"Take a break from your computer! Download, print and build your own pinhole camera. Follow the instructions and enjoy!" Beautiful.
I love Jeff Bridges as a photographer, and his pictures from the Iron Man set are no exception.
"Mathematically speaking, “Napoleon Dynamite” is a very significant problem for the Netflix Prize. Amazingly, Bertoni has deduced that this single movie is causing 15 percent of his remaining error rate; or to put it another way, if Bertoni could anticipate whether you’d like “Napoleon Dynamite” as accurately as he can for other movies, this feat alone would bring him 15 percent of the way to winning the $1 million prize."
"In a detailed technical feature with sample code, Team Bondi programmer Claus Höfele delves into the practical steps for your users to get gameplay footage automagically uploaded online." Good that this stuff is being published. This kind of stuff really isn't that difficult; the hard bit is recording footage from your game or framebuffer; the rest of the process is trivial, and hopefully coverage on sites like Gamasutra will help publicise this kind of interaction.
"The point in pointing out these numbers, since we’re throwing out analogies to films and videogame innovation, is that it seems that no matter how well a movie is interpreted as “innovative” by a reviewer, the truest mark of success lies in its ability to inure itself with the consumer." No. Commercial success is just one kind of success, and films like Eraserhead have had a far greater impact on young filmmakers than any amount of box-office smashes. The real rarities are films such as the Godfather or Citizen Kane, which manage to be box-office smashes and innovative masterpiece.
"Anytime I hear the alpha futurist-y featurists get all excited about some kind of idea for how the new ubicomp networked world will be so much more simpler and seamless and bug-free, I want to punch someone in the eye. They sound like a 5 year old who whines that they want a pink pony for their birthday." Julian has ubicomp fail.
Satoru Iwata interviews the product designer and producer behind the Wii Fit balance board. There's some interesting stuff on the prototyping process on the second and third page of the interview.
There’s been some really interesting posts on the games blogs recently about the relationship between the player, their character, and the game’s camera. Obvious highlights include Mitch Krpata’s recent post about cameras, and his follow-up, about the camera’s implementation in EA’s Dead Space. In his first post, Krpata outlines the issues:
In a game, there are three entities sharing control of the experience: the player, the camera, and the character. The difference [between games and eg. books] is that these don’t exist on a straight line. They all overlap, like a Venn diagram. In a first-person shooter like Half-Life, the player, the camera, and the character are all the same. In a third-person action-adventure game like God of War, the camera and the player are distinct, but the player and the character are mostly one and the same. In a strategy game like Warcraft, the player and the camera are the same, but the characters are on their own.
Krpata in turn was responding to Corvus Elrod’s excellent series of posts about the camera in gaming. In one, Corvus comments:
…it’s only a matter of time before someone turns their artistic attention to the video game camera and implements a system so risky, so rewarding, so compelling, that it changes the vocabulary of game cameras forever.
Vocabulary is an interesting word; an important part of the process of understanding an issue is finding a way to express it, and I think a lot of the vocabulary of games-cameras is currently derived from cinema. We need to move towards a game-native vocabulary for cameras, and whilst something might change that vocabulary forever, I think it might be a slower, more evolutionary process.
And that all leads me to the post I wanted to write about originally, which is about a single thing the camera does in Alone In The Dark.
I recently downloaded the demo of Alone in the Dark (hereafter AITD) from Xbox Live, mainly because I was curious about the game: its review scores were all over the place, and the best I could ascertain from the forums was that it was very much a thing of shreds and patches.
The demo confirms that. It veers from moments of brilliance (in terms of graphics engine and interaction design) to appalling control implementations and awkward combat. The in-coat inventory is a classic example – it’s a beautiful interface, and really appropriate, totally ruined by the way you manipulate it. It’s hard to call a game that takes so many risks bad, but it falls on its face in many areas. I’m really not sure I could face playing the whole thing.
But. There’s always a but. And in this case, it was something the game does with the camera that is so daring, so brilliant, I couldn’t help but be impressed.
The game begins in a first-person perspective. Your character is somewhat groggy, having been kidnapped, and his vision has a habit of blurring. The only way to clear it is to blink, an action performed by clicking the right thumbstick. In the first five minutes, you do a lot of blinking.
This is cute, but it isn’t the thing that impressed me.
After the initial sequence, you eventually come across a mirror, and the game jumps to a cut-scene, viewed from the third person, where your character sees himself in the mirror. The camera pans around him, taking him in, as he admits that he has no idea who he is. He doesn’t recognise the man in the mirror.
Then, you realise the cutscene is over, and the game has jumped to a third person perspective.
That’s what I thought was brilliant: the idea of tying the camera into the narrative like that. You’re only allowed to see your character when the character has finally seen himself; the perspective shift represents the amnesiac Carnby seeing himself for the first time. From this point on, you can toggle between first and third person (and you tend to do it a bit – certain actions are easier from each perspective), and the action loses its significance. But the first time it happens, it’s a real surprise, and it’s really smart: the game’s interface reflects the character’s understanding of himself.
That feels like a game-native understanding of camera: the idea that camera can be something that helps to express the seams between the player and the character. Which is, of course, what the camera in games is: a kind of boundary object between the player and the character.
"…then, after destroying his nano-network, as an admonition to the audience, extended [Arthur C Clarke's metaphor]: 'Any truly advanced technology is indistinguishable from garbage.'" Excellent summary of what sounds like a wonderful GDC Austin keynote from Bruce Sterling.
"'What we've done in MMOs and what we tend to lean toward is building an enviroment for the new player to explore that is essentially a safe environment… the newbie zone. For our explorative learners, we've given them safe zones to explore.' But that doesn't work for imitative learners." Excellent article on styles of learning, with particular attention to how MMOs teach players game mechanics.
"Very recently an anonymous poster on /b/ claimed to have hacked Sarah Palin's Yahoo e-mail account." 4chan members get into Sarah Palin's barely-disguised Yahoo mail accounts which she used for business.
“I decided to create Flatshare fridge because there is nothing more disgusting than a dirty fridge in a shared flat,” he says. “At the time, I was living in such a flat!” Amazing.
"It occurred to me that if I could somehow tether a DSLR to an instant-on device like an Arduino microcontroller I would have less weight to carry around and could get more work done. After mentally spec’ing out what I would need, I realized the solution was right in front of me – because I bring it with me for Mario Kart wireless races on long night jobs – (In the manner of John Lasseter’s slow epiphany voice): “Use-the-Nintendo-D-S.” Duh." Oh wow.
Soulja Boy reviews Braid. Oh dear. (Although: much as I want to mock it, he is correct that time-rewind mechanics are, usually, a lot of fun in and of themselves. But still.)
"[the film] presents the simple joy of photography and, without hyperbolizing or talking down to its audience, gives a comprehensive explanation of how the camera works." Lovely film explaining the way the SX-70 works, from the Eames brothers; the explanation of how the film itself works is beautiful.
"I'm passionate about this because I'm building the camera I've always wanted to shoot with," he says. "When my grandkids and great-grandkids look back, they're going to say I was a camera builder. I did handgrips and then goggles and then sunglasses to prepare myself. But cameras are magic." Fantastic article about Jim Jannard and his Red digital movie-camera business.
Brilliant, brilliant little advert.
"VideoGamesHero brings you homebrew action at it's best – offering lasting fun and challenging action with over 65 Songs, 5 Game modes, Motion Card and Guitar Grip support, there is something for everyone!" Homebrew Harmonix-style rhythm action game for the ds. Awesome.
"In this extensive interview, Yasuhara outlines his carefully constructed theories of fun and game design, including the differences between American and Japanese audiences, with illustrated documents." Lots of nice things in here, including a section on "tidying up".
"APIdock is a web app that provides a rich and usable interface for searching, perusing and improving the documentation of projects that are included in the app." Handy.
adaptive path » blog » Peter Merholz » Pen(cil) and paper to live prototype – where’d the wireframe go?"I think the role of the architecture diagram, user flow, and wireframe belongs very much after the fact, after we’ve sketched and prototyped an experience. Those are tools to document what has been agreed through sketching and prototyping. They are not the best means for solving challenging design problems." That seems like a good way of putting it.
"In this template you'll find shared layers (masters) for a title page, wireframe, wireframe/storyboard hybrid, simple storyboard, and storyboard with notes. Column guides and a regular grid make it easy to use and keep your layout tight." Nice .graffle templates for UX designers.
Timelapse, merged photographs of videogames. Beautiful, especially Tempest.
18 November 2007
Along the top surface of the camera is what looks like a film-advance lever: the winder you crank to move to the next shot on a film camera. Obviously, there’s no film to advance on the digital camera. But the lever still serves its other traditional purpose: it re-cocks the shutter for another shot.
I’ve marked it in the photograph below.
Initially, I thought this was another of the R-D1’s ersatz “retro” features. After all: there’s no real need for such functionality. Even the Leica M8 abandons the film-advance lever. But once I used the camera, the lever made sense to me.
Firstly: it’s somewhere to rest your thumb. That may sound like a silly thing to say, but if you’ve ever used a rangefinder, or an old SLR with a slim body and no moulded grip, the lever becomes a useful way to counterbalance the body in your hand. It’s nice to have that familiar anchor-point to rest on.
But far more importantly than that: it makes the act of taking a photograph more considered. It brings to mind one of my favourite quotations about photography, from Ansel Adams:
“…the machine-gun approach to photography is flawed… a photograph is not an accident; it is a concept.”
I love that. Photographs are not something that is taken; they’re something that is made. An image is considered, composed, and then captured. And the life of that image ends there. To take another, you must re-cock the shutter, and start again.
And so the shutter-cocking lever makes the very act of making a photograph with the Epson more deliberate. That “ersatz” retro touch is actually fundamental to the way the camera demands to be used. As a result, you end up taking fewer photographs with the Epson – there’s none of the mad “double-tapping” that sometimes becomes habit with a DSLR. It feels more genteel, more refined – and I think the pictures you end up making with it are all the better for that.
07 November 2007
My colleague Lars has just bought an Epson R-D1. If you’re not aware of it, it’s a digital rangefinder (roughly modelled on a Voigtlander) that takes Leica M Bayonet lenses, is hard to find, and noticeable cheaper than a Leica M8.
It’s obviously a niche camera: M lenses aren’t common nor cheap, the rangefinder is hardly a mass-market camera paradigm these days, and it’s largely manual – aperture priority, manual focus.
One thing that really caught my eye – and that I initially dismissed as ersatz Japanese retro-fetishery – was the readout on the top. Which looks like this:
To explain: the largest hand, pointing straight up, indicates how many exposures are left on the current memory card. As you can see, the scale is logarithmic – 500+ is the maximum, and as it counts down, the number of remaining exposures is measured more accurately.
The E-F gauge at the bottom measures not fuel, but battery power.
The left-hand gauge indicates white balance – either auto or one of several presets.
Finally, the right-hand dial represents the image quality: Raw, High, or Normal.
Once you know what it means, it’s a wonderfully clear interface: your eye can scan it very quickly. It’s also hypnotic watching it update. To alter the image quality, for instance, you hold the image quality lever with your right hand and move the selection knob (positioned where the film-rewind would be on a Leica) with your left. As the quality alters (and the rightmost needle flicks to the appropriate setting), the exposures-remaining needle swings around to reflect the new maximum number of pictures.
You can’t always see the benefits of analogue readouts in still photographs; this one is a case in point. Once it starts moving – and you start having a reason to check that readout – their clarity becomes immediately obvious.
So whilst I may have thought this kitsch to start with… it turns out to be one of my favourite features on the camera.
(As for that manual “film advance” lever… I’ll write about that in another post. It’s something I found similarly kitschy to begin with, but understood in the end.)