Portfolio > Computation, 3D Modeling, & Flash

Piece 2: Interactive Narrative Map

Hell's Kitchen Narrative Mapping Project


Document Name: Hell's Kitchen Narrative Mapping Project

Date Created: 11/2008

Intended Audience: N/A

Purpose/Context: The goal of this project was to design an interactive map that depicts uncommon or unfamiliar information about a space (i.e. information about a space that would not be readily represented on most maps of the same space); such as pollution levels, historical events, personal stories, or simply the overlooked details of a given space such as sewer grates or cracks in the pavement. The map needed to include: a visual representation of the space, iconographic representations of at least 3 types of object within that space, a 'macro view' of the space (e.g. zoom level), and a detail view (e.g. pop-up) of at least 1 of the object types.

My Comments:

I intened here were to create a companion-piece to my work with the Ellis Island project (as seen elsewhere in my portfolio)-- a narrative map of the places, characters, and stories created during my first semester of work on the project. With the Ellis Island project, we're hoping to create an evocative game-space where players can interact meaningfully with the narrative of the world; so in considering how to "map" some part of that experience, I was particularly influenced by Sherry Turkle (The Things That Matter, from Evocative Objects) and Espen Aarseth (Nonlinearity and Literary Theory). Turkle's essay, with it's poignant reflection on searching for a missing father through the keepsakes of the mother, presented a compelling argument for the role of the object in narrative and philosophy. Ellis Island (the physical location) is a liminal place, which by it's very nature evoke thoughts and memories in the visitor; and that sense of the uncanny, that creative possibility, is something we want to encourage through emergent game-play. To that end, I conceived of this project as a map which details a snippet of history from each of a set of nearly 30 characters, locating them in time and space, and showing the effects they had on one another's lives. I wanted to capture some of the narrative richness of the world in an object that could be explored and played with; an object that would unfold meaning through interaction. By emphasizing exploration, I also tried to capture some of the nonlinearity that (according to Aarseth makes digital artifacts valuably distinct from static narrative). While I don't completely agree with Aarseth, the participatory quality he invokes is very important to experiencing uniquely interactive narratives. Ellis Island's narratives are necessarily somewhat linear (by virtue of being events fixed in time), but the order in which they are experienced is not prescribed; which I felt made them well suited to a navigational telling. In terms of actual design, I was most influenced by the Theban Mapping Project and Oakland Crimespotting. Both are far more visually complex and polished than my own piece, but the deep level of information provided in the Theban Mapping Project was definitely something I aspired to. I was also very attracted to the interactive ease of Oakland Crimespotting. I ran into a pretty significant hurdle with my own understanding of Flash at this stage of the project, but my original conception of the Ellis Island interface was based heavily on the slider and icon information filters seen there.

As I mentioned above, at the first stage of the design process, I planned to build a navigable map with information filters much like Oakland Crimespotting, but with an intro sequence and informational depth like the Theban Mapping Project. We would be creating much of the same content for my project studio anyway, so I assumed I would have access to the resources I needed in plenty of time to develop the map. Unfortunately, I drastically overestimated my own skill with Flash, and the number of difficulties I would encounter in acquiring resources from my team mates in the project studio; and, come the end of November, I had nearly none of material I had been promised. So I wound up leaning very heavily on found materials, which produced a fairly uneven aesthetic. More than once I considered building the project in Processing instead, since I understand it's visual hierarchy much better than I do Flash's, but by the time it occurred to me to try it, the project was nearly due. So in the end, I cobbled something together that I wasn't entirely proud of, but which I think still does harken (however vaguely) back to my original design philosophy. The implementation would have been drastically improved by more work on my part, however, and I consider this an unfinished project.

Click here to view this project in swf form, or click here to download a zip file of this, and other select portfolio pieces.