Sep 282008

Have we reached a tipping point – with many more user hours spent with games than films are they now more culturally relevant (as in our cultures are saturated with them)? With most films having ‘game-like’ story arcs and, at the last count, nearly 80 films with stories based on game titles in production I am starting to think so.

Game culture and their inherent stories are now absolutely mass media. In a low risk, and dwindling film business, creating stories around experiences that people have already spent 20-40 hours immersed in the story world, is a no brainer, so what we are seeing is a threshold now of game-like films but more importantly films based on games. Anyway more after the ten minute video – stick with it.

“Playing With Stories” THE CINEMATIC GAME. A Film by GARY HAYES

I am designing curriculum for cinematic games and virtual worlds at AFTRS but also doing another report on the market potential of this cross-media, gilm (game/film) landscape. In the process again I threw together a compilation video of notable examples (I know there are at least ten times this btw!) interspersed with tasty quotations. “The Cinematic Game” was initially designed to be a look at the cross-promotion and story development potential of this most powerful mixed-media marketing machine. But, during the process though I was staggered to see the number of major feature films in production based on new and existing game universes (listed in this post below and scrolling at the end of the video) – suggesting to me a tipping point.

Game story starts to lead film development?

TV and Cinema has already become much more of a background or escapist medium for larger numbers of media consumers. In homes around the world we are spending more time in online pursuits than glued to the content breaks, in-between the advertising slots of traditional TV. We are also immersing ourselves in the social and story ‘exploration’ of the current generation of PC and console games. So how will TV and Film survive in a world where social gaming and associated peer appraisal online is far more compelling? Also given the choice will we continue to passively watch the protagonist or ‘be/live’ the hero? It is interesting to see 8000 employee EA Games now developing major strategies whereby games are made to be easily adapted to comics, books, TV and Film. In the business week article “Morphing Video Games into Movies” they note how EA are trying to emulate small non-game companies have built mini empires on their ‘story IP”

The idea is to repeat the success of companies such as Marvel Entertainment (MVL) and Hasbro (HAS), which used their base of fans to transform from marginal companies into Hollywood players. After licensing Spider-Man to Sony Pictures for a string of hit movies, Marvel has created its own studio, with Iron Man and other films set for release this summer. The Hasbro-backed Transformers movie grossed more than $400 million in 2007 global box-office sales, which in turn boosted company sales of movie-related toys and games.

It is interesting to note that the music industry is also starting to ride the coat tails of the games world. Kotaku reported on a ‘run-in’ between Warner Bros. and Activision about Guitar Hero. Suggesting the music publishers should get more royalties from games that use music, Activision’s boss Bobby Kotick hit back at Warner’s and said the following (which implied as the Kotaku item said ‘Perhaps the record companies should pay us‘)

We’re going to favour those publishers that recognise and appreciate how much we can add value to their artists… in the case of those kinds of products, you should be paying any money at all and whether it should be the reverse.

Back to the main thread of the post, it does make you wonder how many screenplay writers are sitting in front of their XBoxPS3Wii’s looking for inspiration nowadays? Variety suggests that in fact ‘all’ games could be made into movies but I will be really interested in what kind of film comes from The Sims and already know the likely story arc of MassEffect having run through it a couple of times but many others on the list below will be of interest, especially World of Warcraft which has around 4000 story threads/quests – so which story will we be ‘offered’?Films of games have had a shaky past with only a few critical successes such as Tomb Raider, Silent Hill, Resident Evil (there are several on slide 75 of my game/story presentation below, that I did several months ago) but given the serious money and credible directors such as Landau, Lucas, Speilberg, Cameron, Jackson etc: plus a deep desire to properly reflect the integrity of the ‘interactive’ experience, the tide is turning. Being an avid machinima maker I know at first hand what it means to capture the ‘essence’ of game playing, adapt it, reflect it and, if you understand the culture of the game, interpret it – the good thing is A list filmmakers (as you can hear Peter Jackson say at the end of my video) understand it too.

I must again finish with a plug for a couple of unique courses at AFTRS and related to this post an article in one of its blogs RedSet called “What’a film, TV & Radio school doing offering courses in game design and virtual worlds?” makes the relevant point:

“AFTRS new game design and virtual world graduate diplomas will push students to go beyond the generation of clichéd actions and stereotypical characters, students of these new courses will be encouraged to step up and learn how to create meaningful interactive experiences for a variety of platforms informed by the expertise offered in all of the other creative disciplines taught at AFTRS such as directing, screen composition, screenwriting, sound design, production design and more. The field of game design and interactive experiences is equally as collaborative as the world of filmmaking, drawing together diverse specialists who together create the whole – writers, screen composers, programmers, animators, art directors – at AFTRS all of these disciplines are already housed under one roof – with a track record of cross disciplinary interaction and a staggering successful graduates.”

More about my video

A non-exhaustive compilation of story rich games or gamic films including in order of appearance: Contact, Indiana Jones, Heavy Rain, The Game, Burning Crusade, Max Payne, The Matrix, Heavenly Sword, Final Fantasy, Lord of the Rings, Ironman, Call of Duty 4, Simone, Rage, Tron, Bicentennial Man, SpiderMan 3, War of the Worlds, Tomb Raider, I am Alive, WoW Lich King, Indigo Prophesy, Jumanji, Desperate Housewives, Da Vinci Code, The Beach, Assassins Creed, Thomas Crown Affair, CSI, Halo, Resident Evil, James Bond, Sleuth, Afrika, The Godfather, The Cube, Narnia, Time Bandits, The Golden Compass, Half Life, Never Winter Nights, Silent Hill, Hellgate, Beowulf and interviews with George Lucas and Peter Jackson plus quotes from many film directors and games designers

My film contains some of the better hybrids, either films inspired by games, games inspired by films or just very rich cinematic, story or character rich games. I make no excuses that I have used a mixture of cut scenes as well as ‘real’ game play in the video – that is really to show where we are heading as game graphics continues to hurtle towards the real time equivalent of the likes of Beowulf and other ‘trickle’ rendered CG features. After the quotes and textual references from the compilation below, are more elements on this very exiting hybrid cross-story, cross-IP, cross-reality world.

I want gamers to be surprised by their own creativity. I want players to feel not like Luke Skywalker, but George Lucas Will Wright (Sims, Spore)

We’re way beyond the notion of game-as-brand-extending afterthought. Let the virtual world–the vibrant, living world that people inhabit–let that influence the movie. Let it feed back into the process and provide unparalleled riches and depth to what we’re doing
John Landau (Titanic)

Games are already good at creating fear, suspense, excitement, shocked surprise, and laughter. Much rarer are games that create genuine sadness … I have never cried during a videogame
Marc Laidlaw (Half-Life)

I think the real indicator will be when somebody confesses that they cried at level 17
Steven Spielberg

When I found out one of my guildmates had died, someone with whom I had fought monsters, explored exotic lands, shared moments of jubilation and defeat, I wept. In spite of having never met him, the knowledge that we would not continue the story together, brought me great grief.
Laurel Papworth

We had a notion to take the stars of the movies and have them play supportive roles in the video game and tell a story that is a companion story to the movies
Joel Silver (Matrix)

If done well, I don’t believe a videogame itself can detract from a film experience. Ideally, it would be a complement to the film and a way for fans to further involve themselves in a world once they leave the cinema
Peter Jackson, (King Kong, Lord of the Rings)

There are scenes that start in the video game and will complete the movie – ¦and fell like it’s a part and experience of the movie
Joel Silver (Matrix)

Games and MMOs in particular are providing such a sustaining experience that challenges us to make the theatrical experience better
John Landau (Titanic)

The next big emotional breakthrough in gaming is being able to tell a story that is consistent throughout the narrative. If the game is 15 levels, it’s just like 15 chapters in a story
Steven Spielberg

We’re trying to understand the language of the film, but diverge in ways that are right for the game medium.
Neil Young’ EA VP (Lord of the Rings)

Games sometimes can reveal things. To watch someone in movement, unconscious movement, can be very stimulating and revealing, whether they win or not.
John Turturro (actor)

People wonder why games don’t have the same emotional palette as movies. But that’s the wrong way to look at it. It’s like saying, ‘Why isn’t radio like reading a book?’ Games, inherently, have a different emotional palette, which is their strength
Will Wright (Sims, Spore)

Scroll at the end of the compilation:

FILMS BASED ON GAMES IN Development or Production 2008/9 (Wikipedia and IGN source)

Alone in the Dark 2
American McGee’s Alice
Area 51
Battle Royale
Biohazard: Degeneration
BloodRayne III: Warhammer
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars
Citizen Siege
City of Heroes
Clock Tower
Cold Fear
Crazy Taxi
Deus Ex
Devil May Cry
Doom 2
Dragon’s Lair
Duke Nukem
Earthworm Jim
Eternal Darkness
Eternity’s Child
Far Cry
Fatal Frame
Fear Effect
Gears of War
God of War
Hunter: The Reckoning
Jagged Alliance
Kane & Lynch
Legend: Hand of God
Lost Planet
Mass Effect
Metal Gear Solid
Mortal Kombat: Devastation
The Neverhood
Nightmare Creatures
Ninja Gold
Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Rainbow Six
Resident Evil IV
Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Sabotage 1943
Silent Hill 2
The Sims
Soul Calibur
Sonic the Hedgehog
Spy Hunter
Street Fighter:
The Legend of Spyro
The Sims
The Suffering
The Unforgettable
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
Tomb Raider III
Warcraft (based on World of Warcraft)
Zombie Massacre

Mixed Reality Futures

As a lead into a post about to be published I have been talking for a couple of years now (The Mixed Reality Perfect Storm ) about the fantastic potential of the live and by implication shared TV experience to be enhanced by extending the world into online games. It is exciting to think where we will be in a few years once the ‘broadcasters & studios’ realise that keeping an audience involved in the ‘IP’/programme in-between airings or sequels is a good thing. Good for the story creators, the latent creative audience and of course advertisers who need eyeballs/hands/ears/minds and hearts.

A further afterthought there are several companies around the world developing Cross-Reality forms, one that I am heavily involved with‚ The Format Factory, are pioneering formats that bridge the space between compelling participatory TV/Film and online game worlds. They have a promotional video that metaphorically demonstrates some of the ’embedded’ world-within-worlds. A trailer video teaser for the mixed reality, inhabited TV formats being pioneered and piloted by The Format Factory.

Other posts on this topic:

Sep 092008

A selection of mini posts I did in the last few weeks on the slightly 101 LAMP Watercooler blog

Will they Flock to Electric Sheep’s SVW Browser?

Interesting enterprise development from California based, Electric Sheep Company (notable for doing branded developments across virtual worlds like and Second Life) as well as cross-over, mixed reality gigs like the CSI-virtual world mash-up last year. They have developed Webflock, a easy to implement solution for any company/organisation to brand and deploy, as if any website, a social virtual world (svw) to allow ‘avatorial’ interaction, out-of-the-box so to speak. I expect we will soon be seeing a whole raft of open source, wordpress-like virtual worlds like this for you to use as your home-page (or should that be home-space) in the coming months. Their business model, until the open source stuff comes along, pay the early adopter enterprise price of $100k + .

WebFlock can help you realize your goals for a social, fun and immersive web presence. A basic implementation, which includes the out-of-the-box feature set, custom 3D avatars and 3D space, and 12 months of the application services fees, is available for under $100,000.

Every WebFlock implementation is separate and customizable, which gives companies the ability to control such things as user registration, quality of art content, monetization including advertising or micro-transactions, integration to other Web content or profile systems, and the overall user experience. The front-end is built entirely in Flash, which is already installed on 98% of the world’s Web browsers. ESC made the critical decision to work with Flash because of the barriers inherent in asking mainstream users to download software, whether desktop applications or custom browser plug-ins.

The core WebFlock application includes key virtual world features, such as chat filtering and muting, emotes, load-balancing for massive scalability, and Web-based metrics to be able to track usage. WebFlock 1.0 also includes a bundled social game and a premium live customer support feature. WebFlock can be customized with unique avatars, branded 3D spaces, and new interactivity such as casual games or scripted objects. It can also be integrated to a company’s existing art or game content, registration systems and other Web applications. WebFlock can reside on a single Web page or be syndicated across the Web.

WebFlock supports detailed usage tracking and performance metrics. The default reporting interface is Google Analytics, which allows customers to access results from any location with Internet access. ESC charges a monthly application services fee based on concurrent users, which covers access to the software, hosting, technical support and maintenance. Customization services, such as art creation, game design, or systems integration, are priced separately.

FaceSpooks – Your the star, be IN the movie

A hat tip to Dan Taylor over at BBC for pointing out this lovely little viral that allows you the passive, sit-on-the-couch-and-munch-crisps viewer (well fiddle with laptop) to be the star of Spooks. FaceSpook is a personalized video tool where your face is mapped onto a character in an action scene – and all via the web where the processing took around 1 minute. Here is my first attempt at sneaking into the top secret facility as agent ‘Gary Haye’ (yes limited to 9 characters I found out too late), a leading part of this mini story vignette.

Seems all major films and TV landmarks shows need their viral (above) but also an ARG to surround the show and extend the narrative, the story universe/world/environment. Spook’s ARG is Liberty News, yet another ‘set-in-the-future yarn – go here and check out 2013 now.

Back to the present, below some more stills from the above video which will expire in 3 months – hmmm very Mission Impossible 🙂 First my original face image and then some shots of the ‘very personalized’ video – now imagine this working for a 2 hour feature film at HiDef – bring it on baby ! 🙂

Multiple Places in the Multiverse

Seems you can’t turn your back on Social Virtual World development nowadays. A couple of weeks after I put out this video which covers ‘most’ of the major players along comes Multiverse Places. I suspect that the slow take up of multiverse engine as a ‘tool’ needed a little Linden pzzazz to get things moving. I notice they are promoting the Times Square area which has been around in Multiverse for over a year – but now with added ‘Social Networkness’, or something like that.

A revolutionary 3D virtual world that brings together the best of massively multiplayer online games and social networking sites. The beta release of Multiverse Places enables you to socialize in a visually-stunning Times Square environment through customizable avatars and integrated voice chat. In addition, you can customize your own apartment with images, music, and videos. Like social networking sites, you can learn about a person’s real-world interests and tastes by visiting their place (their apartment). In addition, you can also interact in real-time together.

Making the World(s) a Better Place – Virtual Worlds at Congress

To show how Social 3D Worlds are permeating the real world the first ever Congressional hearing on Virtual Worlds was run in April of this year. The then CEO of Linden Lab (Second Life) Philip Rosedale, testified before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, basically telling them about the likely ‘influence’ that 3D Social Worlds will have moving forward. Here is a seven minute machinima that he presented as part of that talk – just released to the public from Blip.

To show how mixed reality is progressing too more about the simulcast in and out of second life below from America.Gov 🙂

The hearing was streamed live into a three-dimensional (3-D) model of the House hearing room in Second Life, and a gathering of in-world residents watched the proceedings from their seats. Massachusetts Democrat Representative Edward Markey, the subcommittee chairman, presided over both meetings — in person in Washington and as an avatar in Second Life.

“If we want to foster the best of what this medium has to offer,” Markey said, “we must consider the policies that will be conducive to such growth. These include upgrading our broadband infrastructure and speed, fostering openness and innovation in our Internet policies and ensuring that we bridge digital divides in our country so that all Americans can benefit.”

“The Second Life grid is the next step in the fulfillment of the Internet’s promise, where people create and consume content and interact with each other in a 3-D environment,” Rosedale, chief executive of Linden Lab, the company that runs Second Life, told the subcommittee.

“The potential for commerce, education, entertainment and other interaction in a 3-D environment filled with other people,” he added, “is far greater than in the flat and isolated two-dimensional world of the World Wide Web.”

What Mash-Ups are worth ‘Emailing’ About – Firefox Ubiquity

Found this great demo of a ‘semantically’ rich plug-in for Firefox which really suggest where we are headed when things ‘link’ together in a much more ‘human’ way. Enjoy.

Yes you can try it now, get the plug-in from this post…and a great get started tutorial from the Mozilla team.

Ubiquity for Firefox from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

When Game Consoles Get Serious

I love my little black DS-Lite. It has made several global plane journey’s a lot more bearable with its cute ‘grind’ games, sims, racing, stories and good old brain trainer. I also do serious tech music too and of course have the full Logic/Reason/Live Macbook Pro rig as well as some cool ‘retro’ emulators like the ARP2600 that synch perfectly to the Logic master clock (ok too much detail). Back to the DS-lite. A toy right. Well no.

The guys at Korg and Nintendo got together with a couple of young Japanese design agencies and created something I had to have immediately – a fully featured Korg DS-10 emulator. It looks great on the black DS, a real in-your-pocket analog synth from the 80s – is that Tangerine Dream in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me? Not a toy a two oscillator, four drum track, 16 pattern sequencer and 21 song storage (thats basically 21 times 16 different 4/4 bar configurations) – complete with keyboard, kaos pad and more…so off to eBay, order from Japan and I wait patiently for the postman 🙂 After the embed XBox has some serious applications too..first check out this video and go here to VideoGamesBlogger, and click the video about half way down for a cool interview with its creators and a two DS live jam…

A lot of sites are reporting the new feature with XBox Live used for voting and recruitment around the world. BBC News reports in its item XBox Live in Youth Voting Drive about the online forums being used to garner views on politics from gamers as well as doing ‘test’ votes as part of the presidential ‘opinion polls’…

“To realise our goal of registering two million young Americans by this fall, we need to go where young Americans are,” said Heather Smith, executive director of Rock the Vote, in a statement. “There’s no doubt in our minds that many are on Xbox 360 and Xbox Live.”

Microsoft said that the Rock The Vote campaign to use Xbox Live would begin on 25 August.

In the past Rock The Vote has also worked with MySpace to encourage bands that promote their music via the social networking site to get fans to register to vote.

Through the partnership with Rock The Vote, Microsoft is also planning to have a presence at the Republican and Democrat party conventions to educate politicians about it and its members views.

See Emily Play – amazing CG ’emotional’ actress

At AFTRS LAMP we are very interested in Artificial Intelligence as the foundation of NPC or non player charaters. Once you have a good generative scripted character they can interact with ‘participants’ in cinematic games or virtual worlds and drive narrative by having real conversations. So students can also develop AI to automatically create emotional scenes on-the-fly, using generative scripts.

The only thing that would be missing therefore from a potentially completely self-generating film would be great text-to-speech and real time visual CG characters that had authent realism…Look at this and you tell me if you think we have come a long way from Polar Express in 3 or 4 years…Interestingly this is being sold as ‘a bridge across the uncanny valley’, in truth until this is real time we are just climbing up the other side, for now, See Emily Play…

and some background on the technology Image Metrics behind this…from a New York times article

The team at Image Metrics – which produced the animation for the Grand Theft Auto computer game – then recreated the gestures, movement by movement, in a model. The aim was to overcome the traditional difficulties of animating a human face, for instance that the skin looks too shiny, or that the movements are too symmetrical.

“Ninety per cent of the work is convincing people that the eyes are real,” Mike Starkenburg, chief operating officer of Image Metrics, said.

“The subtlety of the timing of eye movements is a big one. People also have a natural asymmetry – for instance, in the muscles in the side of their face. Those types of imperfections aren’t that significant but they are what makes people look real.”

and behind the scenes (sound is odd but visuals speak for themselves after 1.30 or so)

Sep 012008

Social Media and Web 2.0 is a lot about providing the tools and therefore the means for everyone to create content, that they believe others may want to see. I have personally created a lot of corporate, professional entertainment and music films over the years using high end equipment but now, like many millions around the world, find it a fun and satisfying process to be able to create films and stories in virtual worlds, aka machinima. (Quite a few are over on my personal virtual blog justvirtual)

There are literally millions of machinimas emanating from the likes of World of Warcraft, Sims, Movies, Halo, Second Life, Half Life and many more. Most are done for the love vs the money and some make it onto the big screen. For the creators it is about expressing ‘their’ world and experiences to each other but of course there is something else as important here.

Laurel (heart) talked recently on a machinima I did in Twinity and about the ‘free advertising’ it offers for the brand or platform. For me it is also about creating an environment where simple tools encourage large numbers of people to come together remotely and do real-time, collaborative content creation for extended periods. It makes the world very, very sticky when they have shared creative goals and purpose – not just pre-constructed game play. Some may say game quests are social too and I believe when the players get ‘creative’ with the mechanic and ‘bend the rule’ together it certainly is.

Comfortably Fun

Using game or social virtual worlds to entertain each other in this deeply immersive way, leads us to imagine what the potential will be when bandwidth and graphic realism are no longer limitations. Perhaps a portent of the future here is a machinima I did of a forty three minute performance of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, in a social world, Second Life. It was captured last week and it is useful to remind us all what is going on here. There are around 70 people logged in together in real time from around the world, most audience a few performers. About 8 are ‘animating’ on stage or controlling lights, effects or triggering scripted animations and I am recording the whole thing at the same time. This is digital puppeteering. I captured elements of the performance three times and put together this compilation edit. More after the embed…

So this all started with an invite from a self motivated group, led by Debbie Trilling, who for the love of what they do, created an inworld, cross-reality, musical tribute. CARPs (Cybernetic Art Research Project) inventive and emotionally driven version of Pink Floyd’s 1980’s album was a truly international affair and many hours were spent developing and performing a Virtual Show to this music that reaches a new audience every few years.The reason the music reaches new audiences is because of its use in ‘community created content’ just like this, a far more poignent way to share digital content. More than 2000 avatars have experienced this particular concert inworld generating 10 000s of impressions across blogs and media sites. That is the key point – don’t dismiss game or virtual worlds as being irrelevant because of perceived low numbers – these are active and proficient online users who see the 2D web as a ‘simple’ publishing tool and become prolific creators of content and by implication major influencers.

Professional marketeers need to be aware of the power of machinima (consumer films in worlds they are very loyal too) and how by allowing the use of often locked down content is probably the best way to introduce ‘old’ content to new audiences. As an example, while I was putting together this ‘mash-up’ compilation I tried a recording of the reunion performance of the Comfortably Numb at Live 8 a few years ago and was entranced by the synergy of visual and song. Hope you do too. BTW a medium quality (90MB MP4) download of the YouTube above is available here. Worth playing full screen with the volume up and the lights down 🙂

To further consider how effective game world movies are. I created again out of a moment of relaxation a ‘flycam’ film around some of my ‘builds’ in Second Life. I like others were entranced by the new feature in the engine, Windlight. This rendered more naturalistic reflections and skyscapes for example. The machinima was a self expressive piece, some improvised guitar and piano and flowing movement, not really an typical ‘traffic’ generating video.

Ticking along at a few hundred views over a month on YouTube then Linden Lab decided to feature it on their machinima page. For a week or so it was getting between two to four thousands views per day. Over the past four months or so it has been viewed over 30 000 times, not bad for an ‘art’ video? But outside the numbers what is the dynamic at play here? Well it is really simple. If you own any space where people frequent, make it really, really easy for them to share their experiences. You scratch their back and they will yours. Give them the tools to make it easy to create professional looking content. Let them do the viral marketing for you. Even though the community realise they are doing you a ‘big’ favour, the joy they get from sharing is part of their own virtuous circle.