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Mashups January 31, 2009

Posted by jmoran21 in Big Brother, Humor, Law, Perception, Tech.
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Tuesday was the first meet of New Media 2, and a sizable chunk of time was devoted to Twitter. My opinions haven’t changed much since my first exposure (useless to me, but a potential goldmine). Apparently others feel the same, if its estimated worth is any indication.

On its own, Twitter is just another Stalk-Lite tool of Web 2.0. It’s appealing as a broad ranging, persistent text message, appealing for all the same reasons. Text lets us put in more thought and personality, better conveying our chosen web personae. Lots of Twitter mashups exist that attempt to make some sense of the chaos- Tweet News and twittermap jump to mind.

My ideas for the killer twitter app:

Twitterbell: a flash animated Tinkerbell on an accumulator. The accumulator tracks the number of unique tweets that say “I don’t believe in fairies.” and “Clap!” If the “don’t”s ever outpace the claps by more than, lets say, 500, Tinkerbell dies a gruesome cartoon death.

Twittercraft: a pan-realm twitter client integrated with Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. It would be filterable based on realm, allegiance, clan, and topic, but carry over the foreign language barriers of the main game. The key stone would be a filter for “role-playing” tweets. Imagine, a torrent of harvestable info on the races of Azeroth. Finally, a way for the major corporations of today to make major inroads into the tricky “Male Orcs Age 18-24” demographic!

ETRS (Emergency Twitter Response Service): It’s only a matter of time before common practice grants toddlers a cell phone with texting priveledges before they master vocal communication. Before long, typing onto a mini qwerty keyboard will be our primary, fastest means of communication, and to better prepare for that day, its important we get the groundwork laid now. ETRS will monitor tweets from people in distress and will then promptly dispatch the proper authorities.

America’s Most Twittered: Similar idea, in reverse. Enlist the Twitter public in helping track down fugitives, stolen goods, and missing children. How simple would it be to at least add Twitter to the Amber Alert system?

Twittered and Found: Organize all tweets regarding lost and found items, goods, and even pets. If you see a stray, just tweet the word out with a description and its whereabouts.

Plenty more ideas where those came from, although to be honest some of those ideas might already exist and I’m just too nearsighted to find them.

Renting Music December 11, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Morality, music, Perception, Tech, TV.
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As previously stated, I have a short, circular kind of attention span. Games come and go for me in an arc, which starts with mild curiosity, builds to an earth shaking hunger, then blazes into triumphant addiction for varying lengths of time, before sputtering out into ash and disdain 75% of the way through. Thus, a huge collection is not necessary for me, but getting ripped off by high-end pawn shops isn’t an appealing alternative. Gamefly (or any forthcoming competitor for that matter) is a great solution, because I get to play any game I want, basically when I want. I adopt a similar philosophy for music.

As someone who digitally came of age in the golden years of Napster and Kazaa, well, let’s just say we all did things we weren’t proud of back then. They were simpler times, what can I say? Now, I’m legit, though still short on means. The middle ground is a subscription to what I think of as music on demand, in the form of Rhapsody. I’ve used iTunes, of course, hasn’t everyone? But still, a dollar a song is pretty steep, regardless of what Doug Morris says. Anybody can do the math to see that for the 15 songs you buy in one month you could have gotten (mostly) unlimited downloads from any of the current competitor music stores, with the caveat that you don’t explicitly own the song. This is pretty much the future of entertainment, however, as most major networks have followed this model for their most popular shows (ad-supported rather than subscription based.) When bandwidth undergoes another paradigm shift over the next 10 years, and the line between computer and TV is blurred by the invention of new set-top boxes, consoles, and designer desktops, we’ll be getting all of our media this way.

The Vernacular of Heroes December 11, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Comics, Perception, TV.
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PetrellisGames and comics have a common characteristic: no matter how diverse the genres, level of quality, or creative talent behind them, repeated experiences will build a “vocabulary” of commonly used devices. This is how life long gamers can almost immediately decipher what on a given screen is interactive, or how a reader can easily follow comic panels with varying layouts. This even extends to within genre specific standbys and cliches, such as sniper rifles, loot, and super powers. The problem that faces Heroes is that the show must account for a large number of viewers who already know words like technopath, as well as a general audience completely naive of, say, the ins and outs of time travel.

While I think the writers handled this task quite well last season, that fact made it so much harder to see them lose their way in Volume 2. It’s not worth trying to point out the myriad examples of shoddy writing and plot holes. (Okay, just one: how do you manipulate a man who can read your mind?) I tried to isolate the general causes of this drop in quality, in the hope that the show could be saved through amputation.

1. Poor use of powers. Low budgets may account for the lack of special effects shots this season, but even the zero cost abilities saw little to no use in situations where they could be of great use (i.e. invisibility.) Obviously more time needs to go into considering what difficulties may assail the protagonists and the most logical way they would tackle said task. Also, do they even have a list of powers for Peter? It was definitely a mistake to give him the powers of anyone he comes into contact with, and I honestly think that if the show is to be saved, the prime-time viewing public is going to be introduced to one of the aforementioned comics staples: the retcon.

2. Lack of character development. Amnesia. Adolescent rebellion. Alternate personalities. In the museum of television, these things ought to have their own wings. Sometimes they can work, sometimes they are boring. Stagnant characters filled our screens this season, while a certain niece and uncle apparently just decided to have the same exact crises they’d had four months previously.

3. Sylar. I’ve previously gone on record saying Sylar isn’t evil. This was wishful thinking on my part, as the writers have turned what could have been something really unique into just another megalomaniac without a heart. Before, I saw madness, tragedy, hunger, and yes, even a chance for redemption in young Gabriel. Not rehabilitation, of course, but perhaps down the line some meaningful sacrifice could have brought him back from the dark hunger that transformed him overnight from a humble watchmaker into a wanton killer. Now this was the guy to give amnesia.

This is too long-winded, I could go on for pages. My main point was the show suffers because it’s like trying to translate an epic poem into junior-high reading level prose; the subtleties of the source format yield a far richer story when coupled with the experience of classical scholars. In the meantime, I feel like a history buff watching 300, unable to keep my mouth shut.

Ps: the good this season: Adam, Elle, and Matt freakin Parkman. How long after realizing he can control thoughts is he using it to brainwash his boss and rape dark secrets from people’s minds? So perfect. As long as Volume 3 follows this totally obvious and completely un-Professor X-ish descent, I’ll tune in every week.

Crime and Punishment November 19, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Games, Law, Morality, Perception, Tech.
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A politely incredulous anchor read this story on last Thursday’s Morning Edition:

Morning Edition, November 15, 2007 · A teenager faces charges of stealing furniture that doesn’t exist. The youth in the Netherlands was on one of those Web sites where you create virtual people to wander around virtual buildings spending what amounts to real money. You pay cash for credits to spend online. The 17-year-old allegedly stole $5,800 worth of imaginary furniture. Real police arrested him. They suspect other teens of receiving the stolen goods.

It’s a safe bet we’re talking about Second Life here. My own appreciation of Second Life has increased a bit since my last comment on the not-a-game, due mostly to a lecture I attended by The Tracer, a Second Life architect. So of course when I heard the wording of this story I was rather appalled by the seemingly “lighter side” slant of the reporting. What listeners will fail to realize, due in part to the sloppiness of the writing, is that “stolen goods” in SL are the valuable products of individuals, and that theft is not a part of gameplay, as a layman might assume from the tone of the story. I’ve heard some cool stuff on NPR about games in the past, but I guess they’re still alright with catering to the non-gamers in order to get a chuckle in between the real news.

My hall of fame… November 19, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Games, Perception.
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I was able to borrow Halo 3 from my brother this weekend while he went to visit his girlfriend. Like many other students I’ve talked to, the multiplayer component is only a small draw. Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely the most fun you’ll ever have being obliterated from across a map with pinpoint accuracy by someone who doesn’t remember the NES. So while I was curious about the fate of (most) people’s favorite super soldier, I wasn’t sure the single player game was going to be enough to earn my purchase, at least not with the other new opportunities available to me.

As it turns out, I never had to answer that question, since we ended up watching my girlfriend’s little brother* for the weekend. He and I immediately agreed to dig into the game together, tearing away as many meaty chunks of gameplay as we could in the limited time we had available. This was a good choice.

Obviously co-op has been a major component of the game throughout the series, and with good reason. Epic-scale battles with massive vehicles lends themselves well to the teamwork opportunities of a cooperative session, leading to a profound sense of satisfaction and camaraderie. Halo 3 achieves this to the greatest effect yet, thanks to the team-up of the Master Chief and the Arbiter. The game is then able to replace the somewhat nonsensical two MCs of past games with a logical and enjoyable juxtaposition of kindred spirits who can both play a part in the story.

The key “Aaah…” moment came when during a battle with a Scarab Tank, in which Pelican drop ships deploy ATVs with rocket launching marines perched on their backs. We wove figure eights around the massive machine while our passengers unloaded their payloads against the colossal war engine; we cheered at our success and the accuracy of the A.I. controlled gunners. While sharing the thrills of the battle, our enthusiasm spread into the game itself, and the marines became part of our experience. What started as a two-player game became an all out war, at least for us.

Out of body experiences are rare in games. Up until this weekend I’d only had the lurch of my stomach as I leaped from the Empire State Building in Spiderman 2, and the jerk of my limbs during QTEs in the Shenmue games. Now the adrenaline of Halo 3 co-op joins this rare list of gaming moments that let me transcend reality’s boundaries, if only for a moment.

What Looking Glass? October 17, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Games, Perception.
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HL2A New Media exercise: compare and contrast the differences in how you perceive A) a static, projected image of a hallway, B) viewing the hallway through a narrow window, and C) walking through that hallway.

A) Because the image is projected onto a screen, it relies on electricity and light to exist. If the electricity were cut off, the projected hallway would cease to exist. I can’t get into the image, I can’t modify the contents. It’s a linear communication from the projector, because every viewer sees the same hallway.

B) The window restricts my viewing to a certain range, but I can change my position relative to the window to increase, decrease, or change what I’m viewing. I can’t modify what’s beyond the window from my position in space, but people on the outside can and do affect what I see. This is a transactional communication because what you see depends on where and when you are looking.

C) Being inside the hallway itself fills your perception with the details of the space. I am free to change anything that I see fit and am physically capable of. I could even destroy the hallway if I had the strength.

So is a videogame, an fps like Half-Life 2 for instance, a projection, a window, or a hallway? The closest relative would be the window; even though you can interact with a virtual environment in a video game, you are still separated by the 4th wall, and that is the biggest difference between the window and the hall as well. Many dreamers like to imagine the possibilities of someday interacting with totally immersive game spaces, but I think our generation will be limited to those instances when games are brought to life.