If you are a casual or hardcore gamer there is little doubt in my mind that you haven’t heard of Killzone 2. Guerrilla Games, Sony and Deutsch have been hard at work to elevate the perception of the Killzone franchise from its mediocre debut.
The cinematics initially drew me into the continuation of the epic war between the ISA and the Helghast. After reviewing the gameplay, my mouse was pushed a few pixels closer to the buy button. However, it wasn’t until I learned the latest commercial, “Behind the Bullet” (directed by Loni Peristere of Zoic Studios) was entirely produced using the game’s engine on the PS3, that I was sold.
When it comes to marketing games, CGI cinematics serve their purpose to generate excitement. However, all too often gamers are let down when they see or get a chance to demo gameplay. The beauty of the “Behind the Bullet” spot is that the rendering farm has been removed from the picture. It communicates the story while revealing the actual look and feel of the gameplay in a single thirty second spot. No smoke and mirrors; what you see is what you get.
The commercial brings you up front and center, delivering a breath holding experience from a moment in Helghan time via a true representation of in-game graphics, effects, and sound. In the heart of combat the camera emerges from the eye of a battle hardened ISA soldier. He squeezes off several rounds as the camera pulls back to follow the bullet on a path of destiny. Riding the bullets rift, the camera moves to several unique vantage points, taking us on a journey across the bloodied battlefield to reveal the awesome power of the game’s engine and the incredible work done by the Guerrilla crew. From eye to eye the bullet rests. Hark the raven…
Just when you think the fun is over, that’s not it. An interactive version of the commercial first came to my attention via Scott Steinberg on the PlayStation blog. On the PlayStation Network you will find one of the coolest features to come along with a promotional download yet. Guerrilla puts you in control of the camera. You can adjust the camera angle to fly through the core of exploding debris, slow the action down to a creep and gaze upon the extraordinary detail or blast into overdrive to maximize the bullet’s impact. My favorite part was adjusting the camera angle to see how the bullet affected the blood red light emanating from the Helghan eyes. You can even utilize debug mode to toggle the lighting, post effects, bump maps, and shininess of reflective materials. Another cool highlight is that you can turn on commentary from the Director – Loni Peristere, the Art Director – Jan Bart van Beek and the Lead Tech Artist – Paulus Bannink, for valuable insight on the making of…definitely worth a listen.
(Note: We previously wrote about Choose Your Own Adventure Interactive Video being either fad or trend - and it’s definitely a trend. This article will go into more detail on some of the best examples of Choose Your Own Adventure content that are out on YouTube, the Web and even Mobile.)
Interactive video takes many forms, everything from how to instructional videos and games to community driven interaction. With the advancement of emerging technologies however, choose your own adventure video (CYOA) has given Edward Packard’s storytelling format of yesteryear a kick towards the digital mainstream. Its resurgence can be credited partly to YouTube for easing the development process and establishing its prominence within the community; although independent Flash executions, Blu-ray DVDs and mobile applications are also unlocking the potential of CYOA video.
With the introduction of YouTube Annotations, out went the programmer. All you need is a good storyteller that understands interactive, a computer and a camera.
To date, there have been a few successful attempts at CYOA’s leaning toward the higher end of the YouTube production scale. “The Time Machine”, a third-person CYOA in which it is your mission to get Chad, Matt and Rob to their twelve o’clock meeting without dying, and “Follow Your Instinct”, a first-person CYOA in which you awake after a long night with a lovely lady. Late for a meeting, you either choose to follow your instinct to successfully navigate the outcome of your day or make all the wrong moves. Each CYOA video uses comedy as the basis of its storytelling narrative; one is in the science fiction genre, the other aims for aspiring lifestyle. What they do well is engage the user from the start and peak enough curiosity to want to continue. Both of these videos have enjoyed moderate success but so have the basement productions.
One such production is “Choose Your Path”. In this third-person CYOA it is up to you to help find Sparta, the missing cat. Excluding the novelty of YouTube Annotations—as I believe this might be one of the first videos to use the feature—it has racked up nearly 1.7 million views. Someone has a soft spot for lost kitties.
The earliest forms of CYOA storytelling that I was able to locate on YouTube comes from our friends down under, Australia. Added on February of 2007, before Annotations was available, Choose Your Own Tube, a sitcom of sorts, used community commenting to vote on what would happen in the next episode. Although voting to see what happens next is a great tool for fostering community growth, the storyline failed to maintain interest throughout and its inability to capitalize on the online generations need for instant gratification led to a dwindling audience. Season one, episode one garnered 70,717 views while season three, episode one netted a significantly lower 9,037 views.
“Survive the Outbreak”, an independent Flash execution, uses a custom Flash player to reveal its narrative. Within this third person “Night of the Living Dead” CYOA it is up to you to make the right decisions to survive. The beauty of the execution of “Survive the Outbreak” is driven by two components. The story starts the viewer off in the thick of the action right from the start and maintains your interest by leading you into tension-driven decisions that result in life or death. The second is the custom Flash player. For users who lack the time or the patience to try all the options, there is a chapter select feature that allows you to navigate back to decision points so you can quickly try alternate options upon failure.
For the iPhone there are several CYOA downloads such as text games and audio books. However, the one that has caught my eye is “Alternate Endings”. In this cinematic CYOA the story revolves around the murder of an unbearably controlling director on the set of a new movie. All of the film’s crew have justifiable motivation to want him dead, it is up to you as Russell the security guard to solve the mystery. What is unique about “Alternate Endings” is that it provides mobile entertainment that gives chase to replay. The story digresses enough with intriguing backstories to motivate the user. The structure provides paths that sometimes return you to previously viewed clips, but the options give enough incentive to continue off onto an entirely unique path without the story falling apart.
The beauty of interactive video and CYOA are their abilities to build community and foster replay, thus increasing time spent with your story. In today’s world of increasingly demanding audiences and marketing budget shifts, it makes sound sense to unite interactive with traditional production to reap the benefits of a long-term investment. Choose your own adventures are not necessarily the be-all-end-all of entertainment. What it provides is a unique story telling platform that engages users to revisit content, ultimately giving reasonable value to viewers to purchase a DVD, download a mobile application or spend more time in front of your brand.
Recently my partner in crime, Matt, wrote a blog post covering YouTube’s Insight features. One feature in the tool set that is often overlooked is Hot Spots. Insight Hot Spots record the engagement of viewers at any moment compared to other videos of similar length, measuring your video’s ability to retain audience attention. The data is extrapolated and plotted on a hot or cold graph that provides a visual showing when viewers dropped off or rewound your video. For more information see Insight Hot Spots.
Being that Insight Hot Spots quantify audience attention based on videos of similar length, I chose three videos from our 2008 interactive choose your own adventure holiday card. The lengths are not exactly the same, but the data provides some valuable lessons.
The first two I want to review are “Sensei Santa”, runtime 1:43, and “The Way of the Santa”, runtime 3:11. Each show a steady decline in the audience attention graph from the start with a slight rise when the action picks up. When reviewing the Hot Spots in the third video, “Santa’s The One”, we see a much different landscape. The graph stays above average and drastically spikes when Santa takes a bite out of a cookie while he is holding Agent Smith back. The video continues to hold the audience above average with viewers dropping off at the end. When comparing all three graphs with the content presented, the message was clear.
THE WAY OF SANTA:
SANTA’S THE ONE:
Both “Sensei Santa” and “The Way of the Santa” start off slow, building to climax with a final joke. In each case, a fair amount of our viewers dropped off before the conclusion, the payoff. Our community responded well to both of the clips, the ratings were high, but the content failed to appeal to a broad audience. It succeeded by connecting with those who are fans or can identify with the two Kung Fu movies. However, it lacked the early spark to maintain viewers that are less familiar with the subject matter or who don’t have the patience. The YouTube generation has grown accustomed to on demand entertainment, with an appetite for speed and to the point content at the click of a button. With online short form video content, creators need to hook their audience early and continue to maintain audience expectations throughout. Hot topic or not, it is essential for content creators to build on anticipation of the resolution in order for their story to be heard.
With “Santa’s The One”, granted Neo is much more of a in the know topic than Bruce Lee and Ralph Macchio, I would argue that the curiosity in seeing Santa as Neo in the famous Agent Smith battle grabbed the users’ attention. However, what kept them from leaving the scene that our viewers have most likely watched several times was the carrot or the cookie. Looking at the graph you will notice the attention spike around 1:02, Santa’s glorious, “Get in my belly!” cookie moment. Viewers rewinding the video to re-watch the segment created the spike in attention. By dangling the cookie halfway through the video we created anticipation for more, for what’s next. This reengaged our viewers, holding them to the end, allowing for our story to be communicated.
With YouTube’s Hot Spots brands and content creators have the power to see what works and what should fall to rest on the editing room floor. It provides meaningful insight to make educated decisions that help ensure your message is being communicated, potentially leading to cost savings and increased profits. When it comes to your story, it is not necessarily about what you want, it is about what connects with your audience.
Midgets and Mexican Wrestlers, oh my. Recently I stumbled across an interactive video advergame execution by Tribal DDB Paris for Airwaves, a Wrigley chewing gum. In the game you are El Invencible Chlorophyllo, a Mexican wrestler who gets his power form the secret ingredients in Airwaves. The evil Dr. Negra and his pack of marauding maniac midget wrestlers are out to steal the ingredient and once and for all bring Chlorophyllo to his knees.
Complete with a story mode, arcade mode and leader board, the adver-game repurposes footage from the 1971 Mexican film, “Los Campeones Justicieros – The Champions of Justice” to drive its interactive narrative path. Check out the original films climax, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1GI1XxbFf4, apparently the film served as the inspiration for Nacho Libre, starring Jack Black.
In the game the user simply has to smash on one side of the keyboard or the other at the appropriate time to deliver a body blow, climb up the side of a mountain, avoid from falling off the roof of a car and even toss midgets. Although midgets and Mexican wrestlers is not necessarily an original idea, the interactive execution is well done.
As the plot of the original film is ridiculously hilarious, complete with lucha action, a mad scientist, scantly clad women, cheesy effects and super strong midgets the B-Film classic lowers the users expectations for shot continuity. This creates a forgiving audience and provides a great comedic stage for creative interactive editing. Who cares if one minute you’re a hundred feet from the top of the mountain struggling to make it to the next branch and the next your crawling onto the edge of the road? Chloromenthol Power!
Nice abs my fellow French men and ladies. Time for me to go kick some ass; I am as strong as 16 bulls, 4 chilies and 7 tractors. See if you can top that. Check the game out at http://www.chlorophyllo.fr/en/index.html.
“I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” As the world markets continue on their bearish trend, not knowing where the bottom lies, automotive companies are struggling to survive. Consumer confidence has plummeted and the world’s leading automotive manufacturers will have to redefine their brand in order to capture a much wiser and cautious consumer base.
Ford’s latest commercial sets a tone for their future. Juxtaposed with Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”, the commercial identifies with the crossroads at which we all stand in today’s turbulent times. Automakers and consumers alike face serious decisions. Do we continue on the same path or do we take a chance to redefine ourselves and make a difference, for better or worse? The Australian spot strikes at the heart of the American spirit, playing a resonant chord of hard work, risk, passion, and ingenuity, the same spirit that has helped shape today’s global economy. It is a suggestion of a life of integrity and choice, a life of freedom and possibilities, something most can identify with. We have all stood at a life-changing crossroad. Will consumers take Ford’s road? Yes, if their product meets the expectations created by their story.
It is no secret that the online video audience is on the rise. Audiences are leaving behind traditional digital broadcast for choice, the ability to play, and the ability to customize their experience across a sea of interactive touch points. According to Nielsen Online, 116.7 million unique viewers watched streaming video in December, 73 percent of active Web Users. According to comScore there was a 13% surge in December for U.S. online video viewing, a 16% spike in the French online video audience in the past year. In terms of where online users are going to watch video, YouTube remains the king, however other properties are steadily gaining their share, notably Yahoo, Fox Interactive Media and Hulu. As viewers change where they view video, so changes how they consume and interact with video.
Recently the upcoming CBS television series Harper’s Island, scheduled to air April 9th, stepped into the interactive realm to draw us curious online content hungry media suckers into its domain of mystery with Harper’s Globe. Without going into too much background, the Globe is an online supplement or prequel to the broadcast show Harper’s Island. It revolves around Robin Matthews, a recent college grad. She takes a job to digitize the islands newspaper archives as well as build a social network on the papers website. After sorting through boxes of dusty articles she comes across a story of a hack and slash maniac that made everyone squeal like a stuck pig once upon a time.
The content thus far is captivating, but what makes the Harper Globe’s interactive foray a step above past attempts to provide supplemental online content is the approach. Having launched weeks before the air of the TV series, the site presents a truly social web series. The shows cast provides fresh content on a daily basis, videos, and blog updates. Fans can join the shows social network and follow the pack in a web of murderous intrigue. Posting content, commenting and interacting with the shows characters. If that is not enough, you can even investigate a little deeper into Robin’s past on her college blog. What I dig most is that the creators of this interactive endeavor were smart enough to wrap up daily video posts on weekly basis. Slapping on a tidy bow so those who don’t have time to follow every snippet or just jump on the wagon after the ship sailed can be brought up to speed. No one likes to feel alienated, unless you feed off anger and self-pity. For better or worse, I believe for the better, Harper’s Globe is a sign of what lies ahead for today’s demanding audiences.
Now that I have given my love, I have a few bones to pick with my crow beak. First off, where is the Facebook Connect or MySpace ID? One new subscriber could mean hundreds more exposed to the CBS campaign. When it comes to community ventures outside of the established behemoth online social networks you are already strapped with a cinder block. When your looking to build online community, the last thing you want to add is more layers. What was that password again?
Before I wipe my mouth I have one last piece of meat to pick. Rule number one, be honest and genuine to your community. Begging makes me want to gag. After joining the community and consuming the content I felt the need to be an active participant. Low and behold, I found pleas on the “Fresh Start” trailer for comments on YouTube, a call for a “Comment Party”, from the Globe’s cast and creators. When I checked out YouTube I found a gaggle of spammers, the same group of viewers commenting over and over again. If the content is intriguing, if the interactivity makes the user feel like they are active participants in the story the virus will spread and the herd will follow. No need for begging, no need to create a perception of dishonesty. It stains the experience, cracking the walls of perceived reality in a blatant, dishonest marketing attempt. “…no meepers here, just me spamming cause I’m bored.” The CAKE is a LIE.
What Harper’s Globe gives fans is a new way to interact, a new way to become immersed into the Harper’s Island mystery. It is not a new idea, but it feeds the need for those who won’t settle with passive entertainment consumption, allowing them to engage, possibly even discover a clue. It is a tool for brands to increase recognition, a tool to grow and nurture your fan base, whether or not there is a season 2. Will all online video be interactive? Is Harper’s Globe next gen TV, TV 2.0? No, the future of television holds a lot more in store for its audience. For now, a little bit of heroin goes a long way.
YouTube and Flash cue points, well sort of. After I got done ranting about YouTube’s interactive video shortcomings, lo and behold they have updated their features once again. Or at least I didn’t notice the functionality when I wrote my previous article. It is not really Flash cue points in the traditional sense, but it allows you to remove the disjointed feeling left with a page refresh in interactive YouTube video.
Here is what you need to do. Insert an annotation via YouTube and add a link. Instead of including a URL to a new video, include the URL from the same video you start with and enter the “Start at” time you want your video to seek to. For example, you could create a ten-minute video with all your interactive paths. Add your annotations that tell the same video to seek to the appropriate point in time. Drop in a few pauses here there and ta-da, you have an almost seamless interactive video experience with a little planning and foresight.
Recently I became aware that YouTube updated their annotations feature via an article on TechCrunch by Jason Kincaid. I was excited at first, however I was soon to be let down. Being an interactive director my mind went straight into the potential creative uses. Talk bubbles, notes, pause, linking, sharing, all these features are great when used appropriately with a strategic or creative purpose, annoying when they aren’t.
What I really wanted to find out is would YouTube fix the linking feature to incorporate Flash interactive cue points or something similar. Having used YouTube annotations in the past to create choose your own adventures I have been disappointed by the fact that the page has to refresh in order to continue an interactive narrative path. Hoping the TechCrunch article missed the feature, I decided to upload a test and give it a spin myself.
After testing all the features in the latest update I found myself at a loss. Cool, it’s easier. Cool, new creative tools. However, by not incorporating que points YouTube stains the true interactive experience. Throwing an unwanted, uncontrolled and unnecessary black slate, a digital hiccup, in the users fantasy. Breaking the perceived reality that content creators strive to create, disengaging them, and creating confusion. Until YouTube incorporates cue points interactive content creators will struggle to define the cognitive and affective process by which perceived reality is built. The interactive experience will not be true until the stain is wiped clean.
Sure I will continue to use annotations when warranted. There are some great interactive uses for annotations, and I will continue to explore new ways to use them. I am thankful for the feature. I can even imagine a few creative uses for the hiccup. Just give me the choice. Let creative freedom reign.
Each Holiday season we see a plethora of interactive cards hit the web, advertising agencies, marketing firms, design shops reaching out to their clients and vendors expressing Yuletide cheer. At the top of it, it is about saying “Thanks.” Sure, each agency hopes their creative attempts at a holiday card will gain some traction in the trades; a little PR is always a nice stocking stuffer.
With that said, I’m not reserving this post to praise, discuss or criticize the efforts made by creative teams. After sharing the Zugara Holiday card with our clients on YouTube several people responded with “How did you do that?!!?”
The idea was to use YouTube’s annotations to create an interactive video execution that revolved around Santa and what he does to those on his naughty list. Thus, the viewer would choose whom Santa would take to task on his naughty list. Using five famous scenes from Hollywood films we laid out a narrative path of teacher, enforcer, to rightfully proclaiming him as “the one.” After all, he is, isn’t he?
Identifying five scenes that were recognizable and didn’t present too much compositing work while keeping in line with our narrative was a task in itself.
With only a week to shoot, edit and composite five scenes from five different films we had to put planning front and center of our green screen shot. After reviewing camera angles, camera movement and lighting from the original scenes we prepped Santa. Before each shot we would bring him into our studio, review the original shot, run over any deviations from the original, rehearse blocking, rehearse camera movement and match lighting. Rehearsing blocking, camera movement and matching lighting was imperative to avoiding too many takes and eliminating unnecessary compositing work while having Santa’s emotions and movements translate well with the original scene. We wrapped five scenes in eight hours, time for post.
Being that we shot HD footage with the Panasonic HVX 200, we used Final Cut Pro to log and transfer all the footage.
One thing to note when shooting green screen footage is that it is best to shoot HD over SD if you have the option. HD has more pixels to work with and a wider color space. When it comes to getting a clean key, color information is vital. This is not to say you can’t get a good key with SD, especially if you have Ultimatte’s real-time keyer. However, HD will not only look good, but it will eliminate a lot of your post heartaches. If your only option is SD, make sure to light your green screen evenly and pull your subject as far away from the screen as your shot will allow.
Using Adobe After Effects we brought in the native footage and keyed out the green using Keylight 1.2. With the footage keyed it was time to bring in the original edited scenes and overlay Santa. In some cases we were able to simply cover the subject Santa would be taking the place of, color treat to match the scene and add shadows when necessary. For those shots that Santa did not cover the original actors’ movement we had to composite out the original actor. By exporting a still frame from the original footage we used Adobe Photoshop to remove the actor and create a clean background matte. We imported the matte into After Effects and dropped it behind Santa. In the cases where we had camera movement we either extended the matte size and/or limited our matte to the area that needed to be removed. After applying motion tracking to the matte and or Santa in After Effects we were in business.
The scenes that required interaction with the original actors, such as Chuck Norris and Agent Smith, we used animated masks on the matte and/or Santa to composite Santa into the shot. In the case of Santa stopping the bullets in “The Matrix” scene, we reanimated the bullets in After Effects and applied displacement maps to simulate the original motion stopping effect. After Effects puppet tool or masking a leg from a different shot came in handy for those times when we needed to give Santa’s kicks an extra boost.
With everything in place we did our final color correction and added sound effects. After compressing the footage for YouTube we uploaded the footage and applied annotations.
We Are Organized Chaos (WAOC) is Zugara’s (www.zugara.com) interactive marketing and advertising blog where we’ll be featuring some great projects and discussing upcoming trends in the digital world. Work — good and bad — will be critiqued. Hope you’ll enjoy reading our insights and thoughts on interactive.