Bike Hero-gate

21 November 2008

A lot of the content on Infovore is these days is in my links; I try to make sure that I’m not just chucking out URLs, but at least providing some kind of commentary or annotation on them.

You might have seen a Youtube video entitled “Bike Hero” in my links yesterday. I believe I said that “there is nowhere that this is anything less than awesome”.

Unfortunately, I’m going to have to retract that statement, because there is one way it could be somewhat less than awesome. And that’s if it isn’t quite what it purports to be.

Bike Hero, it turns out, is a “viral” ad for Guitar Hero World Tour, filmed by an advertising agency.

I’m disappointed not because it’s fake, but because they felt the need to disguise it as a real piece of footage. Derek Powazek puts it nicely:

Longer answer: It’s not that it’s a commercial, it’s that it’s a hidden commercial. It’s not the art, it’s the ruse.

Why don’t marketers and advertisers understand that, sometimes, the target audience for this kind of thing will like it just as much if it’s honest about being advertising? It’s a lovely piece of footage, and it ties into the garage-band, DIY ethos well; it’s a good fit for the Guitar Hero brand. As it is, I’m disappointed because I now know this wasn’t the product of hard-working fans, wanting to promote a product they love; it was the product of a lot of time/effort from people with money to spend on time/effort.

My other disappointment comes from another thing it pretends to be: it’s not one take. The CG staff that Gamecyte highlights were responsible for compositing the LED-handdlebar rig, and might well also have been involved in stitching together multiple takes. One of the things that had value in this ad was that it was real – why else would the cyclist turn his camera to the window he drove by other than to prove this isn’t some kind of fakery?

In the MTV Multiplayer blogpost linked above, Brad Jakeman, Activision’s Chief Creative Officer comments:

“This was always created and put out there to engage the creativity of our gamers. It didn’t take people very long, as we expected it to, for them to unlock the first of the codes, if you like… We wanted people to first figure out that it was something in the marketing realm and then dig in and have more of the conversation that we’re having about how it was done, have people figure out where all the cutting points were, where there was potentially CGI, and engage with that. It’s not meant to be deceptive. It’s meant to be fun.”

And what about people who aren’t “your gamers”? The point of viral videos is that they become viral; they have a life outside their initial target. Will that secondary audience be as inquisitive as the gamers you describe – and, to be honest, will even all those gamers engage in the manner you describe? I’d linked the thing up before I considered it might be marketing material. I enjoyed the video, and I assumed this was a product of effort rather than trickery simply because I’m not as cynical as Activision would like; if there’s one thing the Internet has taught me, it’s that people have a lot of reserves of creativity within them. Why assume that putting out trickery is OK just because you believe that your audience assume everything is trickery?

Sorry if I misled you. It’s still a great video, but it’s an advert, not a fan-made video, and you should probably know that going into it.

  • "We've seen this all before… [but] these Smule globes seem strangely different and much more interesting, largely I think because you hold the phone in your hand instead of the laptop or monitor on your desk. It's a more personal, touched engagement with the screen that makes visualizing an earth-spanning army of phone lighters and flute blowers more physically personal."
  • "But succeed or fail, my awareness of game design is omnipresent, and I like it that way. It enriches my experience of playing. The in-world experience remains my first thought, but my second thought is nearly always focused on the system, especially when that system demonstrates originality or beautiful execution. I don't think I'm the only gamer who behaves this way." No, but it requires a certain degree of awareness of the medium to think about the second; the first is much more immediate, and the second is about an engagements with games, rather than a particular game.
  • "If I only have so many hours in the day to devote to genuinely insightful things, Gladwell’s track record screams at me to ignore Outliers. At least for now. At least until I’m stuck on a cross-country flight, liquored up, and ready for a good fight." Jack Shedd is bored of anecdotes.
  • "This is a lexicon of terms relating to John Horton Conway's Game of Life." Very comprehensive, with lots of examples.
  • Ignoring the background music and a lot of Trajan, I really like this series of pictures from Brooks Reynolds; particularly, his use of lighting and depth of field. I'm a big fan of concept-series; they tend to be more than a sum of their parts.
  • I don't care that it's not playing the game or anything, there is no way in the world that this is anything less than super-awesome.

What I got up to on Thursday

16 November 2008

Last Thursday and Friday, I was very lucky to be invited to the Guardian’s first internal hack day. Whilst it was primarily an internal event, they also invited along a few of their friends to see what we could do with some of their information.

It was a really stimulating two days – exciting to see just what the Guardian is doing with their data and their journalism, and the ways they’re trying to make it more open. A particular highlight was seeing Simon Rogers explain the process of researching infographics and data-sourced news articles, and offering his talent for hunting down data to anyone who needed it; he provided a lot of hackers with useful sets of information that were only ever going to be found through a series of tactical phonecalls. For those of us not requesting data to order, the Guardian’s new full-text RSS feeds came in very, very handy, let me tell you.

It was also great to meet some of their technical staff. Obviously, the Guardian developer programme is in safe hands with Matt McAllister, and I’ve known Simon for a while, but it was great to meet lots more of their developers, client-side team and QAs; they were, to a person, lovely and talented, and it’s clear that the Guardian has a deep culture of quality.

I orginally wanted to build something along the lines of CelebDAQ but for journalists. The idea would be that you invested in journalists and made returns based on the column inches they filed; the goal was to highlight a lot of the high-volume content on the Guardian website that goes unnoticed, whilst making the more prolific and “celebrity” writers like Charlie Brooker expensive commodities.

Unfortunately, it soon become clear that the volume of scraping and data-parsing I would have to undertake would take far longer than I planned, and I wasn’t planning on staying up all night.

So I scaled down my thinking, and instead of undertaking “real programming” I started thinking instead about “neat hacks”, and the result was this:

In a nutshell, it parses the Guardian’s publicly available politics RSS feed, counts the number of names of Labour MPs and of Conservative MPs (not to mention the words “Labour”, “Tory”, and “Conservative”), and then works out the “swing” of the page. That data is then sent over serial to an Arduino, which outputs the result on a little bargraph.

It wasn’t the hardest of challenges, but I did get to write some Wiring and learn how to send serial data from Ruby, and I had a lot of fun poking electronic circuits. I was fortunate enough to win a subscription to Make for my troubles, as were the other team of plucky hardware hackers in the room – a lovely surprise to end the two days on.

37 hacks were submitted overall – impressive given the short period of time and how busy everybody was – and they ranged from the entertaining to the remarkably useful, from the thought-provoking to the empowering. Jemima Kiss has written up a few of the stand-out hacks in her Guardian blogpost on the event. It was great to see what such a talented – and multi-skilled – room could produce in under 24 hours, and I hope that the internal team at the Guardian enjoyed it as much as I did.

Many thanks to everyone who organised the event, and I look forward to seeing what the Guardian do with their data – and their great hacking – on a larger scale.