Dave Young: “In the fall 2013, I endeavoured to take the Shiva Game Engine onto the silver screen and into the world of cinema entertainment. For me as a veteran of a myriad of game and internet technologies, this turned out to be a journey of tremendous discovery, which I am excited to share with you today!
Rev4 Media Uses Shiva for Interactive Cinema Project
The result of my long research and development is a ShiVa-powered app called ScreenBlazer, which is a complete platform to display dynamic content on the big screen, and allow the entire audience to interact with it. The end result of these interactions are reports which show how different content performed with different audiences and feature presentations. Besides showing trailers and ads, the system is designed to handle simple games too! Imagine the possibilities…
Power of the Cloud
My Shiva project consists of a stub loader with a lot of custom Java. I needed to add more functionality to the video player, as well as composite Shiva on top of the video player, transparently. I’ve built the project so that I can create a playlist of apps that I call Cinema Apps, which get downloaded from a web-based backend. The apps are atomic bundles of Shiva AI and any other scenes or assets they need in order to run. These bundles are hosted online. When the main project gets the playlist, it goes out to the web to fetch any updated versions of apps or components it needs to run the playlist. One by one, each app is run by the main app until the playlist is complete.
The stub loader also loads up the main AI from a cloud-based resource, making the whole project updatable. Even the main application containing the stub loader will auto-update and restart itself. It runs at boot, turning the computer into a sort of kiosk. When connected to the big screen, it’s pretty awesome. My Shiva project runs on a computer connected to the digital cinema equipment in a theater. I’ve tested dozens of computers to find the right one with the size and form factor needed to run things very well and cost effective.
Although Shiva itself has excellent networking capabilities via Shiva Server, I needed to be able to have more fine-tuned control over things, so I integrated socket.io into the project. This lets me use any form of client to communicate with the programs as they are running. Currently we have a very extensive 2nd screen platform written which acts as the user interface for the main onscreen presentation. It’s node/html5 based and so runs on any smartphone a moviegoer might be toting about.
In reality, we have an audience full of smartphone users with their browsers open, connected to a web backend, which is communicating back and forth with Shiva using socket.io. Shiva is showing on the big screen, and is running videos with interfaces over them, or games, or ads.
It was easy for me to choose Shiva because of its extreme robustness and stability across platforms. Particularly, there was always at least one way to do everything I needed to do when using Shiva and it always ‘just worked’. Additionally, Julien Pierron released several tools which were big efficiency improvements to my workflow. I’m still using the 1.9.2 version of Shiva.
Nevertheless, this project has had some really difficult challenges. Early on, after building an extensive prototype 2nd screen interface platform in MYSQL/PHP/HTML5, I decided to switch the entire backend to node/mongo/socket.io. I wanted the backend to be able to scale well, and with my experience in php/mysql, I knew the issues waiting for me in scaling the backend. I also wanted the advantage of having near real-time communication back-and-forth between Shiva and the audience. I’ve had some help from a very talented web engineer/designer from time to time, as well as from some Shiva game devs who have used the initial API to rough together some pretty neat Cinema Apps.
The Java challenges were many, but the biggest ones were socket.io, silent auto-update of the main application, and of course overlaying Shiva with a video view. On the hardware side, learning about digital cinema technology and how to interface and automate with it was quite challenging. I’ve learned quickly to love this industry and the people who commit themselves towards furthering it.
Where we are today
Today the base technology is complete and is mostly stabilized, with several active field sites running the hardware and software. Our focus now is to create several of the Cinema Apps that will form the base collection of essentials for an exhibitor to run. The first of these is the Interactive Trailers app. This app takes a list of trailers and runs them, allowing the user to live rate the trailer using the 2nd screen interface, or post/tweet/share about the trailer on social media. We have an extensive data backend that is collecting every click and tap, and so can form a fantastic picture of audience reaction to upcoming movies.
At the end of the trailers, the audience participates in Trailer Wars, where they vote on their favorite trailer by tapping as fast as they can. To get an idea of what is happening, check out this video of a live session!
Very simple for now, but quite effective. The end result of these interactions are reports which show how different trailers perform with different audiences and feature presentations. Over the last year and a half, I’ve met with and spoken to dozens of exhibitors, advertisers, pre-show advertising companies, and many different people involved with the exhibition side of the movie industry. I’ve collected a long list of pain points which our technology will help to address, and to bring young tech savvy users into the theaters.
Cinema Apps of the Future
Each Cinema App will solve a different business problem or provide new value to someone in the chain (movie studio, exhibitor, advertiser, patron). We have had simple games, and simple announcement apps from the earliest stage of the project, and those will be polished up and introduced this year. I’ve also integrated a programmatic Real-Time-Bidding advertising unit into the project, making it a complete solution for studios, exhibitors, and advertisers. This alone is a revolutionary jump in capability for cinema advertising.
I’m very excited to get this solution out into the world, and provide value to all those who influenced the direction of it over time. I’m particularly excited about the potential to host full-fledged audience gaming events, Indie film festivals, alternate content presentations, birthday parties, and interactive advertising on the big screen. Shiva will continue to be a key tool in my toolbox. This has been a very difficult road, and many have helped along the way. I hope to open up the API again for developers to create their own Cinema Apps.”
About Rev4 Media
Rev4 Media, based south of Boston (MA), is a small startup focused on interactive audience technology. With a focus on fun things like gaming, advertising, and digital cinema, Rev4 is driving a convergence in consumer and exhibitor technology. If you are interested in learning more about ScreenBlazer, or would like to help, please contact me: dave AT rev4media.com or visit our website at rev4media.com!