Category: video games

Keram Malicki-Sanchez at NAB 2009For those who follow my multi-platform output, you have invariably been bombarded with my output lately concerning the learning I gained at this year’s National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas and for that I almost apologize. But not really, because there is so much to talk about that I endeavor to cover new elements of it in each post or podcast or video or bulletin or tweet.

Which is kind of my point: last year the NAB glitterati were busy sweating and lamenting the bells tolling for TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, the record industry and all other antiquated media platforms.  This year however, we saw a revitalized community – aggressively interested in emerging platforms for communication of our collective stories and in innovating new technologies to address the zeitgeist.

At his opening day keynote address, NAB president and CEO David K. Rehr began:

“There is no place I’d rather be than right here…right now…with all of you.” Donning a sticker that read “I Matter” he continued:

“We are demonstrating that broadcasters are forging ahead…spurring innovation and creating multiple platforms to deliver our content from moving 3D into the home to incorporating FM chips in cell phones, to exploring all the possibilities of the Internet – we are planning for the future and seizing opportunities in this digital age.”

It’s Not A Recession – It’s A Reset

And though these words can be taken as cautionary, post-mortem and defensive, they were certainly not delivered that way. As author Dr. James Florida delineated later during the opening ceremony – we must consider that we are not going through a new Great Depression, but rather a Great Reset. Where once the economy was built on God-given resources like water, food, ore and wood, and then later the resource of human energy and labor post-industrial revolution, what we are seeing now is a new kind of economy built on that of the output of the Creative Class. What Juan Enriquez called Human Evolutis at TED. As the work of building and crafting is increasingly outsourced to China and India and other countries abroad, in North America the primary export is being that of the human mind itself – of imagination and ideas and creativity. This of course, is not to say that these do not exist abroad, but rather that the North American GDP is shifting the source of its wealth.

Ideas were found in abundance at NAB as CEO’s, Presidents, General Managers and inventors from such companies as Disney, Adobe, Electronic Arts met with independent directors, producers, post-production experts, radio broadcasters and content creators of every type and platform to exchange ideas and talk about what the world will look like and respond to over the next few years.

Mary Tyler Moore, Kelsey Grammer and Bob Newhart were all honored for their contributions to the television programming lexicon.

Henry Selick, director of Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach and Coraline was interviewed about the development of stop motion and its marriage with new digital techniques.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of groundbreaking social analysis books Blink, The Tipping Point and Outliers was interviewed before the NAB attendees by NAB President David Rehr.  He extrapolated his process for coming up with his book subjects and confided that one of his most powerful techniques was avoiding Google searches altogether; Google is essentially empty he explained, it is merely an index of what is on the Web but to go beyond it is to mine massive sources of information available that afford us remarkable insights on who we have been, are and will be especially when seen with our new eyes in this high-speed information exchange society.

The Jim Henson Creature Shop demonstrated their digital puppeteering system wherein one puppeteer controls a head and mouth and another the body via a motion tracking suit and capture grid.  Without any intermediate, they are able to create real-time 3D animation that captures all the nuances and gravity of a real moving body.  Rather than illustrate a variety of movements, they simply shoot another “take” and then use the best take as the final output (after a polish render in Maya).  I asked them whether we might one day see a turnkey system from Jim Henson Company but they reminded us that the puppeteer and experience with working with such technology is really the thing, not so much the computers, mo-cap stage and proprietary software.

Jim Henson Creature Workshop at NAB 2009

Lectures given in morning sessions were echoed in afternoon sessions, but now modified, expanded and reconsidered. By week’s end there were new consensus emerging about how to implement and innovate our proverbial campfires about which we sit and exchange our common experiences through this incredible life we share.

And now more than ever we are sharing it in ways we couldn’t have ever predicted or even imagined.

The Amazing Future of Broadcasting

Beyond all the pontificating – incredible products were on display – Autostereoscopic (which you will come to know as AS-3D) 3D TV sets -(meaning 3D screens for which no intermediary viewing glasses are needed), real-time video cameras displaying in 3D, super high resolution screens that add almost ten times the pixel count of existence HDTV screens, HD radio, FM tuners in all cell phones, HD movies on cell phones that run below real-time Flash based menus, technology that allows every word spoken within a video to be searchable, real-time holographic interview wherein the interviewee appears to be sitting or standing in front the interviewer in spit of any geographic disparity (think Princess Leia’s holographic appeal for help at the beginning of Star Wars except at a resolution almost indistinguishable from reality) and yes YouTube 3D.

Seminar topics ranged from When Will The Web Kill TV to How To Blog In 140 Characters to Alternative Reality Gaming, Second Chances in Second Life and the nature of Web 3.0.

You may have noticed one word popping up an awful lot in this article: “Real Time.”  Other popular keywords at this years convention were Home 3D and Metadata.  Metadata will allow every stage of the production workflow be indexable, searchable and integrated from top to bottom.

It was indeed an extraordinary week and I hope to share and unravel some of the ideas exchanged over the coming weeks and even months. In the interim, you can hear myself and my travel partner and co-host Aimee Lynn Chadwick giddily discussed some of our findings at my podcast

Let’s just hope Sprint doesn’t blow it.

Here is how Geoff Hammill, writing for The Museum of Broadcast Communications, summarized the incredibly popular award-winning sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show:

As Mary Richards, a single woman in her thirties, Moore presented a character different from other single TV women of the time. She was not widowed or divorced or seeking a man to support her.[1]

Felicia Day’s eight-minute webisodic-turned-cultural-phenomenon The Guild revolves around the character Codex, a single woman in her late-twenties, early thirties who is not widowed or divorced or seeking a man to support her, but who holds a position of great importance in her online guild – that of the Healer.   The show can similarly assert itself as a pioneer in the new post-TV era entertainment spectrum.  Originally broadcast via YouTube and The Guild’s own website, the show was subsidized by viewers like you sending donations through PayPal.

The Guild from Sprint

The Guild centers around a group of regular people who know each other singularly via their membership in an online guild of adventurers in an unspecified MMORPG (massively multi-player online role-playing game), but that any former Azerothian would quickly identify as World of Warcraft.

WoW Syndrome

Day, the show’s creator, producer and star, confessed that she created the show out of her own two-year addiction to the game. I completely empathize; I myself spent two years as the founder and leader of a WoW guild that had up to two hundred and fifty members at any given time. I would spend entire nights with my then girlfriend, side-by-side on separate computers, grinding away for loot. It defined the entire second year of our relationship. I think it was when I looked at the clock reading 1PM and I was still up from the night before hacking away at giant wasps in a virtual desert in hopes of finding some sort of epic ring that had a .01% chance of dropping that I bypassed all suspicion and went straight to absolute certainty, that I had a terrible debilitating addiction and that I had to stop.

A Night Elf from World of Warcraft
A Night Elf from World of Warcraft
Creative Commons License photo credit: antigone78

Stopping wasn’t easy; my strongest social ties now existed by virtue of the Dwarves, Elves, Orcs and Tauren that I had befriended in the game almost two years prior.  Using Ventrilo and TeamSpeak to talk over headsets, their real-life voices were indelibly linked to the image of their respective avatars. We had laughed, fought, in some cases hooked up (not me, and not necessarily exclusively in the virtual domain), broken up, mutinied, reunited, cried, lost everything, and fought to win it back again.  I could simply hang up the receiver and pretend it had never existed; that it was just some misstep in the way I spent my time between jobs.  This wasn’t some bad, obsessive Bejeweled habit – this was a real part of my life, my memories, my emotional landscape.  I would dream of Azerothian locales at night, of my friends and what we had said to one another.  My fingers would absently tap out key commands when I met someone for coffee.

Transcending the Micro-Niche

Felicia Day decided to go public with her story and is now reaping the rewards for her courage.  The eight-minute episodes were picked up by Microsoft and are available for instant download (free at that) on their Xbox Live and Zune platforms.  Episodes center around the interactions between the Guild members in the Meatverse (that’s the offline world for you newbies/n00bs/nubs) and how they feel at once awkward and entitled amongst themselves as they attempt to reconcile their alter-egos with their Earthly counterparts.

Largely populated by unknown actors (Day herself used to have a recurring role on cult hit TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the episodes are not only legitimately funny and clever, but in their second season have started to branch out into the downright avante-garde. In a recent episode – titled simply “Fight!” – Day, who plays the ineffectual, self-conscious character “Codex” (we only know the characters by their online handles) confides to her webcam that she is both torn and flattered by the competition between Zaboo and a local stuntman hottie for her hand.  When things go awry and she ends up empty handed, a spectral version of herself leaps from her body and runs away from the scene as we reach the closing credits.

In much the same way, the show is beginning to trascend it own campy micro-niche origins and drawing an ever larger crowd of onlookers.  Bookended by a sponsorship page from Sprint PCS, the show runs commercial-free, but nothing about its eight-minute per episode length feels unsatisfactory; in a time where attention spans and available mind-share is running at a deficit, this show is a quick entertainment bump that quells the hunger as readily as a Snickers Almond bar between meetings.

Give It Away Now

The music industry was ambushed by a lethal combination comprised of the mp3 compression technology and high-speed internet access for less than a monthly cable bill.  As it struggled to plug the holes in its sinking ship, it fought to maintain control, when in fact it should have done the counter-intuitive thing and just given the music away for free like radio had done for so long.  Sure, radio has ads, but not all radio: jazz and classical stations, NPR, they are funded by donations much like The Guild was in its early days.  If people appreciate the content you are creating, they will rally behind it.  But hindsight is 20/20.  The music industry could not possibly have projected the way out once the gates were overwhlemed by the Barbarians, any more than it could have imagined that Napster would evolve into Twitter.

In its second phase, The Guild has moved from the PBS model of public funding to the early television model wherein a show’s content was intertwined with content involving its sponsors.   With Sprint as its modern day Ovaltine, The Guild has a much larger, focused target group.  But the public is far more ad-blind than it was back in the days of Gunsmoke.  So long as Sprint doesn’t get greedy by asserting its product placement too heavy handedly within the midst of the video, they may very well have a new kind of success story on their hands.

The respite that would bring, after so many thousands of short videos consisting of people getting thwacked in the head with a two-by-four, is like mana from the gods.