Saturday, February 12, 2022

Live From The Afterparty

I wasn't sure I was going to make the five pm deadline for the 2022 BRIT Awards VIP Party ft. PinkPantheress in Roblox yesterday. That's the official title of the event although PinkPantheress just called it "the 2022 BRITS afterparty", which is a lot snappier. Mrs Bhagpuss was due home from work not too long before it was due to start and I was expecting we'd be having our tea around five because we are old people.

What kind of time for an afterparty is five in the afternoon anyway? Not to mention that it's three freakin' days after the event. I mean, there's after and there's after, right? I'm guessing it says more about the game's core audience than anything else. Friday after school has to be primetime for Roblox .

In the event, Mrs Bhagpuss got home around three and she was more than ready to eat early so I could disappear off to to put on my fancy clothes and party! Which I would have, too, if I'd had any. 


The area in front of the digital display counting down the minutes to showtime was already filling up when I logged in around half past four. That countdown has been ticking away ever since I wrote my post on Tuesday. It seems like overkill.

Looking around, I found myself feeling a little self-conscious. Not, as you might expect, because I was at an event intended to appeal to people young enough to be my grandchildren (Assuming a certain, consistent lack of caution spanning generations, that is.) No, I was fine with all of that. It wasn't like I had a sign over my head anouncing my age like the person I saw who'd gone with "I Hate Ronald Reagan" for a name. So long as I kept my virtual mouth shut I was just another blocky nobody.

And that was the problem. Mine was the only default avatar in sight.   

Everyone else was dressed to kill. It was a real festival crowd. People were sporting wings, hats, bunny ears, rainbows; they were carrying guitar cases and clutch bags, wearing headphones and bell-bottoms. One guy had massive speakers on each shoulder like a pair of World of Warcraft shoulder pads. Someone else was a cat in a spacesuit. 


I felt really underdressed is what I'm saying. Also fascinated. One of the best things about live gigs and live events generally is looking around at all the other crazy people who've chosen to show up and ever since I went to my first virtuality show in the theatre in Freeport over twenty years ago I've always been able to fire up those exact real life sensations just by looking around and taking in what people are wearing, doing and saying as they gather together in anticipation of some big in-game event.

Given what it has to work with, namely a lot of blocks bolted together, Roblox does a pretty good job when it comes to replicating the sense of the crowd. The music was loud and beneath it you could hear the faint echo of the BRIT awards ceremony itself. The colors were vibrant and the players filled the space with movement and talk.  

One thing I really love about gatherings in online games and virtual spaces is the way fragments of conversation pop up all around in speech bubbles. It carries all of the chaotic churn of a real crowd, the murmurs and rumors, exclamations and shrieks, the tiny moments of other peoples' thoughts and lives, drifting in and out of context, all at the same time.

I got in my car and drove around for a while, knocking down tiny golden BRITs and hunting for hot pink freebies. I'd bought a few Effects last time and picked up a few for nothing. Unfortunately, I hadn't realised they were all consumables not unlocks so I'd been firing them off at random for the fun of it. When it came time to use them in earnest I didn't have any left.

Something to remember for next time. I'm sure there will be a next time. This was fun, even if that fun was, it has to be said, more in the anticipation than in the event itself, which turned out to be something of an anti-climax.   

There was great excitement as the clock ticked down to zero, immediately followed by much amusement as it instantly reset to add another two and a half minutes. It wasn't last minute nerves on the part of PinkPantheress or technical problems with the sound system. The clock was out of sync. 

When the real five 'o' clock rolled round the digital display drew back to reveal a stage, set back behind a dance floor. I'd been expecting the performance to happen on a screen so it took me completely by surprise.

The stage set-up with the lights and speakers looked and sounded good. The Roblox graphics engine, designed for Lego-like block figures, is not the ideal platform for animating convincing representations of known personalities but if the basics are there, the imagination will do most of the heavy lifting. 

In this case, unfortunately, I'm not convinced sufficient trouble had been taken to get the most out of the system. It's not so much that the avatar purporting to be PinkPantheress wasn't recognizeable. It did look enough like her that you'd know who it was meant to be. It was more the extremely limited variety of movements she was given and particularly the way they weren't really synchronized with the music. It's slightly disorienting when the singer keeps taking the mic away from her face just as she starts to sing. 

Having watched some of the Royal Blood video, when the duo performed at the 8th Annual Bloxy Awards last year, it's clearly possible to do a lot more with the Roblox graphics engine than I saw last night. Theirs was a much better evocation of a stage performance, more and better animations, better synchronization and above all a much, much more dramatic presentation.

It also felt much more immediate, not surprising since, by the accounts I've read, Royal Blood were in fact playing live. PinkPantheress wasn't, or not so far as I could tell. While it's true her style is very different, far more back than the brash rock of Royal Blood, there was plenty of opportunity to liven things up with special effects and lighting, opportunities that were largely ignored. Any striking visuals you see in the screenshots here were created by players, not programmed into the show.

The songs seemed to be the original, recorded versions as per her her mixtape "To Hell With It". Although she introduced herself, made a couple of pre-song introductions and said goodbye, all of that sounded pre-recorded. There was very little live feel and no spontaneity. I thought she sounded a little embarassed by the whole thing although she also sounded very charming.

For all its shortcomings, the show was involving and highly enjoyable, which is why perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the whole event was how quickly it was over. The full performance was incredibly short. It felt to me like it lasted about ten minutes but as the recording shows it wasn't even that: it was just under six minutes long. Here's the whole thing:

I can see how you wouldn't want something like this to outstay its welcome but both the Royal Blood and Ariane Grande concerts were twice as long. I'd have thought ten to fifteen minutes would be about right. Five songs instead of three would have done it.

It is, of course, early days for this kind of thing and I'm sure all those companies and individuals busy building their various versions of the metaverse will have plenty of ideas on how to make these kind of events more immersive, dynamic, inclusive and entertaining. They'd better have. 


For me, it was very well worth the minimal effort I had to put in so I could experience a PinkPantheress performance that, if not really all that much like seeing her perform in person, did feel like more than just watching a video. I do think that it was absolutely crucial to have been there for the "as live" show, though, rather than one of the the on-the-hour repeats. 

Almost all of the "thereness" came from the audience, their excitement and eagerness, the build-up to something they at last hoped would be special. It's the crowd that makes events like this, what the're wearing, the things they do and say, the fun everyone seemed to be having. That communicates.

But I knew that already. I've been going to live events in mmorpgs for a third of my life now and the best part is always being in the crowd, waiting for it to happen. Why should in-game concerts be any different?

10 comments:

  1. "Mine was the only default avatar in sight."

    That reminds me a bit of Snow Crash when Hiro Protagonist goes into the metaverse and disdains the people with default or obviously store bought basic avatars.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think something like that happens in Tad Williams' Otherland as well (The book, not the mmorpg.). I think if you really want blend in when the metaverse gets rolling you're going to have to spend at least a little actual cash on getting the look right.

      Delete
  2. IDK how much you know about Roblox, but this documentary and its follow-up are a pretty well-done study of their, uh, child labor problem. Can't say I'll be involved with the organization going forward.

    Sounds like a fun event, though!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I'd heard how dodgy the whole thing is. They're still selling Roblox cash cards in my local Sainsburys though, whereas they banned Amazon cards several years ago. It's a confusing world, sometimes.

      Delete
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