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