Zurvive the Night

The time has finally come for me to produce, finesse, and publish my own zombie digital story – starring me, of course!…Well, it’s kind of me…if I were a computer animated sack doll. As I have become fascinated with the world of interactive stories lately, I decided to make my own “choose your adventure” story in the zombie genre. This story was created with the use of a PS3, video game creation tools found in the game Little Big Planet, a DVR, Windows Movie Maker, and Rapt Media Productions. Please enjoy and good luck in Zurviving the Night!

Dead Lonely

Love is the greatest power in the universe. Within those four simple letters lies a language that transcends barriers of spoken words, a machine that can combat hatred, and a promise of eternal goodness and kindness. Love is within all of us and is a universal symbol of peace and happiness. We all have the capacity for love, and we give it out in varying degrees of magnitude to our friends, family, significant others, coworkers, acquaintances, and, sometimes,  perfect strangers. Some loves last for the moment, others last for a lifetime, and still some loves last past “til death do we part.” Dead Lonely is one such story that details a love that crosses the border between life and death.

Fred is lonely. He’s also dead. But what sets him apart from other zombies is his undying love for his girl, Barbara. Before the apocalypse, Fred was head-over-heels for Barbara. Now, as a zombie, he spends his days wandering the world in search of his long-lost love. Like many other zombie stories I’ve reviewed in this blog, Dead Lonely is a “choose your own adventure” tale. However, what makes this one unique is the presentation. Brought together by Rapt Media and Aardman (the creators behind Wallace & Gromit and Shawn the Sheep), Dead Lonely presents us with a fully interactive, animated story of romance. That’s right! This digital story manages to bring the apocalypse to the two-dimensional world of animation where you will help Fred to find his one true love, Barbara.

Trait Description Critique
Project planning Is there evidence of solid planning, in the form of story maps, scripts, storyboards, etc.? This is the first time that I can provide an answer to this assessment trait with actual evidence from the production. After sifting the edges of Google for a new and unique zombie digital story, I not only ran into the story but also a behind-the-scenes video for it, too. The video listed at the bottom of the link is also interactive, allowing the viewer to explore the different modes of creation the production went through. The coolest part about getting to experience the behind the scenes footage is that you do not have to view it in order; the viewer gets to decide what they are interested in and click through those portions of the movie, which uses the same interactivity as the original short film. Since the film is non-linear due to the ability for the viewer to make choices, the storyboard planning was dense and thorough while still allowing an open concept. The story itself was also well researched to bring a new twist to the zombie genre while also successfully bringing in classic references from pop culture.  10/10
Content understanding How well did the student meet the academic goals of the assignment and convey an understanding of the material addressed? A lot of zombie productions are remixes on former apocalyptic tales, but Dead Lonely is one of the few to bring a new story forth while only hinting at the origins of the zombie genre. Many classic references can be seen in this production such as zombies congregating at a mall, the use of black and white to showcase the early days of the genre, and the use of slow, shambling zombies. At the same time, we get a taste for a more unique storyline amidst all of the references. Not once do we see a living human in this production, only zombies. We only get the zombie perspective on what the end of the world would look like. In all of this, we see this video conveying a solid understanding of the material addressed in the story.  10/10
Originality, voice, creativity How creative was the production? Did the student exhibit an original sense of voice and a fresh perspective? Never have I seen a zombie story about two zombies who love one another just as much in death as they did in life. Even more-so, I have never seen a story of this type be pulled off via animation. The story of love and zombies are two which are told often, but rarely are they told together as they are in this unique tale. This story also gives us a fresh perspective on choice, as we the viewer are invited to help guide Fred by making choices on his behalf in the video. I have looked at many stories recently that give choice to the humans in a zombie film, but this one forces us to see and make choices through the eyes of an undead corpse.  10/10

 
As the Bee Gees once asked, “How deep is your love?” This tale of true love shows us that love really can transcend any barriers we may throw its way. The depth of Fred and Barbara’s love is a captivating plot point that helps to draw in even the most hardened of hearts. And, if for some reason their love is not an inspiring enough reason to continue through this story, the interactivity will draw you in as you find yourself a part of their eternal love story.

 

 

 

 

 

Scream Team

Who do I trust to be on my side when all hell breaks loose? Realistically, most of my friends and family will be lost to the chaos and those that survive will be ill-equipped to deal with the harsh rules of the new world order. So my dream team consists of four of the most resourceful, rugged, and and intrepid warriors of the apocalypse: Rick Grimes (The Walking Dead), Daryl Dixon (The Walking Dead), Doc (Z Nation), and Addy (Z Nation).

Special Features:
Why?: This Daily Create from the DS106 Twitter feed is callled “Build your dream team.”  The idea was to create a poster that includes people that I would want to work with for any reason, and I instantly thought about who I would want on my zombie slaying team.

How?: This image was created using three separate images and Photoshop to mesh them all together. The background of one of the images was kept in tact and the rest erased. I then used a variety of tools to blend, shadow, create a uniform color tone, and blur parts of the image to make it flow together.

The Hero We Didn’t Want But Desperately Need

zombie-hero

When the end times are near and humanity turns against itself for the sake of survival, one woman  and her crazy, undead cat will be the difference between becoming zombie bait and staying alive. Zombie Zina is like none other in this bleak apocalypse; half zombie, half human she has retained her conscious in the body of a rotting corpse. Within her bitterness at this unfair life, she seeks justice by eliminating the undead scourge from the world and rescuing those who find themselves in peril.

Special Features:

Why?: This week’s daily create comes to you from the DS106 assignment, “The World Needs More Heroes.” The original assignment was to create a hero using Marvel’s hero creator, but after searching through their database of body parts I could not find a single thing to create an undead anti-hero. I was inspired to find a new way of creating the hero I desired and set out to see if there was another simulator I could use instead.

How?: This hero was created by using the HeroMachine – Zombie Edition. All of the features were taken directly from this simulator and colored within the simulator.
#tdc1759

Eating Brains: Feeding the Writing Hunger

As I draw nearer to the creation of my own digital story, I find myself drawing inspiration from some of the well-known and the lesser-known authors of the horror genre. I have been “picking their brains” for tips, tricks, ideas, and words of wisdom for how to get started writing successfully about the undead. I have read excerpts from Stephen King’s On Writing, consulted Jim Butcher in person at a meet-and-greet in my town, and read a variety of blogs from a plethora of authors. One that stuck out to me recently was a post by author Craig DiLouie from his blog post titled, “Writing The Zombie Novel: Lessons on Craft.” In his post, Craig details ten different tips on how to write survival horror that people actually want to read. Reading through these ten tips, I couldn’t help but think about how his advice was the embodiment of the work we’ve been learning and doing in class. They also epitomize the ideas of good story telling.

Tip #1, “Read Everything,” and Tip #2, “Always Be Writing,” are the exact rules that were set by Lori on day one. Every week we sit down to read/watch something story related and every week we sit down to write our own thoughts, critiques, and personal creations. As time has gone on, repeating these two acts has helped me to become a better writer, reviewer, and storyteller. I remember a while back that a fellow student questioned the validity of only reviewing stories and not writing them; wondering what the purpose behind these writings was all about; implying a desire for wanting to be more of a creator than a reviewer. I believe that Craig’s first two tips very clearly underline the purpose behind our work in our blogs. Right now, writing about others’ work and reviewing it critically on a consistent basis is getting us to practice in reading everything and practicing to always be writing. Repetition in this way is preparing us to produce more interesting stories full of depth and development. Not only that, but it is exposing us to numerous examples of what works and what doesn’t, thereby providing us with enough fodder to remix a story that is unique and creative to our own styles while respecting the styles of those who came before us.

Continuing through the tip list, tips #5 through #7 invite conversation around Jason Ohler’s traits for assessing storytelling. Respecting the needs of the audience is an important part of a successful tale. Doing your homework (#7), responding to your audience’s ability to suspend belief (#5), and writing a story about people, not zombies (#6) are all geared toward respecting the target audience of a survival horror production. Audience buy-in is probably one of the most important factors in a story’s success, and this can be accomplished through reader empathy. My good friends Lisa Fish and Nick Grimes feature empathy in their blogs frequently as a tool for good storytelling due to its ability to unite people of different backgrounds and beliefs. Craig also addresses it in his blog by stating, “Readers need somebody to empathize with in the story; in a sense, characters stand in for the reader. As terrible things happen to these people, the reader feels like these things are happening to him or her. But if the reader has nobody to care about, they will not empathize.” This is something that I am going to be playing very close attention to as I start to develop my own story.

Tip #10 may very well have been written by Lori herself stating, “be prepared to promote your work.” Since the beginning of this course, we have been asked to promote ourselves via blogging, Twitter, and a variety of other social networking tools. Seeing this written out by Craig got me thinking if what I am doing now is enough to get my story out there and, if not, what I should be doing to publish myself in as many places as possible. The more that I write in this blog, the more important it has become for me to have viewers reading what I am writing. In our latest Gallery Walk, I finally realized just how important my blog posts have been to my peers and how I can have an impact on a larger audience. I am determined to make my own digital story shine better than any blog post I’ve created to date and find new ways to gain attention from others outside of our class to promote myself and my work.

@CraigDiLouie, @StephenKing, #INTE5340, #DS106,

The First Wave

What happens to the soul when a human being dies? Moreover, what happens to the soul when a human being becomes one of the walking dead? Both of these questions invite sensitive conversations usually involving religion, science, or philosophy. Yet, despite decades of talk, both of these questions remain to have a definitive answer; some people believe one thing while others believe another, and still others have no beliefs at all. Because of this, filmmakers and writers that dwell in the zombie genre have used these questions to fuel their work and provide an even more controversial look into the soul and its destination once the body stops classifying as alive.The First Wave does just that. In an attempt not to give too much away, I will leave you with one final thought before viewing my critique below: what would it feel like if the soul really did stick around despite the status of the body?

Title Description Critique
Story How well did the story work? This trait can address structure, engagement, character transformation or any of the other qualities of story discussed in Part II. In fact, an entire rubric can be devoted to evaluating the quality The character building in this story proves vital to the other story elements present in this short film. The confusion and mystery surrounding her story arc and the small reveals in detail are important in helping to understand her struggle in this post apocalyptic world; helping the viewer to recognize the same internal conflict she feels. These details are also effectively spaced out to give the audience a sense of being a detective – allowing the viewers to piece together the information to discover that Allison is a human filled with pain and regrets after being brought back from being a zombie. Finally, the idea that her soul had been with her throughout the process of zombification and then throughout her rehabilitation process provide a unique spin on the more traditional zombie stories that choose to only focus on survival.  10/10
Content understanding How well did the student meet the academic goals of the assignment and convey an understanding of the material addressed? Where other zombie movies tend to feature the issues of soul as a side note in their feature films, The First Wave tackles it as the main driving force for the plot. The idea that people can come back from being a zombie and the complications of it thereof are so eloquently addressed in the overall tone, the non-verbal cues of the lead character, the mystery of the plot, and the intensity of the reveal. The creators understand the controversy behind such a thought and tease the audience with small details throughout that build to the final crescendo of the performance that brings it all together.  10/10
Flow, organization and pacing Was the story well organized? Did it flow well, moving from part to part without bumps or disorientation, as described in Part III? The story had a very purposeful flow which allowed the final reveal to be so impactful on the viewer. The mystery surrounding the story and the questions it raised from flash back to flash back helped to build understanding for the follow-up scenes. Some disorientation could have been caused with the faintness of the radio announcer as mishearing this information can cause the viewer to have to really question the final scene in order to really understand why we’ve been focused on Allison and her torment for so long.  9/10

By far, this is one of the most unique zombie stories that I have had the pleasure of viewing. As I have been more exposed to digital stories in the zombie genre, I am starting to realize that some of the best stories are not full feature length movies. A lot of the stories I’ve viewed are far shorter, and I feel that this really forces the people behind these tales to be more selective with their creativity. There is little room for filler so the details and plot choices that are included are vital elements to the story. The shortness also forces some details to be left out, and, in deciding what to omit, the makers help guide the audience to be participants in the story – filling in the gaps for themselves with the clues that have been included. The soul of this story resides in these elements, just as the soul of Allison still resides within her in her next chapter of life.

Deliver Me to Hell

What do you get when you cross zombies with youtube and pizza? An interactive movie adventure where you call the shots. Deliver Me to Hell is a digital story like none other that you may have experienced before. At first glance, you may think you are just watching a hilarious, four minute remix of Shaun of the Dead. In this version, the ridiculous adventure continues with a brave act to deliver a pizza to a girl stranded and surrounded by zombies. Then the 3:44 mark hits, the screen freezes, and an ominous voice comes forth saying, “Make your decision!” At once, you are presented with two decisions and are forced to only choose one. No matter your choice, the click of a button sends you on to your chosen fate where the adventure either moves forward or it ends and you die. Make the right choices, and you may just be successful in delivering the most epic pizza order ever requested.

Trait Description Critique
Originality, voice, creativity How creative was the production? Did the student exhibit an original sense of voice and a fresh perspective? This production was quite original in its theme of pizza delivery in a zombie apocalypse. I have yet to see another story that incorporates both of these topics in the same plot. Since these two topics don’t normally coexist together, I really appreciated that the authors did not try to make this a serious affair. This fresh perspective paired well with the jokes, puns, jabs, and humor that were woven consistently and successfully throughout the production. It was also quite original in its use of YouTube as its medium. The interactive design was incorporated through the use of the annotations feature (normally used to redirect viewers to related content or videos). Through the annotations, viewers were invited to make choices and continue the story based on their decisions. 10/10
Presentation and performance How effective was the student’s actual presentation or performance? This includes burning a DVD, posting the story on the Web site effectively, performing it before an audience, or whatever the assignment required. Posting the story on YouTube was a new and unique way to create an interactive zombie experience. However, the medium itself can be distracting to viewers. The comment section, recommended video links, and other advertisements can detract from the immersion of the experience. When viewed in full-screen, these distractions disappear, but clicking on a choice then redirects you to a new video which takes you out of full-screen and back to the distractions of the YouTube side panels. The format of the performance leaves something to be desired in this way. 6/10
Story How well did the story work? This trait can address structure, engagement, character transformation or any of the other qualities of story discussed in Part II. In fact, an entire rubric can be devoted to evaluating the quality Throughout the story, the plot tended to jump around from place to place, person to person, and could seem chaotic in the chosen plot devices. Had this been a serious production, the story would have fallen flat. However, much like in the film Shaun of the Dead, the quick, inconsistent, and ridiculous plot changes proved to be an enhancement to the hilarity of this film. The main characters had little character development throughout this story, but their personalities were allowed to shine. The juxtaposition of two opposite characters (one bright, the other not so much) also successfully added to the humor of this production. 9/10

Overall this story was a fun break from the ones I’ve reviewed previously. The humor and ridiculousness of it all made for a fun viewing experience and the interactive portions helped to engage the viewer and make them feel a part of the story. The use of YouTube annotations, while clever, could be distracting at times. It would be interesting to see how the viewing of this story might shift if it were done in another application with less distractions. Then again, maybe this was the right platform for this particular production. In order to be a fun story, it couldn’t take itself too seriously, so maybe using a less formal media tool was the right call in keeping the mood light. What do you think?

Can You See What I See?

“We fear death so profoundly, not because it means the end of our body, but because it means the end of our consciousness – better to be a spirit in Heaven than a zombie on Earth.”
– Alison Gopnik (professor of psychology and philosophy at UC Berkeley)


Special Features:

Why?: Despite being an artist, I must admit that Photoshop has never been my strong-suit. I’ve largely avoided using it due to how much time and effort it takes to learn all of the ins and outs of the program. However, when I started reading through some of the visual assignments on the DS106 assignment bank, the “Can you see what I see?” project stood out to me. In looking at the submissions of others’ eyes with shopped in reflections, I saw a lot of cool images but none that really connected the context of the two images being overlayed. Since it’s Halloween and I am the author of a zombie blog, I decided to take on this challenge and give it the zombie treatment.

How?: I used Google to search for a zombified eye and a first person perspective of a zombie. I settled on two images that I really liked and that I thought worked really well together (see photos below).

I then used a video tutorial (see video below) and Photoshop to help me merge the two together in to create a reflection of zombie arms following a horde.

The resulting image was a subtle change from the original, but the reflection helped to bring context to the eye and create a new story behind the image.zombie-eye-shopped

 

Triumph of the Walking Dead

For the last several weeks, I have chosen to focus on scholarly articles that speak broadly to the term “digital storytelling.” This week I am trying something new on for size – examining the success behind some of pop culture’s cult zombie digital stories. Triumph of the Walking Dead edited by James Lowder is a compilation of professional reviews examining why zombie stories like “The Walking Dead” have risen to fame and stayed in the spotlight for so long. In order to pull off these reviews, the authors rely on comparing the show to movies like “Night of the Living Dead,” “Shaun of the Dead,” “Survival of the Dead,” and a plethora of others. The reviews held enlightening comparisons that showcased elements of good storytelling, but what I didn’t expect to find were the themes that have shown up over and over again in my DS106 assignments and previous articles prescribed by this course.

The first movies to portray zombies as the walking, flesh eating nightmares that we know today were created by George Romero in the late 60’s Before that time, zombies were nothing more than people enslaved by voodoo curses to do others’ bidding. Romero took a more docile version of the walking dead and made them into a terrifying phenomena that has set the standard for all other movies thereafter. As one author notes in the this book, “Zombies in the Romero style are precisely what Robert Kirkman delivered when he kicked off the comic book series…The first few issues tread other rather familiar patches of storytelling ground, too. The opening…has been criticized as being derivative of the film 28 Days Later…Both Kirkman and Boyle were tapping into a long tradition in postapocalyptic fiction of hospitalized [protagonists].” In these few sentences, the author is describing the use of inspiration and “remixing” for the sake of creating something new and exciting. In a previous blog post, I talk at length about how remixes – using another’s work to inspire your own; to turn it around to make something new yet reminiscent of another’s style – have been around for a long time and has led to successful digital story creations. Here in this review, we see the very evidence of a professional creator using inspiration to remix a new version of the zombie apocalypse and “move beyond [its] inspirations.” Previously, I noted that remixes are a great way for students to find more easy access into creating their own digital stories. However, its not just at the amateur level that success can be found in remixes, but we can even see here that at a professional level remixing can lead to success in digital story creation as well. After realizing this connection, I thought to myself, “what a cool thing to share with students when introducing them to digital storytelling,” and “what a great perspective to give students who find themselves struggling with remixes as ‘not quite their own,’ or ‘unoriginal.'”

Though remixing is a large theme throughout many of the reviews in this piece of literature, another theme also prevails in explaining the success behind “The Walking Dead” and its predecessors. One of Jason Ohler’s assessment traits for evaluating digital stories is a sense of audience. In other words, “how well does a story respect the needs of the audience?” In a world where audience exposure to death, gore, and other gruesome horrors has created a numbness to these visuals, viewers are in need of a different way to connect with digital stories meant to inspire fear. One author addresses this in his thoughts. “If you believe the characters in a story, you will believe most anything. It’s the key to making a good fantasy work. Make all the day-to-day details, the lives and interests of the characters, real, and we’ll accept those zombies…The Walking Dead is full of real characters. The good, the bad, the ugly, and mostly, the complex: that’s what keeps pulling us back. We want to see how things turn out for these folks.” Seeing professionals openly recognize the validity behind knowing a story’s audience was another cool eye-opener for me in revealing successful traits behind digital stories. But it’s not just the acknowledgement of this trait that makes it interesting, it’s the way that they help us understand how the story is connecting to the audience psychologically and physically. When the audience cares for the characters (for better or worse), the horror that gets bestowed upon them manifests actual physical symptoms in the viewer. “Audiences must deal with the unpleasant physical reactions themselves” which ties them closer to the story.

All in all this book provided some great insights into how the things I am learning about in abstract articles and assignments from this course really are the cornerstones in the professional world of digital storytelling. Sharing the ideas with students as isolated traits to incorporate into their own storytelling is powerful in helping them to realize what makes a strong story, but if we are to truly empower our students to make their own strong stories, sharing examples and understanding of these traits (such as those found in this reading) can be even more powerful in the long-run.

“I REMEMBER!”

A black screen. A simple text fades into view, “The first symptom is the memory loss.” As the words disappear, the silence is broken by the sound of chimes and the sight of a swarming zombie horde.The camera view glides down and around the feet of the undead masses and zooms through a ragged hole in a wall where a man sits tensely in a yellow chair, gun pressed firmly against his temple, blood oozing from a wound on his forearm. The tension of the scene is interrupted briefly by the calm voice of a narrator – the internal monologue of a doomed man. Immediately we understand his situation. Five minutes is all it takes to start to forget pieces of your memory. Five minutes is all it takes to begin the turn into a brain-dead, flesh eating zombie.

Many of the zombie digital stories I’ve reviewed in this blog have belonged to one of two camps: movies or short clips to watch or games and interactive material to play. Five Minutes doesn’t completely fall into either of those categories. It’s more of a hybrid between film and game; a blending between watching and doing. Each time the main character forces himself to remember, the viewer is forced to take swift action to help him remember by swiping patterns on the screen in time with the film. Every time he is thrown into action, the viewer also must take action to save his life.

Due to the unique hybridization of this story, I have used a variety of types of traits from Jason Ohler’s assessment bank that can speak to each category that this story fits under

Title Description Critique
Content understanding How well did the student meet the academic goals of the assignment and convey an understanding of the material addressed? The urgency and frantic feelings of not knowing if or when someone is going to turn into an undead monster were conveyed extremely well in this digital story. Each time the viewer had to draw a pattern or quickly click on parts of the screen to save the man’s memory/life, it became a race against the clock to do so which created the necessary tension. When the viewer was not directly interacting, each movie scene was filled with nervousness as to when the next interaction would occur. These uneasy feelings are crucial to any zombie story, and this film nailed it in all aspects of communicating them. 10/10
Project planning Is there evidence of solid planning, in the form of story maps, scripts, storyboards, etc.? Solid planning is evident in this story in many ways. The story was well laid out, and the interactive elements appeared at appropriate and well-timed areas to keep the story moving along. The parts that weren’t as well thought through were the dying scenes. If the viewer did not click or swipe in the correct spot fast enough, words appeared on the screen indicating that you had died. In comparison to the actual story, this seemed very anticlimactic. 7/10
Originality, voice, creativity How creative was the production? Did the student exhibit an original sense of voice and a fresh perspective? This production at first glance looks like a rehashing of the same old story of a survivor getting bit and their loved one having to contend with it and the aftermath. However, some unique twists have been added to keep this story interesting for the viewer. Firstly, the focus of memory loss as a symptom provided a new lens through which to tell this story. With the main character so focused on remembering his past, it not only provides a good reason to show flashbacks, but also to provide a fresh perspective on how the zombie virus works. Secondly, the interactive swipes and clicks help the viewer to become more involved with this “same old story” to actually feel the tension of this moment. Lastly, the conclusion of the story deviates from the norm in that we don’t actually see the main character turn into a zombie after being infected. Though there is a twisted moment of memory for the main character, the resolution of the story shows the 5 minute timer going off with no signs of zombification. However, the happy moment turns sour when the viewer realizes the character’s memory has been wrong all along, yet we never get to see if he changes or not. This type of cliffhanger is unique to this old school zombie story. 9/10

If there was anything I would change about this particular digital story it would have to be the death scenes. So much tension, anxiety, and frantic energy in the film and interactive portions made me wish that when I did die there were death scenes tailored to the spots where I died to heighten these feelings further. Instead, I was only ever met with text that would tell me when I had died – very anticlimactic. It was incredible how much of a mood killer it was to see those words. Even if the death scene had to be the same for each scenario (maybe a scene showing his brain waves turning off and the zombie virus taking over), I would have still been satisfied because it would have at least provided a visual to keep the original worrisome feelings of the rest of the film.