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Repurposed Entertainment

posted in College, Events, Media on March 28th, 2007

Ever so often, a group of teachers at my college organize a day-long
event that’s supposed to be all about gaining theoretical knowledge. Few people are looking forward to these days and quite a few students actually “opt-out” of even attending the sessions.

A week ago, we had another one of these events, this one, geared towards Serious Gaming and all the things related to creating serious games.

I’ll be honest about this, up front, I didn’t feel like the event would provide much interesting stuff, if any at all. We had one of these “Theory Events” back in the first quarter of this year and the general consensus was that it was a waste of time.

People didn’t dislike the event based on the idea of the event, but rather on the actual execution of the event. When I attend a class, hearing, discussion panel or anything, I am there for a reason, I want to expand my knowledge. Other than talking about a few Dutch Blogs and trying to explain the concept of Dot Walking to a couple hundred students, the speaker didn’t do much at all.

Most of us had never heard of Dot Walking and normally, this would have been enough to spark an interesting discussion, however, the whole idea didn’t offer anything related to our project at all. For my part, a flash mob would have carried more educational value but alas.

So, with the bad taste from the first even still clinging to the back of my mouth, I went to attend the second Theory Event of my sophomore year:

The day was split into three (or four) parts. First, we’d get to hear a keynote from Annet Dekker, who works at Montevideo, an organization that specializes in creating time based arts.

The whole speech was more or less a showcase of her own work, mixed with work that her company created. Ever so often, a short video clip would be used to make it easier for us to visualize her creations. While she did offer some valid points, I found it a tad annoying that she limited her presentation by only selecting stuff she created.

It is natural for people to be proud of what they achieved, however, if your whole keynote only relates to your own products, you’re lacking perspective and that makes you appear a lot more biased than you probably are.

After a short break, we were treated to a movie called eXistenZ. Released in the same year as The Matrix, the movie tells a similar but not identical story.

In both movies, people use ports in their bodies to link themselves to a system that operates solely on a metaphysical level, but that’s where the similarities end.

eXistenZ is about a game, a game that is so real that players can’t tell if they are still playing it or not. Playing might actually not be the right word in this case, it’s more of an experience than pure entertainment.

The participants don’t just passively enjoy the offerings of the system, they actually are part of the (mostly linear) story.

The movie was great and I certainly enjoyed watching it, mostly because the ideas portrayed within the movie become less and less of a probability and more and more of a reality.

The ideas also kinda remind me of “Counter-Struck“, a parody of the well known game Counter-Strike. The director of the movie, a fellow crossmedia engineering student, tells the story of a player who immerses himself that much in the game, that the game starts happening around the player.

After another short break, Daniƫl van Gils, chief-creative-guy at KamerBlauwLicht showcased a few great Machinima movies (some even unknown to me) and tried to riddle us with the following questions:

Is gaming art?” and “can games be used to create art“.

This was probably the most memorable part of the whole day, most certainly because I’m working on my own movie and have a strong opinion about this:

Van Gils appears to be a strong supporter of Machinima and he seems to be fascinated by it. He went as far as creating a mod for the Doom III engine that would allow him to create a live performance that was inspired by the music playing around him.

This really shows how committed this person really is towards Machinima and I have to applaud him for embracing such a new form of art in such an extensive way. Especially since most people don’t even know what Machinima really is and what it can be used for.

Tens of thousands of years ago, cave paintings were the first form of art that humans created. Today, if you’re able to acquire a piece with a real cave painting on it, you probably would be holding not only a piece of history, but also a piece of significant monetary value in your hands.

What I’m trying to say is that, over the millenia, art has evolved. From the cave paintings to the Mona Lisa, from the first sketches of Aristoteles to the Wrapped Reichstag, art has been evolving and still is.

A few decades ago, graffitti wasn’t considered art, but today it is. Sure, it hasn’t yet reached the same level of acceptance oil paintings have, but that is mostly because oil paintings have been around much longer.

A few years from now, Machinima will have gained a much larger following. In recent months, the barrier for entering this genre has been lowered quite a bit. Editing tools, for both video and audio, have become a lot more accessible and many different kinds are available, catering to novice users as well as professionals alike.

More and more companies are embracing Machinima as valid forms of marketing. Not just because it offers a low-cost alternative to expensive CG graphics, but also because it has more of an amateuristic factor to it, something that can often work in favor of the director.

All in all, this event was a lot more interesting than the first one and provided me with the questions I was looking for. The sessions made me think, made me discuss and made me talk about the ideas that were presented to us and that’s all I want.

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This flight is delayed …

posted in College, Projects on February 8th, 2007

A week or so ago, I blogged about my movie project and about it’s possible premiere on Friday, February 2nd. Obviously, there was no premiere, yet, because of a few events that happened.

For one, the affiliation with the team that builds US: I is working out very nicely and they are catering for most of my wishes. In return I’m rewriting scenes to better fit their environments, not just because I feel obliged to, but also because it’s a lot easier to showcase their stuff that way.

I’m also rewriting dialogue based on new research I discovered, to make certain scenes more realistic and to add a few more easter eggs. I’ve also been working on a movie poster (actually, I’ve been working on three different ones) and I’m revising my marketing strategy for the whole project.

Scott is doing a great job as a voice actor and so are the other people. I have a lot of new found respect for movie makers, young and old. This project is a lot bigger than originally expected, but still, it’s a great experience and I would do it again any time.

More (elaborate) updates will follow soon.

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Pimpin’ my rides

posted in Projects on January 31st, 2007

After doing enough research for my movie, I had a quick look at ways to alter the content that was available to me. I made a decision that would basically nullify all the effort I put into researching various cultural and architectural aspects of Middle Eastern countries.

To save time, I wanted to utilize stock content that was readily available to everyone. Content that wouldn’t have to be altered in any way and would just be used “as-is”. The decision basically came down to me having to write a story that fit the environment (the movie sets, so to speak) rather than building an environment that would fit the story.

Back in the summer, I found this acceptable, after all, I was no “modder” (eg.: a person who is capable of modding computer games) and I didn’t think it was necessary to become one, just to create a movie.

Now, in retrospect, I think I made a very poor choice back then, I’ve been working on my own mod for the past two weeks and I must say, I find the whole process very enjoyable. I’ve “pimped” rides and repainted some stuff, I even built custom effects. I’ve analyzed and tweaked weapons, vehicles and characters.

Sure, it’s hard work, I had to learn a new scripting language (CONScript) and experienced loads of crashes whenever I wanted to test something, but in the end, I think the time I put into acquiring these skills might be very useful in the future.

The resulting mod will, however, not be used for my movie. Even though it’s highly suitable and works just fine, I decided that teaming up with the US: Intervention would enable me to utilize the game engine a lot better. Not just because they have had more time to finish their mod, but also because they are looking to promote an upcoming version of their modification with a little movie, a movie I am going to make for them.

Don’t think of the project as a sell-out though, because, if you ask me, there’s a difference between teaming up to achieve the same goal in a much more efficient way and still getting to keep your own story as opposed to teaming up with someone and rewriting everything to fit their needs.

As far as my mod is concerned, after taking some time off, I’ll release it to the world. I don’t expect it to be successful at all, but if it makes a future director’s life easier, because of the things contained within, I’m happy.

Here’s a little bit of trivia: the icon I’m using for the mod, is actually something I made back in my freshman year at college. It was one of those introductory classes, where one of my tutors told us to draw the most basic icons we could come up with that were related to a certain topic. I think we made at least 40 different icons, but the camera turned out best. It’s simple, basic, a bit childish yet clearly conveys it’s meaning. A perfect fit for the mod.

As far as the text goes, I call it a “community movie mod” because it’s not aimed at gameplay, it’s highly biased towards the US side, with only few modifications to the MEC side and no changes at all to the other armies. The mod includes stuff that wouldn’t be used in normal gameplay, but might be very handy for movie makers.

The “community” part of the mod stems from the fact that I didn’t create it on my own. Yes, I compiled the knowledge and items I found, but I’m not the author of many of the items included within. Basically, 90% of the content is available out there, for people to use, but many people, will not have the time or knowledge to integrate them into the game, so therefore, as a way to say “thank you“, I built this mod.

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It’s all about the research

posted in College, Projects on January 30th, 2007

When I first started drafting scenes for my movie project, I decided that I wanted this project to be as intensive and educational as a standard college project. I wanted to have the feeling that it wasn’t just a fun thing to do, I wanted to learn something, I wanted to expand my knowledge in ways that would later benefit me, both personally as well as professionally.

I started out with a basic planning that included the various steps. First of all, to write a credible story, I had to get a better understanding of the way people “down there” think. What might be totally acceptable to us (think: revealing clothes worn by females) is totally unacceptable in other cultures. Sure, I did know that much, but all the knowledge I had, prior to getting accustomed to the culture, wasn’t nearly enough.

Sure, I’m a westerner, my target audience are westerners, but there’s such a thing as sticking to the facts and even though it was going to be a fictitious story, I wanted every aspect of it to be as real as possible. Every last piece of information I gathered had to be able to withstand scrutiny.

Local movies are a great way to get to know a culture better, but it’s hard to find the right kind of movie. There are lots and lots of televised stories out there that label themselves “local” but many of them are actually made to appeal to a broad, western-oriented audience. Well, long story short - I found a couple of movies, most of them lacking good subtitles (not to say there were no subtitles available, but the quality of the subtitles was well below par) and decided to not watch them for the story but rather for the people.

One of the movies I analyzed is called “Kurtlar vadisi - Irak“, (translation: “Valley of the Wolves - Iraq”), a movie which starts out after the infamous hood event that took place on July 4th, 2003, shortly after the war began. The movie focuses on the way the people feel after being treated like animals and while the director exercised his artistic freedom to amend the story a little, I think he did a great job in portraying the issues that arise during the situations that were discussed in the movie. It might not have been the best research material I could get, but it certainly had many valid points and taught me a lot about the subject I was researching.

Other than a couple of movies, I also read a lot, both online and in books I retrieved from my mother, who spent a considerable amount of time in middle eastern countries. She also helped me in getting some parts of the cultural information I had compiled right as far as interpersonal contact was concerned. Thanks for that, mom!

After getting myself acquainted with the subject, I, by accident, came across two people, one, a Native Farsi Speaker, who moved around a lot and ended up in Canada and a person who moved from Iraq to the UK. Both of them were more than willing to elaborate in detail how they felt about their respective cultural background and about how they perceived daily life in the Middle East.

While books and movies are a great way to get to know something, I find that talking to people who actually experienced these situations, a lot more informative and a lot more entertaining.

After getting my facts right for the Middle Eastern side of the story, I wanted to get some more information about the American side. Once again, Wikipedia was able to provide me with a lot of the information I looked for and thanks to it’s great cross linking system, I came across many other resources that taught me about various other aspects that would later contribute to my story.

As fate would have it, I met an ex Marine who immediately jumped at the movie idea and agreed to help with the tactical information and experience I was lacking.

Yes, it is a movie, a very-low-budget one at that and yes, 99% of the people watching it will not catch small things like troops that cover each other in a very specific way or radio chatter that is very “to the point”, but for me personally, these things are important. I believe that these are the details that either make or break a product.

In a few days, you should be able to judge for yourself if my research paid off. I already know that it did, I’ve gotten to know some pretty interesting people and learned a fair bit about Arabic countries.

So, as far as the research is concerned, I think that the amount of time I put into it certainly meets the expectations I had before I started out. I think I’ve done more and better research for this one project than I’ve done for quite a few, bigger, projects in the past.

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it’s a free space!

posted in College, Projects on January 23rd, 2007

Yesterday marked the official beginning of the “Free Space” project, I discussed some time ago right here.

Here’s a short recap: a year ago, we had a project called “Free Space” which disappointed me a lot, the whole project wasn’t fun to do, nor was it educative and in the end, I nearly ended up without my ECTS.

I didn’t want this year to be a rerun of my first “Free Space” and decided that I’d take matters into my own hands and do something that would link up with the stuff I’m looking to do in the last two years of my time in college. Long story short, I pitched an idea about making a machinima film and my wish was granted.

So here I am, busy writing, rewriting, restructuring a story that includes references to modern politics, real events and some easter eggs. A story about the war (some) soldiers are facing during the actual war. I think it’s gonna be a nice cocktail of drama, action and suspense, but you’ll be able to judge by yourself soon.

My team is spread around the globe, most of them come from the UK and Western Europe in general, but there are also a few hailing from Northern America. Since the time differs as much as eight hours between some of my team mates, we needed a place to store information online, accessible to everyone at any time.

Back in the summer, when I started out with this project, I put most of the content into a forum that was accessible only by invitation but it didn’t work. There was little to no markup possible and copy would look the same, basically important stuff wasn’t easily distinguishable and people didn’t know what to read and what not to read.

The first solution I tried was WordPress, which works amazingly well for just about any content management but sadly didn’t work at all for this project. In the end, I just set up another subwiki in my Pimki installation and I find that to be working perfectly. Granted, I hack my Pimki (which by itself is a hack of Instiki) installation quite a bit to strip out features I didn’t need and hack in others I desperately needed, but all in all, the framework is the same and it just works.

Remote team management is so much easier if your team knows how to get to the content they need and if they are able to contribute to it without having to sign up for accounts, that’s a great plus for everyone.

On another note, thanks to this movie I’ve even expanded my Python skills a little bit. The game I’m using to create the movie is based on the Python scripting language and hacking it is insanely easy (well, not insanely easy, but let’s just say it’s working for me). The result? I’m creating my own mod, aptly titled “deeCyne.com: Machinima”. I consider it a community mod targeted at fellow movie makers who might not be able to use the content because they don’t want to get their hands dirty.

Both the mod and the hacks I made to Pimki will be released once I’m done with the movie (though, not immediately afterwards, I’ll probably take some time off). I found that various sites that were rich with information contributed passively to the making of this movie and as such, giving something back is a logical step to me.

That said, it’s time to go back and create some more storyboards.

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