Over the last 12 weeks I have taken a problem – the withering public interest in smaller city and town centers as a point of inspiration and ideated, through the help of academic research and experimentation, a concept for an ‘app-game’. I have a name for the app, a theme, and even an overview of the user journey through the app from purchase to completion. I now need to build the app. I have alot of research and experimentation collected but this is quite a complex project and the ‘game’ aspect is certainly outside of my comfort zone; as is some of the technical skill required – particular the 3D design and 360 video editing. Below I have posted my ‘live thoughts’ as I thought through the roadmap of where I’m at and where I need to be in a few months time.

The rest of this post are the Notes from 11 Jan 2021 taken in Evernote:

In order to build my app I need to get my head round a few things. I would like to honour as many of the concepts I initially laid out from the first module:

Specifically:

  1. The app will have two levels of narrative – realtime and embedded.

Embedded

The embedded aspect is perhaps the most straightforward, conceptually speaking; while also being the part which is most labour-some.

It is the telling (or in my case, revealing) of the events which happened in the past.As my app is Noir themed, I chose to use ‘flashbacks’ – a common theme in Noir film, to allow the participant to engage with the content of the embedded story. I chose to present these flashbacks in the form of 360 videos with a black & window filter and other effects, such as rain, storms to create atmosphere.

Within these flashbacks important events from the embedded story are revealed.

HOW?

I am still thinking about this. So, I’m writing this as I think!I believe these video sequences could be relatively long, perhaps 15 minutes for example. During which the participant hears the narration; spoken (in Noir style, of course) by the protagonist of the embedded story.  During this spoken story telling,  elements will appear within the 360 video. While the underlying content of the 360 video is footage from today; the elements will have a feel that they are from the embedded era – 1930’s for example.

A couple of things to consider;

  1. should the participant be required to actively seek out the ‘active’ elements within the 360 film or should they be directed to them at the appropriate moment during the narrative?
  2. Should these ‘flashbacks’ also contain clues which are required to complete the game? I think they should; and if so, the video would be repeatable. So the participant can return and watch/experience it multiple times; in order to seek out the clues.

WHERE?

As one premise of the app is that it involves spatialised narrative; the embedded flashbacks take place at the geographical location they refer to. So, when an incident is being described by the narrator, that took place in front of the Theatre in the town centre; the participant must be physically at that location to unblock the flashback.

Considerations:

should the flashback be accessible ONLY at the spatial location? or should the participant be able to access it again elsewhere, once they have initially unblocked it at that location. [I think they probably should be able to access it elsewhere too, but only once they have experienced the flashback in full once at the actual location]

WHY?

The embedded narrative aspect is consistent with en Noir theme used in celebrated stories such as Sunset Boulevard where the film begins at the end of the story and then is recited by the dead antagonist who looks back at the events which led upto his own demise.

The technique, is generally associated with detective stories. As any detective work is by its nature, an examination of events from another time (albeit not necessarily the past!)

In terms of game mechanics, this approach allows for the participant to play the role of the detective. WIthin the context of an appgame, it opens up the fascinating proposition that the participant is at once within the narrative of a fictional work and within the narrative of their own reality.

LOOSE ENDS?

The embedded narrative is revealed via the flashbacks; but further context and coupling must be provided at the realtime level, too. I’ll think about this in the next section.

Realtime

The participant engages with the underlying narrative through discoveries in the current time – their own world. So, while the 360 videos will provide direct embedded narrative recital. The story must be tied together and ‘prompted’ by findings (cues?) within the participant’s real[time/world].

HOW?

Ideally this would be achieved using Augmented Reality (AR) but this technology is still experimental and to that extent, a little unpredictable. Unpredictability may well add something positive, though. Using AR, elements would be placed within the frame of the participants world. These elements would contains clues and cues which prompt the participant to make judgements about the missing gaps in the embedded narrative. For example, the participant might find an AR newspaper on a real table in their apartment. Interactive with this 3d object would open up the newspaper in 2d mode within the app. It would contain clues within an article, etc. A picture on the wall;  or even a person – a neighbour  who is entwined within the narrative.

An alternative to AR is 360 video, like the flashbacks. However, the use of AR would provide a clearer boundary between the deeper embedded fictional elements of the past and the real environment of the participants world. While the flashbacks will take place at spatial coordinates like a town square, cinema, church etc. Those places are much harder to ‘predict’ in terms of AR object placement. For example, say I want to have a 1930’s style car moving through a scene; this would be be feasible with current tools. Hence the 360 approach works nicely for that. On the other hand, object placement within the participants home or office, etc. would not need to be quite so contextual. A newspaper, for example could be placed on any detectable surface. It wouldn’t seem unusual, even if it was placed on the floor. The current open source tools available to me can achieve this.

WHY?

It’s important for my concept, from an artistic and academic perspective, to experiment with the notion of fictional and real worlds bleeding into one another. I have discussed this theme in previous posts.

WHERE ?

Ideally this would take place in the participants home so that the notion of familiarity is maintained. This is also related to the fiction/real dichotomy.

It may also be feasible to to have some 3D AR interaction outdoors, too. This is probably not within the scope of the initial prototype, however.

The app will involve problem solving to allow the participant to work out the geographical locations of the flashbacks.

WHY?

Game mechanics. The problem solving provides the participant with resistance/challenge rather than merely allowing them to progress from start to end.

HOW?

Problem solving will be in the form of ergodic narrative and embedded puzzles.The challenge here, for me, is to develop the ergodic aspect within the participant’s world. This part of the project has been particularly tricky to ideate. Initially, I began writing an additional story layer other than the embedded one. The additional layer would be first person, in the form of a choose your own adventure story. The narrative would place the participant in a fictional world where they are the protagonist – the detective, who unravels the embedded story of the events which happened in the past. This decision was significantly driven by the available tools. At the time I had dismissed AR as a viable tool for this project. And therefore the non-embedded story layer would be communicated by text and/or illustrations & interactive 360 photography. But, I am very keen for the app experience to engage the participant in the realworld as much as possible. That is to say, I want the real world to provide the backdrop to the narrative as much as possible.

I will likely take a hybrid approach. Whereby the user’s world (their apartment, office, etc) does provide the backdrop for the first person narrative; while including hidden fictional areas in 360 format. For example, a participant may discover a virtual door which appears on a wall in their apartment which takes them through to a fictional corridor or other apartments with  fictional characters and so on. These fictional spaces might well be in the Noir themed format; black & white and why not set in the time of the embedded narrative.

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