ITP Thesis Presentation, 2013

From December 2012 – May 2013, Elena created a prototype mobile application called “High Ground” as her Masters Thesis for NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. She presented her thesis to the ITP community during Thesis Week 2013. All of the presentations were simultaneously webcast.

“High Ground” is a mobile application that opens a portal between your phone and another world, providing a direct connection to the lives of characters and their journeys through a real-time narrative. Read more about it here.




Presentation



Thesis Description

In a parallel dimension, static-electric storms wreak havoc on day to day life. The storms cause electronics to glitch and falter, not only complicating characters’ lives, but also opening up a connection between your phone and theirs…
Over a week-long experience, “High Ground” communicates a narrative by using the language of mobile technology as the method of discourse. By filtering the story into day to day life via text messages, e-mails, audio, and data, the app reflects the experience of the characters while capitalizing on new forms of media consumption. Ultimately, “High Ground” creates a unique bond between the user and main character as they both experience a story that deals with questions of connection and intimacy.

Background

This project is an expansion of the research that I did in both Narrative Lab & Embodied Play in Fall ’12. In both of those classes, I did a lot of reading — articles, books, and journals. Over the winter break, I also re-read Lajos Ergi’s “Art of Dramatic Writing” to prep for writing dialog and character this semester.

I researched other mobile apps that are engaging with Narrative and did an analysis of “Broadcastr,””Wanderlust,””Kings Cross London – Street Stories,””Silent History,””Dimensions,””Zombies Run,” and the “Walking Dead” iPhone games.

Outside of class, I also interviewed and debated with my colleagues at Campfire, ITP and everyone else that I knew about narrative engagement via GPS and location based storytelling. They were all incredibly helpful.

Implementation

I focused on authenticity in the design, working to make it feel like you were both a character in the story [seeing the glitch and connection with the character’s phone] and combining that with standard phone communication interfaces [text messages, audio playlists, etc]. Owing to time constraints, the app simplified over the course of the semester — I eliminated several screens that weren’t necessary and simplified the interface so that it reflected the minimum functionality I could build in two months.

I built the “High Ground” prototype in javascript, html and css and installed it on iPhones using Phonegap. I recorded all of my audio on location, in order to enhance the realism of the “eavesdropping.” Then, I augmented the sound in Adobe Audition, with sound effects from FreeSound.org. I taught myself javascript and audition this semester with the help of colleagues, Stack Overflow and Lynda.com.

I worked with illustrator Deniz Ayaz to create a hand-drawn preamble to make the world and sandstorms feel tactile and then also augmented those digitally. I also collaborated with my very talented actors — Carl Howell, Angie Janas and Nathaniel Kent– on the representation of the characters, using only 4 actors to cover more than 10 characters’ voices.

Conclusion

While working on “High Ground,” I came to understand the importance of creating a space in which a user can experience a narrative. Originally, I wanted to create an ambient storytelling system that allowed you to live with the characters, however I quickly came to find that users need a specifically designed system through which they can enter and leave a story at will. So, even though “High Ground,” delivers content throughout a user’s day, it uses the relationship with the character to mediate the entrance into the story.This project only contains the first chapter of a real-time narrative. A user can experience the seven audio scenes and accompanying text content over a period of 4-6 days. The entire story, however, takes place over roughly 5 weeks. As I move forward with the project and refine the interface and interaction design, I hope to aslo build out the other 4 chapters of the tale.


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