Thesis: Perception and Story

Is story important to the project?

I’d like to say yes because I think a story can guide that experience in an engaging way, and because I’m interested in weirder ways stories can be told. Adding a story would be an opportunity to explore more figurative or poetic ways of storytelling in games, which I could potentially use past my studies at OCAD. 

However, story may detract or distract from the rest of the project project, as the player may be overly focused on interpreting what is happening in the context of the story. Challenges or goals could also detract from the experience in the same way. I often find myself ignoring all irrelevant (albeit beautiful) aspects of games in order to figure out their system to try to win as quickly as possible. 

I still think there’s something compelling about how a story may or may not fit into this project. I was excited by what could be implied by minimal information in those credit sequences. There’s something about a shape used to communicate two drastically different ideas that triggers my imagination; for a second you’re believing something impossible. 

Themes

I’m also finding a lot of possibilities for storytelling in my research. Olly Moss’s movie posters show how visual similes can convey a key concept from a story. Visual similes create visual metaphor and can communicate a relationship between two ideas, though you could say that about film cuts too, and they don’t usually require a clever transition (see writing on montage), just the juxtaposition of two ideas. I also still think there is something interesting about using a shift between different viewpoints to communicate themes of isolation, distance, or disorientation. 

Disorienting tricks bring to mind ideas of:

  • Waking dreams
  • Otherworldliness
  • Magic
  • Involuntary memory
  • Visual triggers to imagination

Inception and Paprika touch on the dream thing, using perceptual tricks to portray the plasticity of dream reality. The lack of clear consequence and the  deceptiveness of a world you’re unsure is a dream or reality can be really frustrating. This brings up the ideas of trust and suspension of disbelief, as mentioned in the previous post. 

Additionally, I mentioned in my literature review that Pabst’s Die Dreigroschenoper uses disorientation to show characters’ delusion and create an awareness of spectatorship, as

“the film demonstratively and self-reflexively draws the spectator’s attention to framed reflections and mediated images that disrupt the spectatorial experience in explicit terms by forcing the spectator to become conscious of his or her act of watching. “(Heidt)

Visual Misinterpretation and Misinterpretation as a Theme

In addition to potential story themes, my research has reminded me of the process of reading stories, (and of interpreting information in general). More specifically, of how misinterpretation of phrases can trigger one’s imagination and create interesting understandings of texts that rely on one’s own experiences.

One of my super-old thesis ideas was to make a game environment that reflected a child’s misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the world. One could walk into a room as the child, knowing it’s a room the child could never have entered in real life, and see what they imagine is inside. The world would be distorted/shaped by their interpretation, and one might see how our understanding of the world is shaped by how we need it to be seen.

The idea of misinterpretation or alternate interpretation ties into illusion, and ambiguity and a lot of other things I’ve been looking at. It also relates to the topic of perceptual biases, which I’m learning about in that cognitive science class.

Work Cited

Heidt, Todd. “Double Take: Béla Balázs and the Visual Disorientation of G. W. Pabst’s Dreigroschenoper.” Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies, vol. 50 no. 2, 2014, pp. 178-196. Project MUSE. Web. 14 Oct. 2016.

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Thesis: Making Spaces

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Here is some furniture I created for the inside of the cracker/raft house. The objects are less informed by research and more informed by playing around and seeing what looks good. Sometimes weird proportions can make the item seem oddly cute and handmade to suit the needs of the person that uses it. I’m finding it really enjoyable to try to make objects that bring up questions and generate story.

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It’s easy to get attached to certain pieces that don’t fit in with the other objects. I was conflicted between some more traditional looking pieces and some more modern ones.

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I did a lot of research on specific historical interior design styles. Using this research, I’ve been modeling and getting feedback from others to try to create settings that evoke the feeling of being in a distinct era. It’s harder to find references for, say, Europe in the 20s, that show the homes of the less wealthy, but the OCAD library is a good resource for books that at least write about the home-lives of general populations.

Week 10: Prototype

For week 10, I prototyped different perspective shifting techniques and tested a few small technical and aesthetic things.

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I played with a new type of transition that captures and records the positional relationship between the player’s camera and the object at which they are looking. It then cuts to a different scene, positions the camera in a different direction (this is the perspective shift) and positions the object using that same relationship. What happens is, the player has the same view the whole time, from the first scene to the next. The object can then be locked to the environment, and the camera control can be returned to the player, so that they realize they are not looking in one direction anymore, but another. The technical problem with this is gaining enough control over the camera with a pre-made Unity fps controller. I have achieved this effect only for the second before something in the pre-written code automatically snaps the camera somewhere else.

This effect can be used for any perspective shift based on direction, but is best for up to down or down to up shifts because of its reliance on views that don’t have anything in them (eg.: of a flat sky) or of two views that look the same (eg.: a reflection of the sky and the sky)

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Another thing I prototyped was a space that grew as you turned and walked around inside it. I thought it would be as simple as making a lot of location and view triggers, but I didn’t realize that these triggers would intersect with each other and need to be very carefully positioned. It does give a cool effect of be in a confined space and then suddenly be in an open space. If I were to make this prototype again, I would use triggers not to see where you were looking but where you weren’t looking.

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I also tried moving the player through code toward a building to achieve a “far to close” perspective shift, but the effect wasn’t that interesting, and the sudden lack of control over movement would probably be annoying to the player.

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I added on to my last prototype (the one I made with the classroom and hallway). Now, as the player enters their room, they will have the opportunity to pour some soup from a flask and make some tea. The food will calm them enough to be distracted by their imagination and their book again.

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If the player puts their curser over the kettle, its material switches to a shader with an outline and some text will pop-up, asking the player to engage with it. If they press a key, the text will change. I put a view trigger over the soup and a location trigger in front of it. If both of these triggers are triggered, the player camera’s depth of field will decrease until they have a zoomed-in view of the bowl. The scene will then change to one where the player is now very small, looking out a blimp floating above a round lake with a raft in it. They can walk around the blimp and look out the windows to see the rest of the lake. They can also jump out and see a house take form on the raft as it is viewed from the side rather than the top (where it blends into the raft, looking like a cracker).

This sequence is a perspective shift that goes from close to far and from being big to small.

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Finally, I played with limited colour palettes and gradients to try to make beautiful, visually interesting environments. For this purple mountain environment, I added the gradient with texture mapping in Blender. It fades to dark purple that matches the purple of the ground plane that the mountain plane grows out of. That dark purple is also the sky colour I set in Unity, so the environment seems to move out infinitely. I wanted to create the effect of feeling isolated. The main effect I got out of it was motion sickness, because of how slowly it felt to climb the mountains (because their texture changes so gradually, it doesn’t feel like you’re going anywhere).

The mountains look better from far away. I may address this motion sickness issue by making the mountains a non-explorable aspect of the environment (e.g. a view from a tower).

 

Thesis: Week 10 Additional Reflection

I thought more about the feedback from week 10.

I think it’s a really interesting idea to shift between free-form exploration and narration. I originally wanted to merge those elements together- you reveal story through exploration and interactions with things you find, and the way that scenes flow from one to another. I hadn’t thought about having specific moments meant just for looking around, and then other moments where you’re being told things. 

I asked whether scale shifting should be considered perspective shifting, and the unanimous response was yes. I think it is too. Another perspective shift that I forgot to mention was right side up to up side down, which brings up an important issue that I’ve been thinking about: these transitions have the potential to be very surreal looking. For example, if I wanted, I could pretty easily animate a chair morphing in a building to create a smooth transition. But how overtly surreal do I want this game to be? (by surreal I mean the colloquial sense of something seeming half-real, not Surreal) Originally, I wanted the player to be able to print screen any part of the game and for it to show something that was physically possible. No half-chairs, half-buildings. Nothing floating in mid-air, nothing upside down. In a dream, crazy things happen but you don’t question them. It doesn’t feel surreal until after you think about it. It feels like it makes sense. Adding surreal elements would probably really change the tone of the game, which I’m not sure if I want.

This question may be tricky to answer, as is the question of whether or not people will gain meaning from certain transitions. The solution to both of these things will likely be play testing different versions of the same sequences and changing variables such as the initial perspective of a scene, the transition type and the method of communicating the story (eg.: voice-over narration vs. text).

Finally, shading style was mentioned as a little too flat. I’d like to populate my environments with more detail, and switch from flat shading to two-tone shading. I’ve been researching shaders to get more control over how Unity presents models. However, I still think minimalism can be powerful, if used with very thoughtful, strong composition. I don’t think a game has to have a consistent amount of detail from scene to scene- the detail can probably vary somewhat for effect. 

Thesis: Academic Research

I devoted a lot of my attention in the past two weeks to finding and documenting a lot of academic sources, looking specifically at:

Game Studies:

  • Perspective and space
  • Relating emotions, metaphors and mechanics

Film Studies:

  • Cuts and sequences
  • Disorientation and Subjectivity

There’s a lot written about subjectivity in game and film studies, and it’s important to define it before going forward. Usually in game studies, using subjectivity to refer to the unique experience of the player. I’m more interested in how the player is given a view of a world that is filtered through the mind of a character, and especially how abstractions of a game environment can communicate ideas about a character’s interpretation of what’s around them. (Relating to bias, unreliable narration and emotional perspective.) I’m focusing my written thesis more on visual/spatial perspective, but my project is about creating meaning through spatial perspective shifts, using subjectivity to create this meaning.

I have spun myself into a sticky web of concepts, but a surprising connection was a group of sources that are about both subjectivity in film and spatial disorientation. These sources are a bit more difficult to read about, because they deal with film theory.

Perspective needed to be a more important part of my project, and I’ve been thinking of different ideas that perspective can suggest in a story.

Close to far – the transition of time, forgetting

Far to close – inspection, understanding

Inside to outside – isolation or confinement to exclusion or freedom

Outside to inside – curiosity, being wrapped in something

One side to another side of a reflexion/photograph/painting -imagination, memory

Looking up to to looking down – hope to despair, a power dynamic shift between two people, the process of growing up, flying upward or moving beyond something

As was pointed out after my last presentation, I’ve been working on a lot of things in my project that relate to Russian director and screenwriter Vselvolod Pudovkin’s 5 methods of editing. These methods were really interesting to read about because they’re kind of common or at least relatable to similar concepts in art, music and literature, and I like connecting my somewhat diverse interests in different established rhetorics/forms of expression.

I read about Pudovkin’s ideas on editing and montage in Film Technique and Film Acting: The Cinema Writings of V.I. Pudovkin, in the chapter on Relational Editing. The main methods of editing (with the intention of creating impression) he listed are:

  • Contrast
  • Parallelism
  • Symbolism
  • Simultaneity
  • Leit-motif

Contrast

I’m using contrast by comparing the situations and reactions of two different characters. I also like to switch between drastically different scenes sometimes to create a sense of displacement and escape.

Parallelism

Pudovkin writes that parallelism this is similar to contrast. I see parallelism in the game as the player switches back and forth between the worlds of these two characters, and both of them are facing isolation and dissatisfaction in their own ways. The transitions that rely on 2 similar looking things may also be considered parallelistic.

Symbolism

Symbolism is another way of creating another level of meaning that can draw connections between drastically different environments. This game has the potential to feel really disjointed and disorientating, and I’m already interested overlaying different themes/patterns/emotional arcs into stories, so a lot of these methods are very relevant.

Simultaneity

Two things are happening at once! Pudovkin writes that this is over-used in the ends of movies to create a sense of tension. It may not be something I get to by the time I’ve finished my thesis, but I had imagined a series of rapid scene cuts where the player keeps looking around and finding themselves somewhere new, as the focal character is overwhelmed/confused/distressed. I’d like to test out what kind of effects the frequency of transitions can have on a player- whether frequent transitions make them nauseated, upset or confused or if this can be used to put forward a point while still keeping the player engaged. I don’t want to make the player stressed out. I also don’t want to rely on frequent transitions to create a sense of urgency- if I continue to make a linear narrative, each transition should say something about the character’s state in the story and be supported by other story telling methods and by context. (I have similar attitudes towards to the use of music)

Leit-motif

This is my favourite of Pudovkin’s methods. In music, leitmotifs are short musical phrases associated with certain people, places or ideas. Re-occuring themes with varied tempos, instruments and keys kind of blow my mind. Themes in film can be used as non-conventional methods of conveying meaning. In certain films and novels, you can follow a theme through the piece and think about everything that’s happening in relation to that theme, instead of thinking about the story in the traditional sense: according the the successes and failures of the main character in fulfilling their main goal.

The intentional and thoughtful creation of themes can help create a story that is well structured. I don’t think that’s the only key to a good story, but it adds strength /underlying logic.

Works Cited

Pudovkin, Vsevolod Illarionovich, Ivor Goldsmid Samuel Montagu, and Lewis Jacobs. Film Technique and Film Acting: The Cinema Writings of V.I. Pudovkin. New York: Bonanza, 1949. Print.