Leeds Creative Labs

Collaborations for Academics & Creative Innovators

Tag: 2012 (page 1 of 2)

Impact in 5

Last November, Erica put together an evening of lightning talks to showcase the impact of various research projects at the University of Leeds, including two which originated in the Creative Labs…

Firstly, Simon Popple and I presented Pararchive and our progress from early conversations brokered by the lab in 2012, to an AHRC-funded 18-month research programme which is coming to an end in a few weeks time with the launch of our storytelling app Yarn.

The second talk showcased the collaboration on Hajj Experiences between Seán, Jo and Tim during the Summer 2014 edition… Continue reading

Drones and mods an game design

The project that Kevin and I worked on was a fantastic opportunity to prod at the beginning of an idea.

At the launch event for the Cultural and Creative Industries Exchange I presented work in progress – or rather the bits and pieces that we have developed to date.

A lot of the time was spent in an iterative process, working with the design and the flow of the experience.

Arma 2 provides us with a naturally powerful platform – we haven’t so much created a fully functional mod largely because of time but rather have tried to  experiment with the inbuilt building tools.

Arma 2 Building Tools

The lines and circles and trigger are all units we have placed into the map, their behaviours and pathways are defined with a series of events that we are trying to play out to see what happens.

Here is the drone on the runway.

Arma 2 Drone On Runway

The view from the village:

Arma 2 View From Village

The same village from the air from the vantage point of the drone

Arma 2 Drone POV

We mainly only had time to experiment with the general feel of the experience, how it felt to be both on the ground and in the air, seeing both simultaneously both the act of firing from the air and feeling and seeing the effects of that from the ground.

It’s worth mentioning that in terms of content all of the models and heavy lifting of the 3d game engine was done by the game – a lot of what we are doing is an exercise in contextualization.

I’ve spoken in a previous post about the issues surrounding representation in games especially ones that lend themselves to such traditional genres as FPS (first person shooters), and here we are instead providing an alternative perspective on situations that are expected to be applied in a assumed manner (this isn’t doing the ARMA 2 community a disservice they create incredibly complicated scenarios and play them out but are naturally interested in the games primary function as a combat simulator to be participated in).

The good news is it works – it is both disconcerting and uncanny to participate from the ground and from the air. The spectre of a drone and that sense of helplessness is indeed communicated, not to the degree in reality of course, but it opens a dialogue about it.

The future of the mod lies in actually reducing some of the gameness of the interface and the program. We discussed this during our sessions, the experience currently relies on a level of aptitude with the game and FPS games in particular for the player to be able to understand and participate in it. In many ways we would need to break the game and also break the traditional rules of game design – this will not be a balanced experience – in the same way that the drones themselves are one of the clearest examples of the asymmetric nature of the conflict.

The next steps would be to create a clearer sense of the narrative of the experience – an arc and a clear set of situations inspired and based on a real scenario. Secondly to create an interface system that moves the game on through a series of steps – simultaneous events that play out for both sets of players and pause – allowing them to navigate a series of choices – focusing the interactions on decision making rather than reflexes and hand to eye co-ordination.

We are hoping to progress the project onwards – implementing the above and more, the game platform is an ideal way to explore and express these ideas with implementations beyond conflict situations. Hopefully we’ll be able to feedback here in the future as that pans out.

Meet Pararchive…

The Cultural & Creative Industries Exchange labs ended yesterday with a launch event and the first public reveal of our contribution, Pararchive, a storytelling tool for archival media.

Cultural & Creative Industries Exchange

Joining the other teams at the reception, we got the chance to talk through the principles and philosophies of Pararchive with interested parties, as well as share our concept designs and scenarios.

Two visitors to our stand included Andrew Wilson – of Blink Media and the Hannah Mitchell Foundation – as well as Dinah Clark, Leeds City Council’s programme manager for culture. Dinah in particular was interested in the implications on intellectual property, ownership and openness in what became a thrilling conversation on the changing nature of work and value.

Stories About Zak

Though our intention was only to formulate a ‘concept car’, it looks like there might be resources available for further development. Just today a funding application was made to begin developing a working prototype… watch this space  🙂

The sky is not the limit

Upon reaching the end of the Leeds Creative Labs, the feeling which echoed around the room from all the groups was that, we were only just getting started. It has felt like a short journey but one of great exploration.

Listening to all of the fascinating presentations from around the table revealed the different approaches to the academic / technologist collaboration. A fundamental difference between the groups was the notion of product. For myself and Vlad, our collaboration was the core of what we researched and reflected on. The concept and design of the projected image which was the result of our conversations, we saw almost as a byproduct.

For myself this process of reflection, which we often spoke through on our meetings, has been a realisation. What I saw as boundaries to a collaboration, having a limit set by practice and methodology, in actual fact exist within the collaborator and the perceived physical limitations of the subject.

The ‘byproducts’ of our collaboration are as follows: We developed a narrative of images to be projected in sequence relating to our conversations on the nature of data in space. The first being a single image of a target:


The combined images which we are considering for a gallery piece is below:


The next step is to seek further funding for the collaboration to investigate the moving image, commercial application and the placement of the work within a gallery context.

Storyboarding/Storytelling: Weeknotes from 5th Nov

This was the big push, with personas and users’ tasks and journeys largely mapped out, we needed to begin translating these into storyboards so Dean and Tom could begin to produce mockups…



All User Flows

Thoughts from Simon Popple (Part 2)

Simon Popple from the University of Leeds and Imran Ali, Tom Morgan and Dean Vipond are working on a collaboration around storytelling tools for large media archives; the team has chosen to use archive media from the London Riots as content for storytellers.


We are now halfway through this project and it has been an extremely rewarding process for me. We have moved from a set of abstract ideas and aspirations to developing a set of principles and defined functions that will allow for the creation of tools that can facilitate interactive digital storytelling. We began the process by looking at basic principles and examining what tools were already out there and by defining what we wanted to create in relation to their limitations and shortcomings. This threw up a range of approaches and some interesting formats such as the Cowbird project and new forms of digital storytelling software like Klynt.

Once we were relatively certain of the nature of our concept we began to define core functions and to think about what users would want to do and how they could collect, interpret, repurpose and republish material and how the narratives of their own stories could be captured and shared. We did this through Persona modelling which was a new concept to me – and which really opened my eyes to the ways in which these concepts could be built from the bottom up. I am now a convert!

We decided to use the London riots as a case study and to pick examples of different participants/victims to work through how a particular story could be told and what range of materials and opinions could be used to represent it. We are now at the stage of turning this into a series of profiles from which we are constructing the software interface and necessary functions from a user perspective. More later.

Thoughts from Simon Popple (Part 1)

All User Flows

I am very excited by the prospect of working with these guys to develop ideas that have come from two pieces of research dealing with access and use of archival resources. My initial idea is to develop an app/software that will allow people to use archival sources- films, photographs, sound files etc to develop their own personal ‘archive’ which will enable them to tell their own story and also allow them to exchange and interact with others in some form of collective creative practice.

As I said in my application for this scheme

“The idea comes from two AHRC/BBC funded KEPs centred on the role of User Generated Content (UGC) and the development of genuine democratic engagements between the public and a range of cultural institutions. My work looked at opening up the BBC’s moving image archives and in exploring what types of interaction and joint endeavour could be possible and in looking at expectations and  aspirations from a public and institutional perspective. As a consequence I am now ready to develop the next phase of this ongoing research and develop an application that can facilitate these exchanges and allow public audiences to become creative curators and to engage beyond the normative expectations of the ‘invited space’ offered by institutions. As we increasingly talk about the opportunities for self-expression and self-writing within expanding digital frames, this application could have the potential for genuine creative engagement. Organisations like the BBC, the British Library and the British Film Institute have just launched the Digital Public Space (DPS) which is a collaborative archive- of-archives built on the notion of free ‘democratic’ exchanges and in which acts of self-writing and the ‘national conversation’ can take place. This clearly signals a huge shift in the idea of ownership and the insularity of major institutions and offers the potential for exciting application development that would allow the public to take full advantage of increasingly available cultural resources and would be something that is not collection/institution specific.”

I hope that the project will allow me the opportunity to begin to explore the potential of this type of activity through a collaborative form of digital storytelling and to bottom-out some of its complexities and implications and to examine just what is possible in terms of design and interactivity. I expect to find it is a complex process!

FPS as texts – reading games and contemporary warfare

Ben Eaton, a digital artist, and Kevin Macnish, from the University of Leeds, are exploring the ethics of contemporary warfare using game platforms.

osama bin laden FPS

A quick one – a bit about my project with Kevin but also how his work intersects with my interests as a digital artist, and one who sometimes makes but often plays games.

I am fascinated about the fact that we are a country at war, a war far away seen on TVs but rarely felt in a tactile way. But I am fascinated about where the leakages appear between our pre-existing narratives of conflict and the impact of these leaks into our daily lives – where our government is still sending young men and women to fight 3500 miles away.

All of this is not because I want to express my political judgement on the conflict itself or the act of war-a long conversation for another time – but rather on the social nature of this conflict and how we as civilians participate and interact with its narratives, how it disappears into the background and suddenly rears its head again.

These things happen

News of the death of soldiers gradually filters away from the frontpage, and you rarely see the coffins being loaded off planes anymore.

The death of a friend of a friend who they went to school with or a friend’s friend’s sister’s boyfriend means pictures of young men in desert gear on operation with sad epitaphs underneath briefly puncture my timeline.

An American paralympic team with athletes wearing a quasi-military uniforms, perhaps an indication of the provenance of so many of the young amputees, but little coverage on TV networks.

Some good television but no great films have been made about the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but perhaps some great games will be.

A developer trying to make a game about the battle for Fallujah was criticized for their choice of subject matter, they cited the soldiers they were interviewing and who were acting as consultants who said (I paraphrase) “We want to tell our story and this is our medium – how else would we tell it”

Modern Warfare 3 made $775million in 5 days.

First Person Shooters (FPS)  – where you play from a first person perspective often down the barrel of a gun are one of the main gaming genre’s and are trailed like movies. They are increasingly trying to trade on either an uncanny resemblance to what’s happening over there or provide a vicarious experience – depending on how you see it.

Sometimes they try and have a point. Often this is terrible.

There is an uncomfortable synergy between FPS games – or the ‘manshooter’ the excessively macho clichee and politically myopic games of contemporary warfare – and the military. The Army posting recruitment adverts on the front page of computer game magazines or at trade fairs – or the British army creating an advert designed to mimic the point of view (PoV) of some of the most famous gaming franchises.

A recent release that lets you buy real world weapons branded with the game’s logo – a new brand of camo , a new gun stock or a tomahawk.

Trite over-sentimentalism and oversimplification that shows neither the armed forces or the games industry in a particularly good or intelligent light.

But these games are fun (some are fun, some are terrible), they sell big, they are engaging and they have a reach almost equivalent to that of mainstream media and cinema.

These games are texts- artifacts of a conflict and potentially a distanced way for us to participate in these conflicts – most don’t do it well, but also most deserve more in-depth thought than presented here.

But as an artist I am interested in how we can use games as platforms that can create a way to read, understand and document conflict. At the risk of over-simplifying perhaps video games will create the War on Terror’s – Apocalypse Now, or Full Metal Jacket.

There is a further element to this which is where Kevin and my collaboration comes in.

As conflict crosses increasingly over into the realm of the digital the relationship between these systems and our participation in the act of warfare becomes more blurred – our project sits here –

“Flying drones is like playing a computer game”. It’s not but it is an easy way to write off both computer games and a wider conversation about the fact that way we fight – especially where the West’s technological and financial superiority means there are systems and platforms being rolled out on battlefields that are forever changing the way we fight, for their operators, their victims and for the rest of us.

We are making a game, “modding” a pre-existing platform a brilliantly complicated and fiddly military sim called Arma 2. How can we use the platform to let us play out and explore these ethical questions?

On Targets

Vlad Strukov, a researcher from the University of Leeds, and Dave Lynch, a digital artist, are exploring the nature of data by using projections on clouds.

Whilst we circulate the collected combined 4 symbol image, I thought I would do a little more research on targets in relation to our earlier conversations about the idea of sending a signal, I thought to look at analogue devices which in the past have achieved the opposite of capturing the sky with targets.

Étienne-Jules Marey, French scientist, inventor and pioneer of early cinema invented the photographic gun for the study of movement by capturing birds onto film.


I presume that this was the inspiration for the training camera guns of the first and second world wars, where 16mm film replaced ammunition.

Gun Camera

Target Camera

Following this research online lead me to the philosopher Paul Virillo who wrote War and Cinema.

Technology cannot exist without the potential for accidents. For example, the invention of the locomotive also contained the invention of derailment. Virilio sees the Accident as a rather negative growth of social positivism and scientific progress. The growth of technology, namely television, separates us directly from the events of real space and real time. We lose wisdom, lose sight of our immediate horizon and resort to the indirect horizon of our dissimulated environment.

REF: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Virilio – on 4/11/2012

On other readings and reviews of his books, I became interested in how he sees the dissimulated environment or mis-information as being one of the greatest threats to scientific growth.

Living Data


The collaboration between Vlad Strukov, researcher from the University of Leeds, and Dave Lynch, Leeds-based artist, looks at the application and interpretation of images projected onto clouds. The project concerns itself with the nature of data and the human ability to interpret, own and share data.

Particularly, the project looks at the emotive as well as political potential of data in its ability to mobilise, create and translate meaning.

3rd November 2012 – To date, we’ve had 3 very productive meetings and a host of email conversations, in our last meeting we discussed a variety of reasons why the collaboration has been so successful, yet so far neither of us had specifically begun to blog about the process… Why?

As an artist/ filmmaker, the recording of audio and image is a natural part of my process and artistic practice. Whilst I recorded each of our conversations and documented key moments through photographs the only use so far of the collected data has been to revisit a conversation for the benefit of Vlad’s writing, the time to translate the depth and coverage of our dialogue as either a reflective blog post or simply documentation was such a vast process, it would both take us away from critical thinking and development time, yet we both see it as a fundamental part of the process.

After a discussion of different approaches, Vlad suggested making the blog a continuation of our conversation on an open, online environment, instead of email. I see this as a great step forward for our collaboration and an interesting point of departure for reflection at the end of the process.

The subsequent posts are living conversations, where the comments will form part of the process as we share our findings with our peers. We aim for this to be part of our research in how academic/ artistic collaborations can function.

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