TECH FICTION

Take the latest technologies.
Stir in drama. Rinse. Repeat.



NEW: 2080 ('07)


Technology has moved forward 72 years, but President Bartoli’s troubles are straight out of the past. 280AD to be precise.

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Short Shorts


Tech Fiction with an expiration date: Ultra-short stories about technology news-of-the-day

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Moving Pictures ('05)


A band of Garage CGI Spielbergs, a Machinima movie and Hollywood's establishment

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Trojan Horses ('03)


P2P networks, portable digital media, the MPAA, Brooklyn Technical High School, the US government and terrorism

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The Art of the Possible. Commentary. Writing. Miscellany.
- - - - - - - - - - - -=[ Sunday, December 28, 2008 ]=- - - - - - - - - - - -
 
Ubisoft Montreal goes 3-for-3

'tis the season ... to get in a video game or two, that is.

Exactly a year ago we finished action adventure Assassin's Creed (some thoughts here), and five years before that, it was Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.  This holiday season we finished the latest Prince of Persia.

All three were produced at Ubisoft Montreal, and all three were play-'em-through-the-whole-way great.  Not flawless, but more than comfortably worth the price of admission with spectacular visual design and very engaging gameplay.

Clearly, UbiM is on top of the action adventure heap, and it's great to see design DNA, engine technology and gameplay weave through these games and grow over that seven year period.  With both Assassin's Creed (most likely Holiday '09) and Prince of Persia (mid-to-late '10) clearly heading for sequels, it looks like we'll be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor for several more years to come.

ps:  Here's to hoping that the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced, Disney-distributed, Mike Newell-directed, Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Atterton-featuring mid-'10 PoP movie will somehow enjoy some of the same creative qualities ... :)


- - - - - - - - - - - -=[ Wednesday, October 01, 2008 ]=- - - - - - - - - - - -
 
Welcome, Hollywood, to the Sherlock Holmes bandwagon ... :)

In 2005, when I was looking for a story to go inside one of my Tech Fiction stories (Moving Pictures, HTML, PDF), I chose Sherlock Holmes (both A Scandal in Bohemia and Hound of the Baskervilles).

It's great stuff--even now--and worked beautifully inside the Machinima-vs-Hollywood-establishment storyline, so I was not surprised to see Hollywood jumping hole-hog onto the Holmes bandwagon recently.

Reuters reports that Guy Ritchie and Joel Silver's Sherlock Holmes (featuring Robert "Iron Man" Downey Jr. as Holmes, and Jude Law as Watson) is about to start shooting in London, and a second effort (Sacha Baron Cohen as Holmes, and Will Ferrell as Watson) is around the corner.

Come on in. The water is lovely. :)

ps: In Moving Pictures, David Hyde Pierce winds up playing a bumbling Holmes and Don Cheadle (cast somewhat against type ... :) plays Watson. Here's a little bit of how it all gets started in the story ...

“So, let me get this straight. You want the four of us to do a full-length machinima feature about a marionette production of a Film Noir adaptation of Sherlock Holmes in a small town puppet theater fighting for survival, with three main characters that critique the play and each other, and are finally saved by a corporate stooge turned do-gooder? That pretty much it?” Bunraku trying to take it all in.

“Yes.”

“Red, you know I love you, but that’s too ambitious.” Even Bunraku’s optimism had its limits.

“Which is why we’re going to do it Open Source.”

The three standing around him, lacking a retort.

Bunraku the first to re-engage. “Not sure that’s a good idea. We want something that’s ours, not an unholy mess of creative control.”

“We open up only the engine mods, the models and the sets, but not the screenplay and the final cut. We give our engine, models and sets back to the community, get contributions in return, but maintain copyright over the final product.”

“So, that means…”

“…we’ve got to do four marionette characters: Holmes, Watson, the King of Bohemia and Irene Adler. Four people characters: Nigel, Stella, Carson and the Stranger. And three sets: the inside of the puppet theater, Baker Street, and Briony Lodge on Serpentine Avenue. Creating those, and the storyboards to begin with, would be you and V. Silenz would do audio engineering and music composition. We all do voices. We’ll shoot in real time using the engine once we got all the assets. Figure six months soup to nuts if we can all put in 20 hours a week.”

“Are you listening to yourself?” Shaking her head, counting off on her fingers. “We have never worked together seriously. We have never worked on machinima. And only Bunraku has ever worked on a full-length feature. Could we be less qualified?”

“Fortune favors the brave.”

“Yeah, yeah. Carpe diem. I know, I know. Just remember, he dies at the end of that movie. We are not ready for this.”



- - - - - - - - - - - -=[ Saturday, April 05, 2008 ]=- - - - - - - - - - - -
 
Art of the Possible: Quake 3 on iPod touch

Who cares if it's fake (and what an effort if it is) or not, this video of Quake 3 running on an iPod touch not only uses the touch's accelerometer for navigation, but its connectedness to deliver multiplayer.

via Engadget


- - - - - - - - - - - -=[ Friday, March 21, 2008 ]=- - - - - - - - - - - -
 
It's a mash-up world: We Tell Stories

We're digging the evolution of writing in this mashup of short story and Google Maps at We Tell Stories, "digital fiction from Penguin Books".

We have to confess that with a little more time we'd love to do this for our last Tech Fiction, 2080. Maybe it would look a little something like this:
"In the designated spot just inside the breakwater at the far end of one of the rare Emirates beaches not deemed worthy of development, Xi Na sat in silence in the cockpit of her sub. Miraculously, her maiden voyage had gone without hitch. It was just past midnight local time. The time for the agreed-to rendezvous had come.

At first, she took the sound for a gust in the ocean breeze, but when it was practically upon her, she could see that it was a motor-less aircraft, its lights entirely doused, gliding in at a flat angle from the southwest. As she looked at the speed with which the glider approached, and the beach she judged to be no longer than 1,000 feet, she grew concerned, but the glider executed a perfect flare to scrub speed and slid to a halt comfortably at the far end of the beach having made no more noise than a parachute."


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Art of the Possible: Air Taxi Service CEO

Featured recently in CNN's "Young People Who Rock" series, Aaron Sohacki is CEO of the type of outfit we've long been keeping an eye on as an extremely interesting industry-on-the-verge: Air Taxis (ImagineAir, specifically).

Not only do we dig that business segment, its attendant disruption and the new technologies powering it, but hats off to Aaron for running the show (and still flying customers) at the advanced age of 24.

ps: Been toying with writing some Tech Fiction based on this for three years now. Where to find the time...?


- - - - - - - - - - - -=[ Monday, March 17, 2008 ]=- - - - - - - - - - - -
 
Art of the Possible: BigDog Robot video

Gizmodo says it all about a video of Boston Dynamics quadruped robot capable of carrying a 340 pound load:
It looks like an actual biological quadruped. Seeing it climb through rubble, snow, jumping over obstacles like a wild goat, and saving a near-fall on iced ground at the last second (fast forward to the middle of the video) defies belief. It feels so "animal" that I almost feel bad when they hit it to demonstrate how it regains balance on its own.


 
Great vibe: blog.pmarca.com

Sure, Marc Andreessen started blogging like a year ago, but we finally got around to spending some more time with his prior material recently, and beyond merely adroitly poking fun at Elliot Spitzer and Jim Cramer in the same week recently, pmarca has written some lengthy, insightful, readable stuff on everything from Startups to Big Companies and Careers.

Keep working it, Marc.

ps: Unfortunately the Archives aren't very easy to navigate, but he's got links to his best stuff in the sidebar.


- - - - - - - - - - - -=[ Monday, February 18, 2008 ]=- - - - - - - - - - - -
 
"Dubai Architecture: Dubai is Nuts!"

So runs the headline in a post over at digg.

Lots of great photographic evidence to back up their assertion.

We're big fans of Dubai, of course, having set a big chase scene of our last Tech Fiction, 2080, in the Dubai of 2080 [SPOILER ALERT]:
“Sienna, I need to get stick control. You need to override the speed governor on this thing, or we’re done,” He Feng said intently, as she tried in vein to maneuver the pod more rapidly through traffic.

“I … understand … mom,” Sienna hissed through her teeth, concentrating on the display in her glasses.

The pod was shaken by a huge impact from behind as the ground pursuer caught up and struck them. As though stunned into reason by the collision, their pod shot forward with a burst of new speed and upward and over the ground traffic as it finally responded to He Feng’s hand at the controls.

“There you go,” Sienna said with a satisfied look in He Feng’s direction.

“Great job, sweetheart,” replied He Feng not taking her eyes off the rising and dipping landscape in front of. She made a hard right to head over another residential area and towards the old Burj Dubai tower in the distance.

Another hard left later and they were awash in the glow of the high rises turning lower Sheikh Zayed Road into a canyon of metal, glass and neon. He Feng was deftly maneuvering their pod on the wrong side of the air corridor, fighting a never-ending stream of pods as they tried to head upstream to keep their pursuers at bay.

“Mom, I think we’ve got a problem,” Sienna said.

“What?”


- - - - - - - - - - - -=[ Saturday, February 16, 2008 ]=- - - - - - - - - - - -
 
Announcing Packet Switched Marketing

Packet Switched Press has been around in one form or another since 2001, so it's a little hard to explain why it's taken so long to get around to our first "brand extension", but here it finally is.

Announcing Packet Switched Marketing: "Lies, Damn Lies and Opinions about Digital Marketing".

Aiming to cover the business of products, marketing and product marketing online, we'll take aim at all things Search, Display, Social Media and anything related where we can try to get away with unfounded commentary, just as you've come to expect from Packet Switched Press over the years.

Head on over, look around and give our first post, "When will Social Media...", a try. Comments are enabled, so let us know what you think.


- - - - - - - - - - - -=[ Friday, December 28, 2007 ]=- - - - - - - - - - - -
 
Impressions: Assassin's Creed

We're just coming off finishing Assassin's Creed, and given the "passion" surrounding the game (uniform accolades for innovation in design and scope, 81 MetaCritic score and over 2.5M units sold on the one hand and editorial criticism and endless forum posts bemoaning various aspects of the game on the other), a few comments seem warranted.


Regarding Some of the Accolades

Scope/Design: The views are incredible, and setting this Open World in a superbly researched and art-directed Crusade-era Middle Eastern locale has brilliant results. Cities that are truly alive with a variety of citizens that create an immersive environment and impact gameplay unfold majestically in front of--and below--you.

Story: Yes, it has evident similarities to other Templar'ish works (everything from DaVinci Code to National Treasure), but to have a complex, engaging plot with characters that have definitive arcs, but are not necessarily definitively good or definitively evil--and all the while not a post-apocalyptic horror theme in sight--is a borderline miracle for the video game universe of today.

Controls: The free-running is fantastic and puts the incredibly scenery to seemless, and truly good, use. It's a powerful feeling we dare say is more exhilarating than swinging Spiderman through the canyons of New York. The "Marionette" controls (head, weapon arm, free arm, legs) are reasonably intuitive and combat is neither mindless, nor impossible.


Regarding the Issues

Investigations/Repetitiveness: While the assassinations themselves and continuing to reach viewpoints as guard presence increases throughout the game are varied and tense, the required investigations become a chore to be minimized. As has been widely discussed, they are repetitive and of significantly different complexity, leading one to tend towards the trivial to simply "get through it".

Combat optimization: It becomes clear that the best possible combat approach (especially in the later fights pitting you against dozens of combatants dealing out 2-6 blocks of damage each) is to wait in defensive posture to perfectly time counter-attacks. While having to discover this is certainly part of the trial-and-error of gameplay, it essentially takes all other combat moves out of play, leaving you feeling slightly impotent offensively.

Dialog: There's too much of it, and too much of it delivered in soliloquy. Easy to fix. See below.


The one thing that has been true of Assassin's Creed across the editorial and user community--whether fawning over, or criticizing, the game--is the support for what has to be a coming sequel to expand on the unique qualities this game has staked a claim on and to fix the inevitable shortcomings this giant vision forces in its first execution. To that end, we have a few...


Suggestions

Scope/Design: Expand on a brilliant beginning. Analysis of the end of Assassin's Creed has suggested future destinations could include China, Peru, Japan and even Egypt. All lend themselves to visually stunning ancient cities/landscapes teeming with people.

Story/Dialog: Keep unfolding a ripping yarn, but let less be more in both plot and dialog. We're already plenty impressed that a video game has any story at all. Don't weigh yourself down under a plot that is more Mission Impossible II (e.g. laughably indecipherable), and less DaVinci Code (it's not Le Carre, but remains well-paced and accessible at all times). And while we love a good cut-scene that gets close up in the face of our next gen rendered characters, speechifying does no-one any good. Let some of the story unfold partially in the spaces between what is actually said.

Controls/Gameplay: Give me more free-running abilities to both explore the ever-more-incredible environments and to use them as an advantage over pursuers. AND give me a 2nd compatriot to do it with. [SPOILER WARNING] The most obvious candidate is Lucy (voiced by Kristen Bell), the lab assistant (wo)manning the Animus who is revealed as a fellow Assassin during the game and spares Desmond's life at the end. Much like Princess Farah briefly assisted the Prince in PoP:SoT, Lucy could make a useful companion to perhaps provide cover with ranged weapons or perform even more daring acrobatics than Desmond's ancestors (not to mention that a little romantic duet, or triangle with a player to be named later, could add to the story). You could also envision a "party" system with Desmond's ancestor, Lucy's ancestor, an animal for thievery and a big somebody to play the "heavy". There are some obvious downsides in increased complexity of managing your partner/party that need to be avoided, but the expansion in gameplay could be well worth it.


Here's to hoping it's been a short X-mas at Ubisoft Montreal, and that the team is already busy working on a November 2008 release of Assassin's Creed 2. We'll gladly drop another $60 on this kind of game.


 
Apple: 1/10th of a step closer to legit DVD ripping?

Lots of talk the last few days about the various iTunes-related announcements slated for Jobs' MacWorld keynote January 14th.

Talk of movie rentals from Fox as well as potentially other studios (difficult to imagine Disney won't be on board). There are also indications that Apple is licensing its FairPlay DRM to studios so that they can in turn include Fairplay'd (H.264?) versions of the movie on future DVDs.

While that's nice, we'd still love to see Apple go all the way and strike deals with the studios by which iTunes could legally rip DVDs (old, new, rented) for a modest price ($4.99?), wrap them in Fairplay and make them accessible to your computers and iPods the way a song bought from iTMS would be. While we're at it, we'd also like to see the rest of the AppleTV/iTunes roadmap we imagined earlier in the year...



- - - - - - - - - - - -=[ Saturday, December 22, 2007 ]=- - - - - - - - - - - -
 
Johnny rocks another Wiimote-based UI hack

Carnegie Mellon Human Computer Interaction PhD (and self-proclaimed "Procrastineer"), Johnny Lee, rocks another Wiimote based UI hack.

Following his finger-tip tracking "Minority Report"-like Wiimote hack we covered here, he now has another great hack he calls Head Tracking Desktop VR by which his head movements (right/left, up/down, forward/back) result in a change in the display similar to looking through a frame/window. Creates a great sense of depth!



We're still not quite beyond the mere interesting, and into the truly life-altering, but I suspect you can see it from here. Go, Johnny, go!

ps: Turns out Johnny is quite the renaissance man. His photography portfolio can be found here.



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