Urban Dead – a multiplayer game of my heart

” The city is dying. Some months on from the first reported outbreak, military quarantine units have closed Malton’s borders, and are moving in to eliminate the looters, to forcibly evacuate those civilians who still refuse to leave their homes.

The city is dying, and the urban dead are filling its streets.”

Most MMORPGs go for beautiful graphics, complicated and intriguing storylines and communication. To me, it seems as if though they’re reaching to cover every aspect of what their players could possibly want… to make sure that said players will never stop playing.

I was slightly obsessed with one of those games for a summer. As the summer progressed, I found that the game almost demanded that I log in for several hours every day to keep up with the friends I made… and when I could not, the game experience was ruined.

Now… Urban Dead is a browser-based game where you can only log on for a short time every day. The graphics are absolutely basic and reminds me of the really old kind of games I played on the first computer my brother had. The interaction with other players is also quite basic. You can chat, but like in real life – anyone who stands nearby will hear what you’re saying. You can fight together, band together, and run wild through the streets together.

You see, Urban Dead is a game about survivors. Poor, pathetic humans on the streets of a city run over by zombies. The zombies aren’t monsters programmed by the people who made the game – they’re other players. They’re players, like you, who were killed by zombies and died. When they woke up next time, they were shambling, monstrous things unable to communicate, think, or do a whole lot but shamble along the streets, trying to kill humans.

It’s awesome.

It’s back to the basics, back to simplicity, and since the creators aren’t trying to make you pay them anything, the game allows for sporadic play and ten minutes of fun gaming here and there without any major interruptions to your life. The ‘fun’ of it is the panic of running from building to building, trying to survive. Attempting to find a safe house before you log out – because if you don’t, a zombie will creep up and kill your abandoned character. Logging in to find you’ve been zombified is usually accompanied by a lot of cursing, stomping of your feet, and then grudging acceptance.

‘graagh’ you say, shuffling along the streets. Hoping some merciful survivor will try to revive you instead of butcher your undead self.

http://www.urbandead.com/

December guests

In December we will have some really interesting international (and national) guests. Two of them will give HUMlab seminars.

Christina McPhee, artist and art-technology thinker and writer, will talk about Strike/Slip: Datascapes, Topologies and the Sublime. The date is somewhat tentative still but almost certainly the seminar will be on December 13, 1:15 pm CET. Live streamed, archived and podcast of course. I am very happy to have Christina visit. She is doing great and innovative work and I have followed the empyre list (for which she is one of the facilitators) for quite some time now.

-empyre- facilitates critical perspectives on contemporary cross-disciplinary issues, practices and events in networked media by inviting guests -key new media artists, curators, theorists, producers and others to participate in thematic discussions.

Our other international seminar speaker in December is David Theo Golberg, Director of the Humanities Research Institute at UC Irvine (the Institute spans all ten UC universities), and the title of his seminar is A Manifesto for the Humanities in a Technological Age. December 19, 1:15 pm CET. Live streamed, archived and podcast of course. David is an outstanding scholar who has published extensively on race, racism, postcolonialism and political theory. He is also one of the leaders for the HASTAC consortium and a strong humanities and information technology thinker and advocate.

Additional note: Both these guests are wonderfully multi-talented and apart from the seminars they will do several other things. For instance, Christina McPhee will also participate in a datamining workshop and do an art installation, and David Theo Goldberg will give a lecture on race.racism and discuss research prioritization in the humanities.

Aperture

Aperture is a new program for Mac-users that seems like a good Photoshop alternative for photographer.

Adobe Photoshop is, as we know, a very complicated program that sees not only to the needs of photographers, but also focuses on image creation and painting capabilities. Some would claim it overreaches. Perhaps something like Aperture will be a good replacement for those mainly interested in easily adjusting their photographs.

From what I can tell, the interface seems quite simple and intuitive, with menus that change depending on what you are working on.

The cries that this will replace Photoshop are, I think, quite unnecessary. Photoshop is a program by far more versatile… but for a photographer (and Mac user, which I am not) this might be either a complement or a substitute.

I’ve looked through the gallery with screen shots of the program in action. I quite like the interface:

http://www.apple.com/aperture/gallery/

The tech specs seem intriguing indeed. Little details like simultaneous zoom for multiple images, organising of photos into projects and albums and alternate versions without using more disk space really make this program interesting.

http://www.apple.com/aperture/specs.html

It seems like something well worth looking into – but so far, you can only pre-order it so it’s a matter of waiting for it to become available.

Cross Platform Machinima.

During my seminar The Sims as Narrative Engine yesterday I was asked about machinima films that combine two or more game engines in their production. At the time I was thinking too much of the film world and the game world as being one in the same, but since then I understand that this is a mistake. The film may be visually equal to the game world but it is definitely not the same thing. I was helped along in this understanding by Amanda Stanley of Panda Productions, a machinimator from Atlanta, Georgia who sent me these tips for cross platform machinima:

Name: Star Wars Falling Into Darkness By Darth Angelus
Games it combines: Jedi Academy/Knight & Homeworld 2
Link:http://www.das-entertainment.com/dl_engine/index.php?subcat=14

Name: Borg War
Games it combines: Star Trek Command 3 and Star Trek: Elite Force II
Link: www.machinima.com/films.php?id=1134

Name: Silver Star/Purple Hearts
Games it combines: Sims 2 and Halo
Link: http://panda-productions.com/SSPH/Videos.htm

I actually showed some shots from Star Wars: Falling into Darkness but did not realize what was used to make it.

creative spaces

One thing I know is considered very important in our lab is how we use our space. This lab does not look like the traditional computer lab, with cozy sofas and beanbags and plants (and no windows!). We try to make creative use of our space. I think that this is a very important factor in the type of work that is produced here, as well. The lab, the people who cooperate here, and not least our director encourage ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking.

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A recent addition to our ‘creative space’ is a drum set (seen played my Magnus). As I am typing this, I can hear the rhythmic drumming and somehow it gives a different pulse to the lab… kind of upbeat and excited. The drumming is not really intrusive, rather intriguing. Strange how a small addition can change the way you experience an environment.

drama in virtual spaces

There is a group from the University’s drama department in the lab right now performing scenes from King Lear in a virtual ‘Globe’ theater. This world was created by our 3D-Anton before the students ever set foot in the space. The student’s perform a scene in small groups, then talk about how it feels to perform in a virtual space versus a ‘real’ space.

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It is very interesting to watch play and listen to the students’ views on stage space. As a former drama teacher, I know how important it is to get students accustomed to their stage space, both in reference to others and in order to own and commit to the space they occupy. The students bring up important points such as audience point of view and what is receiving the ‘importance’/attention during the scene.

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As you can see from the above picture, the students located on the side, around the computers, are performing the scene. The students located in the chairs and bean bags are watching the performance.

Issues other than stage space are also important in their discussion such as how believable the performance is and how adding actors on the different, smaller stages would change the feel of the play. Performing in this space, in a replica of the Globe, is a wonderful way to construct an ‘authentic’ experience. While that may sound odd, considering this is a virtual space, due to the different points of view the avatar can have, movement does feel quite realistic, especially in a relatively confined space.

Moving and learning in these spaces gives the students a chance to experience Shakespeare in a completely different way. He suddenly becomes very accessible! The students must understand the point of the scene and plan out the action accordingly. This is more than moving a puppet across a stage.

Sitting on the outskirts of this class and watching the students, I am excited and amazed at their level of enthusiasm. They comment and exclaim and back-up their acting decisions. Sometimes it can seem so hard to motivate your students to the level of enthusiasm I saw in the lab today. But it is obvious, I think as I watch the students file out, all giggling and chatting about their in-world experience, that this project is brining theater to them in a new and effective way!

rock carvings

Not only did we have a great many kids in the lab yesterday but we were simultaneously also involved in showing the rock carving project together with BildMuseet and the Archeology department.

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Well, it was not only showing I assume. It seems as if quite a few new rock carvings were produced.

The Invasion

About once a year, children come to visit HUMlab.

Not just one or two kids, either, but a swarm of them. On my part, I boss over five computers and five digital tablets, doing my best to show these kids how to have fun and paint on the computer.

And do they ever paint!

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So boldly and so wonderfully disrespectfully of the norm. Some might colour the kitten brown and grey, but a lot of these children go for vivid reds, intense greens, insane purples – colours that few adults would ever imagine on the face of an animal.

They paint with avid concentration, somewhat amazed by what might have seemed dull when done with traditional means. One kid kept exclaiming, “this is the most fun I’ve ever had!!” and I can’t help but smile at such wonderful enthusiasm. I wish we could all retain that as grownups.