Veteran Alternate Reality Game creator Elan Lee - the man behind such viral hits as Halo 2's I Love Bees ARG and The Beast for Steven Spielberg's film A.I. - has spoken at some length about how storytellers might make use of connected platforms like Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
"I was a lead game designer on the original Xbox," Lee commented, when asked for his thoughts on Xbox One. "I've had one forever. When you start looking at what it can do today, and especially what the new hardware will be able to do, it's such an inlet for pretty incredible things.
"When you take those 80 million connected boxes and you add on top of that the fact that they've got controllers in their hands, and on top of that there's the Kinect camera looking at them - and the next one will have facial recognition - and on top of that voice recognition, and SmartGlass, friends lists, windows for social networking, you add all these things together you realize this platform has put itself into a position to completely redefine the nature of entertainment.
"All it needs now is for a very smart group of people to flip that switch."
Lee now works at Microsoft's Los Angeles TV studio, founded in February to usher in an "an era when interactive entertainment becomes the greatest form of all entertainment". The idea there is to create original programming that rivals what you'd get from a major established broadcaster in terms of production values, while letting the viewer participate to varying degrees with the story as it unfolds.
Similar work is underway at Microsoft's "two-way TV" studio Soho Productions in London. "I think interactive TV will continue to be pushed forward by both the television and game industries," The former's Rob Stevens told OXM in a recent interview. "From conversations I've had, there is a strong will from the world of broadcast TV to explore new ways of reaching audiences."
Stevens also downplayed talk of a clash between traditional gaming and interactive TV, suggesting that "we are now able to create experiences that aren't as rigidly defined by factors like technology or our understanding of genres and platforms".
Back to Lee. "In the history of storytelling there have been five or six big advancements that changed the way we tell stories and the way human beings communicate with each other," he told Gamasutra. "Things like the invention of Western theatre, the invention of the printing press, the invention of the motion picture camera.
"Every time one of these things is invented we, being humans, scramble about madly trying to figure out how best to use these to convey a complex idea, emotions, narratives. We are, right now, right in the middle of another one of those huge events in the history of humanity's ability to tell stories - and we don't even have a name for it.
"It's sort of the internet. It's sort of connected devices. It's sort of a lot of things. But we do understand that there's this new, always-on, always-connected method by which we interact with each other all day, every day. And to be in a place like Microsoft that has an advantage over the rest of the planet to use that power, those tools, to redefine what it means to tell stories, that's what gets me really excited."
As you hopefully know by now, Xbox One is designed to be joined at the hip to TV - you plug your existing TV box into it via the HDMI port, then browse channels using the console's IR blaster without switching away from the Xbox dashboard. This constitutes the more pedestrian facet of Microsoft's TV plan, interactive TV comprising the sharper end of the wedge.
The tentpole release there could be Remedy's Quantum Break, a collaboration with Microsoft's TV studios that runs a live action show and gameplay side by side (catch the latest trailer below). Doubtless, Lee also has a considerable contribution to make.
"We've got this interest now in redefining what storytelling is and to convey these stories across hardware, across a network that's already established and has this audience," he concluded. "That puts Microsoft years ahead of anyone else out there. And the fact that they are this excited to use that advantage to tell really good stories and to hire a team that can tell those really good stories, that's just exactly where I want to be in the world."
Naturally, Lee was unable to discuss the specifics of his latest project, observing only that the idea is to make ARGs more accessible. "I want to use everything I know and everything I've learned along the way to build something even bigger, something to reach a much larger audience," he said, adding "it is a little bit like my previous work at Fourth Wall Studios, but on a much larger stage."