Alas My Mouse – A Multi-linear narrative path

30 01 2012

One of my projects during my masters was the creation of an interactive narrative based on a fairy tale. The fairy tale was chosen at random from a book collecting a number of translated Spanish Fairy tales and is called ‘The Mouse with the Long Tail’. You can see that original story in the images below:

 

From this story I began to pick out the key plot points which could be used as nodes for my interactive story graph. Nodes are different sections of story that are all linked together. In this case each node ends with a choice for the reader/user which progresses the story along a path specific to that choice. In some stories the nodes and their paths may branch of any number of different times. In some cases this may just be one choice or variation that results in the story ending in a different way. Others (like the story I created) may branch of again and again and again to form what is known as a narrative tree. The original story (above) is a linear story meaning that it has one path through it; this path became the first path in my multi-linear narrative (a multi-linear narrative being a story with several linear paths) and from each node in the story I gave the reader the option to move the story in an alternate direction. Doing this created the narrative tree you can see below. As you can see, I created the tree using post-it notes to represent the nodes of the story and masking tape arrows to show the connections and the direction of the story. The yellow nodes represent the path of the original story whilst the blue and pink nodes represent story elements which I created as alternates springing off of the original path.



Having completed the story graph I then set about creating the story as an interactive piece; this first meant typing up each node and it’s relation to the other nodes in a way that could be understood and put into Flash. I did this with a sort of numbering/lettering system which allowed me to create a kind of transcript of all the story options and paths. This was then translated into the final interactive piece which, whilst not visually evocative, demonstrates the reader experience produced by a story graph of this type. You can view the interactive piece (Which I re-named the story “Alas My Mouse”) by following the link below.

Alas My Mouse – By Jayms C Nichols





Comics Man and Science Guy in A Game of Chess

10 01 2012

Comics Man and Science Guy are a couple of characters I created a little while back as a joke between a friend and I (on whom the two characters are loosely based) Comics Man is me (doing a PhD in Comics) and Science guy is him (doing a PhD in Astrophysics). The original story was a little short thing based on an actual scientific discovery which reminded me of a comic book story. This comic can be found here (and later an updated version will appear on my website proper). To read the comic just mouse over the greyed out areas on each side of the panel to move forward or back along the narrative.

Comic Man and Science Guy Play Chess

I have recently had an idea for a comic which is navigated based on chess moves and as such I decided to use Comics Man and Science Guy as the subject of the story. The idea itself is to navigate a comic which is made up of 64 uniform, square panels in 8 rows of 8 (the number and layout of the squares on a chess board) by using chess moves. The navigation would be operated by clicking on the symbol of a chess piece in the navigation bar of the comic.  For example you might click on a bishop and move diagonally a random number of squares from the panel you are on or on a rook to move in a vertical or horizontal line a random number of squares. Or even a knight to move in a random 3-2 or 2-3 movement. The content of the panels would be similar to the example given above and show the two characters sitting at a chess board playing chess.   Each panel will be differentiated from the others by an element of change; this may be something happening in the back ground or a statement/conversation between the characters. Other ideas I’ve had which i may implement are things like a character leaving the frame to go to the toilet or receiving/answering a txt message. Possibly having other characters come into frame or a cat jumping onto the board.

As I progress through the creation process certain considerations will need to be made in order for the comic to work. These will be addressed as they become apparent but at current I must consider how each panel works independently of the others (due to the multi-linear narrative caused by the navigation method) and also how the comic will end (currently I am considering having “stop” panels which when reached conclude the comic).

I shall add more posts and tests to this blog as I go.





My PhD: As it is and what I do

9 12 2011

The  field of study for my PhD is based in comics as my MA was and combines interactive theory and panel-sequence reading  to develop understanding of, and practice in, comics and other panel-sequence story in the digital environment. On a basic level the study is about how we read comics on digital media displays and how the practices and process of digital media effects our reading processes and by extension the forms that panel-sequence story can take in the digital environment.

So that’s a really quick statement about what I study. What follows is a sort-of abridged version of my actual PhD that covers it in slightly more detail. So if you think you are interested in learning about comics in the digital environment then read on and (hopefully) enjoy.

The PhD has to start with something, and what better place to start than the title. So here goes:

Reading Acts and Acts of Reading in Digital Comics: A Study of panel-sequence reading processes in an age of interactive display technologies.

The title is pretty self explanatory and, perhaps, tells you what I’m doing better than the little intro to this post. It’s all about reading. Reading comics in the digital environment.

That’s the topic but what of the research itself? The research starts with a research question that sets out the goals and bands of study for the project:

How is/are the processes and acts of reading the panel-sequence story re-worked by the use of interactive display devices rather than printed paper page? – This is the overriding question that governs the direction of research, this is then broken down into 5 parts or research areas (most of which, you will notice, overlap in some way) which are as follows.

i. How has and how can the processes and acts of reading panel-sequence story be understood, described and discussed?  – Generally boils down to the idea “how do we understand panel-sequence story and how do we talk about it?”

ii. How has and how can the processes and acts of interactive media concerned with story be understood, described and discussed? – The same as the above really. Only replacing “panel-sequence story” with the other important element of the research; interactive media.

iii. How can (i) and (ii) be brought together to develop methods and models of understanding, analysis and discussion that address emergent forms of panel sequence story? – This is basically taking the understanding from both of the above areas and combining them to develop an understanding of the newer form on digital panel-sequence story.

iv. How has and how can our understanding of paper based reading inform our understanding and analysis of interactive media based panel-sequence story? – This section is all about the form the panel-sequence story takes. Simplified it asks “how have paper based comics influenced our understanding of screen comic?”

v. How has and how can our understanding of digital display hardware and software technologies, and their history and processes of interaction inform our reading, development analysis and consumption of digital panel-sequence stories? – All about the technology, how we use it and what it means for digital comics. There is a pretty strong focus on how we read and produce digital panel sequence story for tablets and other portable devices here.

So that’s the basics of it. There is a little more to it that that but that about sums up the underlying principles of what I am looking at and doing. More will become clear as I talk about specific areas of research in future posts on this blog.





Blogging 3.2: The Return of the Blog

8 12 2011

It’s been a while but I’ve finally got my act together and sorted out getting this blog back up and running. Quite a lot has happened since last I posted (a year and a half ago almost) so there’s a bit to catch up on.

Firstly, I finished the MA and achieved a Commendation grade so whoop to that one. It’s a shame I didn’t get the final piece totally polished in time for the hand in but what I did do was demonstrate all the understanding and theory I had hoped to alongside the visual style I used for my interactive comic.

Once the MA was done with I moved on to start my PhD and that is what I have been doing over this period of inactivity that the blog has gone through.

The first year or so of the PhD is really all about gathering as much information as you can in your field of study, creating a reading list of all the important works already completed and preparing a full proposal and plan for the course of study you intend to take outlining all the topics and aims of the project. All this information is then collected to form the registration document which must be passed as worthy of PhD research in order to continue. This is the last stage of progression I reached and I’m now continuing with research and writing to create my thesis.

This blog with now be used as a kind of note book for all my research and writing as I progress through the PhD. Enjoy and ask any questions you can think of.





Update 5: What happened to me and the Blog?

6 09 2010

You may have noticed that it has been a long while since I updated the blog. This is for the simple reason that it was taking up too much of my time. You will remember that, in my last post, I discussed the development of my characters and visual styles and also grouped the different methods of documentation into the groups, “for me”, “for others” and “for both”. All these things have a relation to why the blog has not been regularly updated as I said that it would at the beginning of this project.

In the week following the previous blog I spent my time developing the characters and began to experiment with the use of styles and creation processes. This took a lot more time than I had anticipated. Due to the amount of time the creation and development of the visual assets was taking I needed to prioritise my time to create efficiently. As a result I looked at my timetable and the documentation table that I produced in the previous blog and decided that as part of an effort to give myself as much time as possible I would stick with the “for me” areas and drop the others. The reasoning behind this was that the “for others” section did not benefit the project and therefore seemed a logical thing to drop for the time being until I was able to get back on track with the development of the project. Once at that stage I would then be able to reproduce the notes I had taken in the process as a website or readable re-writing for the outside view to see my processes.

As it turned out I had grossly underestimated the time it would take me to produce the visuals of the piece and it soon became apparent that it would be nearly impossible to get the visuals completed within the allotted time period for the project. As the visual quality had always been the key criticism of my previous work I was determined to make the visuals as strong as possible. This included the learning of a new software (Adobe Illustrator) and new skills in terms of visual production (see my website for more details). When the production of the visuals began to eat into the time that I had initially timetabled for the production of the flash coding and player I set myself a new deadline to end the production of the visuals in favor of producing the Flash based elements. This lead to approximately a third of the visuals being produced to a near finished standard.

Realising that my initial timetabling had not accounted for the incredibly lengthy process of creating the visuals it became apparent that rather than having a polished, finished comic it would be far more appropriate to strive for a finished prototype of what the comic would do in terms of the combination of interactivity and comics. After all, this was the main study of this project; to investigate the use of interactive media in the creation and readership of a digital comic. The importance is the comic form and interactivity working together.

I then began the creation of the player itself. This consisted of producing a number of flash tests of different possible methods of interactivity within the panels themselves and experimenting with methods of navigation. After a week or so of producing and analysing these tests and looking at current existent comic book readers/players I decided on exactly how the comic player would work and what it would do. It would consist of three “levels” within the comic itself. The first would be a zoomed out viewpoint on the temporal map of the comic which would be navigatable by scrolling up and down it. It would also have the option for the user to turn on/off a visual display of each character path and on clicking on a panel it would move to level two of the comic. The second level of the comic would be a zoomed in verion of the temporal map  which allowed the user to navigate the comic as well as read it in its temporal form. The character paths would still be viewable and would allow for the user to turn on and off the inner monologue of individual characters. If the user then clicked on a panel it would be brought up in the third level of the comic. This level would be the Frame-by-Frame view where the reader would see each panel independently of the one next to/above/below it and be given options as to which path to follow via the use of buttons and hot-spots. These three levels each serve a different purpose both in terms of their interactive nature and the nature of the comic form. An example screen from each level can be seen below.

Level 1: Showing temporal map (zoomed out 18%)and all character paths.

Level 2: Showing temporal map (zoomed in 100%) with Blackbird and Crown character paths

Level 3: Showing the frame by frame view with arrow key links and hot spots (focus points)

Whilst each of these levels of the comic served their purpose in terms of the comic form and their basic interactive nature and methodologies there were many issue involve in creating them and producing them as a final single comic file. The biggest problem was the transitions between each level. Going from the zoomed out “level 1” to the zoomed in “level 2” for example requires the comic not only to zoom but to center as well. On top of this the map also needs to be navigatable at both levels. A lot of the coding used to create this transition and the functions of the comic directly contradicts causing one or the other (or both) not to work correctly. Trying to solve this problem has taken up a large period of time in the creation of the player. As yet the problem still remains unsolved.

At this time I am reluctant to spend more time producing the comic or comic player itself as I have only a couple of days before my final hand in. As a result I am making the decision to stop working on the piece itself and instead concentrate on the readable re-writing of my notes so that the decisions and processes I have taken throughout the project can be fully understood at the time of assessment. As such I will spend the remainder of the time on creating a website chronicling my work, processes and reasonings from the past months before continuing with the comic itself after the deadline.





Update 4: Review of documentation and other work so far…

9 07 2010

Timetable:

Firstly, apologies for the late update of the blog, my schedule has been a little out this week. In fact this is the first topic I’d like to address in this review of the work so far. Currently we are a 3rd of the way through the final project and things are fairly on track. However my schedule is proving to be slightly restrictive in terms of work structure. I have found, particularly at this stage where I am branching into several different area of the work (artistic and interactive) that my day by day timetable is not allowing for me to work on several different things at once. For example, this week was set aside for finishing my storyboard but on Friday/Saturday I was “in the mood” for drawing and therefore spent a day and a half of my alloted time on character design (an area that was timetabled in at a later stage). Whilst this means that I haven’t done less work it does put my work out of time with the initial plan. In an attempt to allow for a more free way of working I have decided to set myself key deadlines which several tasks must be completed by. This will ensure that I get each task done in time and with the correct number of hours but also that I can work on several different elements of the project at once. My daily tasks of reflection, vis meth and reading will remain as they were (although these prove to also be running a little out of schedule as well).

Storyboard:

At this stage I have completed the story board of the comic and worked out it’s linkages and flows of each character driven line. This can be seen through the diagram below. This took a little more time than I had initially planned for but due to the extra time spent on other things it worked out being the appropriate number of hours. On reflection however I feel that it may have been wise to write the dialog and script for the comic whilst creating the final storyboard as it may have saved me time in the overall production and lead to a more complete plan to be rendered digitally at a later date. To address this I will be attempting to complete the full script in a single day of the coming week.

The creation of the storyboard lead me to think about the ways in which each panel will link together in the final form and what methods in interactivity will be included to facilitate these linkages. It has lead me to consider some methods that I plan to test over the coming week as I create digital comic frames and forms of navigating them. (Next week’s update will be based around the theories and practices of the digital frame and interactivity within it.)

Visual Methodology/Character Design:

The Visual Methodology that I began in the middle of this week has been happening in fits and starts. On the day that I started it (Friday) I did an hour drawing based on a theme from the daily sketch section of the computer graphics forum cgtalk.com which whilst good practice did not seem to help me as much a I would have liked. As such I will be doing an hour or two of self lead drawing/visual creating each day instead of relying on their topics each day. This is not to say that I will not use this one hour drawing method in future, only that I will also be using other methods as well to maximise my new learning and experimentation.

On one of the days my drawing  became my entire days work as opposed to the one hour in the morning which was scheduled (as I mentioned earlier). This resulted in a number of drawing practices and experimentations that lead to a (near) final design of one of the characters. This final idea can be seen below:

The colour scheme itself will be that of the Union Jack (Red, White and Blue) and the symbol on his chest was developed around the symbols of the RAF and the SAS. (A Red, White and Blue roundel (RAF) with Yellow wings(SAS)). These design choices were all made to co-inside with the patriotic nature that I wanted to achieve with the character. You will notice that the gloves/gantlets also include the union flag as part of their design to further the patriotic theme of the character. Each element of the character’s design was chosen with specific reason and purpose in mind. The colour scheme is designed to invoke a feeling of a patriotic character, the Jet pack and gantlets were included as part of the characters power set as written into the character idea and story of the comic. These items were things I wanted to keep fairly small and sleek to give a modern feel and so as not to detract from the super-heroic nature of the costume. The belt was included to break the constant blank space between the chest and the boots and give a slightly more military look to the costume. I also experimented with the idea of having an SAS style helmet for the character but found that this did not suit the sleek and super-heroic look of the character(However the final head design may change in later renderings and further redesigns of the character.) The pose and proportions of the character was based around the following pictures of other patriotic super hero characters. (Images from Comicvine.com)

These three images (plus some others from the same source) were used as the initial basis of the character and whilst these super-heroic proportions and design will be used for the final rendering of the character the style may not.

Another important part of the design process of the costume and character was the symbol on his chest. This logo is based around several aspects that include patriotic symbolism and semiotics that not only add to the patriotic, heroic feel of the character but relate to the characters background. This background and the initial designs for the symbol are shown below in a scan of my note book (these are very rough sketches and notes have not been proof read, they are merely to illustrate the process and reasons for the chosen design)

As you can see the character “history” includes the likes of British government organisations such as the RAF and the SAS and this is why I used them as reference for the final symbol and colour scheme.

Union Jack

The RAF Roundel

SAS Badge

RAF type C1 Roundel

As you can see, these emblems and symbols all went into the final design of the symbol which is as follows.

Crown Logo Final Design

Documentation:

This weeks symposium was all based around the idea of Documentation of work and whilst I feel that my documentation process is fairly thorough and ticks most of the boxes (particularly after our discussion) I did learn a few interesting things and pick up some interesting ideas. One of these ideas is that documentation comes in two key forms. One that is for use by ones self and one that is for use by outside parties. In this case, I keep all my notes in my notebook which is for myself and at the end of  each week I go through those notes to produces this blog which can be read by other for them to understand my idea.

I grouped a number of methods into each of these categories and some into a middle category that can be used by both.

Self

Both Others
Notebook
Diary
Sketchbook
Photographs
Wall Graphs
Blogs
Feedback (From blogs, forums, etc)
Website (Readable Re-Writing)
File Naming
Post-its

It was also mentioned that the use of theory within the documentations of work and that is something that whilst I have used in previous posts I must make sure to include in future ones as well. One other thing that I was not doing that I discovered in the discussion is annotations. Something that I feel my work would benefit from. Especially as I enter stages of art based creations.





Update 3: A bit of theory…

29 06 2010

Last week I mentioned that I had been thinking a lot on my theory work. This week I have nailed a large portion of that down and the subsequent thoughts that go along with it are the primary focus of this update.

Comics are a form of temporal communication, that is, they display a series of images or events through time. This is the primary underlying element behind comics as a form. It is the way we view this temporal element  that makes comics a distinct form of sequential art, one that has a specific set of reading codes and conventions associated with it. The codes and conventions of reading a comic are a part of the comic form but what if the way we read comics changes?
The digital platforms of screen culture have made for a change in the readership methods of comics and the way its temporal elements are displayed. These changes offered by the digital medium lead to new types of comic being available. Baring in mind that for these digital versions to be considered comics the temporal nature and the reading codes and conventions must remain relatively unchanged I have defined four different forms of comic:

Traditional Comics (t-comics):
These consist of sequential images which have a temporal relation to the images (frames) previous and after them and are displayed on paper in the form of a codex book. The readership can be broken down into the key elements of:

  • The page (and the reading associations that go with it)
  • The visual conventions to decode
  • The story

Electronic Comics (e-comics):
Consist of the same sequential image nature as the traditional comic but contained within a digital ‘page’ as opposed to a paper one. The reading conventions and temporal elements remain the same only with a simple interactive element comparable to the turning of a page in a traditional codex book. The readership of e-comics can be broken down into:

  • The page
  • The visual conventions to decode
  • The interactive conventions to decode (‘page’ turn)
  • The story

Interactive Comics (i-comics):
These comics consist of sequential art visual codes, conventions and temporal aspects but are navigated through interactive methods. The ‘page’ itself  is usually incomplete (not visible as a whole) in nature which changes the method of reading. The conventions of reading i-comics are:

  • The page conventions to decode
  • The interactive conventions to decode
  • The visual conventions to decode
  • The story

Multimedia Comic (m-comics):
These comics include elements of motion and/or sound that changes the way the temporal nature of the comic is read. They still consist of sequential images which have a temporal relation to the images (frames) previous and after them but also include motion, sound and interaction and keep some of the codes and conventions for the readership of comics. The readership of m-comics can be broken down into:

  • The page conventions to decode
  • The interactive conventions to decode (including playful/gameic interaction)
  • The visual conventions to decode
  • The audio and video conventions to decode
  • The story

T-comics, I-comics, M-comics and E-comics (T.I.M.E) all consist of the same basic temporal relationship between frames and the same visual conventions to be decoded. It is the addition of interactive and multimedia elements that changes the way we read these comics. Depending on the level of the interaction we can fit the comics into the different categories.

Levels of Interaction:

Depending on a screen comic’s level of interaction it can be defined as either an Electronic comic (E-comic), an Interactive comic (I-comic) or a Multimedia comic (M-comic). These levels of interaction are as follows:

  • Complete page navigation interaction
  • Incomplete page navigation interaction
  • Visual interaction
  • Hypertextual interaction
  • Playful interaction

Complete page navigation is interaction which is used to move the reader from one complete page to the next. A digital equivalent of of turning the page of a codex book. This would usually consist of a clearly defines button or action which moves you from the current page to the next or previous page. The action may be used to mimic the ‘feel’ or gesture of turning a page in a codex book. Complete page navigation is used in E-comic where it is the only form of interactivity used.

Incomplete page navigation is interaction that moves the reader around a page on screen as if viewing a larger page through a window. This method is used if the page of the comic extends beyond the confines of the screen and is used to navigate the story’s path. This interaction is often a vertical or horizontal ‘scroll’ or movement along the page of the comic following the narrative path of the sequential images of the story. This incomplete page navigation may also include multiple paths through the story providing the overall plot does not change from the readers choose to take one path over another. In some instances a single path through the comic may move vertically AND horizontally. This form of interaction is most commonly seen in I-comics.

Visual interactivity is interactivity that affects the visuals of the comic. This may be a colour change/enhancement when rolling over a frame to ‘focus’ the reader’s attention, the appearance of a speech or thought bubble when clicking on a visual cue within the frame or a number of other visual interactions. The visual cues may be overt or covert within the individual frames or ‘options’  that affect every frame. The visual interactivity should not affect the overall plot of the story but merely affect the visuals. The type of interactivity may be used in both I-comics and M-comics.

Hypertextual interactivity consist of elements of interactivity that exists within the comic and link the reader to sources outside the comic. These links can be convert or overt and link to information, previous comics, character backgrounds or other elements that relate to the comic. It is important that these elements do not affect the outcome of the story and exist to support and enhance the comic. These hypertextual inactive elements are most commonly used for events referring to previous issues (in serials) or to information related to the comic.

Playful interactivity refers to puzzle or game elements of interaction used within the comic. These are elements of interactive game where the reader must complete a task to continue the progression of the story/reading. Some may be optional whilst others may not. Playful interaction also includes choices made by the user that affect the outcome of the story such as branching narrative options. Puzzle elements may also be used here to force the reader to find or investigate an aspect before being able to move on with the story or access a certain part of it. These playful interactive elements are exclusive  to M-comics although an M-comic does not require this level of interactivity to be classed as such.

The following chart shows which type of interactivity can be used in each type of screen comic:

The five types of interactivity in screen comics are…

… and they are used in…

E-comics

I-comics

M-comics

Complete page navigation

Yes

Yes

Yes

Incomplete page navigation

Yes

Yes

Visual interactivity

Yes

Yes

Hypertextual interactivity

Yes

Yes

Playful interactivity

Yes

The above theories are all my although they are based on my reading of other theorists works. The ideas of Traditional and Electronics are based on the ideas of Will Eisner which Interactive and Multimedia comics are based around the theoretical ideas of Scott McCloud.

As well as this theoretical write up I have begun the storyboarding process and begun to flesh out the “k-many” methods of interactive frame. I have also spent time re-writing my schedule to include two hours of visual methodology each day which I have also planned out as two one hour drawing/creating sessions in the morning and afternoon. The updated schedule can be found here:

Plan C (reworked)