ACM - Computers in Entertainment

Microsoft Opens it Doors to the LA-Tech Community

By Lim Torng Hann, Poh Ban Hoe, Wei Kiat Leong

On December 3, 2013, Elan Lee, Chief Design Officer at Xbox Entertainment Studios, gave a keynote to a crowd that included the major players, and curious observers, in interactive gaming. Here is a recap of the Emerging Tech Salon, which touched on interactive gaming, entertainment, and the technology of collaborative storytelling.

Microsoft's Big Move and New Technologies

Microsoft has recently moved to Silicon Beach, CA, where the company opened a new technlogy center. Earlier this month, the tech giant hosted a Bixel Exchange event onsite. Bixel Exchange is a Los Angeles, CA-based organization that is fostering tehcnology entrepreneurship in the area. At the events companies comes out network and collaborate with one another. 

Bixel Exchange at the Microsoft Technology Center in Playa Vista.

Not only was there a tour of the facility, Microsoft introduced new technologies like Lync, a collaboration software aimed at corporate users, which supports conectivity with Skype. It involves an interactive white board as well as a touch screen TV with 27 precision touches for video messaging and conferencing.

Revolutionary 27 precision touches on a screen.

Daqri Interactive Technologies

Daqri, one of the companies present, showcased breakthroughs technologies using QR codes and Google gGasses. One example is their “4D Anatomy Viewer,” where the user can install the program on a tablet and by scanning a giant QR code show the anatomy of a virtual human.

This virtual human anatomy can viewed differently, ranging from skin to  muscular tissues, even down to bare bones. This helps the user learn more about human anatomy and creates a more interactive way of learning it.

4D Anatomy Viewer by Daqri

Another such technology by Daqri are “interactive cubes.” These cubes represents science elements like “Na”, and work in the following way: by using the camera and focusing on object, a 3-D cube model of the element is shown and an imagery representation of the element is found inside of the 3-D cube model.

Interactive cubes by Daqri.

What is amazing about this technology was not only can you can physical rotate these cube and the image of the element, but you can also combine the element’s properties to create new compounds. This is showcased when the “Na” cube and “Cl” cube was combine to create a new compound “NaCl”, which is sodium chloride.

Adding amusement to science. 

Another example of mind-boggling technology was a mind-reading device, which utilitizes Google Glass to interact with a lamp.

When the user looks at the targeted object, in this case the lamp, the user has to think hard enough in order to generate a pulse, which the mind-reading device will capture and send to the Google Glasses. This in turn will cause the lamp to either turn off or on, which sheds new light on how we can design and innovate new ideas for electronic appliances.

Being Charles Xavier could be a real possibility.

Interactive Story Telling

Elan Lee gave an interesting talk on how a story could be told interactively.

Elan Lee talks to the crowd.

He explained,  the first form of ARG (alternate reality games) happened when he was tasked to create an interactive game for the Steven Spielberg film “A.I. (Artificial Intelligence).” The mechanics of this game involved a sentient machine therapist, named “Jeanine Salla.” The charcter was used as part of a hidden message behind the movie’s promotional posters. The idea was players would have to crack a code related to the movie’s release date “SUMMER 2001” and the numbers “5 0 3 - 3 2 1 - 5 1 2 2”.

The end result of this puzzle was players would find a phone number, which they could call to find out more information about the movie.

The game behind Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.” 

Lee, gave another exmaple of how technology could be involved in interactive storytelling. He discussed the use of specialized gimmicks. For the Nine Inch Nails “Year Zero” CD, a special thermo-chrome heat-sensitive CD face was created. When the CD was opened for the first time, the black disc turned white with black binary codes played on a CD playback device. The heat was generated from the album being played.

Using a thermo-chrome heat-sensitive CD for Nine Inch Nails “Year Zero” album.

Another technique was used involving a then-unreleased song called “My Violent Heart”. Spooky images and numbers could be found when the song was played using a spectrograph, which gave the listner a number to call to get more information about the album.

Spectrogram of noises found in “My Violent Heart.”

The effect of having good interactive storytelling has been proven to capture the heart of audience. Lee shared a project known as "Cathy's Book," in which players would be able to view information about Cathy's “life,” with some elements that involved a number being torn out at a page when Cathy" tears it out.

"Cathy's Book" got the player so involved in the game, some of them even started to wish her, a fictional character a happy birthday on her birthday.

The story of the fictional character, “Cathy.”

When asked about the physiological effects of sure interactivity, Lee said it provides a random schedule of positive reinforcement effect on players, as they will not know what they will get when they complete the task. This is an optimal way of attracting players to not only seek out more information, but also making them stick around. An example Lee gave was when he created an interactive method to attract customers to a museum.

The project made it possible for players to view various exhibits using digital rewards. How this worked is the players, using mobile devices, visited various exhibits around the museum. When the players reached the proximity of those particular exhibits, there would be events launched on the mobile device—be it a virtual reward, a short video, or even a tidbit of information about said exhibit.

 A short Q&A with the audience.