PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 February, 2009, 12:00am

Back at the start of the internet age, interactivity was something to get excited about. No longer would viewers passively watch movies unfolding in front of them - they would be part of the action, influencing the story and the outcome.

Then the dotcom crash happened and the ideas about using the web to forge an interactive art form disappeared. Web 2.0 became the marketing and social networking system it is today. But Web 3.0, when and if it comes, may herald a return to those creative values.

The idea of interactive cinema goes back to before the internet. When the computer game Wing Commander launched in the early 1990s, it featured cinematic sequences in between the game-playing. Meanwhile, interactive technology was being developed by companies such as LucasArts. Their iMuse program, which accompanied the game Monkey Island, composed different music depending on where the player went in the game. The now-legendary game Myst was praised for its cinematic qualities. It didn't use much video, but its carefully rendered screens of otherworldly vistas were jaw-dropping.

Storytelling was changing, too. CD-Rom artists began creating interactive narratives and the computer game Wolfenstein 3-D pioneered a subjective viewpoint - suddenly the player was in the game, rather than observing it in the third person. One company even developed an interactive cinema game in which the viewer could change the story by pulling levers.

Then came the dotcom crash. When the Web resurfaced as 2.0 it was a different beast altogether. All the energy and money went into sales sites such as eBay or functional applications such as search engines. Creativity didn't get a look-in. Ironically, in the games world the tools that could make interactive cinema a reality were being developed - intuitive interfaces such as the Wii, for instance. The popular Second Life online game crossed Myst-like locales with SimCity and social networking to make a kind of online reality show - or more correctly, a virtual reality show.

Today's technology means that interactive cinema is once again a possibility. Scientists and software programmers have developed a mind-boggling array of methods for the user to interact with the screen.

For instance, an article in the academic New Scientist journal last year reported on a sensor which can detect a game player's brainwaves and use them to manipulate what's on the computer screen. (Sceptics can see a similar technology, Mindball, in action on YouTube). Perhaps Web 3.0 will make the hope of a new interactive art form a reality after all.




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