Interactive Storytelling – Immersive Film and Gaming

Interactive Storytelling – Immersive Film and Gaming

Last year I wrote an article on interactive storytelling and the future agency. Within the article, I hit on an idea for immersive gaming and how that could interact with film. I’ve added to that idea here, expanding on it and adding thoughts on projects out there, that are already heading in that direction. In addition, I’ll be concentrating on gaming and film, rather than including the usage in the advertising world.

For those of you that have already read my aforementioned article, you’ll recognize some of this, but keep reading, as there’s new stuff.

Interactive movies are becoming more popular. This includes both online and also offline applications, such as trials for interactive cinema. How does this affect storytelling, both on and off-screen?

How do we now write for the potential multiple story arcs and how do we start to embrace real interactivity for marketing clients? How do hardware elements such as MS Kinect and web cams change the way we look at interaction? Remember, interactive storytelling in this case is not limited to the digital world.

With the drive in story telling and technology, we can now see a clear view of how we can push towards a more immersive experience. This doesn’t have to stop at film and games; in fact they become the same thing. Isn’t it a possibility that we can now start really getting people to interact with products? What’s stopping us from creating full web series or stories based on a product, or product set?

With the connectivity of mobile, online, social and indeed above the line, there is no reason not to use all of these in partnership to create something fully immersive. The possibility for games, movies and campaigns to become interactive through any medium, is something that we should be looking at.

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Perhaps it’s time for film to take the next step into fully interactive and even virtual territories.  We’ve seen this in film for a number of years. Movies like ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Johnny Mnemonic’ and novels by the likes of William Gibson and W.T. Quick, have given us a teasing look into what these virtual worlds within ‘cyberspace’ could be like. TV shows, like ‘Caprica’ have given us a view of how we could interact with others through our own avatars, in a virtual world. The fact of the matter is most, if not all of the technology, is now available for this next step.

This can all come together with an immersive platform. We can start to give real interaction to people, both online and in the non-digital world. Let’s take a look at some of the more practical elements first. Interaction has always been there, whether it be face-to-face, through social networks, or through games it doesn’t really matter, it’s all around us. Essentially it’s nothing new to any of us. An immersive platform would be a facilitator, a connecting bridge between all of the touch points.

Where are we now?

Let’s see how the idea is progressing, by looking at an interesting example. ‘Defiance’ is a new TV show, that the creators have linked up with a video game release. The basis for both is a sci-fi story, based in the year 2046, where aliens and humans are living together. That aside, the game and the show live together as well and in parts will affect each other.

Sounds very interesting and we’ll see how that works out soon, as the show begins on April 15th. One of the interesting things that the creators have done, is put together a great cast. With established actors, such as Grant Bowler, Jaime Murray, Julie Benz, Mia Kirshner, Stephanie Leonidas, Nicole Munoz, Graham Greene and Tony Curran, there’s already a large fan base available and plenty of chance of that growing through the gaming world. The game itself looks superbly done, from what I’ve seen. Graphically it does a great job of capturing the world and the characters, which will add, no doubt, to the in-game excitement and enjoyment. Sci-fi is a great genre to enter this joint-media idea. Fans are loyal and with the Cosplayers becoming more prevalent in the convention world and online, there are many avenues for fantasy and sci-fi stories. To take a look at the ‘Defiance’ experience, visit the website (Not now…later!) http://www.defiance.com

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These are great steps towards an immersive environment, for both media. However, hopefully it’s only the beginning. From here, how can we expand the idea further, to completely immerse the consumer? How about social networks? How about mobile?

We are Detective

Let’s take an example platform, so that we can trace the path of immersion, if you like. We start of course, with a story. With the immersive platform, you don’t necessarily need to stick to a particular genre. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument and entertainment, ours is a detective story. We have our hero, the experienced and clever detective, who has a difficult case to solve. We introduce the viewer to our lead and his conundrum, through a piece of video on our platform. We realize by the end of the piece, that they need help in solving the mystery and we can be the ones to help them.

How could we help? Well the first thing a good detective would do is look at the evidence and look for clues. We’ve been given the details of the key players; so let’s take a look at what we have. We have the video and its contents. We have the names of the players. We have access to the local newspaper (Fictional and attached to the platform). Now aside from any local news, where else would we look? Well, where would we go on the Internet? What sites and services would we use? We search on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and we find clues, we find accounts used by the victims, by the villains, by the suspects and we pick up detail that helps us give direction to the story.

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We head back to our platform with a new wealth of knowledge and choose our path, based on what we’ve found. Have we found enough? We don’t know right now and nor would our hero. We watch the next piece of film, moving us along the story. But… There’s always a ‘but’, right? We need to go, we can’t stay at home on our desktop, but we want to continue the experience. The platform allows us to take it with us. We use our mobile devices and we continue to work on our evidence and in fact on our story. It’s our story too now, as we’re making decisions along the way.

The Mobile World

We’re lucky at the moment with today’s technology, because we are becoming more and more mobile. From mobile phones to tablets, we have the opportunity to embrace our online lives outside of our desktop environment. This means that we can now converse whilst on the move, with a richer interface and experience.

Any interaction we have with a movie, or game could be extended to the mobile world, augmenting the stories through AR applications, or extensions.

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A good example would be to use an AR piece, as an extension of our immersive experience. We could be given a co-ordinance in our local area, where we go to find some information. Once there, we could trigger the AR piece, to show us the next piece of data we need. This could be through heads-up style display, or even in the form of an AR game. For an advertising agency, this is a prime opportunity for engagement. The location could be a client store, or something similar. Perhaps something that the consumer will see, or interact with.

The AR piece can be triggered with a simple photo application within the game, or even a QR code, to get the user moving to the next stage. AR experiences have grown a lot over the past few years and we’ve seen stars like Robert Downey Jr. get involved with a piece for Esquire magazine and Rihanna for NIVEA. Over the next year or so, we’re about to see the next stage for augmented reality.

Google have taken a big step in this direction with their ‘project glass’, as it’s now known. During 2013 we’ll be able to buy the Google glasses that will enable us to view a real heads-up display of maps and other data. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t look to integrate this into the experience and indeed, there are already many clones announced that will hopefully give the product a wider usage.

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The final step for our experience is in this strange ‘real world’ that we just entered. Yes, for those with a blinkered view of online life, we should allow real interaction. Part of the immersive experience could led by events, perhaps for the finale of a game, the last scene of a film. The consumers could meet and even sit down in an interactive theater to watch it all play out. In Korean several interactive theaters are being tested. We’re not talking about a Disney 4D, where the audience are sprayed with water, for example – Lord knows what they’d do if they produced a 4D Star Wars film! Doesn’t bear thinking about, really. But I digress – What we are talking about is having the audience participate in the movies with mobile devices, to make decisions in the films. Perfect for the immersive platform.

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Where do we go from here?

So what’s the future for engagement and interaction? Many years ago, we experimented with virtual reality and how we could become ‘part’ of an experience, in a virtual environment.  This was pretty much brushed to the wayside, as the technology just wasn’t good enough to fulfill people’s ideals. However, things have moved on and there’s a good possibility that full interactive and virtual experience are on the way.

Universities have now started 3D avatar modeling of people. How have they taken influence from movies and how will this change story telling across all media in the future? It’s always an interesting thing to consider. The futures portrayed in the movies are becoming closer and closer. Well some of it. I still look out of the window Christmas morning, hoping to see my new flying car. No luck there, yet.

The fact is, there are a multitude of technologies waiting to be exploited by us, so why not use them whether they’re on or offline. We should be looking toward connecting the consumer to everything, to the client, to each other and to the stories that we can tell.

The future agency will be more of an overall facilitator, rather than just a marketing and advertising outlet. They will become more fully ingrained in the client’s world and be a source of knowledge and inspiration to those who hire them.

Let’s take our earlier example to run with and imagine that we’re a company. Let’s imagine that our company has the idea of a future immersive gaming and film platform. Where would we begin? We would begin with research. Research across the world of film and gaming, which incidentally, are two of the richest businesses in the world. Research would be completed for each and every element, from genre popularity to sales. The outcome of the research would be the determination of which direction the new platform would head and if the platform was indeed viable.

Once we’ve established that we’re correct in assuming that the platform is something that is viable, we would take a look at the technology involved and the platforms used. Where do people interact and consume? What do they do, when they’re there? The reason these questions need to be asked, is that the future of interaction and entertainment may well be something much more ‘involved’ on our new platform than just playing an interactive game, as an example. People will be able to interact with product, they will be able to interact with other people, and they will be able to consume information, all whilst interacting with the game and movie itself.

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Consumer interaction is now wide spread across many platforms, as we know. Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites have definitely changed the way that we interact with each other, but we also have to consider where we interact. Realistically our interactions spread across many platforms, from verbal communication to mobile and those social networks. Why not create a platform, so that consumers can interact across all of those? Some games are already doing this to a certain degree; games such as World of Warcraft and Call of Duty give the user the ability to interact with each other during the game play. This goes further, though. We would look at creating a platform that was portable. Something that the consumer could use via desktop, mobile, in live situations and even virtually. We’ve discussed this already, so we won’t dwell on the detail, however who better placed to build and implement these phases, than the future agency?

To be, or not to be…Open Source

The next phase in to establish the hardware and OS needed. With the hardware, we’re going to be looking at multiple devices, but with the option to use only one, or a combination, if need be. Would we want to create a physical product? Would we want to give the consumer the ability to own a piece of kit that would give them all of the functionality in one unit, or would we look to provide a platform that products could use? Would we want to create a proprietary product?

One of the most successful companies in this arena is Apple. However, Apple had something that most new companies don’t, which is the long time experience of creating product and the software that it runs. They come from a design and build background, from creating machines with parts in a garage, using software or an OS that already existed. That changed when they wanted the OS to do more, so they wrote their own, to match their products. With console gaming, each company creates their own hardware to run the games on and then relies on gaming manufacturers to write their games for that console. Each console is limited then, by the development of those games. In addition, the proprietary console is limited in its usage across other platforms. Microsoft have had some success with XBOX Live, where gamers can interact on the internet and MS promised the additional ability to carry those games, or at least part of them, to mobile devices. Unfortunately, we haven’t really seen this happen. Both Microsoft and Nintendo have extended gaming out to the physical world with Kinect and Wii respectively, but we’re all waiting for the next stage of interaction.

For a number of years, there has been a big push for open source. This could be the deciding factor in how our immersive platform would exist. A platform that is designed in such a way, that it can be hosted in one place, but allow manufacturers to get involved to create their own products for use in the new environment. It could allow storytellers, filmmakers and game developers alike, to create their own worlds for the consumer to interact with. For these storytellers, it could provide an outlet, not only for their work to be viewed, but to be fully engaged with and extended. It would give them the opportunity for their work to really ‘live’.

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The time is now

So what are we waiting for? Let’s get moving and create an immersive environment that not only encompasses film and gaming, but also moves into social, mobile and real life. The technology is out there and it’s a logical direction for us to go. The time is now.

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About Eamon Wyse - Award Winning Screenwriter/Producer and Production Director @writefilmdesign

Award Winning Screenwriter/Producer and Production Director @writefilmdesign

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