ACM - Computers in Entertainment

Interactive documentaries

By Marian F. Ursu, Vilmos Zsombori, John Wyver, Lucie Conrad, Ian Kegel, Doug Williams
SPECIAL ISSUE: TV and Video Entertainment Environments, [Vol. 7, No. 3]

DOI: 10.1145/1594943.1594953

This article is motivated by the opportunity presented by recent advances in information and communication technology—particularly by faster broadband connections and faster digital media processing capabilities—for interactive television to extend and develop interactive storytelling or interactive narratives. This will give viewers the ability to shape and configure the programs they watch, while watching, according to their needs and desires. Rather than consuming a predefined linear narration—represented by the traditional dramatic or factual program—which has to address the potential audience as a whole, individuals or groups of viewers can receive tailored-made personal narratives. Each viewer can thus potentially become an active explorer of a narrative space rather than a receiver of a predefined narration. This article presents the production of A Golden Age, an interactive configurable documentary about the arts of the Renaissance in England, as a comprehensive illustration of the potential offered by interactive narration. At the same time, it is also a successful example of the employment of the recently developed, production- and genre-independent, ShapeShifting Media technology in the realization of a good quality interactive narrative. This article describes the concept of A Golden Age, the content production process, carried out from the outset with the aim of producing an interactive experience, and, finally, its authoring and delivery with the ShapeShifting Media toolkit. The focus of the presentation is on the design and implementation of the computational interactive narrative structures expressed in the Narrative Structure Language (NSL), the declarative representation language underlying ShapeShifting Media. A Golden Age places a distinct emphasis on the quality and style of each emerging individual narration, aiming at levels at least comparable to those of (good quality) linearly compiled documentaries. NSL and the ShapeShifting Media toolkit provided the means to achieve this. A Golden Age is a production realized by Illuminations Television Ltd, London, in collaboration with Goldsmiths, University of London and BT over a period of more or less two years. Approximately 50 hours of rushes were filmed for its production. A Golden Age has already inspired the production of another similar documentary, Films of Fact, soon to be released in the public domain as an installation at the Science Museum, London, and, it is hoped, will continue to serve as inspiration for other interactive documentaries.

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