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Posts Tagged ‘video games’

When I was in the eighth grade, my buddies would come over almost every day after school to my parent’s apartment to play the board game, RISK.  It became a ritual and soon the topic of conversation between us, each day at lunch and recess.  In fact, one time three or four female classmates came to the apartment, pleading for us guys to give up the game and spend some time with them.  We said, “no way!”  Ah, the decisions we make!

I’ve always been a fan of games, the more complex the better.  I’ve played board games, cards, Dungeon and Dragons.  I enjoy the social interaction, the elements of fantasy.  After all these years it shouldn’t be a surprise that I would take my filmmaking experience and put it to use in video games, but it wasn’t until last year when my company, Unconventional Media produced the live action portions to the Electronic Arts (EA) video game, “Need for Speed: Undercover” that I really began to understand the tremendous possibilities of video games and interactive storytelling.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Electronic Entertainment Expo, simply known as E3, at the Los Angeles Convention Center.  Presented by the Electronic Software Association, this is the event where new games and gaming inventions are unveiled each year.  The roll-out was impressive, the technology amazing.  I was in awe of the big LED televisions displaying such realistic, spot on graphics.  However, what really caught my attention this year is the amount of immersive game play devices being released.  Nintendo introduced a device, the Wii Vitality Sensor, that clips to a player’s index finger and reads their pulse into the game.  This is the same company that has been so successful with the Wii Fit, which helps a game player lose weight by bouncing on a board that feeds the movements into game play.  Basically, your movements are the game characters movements, so if the game requires your character to run or jump, then you, the player must do the same.  A hell of a workout.  Ubisoft Entertainment introduced a competitive, more serious fitness title, “Your Shape” that actually customizes the workout based on body type.

However, the Project Natal for the XBox really knocked me over.  You’ve got to watch the YouTube video attached to really understand the interactive possibilities.  You can fully immerse yourself into a virtual world.

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As I wrote in this blog last October, after the “E for all Expo,” the philosophy behind my company, Unconventional Media, is to deliver a fresh angle for new entertainment, incorporating movie storytelling into game play.  This seems to be a growing, exciting trend in the business, although much of it remains tied to feature film releases like “Batman,” “Watchman,” “Harry Potter,” etc..  I do admit it was fun to stand next to the original Ghostbusters Ecto-1 vehicle, parked outside to promote the Ghostbuster Video game. I believe with the immersing technology of virtual game worlds, we can create storylines to form a new kind of entertainment.  It’s like my fictional screenplay, “Press>Play” as reality.  We enter the story, virtually.

Since I’ve always enjoyed the social aspects of game play and find the solo aspects of most video games a little lonely, like playing Solitaire, you’d think I’d be a big fan of online gaming. I’m fearful that getting involved in games like “World of Warcraft” and other multi-player online activities will become such an addiction that I’ll never go outdoors again.  Hell, I won’t even play “Mafia Wars” on Facebook.  However, after viewing the EA and LucasArts upcoming release, “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” a multiplayer, online game based on the franchise, but set in a different time period, I may be hooked.

After a couple of days of the loud noises and visual attacks of E3, I had to make an escape. I sat down with some friends and played “Joan of Arc,” a good old fashioned board game.  The game takes place during the 100 year war between England and the provinces of France.  There are castles, battles, land grabs, even the plaque, but there are also alliances between players, negotiating between teams, the human element.  I miss this part of game play in video games.  Sometimes, it just feels like it’s you against the machine.  I like the social interaction. Maybe, I’m just a board game geek.  Anyone up for a game of RISK.

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7thannualvesawards
Yesterday, the Visual Effects Society (VES) announced the nominees for the VES Awards and “Need for Speed:Undercover” was nominated in two categories, Outstanding Pre-Rendered Visuals in a Video Game and the one that truly reflects Unconventional Media’s work, Outstanding Real Time Visuals in a Video Game.  Directed by Joseph Hodges with cinematography by Jeff Seckendorf, Unconventional Media produced all the live action portions to the Electronic Arts release.

Much has been written about the blending of the live action and game animation (and the use of the RED camera) including Moviemaker Magazine, Moving Picture Magazine, LA Splash and American Cinematographer.

This is the 7th annual VES award ceremony recognizing outstanding visual effects in over a dozen categories of film, animation, television, commercials and video games. Comprised of more than 1,600 members in 17 countries, the Visual Effects Society is the entertainment industry’s only official trade organization representing the full breadth of visual effects practitioners including artists, technologists, model makers, educators, studio leaders, supervisors, PR/marketing specialists and producers in all areas of entertainment.

The award ceremony will take place on February 21, 2009 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.

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A few days ago I was returning with my sister Lindsay Mofford and our friend Stefan Rhys from the full length screening of “Che” at the Nuart theater.  The two of them couldn’t see how director Steven Soderbergh could allow the studios to release the film in two parts instead of the four+ hour version that we had just throughly enjoyed.  I argued that they seemed like two different films, both in filmmaking style and tone.  They were even shot at different aspect  ratios.  Soderbergh may have always planned them as two different films.  The conversation continued with discussions of classic great films, both Lindsay and Stefan had recently seen Sidney Lumet’s 1976 film “Network” again on Netflix.  We talked about Paddy Chayefsky‘s great screenplay, including the fight between Diana (Faye Dunaway) to Max (William Holden) and her apology, “I’m sorry I impugned your cockmanship.”  We all agreed, “Such a great line.”  They just don’t make them like that anymore.  Well, OK, Sidney Lumet  and Steven Soderbergh are still making great movies.

I’ve been reading a lot about the past recently, not just 2008 (which is to be expected with the New Year), but even further back.  The Sunday, December 28, New York Times was filled with articles about how things are changing so rapidly, mostly because of digital technology and the Internet.  In Michael Kimmelman’s article, “Imperfect, Yet Magical” he writes about Polaroid’s decision to stop manufacturing the film for their instant cameras.  Digital cameras did them in, even though some amazing art, including the work of David Hockney, has been created with those white-bordered prints.  As to be expected, many  are protesting by signing petitions at SavePolaroid.com.  Others are happy to see its demise, Polaroid film never being a great thing for the environment.

I signed the petition, but how many things can we really hope to save in this changing world.  On the very next page of the newspaper was an article by David Streitfeld about the destruction of book publishing.  Turns out it isn’t because of lack of interest in books, it’s because book lovers are finding cheaper ways to read and buy books on the Internet.  To quote, “more books are available for less effort and less money than ever before.”  He not only mentions Amazon.com but introduced me to ViaLibri.net, a book search engine of 20,000 booksellers around the world, ready to uncover your next read.

Reading about how the Internet is the demise of book publishing reminds me of all the discussions, including here on this blog and at our Nashville office Unconventional South, of how downloading music has ruined the recording companies.  In 2008, one Billion songs were purchased online, while CD sales fell nearly twenty percent.  The music industry is scrambling to cope with this change.  In the Arts and Leisure section of the same New York Times, Jon Pareles writes in his article, “Songs from the Heart of a Marketing Plan” that record labels are now creating “360” deals with artists, in which they share in concert tickets and merchandise sales.  The biggest new source of income for musical artists is in licensing fees for commercials, movie and television soundtracks and video games.  The concern, of course, is that in the past, the record labels job was selling the music and the artist, licensers have no interest beyond the immediate sales effect of a certain song.  So the shift goes from recording songs from the heart to making music that marketers can use.  Didn’t Neil Young warn us all many years ago that this was where things were headed in “This Note’s for You?”

If it requires marketing and branding to get your music heard, is that so bad?  Music has always had a role in marketing.  Most successful musicians believe that licensing does build interest in the music that can pay off with record sales.  The key is staying true to your art while taking advantage of the new opportunities.  In the Music section of that same December 28 issue of the Times, Vivien Schweitzer writes in her article, “Aliens are attacking.  Cue the Strings.” that music scores whether rock, rap or classical are becoming an integral part of video games.  It seems as the game industry matures, they’re getting better at storytelling.  Steve Schnur of Electronic Arts (EA) is quoted as saying, “music is the reason for the emotional response that games never had 10 to 20 years ago.”  We certainly found that to be true when producing the live portions of  “Need for Speed:Undercover.”  In prep, the discussions on music were considered just as important as visual content.  According to the article, television and film producers want more ambient music, while software companies want strong statements.  However, the biggest challenge for the composer is switching from linear to the interactive of video games, the music has to reflect different possible outcomes within each part of the game.

Listen, I still love the sound of an LP over a CD or digital recording.  I don’t mind getting up ever 25 minutes to turn over the record, that’s why I still own three thousand records.  I also have close to that many CD’s.  However, we need to embrace the fact that new media has changed the industry, not only music, but other creative endeavors.  Because I also love listening to new bands on Pandora, Ourstage and MySpace.

The changing industry is even having an effect on syndicated cartoonists. According to Leslie Berlin in her New York Times article (same date, quite an issue), “The Comics are Feeling the Pain of Print,” cartoonist are feeling the same bite as musical artists.  Newspapers are declining.  Cartoonists are using the web to sell books, calendars, stuffed dolls to compensate.  Sites like Comics.com and Webcomics Nation present many of the same strips found syndicated in newspapers, plus some new ones only available on the web.  Another site, GoComics.com even has a version for the iPhone.  Like most things on the Internet, the comic sites didn’t have much success with subscription fees, but marketing banners seem bring in some income.

In 1976, when the film “Network” was released, news as entertainment seemed like a far-fetched fantasy.  Things have changed, but in many ways things remain the same.  Many of the issues documented in the terrific Gus Van Zant film release “Milk” are being fought today in California with Prop. 8 and elsewhere in this country.  I gathered my information the old fashioned way, I read the Sunday New York Times, not on the Internet, it was delivered.  But I put it in my Blog, you can still read the articles online.  In 2009, we don’t have to leave everything behind to move forward, we just need to figure out how to make all this new technology work to our own artistic and financial advantage.  So take those fading Polaroids, maybe scan them and create a website.  Take your music and find a new way to market it.  Write your novel or make your film and self distribute it.  Use the web for success, that’s my resolution.  There are no good old yesterdays, just present day.

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Need for Speed:Undercover from Electronic Arts (EA) is finally available at retail stores in North America and on November 21 in Europe.  The live action in-game movies were produced by Eric Mofford and directed by Joseph Hodges for Unconventional Media.  In the game, the player is recruited by Federal Agent Chase Linh, played by Maggie Q (Mission Impossible III and Live Free or Die Hard), to go undercover and infiltrate and takedown a ruthless international crime syndicate. Posing as a wheelman, the player will be required to prove themselves by completing jobs, racing through speedways, dodging cops and chasing rivals.

The production (especially the use of the RED camera) has been covered in such magazines as American Cinematographer, MovieMaker and Moving Pictures.  Filmed at the end of May and early June, the buzz and anticipation of the game first started in August with the Teaser and the “Which Road To Take” website.  Discussions. forums and updates at such sites as NFSunlimited.net have only helped fuel the excitement.

Need for Speed Undercover has been getting strong reviews, including IGN magazine, as an action-packed story of pursuit and betrayal that takes players back to the “Need for Speed” roots with break-neck cop chases, spectacular highway battles and an expansive open-world.  The game also features its signature real-world damage and car customization for over 55 of the hottest licensed vehicles including the Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG, Audi R8, Porsche 911 GT2 and the all-new unreleased 2009 Nissan 370Z.

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The referee steps between Billy Mitchell and Eric Mofford

The referee steps between Billy Mitchell and Eric Mofford

On October 3rd, I gave myself a birthday present and headed over to the E for All Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center.  This event caterers to the video gamers as they compete against each other for prizes and accolades.  I was there mostly to get a better idea of the future of video games, but was surprised and disappointed by how few new games were displayed.  In fact, if one didn’t know better, you’d think the whole industry was now being served by “Guitar Hero” and EA’s “Rock Band.”  Lots of wanna-be rockers holding fake plastic guitars trying to keep up chord progressions on colored frets.  At Unconventional Media, we have a few ideas of how to incorporate the live action style like we did for the upcoming EA release, “Need for Speed:Undercover” into the next generation of these Rock Star games.  In fact, I saw a lot of opportunities to upgrade many of these old video games with interactive storytelling and live action.  It seemed symbolic to run into Billy Mitchell (although, at first, I didn’t know who he was).  He has been documented in the terrific film, King of Kong, as the best player of that old classic video game, Donkey Kong.  He is an icon of the video games of the past, like much of the other games on display.  I was looking for the games of the future.

One of the few things that I did find intriguing was Prototype161.  They’re starting up an interactive online and real world detective game that begins at the end of October.  Hard to know how successful it will be, but I love the idea of taking the game literally “out of the box” and into the streets of the USA.  I’ll be watching this one closely.

That’s the whole philosophy behind Unconventional Media, to combine the best of online, video gaming and traditional media to revolutionize the way these games are designed, developed, and delivered.  We hope to deliver a fresh angle for new entertainment, incorporating movie storytelling into game play.    Like anything new, we are always looking for innovative partners with funding leads.  You got some ideas, I’m real interested.

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I’m on the radio.  Check it out.  I join the program about five minutes into the show.

Blogtalkradio.com

Wayne Clingman is the host.  He calls his show “Indy Film Wisconsin.”  Originally, I think the idea of the program was to promote Film projects in the State of Wisonsin including their film incentives! But like so many things with the web, it has expanded.  We cover many of the ideas and issues on this site.

You can contact Wayne at:
wclingman@wi.rr.com

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Unconventional Media in Los Angeles announces the opening of Unconventional South, an affiliate office in Nashville, TN.  Eric Mofford, a film and television professional, with production credits ranging from the Emmy winning Fox television show “24,” starring Kiefer Southerland, and ABC’s “Extreme Makeover:Home Edition” and now President of Unconventional Media stated, “With the opening of Unconventional South we have created a company with deep creative resources that draws on a large talent pool in both Los Angeles and Nashville.”  Before moving to Los Angeles in 1994, Mofford produced many music videos in Nashville including Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee.”

Unconventional South offers film and video services that range from traditional corporate and broadcast television to music video and game and web media creation.  Unconventional Media, Los Angeles recently completed production on the live action sequences, using multiple state of the art RED ONE cameras, for Electronic Arts (EA) upcoming video game release “Need for Speed: Undercover.”

Nashville based, Unconventional South is headed up by Michael Catalano, founder of the Nashville Film Festival and recent Director of TV Arts Channel 9 and iQ tv10, arts and educational television for Nashville, Tennessee.  “I am very excited to be involved with an organization that has such a wide range of production capabilities…one that can offer high quality media services to the Southeast.  To be able to draw on Nashville’s creative community and to couple that with what our Los Angeles office can provide, opens up the widest range of possibilities imaginable.”  Catalano and Mofford first worked together on the award winning film, “Travelin’ Trains.”

Unconventional South has it’s eyes on applications for the next big idea, located at 1301 16th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212 615-500-8784

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