This is my first experience of Takenoko and I am happy to announce – probably not my last! One does not often associate game playing with serious academic study (or rat dissection for that matter) however, as part of our subject for this session, I have been asked to ‘dissect’ and comment on a board game, focusing on one particular aspect. Having carefully selected Takenoko from our lecturer’s beloved game collection, myself and three other students sat down to learn and play. My board games experience (I am ashamed to say) is extremely scant thus hindering my ability to traverse the learning curve tightrope which in the case of Takenoko is quite difficult. It is a competitive game designed by Antoine Bauza and published by Asmodee, and aside from its initial complexity, is beautifully crafted.
Bauza’s love for everything Japanese which began in his boyhood with Manga, flows through Takenoko’s narrative and its beautifully crafted components. The Japanese thematic is represented throughout the game, beginning with a comic strip which tells the story of the Chinese emperor giving the giant panda as a gift to the Japanese emperor. A theme, according to Boardgames.com,“refers to the subject matter the game is built around” which in Takenoko’s case is an animal, a giant panda, and a gardener whose task is to keep the giant panda fed. Takenoko is a light Euro game which is fun and family orientated with its animal and gardening themes being played out with the players being able to tend to the Panda by feeding it (each player has a Panda stomach on their board mat) and the bamboo by growing it. Playing the game is a delight as the random pattern of visually appealing tiles takes shape, the bamboo ‘grows’ and the panda moves around the board simultaneously eating and hiding.
Having watched Antoine Bauza interviewed, one is left with no doubt that he just wants players, above all, to enjoy the games he’s creates. Dave Adams (The Core Mechanic) tells us, for Bauza, game making is an intuitive process where “he genuinely feels like he’s making games that he loves or he would love to play – so there is a sense of going with your gut with Antoine”. He goes on to say that Antoine always starts with a theme which he wants to produce and build and create over time, so all his games are strongly thematic. For me, the game was certainly a winner and one that I would like to play again in the not too distant future.
My aim with the production of this digital project was to create an informative, engaging and visually appealing artifact. Ideas exploded onto an already heavily populated canvas filled with time travel tropes created from a lifetime of sci-fi consumption. Detaching myself from these deeply embedded notions and working towards a new understanding of what it means to be a time traveller in the digital age became my new mission. My endeavours began by trying to understand the concept of time and how it acts as a framework by which we construct the activities of our daily lives. Time, most commonly referred to as the forth dimension, is one of the reference points (used) to ‘specify completely the location or dynamism of an object in space‘. Once the connection to this slippery slope of mathematical constructs was recognised as being crucial to our understanding of this topic I could move on to establishing the affiliation between time and how we interact with it digitally and how this establishes us as digital time lords.
An important part was played in my journey of discovery by the work of James Gleick, Time Travel: A History. Gleick has created a time travel time line which places the beginings of the notion of time travel firmly with HG Wells. Wells was the first to write about a machine that could travel through time in his classic story The Time Machine. The publication of his work, coincided with technological advancements that were the result of rapid industrialisation which in turn acted as a catalyst for a paradigm shift in the way we we viewed the production of objects. Production moved away from the hand crafted and hurtled towards the machine made. Innovators in all fields of Sciences and Arts began to think outside the square and were inspired by new possibilities presented by machine made technology. Science Fiction writing flourished and we saw the development of an almost symbiotic relationship with science. Gleick’s work along with that of Castells, gave me a framework for my digital artefact which would be a digitally inspired time line concentrating my focus on the influence of social media and its manipulation for the purposes of time travel.
A fascinating yet distracting and frustrating part of my digital artifact which takes the form of a vlog was my fixation with creating an avatar or character which would act as the narrator for my video. This was an extremely exasperating experience which could have been avoided by just acknowledging the difficulties surrounding its development and ascertaining its value to the project overall. I should have recognised that the importance of talking characters was tied to a stubborn pursuance on my behalf to get something working that had failed in a previous project. The time that was spent following long corridors of techno dissolutions would have been better spent creating a higher quality video production.
I was satisfied with the outcome of the Digital Timelords project however, I would have liked to have spent more time (pardon the pun) developing and fine tuning its focus. As I approached the completion of the project, I encountered a real dystopian bummer in the form of a file corruption which delayed my submission and prevented any further improvement to the work. Such is the life of a modern day ‘cyber-culturalist’.
Leitch, G. (2013). Doctor Who in Time and Space: Essays on Themes, Characters, History and Fandom, 1963-2012 (Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy). 1st ed. McFarland & Company Incorporated, pp.97-111.
We experience cyberspace in all its spectacular and mundane manifestations by mediating the material and the symbolic. [T]hinking about what cyberspace ‘is’ and what it ‘means’ involves its own hypertextuality, as we mingle and merge the hardware, software and wetware with memories and forecasts, hopes and fears, excitement and disappointment. David Bell (2001)
Having already made a preliminary investigation into the realms of my digital artifact topic (see We Are Just Digitised Time Lords At Heart) I now find myself grappling with theories surrounding time travel and cyber conundrums. I am primarily concerned with making the connection between us as ‘digital time lords’ being fully enmeshed with our technological devices and various forms of time travel . Firstly, I wanted to gain an understanding of where our fascination with time + travel originates from? James Gleick, in his book Time Travel, postulates that time travel is an invention of ‘the modern man’ and that it was H G Wells who first devised the notion of a machine that could travel to different time zones and interact with them.
The onset of industrialisation and advances in technology gave us the notion of progress which in turn fuelled imaginings of what was possible and that we could invent fabulous ‘things’ using new industrialised methods of production.
Kieren Tranter (2013), theorises on the ‘concept of time’ in his essay In and Out of Time: Memory and Chronology, discussing the interweaving of ‘timelessness and timefullness’ within the long running sci-fi series Dr Who. He states that ‘the show can be seen as being performative of Western accounts of time […] trac[ing] the tensions within Western time […] offer[ing] hope; a way of living as being gifted with memory and chronology.’ Cool! So the notion that the Doctor is an alien fully loaded with human characteristics, who can pop in and out of time at whim leaving his mark on history’s annals, is an appealing utopian viewpoint and one that inspires hope and a sense of adventure.
Secondly I want to show how continually advancing technology acts as an ever present catalyst providing a medium through which we express our digitised ideas and desires. This is exhibited by our ready adoption of social media platforms and constantly engaging with the manipulation of time on our network connected devices.
Technology is also cathartic for science however, Gleick comments that ‘[t]he rules of time travel have been written not by scientists but by storytellers’ and I would like to explore the connection between fiction and scientific research into time travel. Marc Millis, an Advanced Propulsion Researcher and head of NASA’s “Breakthrough Propulsion Physics” project, was inspired to follow his career in part from growing up with time travel screen fiction such as Star Trek. Apart from generating a massive fandom base and its ongoing screen success, Star Trek has influenced the development of several modern technological devices.
As I have already discussed in a previous blog, I will endeavour to make a series of vlogs addressing this topic and from the research I have done, I imagine I have enough material to make at least 50 episodes! Currently I have four vlogs planned: Science Fiction & A History of Time Travel, Social Media & Time Travel, Time Lords Of Science and Time Travel Through Memory-My Own Journey. I will add another two titles, as yet to be decided, in the next week.
Part B: Becoming Avatar.
Apart from the content, there are the tools of delivery which are proving to be a tad problematic. I had decided to build an avatar which would act as the narrator for my blogs. Introducing Michelle!
This model was built in Adobe Fuse. My plan was to export this avatar to Mixamo where it would be rigged for animation including facial animation that could be synced in real time via Mixamo’s FacePlus software. The rigged model would then be downloaded into Unity where the animation scripts would be configured. Great plan and soooo easy. Right? Unfortunately, since Adobe had acquired Mixamo, they had decided not to develop the FacePlus software and no longer supported the online launch of the program required to use its real time facial animation capabilities. None of this information is readily available and in fact the FacePlus package is still available on the Mixamo site.
I have experienced a dystopian bummer! Not to mention the time I spent trying to figure out why my software wasn’t working. Grrrrr. Anyway, there is another program, CrazyTalk (now at version 8), which has auto motion including lip-sync and I am hoping this will do the job. I may not be able to use Michelle_v1 and there will be another learning curve which is usually time consuming but I have not given up. This has caused a delay to the production schedule of my vlogs however I will give this one last shot before I surrender and choose another method for the narration.
Apart from the animation angle, I will need to learn how to become a good vlogger. Ian Betteridge, who has been my first stop for expert advice on how to be a successful YouTuber, says that ‘the first ten seconds of any video are crucial to hook in viewers’ and that ‘it’s not uncommon to lose 15% of your audience in the first 10 seconds’. Scary stuff for a novice.
At this stage other areas of interest for my research which I may or may not include: Philosophy of space and time, Quantum mechanics of time travel, Time travel claims.
Bell, D 2001, An Introduction to Cybercultures, Routledge, London.
Tranter, K. 2013, ‘In and Out of Time: Memory and Chronology’, In G. I. Leitch (Ed.), Doctor Who in Time and Space:Essays on themes, characters, history and fandom, 1963-2012, (pp. 82–96), McFarland & Company Inc, United States.
I’m not sure how old I was when I first watched Dr Who, however I recall that it first screened in black and white and was televised at about 6:00 p.m on Sundays. I can’t imagine I was allowed to watch it in 1963 when it was first aired as I was only three, however I know my brother and I would rendezvous every week in the television room (a converted study) and wait for the legendary Dr Who theme music to start. The words DR WHO would slowly materialise on screen created by some sort of techno-funky effects and in that moment, I was hooked! I’m sure it was Dr Who that began my predilection for sci-fi and I became a big fan of the genre including Star Trek and The Time Tunnel. I didn’t question how the DR could hop into a telephone box and travel through time – i just accepted it. I also accepted the notion that the Tardis was way bigger on the inside than it appeared from the outside. In 1964 Marshall McCluhan wrote
Today we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned
Paul Booth (2013) cites Richard Walsh stating “that time travel in fiction offers a useful way of renegotiating […] the complex relations between narration and fictional representation”. He goes on to say that “[t]hrough these relations, audiences take meaning from narratives and apply it to our own lives to learn about and discover aspects of their selves […] Narrative both offers meaning and allows audiences to create meaning”. Exactly what I was thinking when I was six! Time travel is used as a “narrative device hold[ing] together the web of unstable elements”. The Tardis is a black box representing the machinations of time travel. The Doctor and his companions hop in the Tardis, dial up a time portal and the strange sounds that are recognised globally as the de/materialisation of the Tardis begin and ‘voila’ we are transported to a new time zone. The beauty of using the Tardis as an vehicle to access time portals is that there is no need for complex explanations. It is the Tardis and that is what it does!
‘the paradox at the heart(s) of Doctor Who functions as an aesthetic and textual attempt to illustrate a quotidian existence within a networked culture’. Paul Booth (2013)
It brings meaning to the way in which we interact with technology, how we consume it and equally, how it consumes us!
Our utopian selves envision us zooming around the universe, in and out of the fourth dimension and back in time for dinner but what is the reality?
Imagination is a powerful tool which periodically has acted as a catalyst for the creation and development of new technologies however, not all of our imaginings are realised. This utopian perspective is constantly being head-butted by the dystopian which has its feet planted firmly in the ‘that will never happen camp’. However diametrically opposed, these viewpoints are inescapably interwoven by the web of the internet and the resulting networked culture that has grown from this tension has become known as Cyberculture.
Cyberculture is a way of thinking about how people and digital technologies interact, how we live together – David Bell (2007)
Science Fiction narratives are not the only way we experience time travel in our hyper-mediated technological cyber societies. Social media platforms provide us with digital time portals effecting ready access to our past and present selves, as well as linking us globally to other users. Manual Castells, a Spanish sociologist, theorises about many aspects of ‘network society’ and describes our techno environments as ‘a space of flows and timeless times‘. Desequencing was coined by Castells as the way in which time can be reordered and archived via a myriad of filters and by any number of network users. It is almost as if time is cut from its own contextual framework and then pasted into one constructed by the user.
This brings me to the point of discussion of my digital artifact which will be a series of vlogs produced around the notion of modern ‘time travel’ and how we have harnessed technology to become Time Lords of our own digitised worlds. I chose Vlogging (video + blogging) as the digital medium for this project as a vlog is an effective and easily accessible way to deliver information. Its popularity as a medium is well documented and if you are very good, there is an opportunity for fame and fortune! I am planning to produce a minimum of six vlogs covering the topics of time travel narratives, both written and on screen, social media and time travel, possibilities of realising time travel from a scientific perspective, cyberculture theory and time travel, fandom and time travel and perhaps an episode about my favourite time travel programs. This is a list that is subject to change as I ‘bravely go where no [wo]man has gone before’ and adapt and create in response to my research.
Booth, P 2013, ‘Effecting the Cause: Time Travel Narratives’, in GI Leitch (ed.), Doctor Who In Time and Space: Essays on Themes, Characters, History and Fandom, 1963-2012, McFarland & Company Inc, North Carolina, pp. 97-111.
Throughout the duration of BCM310, I have been particularly interested in the way technology appears to be, and is, getting smarter and better at deciphering contextual data and making appropriate responses to that information. For example, looking at improvements to Apple’s voice recognition software known as ‘Siri’; noting how rapidly advancements are being made in its ability to decode human speech. This is occurring at superfast speeds or perhaps I should say, advancements in AI (artificial intelligence) are increasing at an exponential rate. I wrote about this in my research proposal.
It is important to recognise the connection between the ever evolving network devices of the digital age and those depicted in sci-fi media in the 60s and 70s. Take for example the gadgets on board the USS Starship Enterprise. The well-known captain of this ship, James T. Kirk, is able to speak a command and without a ripple in the galaxy, communicates with everyone on board the vessel via the ships’ AI (artificial intelligence)system. This computer, which has a female voice, has the ability to answer complex questions, control all operations on the ship, as well as engaging in idle conversation if called upon. The extended capabilities that are now available to machines through methods of deep learning and access to massive data sets have instigated new methods of interactivity between human and machine at the same time adding new levels of sophistication to business and personal communications. This has been further enhanced due to developments in nanotechnology. The screen has been the ubiquitous interface over the last 20 years, however now increasingly our voice will act as the catalyst for action. Mark Weiser of Xerox PARC was truly a visionary and he foresaw that we would move away from the PC, the machine that is associated with one place rather than the mobile networking platforms of the Web 2.0 era. In the last decade, the Smartphone has taken over from the desktop devices as the ‘go to’ we use to deal with all our computing needs, both in the workplace and in our homes. I’m not proposing that we will be discarding all our devices in the future but rather that these devices will be integrated rather than an object we carry around with us. This is a paradigm shift that will have a huge impact on the way we communicate with each other and in every facet of our lives.
I was faced with the problem of exploring and describing the way in which we will be interacting with each other and with mobile platforms and presenting this dry technological information in an engaging way. I felt that using animation may be a suitable solution.Using Adobe’s Fuse it is amazingly simple to make a functioning 3-D model, however after you have constructed the model it can require three or four different programs including Premiere Pro, to complete a project and this requires a heavy use of tutorials to bring yourself up to speed. I found that the complexity of other software programs associated with making the video were overtaking the project and often I would find myself lost down various rabbit holes looking for answers. This is dangerous territory as it is easy to become focused on areas that are not useful or relevant to the overall cohesion of the project.
The animation software itself was problematic, and it is difficult to decide where the point of ‘just right’ is. For every new skill I added to my artillery, there were equally as many new problems to contend with including the difficulty of incorporating stills, images, moving images, text, sound into a pleasing mixture. The visual impact of film as a medium is invaluable as a learning tool. In the past I have attempted to make informative videos for other subjects and projects, however, this is the first time I have constructed a 3-D model, and found it exciting and enjoyable interwoven with moments of cursing. These avatars can be used in gaming environments or can be used for creative photoshop projects. It is possible to animate the character’s face but unfortunately this was beyond my capabilities for the scope of this project and I made the decision to use other methods such as speech bubbles and signs. 3-D animations are being used across a variety of projects opening up many opportunities for designing. When you begin to look into what is possible when constructing a media project, it becomes quite difficult to stay on track and it is easy to become overwhelmed, losing sight of the main message that you are trying to convey.
Videojournalism is a new area that has grown out of print photojournalism and I hope to develop these skills further by producing this video. Kenneth Kobre, in his book Videojournalism: Multimedia Storytelling says ‘[g]ood Videojournalism demands a broad set of technical skills and a real appreciation of how to tell a story’. This new medium of multimedia storytelling opens up exciting new ways of expression that will give videojournalists an edge above bloggers and vloggers.
First attempt (above) at moving image making without titles and further edits. A Touch Of Suburbia was the second and final attempt and the video which I submitted for assessment.
In this final Project, I endeavoured to bring the concept of place in terms of mapping as was explored from the beginning of the subject. The ways in which the context of an area’s location is made up of a variety of ‘things’. I wanted to uncover and convey the ways in which we exist in our local environment appearing as a collection of man-made objects which we strive to own and so readily discard. The image of a Whirlpool oven sitting in the street, no longer working or abandoned for the upgrade expresses the wastefulness we surround ourselves with. Mature trees planted by someone shows some level of care for our locations but the ground is littered and fences covered with graffiti. Our locale areas are a recording or map of how we live in a place and each locale would be slightly different depending on the mix of types such as residential or industrial or whether there is a school nearby. My approach with this one minute video is to convey the richness of texture and layers which can be used to create a sensory map of an area and how humans interact with and within it.
I started the video with an image of an older style suburban home representing the dream of home ownership making it brighter than it actually was by saturating the colours and then through the window the viewer is taken on a tour of suburbia. The window itself transforms and sets up the notion of objects that are in transition and that things are in a constant state of change. The window acts as a portal through which the viewer is led through the layers of the map. The sound was a combination of my original work mixed down with another track which added more depth and texture. I found that the audio and the visual contributed during the creative process although the audio existed before the visual and was the initial inspiration. The image transitions were timed to work with the audio.
The video titled A Taste of Suburbia, is quite effective in its use of sound and imagery to convey a sense of place. I encountered a few technical difficulties which took me quite some time to overcome. Understanding keyframes initially was difficult to get my head around, a little like learning about layers in Photoshop. I found that once I got through this self made block, the processing of the video was much easier and the next challenge was getting the export settings correct. I found the software to be quite intrusive and was holding up the creative process, however once I got that sorted things went along quite sweetly.
In this video of animated images, I have tried to create a sense of place referencing mapping as we have investigated it as a tool for contextual analysis of our location. This ‘sensory map’ endeavours to uncover and convey the marks we leave on our environs that make our surroundings unique. This uniqueness can be created through different mixes of residential, industrial, whether there are schools in the area, and of course the environment itself and its flora and fauna.
The ways in which we occupy a place is also evidenced through the objects we discard, the same objects we often strive to own. The image of an oven and stovetop sitting in the street, no longer working or abandoned for an ‘upgrade’, is a signpost pointing towards the consumer society to which we belong. Planted mature trees show a certain level of care however the ground is littered and the graffiti covered fences convey a sense of defiance. These are all things that make our places, our locale, unique.
My interest lies in the layered textures of sound and imagery and I have conveyed this in the video through the use of transitions and multi-layered images. The video starts out with a highly saturated image of an older style cottage which looks presentable from a distance but as the viewer’s eye travels towards the window he/she sees that the paint is faded and the curtains are old-fashioned. The window acts as a portal, leading the viewer deeper into the sensory layers of the location. Some of the images are repeated, the first time in full colour and the second time less saturated referencing the notion that everything is not as it appears on the surface.