One of the things that’s apparent in this first generation of Wii titles is that many developers have underestimated how much attention needs to be given to instructing the user in how to hold and move the controller. Static icons don’t cut it anymore; you’ve got to have animation, and even then it takes some finesse, as simply playing a loop of the controller being waved around can still be confusing if the loop point itself unintentionally conveys some kind of gesture.
The best in-game controller tutorials I’ve seen to date are in the upcoming title Zack & Wiki. They actually show a little 3D animated guy (upper body only) holding the remote, along with text prompts. Seems like overkill at first, but it’s actually great because you not only pick up on controller movement, you also get posture and timing. When necessary, they can also switch to a first person view of the figure, or even a “disembodied hand” view to aid with object manipulation. Check out some videos of the interface in action, the game does look pretty fun.
I wonder, though, you think they’ll let you customize the guy’s skin color? I’m assuming he’s not a character in the game but is supposed to represent some kind of abstracted ideal human, which opens up a whole set of issues… many of which Anne Friedberg and I also ran into when picking silhouettes for The Virtual Window Interactive (and which we tried to skirt by letting users create their own). Gestural interfaces are increasingly going to require representation of the human form to explain, so whose form do we represent? Do we need an interactive 3D update to the 1974 AIGA/DOT symbol system?
Scratching the surface. What else belongs here?
I spent Saturday in Venice at LAFlashapaloozastock 2, a combination seminar/schmoozefest/job fair put on by the wonderful folks at LA Flash. If you’re in the LA area, have any interest in Flash and haven’t hooked up with this group yet, you’re missing out on a great community.
My introduction to LA Flash came last year, when I managed to snag a presenter slot at JobStock ‘06, a networking event where local Flash talent did three-minute presentations of their work alongside presentations from studios seeking flashers. I was immediately struck by the warmth of the community and especially its openness to people with a wide range of skill sets. Flash by nature has an extremely diverse user base in terms of expertise, and it’s a great to see a community that does such a good job catering to newbies as well as to more experienced folks.
The highlights of the day for me were presentations by Sam Rivello on building a custom blitting engine in Flash, and a talk by Aaron Simpson of Cold Hard Flash on the history of Flash character animation, including his Flash Animation 10, a survey of the most influential online Flash shorts and a welcome bit of cultural perspective.
At the end of the presentations they raffled off a Wii, an Apple TV, and a bunch of other good stuff…
...and the tacos were delicious!
[ image from ccharlton on flickr ]
The Wii retains its aura of hipness, even eight months after the launch. Perhaps this is in part because the consoles themselves are still hard to find, but I suspect this continuing enthusiasm speaks beyond scarcity to address a whole host of compelling stories we’re longing to tell ourselves about high technology. Some see in the Wii the redemption of videogaming from couch-potatoism. Some see the invigoration of a industry in a creative slump. Some see the quicksilver of cool. Some see profit, some see fun. Some see a fad.
My own favorite story to tell about the Wii is the way it’s going to make possible an entirely new category of popular interactive art. I think that in the Wii a remarkable opportunity to broaden the reach of experimental interactivity has been almost literally dropped into our palms. Its celebrated controller is a brilliantly hybridized design that combines familiar and unfamiliar in a way which disrupts conventional expectations and creates a void into which the general public now expects experimentation to make consistent appearance. Not an insignificant achievement.
Nintendo is also teaching millions of people to judge interactivity qualitatively in ways they may not have considered before. It’s a short step for a Wii user to go from honing their gestures in WiiSports to thinking of themselves as a performer in a more explicitly artistic context. It’s all about the how—and what the controller does so beautifully is to decouple the how from hardcore training, which is what interactive “entertainment” feels like to many people. How no longer has to be only about adopting the hypertensive posture of the gamer in constant pursuit of decreased response time. How just got bigger.
Looking at the current crop of Wii titles, however, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the new How was an odd mix of play-acting, general goofiness and mostly failed attempts to one-up the hardcore. I enjoy many of these titles myself, but a quick search on the net reveals something of the real promise of this technology put to work in experiments which are not running on the Wii console, but through various hacks and workarounds that open its motion-sensitive capabilities to musicians, DJs, VJs, artists and others. (In fact, an entire sub-genre of online video has cropped up consisting of Wiimote-wielding geeks demonstrating their prowess in front of monitors glowing with a fresh hack—a sub-genre to which I was gratified to make my own contribution last week.)
I think it would be unfortunate if development inspired by the Wii continued to grow solely along these bifurcated paths. Most of the artists experimenting with the Wiimote are making tools for themselves or for other artists; many of the game developers are stumbling over each other trying to appeal to markets they haven’t historically been interested in. This leaves room for the contributions of those who see in the Wii something they’ve been waiting on for a long time, perhaps without even knowing it. Maybe their way, like the Wiimote itself, will be a hybrid combination of familiar and unfamiliar, old and new, common and uncommon.
I can’t wait to find out.
I’m an Apple fanboy from way back. When I was a kid my parents used to take me to the LO*OP Center, whose founder, Liza Loop, was the lucky recipient of the first Apple I directly from Woz himself. Soon after we bought an Apple II+ and…
Well, anyway, I’ve been as fascinated as anyone by the iPhone, but have managed to keep any out-and-out technolust to a minimum. Until today, that is, when I read the most in-depth review of the iPhone I’ve yet seen, from AppleInsider. It’s quite a lengthy piece, but what really caught my eye was the discussion of the user interface on page four:
This device is so full of unnecessary interface embellishments that it appears to be the work of artisan crafters working to impress the world with their witty creative wizardry rather than a corporation scheming to earn money and market share. It simply does not feel possible that the iPhone should exist, but here I am holding it in my hand.
And that’s the sweet spot. Apple’s really good at telling this particular story (and of course they are scheming to earn money and market share). It seems like the iPhone shouldn’t exist, but the fact that it does means that you, the user, were right. All those other phones you had a hard time using? Well, they were wrong, and you were right. And this object is the evidence of your rightness.
It’s not just an Apple thing, though. My favorite art, the stuff that really knocks my socks off, always seems to give me that same feeling.