Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Saturday, December 17, 2021

clipping wings
Since I’ll soon be relocating to the Big Apple, I’ve got to start my personal farewell tour of the Tampa Bay area. Going to tonight’s Lightning-Red Wings game is one stop on that tour.

If anyone’s going to be near the St. Pete Times Forum tonight, let me know (I can check my email via cellphone) and we may be able to hook up either before or after the game. I’m planning on hitting The Hub afterwards (one more potential last stop), so I’m anticipating a fun night!

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 12/17/2005 04:36:23 PM
Category: Florida Livin', Hockey
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Josh Korr writes up a pretty good summary about how ever-advancing graphics manipulation is resulting in videogame imagery that’s, paradoxically, less lifelike than one would expect. Characters that are supposed to be true-to-life in sports games instead come off as looking fake, with plastic-like skin.

(A quick aside: I’m thinking a good nickname for Josh would be “Hard”. Imagine introducing him at some convention or something: “And here’s the tech blogger from the St. Pete Times, our main man, Josh ‘Hard’ Korr!”)

The problem lies in what Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori calls “the Uncanny Valley”:

When an android, such as R2-D2 or C-3PO, barely looks human, we cut it a lot of slack. It seems cute. We don’t care that it’s only 50 percent humanlike. But when a robot becomes 99 percent lifelike — so close that it’s almost real — we focus on the missing 1 percent. We notice the slightly slack skin, the absence of a truly human glitter in the eyes. The once-cute robot now looks like an animated corpse. Our warm feelings, which had been rising the more vivid the robot became, abruptly plunge downward. Mori called this plunge “the Uncanny Valley,” the paradoxical point at which a simulation of life becomes so good it’s bad.

That “cutting slack” action is crucial, and it takes place on a subconscious level, where the human brain processes visual information and makes symbolism possible. It’s the same processes that allow us to look at a circle, an arc and two dots, and recognize the arranged imagery as the classic smiley face. As Scott McCloud pointed out in his book “Understanding Comics”, it’s not so remarkable that we can interpret such graphical information thusly; it’s more remarkable that we can’t look at it and not perform that mental calculation into representative glyphs.

In the videogame world, the progression is quite clear. We’ve gone from the block-pixels of Pong, to the cartoon animation of Mario and the like, to the faux-realism of Grand Theft Auto and Doom. The balance between how pretty the game looks, versus how much of the focus should go to the gameplay (which Korr argues for, and is a constant point of contention among gamer cognoscenti), is delicate.

The question comes down to how “real” the imagery in these mediums has to, or should, be. I’ve always felt that what made comics work as a storytelling format, particularly for the staple superhero/sci-fi/fantasy genre, is that the nature of line-drawn representation makes the classic suspension of disbelief easy to complete. That doesn’t necessarily create allowances for the quality of the storytelling, although it’s certainly contributed to the kid’s-stuff attitude attributed to comics (and, if you think about it, to videogames too). But it’s a device that you don’t see in text-based storytelling or in film.

However, as it becomes more feasible to use close-to-life representations of people, animals, backgrounds and objects in videogames, will our visual processing adjust? To me, it seems like we’re in a transitional phase for all this: That 1-percent-focus will someday disappear, to the point where controllable videogame characters and environments will be as high-quality as a movie. Then what? Will all the gaps be filled sufficiently? Right now, we’re used to a certain level of unreality in this arena, and accept that. We may not have to settle for that when the process is complete.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 12/17/2005 04:27:28 PM
Category: Creative, Science, Videogames
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So who in their right mind buys their loved ones a car for Christmas? Apparently, a lot of people, as Lexus reports that December is their highest-selling month, thanks to their by-now ubiquitous December Sales Event commercials.

The Lexus ads are relatively simple, and that has contributed to their success, marketing specialists say. The basic concept involves a man or woman surprising a spouse or other family member with a Lexus, an exchange that usually takes place in the driveway of a tastefully decorated suburban home in a neighborhood where one might expect to find a Lexus or a BMW in every garage. The surprised recipient is filled with glee at the sight of the car wrapped in a bright red bow.

Actually, these commercials underwent a crucial adjustment after the first year, which probably kept them from becoming flashes-in-the-pan. I clearly recall that, in the first year of this campaign, the reactions of the giftees at getting a car was so low-key — suggesting that receiving such a big-ticket item was no big deal — that it put across a distinctly snobby vibe. That must have come across in the feedback, because the next year, the ads showed the customarily gleeful recipients who are now standard in the ads.

And speaking of those bright red bows:

And the demand for the oversize red bows is so strong that Lexus stockpiles them in a warehouse near its North American headquarters in Torrance, Calif.

I don’t think there’s a better example of how a campaign can nail both the positive and negative enforcements in consumer tendencies:

More important, we’re told, these Saatchi & Saatchi-created ads position Lexus as the pinnacle of luxury, playing into our consumerist fantasies of rolling in enough dough to buy luxury cars as gifts. More likely, it depresses people into thinking they should be in that position, and makes many more convinced that this type of advertising is totally irrelevant to their lives.

If you’re on my Christmas list, and now expect a set of luxury wheels from me to you… Sorry, I’m not quite that susceptible. If I win the lottery before the 25th, then maybe.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 12/17/2005 03:19:46 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg.
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lost in the shuffle
This year’s edition of the Super Bowl might be XL, but there’s nothing “extra large” about the game’s ad sales so far. Direct competition from February’s Winter Olympics, and indirect competition from wireless and online media, are keeping the TV commercial pricetag flat, and even that’s not enough to keep perennial participants Visa and McDonald’s from passing this year.

Last year’s $2.4 million rate was a record for a Super Bowl 30-second TV spot, despite generally flat viewership for the past 10 years.

Assuming ABC and the NFL have a calendar, they should have known the Turin Olympics were coming, and were close enough to the big game to drain off some advertising dollars. I’d like to see the pertinent numbers from past years’ Winter Olympics/Super Bowl proximity, and see if this is or isn’t par for the course. I’d guess it is: As much hype as the Super Bowl gets as a primo ad bonanza, the Olympics attract a far broader audience (more women and kids than football does), and their lesser frequency would seem to merit more attention from national advertisers.

I think McDonald’s reason for bowing out is pretty funny:

Sources said McDonald’s was particularly miffed last year when its “Lincoln Fry” spot got spectacularly poor reviews among critics and consumers. The company had decided last year that if its spot didn’t make the top 10 in the USA Today poll, it would not be back in the ’06 game, sources said. McDonald’s had no comment.

It’s hard to believe McD’s put so much faith into that lame Lincoln Fry gimmicky ad, whose failure can be partly attributed to the employment of a fake blog. They should be miffed at the boneheads who greenlighted a really dumb concept. (Then again, this is probably a convenient excuse: McDonald’s traditionally puts a lot of resources into both Summer and Winter Olympics marketing, so I’d expect to see them really double-down on Turin.)

Could we see markedly less buzz this coming Super Sunday? Probably not, but at least there’ll be a little more variety in the lineup. And since ABC has the game, we can expect some really spectacular Disney movie promos.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 12/17/2005 02:35:56 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Football
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