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How Sam Barlow's new employer is trying to make films interactive

How Sam Barlow's new employer is trying to make films interactive

January 27, 2017 | By Alex Wawro

"Explicit interactivity is going to yield to implicit interactivity, where the movie is watching you, and viewing is customized to a degree that is hard to imagine."

- Veteran game designer Brian Moriarty, speaking to The New Yorker about his vision of interactive films.

Last year, fresh off of a clean-up run at the Game Developers Choice and IGF Awards, Her Story designer Sam Barlow seemed to step aside from games for a bit to take a new role as executive director at Interlude.

One of Interlude's chief aims is to make interactive movies, something that's been tried (with varying degrees of success) for 20+ years. Now, in a new feature published by The New Yorker, it becomes clear that the company is being driven in part by game industry types like Barlow who believe advances in technology -- eye-tracking and natural-language processing, for example -- afford creators the room to create far more subtle and engaging interactive film experiences.

Most notably, Barlow cautions The New Yorker that what he's helping to create at Interlude is closer to his game Her Story (a game about looking up and watching old video clips on an aging PC, with an interface modeled to look like said PC) than older interactive films like 1992's "I'm Your Man", which explicitly asked audience members to vote on what would happen (via in-seat joysticks) at key points in the film.

“Suppose you have a significant story branch,” Barlow said. “If that’s linked to an explicit decision that the viewer must make, then it feels kind of mechanical and simple.” By contrast, what he's working on with Interlude is meant to unobtrusively customize a film based on the viewer's unconscious actions.

"Suppose that the movie knows that you’re a man, and a male walks in and you show signs of attraction. The plot could change to make him gay," Brian Moriarty, a veteran game designer (Zork, Loom) who currently teaches at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, suggests to The New Yorker. "Or imagine the possibilities for a Hitchcock-type director. If his film sees you’re noticing a certain actor, instead of showing you more of him it shows you less, to increase tension."

While it's clear The New Yorker values Moriarty's perspective on the topic, it's not clear that he's necessarily working with Interlude in any significant capacity. The full feature, which is rather lengthy but well worth reading for any devs interested in the state of interactive film-making, can be found over on The New Yorker's website.

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