Posts Tagged ‘transmedia’

Modern Retrogaming in Tron’s “Flynn Lives” ARG


This is a re-post of my In Media Res article on Tron: Legacy’s transmedia design. I intend to flesh out these ideas once the entire campaign concludes:

The 1982 film Tron, known for its spectacular special effects at the time, transported audiences inside the then foreign and unfamiliar realm of computer technology. Director Steven Lisberger has described the original Tron as portraying a certain “naïve idealism,” since he was freely able to imagine the vast, glorious potential of the digital world. However, Disney’s Tron: Legacy promises to reflect a more nuanced, modern view of technology and its impact on our civilization. In an effort to hype the sequel’s December release and fill in narrative gaps between the two films, 42 Entertainment launched an ARG marketing campaign entitled “Flynn Lives“. One of the chief strategies of this paratext is to revive the nostalgic sense of wonderment emanating from the Tron era of early computing, but then re-contextualize its aesthetics, content, and style into a more evolved and sophisticated gaming culture.

The premise of Flynn Lives is that Kevin Flynn, the famous game developer, has gone missing and Encom International, the fictional mega-corporation profiting from Flynn’s games, appears to be withholding key information about his disappearance. Participants decipher clues, hack into the Encom website, and attend live events as they begin to piece together the mystery. The ARG has already incorporated puzzles with pixelated graphics and simplistic color palettes reminiscent of the early 80s arcade games. But so far, we can see the most interesting interplay between the modern and the retro happening around Encom’s newly released Space Paranoids Online (SPO).

For many casual players, SPO serves as nothing more than a throwback to the original Tron. The in-browser game does a terrific job of maintaining the ‘feel’ of Space Paranoids, which had previously never existed outside the film. SPO maintains the same visual style, from the glowing neon labyrinth to the green targeting box, yet revamps the graphics to be slicker and smoother.  The Recognizers  (flying staple-shaped vehicles) not only look remarkably similar to the originals, but their escalating rumble as they hover towards your position remains consistent as well. SPO also makes explicit allusions to the original  Tron. The leader board features Flynn’s untouchable high scores from 1982. And on some levels, we see a white particle-flowing square resembling the memory stream traveled through by Flynn’s hack program, Clu. More importantly however, Space Paranoids provides a framework for the Tronverse logic.  As we can see in the opening scene of Tron, recognizers and tanks are not just part of an arcade game; they are an integral part of how the Tron computer system functions as a whole. Thus, at its core, the gameplay of SPO reinforce the rules and physics of the Tron world, providing a better sense of what’s at stake when we meet these vehicles again in Tron: Legacy.

At the same time, SPO works on a much deeper level. Within hours of the game’s release, ARG players began noticing secret walls with bar codes on them. They worked together to map out the game space and offer strategies for completing the levels. Utilizing a barcode reader to extract the corresponding numerical sequences, players posted the full codes on Entering these codes into Encom’s virtual server ultimately yielded new Tron: Legacy photos and concept art. Clearly, SPO functions not just as a vintage emulator for reliving fond memories, but also as a data mine for uncovering secret messages. Casual players might view Flynn’s high scores as playful allusions; ARG players approached them as potential codes. Thus, whereas traditional arcade games promote social interaction through competition and spectatorship, SPO encourages collaboration and collective intelligence by embedding new insights or “rabbit holes” within the underlying structure.  The trailer for SPO claims to be “classic gameplay for the 21st century,” indicating an appeal to generations both before and after the original Tron. Indeed, participants of Flynn Lives can take pleasure not just from revisiting arcade culture, but from seeing how those nostalgic elements are remediated and repurposed to fit contemporary gaming ambitions.


What Will They Do? Transmedia Producers as Narrative Architects


For a long time, this blog has been dormant. While I have been busy writing elsewhere, regrettably I never felt compelled to post my thoughts here. That is, until this week when the Producers Guild of America officially announced the “Transmedia Producer” credit. The news inspired a revelation, an awakening, an epiphany of sorts. It suddenly hit me: this is really the future and I need to be more active in shaping it.

There are many exciting implications about officially sanctioning a transmedia profession. Beyond legitimizing an area of personal interest, I can now finally point to a job description and say, “this is what I want to do when I grow up.” In that regard, I am very grateful to people like Henry Jenkins, Christy Dena, and Jeff Gomez (and others) who, by promoting knowledge abundance in this area, helped provide storytellers all over the world with a new kind of career aspiration.

There are also a lot of questions swirling around the transmedia producer buzz. What will the transmedia producer do that the traditional producer doesn’t already? Why do we need a new position that overlaps with the function of marketing executives and show runners? (there’s also the question about the role of independent producers, but that’s for another post)

It’s true that some producers oversee the development of narrative extensions as they relate to their property. However, there are also many producers who are either better at management and financing, or whose expertise pertains solely to a specific medium. Not every traditional producer knows the transmedia environment. Not every marketing executive knows how to tell a story (in one platform or multiple) The transmedia producer thus holds a different type of skill set, one that draws connections across media forms and one that involves conceptualizing, analyzing, and designing experiences at the macro-level. It is a person that does not just dive into the transmedia realm with a laundry list of media to explore, but actually has a deep understanding of the relationship between content, context, and culture.

Though incomplete and over-generalized, I like the metaphor of an architect for several reasons. First, architects are in the business of merging theory with practice to make art. Jeff Gomez has argued all along that transmedia storytelling, in its purest form, is a technique. Just as an architect aims to design something to be marveled at,  transmedia producers specialize in bridging narrative materials, sculpting intriguing mythologies, and embedding satisfying revelations for those who want a closer look at the details. Thus, the main difference between traditional producers of today and transmedia producers of tomorrow is that the former tends to understand transmedia in terms of preserving business-as-usual, while the latter will approach transmedia on its own terms, creating its own set of aesthetics and modes of engagement.

In addition, just as architects must consider the limitations and affordances of every material in order to ensure a sturdy, functional building, transmedia producers must understand the unique storytelling potential behind each media platform. Certain stories lend themselves to particular media and vice versa. And as more narrative complexities threaten to impede comprehension , transmedia producers guard against blatant inconsistencies and contradictions. The narrative structure they design must be durable and organized, all while allowing room for future construction and additions.

The best architects draw on a range of influences, disciplines, and perspectives, taking into account history, theory, and criticism to develop innovating concepts. Likewise, I see a similar approach to the emerging field of transmedia studies, which cannot be limited to a single historical era, country, genre, style, or industry. Transmedia producers possess storytelling talent, yes, but they should also appreciate the complex relationship between story and game, author and audience, openness and closure, art and commodity. They are as well versed in any sector of the entertainment industry as they are in popular culture and fandom as a whole. In other words, as story architects, transmedia producers understand how their IP edifice, whether a high rise or low rise, will fit within the larger cityscape.

Finally, when they’ve done their job right, transmedia producers design spaces not just for people to admire, but also to interact, play, and collaborate.  It seems so celebratory and cliche to talk about this now, but the transmedia producer will have an incredible knack for activating communities and rewarding collective intelligence. As the influential architect Philip Johnson once said, “All great architecture is the design of space that contains, cuddles, exalts, or stimulates the persons in that space.” While we could argue all day about whether transmedia storytelling empowers or exploits, for me, recognizing the transmedia producer is a major step towards realizing the potential for great, masterful architecture.

I hope this means I’ll be back blogging again. Thanks for reading!