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Students' New Video Game Weaves Strategy Into Film

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May 25, 2005 | by Wendy Leopold
underworld

Using Internet2 -- the advanced high performance network referred to as the Internet of tomorrow -- with Access Grid video software, a team of Northwestern University music students shared virtual classroom space with students from eight universities in four nations and five states. The result of their efforts is a one-of-a-kind videogame designed to teach youngsters about myth and mythical narrative.

“Descent to the Underworld” <http://www.gamefilm.tv/> recreates a myth common to many cultures.  In it, an individual must retrieve a loved one who has been captured and removed to the underworld.

“In the Greek tradition, one can think of Orpheus and Eurydice or Demeter and Persephone,” said School of Music Professor Scott Lipscomb, who advised the Northwestern students. Similar myths include those of Baldur in the Norse, Ishtar in the Babylonian, Blue Jay in the Chinook and Krai Thong in the Thai traditions.

Produced by Druid Media, the videogame has as its “reward” a narrative film constructed by those who play it. Players generate the film’s “scenes” with their game play decisions – for example, whether to cross a creek by stepping on stones or on the back of a crocodile. At the game’s end, the scenes are automatically edited and streamed into a film.

School of Music graduate students Chun Chan, Jay Dorfman and Casey Farina worked on the “Game-Film” (as its producers call it) with students from Louisiana to Brazil and Seattle to Prague to create the art, sound effects and, in their case, the musical score for “Descent to the Underworld.”

The students began working on “Descent” in mid-February and finished it in early May. They spent two weeks in post-production, meeting weekly in online videoconferences made possible by the “bleeding edge” technologies of Internet2 and Access Grid and by keeping in touch with one another via WIKIs and bulletin boards.

Over the course of eleven weeks, the students discussed the narrative for the game and media files, decided on their own interpretation of the story, and drew up and tasked out the production of 20 film scenes. Louisiana State students were responsible for sound effects. Working with Lipscomb, Northwestern’s music students created the Game-Film’s music soundtrack.

“The making of ‘Descent’ ultimately modeled the ultra high technologies that will be the tools of collaboration that are used by the next generation of educators and entrepreneurs,” said Lipscomb, who teaches music education and music technology and has a special interest in film scoring.

The Internet2 community’s high-performance network provided users 100 to 1,000 times more bandwidth than traditional broadband; the Access Grid software enabled real-time, TV-quality video and audio on multiple screens. Together, the two technologies created the immersive “in-the-same-room” virtual environment that allowed the students around the world to collaborate.

The multi-university collaboration involved Northwestern, Drexel, Louisiana State, Tsinghua universities, and University of Utah, University of Washington, Brazil’s University of Vale do Rio Dos Sins, and the Center for Audiovisual Studies (FAMU) in Prague. The participating institutions already are talking of another collaboration, according to Lipscomb.

Supporters for “Descent” include Apple Computer, EB Games, MAGPI, Argonne National Labs and the Internet2 Consortium. It is being promoted through UNESCO’s Digital Media Arts sector.