Interactive Storytelling

Brenda Cooper @ 04-05-2011

Last month I wrote about talks. This month I’m back on content, looking into interactive books. We have usable tablet PCs and e-readers scattered across almost every household (we have four!), but most of the fiction that I read on them is exactly like the fiction I read in a book. I want more. Continue reading “Interactive Storytelling”


GoogleLitTrips: extending fiction into the factual web

Paul Raven @ 26-07-2010

The Luddite old guard love to batter on about how the internet devalues the reading of books, but I’ve always thought that the internet had huge potential for extending the appeal and educational power of fiction. Here’s a good example, going by the name of GoogleLitTrips [via MetaFilter], a project that uses custom layers in Google Earth to show students the routes and locations featured in various “road-trip” literary classics. (GLT’s developer has done a similar project based on historical journeys of exploration, too.)

It’s still pretty basic at this point, but it’s not hard to imagine how this sort of thing could become incredibly deep, and perhaps end up becoming the standard extension of fiction into the multimedia sphere of the web. One could easily go beyond maps and into geotagged photography, both contemporary and historical, for instance, bringing locations and historical periods to life visually. (Would this lessen the imaginative input required from the reader, though?)

But let’s turn the idea up to eleven and apply it to science fiction for a moment. If you’re setting a book in the future, you can’t provide photographs of the settings… but you could create CGI composites (like the images produced by speculative architects), or build 3D environments using SketchUp or a metaverse platform like Second Life, which could then be populated with characters (pre-programmed, live-acted or both) for the reader to interact with, games for them to play, intrigues for them to get caught up in… something like what Neal Stephenson’s Mongoliad project is aiming for, perhaps.

The possibilities are endless, and all I’ve done here are list a few simple ideas that could be done with existing technologies. The underlying point is that there’s no reason the internet has to be the end of written fiction; with imagination and effort, fiction could become the core hook of a form of entertainment more complete, complex and immersive than anything yet created.

Sounds like a fun challenge, no?


Data pr0n: the demographics of employment and leisure

Paul Raven @ 05-08-2009

Just a quick one: even if you’re not particularly interested in demographic research into how different segments of the population of the United States spend their time each day, the interactive graphical data thingy that the New York Times have produced to illustrate it is pretty sweet, and good for killing ten minutes of idle time… not to mention allowing you to reflect that the idle time in question is theoretically represented in the data you’re observing; how delightfully post-modern! [via MetaFilter]

What other data sets would benefit from this sort of presentation?


21st Century digital boy – Milo, the virtual kid

Paul Raven @ 04-06-2009

He’s still only a demonstration at the moment, but maybe your kids will be hanging out with Milo in a few years’ time:

Milo is the creation of Peter Molyneux, founder of Lionhead Studios and developer of ambitious games such as “Black and White” and the “Fable” series. Those games tried to present players with moral choices that had consequences for their characters, and also tried to play on people’s real emotions.

Molyneux’s latest effort takes advantage of Microsoft’s new full-body controller for Xbox 360, known as Project Natal. The controller’s sensor bar tracks the real-world movements of Xbox players and translates them into the game, which allows them to practically play with Milo in person.

Yup – Milo is an AI avatar of a boy, and (by all accounts) an impressively convincing one. Here’s the demo video:

As LiveScience puts it:

The E3 demo shows Milo responding to a developer’s questions with some fairly convincing facial expressions, body behavior and voice tone. He even “talks” and looks at a real-world drawing, courtesy of the Natal controller scanning it into the game. It’s an impressive display that appears very human-like, and does not evoke any “uncanny valley” sensations of eerie or weird behavior that make people nervous.

Of course, that’s just the recorded demo. A Kotaku editor who got hands-on time with the Milo demo did run into moments of awkwardness, such as Milo waiting for him to say something. But he also described the magic of the virtual boy complimenting him on his blue shirt.

Molyneux continually beats a drum about “science fiction writers never having imagined such a technology”, and I’m pretty sure he’s wrong on that count, but I was genuinely blown away by that video, even after factoring in a degree of cynicism appropriate to a demonstration given at an industry junket.

Now, Milo as a playmate and companion for kids is a marketable deployment of this technology, sure. But wait until the beleaguered porn industry gets hold of the same algorithms…


Furniture with character

Paul Raven @ 23-04-2009

How can we fix our relentless habit of buying new stuff to replace perfectly functional older stuff? James Pierce of Indiana University has an idea: design household objects to interact with us periodically and engage our attention beyond their established roles:

For instance, he has designed a table with an embedded digital counter that displays the number of heavy objects that have been placed on it during its lifetime. The counter becomes blurry or erratic if someone drops a heavy object on the table, only later returning to the correct count.

Another approach is cheeky misbehaviour, such as a lamp that dims if you leave it on for too long; shaking the lamp “wakes” it again. Or a clock that occasionally shows the wrong time, only to correct itself and display a message that it was just joking.

There’s more than a hint of Philip K Dick in that idea… and as much as I can see where Pierce is trying to go, it’s surely a bit too playful and arty to actually swing in the real world. I don’t know about you, but if I had a clock that periodically lied about what time it was, I’d replace it sooner rather than later!


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