When Technology Meets Design

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.


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/ˌsɛr ənˈdɪp ɪ ti/

It’s been an oddly fortunate week.

Touch wood.

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Poetry on a Bathroom Wall

This weekend  I took some photos in the women’s bathroom at Kiva Han, a cafe near Carnegie Mellon. I wonder if I can get a guy spy to sneak into the men’s bathroom…

Here’s the whole photostream on Flickr – Poetry on a Bathroom Wall

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I like days that end in food photography and strawberry shortcakes.

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The Edge of Consciousness

This entry is inspired from reading an excerpt from Salvador Dali’s “Fifty Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship”. This is an attempt to explore and explain the alluring creative space that exists at the intersection of the conscious and the unconscious, and how, as creative entities we can capitalize on this state of mind.

Dali, in his book, offers advice on attaining an optimal state of productivity before advancing on creative endeavors. He focuses on the sleep onset stage, the period of transition between wakefulness and sleep, and the dream state.

To summarize the Spanish artist’s process – first and foremost, Dali recommends a period of deep sleep through the night, before waking early in the morning to capitalize on daylight hours of productivity. He then suggests breaking the day with an afternoon “siesta” of an infinitely small duration; “slumber with a key”, describes this process. On first reading, Dali’s article appeared whimsical, at best. However, after pondering over the key ideas of his article, I found myself convinced that “slumber with a key” already manifests itself in many ways in our lives.

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Art and Play in New Media

The relationship between art and play is an ever-changing one, and the lines between what qualifies as either, are getting blurred with new media. For the most part, art and play exist in an interdependent world. Sometimes, however, there is friction. Such is the case with game-modifications, depending on how married you are to the idea of copyright protection and intellectual property rights. I recently read an article by Alex Galloway, titled “Countergaming”, from his book Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. The title conveys the emerging movement of subverting gaming technology to portray games in new light.

Most game-mods focus on changing one or more of three aspects of an original game – aesthetics, game mechanics or the underlying game technology, but mostly the first and the third. Game-mods are extending the realm of what is possible in the field of art and play in a creative way. Reading the Countergaming article, one of the things that stood out to me was the idea of “industry-sanctioned hacking” prevalent in the gaming industry, and it’s stark contrast to intellectual property and copyright issues in other media. Outsourcing the development of game mechanics, visualizations and technology to the fans is bound to produce some works that are not superior or that are creative infringements of the original game, but there is still is a lot of potential of finding new expressions within the art. To kill the idea of standing on the shoulders of giants to push the boundaries of creativity would be counterproductive for art and play in emerging new media.

Counterstrike is a great example of a game mod that was produced as a result of open source development of Half Life by the fans, for the fans. Although it is unique in the commercial success and endorsement it received from the original creators of Half Life, I don’t believe that playability is a necessity for a successful modification of an existing game.
Take, for example, another movement, Machinima, referring conveniently to a portmanteau of machine cinema – the use of 3D graphics engines from video games to generate new narratives, animations and experiences. While Machinima arose as a way to document speedruns in gameplay, today, it is closer to cinematography and filmmaking.
Considering the evolution of expression in the field of art and aesthetic as part of the game as well art and play as a commentary on each other, I think, with game-mods, it’s important to create a meaningful experience for the viewer. It may not be interactive or playable in a physical sense, but if it creates an interactive dialogue with the audience in a way that the original work did not, I would consider that successful art.

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3D Media Final Project

(Maple Wood, Steel Rod)

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