Nov 27, 2012

The Personal Cameo Sitting – Prepare to be Transformed

The $500 reward in our Kickstarter campaign, the personal cameo sitting, is an amazing reward, and I’m really surprised that no one has yet taken me up on it.  The reason for this is that I haven’t really talked about it very much, and as we go into 25 hours left of funding, I want to correct that.

The first and most banal thing you will be getting in the personal cameo sitting is a custom cameo – fully custom. It will be as unique to you as the 7 cameos in Laser Lace Letters are to each of those characters. In these cameos, the patrons are transformed into creatures of myth and power, their existence distilled into a moment of deeper meaning.

The personal cameo sitting is more than just a custom cameo. It’s a chance to become the star of a Laser Lace Letters story. Your Laser Lace story will trace the origins of that meaning.  For, just as each of these stories answers the question, ”where did these disappeared people go?”, they also tell us just how they came to appear on their cameos as unicorns, rabbits, foxes, and robots.

You and I will be working together, to produce a brand new story, and to offer that new story to your fellow patrons if you so choose.  It’s also the rare chance to bring my entire unusual set of skills – and the new laser cutter I will have command of – at your disposal.  Unlike the other stories in Laser Lace, yours will run the gamut of my storytelling and propmaking capabilities.  Does your character collect ancient Egyptian artifacts? You can expect to find one in your story. Perhaps she carries a pocket watch that was given to her by a relative now long gone. That pocket watch will be coming to you in the mail.

Every one of these stories comes down to a moment of truth, where a secret is revealed – your character’s true self. What will it say? More importantly, what will it be?

Nov 10, 2012

A skeptic’s approach to storytelling

A few years ago, I wrote a guest blog for Deus Ex Machinatio about how quacks are great storytellers.  They create a parallel world – a world of magic and boundless opportunity – and put you, the audience, at its center.  For a while, as you listen to a charlatan’s sales pitch, a world of wonders orbits around you.

All of the glory and hope of the quack’s storyworld is invested in the central totem –  the product.  Hope is stoppered up inside the product like a genie in a bottle (and the fact that we can neither see this genie, nor its effects, is just more proof that it exists!)  It doesn’t matter if the product is a literal bottle, a book, a bracelet, or a DVD.  The product soaks up the story; that’s what you’re really buying when you buy one of these things – a fantastic, if dubious, story where you are the hero.

The best artifacts of a charlatan’s storytelling also reflect the story back to you, and that was the jumping off point for my skeptical approach to storytelling.  On the surface of my stories, you can see my skepticism coming out as mimicry and mockery.  I’ve invented both fake magic and fake quackery, but a skeptical approach can run so much deeper in the way that you approach a story.  Laser Lace Letters isn’t a story about quackery per se (although, there’s some quackery in it), but it’s every bit as connected to the way I navigate the world as a skeptic.

I spend a lot of time thinking about evidence – examining things scientifically, interpreting evidence to come to an understanding of what it says about the world, or marveling at how sparse it is.  When you’ve listened to enough conspiracy theories and other dubious claims, you know how to write a story that leans heavily on a few key pieces of evidence, and how those key pieces should look if you want to tell a convincing story – by turns stark and beautiful, clinically official and viscerally immediate.

The challenge is in turning your reader into the investigator, letting them build their own pinboards full of facts and connections.

Ultimately, that’s what being an artifact creator is – giving someone the pieces with which to build a vision of your world.

And yet, being a writer, I know that the telling of a good story isn’t about hard facts – it’s about cadence and tone, synchronicity, happenstance, coincidental themes that seem to breathe life into the universe and give it a mind of its own.  The universes I build out of fake evidence are lucky enough to have an invisible, omniscient hand that crafts them into places full of meaning.

I’m also fudging the investigative process a little by bringing meaning and pathos to the surface for anyone to discover.  In the real world it takes other kinds of storytellers* – reporters, biographers, documentarians – to make the connections between disparate elements, process them, and turn them into a more straightforward type of story.  In this ginned up little microcosm I’m creating, the evidence speaks for itself – something difficult to achieve in the real world.

Explore some of my evidentiary fiction for yourself – back Laser Lace Letters on Kickstarter.

*Sometimes, we artifact creators go back and revise the evidence to fit the narratives we’ve built or found elsewhere.  For example, the snake oil bottle at the top of this page, which looks like a close crop of an old advertisement, seems to be a modern image made from an altered version of a historical ad.  There is a constant cycle between perception, imagination, and creation, the upshot of which is that this image is all over the web, in articles calling out everything from acupuncture to social security.

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 5, 2012

My Kickstarter Anti-Spam Pledge

According to my work tracking spreadsheet, everything is on schedule for Laser Lace. On October 18, I will push the big button to launch its campaign on Kickstarter. Doing a crowdfunding campaign right now presents a big list of challenges, but I’m kicking them down one by one. Now I’ve come to one that apparently not everyone thinks to address before they launch.
I don’t want to be obnoxious about this.

I’m feeling the crowdfunding fatigue just like everyone else. I’ve seen the rise of the Kickstarter tide in the last year or so, and, just like everyone else who’s now planning a project, I’m comparing myself no longer to Jim Babb or Yomi Ayeni, but to Tim Schafer and Jordan Weisman. It’s enough to make anyone panicky enough to start @ing everyone on Twitter you can think of.

The problem is, I want your money. Well; I need your money. To help me launch this awesome product line that I could never do otherwise, and to outfit my workshop with the equipment I need to start actually producing some of the things I’ve been prototyping over the years. But I don’t want to lose your respect getting it. Actually, I’m fairly sure that if I lose your respect, I won’t get your money either.

So here’s the deal.

Pretty simple, right?

Some people may think that keeping this pledge is impossible – in fact, I’ve talked to people who really believe this, and those people had bigger social networks and bigger teams than I do. The rest of you, though, know this should be a standard for how you behave when you’re trying to sell something.

Figure 1: What I’m selling.

So, how am I going to show you how beautiful and awesome Laser Lace is, without being pushy, obnoxious or demanding? I’m going to show it to you. While the product for Laser Lace comes in a box, the story – like all stories – has the power to seep out into the world. If you want to know more about the seven people depicted in the seven cameos in the line, you’ll be able to visit their page on laserlaceletters.com for a short experience that sets the tone for their story – for example, right now you can go and help name The Great Magician, and the name I choose from your suggestions will go into the Letters.

In the next 6 weeks, I’ll also be posting behind the scenes development on the Laser Lace Letters social media accounts and on this blog. You’ll have an opportunity to really see the project grow every day, if that’s what you’re into. Like it says above, I’ll try not to tell you anything you wouldn’t be interested in hearing.

Of course, there’s more to my strategy than faith and content. I’m also teaming up with Clockwork Watch, and working on another very exciting, super secret partnership. Things are happening behind the scenes, folks. Exciting and wondrous things!

The easiest way to get to all of the story bits is to go to laserlaceletters.com.  If you want more, including laser cutting videos and early looks at the cameos, you can also follow the project on Twitter, or like the Laser Lace Letters on Facebook.

Aug 27, 2012

Double Peppers Ghost

You know how sometimes you get ideas that just won’t leave your head? Well this is one of those.

For the Laser Lace Letters, I’ve been writing a lot about a magician called Caelen the Magnificent (formerly, The Great Ralpholio) and so I’ve been thinking a lot about different styles of Victorian magic.  We think of old timey magic like a play, on a big stage in front of a big audience, but when I was 15 or 16 I read an old book about a different kind of presentation that took place in a set of smaller parlors.  Guests walked from room to room, taking in each illusion, and each room was built to pull off a certain effect.

Now I’m 31, and the name of the act and the name of the book I read about it in have long since vanished from my memory.  But I love the idea of walk-through illusion attraction, and in fact a few of these sort-of exist, as the entryways and queues for big attractions at amusement parks.  For example, as you make your way through Hogwarts in the queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, you pass through a series of rooms where the characters appear and speak to you from balconies and behind barricades.  In the pre-show for the Universal Studios show “Disaster!” a facsimile of Christopher Walken terrorizes his assistant onstage for a short time.  Both of those experiences make use of a very old illusion known as Peppers Ghost.

Peppers Ghost was first formulated in the 16th century by the same guy who invented the camera obscura.  It originally included a big plate of angled glass and a set of real objects, but since then we’ve figured out how to do it with thin piece of fabric and a high resolution projector.  Which is where we get this.

That’s 500 years of stagecraft in the making right there.

It takes a lot to make a Peppers Ghost illusion look good; but if the projected image matches the lighting conditions onstage, it can look very real indeed.  Or at least, close enough that we call it a hologram.

Anyway, that’s all background.  Here’s the idea that’s trying to work its way out of my brain.  I call it the Double Peppers Ghost, and it would take advantage of high res projectors, tightly controlled staging, a well trained staff with impeccable timing, and realtime image processing a little like the kind you see in Double Fine Happy Action Theater.

The illusion works like this – an audience of 6 to 10 people is let into the parlor by twos.  For each duo, a magician performs a quick illusion.  The parlor has a stage and a seating area, and some of the illusions are parlor tricks done in the seating area, while others take place on a tall but relatively small stage.  The magician and the sets of audience members move in and out of the stage area, and the illusions involve physical objects with no particular special effects.

When it comes time for the final duo to enter the room, the magician ushers them straight onto the stage and performs an impossible feat – before the eyes of the seated spectators, their compatriots go flat – they turn into paper cutouts of themselves which then collapse to the stage floor.  The magician folds their friends up and stuffs them in his jacket, promising to restore them by the end of their journey.

Meanwhile, from the point of view of the final duo, they have been ushered onto the stage and the magician has promised an amazing feat.  He will make the audience disappear.  As the two watch, and the magician chants, their friends vanish in a puff of smoke one by one.  After the illusion, they can go down into the seating area and touch the empty seats for themselves.

What’s happening here is that we have two separate rooms with cameras, two separate Peppers Ghost illusions, and in reality, two separate magicians giving different sets of patter.  The camera is capturing the guests from each room and projecting them into the proper place in the other room – in one case, the guests are on the stage in one room, being projected onto the stage in the other room; and in the other case, the guests are in the seating area, being projected onto the seating area as viewed by the guests on the stage.

The effect can be enhanced by a video feed that allows the waiting guests to see what’s going on in the first room before they go in, giving the final duo the impression that they have walked into the correct room.  The scrim (the thin piece of fabric onto which the images are projected) is set up differently for each room, but is concealed well enough that it, allows both the magician and guests to pass through holes in the mesh – in the guests’ case, without knowing it is even there.  The previous spate of illusions give the two audience members a reason to be on stage, and also set up an element of surprise when a digital effect is used at the end of a string of practical effects.

At the end of the parlor attraction, the groups are reunited through a similarly duplicitous restoration illusion.  Then they can trade stories of their experience afterward, and perhaps figure out how it all was done.

I wish I could have Caelen the Magnificent perform this trick, but the camera and projector technology is far out of his league, even for the Clockwork Watch universe where all manner of other fictional tech thrives.

Aug 22, 2012

The Laser Lace Letters

If you’re been following the blog, you’ve seen the story of Sarah the airship recruit capturing that thief at the Department for the Advancement of Sciences.  You may have also visited the magician The Great Ralpholio and helped him with his branding problem.  Now it’s time to unveil the big picture – despite previous attempts by impetuous doilies and scurrilous mail to cover it up.

This is part of The Laser Lace Letters.  What is that, you ask?  Well, it started as a craft project, but now it’s much more.  It’s a steampunk accessory line!  It’s an epistolary novel! It’s an artifact extravaganza!  It’s an official spinoff of Clockwork Watch! It will light your pipe, sir, and polish your monocle!  It’s a hole in the fabric of space and time, inviting you to fall through.

There are seven cameo pins in the Laser Lace Letters line, depicting seven people, putting an exclamation point on each of seven stories.  Each figure in the Laser Lace Letters is strange – a unicorn horn here, rabbit ears there, a diving suit, an improbable Victorian mohawk. Are they revelers from some steam age masquerade ball, or is something more sinister afoot?

Each story will present itself in the form of a packet of letters that comes with your cameo.  The packet contains their own words, their possessions, and testimony from witnesses, both human and not. (The artifacts will also be collected in an Ebook, for those who are more interested in the story.)

Here are some shots of a very early prototype of the Laser Lace package.






The cameo pins themselves are laser cut (like it says on the tin) and assembled by hand, using a design and technique I invented while tinkering at the Dallas Makerspace. They are made from recycled synthetic fleece, which holds its shape beautifully.

The project will officially launch and we’ll start taking orders through a KS campaign in October (hence, the reward spreadsheet of doom), but until then I will be posting some online fiction for each character so you can get to know them, interact with them, and maybe even step into their shoes. Much of this will take place on Clockwork Watch’s site, but a good deal of it will be scattered across many different platforms. You can find each character’s online presence compiled at laserlaceletters.com.

If you want to follow the production of Laser Lace, I’ll be posting new developments on this blog and on the Laser Lace site. You can subscribe to only Laser Lace related posts using this RSS feed. For up to the minute updates, follow @laser_lace on Twitter. For questions, comments or condemnations, email me! I’m toemoore on a popular Google related email site.

Aug 12, 2012

Laser Lace (something)

Hi everyone. Did you perchance visit the Great Ralpholio in his Google Docs fiction enclave, or check out this daring story of air bravado? If you did, you’ve already met two of the characters from my new project. (Or is it three? Hm…)

Anyway, I’ve been doing some work getting the website for the project ready, and I think I’m ready to unveil it (now that I’ve finally moved that pesky doily). Are you ready for this?

Ladies, and gentlemen, I present – oh, who the hell left their mail on my mockup?

Seriously, people, mail your Labor Day cards at your own desk!

As you can sort of see, the site is looking pretty tasty.  Links and more details as soon as I clean up this mess.

In the meantime, if you want to hear more you can follow me, @toenolla on Twitter, or if it’s more your style, you can follow the project’s brand spanking new Twitter account, @laser_lace.

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 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.