Extending Hagan Reviews

I am going to assume most of you are not familiar with the Hagan Reviews series. The series follows a woman, Diamanda Hagan, ruler of a fictional country named Haganistan, reviewing obscure films that most people would never touch. The reviews themselves are a lot of fun,1 but the thing I’m going to focus on more is the potential of the narrative that exists and how to use that to extend the videos outwards into other mediums to make it a more immersive experience.

So how to extend it?

Book Extension

I can easily think of three books that could be written around the underlying narrative universe.

The first chronologically would be a journal about someone living in the country while Hagan took it over and became the unquestioned dictator of the land. Hagan could find it in a review and get rid of it as a means of advertising the book. It could be put out as a lost blog, a physical book or published online for download.

Next would be a book about the takeover from the perspective of Hagan and her spin doctors, this time taking a more satirical route2 and making the take over look more like everything was for the best. It would talk about how awesome she is for the most part, as well as the rules that she put in place for the good of the citizens or herself. Finish it off with a minion application form3 and we’re done!

Lastly would be a Minion Guide. It would be a basic rundown of what you need to do as a minion and maybe a couple stories about current minions about how great it is to be a minion. Again, ebook or physical book, it doesn’t really matter which. If it is an ebook, I’d suggest this one have a printable PDF version as well with stripped down content for free.

Minion Packs

Because the universe involves many minions, why not give normal people the chance to apply to be a minion? These would be small cardboard boxes with some basic merchandise in it. A Minion Guide, perhaps, as well as a mask. The Diamanda Hagan book. I know that plushies exist, so if she could make a few of them, maybe one of those so that they would always have a Mistress to worship with them. Shirts. Just, a pack of stuff that all relate to being a minion in the Hagan Reviews universe.

Movie Boxes

I’m kind of in love with the Boxes craze that’s come up and I can see it potentially working here. After the initial Minion Pack, maybe three or four times a year, send out a box of stuff for people who are minions4 to keep people immersed in the experience.

I’ve noticed not only that she seems to like more than a few of the movies she reviews, but also that she seems to be on fairly good terms with a few of the film makers and very supportive o the indie films. In the boxes that follow, if possible, she could get little things from these upcoming indie films to put in them. Trailers, shorts and little merch could all go into these boxes along with a note from the Mistress commanding her minions to appreciate these things.

Also, there’s the opportunity to send them bonus content from the show in the form of deleted scenes, original versions of scripts or other bonus content.

These, of course, could be done digitally instead of physically, but given the narrative of the universe implying that she’s turned it into a dictatorship under an iron fist, a physical brown paper box seems more thematically appropriate.

And that’s what I thought of. Now, I need to catch up a bit.

  1. If you’re okay with a lot of the violence and sex that comes with the films she covers []
  2. Which is much more appropriate for the tone of the show []
  3. Coming back to it []
  4. And charge for them like the other Boxes do []

Extending Percy Jackson

So there’s a thing I like to do whenever I finish binge watching/reading/playing a series to make me feel better about the fact that it’s over. I like to think of how there could be more of it for me to find somewhere if I just looked hard enough. And then, to make myself feel more academic about it and like these aren’t the thoughts of someone just sad it’s over, I frame it as a brand extension exercise.

Percy Jackson is one of those properties that I’ve done that for. I know there’s a movie series1 and a second series of books,2 but we’re going to ignore them for now. I had a few ideas for it back before those things.

Merchandise

Easy starting point, right? besides the classic dolls/action figures and stuff with the name on it, there’s also the entirety of the Camp Halfblood brand to play off of. Shirts, camp necklaces3 and little trinkets to mark your Godly parent could be made to bring people into the world. And that’s the non-specific simple stuff.

With a bit of research or clever design, you could make Athena themed puzzles or Hephaestus themed small mechanical projects. Aphrodite beauty supplies. Ares training weapons made of foam. Use the mythology to help come up with further ideas.

Actual Camp

I wouldn’t be surprised if a thing like this already existed. You could do an actual Camp Halfblood that people could send their kids to, framed around the ideas in the book and drawing on it considerably. Each camper would be sorted into their bunk based on which camp program they’d be following, each of which would be different and unique to their chosen Godly parent.

What I mean by that is that it would be several small camps running concurrently with one another under the Camp Halfblood umbrella with chances for crossover. Ares would get a focus on learning weaponry, where Poseidon would be getting more time in the water and Apollo4 would get time with horses. There’s be opportunities to take things outside of their chosen programs as well and they’d have an opportunity to take stuff with campers in other houses, but their focus would be based on whatever their initial chosen parent/program was.

Virtual Camp

There’s also the Pottermore route. I’d opt for a more interactive route than just rereading the books from an alternative perspective and instead set the story after Percy’s story.5

Make it more like an MMO. Let people go and learn and train in the sections of camp. Get interesting quests into the outside world. Have some sort of micro-transaction system so that they can make in-game purchases and help them out in playing the new mini-stories that they can play within the system. Give them a chance to share those achievements with their friends.

And give them camp necklaces. Or, at least, give them access to pay for real ones. Give them an actual necklace to put their bead on and, as they complete stories or quests, give them access to new beads for each completed adventure. It’s such a small thing, but there is just something about having a physical thing that you can feel like you earned that can make the experience so much more rewarding and immersive. Send each item with a note from Chiron to make the experience feel that much more personal.

And that’s what I thought of after I binged on Percy Jackson. I’ll probably do more of these eventually.

  1. Which is terrible []
  2. Which I need the last book of []
  3. We’ll come back to these []
  4. I think it was Apollo before Percy came along []
  5. Still pretending the heroes of Olympus series hasn’t happened at this point []

That Badger is Awesome: Suwappu

I came across this a week or two ago and I have fallen in love with this video. Partially because the narrative is done in a way where I now want to know what the hell is actually going on in the story, and partially because hat badger is completely insane and I love it.

About the narrative, though, because I do love some weird narrative, this project looks like a lot of fun and I can sort of understand how it would work.1 Beyond the initial story you get from the toys in the first place and hints to switch the pieces and choose which ones to interact with which ones first, you can get updates on your phone to get the next part of the story.

Personally, I hope this does well because it looks like a damn lot of fun. I also hope that more people start experimenting with this sort of augmented reality story telling because damn it looks like it would be fun to play around with.

  1. I have not done any research on it, only looking briefly at the site to see if I could get those in Canada and if the app required to play was available or Android. []

About Mediums…

I recently came across an article, 7 Myths about Transmedia, and one of the points stuck out in my mind. Namely the sixth: Everything should go transmedia. While Jonathan did talk about why this should remain a myth, I’d like to expand a little on it.

Speaking as a comic fan for a moment, the comic tie ins to most properties have been fairly awful. It seems like a go to thing to move into and, while I guess it must be an inexpensive move, it’s not usually a good choice. Even if you think your movie would do really well as a comic.

Mostly because it’s not just about getting a property into another medium, it’s about the medium fitting and using the extension to add to the narrative. Just because Hook could have a novel adaptation doesn’t mean that the novel adaptation was necessary. And I hope that I never see a Sex in the City comic.

Although, a Sex in the City issue of Vogue where the magazine pretended to be a part of that universe, with an article from the main character featured in it and playing it completely straight would be wonderful.1

  1. Okay, I have no idea where that came from, but there’s no transmedia stuff I’ve seen directed at adult women, so guys? Might be something to look into. []

I Want to Play

I’ve been rereading Convergenge Culture on the bus of late.1 I haven’t gotten very far yet, but it does start off with this compelling idea of people who are so dedicated to figuring out the ending of reality television that they travel the world and pool their resources in order to figure it all out.

Now, I grew up in fandom. None of this is particularly new to me. Fiction fandom does this, non-reality based fandom does this, just not to quite the degree reality shows do.2 No, the whole act of spoiling and the lengths people go to isn’t the interesting bit here.

The part that grabbed me was the part about production’s involvement in spoiling.

Production, of course, wants nothing more than to keep the secrets of the show a secret. In terms of reality television, who gets kicked off and who wins the prize are the draws that keep people coming back every week along with the drama. Survivor, which was the example in the book, had to be filmed well in advance, which gave people time to try and figure things out because everything was done by the time everything aired and made production even more at risk of people finding out their secrets.

The fun part is what probably wasn’t so much emphasized in the book but more what I was thinking about when I was reading it. How much fun would it be to be able to string fans along on a trail of clues to figure out what was going to happen? To infiltrate the community as one of their own and to leave behind clues that hint at something that will happen in the future, but remain vague enough to keep them guessing?

I’m not a fan of reality television, but it looks like playing the spoiling game with the fans would be a lot of fun. Not to say that only reality television has this fun. I dimly remember something on JK Rowling’s site way back when where you could find clues to gain access to a page of Harry Potter 7 well before it’s release. Heroes had clues about the future scattered throughout it. I can’t come up with a third example off the top of my head, but my point is that there are plenty of opportunities to do this outside of a reality television framework.

Granted, you can’t be bothered by spoilers if you’re going to actively search for them or, conversely, you can’t be worried that knowing what will happen will impact your audience negatively. For myself, I am not really bothered by spoilers because I’m more interested in how things happen as opposed to the actual events that occur. I rather like going out and hunting for the little clues that would hint at the future.

I wonder if my audience would play, though. I know a lot of people who feel that something is ruined if they know what the end is. And I would want people to try and figure out what the end was. I’d want them to get it wrong, but I’d want them to try.

Ah well. Only time will tell if I ever get to play.

  1. Buses aren’t that good to get the laptop out on. []
  2. Which is probably because reality television as a way for people to actually check this information whereas in a fiction fandom, we only have the text and interviews. Honestly, you can only get so much out of that. []

Old Spice Ads

Participatory culture is a bit of an odd phenomenon. I know about it mostly through Henry Jenkins‘ book, Convergence Culture
, but until recently, I’d never seen a very good professional example of it. Sure, there are smaller fan-based works and online series that incorporate this , but that I’ve now found a well done professional example of it, I’m quite happy.

I speak, of course, of the Old Spice guy.

Those of you who subscribe to him on Youtube will already be familiar with it. He had a wonderful back and forth with Alyssa Milano, after all. He took questions from Twitter, Facebook, Youtube comments and other places I can’t name off the top of my head from users of all sorts. He even went a little meta.

Now to explain. Paricipatory Culture is when the fans, haters or general observers of something become an active part of contributing to it, whether they necessarily realize it or not. Many times, they will come to realize their part in the property quickly. In this case, fans contributed questions and the Old Spice guy tore down the fourth wall to respond to them.

It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do. Constraints need to be made to preserve whatever narrative or structure the base property requires. If you can find a way to balance it out, though, it can turn into quite a bit of fun.

Straight Cross Media Adaptation and Why You Shouldn’t

aka Stop Copying Yourselves, Guys

I’m of the opinion that a straight adaptation does no favours to anyone. From a viewer’s perspective, they look like they’re just trying to cash in on a property without hiring a creative team. From my perspective, most of them also look like they’re saving money by not hiring a few medium consultants to fix the writing.

When adapting things across mediums, it’s always important to remember that different mediums allow for different storytelling methods and some methods that work in one don’t work in another. Movies are not comics. Comics and novels have different methods of showing and telling. Television shows cannot always be condensed into a neat little 120 minute package and not every comic would make a good movie.

Media specificity plays a huge part in why some things fail in their adaptation. Take the Sandman: Dream Hunters adaptation. While the text does a fine job of telling everything, comics are a visual medium. If the action isn’t shown panel by panel and is instead shown through the text, then you aren’t doing a very good job. The medium is important to take into account, as are the constraints that medium holds.

The other problem with straight cross media adaptation is that it actually adds no value to the property. If I’ve already seen the movie, why would I spend money read a comic with the exact same story, lines and outcome? Maybe if I were a collector or a completionist, but if you aren’t even going to do it well I don’t know if I’d bother.

There’s other ways to put properties into other mediums that will not only add value to the property, but will also work well within their mediums and may even draw in a larger fanbase, which is part of what these adaptations are all about. How do you do that?

Ah, that’s a post for another day.

Star Wars Augmented Reality Game

Has anyone else seen this? Because it’s damn cool.

To promote their product, TomTom seems to have only started by harnessing the Star Wars fanbase with their commercials, which feature such amazing things as Darth Vader trying to say “Round about” and force choking the hell out of anyone who dares tell him he’s doing it wrong.

But it doesn’t stop there. On top of that, they’ve created an interesting game to go with their contest to win a free one, all based around Star Wars which tests your ability with the force. If you have a webcam, I recommend at least checking it out because it’s incredible.

And, to make this somewhat credible and not just gushing over an advertising campaign, a little explanation on augmented reality.

Augmented reality is when you have to do something in the real world to affect the game world. I have a little experience doing this but, that was an art installation and not quite as accessible as this one is. It can involve things like an augmented reality tattoo or just physically moving in front of a camera and interacting with the system in the physical world without using a controller.

And, it seems, that these are better pulled off by advertising companies as small gimmicks than game companies who try to do whole games based around them.

Although I do wonder if you could implement some of these games into an alternate reality game in the future. It would certainly make the experience a little more immersive … but I’m getting carried away and this is a much longer post for another day.

The feasibility of it is pretty dependant on funding, so they aren’t quite so common right now, though there are more coming out of the woodworks. Yoda and Vader yelling at you for failing the Force test certainly isn’t the first example of it, but it’s certainly the coolest that I’ve personally come across.

Westernizing Visual Novels

Japan is weird.

It’s just a fact. They’ve given us a lot of weird stuff over the years, from a wide variety of Hello Kitty paraphernalia to… actually, I think I started with the weirdest thing I could think of there. Anyway, it’s a strange place and has spawned a whole genre of animation and even a type of game called a visual novel.

Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) books from when you were younger? A visual novel is a game that operates sort of like that. You get a scene with an introduction to the cast, each of them sliding in and out with different expressions and saying their lines to exposit the scene. It ends with your character at a crossroads with several choices to direct the story.

I’ve been trying to do research on these games and figure out how they operate. There are playable areas with mini-games in some, while others rely on the story to be the driving force to get the players to complete watching. Really, it’s a bit of a comic/CYOA novel hybrid where the “player” gets to choose where the story goes and how events will play out.

I’ve been trying to play the free games that have been translated as I lack the funds to invest and the ability to read Japanese. The ones I’ve had access to have two key things in common. First, they are largely based around relationships. They have been largely about the token male lead trying to woo one of the female cast in the harem to him.

The second is that there’s a lot of porn in these games.

Like, a lot.

Rather than focus on that, I’ve been trying to think of ways to make this into something that I’d actually be able to work with. Given that I’m not Japanese and I don’t really want to tell any stories with a guy trying desperately trying to pick up school girls, I have been thinking of ways to make it a little more western. And by western, I mean something that I would actually write.

Change the first, of course, is to change the art to something western. That alone will change the aesthetic to something a lot more western as it is. But that’s not quite enough.

Next, animation. There are some animations in them already, granted, but those seem to be in much higher budget games and limited mostly to lip flaps and big dramatic cinematic. Western audiences seem to like seeing things move on their screens, so an animated sequence, or a generally more cinematic approach to the medium would be a great means of making it a lot more western. Budget comes into play, but I’m going to count this as a bit of a wish list item to the medium.

Lastly, the stories. The stories are almost all either romance (From what I’ve played) or creepy horror mystery stories (Or so Higurashi is supposed to be) and not as many of the latter than the former. With the game play abilities that they’ve implemented, there’s got to be a way to create an immersive experience in the more western, non-harem themes.

It’s on my list of things to try to write one day. I have a few stories that could work really well in the medium, though they will have to wait a bit. I do still have a book to write.

Don’t Fear the Medium

A large part of what I learned in SIAT was based around this one quote by Marshall McLuhan. The medium is the message. And I’ll be honest, I hated that quote and still get that little flash of red in the back of my mind when I hear it. It was stretched and twisted until it fit with every point that the professor wanted to make, or introduced and quickly dropped at the start of class. By the end of school, it was just a footnote at the back of my mind to be brought up when I wanted to sound smart. That was all.

And then I discovered transmedia storytelling and I did a little more thinking about it in that context.

Now don’t get me wrong. I still think that the message is the message. The medium, though, works as a platform and choosing the right platform is an important part of getting the message across. More than that, choosing your medium, the one you want to focus in as a writer, shouldn’t be something you choose lightly.

Stories are a strange thing to start with. They start as something small, just an idea, that a writer takes and shapes to be whatever they are going to be. To many people that’s enough. They want to be a novelist, they have an idea for a story and they write a novel. That works most of the time, but I’ve started add an extra little step in there, after the idea and before the writing.

I pick a medium.

I want to be a novelist. I know that’s one of my ambitions, but when I look back on my stories, not all of them are a good fit for novels. I have an idea for an ongoing super hero series that is really better suited for a more visual medium. I have an idea for a story about demons flooding a snowed in campus that would be more spectacular with a different ambiance entirely with different characters. There’s a whole series I want to make that revolves around characters that are all equally interesting, but as a book would get bogged down transitioning between them all.

For me, my stories aren’t clearly defined as novels anymore. While I still want to write novels, I know that’s not always what’s best for my fiction. I’d love to write them as novels, really. I know how to write a piece of prose better than I do any script, but that’s not the best medium for them. I could twist and shape them into the shapes I want them, but I doubt that I’ll be satisfied with the end result.

Because of this, I’m exploring more. I’m learning how to write for comics, still image by still image, and learning to split up dialogue for the medium. I’m learning about animation techniques, audio and voice acting for animation. I’m learning about the different sorts of narrative driven games so that I can write for those sorts of games as the narrative demands.

So how many other people are doing this? Is there anyone else out there who thinks about what medium their story is best told in before they start writing, or do you make your story work for the medium you want to write for?