CULTURE HACKER focuses on how tech impacts storytelling. Media consumption is changing and Culture Hacker looks at how the collision of gaming, music, film and technology is changing the way stories are told and delivered to audiences.
Now that Google Wave has been out for a while, have you joined up? Is it living up to all your expectations, plus some? Or is it just something that you slobbered over because invitations were rare, but now you just keep forgetting to check in because you can’t figure out what to do with it?
To be honest, I’m in the latter group, but have been making a concerted effort to suss out the service and figure out what it’s good for. Recently there was an article on Ars Technica about people who are using Wave to play role-playing games and that, my friends, is something that’s totally feasible.
Ever since Online was invented, there have been gamers taking advantage of it to play RPGs with geographically-dispersed groups, from BBS door games in the mid 80s and the rise of MUDs in the 90s to dedicated IRC channels for the purpose. But what’s lacking in these various media is a sense of organization – they can be very good for living in the now, but trying to go back and make sense of what happened in the past can be quite a task. Wave’s automatic threading is excellent for that, providing both instant communication as well as ways to format it and keep it sane and pretty. Not only that, but new players can look back on what’s already happened and catch up easily just by reading the existing Wave, something that’s impossible to do in a MUD or IRC.
Of course this is a new technology and has drawbacks – the article mentions a lack of moderation capabilities and dice rolling widgets, to name two – but it certainly seems like the potential is there and has gamers quite excited for the future.
Have you tried Wave and put it to good use? Still trying to score an invitation? Drop a line in the comments and let us know.
Dee Cook was elated to discover the world of interactive storytelling because, at that moment, she finally discovered what she wanted to do when she grew up. She has written, designed, and consulted on a score of alternate reality games and campaigns, most recently Focus Rally America, True Blood, and World Without Oil. Find out more about her at http://deecook.com
Deck the hall with boughs of holly! Tis the season to redefine storytelling as it evolves through collisions with new forms of media! Fa la la la la la la la la! Oh dang…that isn’t catchy at all.
Here are some particularly culture hackerly gifts, old and new, hand picked by the culture hacker elf. (Yes, they call me that because I’m short. Thanks a lot, guys.)
Missing: Since January and Evidence: The Last Ritual Dreamcatcher Interactive, $19.99 and $29.99
These two games are actually on my Christmas list this year, because in spite of a ringing endorsement from Penny Arcade, I never got around to playing them. Released in 2004 and 2006, respectively, these games come as close as you can get to being an Alternate Reality Game in a box. Characters contact you through e-mail and solicit your help to catch a serial killer. (I haven’t played yet, but I hear serial killers have email, too! Eep!)
Uplink Introversion Software, £10.00 – £5.00
When talking to friends about Rushkoff’s Exoriare ARG, I made plenty of mention of how much it reminds me of Uplink, only to find very few people have played this cyberpunk indie classic. If you love feeling 1337 and jamming out to fantastic electronic music, this is a must-play.
The Hidden Park James Kane, $7.99
Granted, Bulpadok’s geocaching/augmented reality mashup game isn’t everywhere…yet. But if you have an iPhone and live near one of these parks, the game should not be missed. Unfortunately, there’s no way to gift a single iPhone app, so I suggest wrapping an iTunes gift card in a printout of one of these sweet wallpapers.
Cathy’s Book, Cathy’s Ring and Cathy’s Key by Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman, $17.95
Cathy’s Book has been listed in the ARGNet gift guide, and covered by just about every extended storytelling outlet in existence, but if you haven’t actually read it, or it’s sequels, then you’re missing something special. These three young adult novels, written by veterans of 42 Entertainment, follow the amateur sleuthing and increasingly preposterous intrigues of one Cathy Vickers – a girl who has a habit of meticulously compiling all the evidence on a case, and then leaving her entire notebook, full of notes, mementos and personal phone numbers, behind in book stores.
Personal Effects: Dark Art by J.C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman, $24.95
Personal Effects is the adult fiction answer to the overwhelmingly teenage setting of Cathy’s Book. Set in a mental asylum improbably buried beneath New York, Dark Art takes a much darker and more sinister tone and has been known to deeply creep even seasoned CF players out.
Masquerade by Kit Williams, $8.99 – $230, depending on condition
The original armchair adventure, and arguably the origin of interactive publishing. Masquerade contained a puzzle distributed through 15 paintings, intended to lead the solver to a buried cache containing a jeweled gold hare. Though the contest was hijacked by a small group of people close to the author, leaving the treasure hunt mired in scandal and the treasure gone, the book still presents a challenge, and is a valuable piece of history for puzzle lovers. (For a Williams book that presents an even bigger challenge – both to solve, and to find a copy of, see Untitled, a.k.a. “The Bee Book”)
Fandango – The Key to the Wind by Pel and Jeff Stockwell, $22.50
Fandango takes many of its cues from Masquerade, down to the book’s plot, but it’s treasure, hidden in 2007, has yet to be found. Some reviewers describe the hunt as “impossible,” but there is still a community devoted to the solve at Tweleve.org.
This is Not a Game by Dave Szulborski, $24.99
Used as a go-to instructional text, and credited as the inspiration for this year’s viral video comedy Must Love Robots, this is the biggest and most in-depth guide to Alternate Reality Gaming as an art form, and as a business model.
How to Cheat at Everything by Simon Lovell, $18.95
In the transmedia world, we try our best to keep a wall between enabling the audience’s own escapist tendencies and out-and-out deception; but sometimes the best way to do that, is to cheat anyway. This book will exercise your cheating muscles, as well as inspire ways to interact with your audience – because cheats are good at that, too.
So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld, $8.99
Any book that begins, “Can I take a picture of your shoe?” is bound to be interesting, right? So Yesterday is a kabuki battle between big media and culture jamming, as told through the eyes of the teenage son of an epidemiologist. A great introduction to the interplay between media and culture for teens and up.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, $19.95
Often referred to as “an ARG in a book” even though it lacks interaction, House of Leaves is a classic of dead-tree chaotic fiction, full of realities within realities that will leave your head spinning.
The Big Book of Hoaxes by Carl Sifakis
If Lovell will teach you how to cheat, Sifakis, with the help of 75 other award winning comic artists, will teach you how to lie. With stories as diverse as the pranks of Joey Skaggs, the plan to saw Manhattan in half, and the hoax of Hitler’s diary, this will acquaint you with some of the greatest hoaxsters of the modern era and their methods.
The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, $6.95 – $39.99
With the upcoming movie and its ongoing two-person CF campaign, Holmes is about to be the order of the day. Doyle’s stories represent the origin of the modern mystery genre, and good reading to boot. There are many editions out there, which vary in price, age, and fancy-pantsedness.
Handheld GPS Garmin, Magellan, Pioneer, and others, $69 – $499
Whether you’re seeking out a piece of a larger puzzle, or just plain geocaching, a good GPS is essential for the well-equipped alternate reality explorer. While I use the GPS on my phone for these kind of things, and thus can’t give a top recommendation, this page looks like the place to start your search. Remember: If you can’t search by coordinates, it’s not worth it.
$99 – $599
Of course, a good smartphone obviates the need for a GPS completely. There are robust GPS-enabled applications on the iPhone, Palm, Windows OS and Android, but there are also applications like Layar, Scanlife, Shazam, and the newly-revealed Google Goggles that take your phone one step closer to the corneally-implanted HUDs we all dream about having someday. As these technologies spread, new types of storytelling are bound to emerge that take advantage of them.
Radio Nonchalance Broadcast Transcript Elsewhere Public Works Agency, $6.99
The “transcript” of Nonchalance’s localized radio broadcast that can be heard at Dolores Park in San Francisco as part of the Jejune Institute’s urban adventure, is actually a beautifully illustrated map of the story world, with puzzle elements woven into the design. The map can be purchased here by typing “&_support”. (They also have CDs of vintage cult recordings, and stylish t-shirts.)
InactiveWare Awkward Hug, $16.99 – $17.99
The clever t-shirt company started by the main characters in Must Love Robots is still around, which means you can still get a Mac and Cheese shirt. What were you waiting for? All proceeds go to One Laptop Per Child.
A Day in the Elsewhere, An Evening at Alcatraz The Jejune Institute and Alcatraz, $34.10
I’m not the only transmedia fan planning a trip to San Francisco just to visit The Jejune Institute. Spend a day traversing a bizarre and rich game world interwoven with the streets of the city. Top the day off with the Alcatraz Island Night Tour, which Nick Braccia reviewed for CH as “informative and, at night, quite scary.”
A Part in a Zombie Movie you and your friends, free (ish) Lost Zombies is a community-generated zombie mockumentary that’s being put together online as we speak. Film a short with your lucky loved one as the star (breather or shambler – their choice) and add it to the mix.
POV: Is traditional theatrical dead? I’ve heard a lot of people challenging the theatrical experience – box office numbers are down from previous years, and home theater systems are only getting better. Not to mention all the competition for viewers attention thanks to a 500+ channel universe, broadband and a shrinking amount of free time. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that people still… read more
Why Do Kids Get All the Good Toys? Building game technology takes time, and early implementations are likely too simple for adult gamers who crave depth. While we eagerly await the next big thing in tech-augmented ARG, kids are already getting to play with some of the best tech on the market for expanding gameplay into the real world. Today, I look at two technology-enabled games that are… read more
Real-time Audience Feedback (I co-wrote this blog with Jessica Richman)
Remember the choose-your-own-adventure (CYOA) books? Those old childhood standbys are being recycled in the form of audience participation in movies, theatres, and online. Does she or doesn’t she? You get to decide…
In movies, CYOA has taken several forms. In 2006, Lean Forward Media, a company started by two Harvard Business School grads,… read more
Layar, the augmented reality browser that has been creeping up on Android phone users since May, hit the iPhone App Store last month. And yet, the Layar web site lists a big fat goose egg under the heading “Games.” I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Surely, someone out there has to be looking into Layar as a way to expand an ARG experience. While not as ubiquitous as phone or email, Layar is free to Android and iPhone users. The API is straightforward, and getting signed up to develop content for the system is as easy as submitting a good idea.
In its basic form, Layar uses GPS data to create a map over your camera view of the real world, with markers denoting points of interest, which can in turn be used to deliver content through the web. On Tuesday, Layar rolled out a host of new features for Android users, including the ability to view 3D text and other objects on points of interest, and will be adding 3D animation and audio soon. This particularly attractive video shows just how involved the immersion can get with these new updates.
Layar has been a great concept, in terms of starting me thinking about game design ideas. What better way to create a physically distributed experience than to drop virtual geocaches in every Android and iPhone market worldwide? When I imagine what we could have done with the Chasing the Wish universe in particular, given a platform that can literally show you another world layered over this one, I get chills.
Here are ten basic immersive story concepts, from my little black book of Layar ideas.
1. Virtual Dead Drop
Everyone wants to incorporate geocaches into their game, but there’s only so far you can feasibly go to hide a tupperware container. The newest version of Layar, which was released Tuesday, natively supports “geofenced” points of interest – ones that, like a physical cache, only become visible and can only be interfaced with when the user is physically in range. You can have players retrieve virtual items from virtual caches, and even deliver them to other caches, without ever actually sending a game developer to the site.
A rogue agent (escaped shadow government test subject, news reporter in too deep – you decide) is on the run from the Bad Guys, and is leaving a trail for truth seekers like you to follow. Visit the places he has, to see what he has seen.
3. Alien Landing Sites
A Phenomenon is building around the world – aliens are landing! And they’re about to touch down in your city! Choose to help the otherworldly visitors on your block, or destroy them.
4. Alternate History View
Well, you’ve done it. You sent a man back in time. And now the whole of history is coming untangled, getting turned completely upside down. View the damage through this layer.
5. Reality Defense
One of the handy things that Layar developers have cooked up is a method for allowing users to drop points of interest themselves. Have players drop “defender drones” in their area to protect their city against dark forces. Give the playerbase a map on the main game site, showing where drones have been dropped, and where they are needed to repel the invaders.
6. Ghost Clones
Another POI-dropping concept – players need to create “ghost clones” of themselves in several different areas to unlock a piece of content. (Anyone remember the Elegy of Emptiness from Majora’s Mask? This is basically the same idea, without the creepy dolls.)
Like the Breadcrumbs concept and the Alien Landing concept mixed together. A character has discovered the ability to supernaturally teleport across the globe (for reasons of playability, let’s say he will randomly jump every day.) Every “landing site” spawns POIs that progress the story.
One character exists in a hundred different realities. With our timeline tracing technology, we’ve managed to lock on to him, and follow him through the choices that scattered him to all corners of a hundred different Earths.
9. Satellite Reception
We don’t know why, but the alien signals have been pointed at exact locations on Earth. We need field people to retrieve the data.
With the addition of geofencing, its possible to create a single layer with tons of content that is unavailable until the player reaches a starting point. In other words, you could go to a certain place and “fall into” a specific adventure, invisible to Layar users who haven’t entered the game yet.
Of course, these are all very simple ideas. A robust Layar-enhanced game would incorporate several of these to create a deep and varied experience. With the expansion to the iPhone and more U.S. devices being released for Layar’s native Android system, it’s inevitable that someone will use this technology in an ARG. The only questions are who – and when?
November 5-6 I covered the Independent Game Conference where game designers peddled their wares to buyers inside the halls of the Marriott Hotel in Marina del Rey. In between all this networking my friend Don Le filmed (later edited) my interviews with notable professionals and panels that explored subjects as diverse as building personal relationships through video games to new ways to purchase digital goods with micropayments.
Interview with Aaron Vanderbeek, a game and interaction designer based in San Francisco, CA. He is currently enrolled in the Masters of Entertainment Technology program at Carnegie Mellon University, where his current project is iiii design (www.iiiidesign.com): a design collective looking to bring unique entertainment experiences to the iPhone. Other academic projects include an interactive theatre adaptation of Rashomon and a board game based on Long Distance Relationships.
Interview with Hill Ferguson. He is responsible for product strategy and marketing at Zong. A payments veteran, Hill spent the last decade developing and managing new payment services in Silicon Valley. As General Manager for Yodlee’s Personal Finance Products, Hill led the development and distribution efforts for several new and innovative payments products currently being used by top banks and web portals. At Yahoo! Hill produced and managed several consumer products, including a consumer bill payment product and a peer-to-peer payment service. In his spare time he manages LoanBack, a “friends and family” loan management service he co-founded in 2005. Hill earned a BS and an MBA, both from Vanderbilt University.
Sue Bohle speaks about her successful career in game public relations. She has been providing hands on, senior level counsel to game and other interactive entertainment companies since 1983. She has been the lead speaker on PR for the game industry at the The Game Developers Conference (GDC) five times and wrote the marketing chapter for a major textbook on getting into the video game industry. The Bohle Company has worked in the game industry since the mid 80s, serving hardware, software, tools, conference producers and online game sites and launching titles in all genres and for all platforms.
Game designer Dev Jana discusses the evolution of a Control Freak: How Human/Computer Interaction is changing how we Design and Play Games by following the development of how humans have communicated with data (from the abacus to punch cards to mice to analog sticks to touch screen and motion sensor), it becomes apparent that the data held within computing devices started as physical and tactile, the moved into virutal and abstracted, and is now “faux-physical” through new technologies such as multi-touch and motion sensors.
peter katz is an award winning filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Peter has produced genre films that have screened all over the world from the AFI Fest to the Rome Film Festival. His first picture Home Sick starred Bill Moseley from The Devil's Rejects and Tom Towles from Henry Portrait Of A Serial Killer. Next Peter worked with Tobe Hooper (director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist) on Mortuary, which premiered on the Sci Fi Channel. Most recently he was a producer on Pop Skull, a psychological ghost film, that has received great reviews in Variety and numerous film web sites. Currently, Peter is developing projects across various mediums including film, comics, and the web.
Filmmakers That Think Outside the Film Filmmakers That Think Outside the Film
By Christy Dena
In the 1940’s filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (known as “The Archers”) championed a multi-artform cinema. They created films that represented music, dance, painting, literature and photography; for they believed that ‘all art is one’. Now, with the proliferation of media platforms, the palette for filmmakers is stupendous. Not only… read more
TCIBR podcast – Brian Clark of GMD studios This edition of TCIBR is brought to you by IndieFlix – Brian Clark joins us for a discussion about filmmaking, audiences, breaking the rules and the value of going DIY. Founder of GMD studios and co-founder of indieWire, Brian has been at the forefront of the independent film scene for well over a decade. GMD studios has created digital… read more
VIDEO: Creating storyworlds In this special video podcast Christy Dena interviews workbook project founder Lance Weiler. Dena, a cross-media entertainment strategist, mentor, designer, writer and PhD researcher conducted the interview for her universe creation podcast. Here’s what Dena had to say about the interview.
Filmmaker Lance Weiler is the special guest on this first video podcast at UC101. Weiler talks about the unique… read more