Desk Crit & Submission Accomplished

November 16, 2009 - Leave a Response

On Fri morning, Nov 13, “Paper Balloons” was officially submitted to the iTunes Store for approval. Now the 2-3 week process of waiting to hear back begins. While I’m not thrilled at submitting the App so much later than I’d planned, it really couldn’t have been helped. Some sizable development issues came up that my programmer was dealing with, as well as complications with nailing all of the specifics for submitting the actual App binary file for approval. I’d rather learn from my mistakes now where the only person to yell at me is myself. This does put into jeopardy my hope of having the App up on the iTunes Store by my Grad Show night. If the App does get rejected after 2-3 weeks, there’s no time for it to be fixed, re-submitted, and approved before Dec 10 & 11. It will be fixed & re-submitted in a case of rejection, but I don’t think the impact will be as great when I’m meeting with studio recruiters at Industry Grad Show night. Ah well, it’s happened and worrying about it won’t make things go faster.

This morning I had my Desk Crit with 2 of my 3 main advisors. It went decently enough. Regardless of the outcome of the Crit, I would have more than enough work to do afterwards. With “Paper Balloons” submitted and the “Whisper Stones” project 90% finished, I now have to turn my complete attention to designing and building my exhibition space, writing for my thesis website which also needs to be designed and made, and planning out my final thesis presentation for all of the faculty…

Why “Whisper Stones?”

October 22, 2009 - One Response

I don’t talk about my other thesis project a lot and there’s reason for it. Most of my time has been focused on getting the ‘Paper Balloons’ App developed and ready for submission to the iTunes Store. Even the theoretical side has focused majorly around the App. For one, virtual interactivity is the medium I’m most comfortable in and where most video game development takes place. Another reason, though, is I admittedly haven’t completely thought through and figured out the “why” behind the ‘Whisper Stones’ installation.

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Early sketch of 'Whisper Stones' interaction

To update any newcomers, the ‘Whisper Stones’ installation is a square space of about 8-10 feet in either direction. Within the space are 5 pillars with varying size white stones on top. Originally the idea was to enable the stones to be able to record and play back a “whisper” from a user, much in the same way as the ‘Paper Balloons’ App enables users to write down a fear, worry, etc. to release to the wind. ‘Whisper Stones’ uses the metaphor of hiding something under a rock to leave for later. The same idea is there, but carried out in a physical, tangible form as opposed to a virtual one.

First functioning version of 'Whisper Stones' Installation

First functioning version of 'Whisper Stones' Installation

Why physical interface though? What affordances are offered by whispering under or listening to a stone? Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist & founder of Jungian psychology, wrote of symbolism in dreams, as well as among Native American tribes. In this study of psychological symbolism, he found stones often represented people and that people connected with certain stones in some unexplainable way. This was a starting point in using stones to cover up whispers. Stones can be trusted. They are resolute, unyielding and uncompromising. If you hide something under a stone, the stone will not give your secret away willingly. From developing the iPhone App, I’d already seen emotional power in writing down a problem and knowing that someone, somewhere out in the world would read it and know what that there was a person dealing with this problem, even if they didn’t know you. There was a psychological feeling of release that corresponded with the physical gesture of releasing something. Following along that thought path, I wanted to see if the same feeling of release could happen with another gesture. Hiding something under a stone is another gesture of release. What if you could hide a feeling under a stone? What about whispering a secret and leaving it under the stone for someone else to hear? This is a fantastical gesture, making intangible emotions, feelings, and memories “tangible” in a way by allowing them to be captured in a physical space. Perhaps this is what brings about the psychological significance in these actions.

Different material sketches

Different material sketches

Where the ‘Paper Balloons App’ is about releasing a fear, hope, or worry to the wind, ‘Whisper Stones’ is about capturing an emotion, crazy idea, or moment in time. Some people may want to save an emotion for later. Others may want to leave an event or moment in time under the stone and be able to walk away from it. Does this radically change the thesis direction? Both projects, in a way, give a “tangible” form (or perhaps visual form is a better term) to intangible feelings and memories. They both create intimate spaces for introspection, whether it’s the close interaction between the user and their iPhone screen or picking up a white stone to whisper or listen to the small, dark space underneath.

But why a stone? Why a physical interface? Why not simply go to a confessional or temple or interior of your car for a quiet space to look inwardly and release fears, regrets, etc. One reason is an obvious one and that is absence of religious belief or of organized religious belief. The devout & the atheist should both be able to look introspectively though. They are both human. Zen gardens and meditation rooms are sometimes available as well, though meditation takes a large amount of focus and time. A rancher in the middle of Montana may not feel as confident looking inwardly in a meditation room.

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Later iteration of stones

But again, why a stone?! Because there is something about touching and moving a physical surface that engages our minds more than pointing and click with a cursor. The disconnect between our actions and the reactions we see on a computer is gone when the user is lifting a white stone, feeling all of the texture and weight of it, lowering their ear and listening to a quiet sound speaking out from a small, dark space. The action and reaction are immediate and connected. There’s something fantastic and magical about that interaction that stays with the user. Technology can be used for more than just streamlining our lives. Adding in whimsy and new mythologies to our daily interactions can enrich us as human beings. The ‘Whisper Stones’ is not meant to replace temples or priests or the solitude people find in their own secret hideaways. The ‘Whisper Stones’ is an exploration of how technology and media design can create an introspective space that is different from those previously mentioned. In that exploration, what can we learn how to create more meaningful interactions with ourselves, with others, and with the technology and world that we live in.

How do people update all of their thoughts?

October 14, 2009 - Leave a Response

My first official meeting with my thesis writing advisor was today. With so much going on, at times it feels like the writing portion of my thesis changes direction daily. I know that I have some worthwhile ideas, but if I can’t explain them out in a thoughtful way it doesn’t really matter how good the ideas are. My writing advisor was very upfront and honest with her thoughts on what I’d written so far. She definitely challenged me in the types of arguments I was making, as well as how I framed my projects. I’ve told my friends before, you can tell a good critique by how much work you feel you have to do afterwards. While I feel I have even more work to do now, I think that it’ll be worthwhile and only strengthen my overall thesis.

This past week I’ve been meeting with more advisors. This was to (1) help me focus on getting some things finished and completed and (2) help me in formalizing my thesis concepts and framing my work for my final grad show and thesis website. Meeting with multiple advisors in a short amount of time can be helpful, but also cause confusion pretty easily. Each advisor is an intelligent, accomplished person in their own field and they offer a legitimate direction on the path that you can take with your projects. From my experience, I think that I work best meeting with one advisor and then taking time to assimilate and mold my projects in response to their critique before meeting with the next advisor. Time constraints and personal schedules left me meeting with 4 different advisors in 6 days. I have 4 different blog entries I’ve started in that time, all going off in different thesis directions.

I need to give myself some time to sort through all of the feedback I’ve gotten (as wonderful and thoughtful as it’s been) to decide which course to take…while also finishing up the App…and building out the installation…and designing the exhibition…and sleeping somewhere in there too.

Meditative Gaming, Part 1

September 23, 2009 - Leave a Response

iPhoneBuddhaMy thesis in the Media Design program (MDP) is centered around creating introspective spaces through interactive gaming. While the statement is pretty straightforward, I feel like there’s a bit of distance to traverse to really see the full value of a master’s thesis exploration in this area.

I’ve talked with other students and MDP faculty before on the reputation of the video game medium and its often contentious relationship with other fields like film and art. Similarities can be drawn between the development of the video game field (still in its toddler years in my opinion) and that of the film industry, though the two fields still vary greatly. The question, “Are video games art?” still makes the rounds on different gaming & new media sites as well as in the blogosphere, but does little more than birth new flame wars and half-based speculations on what art is or should be. The one thing that is advantageous with comparing film & art to video gaming is in dissecting how film & art pieces move their viewers to look inwardly and critically at the world around them. How does Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, What Dreams May Come, & What the Bleep Do We Know!? coherently move people towards a certain frame of mind in which their focus turns inward? I’d like to list a few art pieces that do the same, but the art landscape is so vast and has such controversial borders (“What is art?”) that I’ll avoid trying to narrow things down to a few generally accepted pieces. There are artworks that can move us to redefine ourselves and our views on the world and I’ll leave it at that.

Can the video game medium create these same changes in people? First off, the video game community has to stop referring to their projects as, “just games.” By doing so, the outside world also views our projects as “just games” and will never see their potential to be more than entertainment. Film makers don’t reference their work as “just films,” and neither do artists talk about their work in the same trivializing manner. Once the gaming community accepts that video games can form and shape our self-reflections, then the rest of society will begin to also.

Secondly, the video game medium has some amazing affordances which film and art lack. The greatest of these is interactivity. Ian Bogost talks about the power in this activity in his Gamasutra article, Persuasive Games: Gestures as Meaning.

“Yet, the game’s [‘Manhunt 2‘ on the Wii] coupling of gestures to violent acts makes them more, not less repugnant by implicating the player in their commitment.

In Manhunt 2, we are meant to feel the power of Daniel Lamb’s psychopathy alongside our own disgust at it. It is a game that helps us see how thin the line can be between madness and reason by making us perform abuse.”

wow_torture02The great potential of the video game medium is taking the player in to the world and making choices with consequences. There is a difference between passively watching “Saw 3” and actively choosing to torture someone in a game like Manhunt 2 or the controversial Torture Quest in the MMO World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King (WoW:WotLK). The interactivity in video games lets users have unique, personal experiences. In my opinion, within those personal experiences is the potential to show users a different way to see themselves in a much more profound way than film and art can show.

So how can video gaming move toward these introspective experiences? Potential is alright, but isn’t worth a lot unless put into practice. This is where the practice of Media Design comes in. Creating a video game is a truly multi-disciplinary process involving programmers, artists, sound designers, game designers, producers, etc. Harnessing all of these media to work cohesively towards a worthwhile end goal is an undertaking in and of itself. However, also understanding how to design an experience which pulls at people’s notions of their own morality or forces them to re-evaluate how they’ve been living is an even larger issue to tackle successfully. Design as research (in the form of cultural probes) can be helpful here, as well as iterative design.

An earlier project in the Media Design program was one called the “Prosthetic Table,” a design intervention in early 2008 for the course Super Studio 2. With the project, a group that I worked with sought to understand the dinner table and how families interact with one another, as well as how they could interact with another family. What dynamics would form and what would change? Would there be a connection or lack of intimacy with the family? Would there be competition or cohesion in how the family interacted with one another? We discovered a lot on family dynamics & interactions, as well as came upon different ways in which we could get at deeper themes within each individual in the family unit. Now I don’t think that there needs to be a full, year-long graduate course to create methods on figuring out meaningful information on individuals’ inner thoughts, but using media to research in order to create more or different types media is something that can be done in the video gaming medium. My two thesis projects are such attempts.

The “Paper Balloons” iPhone App, while having a much more advanced level of finish than most of our Super Studio projects, is still an experiment into creating an interactive, introspective experience. The “Whisper Stones” installation is the same and could lead to new understandings on how to facilitate a thought-provoking transition into an area of thinking not ventured into before, all through interactive video gaming. Both projects could fail and the “Paper Balloons” App is being submitted to the Apple store to see if such an experience could be financially sustainable in today’s market. Despite the success or failure of either project, something will still be learned which will inform my own design process.

paper-balloons.com

September 14, 2009 - Leave a Response

Paper-BalloonsSite

I just finished a new site devoted exclusively to the “Paper Balloons” iPhone App. It’s only a small, informational site with minimal description, but it does have enough for different competitions I’m entering the App into. The biggest thing is the web domain of: www.paper-balloons.com

Check it out. Any thoughts, feel free to let me know. The site will continue to grow along with my final thesis site and personal portfolio site.

I’m sorry. Your file is too fat.

September 9, 2009 - One Response

I’ve been re-working some of the visual style of the App, giving a more textured feel to most of the background assets and (hopefully) making the overall style more visually interesting. The challenge is in creating engaging, animated backgrounds that don’t take the focus away from the paper balloons in the foreground. I’ve been going back to the PS2 game Odin Sphere for inspiration (a visually gorgeous game if you’ve never played it).

While I normally animate in Flash, with the different textures and animations that I’m attempting, I’ve switched over to After Effects for some of the animations (seems like my Multimedia degree from LMU is starting to pay off). Developing on the iPhone offers different affordances than developing in Flash for the Web. For instance, animations work best on the iPhone as image sequences rather than .swf files. This makes After Effects a viable tool to work with since Flash doesn’t handle bitmap images very well & there’s less concern with animating vector-only images (as well as initial load times). Something to be wary of though in exporting image sequences from After Effects the file sizes.

ArtFileTooFatMy first go thru of animating the new trees in the background & the new grass left me with two folders of image sequences totaling in around 200 MB. While file size isn’t as large of a concern on the iPhone as it is in Flash, the iPhone device doesn’t have an inexhaustible amount of horsepower, or memory. So I’m optimizing the images, compressing .png files and shaving down the length of the animations while still attempting to maintain a quality animation.

Development otherwise is moving along fairly well. Most of the pressure is on myself and how quickly I can produce decent art assets for my programmer to work with. I’ve been toying with the idea of paying an animation student to work on a few of the smaller animations. The downside is having yet another person to pay as well as the uncertainty of a student’s quality of work. Too bad Art Center doesn’t have an exclusive animation program or I’d pay one of them in a heartbeat.

Schedule Updated

August 28, 2009 - Leave a Response

1upPumpkin01aThe development schedule has been updated. From now until the end of the year, every week of my life is planned out. I’m aiming to submit the App to Apple by the end of October (Halloween at the latest). From what I’ve read on the forums, the average approval time is 1-2 weeks for most Apps. Even if “Paper Balloons” is sent back the first go around, I should still have enough time to get things fixed & get the App up on the Apple Store in time for my final grad show the second week of December.

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