I have just finished my very first semester at the University of Southern California for my Master of Arts in Interactive Media and it has been quite a ride. There are many changes that I needed to get used to. A university scheduled around a semester system verses a quarter systems, living in a warm sunny metropolitan area verses a frigid snowy suburban area, and just making new friends. Coming to Los Angeles means starting anew. One of the first things that I looked into was the public transportation in LA since I would not own my own vehicle an LA city spread such a wide area. I wanted to be able to visit the museums, landmarks and markets that LA offers. There are many events to experience that differ to what Rochester offers. USC has a really neat program for graduate students where they can purchase a semester Metro (the public transportation company in LA that runs the bus and train service) with unlimited rides. With it I visited Little Tokyo, the Hammer Museum, the Griffith Observatory and the Beverly Center. However I did not really get to explore these places till the end of the semester.
Of course the main reason to move to LA is to start and complete my degree in Interactive Media at USC. There was a huge change in focus from my undergraduate degree to a masters. During my time at RIT, I remember the feeling of always pushing myself to get a perfect grade in all my classes. It was important to me to be able to master the materials and know the intricacies in developing a game and this is revealed by a letter. However going for my master, the focus shifted from working towards a letter grade to creating cool things you would like to show to others. It reminded me of my time in high school when I was finalizing my 2D art portfolio for College Board in Advance Placement Studio Art. It was all about creating an amazing, beautiful portfolio that would work beyond the classroom. I felt that I have definitely achieved this.
Partially it has to do in the difference in the focus between these two degrees. My undergraduate is a Bachelor of Science in Game Design and Development. It had a heavy focus on the development of games and understanding the different technologies used to make these games happen. It was a valuable experience and I learned a great deal in the technologies behind creating video games but I wanted to understand the whole picture, the design. Now the degree at USC is a Master of Arts. It is has a more focus on interaction and experience design. It is different from understanding the science behind the code and logic. Just from this first semester I see the tremendous between the two. However thanks to the time spent at RIT, I was able to take what I have learned in developing games to create a digital prototype to one of the games that I worked on at USC.
I am kind of jumping all over the place but let’s start in the beginning. The very first class at USC was Design for Interactive Media taught by the famous Tracy Fullerton. One of the very first assignments was to teach a skill that you have that another classmate would like to learn and to learn a skill you would like to learn from another classmate. A final presentation of what you have learned would be given at the end of the semester. I was a teacher of archery, learned archery at RIT as one of my wellness electives, while I was taught the basics of modeling using Maya. These skills developed over the semester and there were some really cool skills being taught. One student was teaching wood carving while another was learning event planning and catering. This just speaks to the diversity of the Interactive Media Program at the Master’s level and there are just 15 of us.
Other assignments from Tracy’s class included creating a physical prototype of a game based off of Up the River , a game revolving around meaningful play, writing up a system analysis and of course a board game analysis. These were really fun but thought provoking projects. I was really happy with our team’s variant of Up the River and we are working together to tighten the mechanics and finalize the game. We hope to have an actual physical game that people can play. Maybe even put the pieces online and have players download and print the pieces so they play the game. It is currently called “Sky Pirates”. I hope we complete this game by the end of the academic year.
The second class is called Experiments in Interactivity I taught by artist Andreas Kathry. It was an introduction to moving images and help us understand where interactivity can come from. The class learned all about the construction of a camera, the technical terms of a camera and how to use one. I have always been fascinated with film and it was an amazing experience in learning how creates my own short film. I learned about how to direct, shoot and edit a film. The end result is a silent (no voices), film noir detective short film titled “The Request.” It revealed to me another potential route that I could take with my education in the School of Cinematic Arts.
The third class on the itinerary was Survey of Interactive Media. The class looked into at various written works, movies and games that look at what Interactive Media can be (or shapes our perception of it). The very first movie shown was titled Until the End of the World directed by Win Wenders. The film revolved around a girl named Claire on her quest to find her perfect man and along the way, she gets “attached” to the technology created by the man she falls in love with. This technology allows people who lost their ability to see to “see” and re-experience a moment from a person that is recorded on a device that looks like a helmet. It is about reliving the “wonderful” past and not wanting to look towards the future. Other movies shown were eXistenZ, Indie Game the Movie, Train Man and Summer Wars. These films all had some references related to interactive media and entertainment. Darkon looked at the interested aspect of transforming the physical space into a fictional realm for play to occur. All of these films and readings were quite thought provoking and gave me more idea on the direction I would like to see video games head in. There was a final project that was based on any topic that we have covered in classed. I took this opportunity to use the “Remix” topic to create my own mashup (since I enjoy that genre of music). It can be check out here. It is a combination of the first 5 minutes of Until the End of the World audio clip with clips from various anime’s as the video track. It proved difficult to match the different sources but was fun to work on.
The final course is not really a normal class but a “field trip to explore Los Angeles” titled Cinematic Arts Seminar. The basis for this course is to have students earn a minimum of one hundred points which are earn by attending the class four main sessions and signing up for excursions. The main sessions are host by professors at the school and they talk about the future of entertainment. Excursions on the other hand are various events happening in LA that are worth different points. These range from uploading photos of various graffiti around LA to attending interesting museum exhibitions. It was a great idea for people like me who are not natives of the LA area but I could see it being a waste of time and money for someone who would naturally go to these events. One of my favorite session was the last session where they demo the difference between high frame rate (at 1080p) verses higher resolution (4k). It was really interesting to see film clips at 48fps and 60fps in 3D. To me it made the 3D experience more bearable as the strobing effect was kept to a minimum which lessen the uncomfortable feeling in my eyes. It also had a surreal experience, like it was like I was on the set since the blur in the video was basically eliminated giving superior quality during high movement high action sequences. The 4k experience was definitely beautiful and surreal in a different sense however I felt it improved the viewing experience not as much as increasing the frame rate of the video. Of course this technology is new and will have to be proven in movie theaters.
On the topic of new technologies for film, I was given the opportunity to attend a pre-screening of The Hobbit and I can see why Peter Jackson is really pushing the use of high frame rate. There were certain sequences that were spectacular that made this technology shine and others that detracted from the film. I would agree with some of the popular analysis that it felt like it was watching a video game. The high frame rate really put the action in front of the viewer and the high frame rate made the experience really smooth similar to some of the action seen in video games. Since the high fps made the video extremely clear it made it obvious where 3D was used causing of the scenes to have a “pop-up book” effect where the foreground was clearly in 3D but the surrounding background was not making it clear where there was a separation. I believe this sort of technology needs to mature more and film techniques need to created before it feels more natural and integrated. Similar to how 3D stills feel tacked on and not as integrated in many films seen today.
Being part of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, there were many movies shown to students before release. I was fortunate to be able to have a sneak peak of the newest horror film by the director of The Ring and pre-screening of Rise of the Guardians. Both had an in-depth Q and A session with the director (or Art director in Rise of the Guardians). It is one of things that I noticed is that living in the LA there are so many opportunities to see films for free due to it being home to most of the biggest film studios of the world. The School of Cinematic Arts also has a small section on campus that exhibits props from various films. When I arrived they had The Avengers exhibit on display with various props from the film. It was neat to be able to get up and personal with the different items used and really see how much post production was done to really make these props shine.
Experiencing the semester system was quite interesting and the transition of the quarter system was not as difficult as I thought it would be. I still have the opinion of liking the quarter system better than the semester system due to how quickly it moves and the opportunity to take more classes. I have always grown up wanting to do everything but I see the benefits of the semester system. There was more time to work on projects and to really have time to understand the core concepts that the classes are teaching. I kind of did not like how Thanksgiving is a mini break in the semester. The fall quarter usually ends then there is just a week of Thanksgiving with no work to worry about. Unfortunately there was a huge deadline on the Monday after Thanksgiving which made planning and working on of the group’s projects more difficult. But we made it through.
So far the experience has been quite pleasant and I really enjoyed getting to know my cohort better. Each and every one of them are quite unique and really helps me get a different perspective on what video games can be. Actually all of them are really intelligent and makes me question on how I got into such a prestigious program! It makes me exited for the future and to see what they will create especially when our thesis quickly approaches.
To the end of my very first semester (the system, grad school, and year 2012) and looking forward to my very first spring semester and a new year! Next semester I will be taking an Experimental Game Topic class taught by the renowned game designer Richard Lemarchard of the Uncharted Series. Wonder what sort of experiences I will be creating in the class. There is also a writing class for Interactive Media. Hopefully that will help me in improving my writing skills and ability. I also hope to use it has an opportunity to continue to stories that I have been writing from the past (such as The Swordmaker). And of course there will be surprises along the way.
Les vrais paradis sont les paradis qu’on a perdus.
Memory Log 01-11-2013CE Recorded Complete.