Tuesday, November 14, 2006

amore e guerra

The story of one man's struggle to hold onto his love while witnessing the horrors of a world at war. A story of innocence lost--but not passion--and the journey of two hearts across a lifetime.

My undergraduate thesis film from the University of Texas--remembers my grandfather, Alfred Santopietro (1921-2002): my hero.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Gears of War

Some of my classmates in the Immersive Mediated Environments Master's Program at Indiana University at Bloomington have been asking whether or not it's a good idea to purchase an XBox 360. I say yes, and I can give you my reason in three words: "Gears of War."

My friend Rory and I have been waging a two-man genocide against the locust horde, sending whole legions of those foul beasts back into the abyss. And it's been bloody good fun.

Designer Interview: http://www.gamevideos.com/video/id/7390

IGN review: http://media.xbox360.ign.com/media/747/747891/vids_1.html

Survival horrors meets third person wartime shooter in this super slick bloodbath told in shades of gray.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Umbrella Corporations & Cross-Marketing

In my Telecommunications 101, 'Living in the Information Age' discussions, we delved into new media economics. We engaged the phenomenon whereby a book that gets plugged on say the 'O'Reilly Factor' is most likely published by Harper Collins. This is because both are owned by Fox News Corporation. The following website, (dated 2002, though still largely relevant), lists the top ten multinational conglomerate media corporations. Cross-marketing has emerged as a primary business strategy to compete against the endemic uncertainty characteristic of the contemporary market--best demonstrated by George Lucas's announcement that he'll no longer be making mega-movies. Consider how Disney's 'Pirates of the Caribbean' is not simply a movie, it is a trilogy of movies, a theme park ride, a video game, (or a slate of video games), a McDonald's tie-in, toys, posters, books, etc. It is a franchise. Would you say that perhaps this is one way of adapting an old business model, (the Pareto Principle), to the emergent marketplace, (characterised by the Long-Tail)?


Sunday, November 5, 2006

hitman suspicion meter

Some musings on the role of the suspicion meter in the 'Hitman' franchise:

Also, there are good examples at GameVideos.com and at Gamespot:

The 'Hitman Blood Money' video review by IGN's Douglas C. Perry is about 5 minutes long and pretty thorough. About 60% of the way through he talks briefly about the 'suspicion meter' but you can see it during all the gameplay clips--it's on the lower left, beside the health bar, and its function is pretty obvious. However, manipulating it during gameplay can become subtle via familiarity with the game's engine--for example, you can learn how to push it as far as possible without allowing it to spike into the red by running, then walking, then running again...or walking down a forbidden passage, and turning your face away from the guard as he passes by, (even though in real life, that might appear more suspicious than just walking by). Most importantly, the game employs disguises, whereby you don the outfits of people you've killed or rendered unconscious, (and whose bodies you've hopefully stashed away, to avoid discovery). If you have the right get-up for the occasion, your presence will not warrant undue attention. Taking the uniform of a cop or hired goon is often the most useful. During gameplay, you are constantly referencing the gauge to get a sense of how the NPCs/narrative design is reacting to your decisions. And naturally, you will find gameplay points where you make a wrong move, the bad guys go bonkers, and you just immediately quit the game and load your last save--because that play-through is a bust. 'Hitman' has a generous save system: on normal difficulty you can save up to seven times within a single level, (which you might do after each story progression), but unlike in past Hitmans, all inter-level saves are lost if you turn off the console before completing the level. The levels are so beautiful, and can be completed in so many ways, it is not a drag to replay them, in my opinion.

When I first played 'Hitman Contracts' I was very impressed with the 'suspicion meter.' It gives the world a tangibility and a suspense--and it gives personality to the NPCs. They are watching you and responding to you. However, the flip-side, as I said, is that you can begin to manipulate their reactions via mechanics of gameplay.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

interactive flash movies


I love this website...if you scroll through the flash movies at the bottom...there's an interesting narrative told via a form of interactive cinema--maybe this could be my focus? The idea would be to fake high production value while telling a cinematic story that is enhanced by interactivity. It could be somewhere between a short film and a flash video game--

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Love: a temporary insanity, curable by marriage

The Grand Jury Prize Best Short Fiction Winner from this year's Rockstar Games Upload4 contest, called 'Riverbanking,' is a highly cynical, scathingly funny take on marriage in the modern world.


'Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.' --Oscar Wilde

'Love: a temporary insanity, curable by marriage.' --Ambrose Bierce

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Massification of the Modern University

In discussing the 'massification' of the modern university in my Telecommunications 101 discussions for the class 'Living in the Age of Information,' we brought up the topic of the monstrous endowments held by some of today's national research universities. Please find below a link to the top 50 U.S. universities rated by endowment.


Below, from the Harvard website, you'll find a kind of promotional informational on the history and significance of Harvard's $25 billion endowment.


A link to an interesting article in the Economist, can be found here:


"Traditional universities are being forced to compete for students and research grants, and private companies are trying to break into a sector which they regard as “the new health care”. The World Bank calculates that global spending on higher education amounts to $300 billion a year, or 1% of global economic output. There are more than 80m students worldwide, and 3.5m people are employed to teach them or look after them."

We're talking big money here--what are some of the implications?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

forensic evidence collection

The following links to the video page for 'Condemned: Criminal Origins'--the fourth video is called 'forensic evidence,' you'll have to claim you're over 17 and then you'll get access to the video. It demonstrates how 'Condemned' tackles collecting evidence from a gameplay perspective.


Basically, you have a digital camera that somehow hi-lites significant evidence such as strangulation marks or fingerprints in a kind of neon green...meanwhile there are arrows that appear on four sides of the camera directing you where to go, (you can also zoom in and out). It's pretty intuitive, and when you frame up the shot appropriately the edges of the frame glow, you take the shot, and the integrated cut-scene commences as the information is transmitted to your contact in the lab who analyzes the evidence and via the radio/cell phone reports the results. Your next move is based on what she says.

The 'collect evidence' mini-game is triggered when you enter a space where evidence
exists--your collection tools replace your weapons as the conspicuous things you're
holding. This can be annoying if there are bad guys, in which case you have to return to the killing zone--where your weapons reappear--kick ass, and then return to the evidence zone. It can get frustrating in a fight when you accidentally step in and out of the 'evidence zone' because it's unclear where it begins and ends. Mercifully, when the bad guys are dead, you can focus more or less completely on collecting evidence, (though there's always an underlying sense something spooky or violent is about to happen).

(Condemned flash site--good trailers, etc.)
http://imdb.com/title/tt0496608/fullcredits#writers (game credits)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0780609/ (movie based on the game, 2008)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Favorite Casual Games

My favorite casual game for PC is 'pocket tanks'...


The gameplay is intuitive and easy to learn but nevertheless subtle--and it becomes really satisfying once you get good. I usually play the computer on hardest difficulty and win my fair share...while the computer never misses it can never hit you with a straight shot, (it wastes its lasers by trying to 'lob' them).

My favorite casual game on XBox360 is 'Frogger' (a slightly enhanced version of the early 80s arcade classic). --they even maintained the original gameplay bugs, such as the fact that if just a part of the frog catches the edge when jumping home, you die, (maddening, of course)--

Below is a list of my 'Frogger' achievements...I still need three to have all twelve, (I came within a hair's breadth of beating level four!)

Frogger Achievements

75% Unlocked

140 of 200
9 of 12 Achievements

Chicken 2
On level 2 stay on the road until the timer is red, then reach home.
Acquired 7/17/2006

Speed Racing
Get all 5 frogs home in level 1 in less than 45 seconds.
Acquired 7/17/2006

Full Stomach
Eat 3 bugs in one game.
Acquired 7/17/2006

Complete Level 3
Complete level 3 by filling up all 5 of the frog home slots.
Acquired 7/17/2006

Home Sweet Home
Deliver 15 frogs to the frog home without dying once.
Acquired 7/17/2006

Chicken 1
On level 1 stay on the road until the timer is red, then reach home.
Acquired 7/16/2006

Well Ordered
On any level fill the 5 frog home slots in order from right to left.
Acquired 7/16/2006

Helping Hand
Save 5 lady frogs in one game.
Acquired 7/16/2006

Complete Level 2
Complete level 2 by filling up all 5 of the frog home slots.
Acquired 7/16/2006

Complete Level 4
Complete level 4 by filling up all 5 of the frog home slots.

Complete Level 5
Complete level 5 by filling up all 5 of the frog home slots.

Co-op Brilliance
Reach a score of 30,000 or more while playing an Xbox Live co-op game.

140 of 200
9 of 12 Achievements

Check it out at: http://www.xbox.com/en-US/games/f/froggerlivearcadexbox360/

Thursday, September 14, 2006

My Life Bits

This website provides a fairly succinct, straightforward description of the Microsoft project called 'My Life Bits,' centered around Gordon Bell's attempt to create a metadatabase of his entire lived experience. The implications range from Utopian to Orwellian.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Rashomon & Seeing History

'Rashomon' (1950) proved a lot more watchable than I'd expected. The narrative tension/action entirely revolves around a violent rape and murder...and the Japanese acting style--and stylish black and white cinematography--is exotic enough to keep the modern imagination perked. (What I mean is: certain old films can cue a 'snooze effect' by virtue of long, ungenerous shots/pacing and corny thematics/dialogue).

The theme as you know is about shifting perspective and relative memory. As Robert Altman points out in his intro: we are used to thinking of things we see as truth, but Kurosowa challenges this unconscious assumption by presenting four equally plausible yet fundamentally conflicting versions of the same violent crime. You see how each person situates themself as the protagonist--the sympathetic party at the center of a whirlwind of events happening around them and to them. This is a problem occuring acutely to criminal investigators, but it occurs more globally across the pages of history--the very memory of man--as we try to set in stone a record of events that constitutes 'an absolute truth,' or a shared, agreed upon version of what happened.

Perhaps there's no such thing? Below you'll find a link to the original short story.


Monday, September 11, 2006

Jake at the Gates

I plan to create a kind of 3D rendered game scene in which a player character, Jake Bloodstone, attempts to infiltrate the underground fortress of his sworn nemesis, Zachary Killgore. A polyhedron shaped object will shatter and he/you will be forced to reassemble the pieces appropriately before you can place them into the empty eye socket of a statue guardian. This will then act as a kind of key, opening the threshold. The scene will be accompanied by cinematic music and should produce a spooky feeling of danger and intrigue.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

On Improvisation

On the subject of improvisation, I believe the best writers are the
masters of improv, such as Stephen King, who in his book, 'On Writing,' talks about his organic style of writing. He simply starts a story before he knows what it's about...writes page after page till the story occurs to him and then he continues to follow his intuitions. It is a master's style of writing.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

John Woo's Stranglehold

Check out this awesome clip--I think it's significant that A-list Hollywood directors are choosing to 'direct' video games. I hope this game will be a masterpiece...


Monday, September 4, 2006

Proposed Fall Schedule

I'm experiencing the nightmare of trying to fit a spacious one-bedroom apt.'s worth of stuff into a microscopic dorm room, (I pulled everything out of storage over the week-end). I'm a stressball right now because this is the last thing in the world I want to be dealing with, yet I can't get my life organized--particuliarly, all my creative files--till this is sorted out. With luck, I might manage to battle my monstrous mound of stuff into obedience by the end of tomorrow.

Anyway, I have secured my list of classes I'll be auditing as a contingent of my T540 Ind Study, (which I'll be taking in addition to T540 Video Game Writing, T570 Art, Entertainment & Information, and my duties as AI for T101 Living in the Age of Information).

1. Tel 284, with Herber
2. Tel 361, with Herber
3. FArts 330, with Powers

I think this combination represents an effective diaspora of technical vs. creative elements which hopefully will fuse in my brain as I try to get up to speed with the principles of making new media art.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


Warning: Pregnant women, the elderly and children under 10 should avoid prolonged exposure to Happy Fun Ball.

Caution: Happy Fun Ball may suddenly accelerate to dangerous speeds.
Happy Fun Ball Contains a liquid core, which, if exposed due to rupture, should not be touched, inhaled, or looked at.

Do not use Happy Fun Ball on concrete.

Discontinue use of Happy Fun Ball if any of the following occurs:
Tingling in extremities
Loss of balance or coordination
Slurred speech
Temporary blindness
Profuse sweating
Heart palpitations

If Happy Fun Ball begins to smoke, get away immediately. Seek shelter and cover head.

Happy Fun Ball may stick to certain types of skin.

When not in use, Happy Fun Ball should be returned to its special container and kept under refrigeration...

Failure to do so relieves the makers of Happy Fun Ball, Wacky Products Incorporated, and its parent company Global Chemical Unlimited, of any and all liability.

Ingredients of Happy Fun Ball include an unknown glowing substance which fell to Earth, presumably from outer space.

Happy Fun Ball has been shipped to our troops in Saudi Arabia and is also being dropped by our warplanes on Iraq.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.

Happy Fun Ball comes with a lifetime guarantee.

Happy Fun Ball


CSI as Rashomon

A modern television show closely based on the 1950 classic Kurosawa
film, 'Rashomon,' is 'CSI.'


Not only in this serendipitously named episode, but in others, the show is concerned with recreating/remembering the details of a crime to which none of the players has a first-hand record. They must continually syphon through the often conflicting recollections of eye-witnesses and potential suspects--whilst constructing plausible scenarios from evidence cross-referenced by motive cross-referenced by instinct--to piece together a version of past events as close to 'what really happened' as possible. Come to think of it, they've probably put a few innocents in jail and let a few killers walk--so difficult it is to settle on a collectively remembered version of the past with which everyone is in accord.

Monday, August 28, 2006

AI Blurb

Here's the blurb I worked up and put on the T101, 'Age of Information,' syllabus:

"Spencer is studying for an M.S. in the Immersive Mediated Environments program in the Department of Telecommunications. He did his undergrad at the University of Texas at Austin where he received a B.A. in History and a B.S. in Film Production—Highest Honors, Phi Beta Kappa. Upon graduation, he pursued development of 'The World Without A Name,' a secondary world whose central storyline concerns the ultra-violent struggle between the heroic villain, Zachary Killgore, and the villainous hero, Jake Bloodstone. After mining video games—as well as RPGs, comic books, and movies—for ideas and inspiration, he realized that the material, and more importantly, his artistic sensibility, lends itself naturally to the video game format. In games such as Condemned (2005), Hitman: Blood Money (2006), and Dead Rising (2006), he has found unabashedly dark worlds filled to bursting with anti-heroes, tragic curses, cascading dementia, demons, gangsters, gothic horror, fury and redemption. In video games, he has found the cutting edge of contemporary storytelling and the proper medium for 'The World Without A Name.' "

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Thoughts on 'The New Media Reader'

"[A computer is] like an Old Testament god, with a lot of rules and no mercy.
-- Joseph Campbell

I read and re-read the Table of Contents, the User's Manual, and the Statement of Purpose in order to grasp the 'New Media Reader's big picture--it's trajectory, organization, and purpose.

Divided into four major themes, and arranged chronologically, 'The New Media Reader'
attempts to thematically unite the divergent texts of computer scientists, artists,
architects, literary writers, interface designers, and cultural critics spanning fifty years, from WWII to the WWW. The accompanying CD contains audio-visual samples of early games, digital art, independent literary efforts, as well as digitized video documenting new media programs. The form follows the function of this ambitious tome, which claims--convincingly--to be the first authoritative history of new media. The anthology is concerned with a field of study that has developed around the potential of the computer and about whose application, importance, history and future nearly everyone has a different idea. Furthermore, the field itself is a moving target, transmogrifying at a rate faster than it can be defined.


Murray talks of two strands running throughout the story of New Media--the engineers and the humanists. They are often at odds with one another yet coming together energetically in collaborations focused on new structures of learning.' Despite the myriad miscommunications/tensions between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, (and civilization, at large), we are united by our profound desires to learn, to improve, to be smarter and do things better. And no one can argue, whatever their ideological position, that the computer does not promise to do all that and then some. Murray argues the representational power of the computer derives from four qualities: encyclopedic and spacial, (which create the illusion of immersion in an explorable space), procedural and participatory, (which provide 'interactivity'). This last is the function of the computer that humans find most exciting, and immediately applicable, since now it can begin to act like 'us.' Yes, Igor, that's what I mean, 'It's alive!'

"So God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him..."
Genesis l. 27


Interactivity has been applied in a variety of artistic mediums. Thus far, it is in thefield of video games that the creation of detailed, immersive, expressive storybook worlds have been most commercially successful.


However, the origins of interactive fiction lie in the dusty halls of an Argentinean
library, where Jorge Luis Borges imagined the first hypertext novel twenty years before the computer. Of course, his version is more akin to the 'Choose Your Own Adventure' children's books that ran from 1979-1998, and which captured my imagination intensely when I was a kid.


In the 'Garden of Forking Paths' (1941) we see most importantly the philosophical idea of multiple worlds of potential action existing simultaneously. (There is also a strong precursor to postmodernism apparent in the use of a 'book within a book'--as David mentioned in his comments). Proponents of hypertext fiction look to Borges as their godfather as they attempt to create interest in and momentum for their largely
marginalized and academic niche movement. We certainly have not seen 'The End of Books,'as Coover predicted in 1992; however, one could argue such a bold claim fits within the paradigm of 'technomyopia,' since the movement needs some time to heat up, culturally speaking. This is the area of the reading that is most interesting to me since the focus of my M.S. research will probably be the potential of hypertext fiction--an immersive hypertext-based story that utilizes sound, animation, and film.
From a creative writing standpoint, the true challenge, I believe, is to come up with enough narrative material to effect a willing suspension of disbelief sufficient to immerse the audience.



Monday, August 21, 2006

Microsoundstage Shooting

I'm interested in a digital video against blue screens experiment. I've actually been thinking for a while about how to utilize DV in a kind of micro-soundstage/garage environment to produce multimedia effects that might appear misleadingly expensive. (Perhaps including the use of miniatures?) My instinct is that if you only show whispers of action--like suggestions--you can produce intrigue while masking low production value. I think this could be integrated into a kind of audio-visual-hypertext novel, along with other media, to enhance a story. I'd definitely like to try this soon in developing my 'worldwithoutaname' project. I think 'wwan' should first be a cool website--like the poet says: 'when you actually show people what you're doing, then they believe.'

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Night Before Orientation

This evening I find myself in the Herman B Wells Library at Indiana University-Bloomington. Tomorrow morning at 9am I will meet all of the professors and most of the fellow graduate students in my program called MIME, (Master's in Immersive Mediated Environments, or New Media/Video Game Design). I'm thrilled and worried at the same time. I've been out of school for over four years and I feel--given the scholarship--there are high expectations of me. We'll soon find out whether the cobwebs in my brain will easily wash away, or will I go down hard...like an underage party girl whisked into the VIP room.

Saturday, April 1, 2006

the saga of my confusion

The saga of my confusion has been the great drama of my twenties.
Initially, undergraduate academic success at U.T. was my only worthy
goal and that, in and of itself, was a pure and satisfying motivation.
I began simply as a history major--to this day my favorite
subject--reading into the twilight hours, quiet, reflective, thrilled
to be free of the incessant vicissitudes of my high school experience.
However, in my sophomore year I picked up a second major in film
production and I believe it was here that the focus of my life

An obsession with filmmaking--the art and the industry--invites
notions of ego, the quest for glory, jealousy, intense competition,
and dread of failure. I made a perfect 4.0 at the fifth ranked film
school in the nation and was a stand-out student. At the age of 22 I
was obsessed with the idea of a career in film. However, my
experiences interning in L.A. convinced me that there was no real
opportunity there, and that the spoils of the Hollywood lifestyle were
a corrupting distraction from that which I truly sought to achieve:
success as a writer/storyteller.

My new plan of action became the Norman Mailer/Stephen King
model--the guy who in his mid-twenties writes and publishes several
novels and gains celebrity and financial freedom. Unfortunately, my
completed novels were not thematically appropriate for the
contemporary book industry and in the summer of 2005 I was forced to
admit to myself that I hated the day-to-day job of being a
novelist--by and large an exercise in self-discipline and extended
solitude. Around this time, I began to see increasingly the virtues
and potentialities of the new art called interactive media, including
but not limited to video game and web design.

The design of digital artifacts is a defining creative and
intellectual challenge of the 21st century, comparable in its cultural
complexity and historical importance to the inventions of the book,
the photograph and the moving image. It's very now. It's not hampered
by the monopolization/stratification I see in the film industry and by
definition it is the opposite of the decaying book industry,
collaborative in nature and possessing of unlimited and unforeseeable
growth potential. It's a place for mavericks and visionaries,
occupying the cutting edge between art and technology.


I only hope I can use my time in Indiana to move
toward a successful career in which I'll be able to enjoy artistic
fulfillment as well as financial rewards. I may yet become a

"The whole art of war consists of a well-reasoned and extremely circumspect defensive followed by rapid and audacious attack." --Napoleon Bonaparte

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

To Form a Team

The most important factor for me is finding an appropriately rigorous and stimulating intellectual environment in which I can continue to develop my secondary world, 'The World Without A Name,' and the epic saga of Jake Bloodstone and Zachary Killgore, which as of now includes the novels 'Bad Blood Born' and 'Blood & Bones.' I am primarily interested in the audio-visual potential of interactive media as a storytelling enhancement tool. I am seeking to surround myself with people who share my enthusiasm for storytelling and digital media technologies and who may complement my particular skill sets in ways that will help bring this material to life. Specifically, I would like to form productive artistic relationships with people who are gifted at music composition, graphic arts, and computer programming. My instinct tells me that I could find such an environment at Indiana University.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Spencer Catches a Break

The following letter represents the biggest break I've received in years. As an artist, I've pushed after success and gotten lost, run hard till I was out of breath, then collapsed. I've died many artistic deaths...this letter announces my greatest resurrection to date.

Dear Spencer,

I’m happy to report that the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University has accepted your application to our Master of Science - MIME program, for studies
beginning in Fall 2006.

The Department also accepted your application for funding. When you enroll, you will be granted the following package of support:

• A Student Academic Appointment lasting two years, with annual earnings of
approximately $11,409.00.
• A Fee Remission that covers the full cost of tuition (except for mandatory Activity, Athletics, Student Health, Technology & Transportation fees, as well as a small percentage of graduate tuition, typically about 3.5%) during the two years of your appointment. This scholarship permits you to take up to 12 credit hours per semester plus 6 credit hours during the summer, and currently has a monetary value of approximately $19,796.00.

Total value of the offer is $31,205.00. Please see the attachments for more details.
We were impressed by your record and would not be surprised to learn that you have received similar offers of acceptance and support from other institutions. If that’s the case, you might be thinking about what to do.

My heartfelt advice: choose the program and people who seem most likely to help you go where you want to go in your life.

In any case, we will need to know your decision by April 15. Don’t hesitate to get in
touch if I can give you information you need to think things over. Our program might not be built the same way as those of other institutions, and that can make comparisons difficult. The merits of the good life we have here in Bloomington might not immediately come to mind. You might be wondering about how important the financial offer is relative to the intellectual fit (the latter is much more important, I think). But I’d be happy to talk to you about things, regardless. Send me an email or call.

Whatever you decide to do, you deserve praise for making it through the admissions
process with such success. Congratulations! I wish you the best of luck in the future, and encourage you to start that future here, with us.


Edward Castronova
Director of Graduate Studies
Indiana University
Department of Telecommunications