Sandbox winners announced

We put a submission in but were unsuccessful so well done to everyone.

There’s an interesting mix of ideas. Personally I can’t wait to see what HMC and Aardman come up with on Ani-mates. Harmonize sounds like a hyped-up Treasure Hunt or Challenge Annika and I’m sure that Power-to-the-People has been done several times before including the chap that lets you control his Christmas lights in aid of Celiac, amongst others. I like the idea of Happy Packages, so long as it doesn’t degenerate into Facebook poking everywhere, all the time; but then maybe that’s what makes most people most happy most of the time… 🙂

I’m not quite sure what Swarm and Happy Town are out to achieve but I’m sure it’ll be interesting. Full list on the Media Sandbox site.

More news to follow, plus each project has it’s own project blog / journal to watch.

Pervasive Media planning

Following the Pervasive Media Sandbox event last week (photos here, there’s even one of me and the idea), I met up with Richard from Mobile Pie about the idea I presented and am intending to submit.

We kicked a few options around and came up with a couple of tweaks that should get a functioning open-beta ready within the time (and funding) available. We’ll also have the foundation for something much bigger.

So now there’s 44hrs to the submission deadline. Time to get editing (only 100 words per section of the application form so every word counts).

Money for everyone, if you can get through the tape

I spent a couple hours last Tues at a 3CR event as part of the Creative Technology Network learning about new and recent funding announcements.

Nigel Derrett k (CEO, 3CR) kicked things off with an overview of the latest Technology Strategy Board’s Autumn 2007 funding competition.
There are 8 subject areas, first 3 open now; Phase 2 opens on 19 Dec and closes 27 March, it includes Low carbon Energies.
Phase 3 opens on 30 Jan, closes 8 May, with two areas of potential interest;
– Gathering data in complex environments
– Creative industries

More information (though not much) is available from BERR: the information on the Phase 2 and 3 calls is very scant. BERR are asking for input on what the funding should go towards so now is the time to contact them and make the case for where to spend our money!

Mustafa Rampuri (Project Manager, 3CR) gave an overview of European Framework Programme 7 (FP7) call for Intelligent Content and Semantics in about 10 min. Well actually he ran through a mass of links and information but you can’t sensibly cover the whole 32 billion Euro, multi-modal, thematic, cross-cutting, etc thing that is FP7 in less than a couple days, but he did a pretty good job.

Geraint Jones (Project Manager, 3CR) introduced the new Digital Communications Knowledge Transfer Network
Launched last Thursday with joint directors in Dr Richard Nicol & Prof Mike Short. The network has funding of £3m over 3yrs but doesn’t appear to have much resource for additional prototyping or research? It seems to come down to a networking and soft-lobbying on TSB funding – lots of events but no projects. I guess if it can influence the Tech Strategy Board into allocating funding then that’s a good thing.

This could be a possible model for future networks (we’re expecting announcements for Creative KTN in Jan).

Beyond the Console

I was at the Creative Technology Network event last Thursday: Beyond the Console.

Toby Barnes from Pixel-Lab kicked things off with a very brief overview of some South West Screen sponsored research on the Games Industry in the SW (not yet on Pixel-Lab, SW Screen or CTN websites).
Toby noted that the 5 year technology shift (PS, PS2, PS3 etc) makes for a very distruptive development cycle. There is very little other than basic principles that can be carried from one platform to the next, a huge barrier for small developers. Examples of disruptive (and expensive) changes were increased photo realism & development assets, improved AI, etc, (Toby was going quite quickly so I missed some detail).

Interestingly Toby noted that across the UK games sector there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of separate companies; 400 – 150 companies in few years – but that more people are now employed in the sector than before.

New business models were touched upon (and discussed in the Open Spaces session at the end of the event), especially the download market for consoles and increasingly episodic design. Despite the event title, the work Toby had been asked to undertake was concentrated on the main console platforms and so there was little data from this report on casual gaming & mobile / micro games as a sector in the SW.

The perennial issue of businesses in the SW choosing not to be more successful (Life style businesses) came up again, but coupled with the proposition that to be successful they’d have to leave the South West.

Best quote of the event (can’t remember direct context but I think it was linked to the meat grinder approach to big budget console games that replace game play with more detailed graphics and explosion effects, and thus why sticking to smaller casual games): Developing games that are actually fun!

Darius Pocha of Enable talked about their work on building a branded campaign in Second Life, mainly for the WWF conservation island (conserving Panda bears, not aging wrestlers as Darius pointed out). 🙂

In a slightly surreal moment Darius was describing the use of the fairly recent introduction of VOIP to Second Life being used by BBC Radio One to host an ‘outside’ broadcast on WWF stage.

One good point (I thought) was the point that traditional brands shout really loudly about how good they are and ‘better = louder’; Darius condends that this doesn’t work in the ‘brave new web 2.0, social networks, virtual world thingy’ ; you can’t replicate RL online.

Darius closed with two slides showing technology developments in console games on the last 5-10 years (going from a handful of pixels representing a car with wheels, to the super-photo-realistic-first-person perspective) and asked; what happens when you factorup the development in consols to virtual worlds?

Phil Stenton of HPLabs on mscape

Much of this was describing the potential of immersive and pervasive media. One interesting proposition was that WOW was the new golf – as much about turning up and chatting with your friends as with slaughtering orcs. Ended with plug for the planned Pervasive Media College.

Hazel Grian of Licorice Film on producing an Alternative Reality Game
Much of Hazel’s short presentation looked at Meigeist, a ARG in Bristol over summer that was by accounts very popular. I had a quick dabble but never really got into the game. One question that came up from several audience members was if anyone had made a commercial ARG that you could sign up for like a Murder mystery weekends (which are popular here in the UK at least)? The consensus was that, for the moment at least, ARG’s are the domain of art projects and advertising driven brand strategies.

Steve Hinde ran the Ideas Generator based on Open Space which was great but a lot of people seemed to dissapear after the second session and before the ‘serious’ networking began. My excuse was Open Coffee was starting down the bar. 🙂

Launch of Creative Technology Network

Last night was the launch of the CTN here in Bristol at the Watershed. The keynote (which was fully packed out) came from Michael B Johnson from Pixar.

I’m not sure if Michael’s talk will be up on the CTN or Watershed sites as he had been told by Pixar not to allow recording (so this is from memory rather than live notes). The main points that really resonated was the instruction to ‘fail fast’ and iterate quickly towards a great movie. Josh has a great post on the ‘Fail cheap, fail fast, learn & move on‘ approach from a VC perspective. Ewan has a great cross-over post on the approach (or lack thereof) in education. Michael went in to some detail about how they used technology to allow them to creatively generate new plot nuances and stories that could then be refined, whittled, mashed, etc into the final story. Each film gets made twice, once in story and once for ‘real’. The software that Michael and his small team address pain points in the creative process and redistributed the power in intelligent ways. One example allowed the story artists to very quickly sketch directly into a time line to generate roughly edited scenes with their drawings. This got over a pain point (scanning in hand drawn sketch frames so they could be digitally edited) and sensibly redistributed power so that the artists could create a story (which they wanted to do) and the editors got much richer and complete material to refine (which they wanted), and Pixar got to a compelling story much quicker and with less tension between these key people in the process. Win-win-win; everyone’s a winner!

He also talked about the artists in developing story that had four talents;

  1. draws really well
  2. draws really fast
  3. works well with others
  4. always has another idea

There was a load more other great stuff (including footage from Ratatouille, early rushes from the Incredibles, and some interesting voice casting for Buzz Lightyear).
In Q&A someone asked about the divide between creatives and technologists and Michael pointed out that there wasn’t a divide. Great software developers (in his opinion and the general consensus during drinks afterwards) was that great coders can code/develop really well, really fast, are good in a team and always have another idea/option/suggestion. The audience was (from what I could tell) a typically Bristol mix of technology researchers from BBC, HP, Bristol & UWE, independent film & screen, digital media, entrepreneurs and social enterprises. I had a really great chat with Tom Alcott (Social Network Company) about the use of social network mapping to improve internal business operations and also about his partner Katie’s social enterprise Frank Waters.