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May 1, 2006

Digital Dimensions

Showcasing Games, Immersive Environments and Mobile Media

By James Tella

The power for electronic games, immersive spaces and mobile media to transform and press the boundaries of our physical and virtual worlds is on full display this week at dimension 9, nine unexplored territories, this year’s version of the Interactive Media Division’s annual M.F.A. thesis projects.
Communio by Bradley Newman is an action/puzzle game that enlists three players to work in cooperation.

Ranging from a computerized confessional, to a game that raises awareness of the tragedy in Darfur, to new designs for interactive TV and more, the expo fills the massive soundstages of the Robert Zemeckis Center for the Digital Arts with nine pieces that beckon guests to explore them through motion capture suits, lighted wrist bands, cell phones, keyboards or just plain taking in the view.

“The reason we named the show unexplored territories is because all of these pieces are a mix of genres or something that is completely new,” said Interactive Media Lab Manager Marientina Gotsis. “I’m impressed with all of them. They are all extremely different in their interests.”

For many of the students, dimension 9 is the first time their work has been showcased and like the division’s writing and production counterparts First Pitch and First Look, the exposition provides press coverage for the students and an opportunity for potential employers to view their work. Unlike the other showcases, however, dimension 9 is a hands-on show that encourages everyone to participate.
Andrew Sacher's love of satire and parody was one impetus in creating Technophiles Anonymous, an interactive confessional booth.


“This is a way to make people think about how we’re becoming more of an addictive society in general,” said Andrew Sacher whose love of satire and parody was one impetus in creating Technophiles Anonymous, an interactive confessional booth that brings people face-to-anonymous-face with how dependant they are on technology. Sacher’s enthusiasm in his project is evident as he opens up the booth and offers a peek into how the technology confessions are captured. “I really enjoyed finding my voice here,” Sacher added.

“It could be called a game, but the word ‘game’ has such a connotation to it,” said Michael Steffen describing Telmahre, which is based on the first-person adventure game genre. Steffen, who also plays a role in the tale, says that he enjoys watching people interact with the live on-screen action and learn what they take from the experience. “In the end, you have to decide if the main character is worth redeeming and it’s an ambiguous choice. There isn’t a win-lose situation.”

One project that does attach such a condition while going beyond the current bounds of traditional games is Darfur: Play your Part by Susana Ruiz, a multiplayer online experience that explores the current crisis in the Darfur region of the Sudan. Ruiz has already garnered national attention for raising awareness about the crisis in hopes of motivating and facilitating real-world activism as the winning entry of MTV’s college network, mtvU’s Darfur Digital Activist Contest.

Although the industry still has a heavy stake in classic games, Gotsis points out that students like those showcased in dimension 9 will make a positive change in the field. “As we produce more authors, the contents will change because the interest changes.”

Darfur: Play your Part by Susana Ruiz is a
multiplayer online experience that explores the current crisis in the Darfur region of the Sudan.
The phenomenal response and download of this year’s student-designed Cloud game, along with last year’s Dyadin, the student winner at the 2005 Independent Games Festival, exemplify that the future of the genre is in the hands of students like those at the school’s Interactive Media Division. One such developer, Stephen Erin Dinehart, IV, has created Journey of Jin, an episodic mobile adventure specifically designed for cell phones. The epic tale of a tribal warrior on his quest to help his people is of a quality rarely seen in that gaming market.

“It’s a perfect example of how we’re breaking new ground,” Gotsis added.

Experiences like Communio by Bradley Newman, an action/puzzle game that enlists three players to work in cooperation, to I Am More Than My Thumb by Kellee Santiago that examines how players, wearing a garment modeled after the smock worn by the young boy in Cloud complete with sewn-in motion capture sensors, can engage their whole body to play show how the genre is evolving.

The nine projects also encompass the unique multi-layered narrative threads and dual imagery of Ashley York’s Ah-Satan about young Kentuckians sentenced to life for murder that is never the same story twice, an application that enhances the enjoyment of watching a television show by connecting legions of fans simultaneously called SECT from Julie Dillon, and the captivating Flow by Jenova Chen that adjusts play based on user choices made as they dive deep into an ocean-like space to eat and evolve.

“The students are extremely passionate about what they’re doing to the point of insanity,” Gotsis adds. “What they’ve done is very, very genuine and they’ve put their whole heart into it.”