Feb 26, 2013

AUTHENTIC, she said, IN ALL CAPS

The short: Christy Dena is funding her project, AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS, and it has just over 2 days left to make the cut.  It’s a narration-augmented web game for the iPad about finding the courage to be yourself in a satirical underworld run by quantum theorists.  The demo was nominated for a game writing award.  It’s going to be great.

authentic pointing!

The long: 

She sat down to type.  She paused, hands hovering over the keyboard, a howling coming from the wind inside in the laser exhaust output. She was tired, but the time was now.  Only 64 hours left to go.  It had to be done.

The narrator is a staple of storytelling on rails.  It’s the voice of the novel.  It made The Wonder Years so poignant and Arrested Development so funny.  We mock the poor, neckless narrator of  The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and marvel at the intracies, exaggerations and contradictions it can bring to light in a film like Goodfellas.

Narration in interaction is another matter.  It’s a technical and social challenge to make narration that works together with your player/audience, and all too often this falls flat.  And yet, we’re seeing an indie resurgence of truly amazing narration in games.  Bastion polished the narrator concept to a high gloss, and The Stanley Parable used it to elevate interactive narrative to the level of literature.

So how do we capture some of that magic in a web-based, ARG-like adventure?  Alternate Reality Game players are used to getting their core narrative thread from recap blogs, which lack a certain immediacy and ability to create dramatic moments.

Christy Dena (who, if you don’t know, is a brilliant Aussie transmedia designer with a CV so long you can wrap it around your neck twice) is about to show us, with the help of her cohorts Craig Peebles, Trevor Dikes and Simon Howe.  Their project, AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS, is an iPad app that takes you on an audio tour of the web, adding that core narrative voice to the artifacture of a web story.  The writing promises to be top notch: even the demo picked up a nomination for “Best Writing in a Game” at the Freeplay Independent Games Festival.

The project is halfway to the funding line as I write this, and the countdown has rolled over into hours!  Go check it out, if it sounds like your cup of tea.

Oct 25, 2012

Laser Lace Launching


After six months of constant prototyping, intense planning and caffeine-fueled story development, my new project, Laser Lace Letters, is finally going up on Kickstarter today. It’s a unique project with elements of handcrafting, fragmented storytelling, and design. Also, it brings together two of my favorite things: steampunk, and lasers.

(If for some reason you LIKE reading press releases, you can also get that here.)

Laser Lace Letters is a line of laser-cut felt cameo pins that I designed and prototyped at Dallas Makerspace.  I’ll be making for everyone who pledges for them during the Kickstarter. They’re designed to be worn like a button or a badge: on a lapel, a backpack, a purse, or even on a hat.

If you’re familiar with laser cutting, you know that most things made on a laser are made from sheets of material, which means they’re usually quite flat; but that’s where Laser Lace will surprise you. The cameos sit in the center of a special doily, which is cut flat, but designed to be woven into itself to create a wreath of twisted color around the image in the center.

But inside the beautiful packaging for each cameo – a laser cut envelope tied with twine and sealed with wax – is a little story world for you to dig into. There are seven cameos in the line, and each represents a character living in an alternate version of Victorian London, where an all-woman airship corps keeps the peace, tiny robots ferry messages to secret lovers, and the rich build extravagant country homes in the sky.

Their stories are told through items like:

  • A charlatan’s pamphlet about the appearance of aethereal cities in bolts of lightning.
  • The letter a young socialite left for her family, the night she ran away.
  • A help wanted advertisement, calling for door-to-door sales girls to hawk pocket robots.
  • Plans for a machine designed to evaluate people’s souls – and act accordingly.
  • The report of a police officer who saw his partner vanish right in front of his eyes.

If funded, I’m going to release the stories two ways: as tangible stories that include their respective cameo pins, and as a digital book that you can read anywhere.  On the Kickstarter you can buy either one, so whether you like the crafting side of the series more, or the storytelling side, you can get what suits you.

I’ve also been working on some online supplements – or teasers, if you will – that will give you an idea of what to expect from each story before you decide which cameo to buy.  The characters have distinctive stories – from Sarah, the aviatrix who left her lover for a chance to fly one of Her Majesty’s airships; to Linnaeus, the mad scientist looking for a way to cross over into the other universe to find his missing son; to Lucy, an assassin who uses a fleet of tiny robots as her weapon of choice.

When Yomi Ayeni launched his project Clockwork Watch, I knew immediately that we shared a perspective on steampunk that would make for a good collaboration. So for the past several months, I’ve been working with Yomi to mesh our two stories. Our stories both take place in the world, and bits of Laser Lace are already scattered across the Clockwork Watch in-game blog, the London Gazette.  Most of the voices in the above video are also from members of the Clockwork Watch team who beamed their recording across the ocean to bring life to the characters.

Inspiration for Laser Lace was drawn from Jordan Weisman’s artifact-laden book projects – with Sean Stewart on “Cathy’s Book” and with J.C. Hutchins on “Personal Effects: Dark Art.”  Laser Lace stories are like miniature versions of those books.  As far as I know, no indie creator has attempted something like this before – and I can see why.  It’s calling on all the tools in my mental Swiss army knife, and I’ve even had to hack together some new ones.  It’s been a long, big, complicated road to get this project to the point where money is the most needed resource.

Here’s what that money is going to buy: a small hobby laser cutter, around $7,000 in printing services, and supplies ranging from felt to card stock to sealing wax. Once I have the laser cut parts, the cameos will be finished by hand here in Texas. I hope to be able to do all of the handwork myself, so everyone gets something I created from start to finish.  It will be a rare auteur project in a world of big teams.

I’m absolutely abuzz with excitement today!  Let’s come together and make this happen!  You bring the beer, and I’ll bring the party.

Sep 18, 2012

Unboxing: Byzantium Security

Last week, I took a personality test that may or may not have brainwashed me, and this weekend I got a black bubble mailer full of puzzles and secrets from the testing organization, Byzantium Security International.

Black packaging seems to be code, by the way, for “transmedia is happening here.”  I mean, take a look at my last three mailers.

In any case, here’s what’s inside this particular black package – a nice, out of game letter telling me that this is a promotion for the new Cinemax show Hunted, and a puzzle box.  I really like the fact that the letter was folded in such a way as to give me an in-game message above the fold, and a polite promotional letter below.

It’s shaped like the Byzantium Security logo (more or less), and rattles when you shake it, which means there must be something inside.

There’s something poetic about this puzzle box – and this might be me reading too much into it.  If you haven’t played through the test yet, go do it.  Everything in the experience is designed to make you feel smart, with nerve-wracking and sometimes disturbing tests that (mostly) turn out to be easier than you expected.

That’s pretty much the experience of opening this puzzle box.  Opening it involves a bit of guesswork adjusting your grip and pulling at pieces.  But once it begins to move, you’re rewarded with a gorgeous view of the box opening like an iris.

The puzzle is made of three pieces, one of which has a little hollow that hides a gunmetal-colored miniature USB stick, bearing the Byzantium Security logo.

Each piece also has a set of three letters etched into a face that’s hidden when the box is closed.  (Etched with LASERS, by my reckoning!)

Thank goodness we’ve got some clues here, because the files on that USB are all password protected.  I’ve unscrambled the letters to form a word, but that doesn’t seem to be the password.  Any ideas?  Tell me on Twitter.

I’m not able to give this a proper review because I’m a bit pressed for time this week, but I will say this is a classic piece of ARG swag.  It’s a puzzle box with a puzzle inside.  I love how every item is its own call to action – the box invites you to open it, the USB invites you to look at the files inside, the files themselves are encapsulated in a ZIP file called UNLOCK_ME.zip.

The campaign was created by Campfire, which is famous for its ability to build atmosphere and establish a mood.  This item is similar in tone to the rest of the campaign – on the outside, it’s a rather naturalistic and simple test of your abilities – and on the inside, it’s a polished and highly artificial experience.  It’s also a highly personal one – the puzzle it leads to exists on a physical piece of media in your possession, not on a website.

The only thing I can find to criticize about this object is that sometimes, you can open the box too quickly, sending one of the three pieces flying.  My dad and sister managed to send one skittering off the kitchen counter and break it – luckily, though, the wood glue was close at hand.

All in all, it’s a very slick, simple artifact that gets right to the heart of its subject matter.  Now if I could just figure out that password….

Aha!  Password cracked!  It had to be capitalized (not all caps or all lower case).  The files contain a bunch of high quality promotional stuff for Hunted, as well as a video and links that urge you to visit the two main landing sites for the experience.  I was expecting more puzzley goodness or some extra narrative bits, but if I’d experienced this in the proper order (mailer, then website) the site would have probably been enough of a payoff.  Still, looking at a multi-page announcement press release for the show is always going to break the flow of your immersive experience.

As always, if you’ve got something you’d like to see carefully photographed and then scrutinized here, send it my way.

Aug 30, 2012

Swag Review: Deadly Affairs

This is the start of a series wherein I review the physical objects from various transmedia projects. If you have a project and you want to send me something for review, drop it in the mail.

Today, I’m looking at a box I recently got from Investigation Discovery, leading to a short ARG that’s playing for the new show Deadly Affairs. The team was kind enough to send this to me after it was released to players, because I told them I wanted to start reviewing game swag.

Before I opened it, my mother saw the package with its return address (Susan Lucci, Investigation Discovery) and was perplexed – she’s the ID fan in the house, not me. By now you might have seen it, but here’s some lovely photos anyway.
We’ve got a shiny black box with the program branding on it:

…and inside, a card…

…and tied to the card, a key.

This isn’t a very complicated or very ambitious mailer. The key is a craft store buy, and I happen to know that because I built the key for the Ladies’ Mechanical Companion out of an identical one.

This is basically serving the same role as a postcard – just like the Random Acts of Fusion viewmaster that was sent out last month, and which I’m still writing my review of. From the mismatched sticker on the front of the box (it’s more matte than the box itself, making the sticker look cheaper than it likely is) to the fact that there it contains so little for its size, my first impression is that there could have been a lot more going on here – especially because the design of the website tugs at my artifact-loving heart strings.

Can you imagine if the mailer had half this stuff in it? Family photos, ticket stubs, a fashion label tag, a receipt for a romantic dinner, a business card, a tiki-themed party invitation, a napkin with a phone number – by the time you read this, this list will be incomplete because new virtual artifacts are being added constantly. All with little, elegant calls out to the experience’s various bits of content, in old school ARG style. Love. So much love. Getting the equivalent of this in the mail would have been so boss.

So the question is, if you’re going to send out a postcard mailer, why even bother tying a key to it and putting it in a box? In this case, it works with the overall experience design, and I think this shows how far a strong design goes in making a good piece of tangible work.

Players’ first interaction with the website was to open a virtual box using a “key” (a code provided on the card), so Deadly Affairs sent out physical boxes with physical keys in them. The relationship between the artifact and the online experience is clear, and the call to action is simple but compelling – if you give someone a key, how can they NOT use it?  It’s trip and fall simple.

There are no puzzles here, nor is the mailer in character, but it sets up Lucci’s role in the experience – half Greek chorus, half eyebrow-cocked gossip. Hers is the voice of someone who knows a story, but wants to draw out her story as long as possible, dropping little hints along the way to keep you at the height of suspense. (I can only assume this is the way the show will feel, too, because it’s the way *every program on Investigation Discovery feels.* I can’t be the only child of ID fans who gets the urge to google the case fifteen minutes into a show.)

Ultimately, a lot more could have been done with this, and it still feels like a waste of opportunity and resources not to include some of the artifacts from the virtual box in the physical one. But for what it’s supposed to do, it works. I can’t see shoehorning in more items just to have more items if it doesn’t work with the structure of the experience. Hopefully, ID will start doing more stuff like this, because if any brand lends itself to ARG, it has to be them. Maybe next time we’ll get something more robust.

Note: I have two friends working on this experience. I am not, nor am I privy to any of their creative decisions on this project.

Have some swag you’d like to see lovingly lambasted?  Go right ahead and send it to me.

Aug 10, 2012

Felicity Velius Loves Setting Up Mailbox Drops

She also loves Beatrix Potter, and, apparently, her ex boyfriend’s cat Toby. She loves Toby so much, she stole him and took him with her on a spy mission to Asia. Felicity is just that kind of girl.

Earlier today I unlocked a mailbox in Waco with a key from Canada, and found a bunch of documents pertaining to Felicity’s secret life. For players who have been following this fledgeling ARG, I present the contents of that mailbox.

It includes an envelope with a pen inside, a letter from Felicity, a transcript of a supposedly untraceable conversation (guess what happened), and a photocopy of a sinister note.

If you like shaky cam, you can also check out the video of the find below.

Aug 7, 2012

The Great Ralpholio wants to see you.

Yet another little tidbit for my project, the Laser (Something Something).  The Great Magician Ralpholio needs your help with something.  Hop to and help him out.

Aug 4, 2012

The beginning of something….

Today, the London Gazette in Clockwork Watch reads thusly:

Angel Falls from Sky to Thwart Department Robbery

Angel Corps recruit Sarah Bittern, 19, unmarried, leapt from a damaged airship last night in an heroic effort to capture a robber fleeing the former offices of the Department for the Advancement of Sciences.
Ms. Bittern, who was patrolling the area aboard the HMD Desiderata, continued to chase the man first via motor glider and then on foot, after the Desiderata ploughed into an unlicensed wireless tower. The ship’s captain, Ms. Hildebrandt Beam, 41, widowed, was injured in the resulting crash. According to her shipmates…

(Visit Clockwork Watch for the full story.)

Who are these new characters, you may ask –  the daring Sarah, the mad Linnaeus, the brave Hildebrandt?  Well, they’re part of a project I’m working on, and throughout the coming months you’ll see them pop up throughout Clockwork Watch to help the story along.  Yomi and I are working closely to make our story worlds intermesh (like…clockwork, one might say.)

I’m still scuttling about, getting things ready for a proper unveiling.  At this point, I can tell you that this is a tactile project – meaning you will get some tasty handmade items in the course of interacting with it – and it will feature at least a few robots.  Beyond that would be telling, but at least I can tell you the name of the project, right?  It’s called…oh, who the hell left that doily there?

Your mother doesn’t live here, people.

Anywho, it starts with “Laser” and if all goes well, it will end in delight for a great many of you.  If you want to stay informed, you can add this blog to your RSS feed here, or follow me on Twitter here.  You can also find me on Clockwork Watch here.  I’ll be bringing you more on the project as the news develops.

Jul 21, 2012

The ARG Museum Beckons

If you’re one of the lucky ones who’s going to ARGFest-O-Con this year, today is your last weekend before we hit Toronto like a ton o’ bricks. As you go over your packing list, don’t forget to include your glorious swag from ARGs past to display in this year’s ARG Museum.

What is the ARG Museum?

It’s a pop-up museum that appears at ARGFest every year. Attendees bring their game artifacts together in one place to exhibit at the event. It’s maintained by a team of dedicated players and creators who organize the exhibit and keep track of everything.

Cool. But you don’t need MY stuff, do you?

Absolutely we do!  The museum is made of temporary loans from many attendees.  We need your in-game artifacts, mailers, live event souvenirs, and treasure finds.  Register them using this handy dandy form today!

While we prefer items that aren’t just a print run (for example, promo postcards), we welcome everything – from character business cards, to books on ARGs, to fake newspapers, to buried treasure.  If it’s from an ARG, we’re willing to include it.

I don’t want to give away my things!

Don’t worry, that’s not what we’re about.  You’ll be putting your items on loan with us until the end of ARGFest, at which point you can pick them up and take them home.

What if someone else brings the same item?

We don’t exhibit more than one of a given item.  We’ll email you if there’s any redundancy.

Are there any other reasons to bring my ARG artifacts to the museum?

While you’re in Toronto, we’ll be digitizing many of the exhibits and turning them into virtual objects that you can rotate in your browser.  We want to extend the experience of  the ARG Museum into the digital world.  As the online components of many games suffer from bit rot, sometimes these items turn out to be the most lasting component of the games.  We want to give everyone the chance to see them.

Isn’t it too late to register?

Nope!  We’re still taking registrations!  Go here and add your stuff to the exhibit.

 Still got questions?  Check out the wiki.

Jan 31, 2012

Snow People in Felt

Here’s a quick craft project I designed for my friend Jan. It’s one of her “snow people.”  They live in Snow Town, Maine, where they appear in the dead of winter.  This one is particularly adorable, not at all creepy, which is sort of a deviation from the norm.

Jan created the Snow Town ARG last winter, and like a fool I missed playing this amazing game.  Luckily, now she’s raising the money to turn her ARG into an app that we can all play.  The project is up for funding on Kickstarter.  If you have a minute, and a few bucks, check the project out and perhaps even donate. The clock is ticking, and I’d really love to have Snow Town on my phone.

If you want your own snow buddy, you can download the pattern here!

You Will Need:

White Felt
Scissors
Needle
Thread
Stuffing
Black Permanent Marker

Nov 7, 2011

My Storyworld 2011 Showcase Pitch: Research & Development(s)

Caption
This five-minute presentation was given at the 2011 Storyworld Conference, during its InProduction Showcase. Since I prefer to work with slides that are light on text, most of the relevant info will be in these transcript notes. You can read each slide's notes by opening the caption box.
Caption
My name is Haley Moore. I'm a playwright, a transmedia propmaker, and a mixed media artist. I make objects that tell stories.
Caption
Also, for the last three years, I've been doing editing and reporting work for a small newspaper in an affluent suburb of Dallas, and in this particular affluent suburb, well, first off self-promotion is huge there, and second, we seem to have more than our fair share of questionable companies. So I've had to handle stories that involve shady business schemes, personal fakery, junk science, and urban mythology, sometimes all of those at once. Over the years, my bullshit detector has become really good, it's like military grade at this point. I found myself becoming fascinated by these stories, and I responded to what I was reading by making parodies. It was a really great writing tool - I'd write slogans and sales copy for ridiculous products, and some of those things I went ahead and made.
Caption
So for example, after dealing with some self-help authors, I decided to put out my own book, called How to Win at Anything. It is one page of one chapter that is one word long, and that word is...
Caption
...cheat.
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I also made a parody Etsy account that pokes fun at stores that resell commercial jewelry, by telling buyers they've cast magic spells on them. I thought I could do them one better in the realm of magicking up useless junk. That's a piece of copy paper tied with floral stems and incense from Dollar Tree, and as you can see, it's listed for $50. Nobody's bought one yet, but I did own up to the fact that its a parody. If I hadn't, I might be rich by now. Who knows?
Caption
So parodies of quackery became a theme in my art, and around this time last year, I decided to turn the best ones into a transmedia experience, which I call Research and Developments. The centerpiece of the project is a hand-written book full of sketches and diagrams, and other artifacts, which tells the fictional story of the person who invented all of these things I've been coming up with.
Caption
She is the R&D person at a very scammy company, and this is her R&D notebook, which evolves into a diary as the story goes on. What you can see here are pages from a first draft. This is approximately what you'll see when you go to read the book online. But because this is about what I do, which is propmaking and tangible storytelling, what you see online is not going to be a digital composite or a lovely interface that looks like a book.
Caption
It is a high quality scan of a one of a kind physical piece of art, which you'll be able to read in the flesh because it will be exhibited with an art show known as the Sketchbook Project. Every summer, they do a touring exhibit of hand-drawn books from around the world, it's a really great exercise in crowdsourcing and collaboration. After the tour, the books go into a permanent public exhibit in Brooklyn, which is also really cool; so you'll be able to actually go and visit my original, it won't be just lying in a desk drawer or something lame like that, it will actually be part of the public experience. There will also be benefits to going and visiting the original in person. It contains physical items, and maybe even special rewards if I can find a local partner to work with.
Caption
The book is just the center of a larger story. Each of these colored paths are continuation stories, which are made up of a website, and an experience. All of these branches lead back into the book and our player community, so new players can pick up any of the continuation stories, and enter the world through that avenue. So this is where the quackery comes in. If you look between the website and the experience, there's actually a product that unlocks each experience for you. All of the products are story objects featured in the book, and you, too, can own one.
Caption
I'm developing everything from stickers that let your phone talk to ghosts, to aura therapy wands, pocket degrees from a telepathic university, and giant tea strainers full of healing crystals to dunk in your bathtub, which promise to erase your butt wrinkles.
Caption
Some of you may have your bottles of Experia memory water. The proposition is that when you drink it, you go into a sort of hypnotic state, where you will see, hear, and feel someone else's memory that's been trapped inside the water. This is a parody of a lot of different magic water that's out there, and also a parody of energy drinks, because this comes in a bunch of different flavors.
Caption
We've got Spacewalk, Shark Dive, Tropic Tryst, Eruption, Success ... and then there is Snowboard, which is the variety you'll be sampling this weekend.
Caption
So if you open the bottle, you'll see that you can't really test the concept because there's no water inside. Instead, there's a message that says you've won the rare opportunity to be treated to a special experience and have the memories of that experience harvested from your brain to make a new flavor. There's also this sinister-looking thing...which is labeled, "MEMORY DRILL." At this point, you're probably hoping this is quackery. From there, you go into an interactive short story that I've created just for you guys as a prelude to what you'll see when you have the whole extended book experience.
Caption
This whole thing has been a labor of love. What you've seen so far is an indie art project that I'm doing on a shoestring budget, by cobbling together my writing and web and package design skills, but as I move into the next phase, I'm looking for investors, partners and collaborators. So, if you're interested in helping me bring this world of Quackery to life, please find me, and let's talk. Thank you.

I’ve spent a few days trying to find a good format for posting these to the web. I rely on my voice to convey the bulk of the info when I speak in person, and I don’t care for clutter, so I don’t put much text on my slides. Click the “Caption” button on each to read a slide by slide transcript.