Halo 4 missions will be available in TV-episode style bursts

343, the developers of the next Halo trilogy, are in an interesting position. There’s almost no way that they’ll be able to meet the hype and public expectations of a new Halo release, especially the first major release since the original developers at Bungie moved on. 

BUT! 

They are doing some interesting things by smashing together the idea of DLC with the short burst storytelling expects of television episodes. Set six months after the main campaign, The Spartan Ops missions are 343’s attempt to create an ongoing narrative: 

…giving gamers the chance to experience arc-based storytelling delivered in the sort of regular episodic chunks that have been most successfully executed on TV.

Phil Harrison, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business division, sees the move towards a model based on TV rather than film as an important one…

“[We’re] speaking the same language from a production methodology, a storytelling perspective. You’ll see [that] we’re basically entering the episodic television industry with Spartan Ops. There’s a linear piece of content, and an interactive piece of content, and I think that’s a pretty interesting direction.”

(via Edge)

Especially interesting as gaming has become the poster child for other media to steal from when trying to evolve. 

What brands can learn from the psychology of game nostalgia

Over on The Psychology of Video Games blog, Jamie Madigan lays out the case that nostalgia is tied to social connections, which makes gaming much more nostalgic than other media:

If nostalgia is tied so closely to social connections and a sense of community, games have the potential to evoke it more than any other medium, because they are so inherently social and are becoming more so every year. Early games might have been shared experiences on the couch or via playground discussions in much the same way as movies or TV, but the majority of new games coming out this year will feature mechanics or tools that encourage players to share, compete, communicate, help, and socialise. The same can’t be said of music, movies, TV, or other common vessels of nostalgia. It seems that games might someday boost more moods than anything else in history.

To me, this underscores the importance of brands learning how to serve as a node that brings people together in interesting ways, and it think misunderstanding this could be at the root of a lot of failed digital experiences. Of course, bad ideas are bad ideas, no matter how social they are intended to be.

Coca-Cola on the correlation between winning at Cannes and winning in the market place

I think the most audacious belief lingering around the marketing and advertising industry is that people’s enjoyment of the creative work doesn’t really … well … matter. It seems ridiculous to even write it, but there are huge amount of people out there who actually think this way. The proof lies on your TV. It’s there right now if you go and look. But be careful, it’s brutal. No one should have to endure the horrors that lay hiding within the nooks and crannies of our content.

Which is why I was so glad to read this piece from an executive at Coca-Cola who espouses the importance of creative success in achieving commercial results. I’ve posted a bit of it here, but the whole piece is well worth a read.

The Coca-Cola Company at Cannes 2012 » Why Winning At Cannes Is Good For Our Business:

“I have long been an absolute believer in the correlation between outstanding creative success and outstanding commercial success. In this year’s marketing platform for Cannes Lions I am quoted as saying ‘If Cannes has taught me one thing, it is that creativity drives effectiveness. You can not have one without the other. That knowledge has been instrumental to my career. I have been going to Cannes for nearly 20 years and can’t help but notice that the client organizations recognized as Advertiser of the Year often enjoy periods of historic financial success at the same time. Let’s take a brief look at a few of them.

  • Volkswagen: Recognized as Advertiser of the Year in 2008. The same year that its share price grew 89% to 283 Euros. This most prolific period of stock market growth coincides precisely with its most prolific period of creativity. While it’s share price may have risen, causing some to decide against investing due to the higher cost, fractional share investing solutions, like that of SoFi, allows people to invest in their favorite brands without committing to the cost of a whole share, so this could be a good method for those looking to put money into Volkswagen.
  • P&G: Recognized as Advertiser of the Year in 2007 when its share price hit an all time high of $74.67, beating the S&P 500 by a country mile.
  • Honda: In 2006 Honda was awarded Advertiser of the Year for brilliant work like Cog and Grrr. During this time its share price was as high as $38.50 and its UK sales were up 28%. Wow.
  • Playstation: Was awarded Advertiser of the Year in 2005. Now, Playstation is a sub-division of Sony so we cannot isolate its share price. However, what we can do is isolate its sales. During that year it became the worlds biggest selling gaming console selling a record 100 million units.
  • BMW: Took the mantle of Advertiser of the Year in 2004. So rightly deserved when you consider the lasting legacy of BMW films (still held up by most as the breakthrough work taking advertising into long form content). As a result of this work, which ultimately landed them the award, BMW saw a sales increase of 12% and a stock price rise of 16%. This is huge, especially when you consider the turbulent, post 9/11 period.
  • Nike: In 2003, the same year that Nike was awarded Advertiser of the Year, Phil Night, CEO and Founder, wrote ‘’We decided to cross the threshold of 9/11. Eight months later we delivered a 14% increase in earnings and beat the S&P 500 by 45 points. Advertiser of the year was a defining moment. A Nike moment.’
  • Swatch: From 1999 – 2001 the S&P 500 did not grow a cent but Swatch reported it steepest growth period on record.”

Clearly the correlation between winning at Cannes and winning in the market place is compelling. That’s one of many reasons why The Coca-Cola Company places a premium on creative excellence. It is simply makes sound business sense. The creative industries and client organizations are in a co-dependent relationship – we need each other. As Phil Thomas, CEO of Cannes Lions, puts it: ‘‘The Advertiser of the Year award is presented to advertisers who have distinguished themselves for the inspiring, innovative marketing of their brands and who embrace and encourage the creative bravery of the creative work produced by their agencies.’’

(hat tip to John Gibson)

Making Social Interactions Playable

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People often say that porn and sites like www.tubev.sex are what drives innovation in technology, but I disagree. Don’t get me wrong, I think sites like that are great and they do drive technology forward, but I think that video game development is going to continue to be more and more a technology incubator … especially as more money and research is thrown towards gaming innovation.

Traditionally, gaming has been focused on physical interactions like jumping and shooting, because that was the only way to make a game dynamic enough to enable interesting gameplay. However, as technology has continued to become better at handling complex interactions, and game developers have become frustrated with the scripted dialog trees that govern the behavior of most non-player characters in games, a number of game devs have begun shifting their attention towards pushing the social physics of gaming to a point where social interactions can become a dynamic, playable experience.

A group of PhD students at UCSC (I think?) has spent the last two years working on a game completely based on social interactions: Prom Week.

Prom Week is a social simulation game where the player shapes the lives of a group of highschool students in the most dramatic week of their highschool career.

Basically the idea is to figure out how to manipulate the non-player characters in the game in order to achieve goals. The character’s designs and reactions are the output of over 5,000 social considerations.

On the simple end, these considerations capture concepts such as being more likely to do something nice to someone if you’re friends with them. On the complex end, the considerations handle situations like a friend spending a lot of time with someone you’re not friends with, combined with the fact that your friend hasn’t spent much time with you lately, causing you to get jealous and making it more likely you’ll be clingy with your friend.

Additionally, the social actions play out with many dialog and effect variations depending on the characters involved and their traits, statuses and histories, using template-based natural language generation to create dialog fitting the situation. And to top it all off, social actions always have lots of repercussions across multiple characters, creating a dynamic social landscape for the player to navigate.

Meanwhile, a game called The Seven Fables has been kickstarted with more funding than they required for the project, so they are looking into ways to add conversational characters using chatbot technology (learn more about chatbots at https://botpress.io/learn/how-to) that they’ve previously worked with. Says Mark Stephens Meadows about the importance of characters to story:

Stories are almost always about people. Narrative’s core is about personalities: people, interactions, society, desire, fear, love, weakness. These are the building blocks of narrative and without people in a story it becomes more an exploration of architecture than a drama or adventure. That’s what IF is often about. Sure, it’s fun to poke around in a dungeon and discover doors that open and close. But I find that hearts that open and close are far more interesting.

He goes on to describe the problem with designing chatbots. They lack context.

They’re like abandoned people, homeless wanderers, that awkwardly roam the streets, looking for conversation. “Hi! My Name Is Bob! How Are You Today?” a chatbot might say. I dont want to talk with these chatbots. They’re drek, informational bums. Just like a person walking up to you on the street saying the same thing. “Hi! My Name Is Bob! How Are You Today?” I would do my best to politely brush him off and just keep walking down the street.
But if there’s a design and narrative component to this then it starts to get interesting. If, for example, I see a small green man with dragonfly wings sitting on a post office box, asking me to open it because his faerie-wife is trapped inside, then I’m far more inclined to talk with him than the guy named Bob. Chat is not interesting simply because it is chat. It has to have a context. Chatbots are boring largely because they lack that context. NPCs / NPGs and chatbots should be given a context that allows them to serve a function. Give the bums a job.

They are looking to address this issue by combining the traditional, top-down method of pre-scripting a series of possible questions and responses for the character, with a bottom-up, learning method like he describes here:

In 2007, my company HeadCase had developed some technology that showed how a personality could be distilled from a conversation. We did it with Arnold Schwarzenegger. We were using ‘scrapers’ – an automated system that would traverse websites, search for first-person interviews, drag those back into a database, snap off chunks of the interviews that were relevant to similar topics, ideas, and categories, and then rank that stuff according to frequency. Then we asked the system a question. So, for example, we asked the Arnold Schwarzenegger system, “What do you think of gay marriage?” and it answered, “Gay marriage should be between a man and a woman, and if you ask me again I’ll make you do 500 push-ups.”

To me this suggests the beginnings of the ability to interact naturally with people that sci-fi writers have written into robots for decades. But it’s not happening in robotics labs, it’s happening by people trying to push the limits of gameplay from physical conflict to a more interesting space that makes use of rich and emergent social physics.