offseason, which is nothing to shake a stick at, but maybe is not quantifiable. People also filled out contact information when they signed up for the Hanso Foundation, and so ABC has that information--isn't that a valuable asset, they wondered?

In the question and answer part, someone asked a leading question, based it seemed on his theory that in the future the ancillary media would overtake what the producers were calling the "mother ship" of the franchise, the movie or the series that spawns all the other stuff. The producers were incredulous. Someone, I think it was Lindelof but maybe it was Marxuach (it was hard to see and they were both so quick and witty) said something like "No way am I going to do homework to go and see Batman." Later someone connected it back to storytelling, to being told stories rather than playing a game, or doing a puzzle, really, to that kind of entertainment driving the big money and resources of the industry. It is a pretty interesting thing to think about, esp for us in this class. What place does interactive narrative have? How much agency do people want? Is it a story or an experience? Is a game also a story, or is it something different? Does it matter where on the paidia to ludus continuum the game is? How much agon, alea, mimicry, or ilinx? (Remember all of this from Caillois?)

This brings me to the really fascinating conversation I had with Kevin Murphy, who joined Caprica as a producer to work on the second half of the first season (ie: brought in to address some perceived deficit) and then replaced the showrunner a month later in November 2009 (the series premiered in January 2010). I wasn't interviewing him (or Cuse or Lindelof when I talked to them, either), but wanted to say hello as a fan and express how much I love their shows. We got to talking about virtual worlds, and I said I had been doing research in Second Life, making machinima, etc, and that I thought that part of Caprica was particularly interesting albeit an incredibly negative portrayal of a virtual world--all sex and violence and transgression without consequence. He said that there was only so far they could go with the narratives in the virtual world because the characters couldn't change the virtual world, basically didn't have agency within it, unlike the actual world. This is so fascinating--the way that the v-world in the text of Caprica is set up in their story limited their story, because it is not open-ended like Second Life with a high degree of agency, but more of a closed game. Zoe is a character who lives in some weird form in both the actual, physical world, but as a robot, and in the virtual world as an avatar, and nowhere and yet kind of in both as the young woman she once was. Her friend, who is dead in the actual world and exists only as an avatar, with no robot component, is even more intriguing, and a fictional realization of the idea of downloading the consciousness of someone so they can live on after death. The v-world storylines could explore the ideas of identity and avatars--of action and consequence--that are so fascinating. Which is more "real"--the robot, with its BSG red eye, or the avatar? What does it say to choose the robot over the avatar, if that is how the show is going to go, and that is how Murphy made me think the show is going to go. (And that is how BSG makes it seem like it has to, because as much as there is the level of the Six in Baltar's head, as much as the Cylon seem to live in what we can think of as an augmented reality by the end of the series, it is a visceral, physical, embodied reality that BSG excelled at).

Here is the information on the two sessions, both organized brilliantly by the Television Studies Scholarly Interest Group, who really delivered in these and other sessions for this conference:

The More Things Change…
Writing for Television in the 21st Century

Chair Sharon Ross
Columbia College-Chicago

Neal Baer NBCUniversal
Lisa Seidman NBCUniversal
Mark Brown WGA
Kevin Murphy Syfy
Noreen Halpern E1

Transmedia Studies
The Hollywood Geek Elite Debates the Future
of Television

Chair Denise Mann
University of California, Los Angeles
Co-Chair Henry Jenkins
University of Southern California

Carlton Cuse LOST, ABC
Tim Kring Heroes, NBC
Javier Marxuach DAY ONE, NBC
Kim Moses Ghost Whisperer,CBS
Mark Warshaw Alchemists
Damon Lindelof LOST, ABC

OTHER COOL THINGS at the conference:

There were some good sessions I went to, in particular, one on the museum and new media, and another on historicizing video games.

AND although my book I Love Lucy does not come out until April 15, there were copies at the conference at the Wayne State University Press booth, and for the first time, I held it in my hand (see below), cementing the place of the physical, actual, material object in its place in a hierarchy from which it will take an awful lot to dislodge. Read more about my book here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Defining Play & Games: Caillois

Agon, Alea, Mimicry, Ilinx: these categories of games that Roger Caillois isolate different aspects of play as they are codified into games.

Caillois defines Paidia as the "spontaneous manifestation of the play instinct" that leads to turbulence and disturbance. Ludus is the "taste for gratuitous difficulty" (141).

Let's apply these terms--and check back to Caillois's revision of Huizinga's definition of play (see below, p. 128) as we discuss your excellent analyses of the games you play and of some that we play together.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Analysis of Two Games

Game Analysis - Heavy Rain (Playstation 3)

The first game that I am analyzing is the recently released Heavy Rain for the Playstation 3.

Heavy Rain is not a game that can be easily classified, but I will do my best to explain the premise. Essentially, it is a cinematic murder mystery thriller that portrays the story of four central characters who are in some way connected to one another. The goal of the game is to find the "Origami Killer" who is a serial murderer that has, in one way or another, affected the lives of our four heroes.

The game takes place in the third person, with a "third person limited" point of view for each character. I say this because you can quite literally hear the thoughts of the character you are controlling with a simple button press. This works well for a game that is entirely focused on character development and plot.

Speaking of simple button presses, that is all there is to the actual playing of this game. Now, in my opinion, that does not discredit it in any way. To show you what I mean, I think it would be easier to show a video clip of the game in action:

Note: Do not read the text comments for this video, as many people try to intentionally spoil this game for others.

As you can see from this video, all interaction in this game is done with timed button presses, also known as "quicktime events." The player can fail in doing the proper button presses, but instead of a game over screen, the game continues on. No matter how many times the player succeeds or fails, the game will continue. Depending on how well you do in each segment, the story will change drastically.

In terms of self-design, the characters in this game are already pre-set and you cannot change their appearance or mannerisms in any way. But what you can do is make a vast amount of choices that effect the way other people interact with them, how the world at large views them, and how the tale itself plays out, which segues nicely to the next point about social interaction.

Social interaction in this game is played out just like the rest of it, which is to say, through quicktime events. When prompted with something to say, the character you are in control of will have a list of things he/she can say to certain people. How you choose to speak to people determines how they feel about you, which may lead them to showing up later in the game to help/hinder you.

On the subject of space and place, this game does not really garner a sense of topophilia, as it takes place in a generic American metropolis where none of the areas are particularly distinct, but to the game's credit, what takes place in each of these locations is incredibly interesting.

Although you cannot physically effect the world like in Second Life, the world can and will change depending on the choices the player makes. Seeing as how there are only a finite (albeit large) number of choices that can be made, the level of virtual agency isn't incredibly high, but still quite respectable for a single-player game like this.

Game Analysis - Demon's Souls (Playstation 3)

The second game I have chosen is Demon's Souls for the Playstation 3.

Unlike Heavy Rain, this game can be easily classified. This game is a third person action game that takes inspiration from gothic Western fantasy influence. As you can tell from the title, you are mainly battling demons.

This game uses the third person point of view like many action/adventure type games do. Unlike Heavy Rain, there is no personal character development in this game, as you create your avatar. Your character never speaks, and has no personality of his or her own.

One note about this game that I would like to mention, is that it is known as "the hardest game ever". While I don't quite agree with that, this is indeed one of the most difficult games I have played in recent memory.

This game is based entirely around combat, and this game in particular has a very simple combat system of using light, and heavy attacks with a button for magic. The difficulty in this game comes from the fact that you collect "souls" when you kill enemies, which are the currency of this world. If you die, you lose all of the souls you have collected up to that point, and have to start the level over again. If you can reach the spot that you previously died at, you can regain your souls, but if you die when trying to retrieve them, all those souls are lost forever.

On the subject of self-design, this game allows you to create your own character from scratch with a very robust character creator. Once your character is created you can choose to be good or evil by your choices in the game itself. Being good tends to make the demons you fight weaker, while also making them drop more healing items. The downside to this being that this makes the demons drop less souls. Being evil does the opposite, the demons are much stronger, and drop almost no healing items, but they tend to give more souls, which, again, are the lifeblood of the game.

Social interaction in this game is quite interesting, to say the least. Although this game is mainly a single-player game with little to no interaction between the in game characters and yourself, when you are playing this game, it makes a point of connecting you to an online server. Once you are connected you can write messages on the ground, which can be seen by other people on the same server. For example, you can write down things such as "use fire on the next enemy" or "there's a fall ahead" to warn others. Now, the interesting part is the fact that you cannot see anyone else who is playing on the same server, even though everyone can see each other's messages. Once you advance further in the game, you can invade other people's worlds to either help or hinder their progress as you see fit, which will turn your character to good or evil depending on what you choose.

When talking about space and place, this game has a very unique gothic world which I do enjoy. Although I am not very emotionally invested in it, it is a very beautiful and dark world that invokes a good sense of wonder and amazement when setting your eyes upon it.

In terms of virtual agency, you cannot really effect the world in a very meaningful way like in Second Life, although you can choose which of the characters you encounter lives or dies, which does not effect the world in a very significant way.

Game Analysis: Part 2 - DJMAX

I was a little reluctant to select this as my second analysis on the count that it's hard to discuss subjects like narrative, immersion, interactivity, social networking, etc in what is essentially a rhythm game with the simple objective of "do stuff according to a beat". But I guess that when contrasted with the prior analysis of WoW, the dichotomy is just all that more pronounced.

Of course, as a music student and future professional musician/producer/composer/whatever along with being a hobbyist video editor/compositor/art junkie, the production value of the media presented in the DJMAX franchise is also an awesome entertainment experience, and a really welcome breath of fresh air compared to the loads and loads of garbage MTV is feeding kids these days.

DJMAX today exists in three forms - a (semi-abandoned, unfortunately) PC game, a series of PSP games, and an arcade machine. The two former are extremely similar in the sense that you hit buttons in time to falling bars to 'fill in' parts of a song. The latter, while sharing the same songlist generally, is a somewhat different experience as the player instead touches a touchscreen according to the timing of a line that moves across the screen. Play is judged based on accuracy and consistency, and global internet ranking exists for all the games.

I guess that if the player were to assume a role, he'd be playing himself/herself in the shoes of a virtual DJ (for the lack of a better analogy) although I find this far less pretentious than Guitar Hero and other similar western music games. (Speaking of which, this is a little nitpicky but Japan and Korea have been making rhythm games long before Kotick ever assumed his position of HIGH HORSE EXTRAODINAIRE at Activision so it's pretty hilarious watching idiots comment on DJMAX, IIDX and other older Asian franchises as "guitar hero clones")

The above idea, that you can be whatever you want just by believing, is personified by the first PSP game's intro movie (which also doubles as a playable 'theme song' for that particular game in the series) which depicts a schoolgirl's aspirations to be a pop star. This is built upon in the second game, where the lyrics to its theme song/intro very obviously carries that train of thought further.

Despite the game's club-suggestive title, and despite the fact that quite a bit of the soundtrack falls solidly under the dance genre, the franchise is reknown in its circle of fans for its extremely diverse yet almost universally catchy and/or moving music. Here's just a (unfortunately very brief, trust me!) rough cross section of the genres represented:

Proposed, Flower, Wolf - Piano Ballad (this should be somewhat familiar!)
Proposed, Flower, Wolf pt2 - Orchestral/Violin Filmscore-esque
Eternity - Rock Ballad
Keys to the World - Modern Rock
In My Dream - Metal Fusion
Here in the Moment - Latin Fusion
Mess it Up - Electro Big Band/Jazz
Right Now - Gospel Ballad
Hard to Start - Chiptune (YES!)

What sets DJMAX apart from other music games is the amount of work put into each song especially in terms of its accompanying visuals, as you may have noticed from the above examples. The art jockeys are arguably as important as the composers in content development. You could say that each song has a story to tell, whether it's lovers meeting on the beach, A gender-bending parody of Sherlock Holmes, zombie apocalypse, Vandread spinoff, one of those FIGHT.gif things, gun-toting, racecar driving, femme fatales, superheroes that power-up to beat up couples (HAHAHA) or simply more abstract pieces with no real story, the list just goes on and on and on.

I can safely say that the franchise has opened up my tastes to a lot of different genres of music (and I'm a better person because of it) and challenged me both rhythmically, and interestingly enough harmonically when trying to understand what goes on in some of the songs and how they evoke the emotions they do. In fact, this niche genre where music and gaming intersect is one of the big reasons I took the plunge and moved across the globe to attend Berklee rather than staying in my little hole back in Malaysia.

Before I forget, here are a couple of vids of what actual gameplay is like: in PSP form, and the arcade machine (speaking of which, college really needs to buy a couple of these. I'll save up quarters >:V )

Subjective Analysis of Two Games

For this project, I will be taking a look at OMGPOP's "Draw My Thing" and "Sims 3" from EA Games.

To begin, is a website that hosts multi-player games in a social online environment. It has a built in user profile system similar to Facebook. You can check what games your friends are playing, see your recent list of opponents, send challenges to other players, and see what games are most popular and who is playing them.

The site has it's own currency, which you can earn by logging in daily, winning games, betting against your opponents, watching ads, or answering survey questions. Of course, with this collectible currency comes one of the most addicting features of the website: customizable content. For every game there exists customizable characters, items, power boosts, etc... Focusing on "Draw my Thing", players can customize their writing utensil, clock timer, and even by vowels to get a jump start on their opponents as they scramble to guess what each other is drawing within 60 seconds. Sounds familiar? With a very sleek interface and a booming social network, omgpop has made online Pictionary and other simple games seems new again.

Omgpop's interface is as simple as can be and just the way we like it. Instead of listing games down the page with small icons like,,, and many other still do, Omgpop's aesthetic seems to borrow from the glossy sliding frames of the iPhone and similar Apple interfaces. As a testament to how alluring the interface is, several times since trying to write this analysis, I've been watching the billboard that scrolls through their games and have gotten sucked into playing them multiple times. It's hard to leave this site once you enter.

Moving on to Sims 3.
My girlfriend got me hooked on the Sims 2 earlier this year. It was so easy to spend hours building elaborate mansions or decorating a house with quirky materials. The ability to create in the Sims only grew as EA very cleverly allowed user generated content to play a big role in the game. "Why not let them do our job for us, and they can make whatever they want and be happy!" Same basic principle to Second Life, of course its easier to create in SL than it is in the Sims.

Sims 3 was very hyped and highly anticipated. I was hoping it was going to be leaps and bounds ahead of Sims 2, but in some ways, it was even worse. EA may have been depending on user generated content a little too much this time around, and skimped on some critical building tools. The overall building engine and graphics are very similar to how they were before and the only new "big feature" was that you could now place objects on a 45 degree angle... Yippee!
In the trailers, the cameras were all positioned closer to the characters and lower to the ground which gave it a much newer look. I was disappointed to find that the camera still really only functions in bird eye view, and trying to zoom in just results in the camera jumping around everywhere.

On a positive note, I was able to get more involved in self-design in the Sims 3. The characters have more flexable facial features and there's some decent user generated content to download.
Having more control in character creation has always helped me get more attached to the character and more involved in the game. Unfortunately, the Sims 3 still doesn't keep my attention as well as it should for a highly anticipated release in this age of gaming.

After I was playing for a while, I noticed something about the game play was bothering me. I didn't know what it was, but I almost was feeling sad when I was playing. I eventually realized that the entire game felt incredibly lonely, a giant world with lots of characters that just did everyday things like me, and they weren't even real people. I'm starting to think that this format is not working as well as it used to for the Sims, especially when there are better games out there that have an online social capability. I was less interested in clicking on a person and saying "tell joke" when I could go online in Second Life and do it myself. I think if EA is going to survive another Sims game, it has to be like Sims online.

From my perspective, it seems that social interaction is becoming more and more important in gaming. Don't get me wrong, I love a good RPG with some good character writing for NPCs, but if the story isn't well written and immersive, the game can seem a little lonely next to some games with bustling online communities.

Critical Analysis of Two Games

The First Person Shooter
Modern Warfare 2 and Bioshock 2 are both first person shooters and they are both recently released sequels to extremely popular games. But this may be all they have in common. Contrary to popular belief, first person shooters are not all the same.

Modern Warfare 2
Modern Warfare 2, set in the modern day, takes us to various places all over the world. As in it's predecessor, there is not a single point of view of the story (although always first person perspective.) The player is continually changing character from mission to mission which makes the story a little harder to follow. And once again, as in the previous version, your character dies. As the game progresses and the points of view converge, it seems almost like they are changing characters just for the sake of it, which becomes distracting.

The action packed missions are pretty straight forward: shoot, kill run, etc. There is a lot of automated interaction with the other AI characters when tasks are completed. But there is no user initiated interaction necessary to play this game. The various settings are realistic enough, Rio, Afghanistan, snowy Russia, to name a few, as well as the infamous airport.

While playing this game I accepted the virtual world it provided me, enjoyed the realistic warfare, didn't mind mercilessly killing everyone in sight. Until I got to the airport. The place is packed with everyday people waiting to take a flight somewhere, and you are supposed to mow them all down. They don't have guns, they can't fight back, they plead for their lives, they panic. It was way too real. People in airports are going on vacation, going to see family, going home. Nothing came out of this, it was gratuitous and unnecessary, I felt dirty, it totally took me out of the game and kind of pissed me off. I am all for pushing the boundaries and testing the limits, but this is not what I shelled out 60 bucks for.

On the other hand, the online multiplayer is where it's at. Playing with friends is what this game is all about, and worth every penny of the money I spent. The voice chat is great, but Activision blocked XBOX party chat for some reason, which can get really old when a bunch of annoying kids are in your match.

Bioshock 2
Bioshock 2 is set in an alternative version of the 1960's in a fictional underwater dystopian city called Rapture. Unlike it's predecessor, this time around you are a Big Daddy, which was the enemy in the original but is the good guy in this installment. The story unfolds through a combination of PA broadcasts and diaries you find and have the option to read or not. As the game progresses the story becomes clearer and clearer.

The environment is well made and stylized to be creepy but not overly realistic. The poor lighting and creepy music keep the player captivated, always peering into the shadows to see what is lurking. The baddies come out of nowhere suddenly (and have made me jump a few times), which is key to maintaining player interest.

There are lots of things to interact with in this game. Items to pick up are littered all over the place including weapons, powers, health, food, and even booze. Dispensers of the same objects can be found frequently, and you have the option to buy items or attempt to hack the machine which brings up a little game. Distractions like this within a game help break up the monotony, but I love that the player can bypass them with cash.

The Little Sisters are creepy little possessed girls with powers, and you have the option to save them (make them normal again), or harvest the (kill them and take their power). At first I felt bad for them and opted to save them, but I realized I got more when I killed them so that became the routine.

Bioshock 2 has an online multiplayer feature, but I have not tried it. I don't really know anyone who plays Bioshock online, we usually play Modern Warfare.

In Closing
Modern Warfare 2 is more realistic, straightforward and action packed, but the line between real and fun was crossed which left me with a bad taste in my mouth. The story was also confusing at times and the constant changing of character disconnected you from the experience. The online multiplayer is awesome and leaves all other similar titles far behind, sorry Halo. Bioshock 2 is not as fast paced, but the environment is much more captivating and the story more coherent. The user interaction with objects and machines was also appreciated, as it gave the game another dimension. The fact that I felt no remorse killing little girls to gain power, but was upset at having to kill defenseless civilians in an airport may seem odd. But I wonder if I would have happily mowed down the civilians if there was something to gain or any sort of point to it.

Short Version:
-Constant change of character in MW2 leaves player feeling disconnected
-MW2 airport mission too realistic and gratuitous
-MW2 online multiplayer is awesome
-Bioshock provides a great virtual environment via graphics and sound
-Interaction in Bioshock adds another dimension
-Don't know anyone who plays Bioshock online
Game Analysis: Part 1 - World of Warcraft
(If there aren't any glaring objections, I'd like to take this assignment in multiple parts, as 1) I do have quite a bit to say that may not be obvious at first glance due to the way I play games, and 2) I really, really, loathe when I type up a cartload of stuff and have the page 404 - I've developed a paranoia of that over the years)

First of all, let me say that I'm glad that we're talking about subjective experiences in games, because due to my somewhat eccentric, OCD personality, my experience with any form of entertainment is pretty atypical.

I think that it is impossible nowadays to speak of digital narrative and social/virtual interactions without reference to MMO games, and World of Warcraft (Blizzard, 2004) in many aspects represents the epitome of the genre, standing head and shoulders above all the competition, past and present (many of which ironically coined themselves 'wow killers' only to get curbstomped by reality) in both subscription numbers and content.

The cool thing that Blizzard has done with the game is that it has something for everyone, whether it be competitive gaming (many will laugh at this one, me included at times), casual gaming, role-play, simple objective completion, making virtual profit off the infamous Auction House/trade channels, or simply just enjoying a good tale. And all this is tied together by the fact that the game is a huge social circle - people of all the aforementioned walks interact with each other on the same (four-hundred-odd) realms.

WoW's general backbone experience is: levelling, and the game at maximum level (currently 80) which many will argue is where the game really begins.

The Narrative
World of Warcraft is (obviously) based in the Warcraft universe, which started in 1994 with the RTS game Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. The underlying story which is the brainchild of Chris Metzen has gone several overarching reiterations/retconning, although by the time Warcraft III (2002) rolled about, the universe was rich and stable enough to support all kinds of tangents and canonical spin-offs - as of now we have comic books, novels, and of course, in-game content delivered through the WoW platform, all giving glimpses into Metzen's universe.

From the exploration of the homeworld of the Orcs (original storyline is Orcs invading the Human world) and what drove them on the warpath, to the elemental mysteries of the land Warcraft takes place in, to kingdoms new, fallen and long gone, to villains past, present and future, to the ethereal 'emerald dream', Metzen's universe is currently large enough to fill up a dozen seasons of TV series, with enough heroes, villains and noteworthy characters in between to fill up several virtual museums.

The player is presented bits and pieces of the story through quests, various readable knicknacks in cities/libraries/dungeons, recently in-game cinematics, and of course, the timeless process of hands-on whoop-the-bad-guys'-asses action in dungeons (and larger, harder dungeons, called 'raids' - more on that later). The amount of story that is crammed into the world that has little to do with the main plot is amazing, and a testament to the quest designers' creativity. From the tale of Mor'Ladim (which is a pretty long quest chain ending with the moving defeat and redemption of said character), all the way to tributes of real-life occurences such as Sully Balloo's letter the levelling experience is chock full of narrative that the average player won't find when just rushing to the end.

The latest expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, adds cinematics into the mix. Players are breadcrumbed into eventually facing off with Arthas, a villain from the Warcraft 3 era. In fact, the entire expansion is about Arthas, including cinematics that highlight key points in the story, including his eventual defeat. (spoilers!)

However, an interesting dilemma comes up: When you allow players (<-- note the plural) in a massively multiplayer online game to be the heroes in the story, how do you cater to the fact that there are literally millions of players doing the same thing and reconcile that fact with the need to have a cohesive story? My personal take on it after seeing things unfold is that there basically exists two different versions of the Warcraft story: Metzen's story, which is canon, and does not contradict itself throughout its' entireity, and World of Warcraft's personalized retelling, which is specific to each player that plays the game and while follows the same broad strokes, is not necessarily canon.

For example, let's take Onyxia, a major villain in the original World of Warcraft release. There was a long questline that led up to the eventual face-off and defeat of Onyxia (and back then, guilds who managed to kill her were BAD-ASS) However, recently rewritten lore in the form of the story arc of King Varian Wrynn (published comics) reveals that in fact, it was he and a small band of his friends who ended the threat. Naxxramas, the final raid zone of the original game, was in fact stormed not by players, but by other characters within another set of media.

Basically I have come to terms with the fact that the game I am playing isn't 100% canon, but instead a slightly different retelling via artistic license, in the interest of an enjoyable experience. That in itself is an interesting exercise in non-linearity, when you come to think of it. :V

But enough talk about the narrative, 90% of the people who play WoW don't even care about it - let's move on to what makes people value their characters and what in essence puts the "game" into MMORPG for WoW!

Dungeons and Raids - the Social Requirement

As I mentioned early on, it is very easy to hit the level cap in WoW. The main driving force behind the game is how people 'upgrade' their characters at this maximum level. The game at this point revolves around multiple tiers of 'progression' in terms of your character's gear. The basic premise is that gear from 'tier 5' should allow the average player enough character power to defeat and slowly acquire gear from 'tier 6', and so on and so forth. Every once in a while, Blizzard releases an expansion that raises the level cap and resets progression for everyone by giving e.g. quest items of comparable power to the last tier of the previous expansion.

However, there's a twist to this. First of all, the majority of good 'loot' comes from grouped content, in the form of raids. Raids basically require 25 (or 10 for a watered-down version) people acting in tandem to defeat bosses. The beauty of this is the fact that bosses drop 2-3 pieces of gear, and are generally on a 1-week reset timer. They also have the potential to be soul-crushingly difficult, requiring for example perfect execution over 10 minutes by everyone, or the attempt 'fails'. These two added together lead to the basis of guild interactions within the game.

Basically within the population, groups form up that regularly raid together. Within these groups, trust and camaderie (and often violent, explosive bouts of e-drama) are built, as you eventually learn who is capable of performing during raids, and who's the proverbial deadweight. The simplest premise of this is trusting that the 24 other people (and a few more actually) will log on at specific times so that the raid can actually happen. Social ties are built as guilds share loot and eventually the sense of accomplishment of killing the final boss of a raid dungeon.

Another thing to note is the vast gap of skill level present in the game. The 10 classes available in the game are, despite what a vocal section of the playerbase say, pretty well balanced vs each other in terms of requiring a few in the raid, and the difference between a player who knows what he's doing and one who's clueless is very, very, very, VERY quantifiable. Blizzard generally releases bosses tuned to require at least a certain amount of gear, and knowing how to play can substitute for a lot of that requirement, resulting in earlier kills by guilds who are good enough to pull it off. Hence, the 'competitive' side of the game - boss kill bragging rights, world placings, regional placings, etc.

So Falk, this is all nice and good, (and probably a hilariously Captain Obvious-esque read to people who -do- play WoW) but what about YOUR subjective experience?

Before moving to Boston, I had the privilege of raiding with Tsunami, a guild based in Australia. We were perhaps what you could call a 'world class' guild, competing for world top-20 first kills of new bosses that Blizzard released.

The dynamic of the guild was pretty interesting. Our number one priority was maximizing the amount of return from the investment of our 4 nights a week we devoted to raiding. This meant that if someone wasn't performing properly, they'd probably be out of the raid roster pretty fast. It was almost a professional sports team in terms of expectations. Most of the trials who 'didn't make the cut' understood that the guild wasn't a social guild - you didn't get raid spots or loot just because you were the friend of someone who had already contributed a lot - you had to pull your OWN weight.

You learn that what you want and what the guild needs are often at odds. That piece of loot which may be an upgrade to what you have, may very well serve the guild better in the hands of another that allows the guild to kill other bosses faster (resulting in more loot long term - dice-rolling random nature of loot generation aside)

You learn a lot about accountability, about how to make sure someone can cover your responsibilities should you not be able to be present.

I personally learnt that when playing games at this level, sometimes it becomes less of a game and more of a job, but hey, if it's enjoyable overall, it's enjoyable, right?

Despite the status of the guild not being a 'social guild', social ties were easily formed within the guild. It's only natural when you ride together, suffer together and celebrate together that you learn to trust. It was at the point that we'd be able to mostly trust each other with account logins should someone be required to attend to something on a particular night (Hey, being a WoW nerd is only a ticket to skimping -so much- of real-life activities!) A bunch of the guild met up at the end of last year to hang out, from all parts of Australia.

It's kinda cool thinking about it - latency from Australia/Asia to our WoW servers (based in LA) was nothing to joke at. We'd wrestle with connectivity issues that most American guilds never dreamed of. We raided 4 nights a week on a progression cycle where guilds at our level of progression usually go for 5 or even 6 nights a week, and we still manage to do pretty well in relation. One of the last major progression cycles I participated in (before preparing for Berklee consumed my time) resulted in Tsunami claiming Oceanic First for Algalon, one of the 'trophy' bosses of the time. (That video is me playing, btw. It may look simple, but it's not! But going too far into game mechanics will make this aberration of a post even longer than it already is)

The OCD Factor

I'll be honest. I have a near-autistic completionist tendency for certain things in life. Doing things in WoW was a big sate to that thirst over the course of a few years. There's a saying 'if it can be done, someone will do it' and that was my motto for WoW. From reputations (Most of which give no benefit whatsoever) to my ridiculous urge to complete every single quest available to me in the game, I chipped away at it all.

In Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard implemented an Achievement system - little things that ranged from getting a haircut, to reading certain books in the game, to collecting a set number of pets, to doing ridiculous red-herrings during boss encounters, which was all recorded. This sent me head over heels, because now I had EVEN MORE THINGS to complete!

It made me stay up for ~56 hours straight (only with a 2 hour nap near the end) to level from 70 to 80 as the game launched, letting me claim the Realm First 80 Server First 80 feat of strength (of which, obviously, one person per realm ever gets). For the record, WotLK launched on Thursday, and I -did- attend college on Friday.

It sent me back over all the territory I'd explored previously, leading to discoveries of things I never knew were in the game. It made me reevaluate certain things and come up with creative solutions for feats that usually would require more than one person to complete.

It made me wake up at odd hours of the night to scour the continents for rare mobs that would spawn once every ~6hours to a week to tag and kill them - And what a sigh of relief when I finally crossed that last one off the insane scavanger hunt, 2 weeks after I'd found everything else. I hate my luck.

It finally gave me a title (fittingly enough, "the Insane") for having a bunch of exalted/maxed-out reputations that I'd worked on years ago. Finally, due recognition for my autism! For posterity's sake, one particular faction required an extremely unconventional method of collecting and turning in "Darkmoon Decks", of which most people collected maybe one in their entire life to turn in for a trinket. Over the course of 8 months I filtered the servers' economy with a fine tooth comb, scouring the Auction House almost daily for the things I needed. Over the course of 8 months I built 108 of those damned decks, and all for... an exalted reputation no one even cared about.

That was only one of the factions. Another required pickpocketed lockboxes - about 2700 of them, and you could only pickpocket (with a 1/10 chance per mob) with a Rogue which I levelled to 70 just for that purpose. His name is aptly "Boxcollecta". There are other factions involved of course, but let's not even start talking about those.

Sometimes I look back and I wonder if the hair loss was worth it. ;p In a sense, it was - that particular feeling of accomplishment I got when I finally stood in front of that Darkmoon vendor, turning in all the decks in a way that was never intended by the games' designers, finally reaching a goal which after 2 months in looked like an impossible task. I guess I taught myself a lot about patience and perserverence in the process.

After coming to Berklee, I guess I'm nowhere near as hardcore as I once was. I'm still in Tsunami, but the raid times are a little prohibitive (3am Eastern... hmm) so I'm unsure what I'll do with the character. I'm definitely not selling though - I'll never understand people who can take that plunge and part with their characters, even if they'll never play them again. I guess I have a somewhat sentimental attachment.

If you've read up to this point, I'd like to congratulate you on being able to survive reading about my highly subjective experiences and analysis of the social stigmas surrounding World of Warcraft. I hope you aren't at this point as bald as I am and I'll see you in part 2 where I analyze yet another game and take 8237482374 pages too many to do it.

Building in SL

Being in second life for the first time was a wonder. Suffering from major "noobinitus" took me a while to get things straight while logged on. From seeing adds and trailers of SL, my first impression is that of a game, almost exactly like "World of Warcraft" to be specific. In it's own way, it kind of is, but it is also more than that. I can use my gamer's instincts as if it was MMO: changes in appearance, exploring the level and use of communications are the same as if in MMO's such as WoW or the Call of Duty games etc. Its a medium that connects me into the virtual world just like a video game, just taking out the gaming concept of it and using it as a medium to surf through the new world. With all honesty, Second Life was larger and a lot more vast than I thought when I first logged on. I felt like I could get lost very easily in whatever virtual world I was in at the time. I got a larger understanding of how large SL is when I just simply walked and flew around.

One thing in SL that really stands out and separates itself from other games, is that you can "build and create within the game." That blew my mind when I made that discovery, nearly constructing your own 3D art in the game. However, I was just as intimidated as I as intrigued. The trip to the sandbox in class was quite the learning experience, although it took me a while to know the ropes of creating blocks, cones and the use of combinations of creating different shapes. It was like molding clay and turning it into whatever you can imagine by adjusting its parameters. It certainly wasn't easy to figure out though because there were so many details to adjust: height, width, depth, textiles, and so on.

I started out very basic, a cube prim. It started out as a wood block, then I gave it a stone tile and turned it red. "Just like a big block of Jello" I thought, and I found the effect to make the gelatin kind of texture. After adjusting the gravitation strength and wind strength, it was quite the laugh attaching it to myself and walking around. Then I experimented with linking two objects together. I only came up with making stone columns and spearesque objects. Building in Second Life demands a lot time and effort dedicated to practice. But once you really know what you are doing, you are virtually limitless.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Second Life Character Building Experience

When I first approached creating an avatar for Second Life, my initial instincts - developed through several years of online experience - was to create a likeness of myself. In all of my previous online incarnations, I was always myself (on sites like Facebook), or simply used a pseudonym, but still expressed my own opinions, and shared experiences from my real life. Therefore, I built a digital “me” and began exploring.

However, once inside SL, I quickly realized I was thinking in restricted terms. Second Life is not our world. The interface is not simply a 3D environment for Facebook-style social networking, or general message board discussions. This also isn’t a straight game like World of Warcraft, where your character selection is limited to races, classes, and so forth. Second Life is intended to be an all purpose environment in its own, free from many of the limits of the internet tools that came before it. And since it isn’t our world, why should I be me in it? The real me can’t fly. The real me can’t create objects out of thin air. Why, then, should this avatar look like me?

My ultimate decision was to work intuitively, playing around with the controls until it “looked right.” I was free of pressure because I could change the way I looked at any time, so I wasn’t restricted to what I had created.

All in all, it was a rather unique experience, and it might hold some clues of what’s to come, when we reach the days of William Gibson’s Cyberspace or Neal Stephenson’s Metaverse.

Building Blocks

When I first logged in to Second Life, I was concerned with two things: making sure my character didn't look like a noob, and learning how to build. After searching some freebies for my avatar, I asked someone at help island how to start building.

My first trip to the sandbox was an interesting one. Spaceships, smoke machines, modern buildings, strange objects and colorful characters filled the stretching sands of the playground. As I worked my way through the sideshow of people yelling and trying to report each other, I finally found a small spot to begin. Like many gamers in SL have figured out, land is hard to come by, even when its temporary and free. So faced with this small square and some big ideas, there was no other way to go but up!

I began with stretching a rectangular prim as far as it would go, then copying it to make a row of large panels. When the pieces would overlap slightly, you could see a sort of flickering in the seems of the panels. At this point I was wishing there was a locking grid for building in SL, something to snap objects together with ease. Of course this existed, and it was only a youtube tutorial away. This is what I like and also what I don't like about second life: there's a huge database of how-to videos and written tutorials, but there needs to be because SL isn't initially very user friendly. Having an in-game building system that isn't easy to figure out on your own makes it hard for new players to get started in SL. From my experience, I'd always rather build the IKEA desk and chair without the instruction manual, its part of the fun and definitely part of the reward (unless you forget a screw.) So for me, building was mostly getting a little done, running into a snag and then hunting for the answers on Google.

Our recent SL building workshop also cleared up some questions of mine and opened up some creative doors. It was really interesting to see a momentum build up as classmates were trying to out-do each other with their creations. Lucky for us, we've all now have a sturdy foundation to build on now.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Building in Secondlife

Being a gamer most of my life, when I first heard about Second Life I was intrigued. Unfortunately, the first time I tried it I was at a loss and had no one to show me the ropes of this huge online world. This time, however, I have been having a lot of fun in the world and have a basic understanding of how things work. I've met people and gone to some interesting places, both good and bad. But building was something I had no idea how to do.

Building in Second Life seemed overwhelming. I've seen amazing creations in the world, and couldn't imagine how it was created. Especially when it comes to drawing, that is not my forte. The building workshop in class was a big help. I was able to quickly learn the basics of how things are created in the game. I made a silly shape that swirled up, and put my calico cat skin on it then painted it red. I was pretty proud of this insanely useless creation.

For me, however, building seems to tedious. I feel like it's a good thing to know how to do, but I couldn't imagine sitting at my computer for hours trying to create something and make the textures for it. As far as Second Life goes, I'd rather go explore the world and meet new people then build. It would be nice to create some things I have wondering around in my head, but I don't have the patience.

I can say though, that so far this time around I am really enjoying Second Life, and hope to learn more about how the game works. Maybe one day I will start building. But for now I'll just wonder aimlessly until I come across something else in the world that looks fun and interesting.

Building for Second Life

I found the built in Second Life tools to be a little limited and frustrating to use, so I decided to see what other programs could be used to model objects for Second Life. After a quick Google search, I found out that most 3D modeling programs could be used, although getting the finished model into SL was the hard part. There is a free program called Blender (download here), another program called AC3D (here) that offers a free 14 day trial, as well as many other options that cost anywhere from $50 to $3000 or more, such as Maya.

One way I discovered to get objects into SL uses AC3D. After your object is modeled, you can export it as a triangle and follow these directions here. Using the triangle importer, I was able to get my model into SL but it was in many pieces. This can be rectified by linking them all together which got frustrating because I always seemed to miss one or two pieces. There is also an artifact left from the triangle importer that has to be manually deleted one face at a time.

Another way I found to import objects was a script for Maya that would theoretically allow exporting for SL, but I was unable to get that to work. It may be that my version of Maya is outdated (it is 3 years old after all) or it could be that I was not executing it properly.

Problems aside, I really enjoyed creating objects. Building in a virtual world, whether Second Life, an animated movie, or a video game, is a fascinating experience. The possibilities are endless and, as Castronova suggests, this may truly be the next step in human evolution.

Second Life Building Experience

Even though I am very familiar with massively multiplayer games, the building experience that I had in Second Life was very intriguing and exciting to me. There are very few games in recent memory that allow such a large amount of customization when it comes to user generated content. Especially ones that allow you to change the world you play in so significantly.

Although all I have experienced so far when it comes to building in Second Life is the basics, it is almost impossible to ignore the potential that can be exploited with the tools at hand. The fact that you can take the simplest shapes and edit, shape, customize, and place them anywhere is a great display of virtual agency.

Speaking of potential, wandering around the game world showed some great examples of what can be done within the game world. Although this veers a bit off of an analysis of my own personal building experience within the game world, some of the locations and assets I have seen are quite impressive, especially upon the realization that these users have access to the same tools that I do.

This kind of in-game creation process can definitely heighten the sense of both individuality and community within the game world. As I get more and more into Second Life, I am sure I will be even more impressed with the ability for the individual to create their own world within a world.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


This is an assignment due later this week. First we have the blog entry about play and building in Second Life, and then this one. I post this to ask if anyone out there has a comment on ways of talking about gaming experiences. I am trying to get at the subjective experience of playing the game, rather than looking for a review of the game (although we will also look at those, too).


This assignment asks you to reflect on and discuss your subjective experience of playing at least 2 games.

As a way of giving you some structure, think through the aspects of virtual subjectivity I suggest in the “Kino-Eye” essay:

1) Point of view

2) Self-design

3) Social relationships/interactions

4) Space and place

5) Agency

Also think about the INTERFACE, and how the game uses elements of text, cinema, and computer forms in it. (Manovich)

Finally, consider the kinds of immersion and interactivity that you experience in the game.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Considering Play

After thinking through Huizinga's essay on Play yesterday as we had a building workshop in Second Life in class and students attached stuff to their heads :), I was interested to see this question on "Shall we call creative activity play?" Take a look.

AND Roger Travis, UConn Classics prof, explains how he uses "practomime" to teach his students more about the ancient world than they can glean from translating Latin. Read about it here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Onward and Forward with Digital Narrative

Projects are due today, so I am completely excited to see what everyone has created. In class, we'll see those, and also come up with a group working definition of digital narrative, now that we are all digital narrative makers.

Some useful links to help us in our endeavor:
CATMA markup and analysis software
Center for Digital Storytelling (at the other Berkleley)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Realism, Not Possible in Real Life, Spectatorship, Participation, & Digital Narrative

Our specific assignment for today as we continue mining Manovich for insights and outposts is to focus on the section on "Synthetic Realism and Its Discontents" that begins on page 184. Manovich makes the important point that the real break with the history of visual representation of realistic depictions of objects and places so they are indistinguishable from a photograph (in itself a modern way of defining it) happens not with the still image but when a person can experience him or herself moving around within the generated simulation of a 3-D space.

Manovich's approach highlights production and technological techniques that are used to create the illusion of realism, and quite rightly explains that because of the way 3-D computer graphics render "reality"--construct from scratch as opposed to record from reality the way a camera does--it is "practially impossible" to simulate photorealistic detail (192). Certain aspects have to be prioritized.

"New realism is partial and uneven, rather than analog and uniform" (196). Think about that for a while.

Today in class, we'll also talk about the icon, a la Scott McCloud:

ALSO, the new Second Life viewer has new media capabilities for putting media on prims. See my blog posting for a video that shows a uStream broadcast (done with my iPhone!!) on one side of a prim and twitter on the another face of the same prim in L1's SL space. The prims also can show Flash content and two or more avatars can interact with the content on the same prim--ie type or play on it. How does this offer more realism? More Not possible in real life possibilities? Hmmmmmm.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


As we move from thinking primarily about narrative to focusing on what is specific to digital narrative, we are reading Lev Manovich's book The Language of New Media, and thinking through some of the multitude of ideas he offers. As this quotation (p. 71) highlights, cinema, the printed word, and computer interfaces are three major cultural forms of new media. But are there other possibilities, metaphors for cultural interface that go beyond the familiar forms and objects that we already know?

Also, let's ponder what Manovich suggests when he writes: "Thus, the old dichotomies content---form and content---medium can be rewritten as content---interface" (p. 66).