It is fascinating to see how quickly Augmented Reality (AR) is permeating our lives and the blogosphere. But what will the mass adoption of mobile devices that allow you to layer ‘virtual story worlds’ over the real world mean for new forms of entertainment & marketing? Also what will it mean when celebrities and audience/users, begin to merge – avatars appearing in broadcast TV and film/gamestars composited into our homes?
I have posted about the cross-reality evolution over the last 3 years on this blog under a general mixed-reality umbrella. Now we have every blogger & journalist talking about their AR engaged iPhone, DSi, PSP or smart mobile as if they have discovered some advanced alien technology. But is it really is a game changer, a new playground for storytellers? A window to another world at one end through to a simple layered utility at the other. Actors and fantasy characters deliver lines, embedded in real world scenes, you find the hidden virtual treasure, the historical or future backstories and clues, video, sound, images – even fellow ‘players’ morph into strange aliens or dissapear, you leave red herrings or leave help for other players the possiblities, endless.
Running the Australian Laboratory for Advanced Media production I often have to provide a broad contextual background (as well as detailed insights!) to many of our seminars and labs. Over the past few months I have presented across a range of topics suggested in the blog title and lucky for some these have been captured in video form! So the player below contains (for now) seven separate presentations, a mix of free informal evening ones through to more formal full day workshop intros. The video production value is variable so I add the audio only versions at the bottom too and there are links to the other many great speakers at each session, detailed below the video box. These are unedited and contain the usual umms, arrs, errors, coughs & pregnant pauses, oh and I hope some great content. All are 16by9 apart from the serious games in 4by3, Enjoy
What may save TV may also truly grow Social Virtual Worlds. As online audiences continue to ignore TV and vanilla/social virtual worlds suffer from a lack of direction, perhaps the marriage of the two will save both from irrelevancy? A report by Gary Hazlitt in various TV branded virtual world spaces.
There have been several forays by TV properties (gradually losing their audience and associated ad revenues) into social virtual worlds over the past two years. I don’t just mean branded one-off events but actually setting up shop, building a familiar and representive space for the ‘users’ to play in. These forays range from at one end, simple branded spaces pushing episodes on screens through to actually running variants of the TV format to be played out by participant avatars in a detailed build -with many points in-between. But before the meat of the post (a couple of new entrants) here is a quick list to give you an idea of some of the shows and channels that have tried, had some success or failed. As I have been involved in a few of them and visited all, I have listed ones I think have had most impact (engagement) through to those who didn’t quite get it (reversioning).
There is a rule of thumb regarding TV execs and virtual worlds or serious games initiatives – do not let the TV folk take control as they have too much ingrained baggage around non-participatory media and the resultant compromise is often of no use to anyone – get people who understand game play (and be aware that often excludes traditional game developers) and social media involved or face the consequences. The ones above that really worked allowed the participant audience to really ‘live’ in the shoes of the characters either by having activities similar to the protagonists, meeting the ‘fictional characters’, a social space that resonated with the shows aesthetic or a great set with game-like elements. I have talked a lot about Mixed Reality Entertainment in the past and how one of the most innovative uses of virtual space is to extend the TV or Film property into a 24/7, participatory environment. The main reason for doing this is to drive traffic to the TV but also to keep existing followers loyal to the branded property. As an example there is more detail about the reasoning on my post on Big Brother (good and bad) in Second Life (Witnessing the Birth of an Entertainment Form) as well as posts nearby on CSI in Second Life and many of MTVs properties in There.com (TV Property Branded Virtual Worlds – The Beginning). There are moves around the world including BBC and many European broadcasters who are creating worlds alongside and in some cases in front of the TV episodics and this is the important point. Promoting films with games or virtual world spaces has a very limited life span, forging a strong link between virtual world events and TV episodics is to me a virtuous circle – especially considering the 200 plus worlds populated by the youth audience who are typically turning off TV – teens and tweens. Earlier there were many experiments of TV/World hybrids and I was involved, as mentioned before, in the Mirror. Here is John Wyver (then Illuminations) talking about that (remember this is circa 1997!).
The other key element that contributed to the success of The Mirror, much as in real life, was the provision of regular “hosts” for the space. These needed to be frequent visitors who spent a significant amount of their time in the world, and whom users could have some reasonable expectation of encountering when they logged on. These hosts would greet new entrants, introduce people to each other, point out activities and generally help people around. More than this, however, over time they became the core of the community of the world, encouraging people to return and beginning to develop the particular language and culture of The Mirror. Needless to say, they were the saddest to see it turned off after seven weeks – although a number of relationships begun virtually have continued in the real world – including at least one marriage and one recently born child.
Recent company start-ups or collaborations also suggest that there are moves afoot. Icarus studios are squarely aiming at the TV/VirtualWorld hybrid and about 18 months ago Endemol & EA teamed up to create Virtual World TV formats (VirtualMe) based on Deal or No Deal and Big Brother. Also there have been a plethora of immersive film launches (play-in-the-set-type builds) across the metaverse and I Legend, Digital Hollywood, Iron Man, Quantum of Solace and Transformers spring to mind as I write – but as I said this post is more to do with a continuous, what happens on TV resonantes into the virtual world and what happens there is reflected into the TV episodics. (I regularly consult on this specific area so won’t go into any more detail!)…
So, it is interesting to see this trend continuing as new world Twinity starts to do more experiential ‘film’ property marketing and even more ‘demographically focussed’ the current series of Heroes being extended into Habbo
The agreement was brokered by the William Morris Agency and marks the first time ‘Heroes’ has partnered with a virtual world.
While following directions from a mysterious virtual messenger, the new character will take the audience on an adventure as she discovers the history of ‘Heroes’ through a journey that travels back and forth between Habbo.com and the ‘Heroes’ Evolutions site. “We’re excited to work with Habbo to introduce a new character that will extend the enormously popular and EmmyÂ® Award winning ‘Heroes’ interactive story beyond the official Web site on NBC.com,” said Stephen Andrade, senior vice president, Digital Development and General Manager, NBC.com. On Habbo.com, fans of the show will be able to interact with the new virtual hero through a variety of in-game activities. Habbos participating in a weeklong quest will discover their own special powers and will be recruited as new heroes. Those who successfully complete the mission will be awarded various virtual prizes. On the ‘Heroes’ Evolutions site, the new virtual hero will be woven into several of the in-universe, interactive extensions of the on-air show, including a character profile, the Primatech Paper Assignment Tracker and new chapters of the ‘Heroes’ graphic novels.
One of the more obvious links between TV and film of course is simply to broadcast a seed back story as a series, animated makes most sense to keep a strong visual link and then run a MMOG alongside it. This extends, involves the audience more in the narrative and allows them to personalize the experience. We are seeing this about to play out (in Asia at least) with Fusion Fall on the Cartoon network.
This is a great use of virtual worlds and it also shows that you don’t need richly rendered environments to be able to engage with participants in these spaces. Also in terms of the ‘linking’ paradigm, it is close to ‘my’ level 3 wikipedia cross-media definition
Excerpt “Cross-media 3.0“ Bridges. – The truest form of cross-media where the story or service structure is specifically authored to drive the audience using strong Call-To-Actions, across media devices to continue the journey. The content placed on the other platform is critical to staying in touch with the experience and the narrative bridges tease you towards investigating or moving to another media form/platform. Obvious examples include a TV show that ends suddenly and gives you a URL to explore more. It may be an SMS that teases and points you towards a live concert in a city square which then leads you to a TV show, then to a podcast then to subscription emails. The trigger, or bridge, is the critical component of this in motivating the cross-media action.”
Onto Twinity and the images here and above are me playing around in the pre-build set of the recently released and not universally praised film The Spirit. Although it grossed $10 million in the first 4 days it was pulled up for being unemotional and 2D. Well part of the problem generally with many big features now is that audiences have changed and want something more experiential – especially with ‘comic-noir’ films – why not let them ‘live’ in the story environment (my wikipedia item)? Twinity though have teamed up with Will Eisner studios to do this event (not in any way my ideal episodic but potentially a way for the Twinity user base to ‘create episodic, comic-noir’ machinima on-going?
CineStar Spirits you Away to Another World – CineStar’s CUBIX cinema in virtual Berlin is the premiere address for all movie-related events in Twinity. The cinema is currently showing the trailer and other exciting movie material from the upcoming premiere of The Spirit, a movie based on Will Eisner’s cult 1940s comic book series, which will be coming to a cinema screen near you from 5 February.Â Fans of the movie can get their hands on exclusive Spirit merchandising: including posters, standees, and an incredible Spirit mask that lets you see special visual effects inworld. Find more information here. Save the date and come to the opening party!
Date: Monday, 2 February
Time: 17:00 Berlin, 11am NYC, 00:00 Singapore
Where: CineStar CUBIX
Twinity (by Metaversum, the German created virtual world) are a long ways from a mature stable platform, hence being in beta for the past 12 months or so, but are already exhibiting the best ‘world-led’ event-based, user activation. This in my mind is high on the list of reasons for likely success over many of the areas that over-hyped Second Life suffered from in the early days. OK the world is quite big and empty and many ‘social’ tools are not yet available inworld but the kind of activity quoted below (calling for videos, images, stories etc: attached to some well know brands) is great first step community building and more importantly getting a growing community to market for you. Even I had a go at one a few months ago – video embedded below 🙂 BTW Metaversum you really need to improve the video tools (detached camera please!).
Submit Your Artwork and Win! – Take part in The Spirit Screenshot and Machinima Contest and win an exclusive film poster signed by cult film director Frank Miller or The Spirit action figures.
Things Are Looking A Little Different Around Hereos Wear the mask and see Twinity through the eyes of the Spirit! – Use Twinity’s screenshot and recording tools to create incredible Spirit- inspired images! To be eligible to win the contest, screenshots must be created while wearing the Spirit Mask and its visual effects must be demonstrated in your machinima. Screenshots may be submitted in jpg, png or gif formats. Sensational Prizes – You have the chance to win sensational The Spirit prizes! Three prizes will be given out to the lucky winners of the Screenshot and Machinima Contest:
* 1st prize: The Spirit action figure and film poster signed by Frank Miller
* 2nd prize: The Spirit film poster signed by Frank Miller
* 3rd prize: The Spirit action figure To take part in the contest, all you have to do is:
Submit your screenshots together with your Twinity name to firstname.lastname@example.org or
Upload your movie to a video sharing website, for example “YouTube”, then submit the link to your uploaded video together with your Twinity name to email@example.com
Competition deadline: 28 February 2009
We’ll celebrate the winning entries with a Winner’s Gallery party in the CineStar Event Hall! Artwork will be displayed in the CUBIX cinema during The Spirit promotion. Keep an eye on Twinity’s Event Calendar for further details!
Of course I would encourage all TV producers to think about their current audience and whether they want to reach them this way. More importantly you need to think of the appropriateness of creating inworld characters or environments for them to exist in – serious games (from documentaries) and childrens episodics are hot ones at the moment . The real effort is more about having great characters that are persistant in the space but beware of bots or NPC’s (non player characters) pretending to be real, this can have a strong counter productive effect. More later.
So been having a nice break here in Bondi, doing all sorts of cool commercial and/or creative non-LAMP projects plus playing some great new games (Fallout 3, Mirror’s Edge, Elder Scrolls/Oblivion etc:) mostly on the PS3 and PC/Mac. Hunting around the non-mall games stores in Bondi Junction I came across a dusty old cross-platform game called Life III: Escape from Reality in the $10 bargain bin. The system specs said it runs on all platforms, consoles & even has some locative real world elements, but is ideally meant to be played as a 24/7 casual game – which struck me as a bit of an oxymoron 🙂
OK so I got stuck into this old game and it became apparent that it had a very intricate and sophisticated engine and was in fact the most detailed MMRWRPG (tm!) (massively multiplayer real world role playing game) I have ever seen. So for those who haven’t played this cool game, what follows is a run down of the game play, various quests/levels and the rewards at various stages.
TRAINING & TUTORIALS 1-7
Gary Hazlitt Level 1-7
After you log in and give yourself a name and password (that you will of course forget at the next login) you appear in an upper bedroom of a typical suburban house. You have the choice of gender but whatever I choose it still gave me ‘male’ – the first major bug I spotted. At the start of the game you are supposed to receive clear game instructions, but much of what was said was pretty indecipherable across these early level orientation/control levels. A good point, I was surprised from the outset at the quality of the graphics for such an old game – but don’t want to focus too much on that!
Basically what happens at the start is two mentor characters (a man and woman) follow you around and tell you the way the game works. They chastise you if you make mistakes (or what ‘they’ think a mistake is) and encourage you if you do what they consider beneficial to your progression through levels 1-8. There are some funny moments too here as the controls don’t seem to really do what they are supposed too and you end up crashing into walls, speaking at inappropriate moments or dropping items that you need for good health and karma.
Most disconcerting is that you often find yourself randomly projectile poo or vomit which causes you to drop 1 or 2 levels – pretty bad game design here as there doesn’t seem to be a real reason for this. A final point about this level is that there is no obvious button to quit that game, so you have to grind on.
GAME CHEATING Levels 8-13
Gary Hazlitt Levels 8-13
The game box had no manual (beyond the simple how to start leaflet) so as you progress into more complex areas of the game you are really in a fail forward mode (although I did find a few hints using Google ‘game cheat sites’ and Self-Help section in Borders).
There is a little too much emphasis on giving out information (across levels 8-18) with the Non Player Character ( NPC) ‘info’ bots endlessly delivering in chat (or text items for inventory) historical background, do’s and dont’s and communication and number skills. This was particularly boring especially as the two mentors from earlier levels appear every now and then and keep pushing you into these information areas. Only very occasionally the NPC info hubs inspire you with poetry or music – but most mentors said that wasn’t much use in the game, so you can ignore those bots.
I actually found through these levels I was constantly trying to cheat, choosing the break things options, putting them back together or fiddling with my avatar to make it more attractive. This was useful because as soon as you hit level 14 the online MMRWRPG features kick in and you become aware of other players in the 2-3 environments you are hanging around.
ONLINE CREATING YOUR OWN RULES Levels 13-18
Gary Hazlitt Levels 13-18
After a few years playing these levels you realise that the mentors have mostly been mis-leading you and you start to only trust other players who are around the same level as you – and so you join guilds and clubs with your new found friends. There becomes a kind of comaraderie as you try to level up together and this leads you off on some cool adventures, exploring nearby buildings, parks, towns and even self-guided trips to the city or guild trips to countries. The game HUD (Heads up display) here is useful as you monitor your various status’s as you play:
The levels of attractiveness to opposite sex
Coolness quotient from your peers/friends
Amount of risk taken
Body Odor (best to keep this low)
Stimulant balance (you have to take as much as possible without going into the red)
One thing I noticed about some of the other players who had been through their tutorial in small country towns and outback areas and as their connection (& transport system) was quite laggy, they were unable to do any of the more sophisticated quests other players were doing. I was surprised this bug made it through q&a as it really needed to be fixed.
Also at this point in the game I found most players had already teamed up in guilds but the players that didn’t were mostly trapped with the information bots who had convinced them to do more text based quests, and they were almost playing a different game at this point (should have really been an expansion pack).
MAKING FRIENDS, LEAVING THE NEST Levels 18-20
Gary Hazlitt Levels 18-20
Although the game had its interesting moments, I was still not clear of the goals and at these levels many players found that taking some of the pills and potions lying around on sleeping fellow guild members made everything a little more fantastical and fun – but after a while that didn’t really help with the game goals either. As you level up to 20 things really started to change. Suddenly you are teleported to a unknown city location, wandering streets and without mentors or friends you really start to create the micro game rules yourself (within certain limits set by the community now).
I expect the game designers were not quite sure on the transition here and thought it best to consider anything up to level 20 as training – but I found the earlier levels come across as pretty heavy game play – especially the dating scenarios where you have to constantly deal with other psychotic players of the opposite sex who just don’t want to help you achieve the ‘getting-it-on’ challenge.
But being dropped into what is essentially a different game altogether with new rules and without the ability to save should have been thought through a little more.
BUILDING AND WORKING WITH OTHERS Levels 21-35
Gary Hazlitt Levels 21-35
Now this middle part of the game is kind of grindy. Long boring sections where all you seem to be doing is accruing ‘credits’. The game has an economy, and unless you’re one of the players that managed somehow to hack in credits from previous older family players, you really had to struggle to build up enough ‘credits’ to level up particularly quickly or just buy cool things for your inventory. The addition of an online leaderboard certainly helped motivate you as did the many NPC quest givers that you met at parties, subways, taxis, buses etc:
The most powerful quest giver and one that often gave you red herring challenges to accrue credits quickly was the inworld ‘media boards’. These were large TV-style screens placed at seemingly endless locations that showed you how well other players were doing and suggested how you could try some of their quests – which seemed to be focused on how skinny the avatar can be, the best personal transport units or how many players were ‘following’ you (called the ‘fame status’).
The only route that seemed to pay off in this game though was the ‘work’ quest. This involved rather tiresome, mundane activities (reading messages from people, sending messages back, walking around office floors and generally trying to be nice to everyone you met). As soon as you tried to do something adventurous or break the now, quite rigid game rules here your credits fell and you found yourself dropping back between 5 and 10 levels to begin it all over again. The key skill here it seemed was to be friendly and helpful to other players and regardless of any other skills you may have, your credit balance would slowly but surely accrue. One player (who had played this game a few times) told me that having a variety of skills really helps at the higher levels so I spent my non-grind time, building up skill levels in other areas. Some players though were just spending their credits on fast cars, bling and fancy clothes for their inventory and a game place to put all this stuff.
CREATING FACTIONS Levels 35-40
Gary Hazlitt Levels 35-40
At level 35 there is a global quest given to all players, and this comes as a bit of a shock – “make a version/clone of you for future challenges”. This had to be taken on, all players at whatever credit or skill level you were at. It seemed you had to find a player of the opposite sex and form a small guild with the sole intention of creating a faction. The small creatures that you make together have similar skill and health traits to you and you have to train them for a particular role – to help you in later quests.
It suddenly becomes obvious that you are now one of the mentors from an earlier level and this is pretty good games design, getting you a lot more deeply involved in the game play. Several players for whatever reason do not complete this challenge, even though they attempt the ‘making’ bit a few times.
But unless you have enough credits, a place to grow the small creatures and a strong ‘credit’ flow in, you cannot complete this. Even so it didn’t seem to affect my game status much as I was a member of several in-game guilds with a variety of interesting quests. But the game writers could have been much clearer in how important or not this particular game quest was.
SAVING AND THE GAME LOOP Levels 40-50
Gary Hazlitt Levels 40-50
OK the game had been pretty stable and bug free up to this point. But as soon as I levelled to 40 some strange things started to happen. Firstly my avatar became pretty distorted (it grew fatter). Regardless of what activities I was doing or how much energy I absorbed, my character just got larger and larger, and slower. Another thing which must have been a serious bug with the questing engine, as many of the new quests were ones I had missed at earlier levels (they seemed pretty boring at the time). Most of these news ones were about teleporting to some distant land and not really doing any game play at all? What’s the point of playing a game if there is no goal? Others involved hanging around chatting with friends and creating new guilds. These had to be comprised of players at the same level as you but even more challenging, with similar status’s – and often those who completed the ‘cloning’ challenge would not be able to team up with those that didn’t.
Other challenges involved tweaking your avatar to convince others around you that you were a level 20-30. This proved harder than it seemed as fiddling with the shape of your nose or the size of your breasts cost a lot of credits with little reward – as after repeating this quest a number of times the avatar would start to fall apart. The game programmers must have had a ball creating this quest.
A key problem through these levels though was the fact that as at the start of the game the controls occasionally didn’t do what you told them and in some social situations rather embarrasing body noises were emitted, or on one occasion I completely lost it in a driving quest at the local shopping mall car park, crashing into several other players. Although these were kind of fun in retrospect, they seemed a quite frustrating at the time.
GAME FINALE AND EXPANSION PACKS Levels 50-70 (+15)
Gary Hazlitt Levels 50-85
Getting through levels 40-50 was very frustrating and lots of earlier game elements started to come into play. The final higher levels involved less adventure and more about tidying your inventory, looking back at machinima re-runs of some of your earlier quests and contacting old guild members to sit and chat in team-speak about those earlier quests. Around level 55 things start to get a bit weird again. The control mechanism all but breaks down and you almost become a noob again as your character starts to emit body waste missiles at various players from several orifices. It is kind of funny at times and others just downright messy. This all changes as you approach level 70 and the game world becomes more and more fantastical.
What you thought was a pretty static city or home environment suddenly becomes ‘elastic’. By that I mean the graphics become almost translucent and everything you see is earlier game elements and lots of glowing light. This makes the rather simple challenges at these higher levels much harder – trying to walk to the shops in a glowing pink hurricane of childhood memories is pretty hard, but you get used to it. As you level up to 70 the final quest is a simple task of ‘letting go’. It wasn’t clear in the game cheats on the web what this was, but it kind of meant, you did nothing for a while and you levelled automatically. A nice touch I thought. So the final element of the game was the game graphics/world dissolving into white and rainbow coloured lights…great music here too btw!
I forgot to mention that when I was at the store they gave me another box for free the Life III expansion pack called “AfterLife III”. – no one had apparently bought this extension to the game as it got bad reviews from religious groups. I told the store I probably wouldn’t get that far, but here I was anyhow. I installed it and low and behold it gave me an extra 15 levels. Now much of this was the same as 50-70, kind of spiritual quests, asking questions about what kind of character you were, analysing the way you did things, how it could be improved and all that stuff. But the interesting thing was at level 84, as you travelled around this ‘celestial’ environment (with wonderful particle effects) you kept getting flashes of another bedroom in suburbia. Yes, incredibly as you hit level 85 you became a noob again, you began the game again, with two different mentors hovering over you. I didn’t really have time to play the whole thing again, and I managed to find the quit option at this point. I did save it for another time though.
I am not sure what happened to the company that created this game, I suspect they fell out of favour with most Life I and II players who found the whole thing rather grindy, difficult and certainly were unable to commit more than 70 or 80 years to it – given there are plenty other games to play which are far more exciting and have much more interesting rewards.
Postscript:SilkCharm just read this and in-between fits of violent giggles pointed me to a cool book (that I haven’t read) called God Game byAndrew M. Greeley Some similarities?
Also if there are any parts of the game I may have missed or have cheats for please comment below! If you have played this game and you want to write a review I will add it to the bottom of the post – please include your player character name so we can hook up in game 🙂 !
Finally, finally – an obvious prototype for the immersive version above discovered on YouTube 🙂 – I can see why they left out the ‘revenge’ bit !