Less Work, More Play – presentation at Neue-Digitale

I’ve just had a very enjoyable afternoon at Neue-Digitale in Frankfurt interviewing co-founder, Olaf Czeschner, for Desktop but also giving a presentation called Less Work, More Play. My friend Tim Buesing also works there and we did a Podcast, which I hope to link to at some point when it has been edited (yes, I ranted on a bit…)

Here’s the abstract to the presentation and I’ll post the podcast when it arrives. Thanks to everyone at ND who made me welcome and the chats over beers afterwards.

Everyone likes to play. Even adults who pretend to be serious like to play. Play and playfulness are essential attributes of the creative process, yet there is an inherent tension in design process between playful discovery and careful planning and production. How can we balance these two processes and how do they interfere with each other? Similar tensions exist for the users of interactive media.

The more interfaces we encounter day-to-day the more it becomes important that we can work out how to use them by playing and experimenting with them. Who wants (or has the time) to read the manual after all? As mobile media becomes more bite-sized, small, playful interactive ‘toys’ may well be the most engaging interactive media. In this talk I try to explore some of the underlying elements of play and how they relate not only to the design process, but also to the end results.

Ninja-Man hits the one million mark

ninjaman image

Three of my ex-students, Adam Searle, Johnny Jei Le, and Jason Chow spent the last year re-building a Flash platform game called Ninja-Man that they originally started in my Multimedia Authoring class. With brilliant artwork, an exceptional Flash game engine (with full map editor) and general sorcery, I’m very proud to say that since putting it live 15 days ago they’ve already hit a million downloads. Pretty impressive.

Go check it out and play. I, despite being a reasonable gamer, still haven’t had a chance to get past the damn first level! The maps are big enough to satisfy you for some hours….

Time Smear Demo

time smear image

Along with the Flow paper I just posted I also showed a demo of my Time Smear piece, which uses a slitscan method that is rather popular in interactive circle right now (as I discovered after I began working on it). The full demo paper is available at the ACM website or again, contact me if you would like a full copy or to see the software.

The abstract is here:

My primary area of research is trying to develop, or at least contribute to, a language of interactivity. Central to this process is the notion that play and playfulness appear to be central features of interactivity along with the physicality of the interaction (even down to mouse movements).The Time Smear demo is part of a series of works that deal with live video and the slicing of time as interactive building blocks. The use of a camera as the interface effectively dissolves the interface and thus the interaction (and in this case the interactor) becomes the content, the experience and the “work” itself.The main ambition of the piece is not technical, but rather attempting to discover the minimum amount of “pre-authored” elements that cause the maximum interaction. In particular I am keen to induce people out of their normal “gallery visitor”, serious state and into a state of play for as long as possible.Time Smear works in a similar way to a scanner or photocopier. It takes a “slice” of time repeatedly across the screen width. The sample size can be altered as can the speed of the scan. In essence it freeze-frames many slices over time leaving a “smeared” image if there is movement in front of the camera. Crucially, the video feed is live before it is frozen in a slice so that the interactor can orchestrate their movements.The end results are, of course, reliant on the interactor’s movements but are often reminiscent of Francis Bacon’s paintings. This simple interaction usually manages to capture people’s attention and make them wave their arms in the air, move around strangely, and generally play with the possibilities of the piece. The longer they engage in this behavior the more successful I feel the work has been compared to the thirty seconds someone might spend in front of a Picasso at a national gallery.

The Flow Principle in Interactivity

The Proceedings of the second Australasian conference on Interactive entertainment 2005, Sydney, Australia November 23 – 25, 2005 have been released online.

The abstract of my paper The Flow Principle in Interactivity is here:

This paper argues that true interactivity is a feedback loop of action-reaction-interaction and involves collaboration or exchange (with real or computer agents). Central to this argument is physical interactivity as a defining feature of new media in addition to the psychological interaction with a work as Lev Manovich [27] describes. It is also argued that interactivity will always remain opposed to traditional narrative forms, but that a similar engagement and willing suspension of disbelief are equally important within interactive works if explored on interactivity’s own terms, especially through an understanding of play.The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [12, 13] has written extensively on the intrinsic pleasures of creative action and argues that activities can be rewarding in and of themselves, regardless of any goals or outcomes. Csikszentmihalyi describes this theory of the autotelic experience as the flow principle and it relates directly to the engagement with interactive experiences. Case studies are cited in which the flow principle can be applied to interactivity and shows that engagement may begin and end with playful experiences that are satisfying in their own right.

You can find the full paper at the ACM archive here (free registration required) or contact me for a full copy of the PDF.

‘Birds’ – the new clip from Pleix

Birds Image

Paris-based collective, Pleix have just finished their new clip called Birds for Vitalic. The clip features extreme slow-motion footage of dogs jumping and barking, beautifully shot with some 80s retro neon-style lighting (actually projections).

I recently interviewed them for the upcoming February issue of Desktop if you want to read more. Their style is, it seems to me, very French although it is difficult to put my finger on why. I think it has something to with a slightly quirky take on everything they do and often the slow pace of their clips. I’m particularly fond of the Cish Cash clip for Basement Jaxx too.

Hours wasted improving productivity

If, like me, you are one of those people who is forever wasting inordinate amounts of (enjoyable) time searching for tools, tips and techniques with which to improve productivity, then you’ll love Tim Gaden’s Hawk Wings website.

He has listed therein almost every plugin to Apple’s mail app and Address book that you could possibly desire. There are masses of conversion and synchronisation tools such as Mail Scripts, MySync and Whereabouts. Check out Tim’s Top Ten Things Every Mail App User Should Have for the best of the best.

I’m off to download E-mail report so I can find out just how much time I spend e-mailing. It’s one of the features I miss from Eudora.

WP 2.0 broken permalinks and 404 error

Ironically, the recent post I wrote about upgrading painlessly to [Wordpress 2.0](http://wordpress.org] had a broken permalink. This resulted in my trackback to Lorelle’s tips on upgrading not working correctly (as the trackback link led to a 404 error), so thanks to her for letting me know. The link works now.

The odd thing is that not all permalinks are broken, only that post as far as I know. Several other threads on WordPress’s support forums highlighted the problem, but mine was specifically a WP-generated 404 error (that is, the 404 was displayed within my blog, styled, etc.), which means WP can’t find the page within itself, not that the server can’t find it.

Anyhow, if anyone else has been suffering this pain the solution was a patch by Ryan Boren, one of the WP contributors. So I owe him a debt. You can find the patch and info on this support thread here.

UPDATE: Another part to this story seems to be that it was to do with the timestamp, rather than anything else. The trackback URL on Lorelle’s site from me had the timestamp of 01/02 (2nd of January for us Europeans) but my post timestamp was 01/01. No idea why that should be or how it happened. So I’m not sure if Ryan’s patch made any difference at all, but I’ll leave it in anyway. I restamped the time to be 02/02 and now everything should work (unless you linked to the old one, heh).

Coldplay leave Mac users out in the cold

Arif over at Itch.in just posted the details of the DRM from Coldplay’s new album. Basically it looks like it won’t play in the following:

  • MP3 players (you supposedly can’t rip it)
  • Some Windows PCs (and it writes a registration file when it first runs)
  • Mac computers
  • CD players that have CD-R/RW capabilities
  • Some portable CD Players
  • Some DVD Players
  • Some car stereos
  • Some games consoles

You don’t see these rules until after you have bought it and opened the CD and the last rule is that they won’t accept refunds or returns except for manufacturing errors. Nice.

What’s left? I don’t use a regular ‘vanilla’ CD-Player anymore and I certainly want to play it in my car and most probably on my iPod. So, you know, I quite like Coldplay and was thinking of buying their album, but now I definitely won’t because I can’t do what I want with what I’ve bought. Of course, the absurd thing is that once a single DRM-stripped version hits the BitTorrent network (as I am sure it already has) the whole DRM system is worthless. This has all been done in the name of “Anti-Piracy” (piracy is such a misnomer when it comes to digital content anyway) so that we can “enjoy this high quality music”. Except now I won’t be enjoying any Coldplay, thanks. Well, not any that I actually paid for.

Boing Boing have the story too and there’s a link to an offer Skype have going on to leave Coldplay a message. I suggest as many people as possible let them know how much money they’ll miss out on in rights thanks to flat sales.

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