Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Note: Those coming in from danielsjourney dot com--this is introductory material that relates to the next installation. The actual installation is coming soon but in the meantime you can check this out...Thanks, D
Note: I've reached the end of my original outline finally. I will continue this web log to record my research and thoughts as they come. The spec for the software continues to evolve. If you need to review this entire document, start with the section titled "Introduction, Outline...."....the very first entry in this blog. In true blog fashion, I'm doing reverse chronology, so deal with it. It might be in the archives....
12. Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk wrote Fight Club, Choke, Survivor, and Invisible Monster. I've seen Fight Club and read Choke. Invisible Monster is my next read and I'm told it is very non-linear. Just to say, again, that storytelling is moving in this direction. Check him out if you have not already. Amazing stuff.

:: Update: Read Invisible Monsters. Amazing read. V non linear. V cul. Read it if you dare.
11. Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan wrote and directed a film called Momento. Momento has one storyline that starts at the "end" and goes backward, and another that starts at the "beginning" and goes forward. It's non-linear. It's cool. It's ahead of its time. But that's what makes it so cool. And storytelling is only getting more and more non-linear.

From an interview on BBC Online by David Wood:
Q (Wood): The film takes a non-linear approach toward narrative...
A (Nolan): Film makers should be able to experiment with narrative without alienating the audience and without creating something that's impenetrable. I actually see myself as a very mainstream film maker and always have. Even though you aren't going to get the answers to all of the questions in the film and it is a kind of unsettling film in lots of ways, if you watch it a couple of times it's pretty much all in there. One of the things I've been most satisfied by the film - after having now watched it with various festival audiences - is that it really lives on in people's heads.

From a review by Joe McGovern:
"Memento, resultantly, is both a tautly wound, if occasionally potmarked, psychological brain-teaser and an imaginative, near-fully realized experiment in bent-backwards narrative storytelling...Opening with its epilogue, the movie has almost no discernible structure. While comparisons have been made to Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal, in which the action starts at the end and then tracks back each consecutive scene until it gets to the beginning, Nolan pledges that it was not one of his influences. And that would make sense, since the purpose of Memento’s non-linear narrative is to illustrate the frenzy and perversion of the world through the eyes of someone with such a condition, while Pinter’s goal was more or less to show the long-term degeneration of a relationship in reverse."

Best quote from the movie:
“How can you begin to heal if you can’t feel time?”
10. Web content management

Since this idea was first birthed out of what was essentially a meta-content idea, this application of the theory and software is a natural extension, however practically not one that immediately came to mind.

I have worked with many web content management products, and they all tackle different elements of the problem. (Just look up web content management software on Google.) But it was not until I began a dialog about starting a webzine that the true potential of non-linear content management became apparent. Here were some of my thoughts:

As far as the mag goes, I was thinking in terms of a non-linear blog. A user could respond to any portion of content (which might be images, video, audio, quotes, articles) by selecting that portion of the content and then creating a blog from that section (more on blogs at Imagine the site map would look like a satelite night picture of, say, the US--the major cities would be our content areas, and the web of lights growing out of it would be the interactive pieces contributed by our users. But each piece of content, be it one we provided or a user contributed, would link to those pieces around it in "random" and non-linear ways.
9. Training methodologies

Yet another area that non-linear storytelling/informational processing would impact. Since this is my area of professional expertise I can simply vouch for it. More info as it becomes available.

However, as you begin to realize the impact of this paradigm on our everyday informational processing, you realize that there could hardly be an arena that it did not effect.
8. Story-building software

Story building software is what really stinks. The GUI's stink, they're bound my story methodologies that are old, old, old, and they're expensive to boot. Most of these are for screenwriters, and therefore would be used in conjunction with the storyboarding software. My software would combine these into one easy to use interface. It's intuitive, allows for levels of organization from just getting started free associating down to the smallest detail of the story, and then would assist in creating the output necessary for any media (screenplay, prose, online presentation, etc.).
7. Business organization software

Business organizational software is also only ok. My software is in its most basic form an integration of these with those from 6. However it is much more than that. These allow the non-linear connections, but are all based around a flowchart metaphor. My idea, based around the story/informational field/map (you even get to pick your language!), is fundamentally different and therefore infinitely more flexible in it's application. The same version of the product could be used for both this market, storyboarding, and the following market....
6. Storyboarding software

Storyboarding software is ok. Most of it is pretty low budget stuff sold for way to much. This might, however, be our best bet for a software integration with my specs. Checking them out will suffice for you.
Note: check out my first attempt at using non-linear storytelling, in this case with faith expression. story night
Note: turbulence seems to be down right now. Don't know if it is temporary or otherwise. Hopefully temporary.
5. New storytelling (explore links within)
Turbulence is a site devoted to web art. It is exploring the idea of story within this context. It is perhaps in the integration of play, storytelling and art where these ideas of non-linear storytelling could be most profoundly realized. And of course those three areas effect every other area of our lives.

The trends in storytelling over the last 20-30 years have mirrored to some extent the postmodern shift in culture and philosophy, and I believe that these trends point to a future of increasingly disjointed and non-linear story and informational processes. The purpose of this section is to help you along to the conclusions already drawn out in section 1.
“Layered Narrative.” Really allows the person experiencing it to create their own stories and meanings. (view "about")
“The Apartment.” Explores the relationship between words and space to create new meanings and stories within the space of the Web.
Scott McCloud is a comic book writer and illustrator who has really thought about the use of the web as a storytelling medium. He has some very valid and interesting thoughts and comments about the use of the web. While his ideas apply most directly to comics, as much as comics are stories it applies 100% to non-linear story and storytelling in general. His “story machine” invention also makes use of some of the concepts of non-linear story. In fact it is very much like a hand-made version of the desktop software being spec’ed out here, on a very abstract scale.
While web logs, or blogs, are linear in their presentation, the entire experience at Blogger is very integrated and in some ways, non-linear. Users can quickly publish web content through Blogger’s intuitive web interface, and the content page is updated. It is perfect for news, or for a project like this one (hosted on a blog!). An expansion on this concept of blogs could easily incorporate non-linear process in a web content management and interactivity system (see 10).
4. Layman's copycats

Proof that online storytelling gaming, specifically of a non-linear and interactive nature, is an art form that is here to stay. This list will grow without doubt. It also integrates/segues nicely into…
3. Majestic

Majestic has obviously already absorbed millions of EA’s money. It is an elaborate online/interactive game, which will have you receiving phone calls, having IM conversations with (obvious) automatic responders, getting email, and finding secret websites, etc. I’m sure the future of the product involves more expansive involvement. While the concept here is great, as is execution from a technical perspective, there are some higher level problems with Majestic that I will point out presently:

First of all, Majestic is too gamey. They have taken full page and double page ads in Maxim, Gear, and Wired, but their main demographic is still game playing teenagers. From a practical side, there is a tremendous amount of software required even to just start the game, and the Majestic websites are very bandwidth-heavy and require relatively advanced computers to handle their graphics, audio and Flash. You must download all the software, including a Majestic desktop GUI application, to begin playing. Software partners of EA include Realnetworks, Winamp, and AOL. The total download time over a ~400K/s DSL line was still 30 minutes to one hour.

Upon commencing game play, you are immediately confronted with this Majestic GUI. Clues are actually sent to you directly through this GUI to “get you started” (I can only assume). Getting to the first milestone is as easy as sitting around and waiting for the “bad guys” to give you a phone call or the “good guys” sending you an IM. The premise and the clues are unrealistic from the start; Majestic has succeeded in integrating my phone with the game, and have written a storyline that uses real places, people, and current events, but not a storyline which is believable or truly integrated with my real life.

Not to mention that the websites, video, and flash are all too much for my slow Windows 98 machine to handle, and my “fast” machine is Windows 2000, which Majestic can’t support. Forget about Linux.

Bottom line: really expensive, expansive game, but not a truly interactive online experience or a real story by any stretch of the imagination.
2. AI Online Game

Immediately I was struck with the AI Online Game. This ingenious little venture was a co-conspiracy by both Microsoft and DreamWorks as a viral marketing campaign for the movie A.I. There is too much to this game to describe here, however the following links might help you understand it if you have not already experienced it in some way: (link from Google search) (explore links within)

The first link provided (the Google search) was most people's entry into this online experience. In the online trailer for the film A.I., there was a strange credit for a person named Jeanine Salla. Following the rabbit hole, as it were, produced a vast world of websites, emails, phone messages, audio and video. The world was set in the futuristic landscape of A.I., and the mystery, a murder. While set in the same world as the movie, this game did not depend on the storyline from the movie, nor did the movie play to any of the online content.

While the potency of the game as a marketing tool for the movie may never be known, what is known is that a very large and very involved audience quickly developed around the game. Websites sprung up wholly devoted to the game (see the Cloudmakers dot org link above).

While learning of the existence of this game, begun in March when I first had my idea in June, was at first quite a blow, I quickly realized many holes in the processes of the A.I. game. After the game was over and the creators came out in the open, many more were made known. While Microsoft apparently plans to pursue such a game in the future, perhaps even promoting it as a traffic-building venture as I had already proposed, how they will properly execute another game like A.I. is yet to be seen. Knowing Microsoft, they will most likely succeed. As with many things, however, it may be their girth that topples them.

In fact, here you can find the actual “Puppetmaster”’s remarks on their past difficulties and future plans:
1. BMW Films dot com

BMW Films is a series of online short films, all shot by acclaimed directors, and (of course) all involving at least one BMW performing outrageous stunts. Along with the series of films is a "subplot" film sequence, with a piece of the subplot being imbedded into each "main" film. Within each subplot sequence is a piece of "real world" evidence: a phone number, an Internet address, etc. Each piece of evidence reveals more clues as to the significance of the ambiguous subplot.

Upon seeing the first two subplots, calling the number and hearing a strange message, and going to the web address and finding images of strange CIA document photocopies, I was hooked. The quality of the story in the films connected with this small bit of "real life" interactivity, and I waited on the edge of my seat for each new film's release.

Almost immediately, I realized the potential for a whole new experience in games and story. With clues scattered across the web, on existing websites, a sleuther could be directed all over the web, painting a trail similar to that in figure 2, above. In the process they would drive truckloads of real traffic towards the sites hosting the game content. With content hidden deep within a news site like CNN, for example, a user might view tens of "real" ads before stumbling upon game content, which might look like a real ad, or might look just like a legitimate piece of site content (in this case, a CNN news story). With our technology maintenance at a minimum, we would be freed to create robust story. We would maintain only a starting site, one page even, that users would register on, then continue across the web in search of their next clue.

The main element of this approach would be the non-linear nature of the story. Imagine Fig 1 as elements of the story. Instead of starting a gamer at the "starting" place for the story, however, (like a murder, etc.) they would be started at some random point within the matrix of the story field. They would then be directed non-linearly through the story field, from clue to clue. The point of the game would revolve around the story as much as it would around finding the next clue. Users would have to piece together the story field as they gained clues. Depending on where they start (on our home page we could direct them to a random point on the story field), they would take different paths through the story field. There would be a set time limit for the game, and at the end of that time period, gamers would submit their "versions" of the story, as it would unfold linearly (like in a book or film). Imagine the different types of linear stories that could result from one non-linear story map. Figure 5, below, considers the possible outcomes of a square (only 2 dimensions) field:

Really, there could be many more entry and finish points along this field, however assuming a limited number of characters and story intersections, four would most likely be the feasible limit on this type of field. Any field could have any number of start and end points. One type that lends itself to a more traditional beginning and ending is the diamond:

{Figures 5i -- 5iv}

Many more business applications came immediately to my mind, including client technology to help build these types of narratives. However before I went pursuing any of these business avenues, I did a little research...
The Original Business Proposition

The following are from a slide presentation indended for those interested in the possibility of an online gaming venture, with the future possiblity of creating a piece of desktop software that would help build these non-linear games, as well as influence many markets mentioned within this document. I am not too forthcoming with the spec's on the software, however the spec does continue to evolve and is closely linked to the higher level discussion here.

Bottom line for investors or other interested parties: very little upfront investment, great time to market, and great revenue streams. This could never be a multi-million dollar business, but it could be a very interesting buy for a Microsoft, particularly if the software I have in mind were as extensive as I imagine it.

Here are the presentation slides:

Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Introduction, Outline and Resources

some figures also reside here

This is my story, of examining non-linear story. I must begin with a couple disclaimers, both relating to the fact that this is in-process and will likely continue for years: 1) very rough around the edges this is a working draft and blog of my research and thoughts 2) also perhaps a bit unorganized however I'll do my best and this entire exercise is one for organizing this research

While postmodernity has dramatically affected our storytelling over the last twenty to thirty years, the advent of the World Wide Web has provided a medium that highlights storytelling in the light of non-linear paradigms. While the experience of surfing the web is in itself linear, with each link opening another page within the interface of the browser and "back" and "forward" buttons allowing us to traverse the browsed "line" we created, the information, or story, map we follow while surfing can be a rather circuitous one. The following figures tell the story of non-linear processing on the web:

{Figures 1-4}

Not only does the Internet contribute to this postmodern "information overload" but additional technologies built to keep us "in touch" at all times do as well: cell phones, text pagers, instant message software, the "ancient" telephone, even. Soon, our refrigerators and cars will be constantly wiring us in to the infinitely unfolding story of our electronic collective conscience.

In this light, the traditional scavenger hunt, storytelling, and sleuthing methodologies were transformed into a new medium. My first experience with this type of experience integrated film, telephone, and web technologies. It was BMW Films dot com:

1. BMW Films dot com

2. AI Online Game (link from Google search) (explore links within)

3. Majestic

4. Layman's copycats

5. New storytelling (explore links within) (view "about")

6. Storyboarding software

7. Business organization software

8. Story-building software

9. Training methodologies

10. Web content management

11. Christopher Nolan

12. Chuck Palahniuk