The brains and tech behind IE9's Brandon Generator
1st May 2012 | 14:24
Random adventures penned by Edgar Wright
Microsoft's IE9 is trying to reclaim the web. With competing browsers galore, apps and a bad reputation to contend with, it has quite a fight on its hands.
Its latest offensive comes in the form of Brandon Generator, an interactive browser-based comic that puts HTML5 to good use, and it has enlisted Hollywood director Edgar Wright to help up the cool factor.
After all, when you think of Internet Explorer, "cool" is not really the word that springs to mind. Nor is "neo-noir", "cult" or "clever" and yet Brandon Generator somehow manages to tick them all off.
"Is it a film? Is it a game? Is it an animated series?" asks the press release announcing the launch of The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator before deciding that the site is "all the above, none of them, and a lot more besides".
What the what?
Confused yet? The project is perhaps best described as a browser-based comic that is drawn by Marvel illustrator Tommy Lee Edwards, narrated by Julian Barrett of The Mighty Boosh fame, and written by Edgar Wright with a little help from his friends.
His friends, in this case, are you. Anyone visiting the site can leave ideas in the form of words, pictures or sound recordings that will be considered for inclusion in future episodes of the web series – yes, it's your chance to work with Edgar Wright, the Edgar Wright who wrote and directed gems like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
It's a very different way of working for Wright, as he explained when we caught up with him. "The character is created for you to kind of have input on," he told us.
"If people have a bunch of ideas for a Shaun of the Dead sequel, I don't want to read them because if I ever did one I would want to write it. So you actually block yourself off to any of that chatter.
"But with this it's like I'm asking for people to chip in. I want people to feel like they can either contribute or just use it as a creative forum."
As you'll see when you visit BrandonGenerator.com, it's a pretty nifty website, built by the IE9 team at Microsoft. Although you can use it in any browser, there are some sneaky Easter eggs for the IE9 faithful like exclusive content and notifications when each new chapter goes live.
"Right from the start with this project we have put IE9 and HTML5 front and centre of the development to create a rich and immersive experience," Gabby Hegerty, UK Internet Explorer lead explained.
"This combined with taking advantage of the computer's GPU to accelerate text and graphics rendering, especially HTML5 graphics, makes the browser fast," Hegerty adds.
Wright admits that the story of the procrastinating writer is borne of personal experience, confessing that the espresso addiction and certain elements have come straight out of real life.
"It's a bit meta in that the lead character is somebody who can't come up with a story, so the story becomes about his procrastination and distraction," he said. "He starts to wildly romanticise these things we take for granted, like thesauruses and search engines.
"The twist is that after he's had his 13th espresso, he's somehow written 109 pages in the middle of the night that he doesn't recall, and drawn a lot of things on his pad and left lots of ideas on his dictaphone.
"Then I leave it up to the audience to contribute those, so people have tried to write Brandon's mystery prose and draw the mysterious creature and leave all those voicemails."
And it's all still to play for, as although Wright has a story arc in mind, he hasn't yet written the third and fourth episodes.
"I've now written the second one, and I use a lot of [user submissions] in it. I've built moments into there that I wouldn't have thought of without [the users] so that's really good. I kind of know where I want to get to, but I'm hoping that I can get there through these, use these as stepping stones."
Technology is an integral part of both the story and the user experience, but it also played a key role in the creative process.
"That Brandon Generator comes together as cohesively as it does is just a testament to technology," Wright told us.
"I've never really done anything like it before in the sense that it's almost done entirely through computers. The people and the artistic elements of it are all in different places and I do most of my work on this via Skype and email. That's something I can't imagine happening a couple of years ago."