Interesting Games Laboratory – iglab

A new initiative from the Pervasive Media Studio (currenly only with a Media Sandbox website) is the iglab.

I was a bit late, but the games were in full flow when I arrived. Simon Johnson was organising the evening and getting people to ‘swarm develop’ the games played. The focus was on ‘interestingness‘ than cunning technology and after each mini-play the assembled players were asked for ideas on how to improve the game they’d just played.

Only a couple of the Sandbox commissioned teams were present, Simon himself obviously, and the guys from ThoughtPie (flush from their national press coverage in the Guardian), but there were around 30 people which made for a pleasant buzz and enough people to have some players, some observers and lots of conversation around the edges on how to improve the games. Plus the wii was out, so plenty of stimulation for how to design, build and commercialise interesting games.

Bit of moblogging, bit of beer, a great mix of game developers, games research academics, and enthusiastic game players made for a good evening out and a healthly start to iglab.

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.

More from the Sandbox

I spent yesterday at the launch of the Sandbox, the upside there were lots of people in Waterside 3, possibly drawn by the £9k commissioning offer (but then only 24 admitted to having an idea to pitch and only 14 actually did). Ed Mitchell facilitated and did an excellent, if noisy job with various horns, cymbals and German songs about fish.

Th first activity was about networking and knowledge sharing. We’d each filled out a mini-profile on what we had to offer and what we were looking for. Copies of everyone’s profile were posted on the walls of Waterside 2 and you had to swap your profile with someone you didn’t know, and then take their profile and find them two people from those on the wall to network with. Quite sensibly no-one admitted to having or knowing anything about funding (over 50% on a rough eyeball count listed that as a ‘need’). Profiles returned to their rightful owners we set off to find those identified targets!

In the end I only found one person on the list of likely candidates, but in wandering around I got chatting to several folks that were either very close or had interesting ideas of their own.

There followed a wide discussion around what pervasive media was, with tables coming up with post-in notes of ideas. Dan Dixon & Pete Ferne then made a first cut aggregation of those ideas.

We were then invited to come forward if we wanted to pitch, or adjourn for coffee otherwise. I decided to take the plunge. 20min later I had an A2 sheet with a (very) badly draw storyboard (sorry Rich).
We had 90sec to describe the concept and Ed was being ruthless with the clock. There were a few game-type proposals (including the one I presented), a couple of location / mapping type ideas, a couple of event ideas and a couple that didn’t seem to be that related to media or pervasiveness at all.

Then followed a brutal ranking process where everyone in the room got to allocate votes to the ideas (each person had 4 blocks of 4, 3, 2 and 1 vote – they could be allocated in a whole block of ten or split between up to four ideas). My idea didn’t make it through the vote but since this wasn’t the commissioning process (yet) I wasn’t too disheartened. There followed a period where each idea was worked on to ‘improve’ it, before a final pitch to a volunteer panel. Watching the panel process I was doubly glad not have made it through as they were pretty brutal but it still wasn’t part of the commissioning.

The actual commissioning criteria were then worked on another group activity. This worked less well because each of the four groups had to come up with 5 criteria. These were keywords on post-it notes. Without a very clear understanding of the purpose of the Pervasive Media Sandbox, it was impossible to come up with a coherent set of criteria. There wasn’t unanimity over any of the criteria. These have now been consolidated into the ‘official’ criteria so we’ll have to see if the idea I was proposing still fits.

Stay tuned…

Playing in the Sandpit

Been a hectic couple of days, and it’s going to get busier. I found out on Sunday that someone dropped out of tomorrow’s launch of the Media Sandbox here in Bristol and I was let in.

There are quite a few initiatives flying around the field of pervasive media in Bristol. This funded sandbox to build new ideas, there’s the Mscapers two day festival/conference next Mon/Tues, murmurings about a collaborative studio supporting business, research and community (more on this later), and new companies starting up (more also later).

Will definitely be posting on the Sandbox event, hopefully posting on the development of a very cool new game, and this is a hot space to watch at the moment in Bristol.

Search Google – find other people’s Twitter posts!

[Update: Ok, seems this has been going on for a while. Though the twitter post below did relate to the thing I was searching for it didn’t actually give me a link to the conference. The reason I was searching was that Tom Morris had just twittered that they’d arrived in Bristol for the SWIG conference at HP Labs and I’ve got Bristol as a track term. Move along now, nothing to see.]

Sorry if this is old news to some but it’s the first time for me.

Twitter posts in Google search

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).

Reasons to hate the iPhone

Just seeing how strong the Jobs Reality Distortion Field really is. 🙂 And we did talk about the iPhone…

Last night’s Bristol SkillSwap relaunch at Goldbrick House had a new (for us) format with something Laura called ‘Talking Points’. 5 chairs, 4 people, discuss a topic, if you want to contribute you fill the empty chair and someone else has to leave. A bit slow starting but with an opening topic of (roughly speaking) ‘…is anyone (still) looking forward to CSS3‘ and a free bar courtesy of Siftware, things got up to speed pretty quick. Andy Budd from Clearleft in Brighton was the protagonist pointing out that CSS3 has been +10yrs in coming and still isn’t here.

There was a bit of a diversion about rounded corners and visual degradation and we never really got into the meat about what was better with CSS3.

There wasn’t a firm conclusion, except that if there are features that developers want to see, they should lobby the browser owners. It seems the W3C is set up to allow the incumbents to hold things up while they figure out the political and financial impact of any change. Despite falling market share, IE is still dominant and they’re not introducing any new features in a hurry for fear of breaking their existing bloatware.

Laura mentioned Safari coming to a future SkillSwap, so that’ll be a cool opportunity to hear their side of the story.

Elliot Jay Stocks from Carson Systems was up with should we support IE6? I think the beer was beginning to kick in as the discussion really picked up. Ultimately it came down to, if your clients’ target market are predominately using IE6 then you’re probably stuck with it. There were subversive ideas about intentionally degrading the web page for IE6 users but that was mainly left for personal pages and blog sites. According to Google Analytics, just over 52% of visitors here are on Firefox, 38% on IE and nearly 8% on Safari.

Matt Jones from Dopplr took the last slot on the eponymous iPhone. The displeasure was largely aimed at the demand for your attention that the iPhone makes of its believers. I’ve not used one (obviously) so this is all second hand but I can fully appreciate that you probably can’t just make a phone call, or listen to music, or surf the web without actively and completely focusing on the device and not the service. Leaving aside the potential iBrick upgrade – I’ll admit that I never ‘got’ the iPhone or the Mac fandom.

<disclosure>I am probably a HTC Fanboy, owning the XDA, XDA II and now XDA Exec, but they were all on O2 so I guess that cancels any geek cred I might have had.</disclosure>

My current HTC Universal is fine and only lacks built in GPS. WM6 isn’t the prettiest UI going but it does a good job of being a phone/MP3/MP4/Web/Office/etc service and the device doesn’t get in the way. The camera is a bit crap but then so are my artistic abilities.

All in all a fantastic evening, the iPhone thing was a great end to the proceeding.  I met Dan Hilton for the first time (his blog is not loading but there’s always Facebook), the conversation was lively and informed. Looking forward to the next SkillSwap!

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.