If you think you know anything about multimedia, go to Milia and realise that you're wrong. It's business, big business and it's very, very boring.
I have this naive notion of multimedia production; the bedroom model where the skill, talent and enthusiasm is enough to get ideas up on to the world stage. Milia's corridors of tawdry multimedia on the other hand is lifted only by the possibility of freebies and the strange body language of the salespeople who are desperate to work out whether you're worth all the effort of a pitch. That's why the "Get stuff free game," is so popular with people like myself.
To play: Get an expensive looking suite, walk around in an arrogant manner and patronise everyone you meet, being careful not to let on how little you know and that you have only enough cash to by a medium sized bag of popcorn.
Result: You get loads of free stuff, half of which must be loaded into the dustbin.
Truth is, the trade show part is a very focused affair, enabling licensees of product to sell their licensers, licenses. There's a lot of cash involved and a lot of smooth talkers, snake charming cash out of the pockets of publishing corps and investors.
Milia has five parts as far as I could see; the trade fair, the games fair, the prizes, the talks , the conferences and the new talent pavilion.
The trade fair as I have already mentioned is a bit of a desperate affair. The price for having a stand at the show and the $600 (or there about) entry fee all contribute to paying for the speakers and the new talent pavilion.
The new talent pavilion, whilst suffering a little from a conservative selection process does present a range of fresh works, from colleges, studios and small companies around the world. There were some really nice pieces including a french project which required you to blow on to a microphone to move a yellow ball through a maze of potential disasters. I was worried about the economic viability of such a work that would invariably have kids hyperventilating, passing out and smashing their heads on sharp objects on their journey to the ground.
There were also many Japanese works in the new talent area, which on the whole showed a deep understanding of interactive media's potential for communicating very abstract ideas. One whose makers and title I am ashamed not to have remembered, took on the task of educating children about animal behaviour and habits. One screen helped me to discover that rabbits only like chocolate milk and nothing else. I wondered that if I could read Japanese, it would make any more sense.
The selection was thin on the internet front which is a shame considering the amount of interesting work out there on the web. To make up for this, a huge, bald and highly charismatic guy called Stewart Mc Bride puts on the showdown conference entitled "Zapping the Web."
Seventeen creative talents from around the world are amassed for the talk. Each speaker has three minutes in which to convince the 1000 or so audience in the main auditorium that they're the main attraction. Stewart dons a referee's kit to underline his role of authority, to ensure the rules are observed. At the end of the three minutes horns blow and lights flash so that the speaker doesn't have another word. Out of the seventeen speakers, Enami from Digitalogue got the largest applause for his inspired performance of John Maeda's new product. I was on last with Antirom's take on interactive TV, some explosions and finally an attempt to show all the work we've ever done in 40 seconds.
The real buzz of the conference was around interactive TV. I remember how excited people were about CD-Roms, when no-one really knew what they could do other than help to reel in the cash riding on the back of the hype factor. Everyone is talking about interactive TV, platform and communication convergence, but in most cases are at best saying much the same thing or at worst nothing at all. The main area is how this will get people who are already buying stuff, to buy more stuff, more easily in what are often obvious, tacky ways.
A medium that doesn't yet, but is soon to exist on a large scale, that requires massive investment, that no one possesses any real experience in or knowledge of, is an exciting medium. It is also however a medium full of speculation and theory spun about in the hope of magnetising the cash which is desperate to find it's way into integrated global communication s. A typical idea suggests how that when you're watching a live football match or something on TV, you'll flip around to see different camera angles, see game statistics, vote for you favourite player and buy some sunglasses while you're at it. You can see why they're exited, but my enthusiasm is still waiting for an idea that I might find of greater relevance and sophistication than what is currently on the agenda.
The consensus on the games area was that it was insubstantial, due probably in part to it being it's first year. Lots of people flocked to hear the announcement that the Dreamcast logo is going to be blue in Europe; wow!!
Milia left me a little pessimistic. The Techno Party that closed the event summed it up for me, with its rave visuals carrying the emblems and products of microsoft; never a selling opportunity to be missed.
A weekend walking in the Alps managed to clear my head of all the mayhem.
Date: February 8th through 12th, 1999