Monthly Archives: March 2014

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Project Update 03: The Subzone (Testing Animations)

I found myself growing interested in creating an ecosystem of sorts in the Subzone. The errors, glitches and maybe even the textures could have a life of their own. I came across the following video where apparently the movements of  “creatures” were not predetermined (i.e. they moved based on algorithms). The way they kept bumping into each other and the little accidents happening among them was something that fascinated me a lot. Once I have locked down the rest of the environment in place in the virtual space, I could probably attempt to create looped animations of blocks of error codes which literally move through space and interact with the viewer.

I have started creating a YouTube playlist dedicated to Unity and started collecting tutorials and workarounds. Having a playlist curated will come in handy when I need to refer back to a particular video or process for reference.

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Screenshot of my YouTube playlist in progress

The following below are some examples of animation work done in Maya, which will be exported to Unity as .fbx files. One thing I discovered a bit later on was that Unity does not support vertice animation, and I will be keeping this in mind while continuing the work on the project.

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Project Update 02: The Subzone (Simple Test)

I have been trawling through online forums to find a working embed code which will allow me to put up a test demo Unity scene within a blogpost on Tumblr. I had considered perhaps shortening the Dropbox url using goo.gl or bit.ly and putting that link out as a main landing page. But the downside is, that it would just land the user on a blank white page with the scene loading in the middle. It would be a waste of screen space as only the Unity scene would be there and nothing else. By having it on a site like Tumblr, I could place hyperlinks and buttons at the side to draw the viewer in to check out more details about what they were interacting with.

I landed upon the Tumblr blog of Josh.C Futureworks and he had prepared and publicly shared some javascript code which would help one to embed Unity 3D scenes into a Tumblr post.

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at PM 07.04.41Screen shot 2014-03-18 at PM 07.06.02The two lines of code highlighted in blue were the ones I had to change to redirect to my files on Dropbox. At first, I made the mistake of not uploading the game files to the “Public” folder on Dropbox which caused the Unity scene to not load. I had mistakenly assumed that having the url would be enough. After correcting this and putting them in the proper folder and trying again, I was able to load up the scene on Tumblr.

 

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Screenshot from my Dropbox folder
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Screenshot from my Tumblr post
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Screenshot from my Tumblr site after first landing
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Screenshot from my Tumblr site after allowing Unity plugin to run
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I already had the Unity webplayer plugin installed on my computer, so I did not experience any problems so far. I will need to include some form of auto-prompt or a link for users who do not have the plugin so that they can just download it from the site without leaving it. Also, I will need to include some pages on the Tumblr site to separate all the different sections (e.g. What? Why? etc). I could perhaps also include a link back to my project links and hyperessay work done here as an extension for viewers to find out more.

I plan to include a section on the tumblr site dedicated to video documentations and maybe even simple GIF animations to record all my experiments in Unity.

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Hasan Elahi: The Artist as Producer, Curator and Critic

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Original image grabbed via The Baltimore Sun

It is interesting to note how in the above image, Hasan Elahi identifies himself and his presence with a downturned arrow pointer. It is as though through this simple icon, Elahi seems to rebel against conforming to convention. The same can be said of his works which go against the grain, in terms of how he ends up being both Hasan Elahi the Artist, and Hasan Elahi the Curator. His constant stream of meticulous documentation of his own private life becomes overwhelming, to the point where this stream becomes littered with both something and yet nothing at the same time. It is interesting to note how this notion of duality seems to be present.

Elahi’s efforts to track his own self border on the line of extreme and yet, they also poke fun at the idea of surveillance. His name being accidentally added to the FBI watch list as a suspected terrorist was the catalyst to his delving deeper into the whole process of self-surveillance and making the gathered data public. By making so much of this information public, he intentionally creates a glut of data which keeps surfacing and burying itself in a constant state of flux.

It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself—anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face … was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime …

– George Orwell

Perhaps it is no surprise that Elahi also refers to his Tracking Transience project as “The Orwell Project”. Tracking Transience embraces surveillance and the loss of privacy. Elahi’s whereabouts and images from the places where he has been to are readily broadcasted and archived on the website.

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The artist becomes a hyperactive medium, who is continually active in interacting with his own body of work. In Elahi’s case, his penchant for tedious documentation, geo-tagging and archiving becomes a never ending process. Perhaps it is best to call Tracking Transience a continual work in progress where the documentation and it’s arrangement echoes the concerns of the artist. Organizing and curating these material become a form of controlled chaos for the artist, as one can only imagine just how much data one has to pour through in order to arrange them by date, location and so on just to make them presentable. The end result becomes a neatly archived record of everything and also nothing.

The average individual on the Internet would tend to provide details and descriptions of photos or videos he might have taken along with with tagging details of who he was with and where he was going. However, in Tracking Transience, these vital extraneous details are cut off. The occasional photo might pop up with a some letters and numbers placed in the centre of the image, which could possibly be some form of coordinates pointing to where Elahi was at the time the photo was taken. But other than that, the only thing a user ends up tracking on Tracking Transience is but a sparse detailing of the life of the artist and what he gets up to. This brings to mind the idea of inducing information paralysis by overwhelming one with information, similar to FriendsterFriday created by Ian Aleksander Adams.

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Screenshot of the homepage of FriendsterFriday.com
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Screenshot from TrackingTransience.net

The masterstroke in Elahi’s Tracking Transience is how he creates this illusion of giving you every single information about himself and also nothing at all. Fragmentation and unification of disjointed information seem to provide the perfect online camouflage for Elahi. His careful attention to detail in presenting this information to the public eye seems to mock “Big Brother”, effectively thumbing the eye of surveillance with gusto and showmanship. The artist therefore ends up donning two feathers in his hat, that of producer and curator of his own body of work.  This can be seen in how Elahi uses his own documented material in his installation works , which extensively utilize monitors and cameras.

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Hiding In Plain Sight, Hasan Elahi, 2011, Intersection 5M
Grabbed via artbusiness.com

It is as though the artist is using the act of surveillance against itself, thereby effectively negating any palpable form of usable information which could be deciphered at the end. Elahi becomes almost like an icon of defiance in the face of government surveillance, which is something that has become an increasingly pressing issue as of late in the United States.

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Grabbed via archive.tehelka.com

In an age where the boundaries of privacy become ever so faint, Elahi’s work raises concerns over just how aware are we of our own information trails we leave behind. Personal data and the person behind that data can effectively become distorted by technology and the mass media. To me, I find that Elahi’s Tracking Transience evokes this idea that people should take ownership of their own data and that a lack of privacy is still pretty much a problem in society today. At the same time, what about the possibility of being intentional in trying to break down the wall of privacy? What about those who willingly upload photos of what they eat and who they meet on Instagram and Facebook? Perhaps there are also those who relish in the lack of privacy, where entering their space in the digital sphere is very much the same as entering their home unannounced. Should this group of individuals be worried with what Big Brother does with their very public data? Or does it not matter in the end since they voluntarily put up their most private information on very public online portals? Elahi’s work thus continues to stimulate debate and raises more burning questions which are a pertinent critique of the superficiality of society. In the mean time, Hasan Elahi continues to hide in plain sight.

Click here to check out Nasir’s take on Elahi’s work.

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The Subzone (Technical Realisation)

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The above diagram illustrates the proposed workflow I have in mind for this project (that is, assuming everything in the pipeline actually works according to plan). I will continue to take screenshots of my Facebook feed and use these as my “textures” in the virtual space being created in Unity. As of now, I am only considering making the most of just one social media platform like Facebook as it is very popular and easily recognisable by many.

Having already looked through some of the basic tutorials for simple level creation and how to export a game from Unity, the next part of getting the game and it’s assets out of Unity should be a fairly simple process. In order for other users to access the game, it needs to be stored online, and Dropbox would be a very good fit for this purpose. After doing some research, I found that the Unity files will need to be placed in the “Public” folder in order to ensure that the game can be embedded and played without problems.

The last step would be getting the Unity game to run embedded in a blogpost. I decided to make use of Tumblr as the platform where I will publish the Unity project, as Tumblr has a reblog and like function for individual blog posts which would help greatly in making something go viral. It also ensures easy sharing of blogposts and content among Tumblr users which is yet another plus.

Possible Problems

dropbox_downShould a problem arise with Dropbox, I will revert to Google Drive as my failsafe storage solution. If this was to occur, I will need to remember to change the embed code for the files to point them to their new location. Otherwise, users will no longer be able to access the content and they would only be greeted with a dead page.

Allowing multiple users to connect to the server (in this case, Dropbox) is another possible issue which may need to be considered. As of this time of writing, I do not know if Dropbox imposes any form of limit as to the maximum number of people allowed to access a file at any given time. If I am unable to overcome this problem, I will consider the possiblitiy of bringing the game to the user (i.e. asking friends to play it on my laptop, record their reactions, document them)

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The Unity webplayer itself is another possible avenue for problems to occur. Not everyone will have the appropriate plugin installed in order to view and access the embedded content, so I will need to probably put a link on the frontpage of my Tumblr site to let them know where to go to download it. At the same time, embedding the webplayer itself is another issue as there needs to be some form of correct formatting and javascript invovled in order to place the Unity webplayer within a blogpost. Some more research needs to be done in this area.

Animating the textures and moving them like GIFs would be another problem. If GIFs fail to work, I would probably have to import individual frames into Unity and see how it goes from there. This also brings me to the point on integrating triggered animations which start off after a user does something in this virtual space. This requires a fair bit of tweaking and also exploring additional input from a 3d program like Maya. Checking out some forums online gave me the impression that bringing something in from Maya to Unity has a lot of things which could go terribly wrong, and this calls for some testing.

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What if the Unity game becomes unplayable? (i.e. Murphy’s Law). In any case, should the exported files from Unity become damaged or corrupted, I will fall back on documenting all the steps I have taken till the point of corruption. Should attempting to open the corrupted files provide interesting results, I will attempt to record them as well as making the files public on my Tumblr site.

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Project Update 01: The Subzone (Phase 01- Construction 101)

I have been busy exploring Unity 3D over the past week. Coming from a background in being more well-versed in Maya, the user interface and the controls in Unity were quite easy to get used to. The clean user layout allowed me to clearly navigate my way through getting used to working in Unity. I was also pleasantly surprised to know that Unity handles imported animations and models from Maya via the .fbx format. This got me thinking about possibly creating small animation tests and using them in Unity later on to test out animation triggers when users interact in this virtual space.

The Unity startup screen
The Unity startup screen

I had always wanted to tinker around with making games, and learning how to use Unity and it’s tools has been a pretty enjoyable experience so far. The wealth of tutorials and training archives on the Unity website proved to be immensely helpful as I found myself going through each of them to get a better understanding of the program I was working with. If there was one thing I wished I knew how to do, it’d be coding. I hung out around one of the livestreams on Twitch to catch Mike Geig conducting his free live training classes.

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Another plus I discovered was that I could essentially export a test scene from Unity and use an online file storage site like Dropbox to host the game files. This means that I could just embed the url link in a blogpost or anywhere on the Internet, and users will be taken directly to the game when they click on it. With Unity, one thing that needs to be noted in that users will need to download and install the Unity webplayer plugin in order to use the interactive space.

To test this out, I created a simple setup scene in Unity where the textures of the virtual objects are screenshots of websites. In this example, I used a screenshot of my Facebook news feed as a shared texture, so all of the objects in the scene are covered by the same texture to give a sense of disorientation in this subspace. The user can navigate around the space with the WASD keys, spacebar to jump and move the mouse to look around.

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Video documentation