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Things of interest

The amazing work of Till Nowak

Today I discovered The Centrifuge Brain Project. I wont tell more about it before you’ve seen it – you can check it out here:

The Centrifuge Brain Project is a fictional documentary by the incredibly gifted CG artist Till Nowak. I am just as obsessed with the strange, otherworldly atmosphere of amusement parks as Nowak, and I thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful idea. Amusement parks are encircled by that ‘Magic circle’ which delineates all games and makes them something other than everyday life, which you agree upon when entering the game. When you enter an amusement park, you prepare to be amazed and to experience what game scholar Roger Callois names ilinx, which is that sensory disruption experienced when bungee jumping, skiing, or being on a roller coaster. In this video, Nowak creates a purely visual amusement park – we are as viewers amazed by imagining these rides.

What’s really interesting is how the genre of the documentary tries to blend the fiction with reality, just as the CGI is seamlessly merged with the actual footage.Also, the fiction does not stop at the video itself, but has a website which plays into the fiction too, by looking very corporate and believable. When watching the other small interviews with “Dr. Nick Laslowicz” the fiction gradually unfold in a humorous way, as the good doctor explains that no, he has never himself tried the rides, and yes, they did experience slight technical hiccups with the 14 hour long ride, as people were forced to relieve themselves in the cars.

Nowak explins his view on the nature of art in this interview at itsartmag:

“For me art is like a big game of communication and influence between people: We create something, not only for ourselves, but to show it to other people, enjoy the reaction of the audience and try to influence. So it’s like another form of communication, like talking to each other, but sometimes more powerful, more difficult, more international, more playful and more subtle at the same time. In fact, I rarely think about theoretical definitions, I just do what crosses my mind and go where my feelings lead me.”

To me, art is just that too; a game between artist, work and the people who engage with it. I love that Nowak uses the word game to describe art – a artist plays with viewer/user/reader of art, in a way similar to a chess problem posed by the artist. It is an experience of entwineing thoughts and emotions. But of course, that my take on art. (You might disagree, finding that art has a greater purpose than eliciting an emotional response).

However, in the video Nowak crafts an experience for the viewer which not only creates an emotional response, but also a a thoughtful one as the viewer is left to ponder just when she discovered the fiction, and reflect on the relationship between fiction, reality, perception and new media.

Frankenstein Going Interactive, But Not Improving Story

The Cambridge-based company Inkle has with their app Frankenstein (see a video here) for iPhone and iPad positioned themselves in the wake of other attempts, such as the interactive Alice for the iPad, at merging the narrative of books with that the potential of digital media. The app works as an old-fashioned choose-your-own-adventure-novel where the reader chooses her way through a branching labyrinthine narrative structure.

I was pretty excited about this app, especially as I thought the plurality of voices in the novel, and the whole notion of scientific skepticism and optimism was a great theme for such an app and presented a great opportunity to really explore the potential of this hybrid format in a very metatextual way. Awww, yiss!

However, Inkle does in my opinion not manage to capitalize on the possibilities of the medium. The choices presented in the app interrupts the flow of the story, and are often semantically opaque when the description of the choices does not make any sense.

To me, this becomes a continuously presented mirror in the text, when I am expecting to look though a window. The choices needs to be intuitive and transparent, lest they distract the attention of the reader for too long, and ruin the immersion. The reader is presented with a choice for every few paragraphs, which to me, is just way to often. Sometimes theres is not even a choice to be made, but merely a button to be pressed. Also, the outcome of the choices remains obfuscated, which undermines any feeling of meaningfulness connected to making these choices. Only by rereading the story in different ways does the reader get a grasp of the underlying system, which is really too much to demand on part of the reader.

The app does not really strive to do anything that couldn’t have been done in a choose-your-own-adventure-book or in better hypertext novels, such as Stuart Moulthrop’s Victory Garden or Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, which is a shame. However, the iPad does offer a brilliant platform for evolving interactive fiction and getting it out to the broad public, and I’ll be looking out for other Frankensteinian literary monsters of this sort.

Good news for adventure game fans

Seeing that this is my very first blog post, I guess it’ll be alright to be a bit retrospective. I though about what I would want to share on this blog and thought of this awesome kickstarter initiative by the San Francisco based game developer, Double Fine.  This is great for a number of reasons. First of all point-and-click adventure games are awesome as they warrant a specific kind of interaction which is not based on motor skills or hand-eye coordination, but rather an intellectual interaction. This makes for a specific type of expression and ambiance, which can be very immersive although often based on crude graphics, such as Amanita’s gorgeous point-and-click Machinarium.

Another reason adding to the awesomeness of this endeavor is its business model. By using the crowd funding platform Kickstarter, the entire thing is sponsored by fans of adventure games, who feel directly involved and having some sort of ownership in the project.

Not at all bad for a small game developer and I, for one, am psyched to see the end result. You can check out their Kickstarter video below.