Wednesday, January 30

Waking up as a deer: Endless Forest screensaver

Auriea Harvey & Michael Samyn have just sent word about the latest update to their free-roaming online multiplayer project, The Endless Forest. Packaged as a screensaver, the work comes to life when your computer starts to sleep, recasting you as a stag in a dreamy, meditative forest setting, complete with ruins, ponds, and seasonal changes.

Without boundaries, goals, or levels, the interactive shifts the focus away from objectives and onto the stunning environment, which the team have obviously focused on. Light filters through pines, close objects obscure the player momentarily in a cinematic nod, and your avatar leaps across streams and into lavender glades.

In a strong move based on their interactive narrative backgrounds, the team have disabled any form of text or language communication. Avatars are 'named' with a randomly generated symbol. Communication with other stags takes the form of emotive actions - a bow, a cower, a prance. Language barriers are gone. So is specific communication ("walk to this location","how are you?"). But what Harvey and Samyn realised is that simple interactives require simple communication. Stags play "follow the leader", action their meaning through, or post general notices on a forum ("If I see you and don't respond, I'm sorry, my computer is playing up...").

With such a open-ended base, the team have released updates for special times and seasons. "Endless Halloween" turned stags into a midnight black for a certain time, and enabled costumes like blood red antlers or a Mexican inspired "deer of the dead" motif. The latest event/update combination involves the gods visiting the forest next Tuesday, February 5th at 5pm for a Mardi Gras flower spree.

Of course, EF isn't without it's problems. When I logged on at 10am NZT, there was exactly one avatar in the forest. Me. Exploring the lush environment is interesting for a while, but where EF ultimately wins or loses is it's user base - midnight gatherings of stags, magic spells cast by others, and new emotive gestures added regularly are for naught without others online. A few glitches crop up. It's easy to ruin the Csikszentmihalyi-like flow of galloping through the forest by hitting a tree, or break the realism by using a walk animation when your avatar should be running. But these hardly detract from an interactive which succeeds in pushing the boundaries of what a 'game' is, what 'communication' means, and how time and users can evolve a game world.

New work on Window: Pippin Barr and Xin Cheng

This month's Online artist at Window is a selection of work from Stimulus Response, "the sprawling web-based diary of Wellington artist, writer, and game theorist Pippin Barr. From comic strips to delicate pencil drawings, interactive video works and maps, Barr chronicles the bizarre, banal, and boring in the everyday."

I've also completed a range of 'additional data' for Xin Cheng's recent show: a massive repository of texts, theses, links, and streaming audio research that provided the basis for the work shown at Window. From green roofs to gannet calls, the psychology of blogging and motorcycles in galleries, there's an array of interesting articles.

Interactive installation talk at Auckland Museum

Angela Main, an interactive installation artist, will discuss her new work for Auckland Museum, "Metazoa", on Wed, February 20th, at 7pm. According to the release, the work explores the evolutionary tree of life, and Main will "position this in relation to her experience of electronic art museums in Europe and recent contemporary art events." For Metazoa, she collaborated with HITlabNZ, the promising but problematic augmented reality (AR) technology we've blogged on in the past (Pushing and Pulling the Interface). This specific installation looks interesting however, and I'll be there on the night to give a full review for Window:Scene. Entry is $10, or $5 for members.

Thursday, January 24

Saturday, January 19

New music, new model

These sounds have a history. Recorded on "the corner of Spring and Flinders Sts on a rainy afternoon, the corner of Spencer and Flinders Sts on a baking hot morning, a train ride from Parliament to Melbourne Central, a stroll through the food stalls at the Queen Vic markets on a Saturday morning, and a visit to the CERES Environmental Park in Brunswick," expat New Zealand duo Montano built their latest album from the ground up from found sounds, or field recordings. But you won't find it in record shops. They've put the whole album on Amie Street.

We've blogged in the past about new ways of marketing, distributing and selling work which is already digital, (Artists give it away with new distribution models). Amie Street goes a couple steps further than a simple "give what you want", or "get it for free" model, taking some tips from the school playground. If you're the first to discover a hot new band and download their tracks, it's free. But once that popularity hits the masses, the price of each song starts rising for every download it gets, capping at 98 cents. Plus - like the playground - if you're the cool kid who recommended the band to everyone from the get go, you're account is credited when they all catchup and start racking up the download count. And artists are taking notice; rappers like Busta Rhymes just put out a mixtape on Amie, Aussie dance kids Justice released their latest single, and Lou Reed dropped a couple one-off tracks that aren't on any albums.

Recycling code, Freecycling computers

"Recognize this code?", the designer next to me flipped open a website he was working on and scrolled through a dozen lines of Flash coding. The minimal commenting, the structure a true coder would launch into a rant about. Yeah it was mine. But the site I hadn't seen before. "I've used your code for two more sites since you gave it to me". For this graphic designer, reusing a generic function to scroll through images was easy. Keep the structure the same, alter the type and colourings, and export. It just worked.

Strangely, in this information age, well commented, reusable code is a tangible asset - saving hundreds of real hours. Sites like DZone Snippets have 10,000 users tagging and submitting snippets. Prototype, for Flash developers, has been running for 7+ years now.

More interestingly, a recent workshop on the Processing language in Barcelona showed another trait of good code. Participants had 6 hours to do a "mod" (modification) of the classic arcade game, Breakout. The catch? No one had ever coded before.

Steph Thirion, who conducted the workshop had the "objective of showing the participants that it is not required to understand code to experiment and play with it." The result? A selection of totally compelling, experimental 'sketches' - as they're called in Processing - which abstract the videogame, reinterpreting it in dozens of ways. Glitchy line drawings fill the screen, green blocks flicker on and off like some pixelated Barnett Newman work, cute Tokyo inspired blocks bounce back and forth playfully. With no restraints to make something functional, and no previous experience with code, the results are inspired.

From pixels to paper, the worldwide FreeCycle network adds a twist to the notion of recycling, providing a network for people to post objects to give away, or things they'd like to have, all for free - it's "all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills." The Auckland network currently has 1782 members, with around 10 posts per day, ranging from desk lamps to paint, electric tooth brushes, and Dungeons/Dragons sourcebooks. For those working with technology hardware or music, items like older computers, laptop hard drives, stereo parts, and printers surface regularly.

Cityscapers wanted in Edinburgh

The British Council in collaboration with a couple universities is continuing it's Cityscapers studio series this year, open to a variety of practitioners in the arts, architecture, urban planning, design and engineering. Previously held in Rotterdam, Beijing, and Milan, this years studio runs from March to April in Edinburgh. Seeking to provide education and relationships to "build the cities of the future", this particular studio focuses on the relationship between Edinburgh and Glasgow, via projects and practice which are either "macro or micro" in scale. The organisation provides full scholarships for the studio, including travel, daily expenses, and accommodation. New Zealanders can download the application, and read more on how to apply here.

Applications for new Online curator open

Window is on the hunt for our next Online Curator. Working closely with our two On Site curators, you'll be planning a yearly programme, working with a range of local and international artists, producing shows, maintaining the website, and assisting with publicity. Window's dual programme structure is unique and long-running, being at the forefront of online art for the last 6+ years. We'd like to see the new curator continue this and go further - commissioning work from high profile artists working in the genre, pushing for wider exposure, and integrating with the Onsite programme in innovative ways. You'll have a good awareness of this media space, an ability to collaborate with others, and a range of intermediate digital skills needed to provide support to artists and run a website. The position is on a volunteer basis, requires approximately 5 to 15 hours per week, and is based in Auckland. Interested? Send an application to, with some basic information about yourself, experience in the area, your skillset, and your vision for the project.