Technology is ever changing. Evolution follows revolution and if there’s one thing we can take for granted, it is that technology today will become obsolete tomorrow. So how do we leverage creativity independent of the medium? As architects of experience in integrated media, we must learn to innovate not just through technology, but also in spite of it.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with addressing these temporary trends of the entertainment industry. Whether it is social gaming in the game industry or the 3D experience in cinema, the underlying concept and design is what ultimately decides if the product of your creation is going to be a passing craze or a collectible.
Take for example, a technology that is transforming the entertainment industry today, 3D stereoscopic vision.
3D film has been around since the 1950s but the technology has made tremendous progress in the last decade. 3D projection is based on stereoscopic vision, which is the ability to create the illusion of depth by using special techniques to record spatial information of a scene. Some attempts at 3D filmmaking have been somewhat successful, others, not so much. In the summer of 2009, Duncan Jones’ Moon was opened as a limited release 3D experience. Science museums and theme parks have been dabbling in 3D entertainment for a while but the end of 2009 delivered 3D in a way unlike seen before in the form of box-office hit, Avatar. While the movie presented a simple enough story, Avatar was a brilliant example of refreshing story telling and innovation through technology.
Yet, James Cameron, director of Avatar, says in an interview with Peter Jackson, director of Lord of The Rings –
“A lot of media attention is switching to technology in the wrong way. They’re saying the industry is in trouble; will 3-D save it? That really doesn’t have anything to do with it. The industry is in trouble, but it has nothing to do with technology, nor is technology going to necessarily be the savior.”
It will always be true that the jaw-dropping moments and the awe-inspiring scenes will have a strong thread of ingenious story telling behind them. The experience of emotions, while becoming more immersive through technology, will continue to be the same primal experience – sometimes private, sometimes collective, but always, gracefully, human.
The looming problem of not-enough-innovation plagues the game industry as well. With new business models bringing in a new genre of games, new gaming platforms and new consoles opening up the market, a plethora of games are being churned out with no real innovation in game design. It becomes increasingly important, not only from a designer’s standpoint, but also from an analytical perspective, to understand which trends show signs of longevity. As a developer, you don’t want to design a pop-song equivalent of a game, and as a publisher, you don’t want to jump on the bandwagon for an idea that will crash and burn in 9 months.
Here’s an excerpt from class, commenting on the trend of games from 1981 to 1998, that exemplifies games as artifacts as technology –
“I believe when the history of games is written, that the period from 1981–1998 will be viewed as a vast wasteland of games that promoted the worst in gamers . . . The hidden desire we have to retreat from our fellows and be alone. I believe games are social experiences and are meant to be played together.”
The trend for a long time has been to make accelerated improvements in computer graphics, better visuals, and better frame rates. Game studios admit that somewhere along the way, the focus on innovating in game design was lost. This is now being reclaimed.
Social gaming is directly challenging social isolation issues that are often incorrectly blamed on the game industry. I think the industry is in the process of recognizing that human interaction is the pinnacle of why games are fun. It’s not just the socially networked audience that has opened up the possibility for designing games. There is another demographic that is now a part of the emerging gaming community. Many game studios are creating online experiences for kids, which is great way to expose and educate the next generation about online etiquette. Toontown by Disney, Pixie Hollow by Schell Games and Nick Jr.’s Dora and Diego worlds, all address a brand new, much more technologically savvy generation. Yet, these games are successful because they got the basics right. A solid foundation in the principles of game design, story telling and interactivity is not an option, it is a requirement. And hey, if these principles are not lost in translation as the rules of the medium evolve, you have a recipe for success.