Monday, July 9, 2012

Ebook Evolution

Horse Power!

There's been a dramatic rise in e-reading and e-reader ownership over the last two years. But while the e-reader in your hand is vastly different from the book you used to hold, the content between the covers is, essentially, still the same. Publishers are still serving up black and white text, stories delivered by flipping a sequence of pages on tablets and e-readers.

 That's like purchasing an automobile to replace your horse and buggy, but then hitching the car to the horse and having him do the pulling.

To some degree it's understandable. It's going to take some time for the creators and publishers to discover the power of the platform. Weren't the first television shows just a visual version of a radio show?

In my monthly column here at W3, I want to review the tools and technologies that will make future books more than text on a page. I'm out stalking books that experiment with delivering stories through those technologies. While many books are labeled as enhanced or new media fiction, few deliver a new and exciting experience. I hope to point you toward the ones that do. Today I want to show you Machinima--an evolving technology discovered by the poor starving writers and artists that will be the innovators driving the course books take in their evolution.

Think of Machinima as a host of actors in your pocket, as a poor-man's animation or rendering engine. I know you're all shuddering, wincing at the thought of animating anything. Don't cover your eyes yet. Machinima animation is as simple as turning on a video recorder. Enterprising gamers discovered if they could use screen capture to record what happens on the set of a video game, they could use the game engine to record little scripted movies that had nothing to do with the game.

 What has that got to do with books?

Well if you couple that tool with virtual worlds like Second Life (the SL TOS allows making derivative works like this), you come up with the ability to create a character as avatar and then record their actions. The header for W3 is comprised of pictures I made of avatars created to match the personalities of our authors and was all done in Second Life.

My first attempt at using Second Life and machinima to spice up the delivery of text on a page was in a character interview I did for author Siobhan Muir. She wanted to do an author interview that was more than static text on a blog. Siobhan provided the voice via microphone and I recorded the interview taking advantage of lip-syncing and body language animations built into the game. Below is a sample of the interview with Julianna Morris, werewolf from Siobhan Muir's new novel, Queen Bitch of Callowwood Pack.

Keep in mind, this was a first experiment done by two writers who barely know how to sit in a chair in a virtual world. Now imagine how dangerous we could be if we ever figure out what we're doing.

My next shot at using machinima, came with a request from Marilyn Campbell. She wanted a book trailer for her new novella, Serving Nicole, that was more than the traditional Power Point presentation converted for YouTube. Could I do that with Machinima? I didn't have a clue, but I was eager to try. I used her book blurb, some still images, and machinima to come up with the trailer you see below.

Because I was able to produce practical, useable results to spice up mainstays in an author's promotional tool kit, I expect to see machinima  turning up in promotions authors use to attract and entertain their readers. But I don't think machinima will stop there. It's cheap and easy to do. Think graphic novels. Think interactive novels. Innovations like this will drive the future of books.

I'm going to add one last machinima created by Pia Klaar in Second Life. It's a nice look at what can be done by a skilled machinima artist. If you want to be totally blown away check out her other work on YouTube. One of her videos is a lovely retelling of the fairytale The Red Shoes.

If you're here to see who won yesterday's hunt for Hella, the winner is Mary M. Mary, Master Bond, will be sending you an email to find out which book on my backlist you'd like to choose as your prize. 

Happy creating. Happy reading.


  1. Nara, This is amazing stuff. It makes me want to give this new technology a real try. I can't wait to read what you bring us in the coming months.

  2. Thanks, Leah. I'm enjoying the hunt for material.

  3. So THAT's what my child has been trying to explain to me! Machinima! I get it now. We've been playing, (rather, he's been playing and I've been watching him play,) Uncharted 3. It's a shooter game, but with one heck of a plot-line. Excellent story and amazing graphics. I bet in a few years we'll be looking back at the early graphics and saying, "wow, remember when you could only..." Excellent article, Nara!

  4. Nara, I am amazed by your talent and insight. As a gamer, I've seen how the "gamer" experience is deepening with better stories and of course graphics. I also believe that this is something that authors should consider in their toolkit for promotions. Very enjoyable post!