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Interactive Storytelling: Living in a Parallax Universe

Posted on November 5, 2012 and read 4,956 times

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EamonWyse Interactive Storytelling: Living in a Parallax UniverseEamon Wyse
Programme Manager
Blast Radius Amsterdam

Storytelling has been at the forefront of modern life. Whether it is TV, cinema, books, radio or YouTube, we all have access to consume stories that others have created. Indeed, we create our own for the Internet audience. More recently, with the progression of technology, we have had the opportunity to interact – to a certain degree – with online storytelling.

Audiences around the world have been given the chance to control what they see, to interact with characters via simple choices, and even to navigate through online apparel sites. Automobile companies are giving us a chance to choose what happens next in their product videos; fragrances are allowing us to view and interact with both video content and celebrity ambassadors, and in cinema and online alike, we are starting to interact with movies.

Where can we go from here?

With rapid improvement in the gaming world (think accessories such as Kinect for the XBOX, recent strides made in digital ‘avatars’ from scanning the human form, and touchscreen technology as commonplace) we are now closer to having a more immersive film and story experience.

The Internet has given storytelling a new lease of life. The web series has invigorated a new breed of film production; social networks have given us the ability to freely interact online with others – whether they are people or companies; and augmented reality has provided the chance to interact with characters and objects. So why not take it to the next level? Remember the old text adventure games, such as ‘The Hobbit’? An array of possibilities per scene gave the player the feeling of being in control of an adventure, even if it was only through basic images and text. Why not make the new breed of film this interactive, by creating movies and stories in which the viewer can choose the direction in which it plays out? And from there, extend this out to a wider audience via social networks. Wouldn’t this allow characters in films greater ‘reality’ for viewers?

We are already seeing elements of this in advertising. HUGO BOSS has allowed consumers (or are they fans?) to use head-tracking technology which changes what they see. And companies like Lexus and Mercedes have given us the opportunity to choose what happens next in their product/car videos, providing basic interaction with characters.

To my mind, there is a real possibility that the future of storytelling is heading in this direction. We’ll soon be able to become immersed in movies, truly bridging the gap between films and gaming. We’ll be able to influence decisions made by the characters, communicate with versions of those characters outside of the film itself, and even have our own virtual avatar within the film. We’ll be able to transfer and continue the story via TV, cinema, the internet, and mobile – and even extend this out to live events.

To extend the creativity of storytelling, one of the storyteller’s new weapons is parallax scrolling. For the most part, web designers are using this to create what are essentially brochure and magazine websites. The user can simply scroll, while the website itself takes you through a journey, both vertically and horizontally. Not only does it make the user experience easier for scanning information, but also it can look beautiful across desktop and mobile devices.

For the storyteller, parallax scrolling can provide a richer consumer experience. I remember the release of ‘Watchmen: The Motion Comic’ on DVD in 2009. Essentially, this was the full graphic novel, with additional frames added for an animated effect. This wasn’t to make it into a cartoon as such, but it did give the viewer a more descriptive experience than static comic cells. To create this effect, the motion graphics team used layered versions of these comic cells, splitting them apart to create movement.

It is these layers that we are now using to create parallax scrolling-based websites and experiences. For the graphic novelist and storyteller this means they have a clear way to really engage people digitally, rather than just relying on the consumer to download a static e-book, or the like. One benefit of this technology? The writer can help readers to interact with the story, chapter by chapter. Scrolling can be paused, empowering the reader to make decisions for characters and – to a certain extent – direct the stories themselves. An interactive environment empowers the reader with choice.

These benefits can be enjoyed by digital agencies and their clients, by providing a more focused storytelling environment. This can extend and enhance campaigns, whether they are website- or film-centric. For those of us entrenched in the digital world, we’re always been asked to bring out the story by our clients. Even in its simplest form, parallax scrolling could be a powerful tool in answering that request.

Companies like Landrover and Volkswagen are already embracing the technology. Digital comics such as ‘Never Mind the Bullets’ are also testing the format. However, we’ve only scratched the surface so far, and as a screenwriter I see a chance to kick-start interactive storytelling in this way. This technology can be part of the charge to help drag storytellers themselves further into the digital world. This is not the only new outlet for creativity, of course. But with today’s broad access to filmmaking in the digital space and a rich interactive gaming environment, that’s another story.






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