Cars

In the face of lukewarm reviews, I went to see Cars tonight – you tend to lower the bar on the movies you’ll watch when you live within a couple of minutes walk from a cinema. I’d been ambivalent about Cars ever since it’d been announced, because it didn’t seem to have the potential for a good story. It was just too simple – a hot rod racecar landing in a sleepy country town, helping out the locals and presumably getting back to ‘civilisation’ having built some character and made a bunch of new friends.

However, I felt the same way when I heard about Finding Nemo, and that movie ended up surprising me, so it would’ve been remiss of me not to give Cars a chance. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised. Cars is a good, fun movie – it might be very predictable (see the plot summary above) and cliched at times, but it has some great moments and it’s still better than average. I certainly enjoyed it more than Superman Returns (which itself wasn’t that bad), although it doesn’t reach the heights of, say, Toy Story 2.

Once thing struck me towards the end of the movie:

(Now, this is technically a SPOILER but if you don’t see this coming, then you clearly haven’t been paying attention to the movie.)

Basically, the hero sacrifices his chance at glory and success to help someone else. It’s a wonderful scene, and I thought to myself, what a good lesson for the kids. And then I thought, actually, maybe not. Because after our hero makes his sacrifice, he ends up being applauded and rewarded far more than he would have otherwise. The simple fact is that it just isn’t like that in real life – when you make a sacrifice, chances are, no-one’s going to applaud you, no-one’s going to reward you, and very possibly, no-one’s going to care. So, the reason for making a sacrifice shouldn’t be because you might be rewarded or people will think you’re a nice guy, it should be because you think it’s the right thing to do.

Trite and obvious (I hope) but not so for everyone, especially kids. It would be great to see a story that illustrates the point – maybe I’ll even do it myself. Anwyay, it’s just a movie and Pixar movies have to have happy endings – I understand that.

(End of SPOILERS)

One more thing. While the opening short animation isn’t the best that Pixar have done, the credits shorts are simply excellent. Not a single person left the theatre while they were on. This was partly because there were only about ten people there, but they all enjoyed it. In fact, it’s a testament to the quality of the film that there were quite a few laughs and chuckles throughout it, despite the fact that most people stay very quiet in an empty theatre.

Mind Candy Wants You!

I’ve been at Mind Candy, developing Perplex City full time, for almost two years now. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a Bruce Sterling novel, jumping from neuroscience to a job which didn’t exist five years ago and is still difficult to explain to people. It’s obviously been a fun, if hectic, time, and it’s great that Perplex City is doing so well now, with almost 40,000 players to its name. A consequence of this success is that we’re expanding, and we’re now hiring for an Alternate Reality Game Producer.

Producing an ARG involves a byzantine combination of skills and experience, including project management, story-telling, web-savvy, a simultaneous willful disregard and healthy appreciation of previous games, and the ability to contemplate the impossible. It also requires having to think up solutions to seemingly disastrous situations in the space of a few minutes, so having a cool head is pretty useful. You don’t necessarily need a background in game design – technically, I didn’t, although I had been deeply involved in ARGs. You just need to appreciate and understand the concepts related to the genre. For some people, that comes from experience in RPGs; other people, from screenwriting. There are no set requisites.

You’d have to be willing to learn – to a reasonable degree of familiarity – odd and sometimes obscurely documented fields such as cryptography (of course), particle physics, celestial navigation and city planning. It really does help if you can pick up stuff quickly – what we do is often at the leading edge of technologies like printing.

You need to be able to take criticism well. Everyone who works with the ARG team is warned that their story ideas will be exhaustively analysed, picked apart and reassembled, sometimes in a completely unrecognisable form. We’re all good-natured though, and have a wide range of backgrounds, from playwrights to Orange Prize-winning authors; there’s a good reason why Andrea’s title is still ‘Ad Hoc Polymath’.

Alternate Reality Games are still young and there are a lot of possibilities. Sometimes you’ll take a chance on one of them, and fail. You have to be willing to fail again, and fail better. And eventually succeed wildly. It’s a funny old world, ARGs – full of contradictions…

For all of that, you get to develop a game that can go anywhere and tell any story, using the web and any medium available. There’s a lot of hard work, to be sure, and it’s not all hiring helicopters or creating fictional companies, but it’s absolutely fascinating and totally, genuinely unlike any other job in the world. There are only a handful of people who could legitimately call themselves ARG designers, and fewer still who would have access to the the audience, resources and independence that Mind Candy can command. Yet in one way, it’s a job as old as the hills – it’s storytelling, but in a way that speaks to people through the way they live, immersed in information, and with an opportunity to participate in and mold that story.

Plus, it’s a fantastic line to use at parties. Although I feel obliged to point out that you will rapidly tire of explaining, for the hundredth time (literally), what an alternate reality game is…

Anyway, if you’re interested and want to apply for the job, don’t email me. I’ll get quite annoyed if you send an application to my email address – there’s a dedicated one for that in the link above. However, if you want to ask any questions about the role, feel free to email, but bear in mind that I’m horribly busy for the next few weeks and in any case you can probably find answers to most of your questions on the web, with appropriate Googling. Good luck!

San Francisco

Part of the reason I’ve disappeared for over a month is because I’ve been completely immersed in organising the upcoming San Francisco live event for Perplex City. Let’s just say that it’s a step up from what we’ve done in the past, and it’s really demanding a lot of my time.

Anyway, it means that I’m going to be in San Francisco in mid-August. San Francisco is the last major US city that I haven’t yet visited (that’s my definition of ‘major’, by the way), so I’m hoping to do a bit of exploring and meeting up with friends – incidentally, if I’ve missed anyone out, let me know if you’re in SF and would like to meet up.