Paul D. Miller on Wed, 11 Jul 2001 05:49:25 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> "A.I" - lame movie spawns weird internet game....

Well folks... fiction and fact.... as if Spielberg hadn't really spent
enough time dealing with slavery in German and American culture (Amistad,
Schindler's List)... his new movie is like an update of Crichton's
"WestWorld" for teenyboppers. Don't expect anything near as cool as
"ClockWork Orange" or "Barry Lyndon," but this article and the scene point out a new trend that this summer seems to
really have put into sharp crystal clear the perspective that in toyland,
and video game land if you're broken, obsolete, or in need of inspection,
or heck, if you're distributed networks are a little too reliant on the
bio-matter scene - then this stuff is for you.... Norbert Weiner's 'human
use of human beings' essay looks a little too prescient for this flick...
but the game is funny.

Oh Kubrick! American Movie culture so desperately needs something,
anything to make our entertainments better....

July 9, 2001

Some Prefer Online Tie-In to the Movie

Many a moviegoer has had the experience of seeing a preview that turned
out to be more entertaining than the film it was meant to promote. Now
some players of an ambitious Internet game that is part of the marketing
push for the film "A.I." say it is a more absorbing experience than
watching the much-anticipated movie.

"The game is great. The movie is garbage," wrote Arie Rubenstein of Staten
Island, discussing the latest game developments in an online chat room
last week.

"The game did get a lot of people excited for the film," said another
chat-room participant from New York. "Sadly, many of those people were
disappointed by the reality of the film."

The online game was set up without fanfare on the Internet in March.  It
has been an effort by the "A.I." distributors, AOL Time Warner's Warner
Brothers unit and DreamWorks SKG - assisted by Microsoft - to generate a
subtle groundswell of interest in the movie among computer cognoscenti,
who might be presumed to be receptive to the film's science fiction
exploration of software-driven life forms. But the game's relation to the
movie is only tangential. And the game's complexity allowed only a tiny
sliver of the Web audience to become caught up in it, meaning its direct
box-office impact was probably negligible.

"I don't know how effective it was as a wide-reaching promotional tool,"
said Harry Knowles, editor of the movie site "I
thought it was quite a bit of fun. But I know it scared a lot of people
off because they felt it was just too involving." The game did receive a
lot of attention from the news media, which increased awareness of the
film, he said.

But game players have not exactly been evangelists for the film. In an
informal online poll set up by one avid game player after the film's
release, 65 respondents as of last Friday had said the game was better
than the film, while nine said it was a toss- up. The poll is at cloudmakers. Just two people had picked the film
over the game.

That is hardly the word of mouth, or word of mouse, a movie marketer hopes
to generate.

With "A.I." generating about $30 million at the box office in its opening
weekend two weeks ago, and an estimated $14 this past weekend, the film
seems on its way to being one of the summer's top-grossing movies. So the
impact of the game promotion may not matter, even if it proves to have
been little more than an interesting experiment.

The core of the online game - which has attracted several hundred thousand
players, according to Elan Lee, a Microsoft game designer - is an
elaborate sprawl of Web sites for fictitious people and companies,
peppered with clues to a murder.

The action is set in a futuristic world much like that in the film, but
the game has little connection to the film's plot. It incorporates devious
puzzles that require familiarity with, among other things, super-Jeopardy
categories, sound analysis software and the languages of southern India.
To tackle these, players have organized themselves into a community that
collaborates in a manner that one player half-jokingly dubbed "distributed
biological processing."

The game, which is still progressing, is part novel, part scavenger hunt
and part soap opera, with plot twists and character development unfolding
as a Microsoft team updates game sites and reveals new ones. It seems to
sprawl across cyberspace, with clues buried in HTML code, audio files and
nonsensical e- mail messages.

If many game players can take or leave the movie, many also seem to
appreciate the promotion's decidedly soft-sell approach.

"Whoever did this, however it was constructed, someone stood firm from the
beginning," Maria Bonasia, a self-described addict of the game, wrote last
month on a site for players,  "Someone kept the
commercials out of it, kept the hype down, kept us curious by not shoving
answers at us."

It did take a while for the game to get noticed. In March, its creators
set up several Web sites that appeared to have been transmitted from a
future filled with intelligent robots and smart houses. (The addresses for
these sites include, and None of the sites directly referred to the film,
although they did outline a struggle between robots and humans, which is a
central theme of the movie.

The sites received few visitors until mid-April, when an attentive movie
fan noticed a credit for a "sentient machine therapist" at the end of an
"A.I." preview. Typing the name into a search engine led to one of the
sites and the start of a trail of clues. Word was posted on, and the game was on.

Within days, thousands of people were following the trail and swapping
information. The game's obscurity, like that of a nightclub with no sign
outside, seemed only to increase its appeal., a site
created entirely by players and named after the boat of a murdered
character in the game, became the focus of the collaborative puzzle-
solving effort.

Clues about the game's origins were initially hard to come by. For weeks
this spring, Warner and DreamWorks coyly refused even to acknowledge that
the string of mysterious game sites was a promotion for the film -
although the game was by then generating a wave of attention from the news
media. Only recently have the studios confirmed that the game was first
proposed by some Microsoft employees, who fleshed it out with the help of
a science fiction writer and input from Steven Spielberg, the movie's
director and screenplay writer.

Microsoft, which has licensed the right to develop game products based on
"A.I.," split the cost of the promotion with Warner Brothers. It would not
disclose how much the game cost, but Mr. Lee said it was well below $1

Mr. Lee, lead designer for Microsoft's concept development group and the
creator of the game's puzzles, said his team had been concerned that
"people would be too into the movie to even notice that the game existed."

But word spread online that this was no ordinary game. Its tentacles have
even reached into players' nonvirtual lives. Some have received phone
calls and faxes at numbers they entered on game sites, spoken on the phone
with a person pretending to be a game character, and even attended rallies
in major cities where more clues were distributed.

All along, the game's creators have been monitoring the players and using
their feedback to shape the game's content. Players say that this
responsiveness and the connections that have developed among players have
generated an emotional involvement that the film cannot hope to match.

Mr. Stewart, a well-known science fiction author who was hired by
Microsoft to do most of the writing for the game, said he had "tried as
hard as possible to forget" that it was part of a marketing campaign for a

"Of course we want people to see the movie," he said. "Ostensibly that's
what it's about. But everybody also knows that we're on to something big
and really fundamental. There is an art form here, and there is a chance
that it will be one of the big art forms of the next century."

Mr. Lee of Microsoft, who co-produced the game with Jordan Weisman, said
his company was already working on a new game incorporating the spirit of
teamwork and the complex interactivity that have been crucial to the
"A.I." game's success. The game will be "tied with a Microsoft franchise,"
he said.

Mr. Lee's team is part of the research group for Microsoft's Xbox game
console, which is scheduled for release in November and will have online
game-playing capabilities.

But how to turn a game like this into a money-making venture? After all,
part of the "A.I." game's appeal is its antimarketing stance and the
community spirit generated by the crew - attributes that
would be hard to replicate in a more blatantly commercial product. And
then there is the fact that the game is free.

Mr. Lee said there were ways other than the obvious subscription model
that these games could bring in revenue. He said Microsoft was talking to
other companies that might be willing to pay to make their products or
sites part of the game and thinking about "what those players' attention
is worth to other companies."

Still, even if there is a future market for such games, the "A.I."  
game's effectiveness at promoting the film is not entirely clear, some
players say.

Bronwen Liggitt, the spokeswoman for the group, said the
biggest benefit for the studios was probably the amount of news media
coverage the game had generated. (That coverage included an article in the
Circuits section of The New York Times on May 3.) The number of actively
involved players, which she estimated at only 7,000, is much too small to
make a difference at the box office, she said.

But Ms. Liggitt said the innovative game had raised the film's hipness
factor in advance among computer- game enthusiasts and "Internet movie
geeks, like me" - an audience that might otherwise have been more
skeptical about the film.

In the end, however, game players may have been too glued to their
computers to spread the word, good or bad, about the movie. Ms.  Liggitt
said she and a group of other players had attended an advance screening of
the film in New York at which film posters with hidden clues were
distributed. "We went out afterward, and most of the talk was not, 'Oh,
the film was cool,' " she said. "It was, `Oh, we've got to call the number
we found in the poster. The movie was almost an afterthought."


wildstyle access:

Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid

Music and Art

245 w14th st #2RC NY NY=20



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