Games People Play: a post from the ETC

December 10, 2011

The Last Message - A Kinect platform-game that tells a story of the journey of a waveform. The player controls the the amplitude and frequency of the waveform using both arms, and must guide it to the broadcasting tower — with Brian Lee, Ruijie Liu, Shibli Mansuri and Scott Chen. From the Fall 2011 BVW Show

As promised, this post comes from Pittsburgh where I’m working for a week as a guest of Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC).

The inimitable Don Marinelli, Executive Producer of the ETC

The ETC was created by the inimitable Don Marinelli and the late Randy Pausch combining skills in drama and computer science to produce game designers and “entertainment technologists”. It is a unique place that I have written about before. Students here study on a largely project based masters programme that aims to produce graduates that thrive on cross disciplinary team based project work

I’ve been invited here to do some workshops on 3D audio and to inspire students to incorporate some of the work we do at the Acoustics Research Centre at Salford into their projects and to push themselves beyond stereo into creating more immersive auditory experiences for their games. We’ve covered some of the basics of sound localisation and binaural recording, head related transfer functions, analysed sound design for film and talked about how they can steal some of the techniques used in film for interactive technologies. The ETC were kind enough to set up a nice 8 speaker rig for my visit so I’ve been demonstrating ambisonic reproduction using some of the soundscapes from the Positive Soundscapes Project, some from John Leonard’s recordings at ambisonic.info and a wonderful thunderstorm recording kindly provided by BBC research. Thank you to all who helped in collating this material! It’s been a great experience for me, the students here are from a wide variety of backgrounds and are a joy to work with. While I was here I had the pleasure of attending the Building Virtual Worlds showcase of student work – the show highlights the pick of their first semester work from the BVW class and the outcomes are staggering once you realise that each game or ‘world’ was created in only 3-4 weeks.

We’re going to be running our first semester long ETC project at MediaCityUK in the new year so I’ve delivered a lecture all about the fun stuff we’re doing in our new building and had early discussions about the direction the project could take. The ideas exchanges with students has been inspirational – we are going to do some truly amazing stuff with them next semester. Watch this space for details!

The only downside of the visit was that I missed the most exciting event of the year back at Salford. One of my colleagues, Helen Keegan, has engaged the students in an alternate reality game without them being aware it was part of their program. 

Instead of a 2 hour lecture on ARGs they’ve lived in one for an entire semester

Rufi Franzen: "Media inventor. I introduce the future to the present"

Two and a half months of mysterious clues across multiple media led them to Exchange Square in Manchester at 11am yesterday to try and discover the identity of the mysterious ‘Rufi Franzen’, the final clue made them look up and find that their mobile film work was being shown on the massive BBC screen overlooking the square. There’s a blog post from one of our wonderful students here which tells the story. The video of the moment when they spotted their work being shown is priceless (from Paul’s blog). The idea and hard work was all down to Helen Keegan and Hugh Garry, our BBC co-conspirator who played the part of Rufi. The films are being shown again on the big screen next Friday so there is still time to watch them.

What a fabulous end to the semester!

UPDATE: Thanks to @heloukee and @JustPressPlay_ we have a storify of the whole saga, the tweets, video links, the works.

UPDATE 2: Superb blog post from Helen Keegan who made it all happen

The Gamers with @heloukee and 'Rufi Franzen' (aka @huey) Pic courtesy @Watersidestudio


  1. That thunderstorm came from an afternoon spent practising with the Soundfield mic at our old BBC R&D site at Kingswood Warren. It was the first time I had got my hands on a Soundfield mic. We hired it on a number of occasions to capture B-format audio alongside our 1080p50 and 1080p300 TV shoots.

    I was walking round the site trying to work out how to monitor B-format in stereo headphones when the storm arrived.

    Glad you like it 🙂


    • Love it – I heard it back at the festival of technology some years ago and it’s a great demonstrator when on an audio evangelist kick and trying to excite people about ambisonics. Thanks Mike.

  2. […] my previous visits to the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University here and here, a few things have changed since then so this visit was an interesting one in a number of ways. […]

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