Games and Interaction design

Monday, June 05, 2006

over_play @ onedotzero 10

On Friday, onedotzero 10 kicked off at the ICA, and the first event in the innervisions series of talks was over_play, billed as "an exploration of the future of gaming".

First of all, one of the biggest disappointments of the festival is the absence of "lens flare" - a look at motion graphics in the gaming sphere. While I was never really a fan of the original line up (basically pre-rendered fmvs), I think its starting to get to a point where gaming aesthetic (in-game) is really worth taking notice of. From the abstract worlds of Rez to the heavily-stylised graphics of Killer 7, (and Viewtiful Joe, Loco Roco, XIII, Katamari, Jet Set Radio Future all deserve a mention), its the fact that these are rendered interactively and that the scenes can be manipulated them by the player that makes them so unique. FMVs (for me) were nothing more than tacky candy added on that usually added very little to the experience. I know that traditionally Lens Flare has excluded anything outside of cutscenes, but games progress, these cutscenes will disappear. The next generation of graphics will bring the potential for almost any graphical style that can be imagined to be represented in realtime, and there should be more focus on the achievements and explorations in this sphere. The death of the non-interactive cutscene should be celebrated.

Anyway - back to the point in hand - over_play. While not strictly about gaming, it was essentially a discussion by two artists working in the digital sphere (Andrew Shoben of Greyworld, and Matt Adams of Blast Theory) of their work, and the thinking behind their projects.

Greyworlds work revolves around the creation of public art. Their most famous work (although not strictly public) is The Source, a gigantic installation created for the London Stock Exchange, consisting of a 9x9x9 grid of glowing spheres. The spheres can be configured to move to any position on the wire that they are suspended upon, allowing the collection to move to a vast number of different configurations, allowing them to represent anything from words to figures. As the glow of each sphere can be configured seperately, the light itself can animate across the installation even when the spheres are static.

Other installations that really stood out were Flowerwall (IIRC) - a new work that has just been commissioned that consists of a huge number of giant flower bouquets (very similar to that of a magician with flowers up his sleeve) that sprout out of a wall on request. This gives the user the ability to create a forest of vegetation appear from nowhere. Others that stood out were Railings, a set of tuned railings that play "The girl from ipanema" when you drag a stick along them, and a carpet that gave anyone walking upon it the impression that the surface was not what it appeared.

What really struck me about each project was the way that it used interaction to either augment reality, or to bestow upon the user a "special power" of some sort. Each project is hugely playful. Its great to see such work being commissioned that people can really take joy in interacting with

Most of the videos Andrew showed are on the Greyworld site.

I have to be honest and say that Blast Theory's work really didnt blow me away. While some of the thinking behind the work was certainly interesting - looking at the way that a virtual system can affect the real world (and vice versa) and the effects on the user of two such environments existing simultaneously. Blast Theory's background is in theatre, and it really does show - both the projects - "Uncle Roy is All Around You" and "Day of the Figures" feel very theatrical, the first using actors to interact with the real world players. I have to admit though that it reminded me a little of The Lawnmower Man - and that is definitely not a good thing. That said, the projects do ask some interesting questions even if the actual execution is a little underwhelming.


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