Cross-Media: Virtual Worlds, Cinema, TV and Books

This brief compilation first published on 21st Sept, 2006 at CME. Obviously, alot has happened since I wrote this piece the first time. Until I update it, it provides a good background to current activity

A few months ago a colleague asked me if I knew of any feature films that had virtual worlds in them. Now, there are hundreds if not thousands of films that have virtual worlds as part of the story, but the question got me thinking about the cross-media relationship between virtual worlds and other mediums. That is, worlds that are created in one medium and continue in another. I found a few examples and held off posting about it until I found out more info. Well, I haven’t found out much more but since MTV has just launched a virtual world extension to a TV show, I thought I’d finally post.

Feature Films and Virtual Worlds

Matrix Online

The Matrix film Trilogy (and all the other transmedia elements) and Matrix Online. The online game has mixed reviews but I really like the Wachowski Bros approach of providing unique information (not repurposed) in every media platform. The online game is set after the events in the films and so it gives the producers and players a lot more freedom.

iEntertainment have announced they will be releasing an MMO, Flyboys Squadron, at the same time as the feature film Flyboys. The site said the game provides 12 missions based on the film, so the idea is audience members get to live out what they see in the cinemas. As I write this post the countdown on the film site is 5 hours until it is released in theatres.

LOTR Online

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (films, books, digital games) and Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar which is due out about Spring 2007 and is currently in beta.

Bleep Plaza

The ficto/doco What the Bleep has a plaza in a virtual world called Peace City (which is actually part of a TV, see below). The What the Bleep Virtual Reality Plaza has info about the film but little activies and such. It is a 3D pamphlet or website at this stage!

Big Screen Entertainment Group has planned a MMO to be created in conjunction with their upcoming horror film Babysitter Wanted. They announced the idea in July this year. It was canned at GameSpot and I must say the idea of a babbysitter doesn’t have a transmedia ring to it. But some of the comments were, I think, based on a misunderstanding about cross-media. Some said that a movie should not be made into a MMO. I agree that a story shouldn’t be made into an MMO, but a world — the characters, setting, laws and so on — can.

James Cameron’s AVATAR, BATTLE ANGEL or Project 880. No-one really knows the name of the film and MMOG that is being developed by James Cameron, but I think just about everyone knows about it. Apparently it won’t be out until 2008 but it looks like one of the better cross-media creations since the two are being created in simultaneously and with attention being paid to the relationship between them. For instance, Cameron is quoted at GameSpot saying: “Going into that world will actually inform those watching the film and vice versa.” (source)

Zak Penn’s Clan of the Seventh Circle, written by Michael Karnow. The latest news is just that it has been submitted to Fox. Penn wants to release the MMOG before the film. (source)

In Second Life too there have been launches of film (like the X-Men: The Last Stand launch), but that doesn’t count in the cross-media sense of extending the world. There have been resident-created sims of worlds they admire. I mentioned recently, for example, the Serenity verse sims. Virtual worlds like SL, There and Active Worlds etc allow anyone to persist the story/game they love.

[Added Dec 18, 2006] Multiverse Network, Inc. have ‘optioned the rights from Twentieth Century Fox Licensing & Merchandising to develop an MMOG based on Firefly, the science fiction television series created by Joss Whedon that has enjoyed a hugely popular and loyal following since its premier in 2002′ (announced Dec 8, 2006)

TV and Virtual Worlds

In 2003 BBC3 and then BBC2 broadcast a unique TV-show/game hybrid called FightBox. It had a live studio audience with human players who controlled virtual characters that fought each other. The result image was broadcast. Players could download the software to create their character and train it. Then they fight their way to the top. Though I don’t think the training was massively online it is still an interesting forerunner to the reality show XQuest (see below).

LagunaBeach

MTV’s TV show Laguna Beach has just launched their own virtual world: Virtual Laguna Beach. The world is set in the TV series but as far as I can see there are no instory characters in the world. But what players/residents of the world can do is live like those in the Laguna Beach: shop, date and swim. They will be, however, providing events and other things they can ‘buy’ it seems:

“For instance, residents of Virtual Laguna Beach will have the opportunity later this fall to get a virtual car and a virtual house for a gold membership fee of $4.99 a month. For $5.99, a platinum membership will get them status: V.I.P. access to nightclubs and other events to be staged “in world.”” [source]

International Entertianment Enterprises have created a TV show and virtual world hybrid called: Peace City 3D Show. It is a reality TV show with special motivational guest speakers and a virtual world, that they call 3D Virtual Reality, where people can meet and build in (ala Second Life).

Spectrum Media are creating, with Ron Howard, a MMOG for the Fox reality TV series: XQuest. What is unique about this one is that the game will affect the TV show and vice versa. It will also be accessible through the Web and mobile phone. It is meant to be launched/released early 2007. Here is a nice quote by Alex Seropian from Spectrum Media (who founded Bungie Software!):

“Entertainment convergence is something that has been talked about for a long time, but the multiple media distribution pipes are now in place to create properties that can work on multiple levels,” said Alex Seropian, cofounder of Spectrum MediaWorks. [source]

And another quote from their website:

“Audience experience should and does transcend technology; and Spectrum is focused on technique — the technique of engaging audiences through digital and networked media — not technology or tools. Our expertise lies in how to compel, motivate or simply entertain modern audiences via a single media, or across multiple media, moving audience experience seamlessly from one to another.” [source]

I’m in love with these guys! They know what they’re talking about!

[Added Dec 18, 2006] Big Brother Netherlands enters Second Life. BigBrotherSL commences December 1st, 2006. Participants have to live in a glassed room for eight-hours a day and create objects with inworld scripts. Second Life residents vote and segments are broadcast on TV in the Netherlands.

Podcasts and Virtual Worlds

The Shadow Falls Experience is an extension to a podcast radio play or novel. The producers created a virtual world version of the storyworld described and issued clues for the listeners to follow. Check out my extended commentary on this here.

Books and Virtual Worlds

WellofTears

I’ve found one book that comes with its own virtual world. It is called Well of Tears by Cecilia Dart-Thornton (an Australian!). It is a fantasy fiction with a world (that is it isn’t populated at all) that you can walk around that is the setting from the book. The world was created by none other than Cyan Worlds (the creators of the Myst series).

To sum up, it looks like producers are approaching VWs as a valid artistic platform, and one that can extend rather than duplicate the worlds they imagine. I like that. The only problem is when the plot is up to us. Sometimes we just like to be told a story. And for the worlds that are games…I think they fulfil a different function: they provide a different window, a different way of experiencing the world (and here I’m talking about the imagined, abstract place, not the software). It gives people access to a world in the arts type they prefer: games.

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