Probably someone out there's already mentioned this, but the Google Docs spreadsheet application shares a few features with virtual worlds. I've been using the Google Docs quite a bit lately to work with my distributed team, and the spreadsheet seems to really shine in terms of worldy potential. Here are the features:
Controlled multi-user environment: Simultaneous usage by multiple persons. Access is controlled by the person who created the spreadsheet--users can be set as collaborators or just viewers.
Presence indicators: All users sharing the spreadsheet are informed of the presence of others in the form of a chat window, temporary notifications, and a mobile avatar (see next point).
Real-time text chat: Plus voice if you use Skype.
Unique, mobile avatars: Each user is represented by a uniquely-colored outline on an individual spreadsheet cell. A simple avatar, but distinct, and user-controlled. It can move around the spreadsheet.
Spatial relationships between users: My avatar can be beside, above, or below yours.
User-generated content: All Google gives you is a blank spreadsheet. The users add the content. I don't think it's possible to add proper graphics to a spreadsheet, but it is possible to color a cell and to add colored text to a cell. It is also possible to lock rows and columns, which could provide a visual effect.
Dynamic content: It's a spreadsheet, so it's possible to put formulas into cells which rely upon and affect other cells.
Inhabitable zones: A spreadsheet can have multiple pages ("sheets"), allowing users in the same spreadsheet to occupy distinct areas--each area is visible only as a tab until clicked, allowing a mild degree of privacy, and a sense of "travel" between sheets.
Persistent world: A Google spreadsheet endures over time--it is a "live," changeable, but persistent environment which remembers its state after the users have logged out.
Communication with outside world: Users can opt to be notified by email when the spreadsheet has been changed, on a global, sheet, or cellular level. I believe a Google Doc can also be embedded in a web page.
Certainly a Google spreadsheet is not a fabulous virtual world, but I see potential for socializing and play there. The barriers to entry are definitely very low, and content creation is easy, too.
[Update1: added real-time chat to the list. Update2: added spatiality to the list.]
While in Austin for SXSW, I caught the launch of The All-For-Nots, described by BuzzFeed as "a new web comedy about a fictional indie rock band," except that what I saw on stage was just a band--the comedy occurs offstage, apparently. As explained by a friend of mine at the event, the band's scripted between-gig antics are shot for webisodes, which you can check out on the band's official web site. Not entirely clear on the target demographic for this--I'm going to guess 12 - 24 year-olds (the project is going after both MySpace and Bebo users, which seems around that age range).
I kept waiting for something crazy to happen during the band's energetic set, but no. What would have been cool is for them to fire their drummer on stage... anything involving fire, actually. Oh well, will keep my eye on this project, maybe it'll blossom.
"We're in early stages on a feature film...pre-production stages...but it will still be a while," says 'Oddworld' creator Lorne Lanning as he heads towards 'Oddworld 2.0' business model. Whatever that is.
Fictional game shown on 'CSI' fails to be launched as actual game. Missed opportunity not just for gaming but for transmedial storytelling. Good opening for a "fiction-jacker" to create their own version of the game.
"This paper presents a survey of different kinds of interaction designs in movies during the past decades and relates the techniques of the films to existing technologies and prototypes where possible."
"Violence depicted on television, in films and video games raises the risk of aggressive behavior in adults and young viewers and poses a serious threat to public health, according to a new study." Panic on the streets of London!
Since 2006, I've been following the adventures of the team at Pure West--filmmakers researching and journaling MMO game culture for a documentary which would come to be called Second Skin. The team's blog gave a behind-the-scenes look at the trials of the documentarians and their evolving subject-matter, but I was fortunate enough to meet the filmmakers first-hand during one of their many journeys across the U.S., Canada, and overseas. These guys weren't just trying to cash in on the swelling interest in MMOs, or exploit players as objects of curiosity or ridicule--it was clear their mission was to seek out and reveal some compelling human stories at the intersection of real and virtual worlds.
The Second Skin trailer makes its debut today, and I'm not excited about it simply because of my brief on-camera appearance :) I feel like this will be a topical, socially-relevant documentary that will make a lasting mark. Something that may end up as course-material some day (certainly I'll be buying the DVD). The filmmakers clearly poured their blood and sweat into Second Skin, and at first glance, it really shows. Congratulations to the Pure West team and everyone (it seems like dozens) they interviewed. I think you have a hit on your hands.
A couple of projects I was involved with late last year are now fully operational. Although each project was for a separate broadcaster, each puts the player in the role of a secret agent. Must have been something in the air in 2007.
The Border: Interactive, which supports the new CBC TV series The Border, was produced by White Pine Pictures in association with Stitch Media, and is comprised of a series of narrative-driven mini-games. I'm pretty sure this is the first major project launch for Stitch Media, founded by Evan Jones, former Creative Director of Xenophile Media. As Game Designer on The Border: Interactive, I worked closely with Evan and his team during the pre-production phase, developing high-concept game ideas into executable design documents. Jam3Media worked with Stitch to develop the games in Flash.
M.I. High, a CBBC TV series, is now supported by an episodic web-game. I helped out as a game design consultant on the project, but I can't say more than that until I hear back from my client.
Almost 7 years ago, a team of creative Canadians launched Broken Saints, an online motion-graphic novel which evolved over 24 chapters and garnered a massive international fan-base. Series creator Brooke Burgess described the series as "cinematic literature" in a 2002 interview. I'd call the series "groundbreaking" in that it pushed accepted boundaries of web-based storytelling as well as the technical limitations of Flash as a production tool. Unlike cartoon "webisodes," Broken Saints used a painterly, textured approach more at home on film than the web.
The award-winning series has since been remastered and released on DVD through 20th Century Fox, but the project team hasn't stopped there: The "band" reformed to produce a series of mini-films as part of a promotion for the Will Smith sci-fi thriller I Am Legend.
According to a press release Brooke Burgess sent my way, he and cohort Ian Kirby have been secretly producing the animated shorts since last spring, when they were approached by Will Smith's production company. The mini-films range from 3-9 minutes each, and feature original music, sound design, and voice talent from the Broken Saints audio team. Apple is hosting "Awakening" and "Isolation," which echo all the best Broken Saints production values in the I Am Legend universe.
Applications are due February 1, 2008, for next year's Producers Institute for New Media Technologies, a 10-day program designed to give eight teams of documentary-makers a taste of new media, gaming, and cross-platform possibilities. Hosted and organized by the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) in San Francisco, the Producer's Institute is intense, energetic, and highly productive. The program runs May 30 - June 8: For complete information, or to submit an on-line application, please go to: bavc.org/producersinstitute.
I was a mentor at the 2007 Institute (held earlier this year), and thoroughly enjoyed working both with BAVC and the invited documentarians. It was a fantastic opportunity to teach, learn, and cross-pollinate, and I'm sure the 2008 event will offer more the same.
I've been a fan of survival horror game series Silent Hill since the first installment in the series, not so much due to the game play, but because of its inspirational creative elements. The visuals and soundscapes featured in the series are haunting, distinctive, and memorable.
One of the most recognizable monster-types in the game series is a sort of "zombie nurse," a faceless female creature dressed in medical garb which shivers and shimmies through darkened hospitals, looking for a handful of your flesh. When the Silent Hill movie came out last year, I was disappointed that the zombie nurses seemed to be re-imagined as slightly more sexualized monsters. Basically they became less "zombie" and more "sexy nurse." A pity, since the original creature designs seemed to be far more ghastly (and far more scary) than the ones shown in the film.
Sadly, the upcoming Silent Hill 5 seems to turned the zombie Sex-O-Meter up to eleven, turning an exquisite walking corpse into Nurse McBoobs, complete with a nipple-exposing wardrobe-malfunction. Jeux France has the full-sized pics. If the game features jiggle-physics, I'm going postal.
Nintendo releases DS TV (TV tuner for DS and DS Lite) exclusively in Japan for the equivalent of roughly $60 USD. Apparently one of the features gives the viewer a group of imaginary friends to watch TV with.