SXSW, Day 4

Sxsw_14th and final day. Recap: the first panel of the day for me was Web Typography Sucks, which proved to be far more in depth than I expected — I learned a fair amount and got some good suggestions for working around the traditionally poor type treatment provided by most blog engines. I’ll share them here once I’ve ha a chance to check them out. After that I went to Combinatorial Media as Self Expression, which was a fun, engaging panel. Text, audio, video, mashups, comics, roll-your-own community — where are all these varied forms of media headed? The panel discussed what is, ultimately, the 2007 version of “multimedia”, and what it means for playful and/or artistic content as well as more serious/educational purposes. Again, I have lots to look into as a result, and I’m really looking forward to sharing what I did up with everyone.

The afternoon keynote was delivered by Will Wright, creator of theSims, SimCity, and all the other Sims games. He’s a visionary, to be sure. He talked about the nature of storytelling, and how games offer an opportunity for a different kind of empathy — taking the viewer out of the role of a character and putting them into the role of director. This led into his demo of Spore, which pretty much had the audience drooling.

SporeIn most world-building games, you create an environment that entices settlers. The better you run your government (city/settlement/country), the more your community grows in size, wealth, and sophistication. Spore has several modules — you start with a single cell, navigating around the primordial ooze, until you consume enough matter that and evolve enough to move onto the land. You must learn to survive on the land, mate, and eventually be part of a tribe. The creature into which you evolve depends on the earlier play and on choices you make. The creature-creator (six legs? eight? one eye? four eyes? purple? red?) is incredibly flexible, allowing you to stretch and mold as much as you want, taking milliseconds to render beautiful, complex creatures. You then move on … you must run a city, get civilized, and eventually achieve the ability to travel in space. Now the universe is your oyster, and you can visit planets created by other users. You have complete terraforming capabilities, so your world will be out there too. The worlds will be populated by creatures evolved within other players’ games. You may well visit a planet populated by a species that wants nothing more than to eat you, or you may find a compatible species with whom to settle. Will says it’s not a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) so much as it’s a Massively Single-Player Online Game.

All I know is I can’t wait. During the demo, Tori turned to me and said “I’ve never wanted to buy a computer game in my life, until now.” She also suggested that I probably shouldn’t buy it, as I’d never leave my house again. Fat chance :)

The final program item was the traditional wrap-up talk by Bruce Sterling. He’s always an engaging speaker, but I was kind of surprised at his speech. He seems to be part of the rumblings of the “backlash” I’ve been hearing about. My paraphrase of his sentiments… blogs suck, twitter sucks, mashups suck. He predicted that in 10 years we wouldn’t know what a blog is, that the format would be dead. As much as I do consider Bruce Sterling brilliant, truly a visionary, he sounded a bit like a cranky old man at these closing statements.

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