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From Broadcasters to Benefactors (Part II)

24th September 10

Posted by Mel Exon

Posted in media

The second and final part of a pair of posts (read the first here). Today’s includes an interview with Darren Garrett at Littleloud.

Author: James Mitchell (@jamescmitchell), Strategist, BBH London

There is such a thing as an Art Gallery. If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you’ve been to one before. An art gallery’s purpose is to house paintings and art so that they can be viewed… and yet today, it’s entirely possible for me that selfsame content – say, Guernica – for free, in a heartbeat. Indeed, thanks to the power of the internets, I could do what was previously impossible and view an annotated version which explains what on earth is going on in that painting. And yet millions of people choose to take the time to visit the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid. Or the National Portrait Gallery. Or the MoMA. And if you asked many of them what specifically they had come to visit, they wouldn’t be able to tell you. They’re not there specifically to clap eyes on one item. They are, in the old terminology, browsing.

MoMA, New York (source: eschipul on Flickr)

So how have Art Galleries – or Museums, or certain kinds of shops, managed to retain a sense of identity independent from their content? I believe the answer lies in a sense of purpose. Purpose is when you take a long, hard look at what you deliver, identify the root cause behind all that delivery, what you were trying to do in the first place, and actually make something out of that cause, and try to satisfy that, rather than just letting the momentum of “same method, same content” pull you along until you become like everyone else.

So if we were to apply this thought process to a channel, what would we find? Channels talk to people en masse. They impart information. They excite the emotions to get their point across. They tell stories with the aim of making us feel something, and through the aggregation of their content they build up a certain vision of the world we live in. All the same essential qualities of Public Service. Public Service activities try and impart thoughts and feelings with people, that ideally lead to action. And they do so to people en masse, in a way that tries to galvanise people together. And And if it happens to entertain, all the better for perceptions of the TV channel. This was the thinking behind Channel 4’s new interactive adventure game blockbuster, The Curfew.

I caught up with game developer Littleloud’s Creative Director, Darren Garrett.How did the project with Channel 4 come about? What was the actual brief? What did they say they needed from you?

It all started with our first project for Channel 4, Bow Street Runner way back when in 2008.

This was the first project to be commissioned by the revamped Channel Education department. Bow Street Runner was commissioned to be an interactive game to support a television production about London’s formative police service, City of Vice.

After the success of Bow Street Runner, Channel 4 was eager to do another live action adventure game as a standalone piece, rather than in a supporting role to a TV production. Alice Taylor at Channel 4 came to us and said: ‘What do you want to do next?’. We then developed the idea for The Curfew in-house. It was both exciting and daunting to have such a wide open remit.

Where did the idea for The Curfew come from? The setting?

We passed around quite a few ideas before settling on what we wanted to do. There were lots of elements to balance: the educational factor, themes, the type of story we wanted to tell, and making sure all of that provided a rich enough environment in which to make an engaging, immersive game.

Eventually things began to fall into place with the idea of exploring civil liberties through looking at a possible future where they had been eroded away; then to explore this world through four different characters telling their stories in a room.

Then the idea of the Curfew came up  (the actual curfew itself is a real thing in operation in towns and cities now, which was our inspiration here) and everything fell into place: Two tiers of citizens, A system designed to repress ‘undesirable’ elements…


What about your game design choices? What makes this kind of game compelling? Is it story? Quality of puzzles? I remember what got me hooked on Monkey Island – the humour in the dialogue.

Story is really important with everything that we do. We love telling stories in games, or film or animation but in this kind of project everything comes together.

With this kind of game the game design is evolving hand in hand with the narrative. We strive to make it work together as a compelling story and game, hopefully obtaining a mystical harmonious balance…

I’d say it’s one of the most difficult and complicated kind of games to get right, but we like a challenge and we’ve developed some expertise in games over our ten years. Obviously it’s probably not as complicated as Fable 2 say, but the logistics of story and game play make for some interesting problems.

Humour is definitely important. Building a authoritative future set in England, we knew what the comparisons would be and so we felt a certain amount of tongue in cheek was needed to avoid making it too dark and grim.

From a visual design point of view building the world is an incredibly important task, but also one of the most fun ones. We based it on a mixture of real places and a mish-mash of Brighton architecture. Then designing the propaganda, branding the political parties, government notices and interfaces to really give the place it’s own character.

Why have broadcasters started creating these initiatives? What do they want from them?

With Channel 4 it started a few years back. When Alice Taylor and Matt Locke started at the education department the decision was made to split the budget across TV and online, as young people increasingly are consuming content over the web, and simply not watching television. It’s was a pretty controversial idea at the time but the success of the projects since, and the sheer numbers of players has proved them right.

Do you think there’s money to be made by broadcasters in this stuff?

Our games for Channel 4 are part of the public service remit so non profit making, but yes, there is that potential. There are a few instances where this interactive drama model has been used with sponsorship in the US.

What’s the future for broadcasters doing good? What can we expect to see from them – and you – in the future?

Well it looks like where there will be another adventure in this style from Channel 4 but what that will be is a closely guarded secret. We want to push what we’re doing in this area more, address issues that came out of people playing The Curfew and make it an even better experience hopefully.

From my point of view I hope more broadcasters look to the Channel 4 model going forward.

***

And I agree. It’s in public service that channels can find new purpose. The Curfew is, in fact, really good – it’s only in beta but try it out here – http://www.thecurfewgame.com/ – but what’s really exciting is where the model can go next. Channel 4 creates a world that it owns (and can expand upon), and in doing so reaffirms its own particular version of the public service quest. And they’re not alone: PBS, MTV – even Nickelodeon and Disney – have found their voice at a time when it’s never been easier to make great cultural change for the better, and have the brand benefit. Educating people on civil liberties is one thing, but what about MTV getting an AIDS-focused message in front of 60% of young Kenyans? It’s called Shuga, and it’s a sensation. Or getting out the vote at a pivotal point in US history? That’ll be 2008’s Choose or Lose. All these things bring a channel new relevance in the modern world. And when relevance leads to people choosing you as a provider, suddenly a little public service can become a privately profitable. In a practical sense, content like The Curfew can also never be divorced from the channel itself, because it’s impossible to syndicate.

So let’s get back in the bath from Part 1. When we left it in 2010, it had become some kind of vague mixer tap with the word “entertainment” scratched onto it. Now imagine there’s one more tap. A single tap with two nozzles. When you turn it, water flows into your bath – but it also flows into your neighbour’s. Or down the road. Or straight to the third world. Someone’s put it there because they believe that water supply could be about so much more, could be about helping. A higher purpose. Public Service.

So, which one are you going to turn?

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