GameScenes is conducting a series of interviews with artists, critics, curators, and gallery owners operating in the field of Game Art, as part of an ongoing investigation of the social history of this fascinating artworld. Our goal is to illustrate the genesis and evolution of a phenomenon that changed the way game-based art is being created, experienced, and discussed today.
We mentioned Alan Kwan's latest work, Bad Trip, an "immersive interactive system which enables people to navigate [his] mind using a game controller" on August 25 and we have not stopped marveling at the ingenuity of project. Bad Trip combines lifelogging, personal tracking, and gaming. It's a mix between Inception, Strange Days and Memento, with a dash of The Final Cut. In case you forgot, here's what it looks like:
A fresh graduate from the City University School of Creative Media in Hong Kong, Alan Kwan (Tsz-wai) is an independent filmmaker and media artist. His short films and experimental videos have received various awards from the Hong Kong Independent Short Film and Video Awards (IFVA) and have been showcased at the 35th Hong Kong International Film Festival, "Computational Thinking in Existing Art Forms" exhibition, and "Micro Narratives: Invented Time & Space" exhibition. Recently, Kwan has been selected as one of the four Hong Kong delegates to attend the "Asian Producers Lab" in Seoul, which is a professional training program presented by Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (Pifan).
We chatted with Kwan about the origins and future iterations of Bad Trip. How about user-generated dreamworlds?
This interview took place via email in September 2012.
GameScenes: First of all, what is your background? What are your interests?
Alan Kwan: I consider myself an independent filmmaker and media artist. I have developed great interest in cinema since childhood and made my first short film when I was 10. In secondary school I spent most of my afterschool time doing experimental films. Later when I was studying at the School of Creative Media at the City University of Hong Kong I became exceptionally interested in the emerging forms of cinema and therefore started out the lifelogging project and also a project that experiments with putting cinema on fashion - making garments with the flexible display technology.
GameScenes: Bad Trip is a unique mix of gaming, lifelogging, and memory - both as a storage device and retrieval tool. In other words, it audaciously combines three key obsessions of our age. Why did you opt for a game interface to develop your project? What made you choose the game medium over, let's say, data visualizations?
Alan Kwan: To me, the core element of Bad Trip is really the emotive experience. It’s not only about the lifelogging videos but more importantly the journey into one’s mind. In the demo video you may notice the flying houses in which players would have no possible way to reach, and in fact they are the ones that store my secret memories. Although not being able to see them, players could actually climb up the mountains, and listen to the little echo sound of my secret memories when the houses fly over. The house that stores my childhood memories is also particularly difficult to reach. Players would have to walk up the surreal long spiral stairs, and to my experience, they normally have to retry multiple times in order to successfully reach the house.
GameScenes: I noticed that while the environment is monochromatic, the dreams are in technicolor, so to speak. Can you explain your chromatic palette? As you certainly know, in cinema, B&W connotes either past events or characters' memories (displayed as flashbacks), so I am intrigued by your stylistic subversion...
Alan Kwan: In fact I can't really explain this. I just love they look this way.
GameScenes: Do you plan to develop and release further iterations of Bad Trip? How so? Will other users be able to upload their memories as well?
Alan Kwan: Sure! I am bringing a team together to work on the next version which not only enables people to create their own world but also perform a lot of interesting actions. For example there would be a Memory Market where people could buy and sell memories. The cool thing with using POV camera to do lifelogging is that the users’ face very rarely appears in the videos. It is therefore a player could buy a memory of kissing his dream girl from another player who has actually kissed her. Players could even buy weapons in the market to destroy other players’ houses or their specific cluster of memory, making them ‘forget’ something.
Alan Kwan wearing his lifelogging camera.
GameScenes: What kind of technology/tools/software did you use?
Alan Kwan: I use my lifelogging camera with a 32GB microSD card which can store about 16 hours of HD videos. The battery only lasts for about 3.5 hours so I usually have 3 extra ones in my pocket. Every night I manually copy the files to my PC which would then be uploaded to Bad Trip. I am hoping that one day the video files could be automatically uploaded from my camera in real time. Right now I am doing some tests with the Eye-Fi SD cards. The game engine I used is Quest3D, and the 3D modeling and textures are done in 3ds Max. Houses are all procedurally modeled using Esri CityEngine.
GameScenes: How long is the overall experience? How does the "trip" last, to so speak?
Alan Kwan: As the virtual world is continually growing with fresh memories and dreams added in every night, the trip could last longer and longer. I did a test on 1 September 2012, in which I went through all the memory clusters and dreams, and the whole trip lasted for about 3 hours and 20 minutes.
Alan Kwan, Bad Trip, detail, 2012
GameScenes: Do you believe that lifelogging and wearable technologies will become ubiquitous in the next few years or will they remain a niche pursuit?
Alan Kwan: I think lifelogging will certainly become ubiquitous in less than ten years. We can in fact very obviously see the trend, and all the technology is almost there. The lifelogging camera I use costs less than 50 USD, it got a wide angle lens and produces really decent quality 720p videos. Just adding a better battery and a WiFi MicroSD card would be already perfect. I think the most challenging task left is the development of the total recall software that could really enable users to easily and precisely retrieve the segment of digital memory they want.
Alan Kwan's lifelogging camera.
GameScenes: How many GB of data have you collected since November 2011, when you began your lifelogging project?
Alan Kwan: Up to 1 September 2012, there have been 823GB of data collected.
GameScenes: What were the main challenges that you encountered while developing Bad Trip? What have you learned from this experience, philosophically not just technically?
Alan Kwan: Hmmm. In fact most of the challenges are really technical ones. But I do want to share about one little thing, I am a stutterer, just a mild one, but I feel very bad sometimes when watching the lifelogging videos and hearing the way I talk. Every night when I upload the videos to Bad Trip I really wanna erase the part that I was stuttering, as I know these will eventually all go public. I somehow didn’t do that but putting all those memories around the corner of the house. I then realize Bad Trip to me is just another form of diary.
GameScenes: How did you come up with Bad Trip? What is the story behind the story?
Alan Kwan: The project has in fact gone through multiple evolutions, and making a video game was really not the original idea. One day last summer my friend George and I were talking about the new GoPro cameras. We had an idea of using such cameras to do lifelogging, and then building a total recall system which enables us to easily retrieve particular segment of our “digital memory” from the video database. We thought that wouldn’t be too difficult with the facial recognition and GPS technologies. We started research and also some coding as well, but we soon realized the idea was somehow too practical. We really didn’t want to build an efficient video search engine, but something that focuses more on the emotive experience.
A few months later I picked up the lifelogging idea again. GoPro was just too bulky so I bought a 720p keychain camera from Ebay, and made a small clip so that the camera can be easily attached to the arm of my eyeglasses. I took off the plastic case of the camera so that it looks more fashion-forward. Then I started my lifelogging and also building a software called Memory Palace, which is something like a hybrid of Simcity and iPhoto. Users navigate in a 3D virtual environment where they could build houses to store their memories. At first I knew nothing about 3D modeling and game scripting. I learnt from scratch and eventually finished a prototype of the software after 4 months.
After that I decided to submit something from my lifelogging project to the graduation show. But Memory Palace was not a good option because audiences would have no lifelogging videos to upload and therefore cannot really participate. So I modified the software into a video game, Bad Trip, which takes people on a journey into my mind. As it is presented as my inner world, I did big changes to the visual style which became more extreme and stylized. It is therefore I did the surreallistic landscape and adopt a monochromatic style. The video game was completed in 3 weeks, and since then I have been updating the virtual world every night, memories are added and houses are built. Occasionally I would also add in my dreams, if I remember anything from them.
Finally, Bad Trip got its first exposure at my graduation show.
LINK: Alan Kwan
Text: Matteo Bittanti
All images courtesy of the artist