GAME CHARACTER BECOMES AN ACTOR
You've probably heard of machinima, the strange hybrid genre where movies are produced using video games. As in, filmmakers write dialogue and dramatic action that is then acted out with a joystick: The video game characters are moved around manually and the results are recorded. It's a cheap but visually interesting way to tell stories.
More than a few machinima shows use Microsoft's Halo series of video games, which depict an ongoing alien space war. Master Chief, the human super soldier, is the game's hero and frequent machimina star.
Several Halo-based shows have achieved moderate Web acclaim, including the long-running "Red vs. Blue," where space marines mouth off to each other and sometimes discuss higher truths. "Arby and the Chief" is an "Indian in the Cupboard"-style story of two Halo action figures who have come alive in their owner's apartment, only to bicker about which game they'll play on the X-Box 360.
The form has proved flexible and successful enough that Machinima.com, the long-standing flagship of the subculture, has recruited writers from "Seinfeld," "The Simpsons" and "Futurama" to write 15 experimental machinima episodes for 2009.
It feels like a good gambit for lean times.
IT COULD BECOME EASILY NAVIGABLE
The micro-blogging service has been around for a couple of years now, but this year it pulled an astonishing metamorphosis. Twitter started as a way for Bay Area Web types to keep track of each others' moment-by-moment doings. That had limited appeal because, well, you can't say much in 140 characters.
Or so everyone thought. Soon a kind of Twitter "elite" emerged -- people with thousands or tens of thousands of "followers" receiving their messages, so that every "tweet" became a peculiar but powerful kind of one-person broadcast. Users could also "tag" their tweets with a word, a simple bit of magic that allowed every message tagged with "#earthquake," "#election" or "#mumbai" to fall into a "stream," a crowded, messy river of related chirps, sometimes from thousands of different contributors. The immediacy and reach of this new medium is unrivaled, but it's still too fast and wild to be useful.
Twitter has suggested it will supply users with filtration and analysis tools that will help tame its info rapids. But the site has been broken so often that the illustrated whale it uses to alert users to an outage has became a famous Web icon. So whether Twitter flies or sinks is a widely discussed over-under.
HE'S AS DISTINCTIVE AS EVER
It's heartening that the endless and variegated career of the 77-year-old William Shatner has made its way onto YouTube, a place where no star has profited before. But Bill has never been afraid to try new things.
Whether it was doing a spoken-word album in the '60s, producing sci-fi novels in the '80s and '90s or being the face of Priceline.com since 1997, he has continually found news places to be heard and seen.
For several months now, Shatner has been posting quirky thoughts and riffs to his YouTube channel (YouTube.com/WilliamShatner). You can watch him sing to whales, comment on the look of the new starship Enterprise (from the upcoming J.J. Abrams "Star Trek" film) or castigate George Takei, a Star Trek costar from decades earlier, as a "psychotic" who "has been mean to me for a long time."
How about that? How many other A-listers are willing to go on YouTube and post this kind of strange, semi-filtered and potentially embarrassing material? I salute you, Captain.