Bringing the Digital World Alive

One of the things I’ll be doing in the course of this blogged uncourse (indeed, I already have done so…) is to bring in bits and bobs that I, and my colleague Karen Cham, have worked on in the context of scoping out a possible new OU short course on games and digital media.

Chatting about the origins of computer games from an art and design point of view, Karen suggested the following view, which represents modern computer games and interactive media as the convergence of various disciplines – art, computing, games (in a very general sesne) and entertainment:

[I was going to redraw the above, but the online drawing package I use – Gliffy – wants me to pay before I can do any more drawings… so I need to find a new hosted, online drawing package :-( Suggestions via the comments, please :-)]

These four areas have all influenced the evolution of computer games. For example, many ‘blockbuster’ games of today are essentially based around media franchises – the “game of the film”, for example, may top the game charts at the same time as the film it is based on is wowing the box office (and the soundtrack is out in the music charts). In some cases, such as ‘properties’ like Tomb Raider, the move actually goes the other way, from games to film. (Can you think of any other examples?)

Which is which?

The rise of computer generated imagery (CGI) increasingly brings the two worlds closer together from a visual point of view, as artists learn to work with the new media and find new ways of expressing representations of the real world using electronic displays rather than paint and ink, bronze and granite.

The digital world is also increasingly becoming tangible – touchable – through touch screen interfaces such as you might find on the iPod Touch or Microsoft Surface; and sensor technologies now make it ever easier for the digital world to react to the physical world. (I’ll show you in later posts some amazing things you can do with a Wiimote – the Nintendo Wii wireless handset controller!).

For Karen – a practising multimedia artist herself: “the games [found in digital worlds] are interactive systems, that is digitally interactive systems, in which players use physical interface devices, such as a keyboard, mouse, joystick or camera to influence the state of the game as viewed with a computer screen.”

As such, they are one form of “digital interactive media”, defined by Simon Penny as “a machine system which reacts in the moment by virtue of automated reasoning based on data from its sensory apparatus”. (From A to D and back again: The emerging aesthetics of Interactive Art).

In the next couple of posts, I intend to look at the path that has led from the first animations and earliest moving images, to today’s world of photorealsitic CGI, getting a feel for how animation actually works at a basic technical level (because these technical constraints – or possibilities – are what we have to work with as computer game designers and developers).

But before that, why not have a look at some recent classics of digital interactive media, such as you might find in a national contemporary modern art gallery.

Here are some names to get you started:

  • Toshio Iwaii: Iwaii explores the world of novel interactive music playing interfaces. Is he a composer, or is he playing a ‘music generating’ game, an academic version of Guitar Hero?!
  • Jane Prophet: Prophet blends an “interest in the physical structure of objects (the growth structure of trees, the shape of the human heart, the particular spatial qualities of a building” with “exploring new materials, new technologies and new engineering processes.”
  • KMA: KMA is “a collaboration between the artists Kit Monkman and Tom Wexler. Together, their mission is to apply leading digital innovation to large-scale live environments in order to expand the audiences’ experience of theatrical work beyond the physical environment in which it is presented.”
  • Paul Granjon: Granjon is “interested in the co-evolution of humans and machines.” He “builds robots and other machines for shows in performances, galleries, festivals and television.”

Browse through some of the movies, paying particular attention to how technology appears to be being used to create the artwork. What makes the piece interactive? How does the piece sense what is happening in the world, what does it appear to sense, and how does it ‘make it known’ that it has sensed it?

(I’ll add the best response as a ‘For example….’ in a later edit to this post ;-)

If any of the pieces particularly catch your interest, post a link back here, with a short commentary about the technology that appears to be used, the artistic effect, and what you found appealing about the piece. If you come across someone whose name you should think be on the list, post that as a comment too.

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5 Responses to “Bringing the Digital World Alive”


  1. 1 Andy Mee March 25, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Just catching up after my Easter hols :-)

    Other examples of games being made into films are Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter (goodness knows why Kylie did it)

  2. 2 Tony Hirst March 25, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    “Other examples of games being made into films”

    If you happened to come across pairs of film and game trailers for these or any other movie/game crossovers, please post a link, and I’ll put together a show for the Digital Worlds Splashcast video channel:-)


  1. 1 Making Pictures Move « Digital Worlds - Interactive Media and Game Design Trackback on March 17, 2008 at 8:12 pm
  2. 2 “Oscilloscopy” « Digital Worlds - Interactive Media and Game Design Trackback on March 20, 2008 at 12:45 am
  3. 3 Looking Realistic… « Digital Worlds - Interactive Media and Game Design Trackback on April 21, 2008 at 1:16 pm

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