ARGFest #3 : Friday & Saturday Decom

Friday July 16 Sessions Overview:

I probably drank too much Thursday night, but it was fun being on top of Atlanta, and even though the cool kids did not invite us out to bar hop with them, the lack of sleep pressed me into an evening repose.

Keeping It Casual – Jim Babb, Simeon Poulin – there was a third panelist on this which I cannot remember as well. The premise behind this was taken in several interesting different directions. Poulin suggested that the games need to be self guided and picked up and dropped as necessary. His solution (his MFA thesis) was to create a flash based (?) and mobile game that let people explore at their own pace. His attitude was really that of a designer with a deadline and I have to say that I was put off by his comments about “trying community.” I have definite opinions about community, but my experience is that it is not something you can just plug into a system. Communities are fickle and ravenous, unpredictable and emergent. You can design with community in mind, or in as in the case of so many MMOs community will develop at a certain critical mass. However it doesn’t seem as though Poulin could create the mass with his iterative design, and he did not include it as a functional piece of the puzzle. Anyhow, I appreciated his process and thought it was good to see a designer approach ARG from a casual and possibly art angle. Socks Inc on the other hand brought in the idea of using an avatar to facilitate the ARG. The side effect of this is that it exploded as a family oriented event. Their theme is that of creating a sock puppet (a task within the game) and applying for employment at Socks Inc. The game is relatively new, but the playtest went exceedingly well (aside from the technical difficulties). They used video prompts and solicited tasked video evidence. An obvious difficulty here is that with kids playing all video responses will have to be screened, though I expect this is something that can be turned into a task for trusted players in the future. I am not sure what the payoff is or if this game ends, but the casual nature of it and the family orientation are as fresh to me as the non-marketed spin.

Follow the Rabbit Hole – Patrick Moller -Patrick is a smart guy with a great sense of PR and digital asset creation. He has been maintaining a list in Germany as a way for people to enroll in ARG’s and to follow them as spectators or to jump in late. His system is currently closed, and of course the marketers were all about “how do we use this?” It bordered on hostile at one point where the excellent too an community was seen as not exploitable.

TransGenre: City Gaming & Public Art – Peggy Weil, Ann Dennington, Carl DiSalvo, Sara Thacher, Jeff Watson – All right, this was the shining star of presentations, and not only because I know Peggy but from the sense of perspective and alternatives that it built up. Peggy gave us a history of the art world looking at experience and sold me on the fact that I actually know a bit about this from my studies in the fine arts. She mentioned Happenings, Situationists, Derive, Brody Condon, and others I cannot recall at the moment. Her coverage was broad but all too brief, and I wish we had had a full on presentation on the historical antecedents of the ARG in art.

After that the panel talked about projects, funding, engaging government and creating art in the space. One of the participants ustreamed much of it and it is worth looking at TransGenre: City Gaming & Public Art.

Transmedia Production – Behnam Karbassi (via Skype) – Benham is a total douchebag and a marketing tool without a bit of soul or real creativity in him. In other words he is a Hollywood producer. He constantly reminded us that what he does is “hard” and that he wants money, and made me totally sick of the phrase “transmedia storytelling.” I think he know that Jenkins coined the term but beyond that and the fact that he “loves him and his work” I don’t think he knows anything about what Jenkins has done or did. He certainly doesn’t understand convergence. So I get it, he is working on hundred thousand dollar or even million dollar ARGs that are professionally produced and paid for by big companies. But he dodged every question and could have covered his presentation in 5 minutes. Everyone in the room totally kissed his ass and he took pains to remind us that even the inquisitor was in his pocket.

It was pointed out to me that he is a character, and that he should be recorded as such. Though he left me emotionally exhausted, this perspective totally turned me around.

Small Group Block – ooh a game jam?!? We managed to pull another person into the mix. Greg Gomez jumped in and we ended up doing some good research into historic Atlanta.

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Dotmocracy Wrap-Up – got skipped! All right, if you set a schedule and find it borked don’t skip a presentation. We were counting on the timing and missed out on the first half of Blair Witch.

Beyond Blair Witch – Mike Monello & Brian Clark – All right this was worth the price of admission. Mike told stories, and related experience as well as lessons learned. He spoke in specifics and encouraged entrepreneurialism. It was nice to see thought leaders who are successful after the mire of douche-bags.

Saturday July 17 – Games

No talent required – Studio Cypher – the prepared bags, notecards and simple rules made this interesting. It had the feel of a party game, and I am not sure of the ARG connection. Basically each player has a set of simple shapes, a challenge is issued “in a dramatic fashion” and the players agree on a subject to draw. Players use the same shapes (trading?) after use and then judge the winner. The winner gets to keep one of the losers pieces. The last round is a robot drawing challenge.

Socks, Inc New Employee Orientation – Socks, Inc – there was a sock puppet building workshop followed by a visual scavenger hunt. The system is pretty concise, and the public showing ended up being delayed due to unforseen technical issues.

FestJam Workshop Games – Various & TBA – as far as I can tell, this was us.

ARG Museum – Just off the registration area the organizers had set up a collection of swag and props from several different games. This was wonderful and inspiring.

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ARGFest #2 : Intro and Thursday Decom

ARGfest 2010 ended about a week ago and I am just starting to decompress. I have several serious criticisms about the way that the event was run and even about the content and commercialization of the space but I want to make sure I am clear that the staff of this years fest were fantastic. I think a lot of my issues came out of the raw deal that the organizers had to adapt to.
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The hotel experience was swanky and high brow. Our first issue was that we didn’t know which hotel the conference would be in until after we had scheduled our rooms. Apparently another hotel had given the committee the run around until they could “book a bigger conference.” Anyhow, we got a good deal on rooms at the Regency which had fast, free WiFi and breakfast (mmm waffles).

Onsite at the W, the space was pleasant and even more-so the parties were fantastic.

Well the only downside was that they didn’t take into account us vegetarians.

Overall the sessions were pretty good. I don’t know why but I seem to always bristle at these things if it doesn’t seem like the presenter really knows their shit. I guess it comes from falling into presentations at conferences where I didn’t know what I was talking about that well. I know I was grumpy the first morning because I had soaked up the WiFi on the plane all night and got no sleep (but got caught up on a lot of email).

Thursday July 15 Sessions Overview:
My first criticism of the space was that there was no WiFi, rather no conference WiFi. I heard in retrospect that the hotel wanted to charge $20 per participant per day for access (when they usually just gouge their guests for around half that). Ya know, I understand the gravity of the decision, but I wish the organizers had found a way around it because it made it hard to be there without normal access. We ended up connecting with a guest of the hotel who helped us out with a basic, free, low end connection. Enough for email and twitter is all I require.

Beyond the Brunette – Andrea Phillips. This was an excellent, well researched, funny presentation about the clichés within the ARG dev community of the beautiful brunette (female) that gets in over her head and needs help or saving as the sort of trigger for the ARG. Phillips provided a nice overview of women’s roles in games and deconstructed the damage both to the games and the esteem of the players. This was my first tweek and I looked around the room. The audience, the devs and people who want to be devs (& marketers) were pretty homogenous. Mostly white and predominantly male (though that mix was much better than the racial mix). Now I know this dialog comes up frequently for me, and I am guilty of being a white male pretty much my entire life. Why is it us at conferences? Are we not welcoming to ethnic diversity?

1) Can Transmedia Save the Soap Opera – Brooke Thompson & 2) ARG TV – Nina Bargiel, Mike Monello, Owen Shiflett – I regretted missing these two sessions, but want to offer a comment anyhow. I wonder about saving TV or connecting with TV because I don’t see a model for this in the evolution of newer media. For example film started with a connection to theater, but moved beyond that as it realized the nature of itself as a medium. Extending the function of a property in a single medium by tacking on another seems more like a gimmick that anything with staying power.

We Want to Play!– David Tenenbaum & others – this was sort of interesting, bring out a group of people with varied play experience and see what they have to say. The lessons were clear, story & community. However, the thing I neglected to notice is that this discussion is the same in the video game community, and even in higher education (though the take aways are different). Players will only ask for what they know, they won’t ask for something new (except perhaps to say “something new”). This is problematic. I think I would have preferred a backwards look at what was most fun, challenging etc. I don’t think any of the players was especially amazing (you know like the professional Starcraft players in Korea) and that flattened the responses. I also don’t think that any of the players were designers, though I believe a few had dabbled. The panel came off as a vacuous love fest.

Small Group Block – ARG game jam. Okay I got really excited about this, the small group block had a chance to MAKE and play a game. Wow, what a way to find out about the whole scene. Well we ended up in a conversation with Peggy Weil that lasted too long and were 10 minutes late to the session to meet with an empty room. ARGfest – where is the leader of this workshop. Brooke eventually came by and offered some help with the city and materials, because she had to replace another workshop leader but this was disappointing. Thomas and I decided to forge ahead. Taking into account what we had learned in the morning (from the players, god love them) and our observations of the group we thought we had a good chance to do something interesting. We ran the workshop. Now I need to make clear that we didn’t go into this blind, but have a background in gaming, LARP, invisible theater, film, video, interactive media, MMO and many other sources of theory and practice. In other words we know the foundational skills, though we don’t know the precedents within the medium. I am going to be writing two more posts on the game we developed. The first will lay the groundwork and talk about it from a player perspective, hopefully with a way to minimize spoilers. The second will be a designer perspective and will lay bare all of our machinations.

Dotmocracy Wrap-Up – the idea was interesting, but the implementation was a little difficult. Answer surveys on paper with a marker, tally said responses and talk about the results. I have to say though that the questions were pretty good. “Do you have to play ARG’s to design them?” It was sorta sad that this was promptly discarded at the end of this session. (actually they made it back into the survey room but remained in a pile never to be posted again).

The World Outside – Evan Barba – Evan is an interesting PhD student doing some very narrow work in Augmented Reality. I have to say that I enjoyed his presentation and other than the fact that AR is totally overhyped at this point, so much so that it is nearly impossible to find out what the state of the technology is or where it is reasonably applicable, AR is quite interesting. He covered a few of the basics, but really didn’t bother to demo anything (really? WTF?). My beef with AR is that it is primarily driven by people with smart-phones, that it’s computational intensity is being pushed towards the likes of ATT and Verizon. The subscription model for data is broken, and if the only way to get into AR is via iPhone or Droid then I am gonna wait and watch for a while. Beyond that I have seen little beyond “gee whiz” though I do know that it exists. Evan’s work seemed out of place, undemonstrated and full of “gee whiz.”

Day 1 decom:

Overall I have to give the first day of ARGfest high marks. I did manage to meet some interesting people, dinner was fantastic and though we didn’t actually crack into the popular crowd the people were generally nice to us as newcomers. I started to sense a desperation to “go mainstream” which oddly I have seen through most of my career in new media. If I remember correctly I started to catch wind of the new buzzword in the community which is oddly attributed to Henry Jenkins, “Transmedia Storytelling.”

It is nice to hear a little theory bandied about, but frankly I don’t think the general crowd gets what Jenkins is talking about. I think there is another post in the comparison, but I have to confess that I do not know his work that well either. But that I can fix : )

ARGFest 1: Interesting Background

Brekkie with Thomas upon arriving in Atlanta was particularly nice. I was so easily flummoxed by the waitrons and really by any questions because I had stayed up all night working on the airplane. In retrospect I would do it again.

ARGFest

We were joined by a celeb who I just have to say that I like, in fact the art in http://foursquare.com/venue/46715 was really quite interesting, but the food was great and really hit the spot.

ARGFest

Other than being super tired all day and hyper critical of the conference things went really well. We met some interesting folks and later found out that Peggy Weil of Gone Gitmo was there, and that she was presenting. It was really wonderful to hear her questions during the panels and I am looking forward to the art angle during (today’s) session. The conference had setup a series of parallel tracks and Thomas and I had chosen to participate in the “Create an ARG to play this weekend” track. There were four people signed up and though that seemed intimate, we ended up rolling in about 10 minutes late to an empty room. Empty as in no facilitator either. I guess we were inspired because we decided to throw together an ARG.

I will probably post on it later, or even wait for the session to end (not that I am really worried about players catching vital info here). Suffice to say we wanted to do something that had a message, something about Atlanta, and something that would not take a lot of tending during the session. I think we hit on something but have literally only put about 90 minutes into it so far. It is nice though to work with someone you have worked with before as I think we temper each other pretty well.

We ended our day in the top floor of the W for a booze and schmooze. The place was stunning and we could see why the conference was so pricey.

ARGFest

We wound down chatting up a few people and deciding to collude with Peggy and Sara Thacher of nonchalance.com She is so smart and totally dialed in to different aspects than Thomas and myself that I think this is gonna be a lot of fun, if not great.

I like this sort of low risk thing. No one is gonna say “man that story sucked for the 3 hours you put into creating it” however the thing does risk being under attended as there are only 30 or 40 people here, most of whom are from the “industry.”

So it is now 3:42 am and I am awake blogging because I cannot sleep. My clock is messed up and my rhythm is off, I miss my bike and my bed.

Sigh, but I would do it again. More tomorrow.

Letter to Art History

This is an excerpt of what I wrote, I think it is interesting on its own as it starts to encapsulate what I have been working on in June:

Desire2Learn (d2l): is a learning management system (LMS) that allows for structured content to be metered to participating students, it is good at hosting online discussions, and has fairly robust quizzing and assessment tools.  As one can imagine it favors discrete answer spaces (abcd, t/f) but there is room for open ended / hand graded assignments and TA involvement.  I have been talking to Dore about integrating this with one of her classes as a test of the system.

Elluminate: is a powerful conferencing tool that is integrated with d2l.  I plan to use it for synchronous learning within the classroom, live lectures, group work, and critique.  My classes are smaller than yours in general, but I do believe this scales pretty well.

Google Docs / Google Forms : provide a platform for student collaboration and open ended assessment.  I use forms to take the pulse of my class on a weekly basis and to provide instant feedback on how they feel about their class performance, what they are struggling with and to get students to reflect on learning.  Here is a video I made on how to get started, which I thing provides an interesting overview: http://dma.sjsu.edu/james/movies/forms3.mov

Now I also have at my disposal media services.  Basically I am working with Chris Laxton and his media production team Keith and Terri.  I am trying to develop a half hour video format that is a) dense with information, b) fast paced, c) stable so that the student can rewatch and index it as necessary.  This has been the focus of my work over the summer so far.  My format is as follows: in a 30 minute lecture the first 6:40 are dedicated to 20 slides that automatically advance after 20 seconds each (note I am adopting a liberal interpretation of the word slide here too), this is followed by 23:15 of detail and explanation.  My plan is to license each of my lectures with a Creative Commons Attribution License (which permits others to use the materials as long as they credit the original author), and to post the first 6:40 to youtube (with a link to the remaining lecture).  I know this seems pretty complex but there is a method to my madness.

So I am developing 13-16 of these 30 minute lectures to be aired on SJSU’s community access TV station.   I have gone through my class and found some interesting places for overlap with Art History.  This is my full list, of which I am trying to fill out with experts:

1) What is DMA? New Media Art – Definition and Antecedents (james)
2) Mashup (james)
3) Conceptual Art (dore)
4) Image, authenticity and authorship
4a) CC – licensing, IP and contemporary landscape
5) Collaboration / Participation / Open Source
6) performance (david)
7) Intervention / Culture Jamming (Thomas)
8) Identity
9) Telepresence and Surveillance
10) Hacking / Hactivism – Corp Parody – Yes Men?
11) memes
12) games (Ian Schreiber)
-13) medium as medium (web etc)
14) Objects – Shannon
15) Materials – Shannon
-16) emergence

Now all of these relate to contemporary art, but historical antecedents are relevant and even necessary.  I have a small stipend that I am offering for each of these and of course the author will have full rights to use, reuse and repurpose the lecture as they see fit.

I would like to talk about possible points to jump in here, I am offering my services to your project in any way that you can find me useful.  In return I ask that you consider picking up one of my lectures if the subject seems like something you could work with.

I look forward to your response, and though I am out of town for the next several days, I should be on email.  Perhaps we could schedule a meeting in the next week or so.  My production team has been working furiously to get the technology down to the level that they can understand and work well with, and I think we are about ready to start real production.

belated update and vacations

So I managed to blog every day of June and the first ten days of July which was a real feat.  I really believe that only about 30% of those posts are any good and that my subject varies so widely that there is no real audience for it either.  For the first time I have missed 2 days in a row and I am going to take that as a sign that my experiment has ended.

I do plan to to try to blog ARGFest as I think it will be an interesting experience, and when Danielle finally sends me the pictures I can also blog about the Inflatables Workshop we did on Monday.

At present I am at 31000 feet and checked in on foursquare. And I have had the most interesting experience with photobooth in that I cannot get it to not flash.  Weird.

Wait, internet to the rescue!  Hold the shift key when you click the camera button and there is no flash.  Then you won’t have to block it with a magazine and look like a freak like I did.

A few notes about transportation for this trip so far: DASH is completely annoying in that their signs don’t match their website, I need to look at this more closely but I suspect there is a difference in a summer schedule. Further it seems like the drivers don’t follow the schedule so good either.  I ended up running around downtown chasing after the DASH only to take an overpriced cab to the train station in time to watch my train pull out from the other track.   Most northbound trains leave from track 2 or 3 with the exception of 3 trains during the day that leave from track 4 or 5.  The tragedy is that I could have made the train if I hadn’t been in such a hurry and guessed.  Live and learn I guess.

I made it to the airport with plenty of time, the transfer from Milbrae to SFO is really quick and the airtrain to the terminal is pretty fast too.  Terminal 1 had some odd floor replacement going on which made us step outside and back in twice and again, but security was easy to get through and they didn’t even look under my clothes.

SFO is due to get free WiFi, and I talked to a lady in the airport that said she would fly through SJC because they already had it rather than SFO so she could get some work done.  I agree, and thinking of the $5 that I spent for WiFi for this trip doesn’t bother me, it is the frikkin’ $10 or more that they want in the airport.  Atlanta airport doesn’t have free WiFi either.

compie needs a boost

I am wrapped in my little nerd cocoon and wanting to update my machine.  I had a little money left over from the workshop I taught and so I am getting the 8gb memory upgrade for the lappie.  I hope this will be enough headroom to let vmware run nicely even with things like Champions, DDO and STO.  I am realizing that though I can run windows I really need to have something extra and with the recent refinements to VMWare, I am targeting memory.  I can really only give up a little more than 2 gigs to Windows at this time, MacOS takes up a giant chunk.  I need to find some way of slimming that down a bit too.

Aaaand of course windows is being bitchy. I have about 16 days before the license expires.  I wish it had been more verbal when I was installing it, but no. Now I have a 64 bit Pro license and am running 32 bit Pro. Incompatible, either that or my other license has been retracted, which I hope not.

Aaanyway that looks like it is going to be an entire re-install and download of my software if it will even work.

And now my DVD isn’t working right.  Looks like I will have to take it into the apple store (before I install ze ram).

Sometimes I wonder if this is all worth it, but then I play champs.

Ride to Alviso

I talked to Shona on Thursday at the meet and greet for Miguela Palma and she said that she had ridden the Guadalupe river trail all the way up to Alviso, but that since she did it at sunset, she had a headwind all the way up there.  I scoped it out on the map and it was only 10 miles each way so I decided to take a crack at it.

route to alviso

I have to say that I am really impressed with this path, and even though there is construction, the detour seems reasonably marked at this point (which I don’t believe it was when I first rode it).  The ride alongside the airport is kinda boring, but I got to see the hands full on.  The trail changes from paved to dirt as you approach the airport and I think it was actually harder to ride than I am use to.

I was a little uncertain why I was doing it but then it hit me… and it was like I was out shooting pinholes again.  The ride was almost entirely into the sunset and I ended up finding a couple of insanely beautiful areas.  The one reminded me of my images in that I was getting 3 reflections off the water and then the sun itself, another was really about the trees and the uncanny green, and the final was next to the train tracks just short of the bay.  I may just have to go back, or drag Danielle up there as part of her triathalon training.