Archive for September, 2010

Friday was #Playful

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Here follows an attempt to capture the defining sights, sentiments and soundbites of each of the 20-minute presentations making up what, pound for pound, has to be one of the best game events in town.

09.40 Naomi Alderman :: Gun for hire

Naomi sets the tone for the day with the seemingly outlandish assertion that 1986 Fighting Fantasy novel Creature of Havoc is ‘the greatest interactive game ever made’, citing the reader/player’s journey of self-discovery as a precious example of character development too often lacking in game narratives.

The example she gives of how not to do it is the otherwise excellent Red Dead Redemption, in which neither John Marston – nor our knowledge of him – changes in any meaningful way over the course of an epic rampage through the American Old West.  As Naomi puts it, ‘by the time I completed it I’d killed 754 people.  You’d think that would change a person.’

10.00 Paul Bennun :: Good listener

This was my first encounter with 3D audio. Also with ‘flow‘, the state Paul uses to describe this chap in the final 30 seconds of this video:

His talk on audio gaming includes a great live demo involving two volunteers, two Wiimotes and two orgasms, rounded off with a cheeky plug for Papa Sangre, a mobile game from Somethin Else that sounds – with the emphasis on sounds – like a lot of fun.

10.20 James Huggins :: Pro-dad

In one of the day’s more thoughtful sessions James talks to us about the difference between toys and games – the foremost of which is that ‘the game is different depending on who picks up the toy’. He laments the extent to which our education system orientates itself around measurable outcomes, arguing that where there’s interest, there’s learning, and that any new experience is a learning experience: ‘Kids don’t see technology as a discreet category.  They just aren’t as impressed by it as we are’.

Ironically, the lengths James goes to not to be seen to pimp Made in Me‘s flagship product, The Land of Me (below) makes it only more intriguing. I’ve just downloaded a free chapter, and can’t wait to try it out on my own little guinea pig.

10:40 Bea Davy Sutherland :: Nine-year-old

For anybody wanting to know what the kids are into these days, they appear to be eschewing their ‘slightly broken’ tellies in favour of (‘don’t tell anbody’) Facebook, Twitter, Skype, ‘blogging a bit‘ and having their own slot at Playful.

Bea talks about the ethics of games targeting a younger audience, praising the militant (if unashamedly derivative) approach of Super Chick Sisters before showing a video in which she visits a couple of big-league games developers and asks them ‘what are you doing with all your power, you rock stars?’

I (and I suspect I was not alone) can’t help sensing the hand of a media-savvy Mum in Bea’s presentation at/to Playful, which is perhaps why the biggest cheer comes when she goes off-script and explains to interviewer Leila Johnston that she ‘doesn’t really like (event sponsor) Mind Candy’s Moshi Monsters any more’.

UPDATE: Bea’s mum Libby just sent over a link to the video embedded below, produced in case Bea got cold feet. Seeing this makes me think I’ve maybe been a bit ungenerous in my critique, and that I should have at least given Bea credit for braving a potentially intimidating audience. Which, if I’m not very much mistaken, is what I just did. So that’s ok.

11.20 Nicolas Nova :: Control freak

It takes a particular type of person to scour the world in search of game controllers ever made in order to then describe and document their evolution and genealogy in a myriad of aesthetically delightful – if not particularly useful – ways.  Extraordinary then that two such people exist, and that they were lucky enough to meet each other.

11.40 Pat Kane :: Hue (or was it Cry?)

If someone had asked me prior to this event whether I was expecting to see one half of eighties pop combo Hue and Cry presenting, I would have said ‘yes’.  Because, let’s face it, why would anybody ask me a question like that if a member of eighties pop combo Hue and Cry wasn’t going to be presenting.  Even so, I probably wouldn’t be expecting him to deliver a dizzyingly articulate dissection of humour as a plaything, culminating with a Paulo Virno quote that makes me fall off my chair trying to decipher it.

Fortunately for you, reader, I retain enough information to be able to reduce Pat’s thesis its the central corollary, this being that Frankie Boyle is a c$*t, and that old jews tell better jokes than he does.  And, as if proof were needed, here’s an old jew doing just that, direct from

12.00 Richard Hogg :: Whatever you’re not

As well as having as good a way with words as he does with pictures, Richard hates everything you like.  He is a contrarian.  Or, as he puts it, the wind changed when his face was upside down, leaving him with a manifest inability to accept ‘the crushing inevitability of liking things simply because they are good’. 

Richard neatly illustrates this with a series of his own… um… neat… illustrations, my favourite of which depicts him as an upside-down faced salmon, swimming against ‘a frothing cataract of consensus’.  Ultimately, he concludes, there’s no simpler way to characterise the contrarian’s condition than that of a Notts County fan.

12:20 Tom Muller :: Belgian

It’s with just four minutes and over seventy slides remaining that Tom’s look at contemporary comic book design starts to get interesting.  Sadly, he’s spent a bit too long telling us what’s wrong with the design of mainstream comic book covers, leaving himself far too little to do justice to some of the beautiful examples of his own prodigious portfolio.

There’s far too much good stuff there for me to start embedding it here, so if you like this kind of thing I suggest you brew yourself a fresh cuppa and settle in.

14:00 Jonathan Smith :: Master-builder

If anyone understands gamers, Mad Men‘s Dr Faye Miller does. Relating her desire to reconcile ‘what I want versus what’s expected of me’ with his experiences as Head of Production on Lego’s award-winning video game series, Jonathan offers the view that gamers are not there to be indulged, and that they themselves start with the question ‘what does the game want me to do’, understanding the promise of the game as being ‘do what I expect, trust that I will give you what you want’.

Play, he maintains, happens in the gap between freedom and constraint, typified by the discreet affordances of Lego bricks.  Not the knobs and anti-knobs (believe it or not, that’s the technical term) but the myriad of other ways the Lego system can be creatively combined.

(As an aside, the deftness with which Johnathan introduces the various themes and ideas covered by the previous speakers into his own session serves as a lesson for us all when it comes to speaking at an event like this.  Come prepared.  Prepared to listen.)

14:40 Shift Run Stop Live!

A live version of the podcast by Roo Reynolds and Leila Johnston, one that sees them interview Dominik Diamond over Skype.  (At 34, I’m old enough to remember who Dominik Diamond is.)  The connection’s a bit patchy, but Dominik has ample opportunity to plug his new book, several times in fact, going to some trouble to draw our attention to the fact that it has a foreword written by, wait for it, yup, Frankie Boyle.

15:00 Sebastien Deterding :: Anti-gamificator

Most of us probably aren’t all that aware of the ‘gamification’ of the world around us.  It’s happening though, every time someone offers you a badge or sticker or some other poxy digital trinket just for logging in to a website.  Sites like GetGlue are making whole businesses out of the glorified Activity-Reward-Competition paradigm, and all around them service vendors are springing up and trying to gamify everything they can get their gammy little hands on.

Suffice to say, Sebastien doesn’t think this is a very good idea.  He points to a number of confusions, notably that (1) games are not inherently fun, they have to be designed that way (2) rewards are not achievements (or, as Raph Koster puts it, ‘fun arises out of mastery’) and (3) competition is not for everyone.  To his closing point, ‘whoever plays, plays freely.  Whoever does not play freely, cannot play.’

15.40 Margaret Robertson :: Pyromaniac

As if to reinforce Sebastien’s central argument, up steps Margaret to give us a demonstration (in both senses of the term) forged from the very building blocks of cult sandbox game Minecraft.  This is a masterclass in creative game-play (not to mention creative presentation-writing) built around the question ‘is it a game’, the answer to which resides in another question: did it involve a games designer?

Highpoints include the killing of many a square pig with a big stick, the unveiling of a monolithic stone FUCK ALL atop a nearby mountain, and an incendiary finale involving the burning of a large wooden effigy standing testament to the growing misconception that GAMES = POINTS.  In the spirit of the presentation itself, make of that what you will.

16:00 Bertrand Duplat :: Pawn magnate
Starting from a position of wanting to experiment with ‘paper as the new computer platform’, Bertrand and his partner have developed a collection of ‘paper video games’, using cards and pawns placed on touch-screen devices to develop a new form of tactile interactive game-play. 

I try to take notes on his talk, but basically I just keep writing down the names of the amazing things Bertrand shows us, all of which can thankfully be found on les éditions volumiques’ Vimeo channel.

16:20 Alexis Kennedy :: Narrative engineer
Fail Better Games, as their name suggests, have a different way of seeing the world. It’s one that inspired them to develop a ‘texty game’ called Echo Bazaar – ‘like Mafia Wars, but not shit’ – players of which experience ‘delicious misery’ in the form of the many manifest indignities that characterised life in Victorian London.

After taking us through some of the more warped scenarios players encounter, including what sounds like a veritable modern day child-catcher in Mr Sacks, Alexis shares his resulting realisation that – in gaming at least – success is inevitable, whereas misery is escape.

16:40 Dom Hodge & Dave Haynes :: Headliners

Dom and Dave, ‘for their sins’, work in the music industry.  (It was slightly galling to see how apologetic they seemed to be about this, making me wonder if everybody in the music industry goes around at the moment talking to people in other industries as though they’ve just accidentally let  down the bouncy castle.) 

Building on their self-deprecating opening, they show us a selection of the ideas that came out of Music Hackday, an event they run giving developers 24 hours to conjure inspired musical apps out of the assorted egg cartons, lollipop sticks and washing-up bottles of the Interwebz. The resulting Top 7 were bloody brilliant, and my plan is adapt more than one of them to serve my sworn mission to market movies or die trying, so I’m not going to tell you anything about them.

There it is.  Completely worth the early bird ticket price, and the full working day I sacrificed to be there.  Kudos to all who featured, and to Toby Barnes and Mudlark for organising it.

This is a journey into sound

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

A journey which along the way will bring to you new colour, new dimension, new value.

A couple of guys here in Suite 5 – they call themselves Ket Lai – have been working with record label Ninja Tune in the build up to their 20th anniversary, celebrated last Monday.

The centrepiece of this is Ninja Tune XX, a site they developed where they’ve been giving away a rare selection of beats and pieces for each of the last nineteen weeks, culminating in free download #20 – Coldcut’s Journeys by DJ.

Being that Coldcut were the original founders of Ninja Tune, and that – in my humble opinion at least – this sees them at their maniacal best, the whole thing has a beautiful symmetry to it.

I first heard it some time around its original release in February 1993, and it quickly became the inspiration for everything I subsequently failed to do with a pair of turntables.

The good news for both of us is that I don’t need to waste my time and yours fumbling to describe what you might be missing.  The Age of Free is upon us, and all you need to do is roll over to to pick up your own seventy minutes of madness in one small but oh-so-perfectly formed MP3.

Run before you can walk

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010


Great to see a TV show with a better one-sheet than most movies ever get. Now filed under ‘essential viewing’.

Kentucky fried movies

Friday, September 17th, 2010

I had a link to this through in a note from Joris, a Dutch friend, earlier in the week, nominating it for my “Trailers For Films You Probably Haven’t Watched For A While, And Really Should Have Done” series.

I haven’t seen it before, so can’t wholly vouch for it, but it reminded me of a film I snagged on VHS twenty-odd years ago and subsequently watched to death, called Amazon Women on the Moon.  I can’t find a decent quality trailer, but this skit – directed by none of than John Landis (Trading Places, The Blues Brothers, Animal House, American Werewolf In London etc etc ad infinitum) brought it all flooding back:

Watching this again for the first time in over two decades I found myself trying to work out whether it even has a modern day equivalent. The conclusion I quickly reached is that it does, and it’s called the Internet.  YouTube and all who sail in her have neatly subsumed the demand for this fast food genre of cheap gags and budding talent, the quality of which fluctuates every bit as widely as the dulcet tones of Don “No Soul” Simpson.

Joris is an interesting chap. He’s in the process of writing a novel set in the 1012th (better known as Amsterdam’s Red Light District) and has been documenting his research on a blog that’s quickly become staple RSS fodder.  I met him at a producer workshop I talk at in Luxembourg each year. I’m there in the capacity of a movie marketing ‘expert’, yet more often find myself being reminded how little I understand about the wider springs and mechanisms of our industry, especially once you look beyond the Hollywood fare that’s always been my bread and butter.

Though he was attending in his capacity as a fine legal mind, Joris was also able to share insights on De Storm (The Storm), a very successful Dutch movie released in 2009 of which he was an executive producer. I haven’t been so rude as to ask as much, but I’m guessing he’s using his hard-negotiated share of the $6.4m gross to fund his current foray into literature. Whatever the case, from his blog posts alone it’s clear that he has a natural way with words and a real feel for the subject matter, not to mention the fact that whatever he writes will surely be well-considered for adaptation to the screen.

For now, however, I will have to content myself with watching clips from my own newly rediscovered ‘kentucky fried movie’.  And so I leave you with this one.  Not necessarily one of the best, but somehow apt on the pages of a blog written by the man who brought you #VHSMovieClub:

This may not be the last a capella trailer re-dub you hear this year…

Friday, September 17th, 2010

…but I’m thinking it will be the best:

I’m posting this for my dad.

Friday, September 17th, 2010

That tells you everything you need to know about my dad.

Making future magic

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

I haven’t talked much on here about what I’m doing for work since moving on from PPC. I’m now based out of a building in Shoreditch, in the process of launching a new business, called Glass Eye.

We’ve been very fortunate to snag two desks in The Corner Office, a lovely airy room shared between a friendly assortment of seasoned web developers and one renegade software analyst.

The wider building plays home to an assortment of fascinating outfits and entities with one thing in common: they’re all involved in truly bleeding edge work, of which this is an immaculate example:

It was put together by Berg (short, I’m told, for ‘British Experimental Rocket Group’), a team of inventors busy discovering new creative and commercial opportunities at the unstable intersection of our digital and physical lives. Like Tinker, another local resident, the spaces they occupy are as much workshops as offices, and they are often to be seen gathered around a desk or worktop, hunched over something far more interesting than a common or garden computer.

From my point of view, it feels like the perfect place to have ended up. Not just because I get to walk in to work each morning, doing a quick klick at London Fields Lido, grabbing a cup of Percy Ingle’s cheapest finest on Broadway Market and a super fresh croissant from the smiling lady on Columbia Road.

It’s because the pervasive potency of a good idea, and the spirit of invention that underpins it, resides at the very heart of what’s best in my industry, the film industry, now more than ever. The continuing convergeance of platforms and media; the corresponding emergence of new, more direct ways to view and interact with content; the ease with which we can share our discoveries in real-time; we live in an age where we can create, experience and react to narratives in ways that could barely have been imagined just a generation ago.

As a wise man once said, ‘life moves pretty fast.  You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’ And he hadn’t even heard of the Internet.

Watch this space.

In with the old, in with the new

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

A recent gift from my friend James, Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris: Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry is simultaneously an inherently backward-looking and brilliantly progressive example of transmedia story-telling.

I found this interview with the author, Leanne Shapton, on YouTube:

I wasn’t sure what it would be like to read, I thought it might feel a bit fragmented. Turns out its impossible to put down.  And probably the perfect book to retire to your lavatory in order to further enrich your appreciation of your favourite passages.