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.

Sep 4, 2012

Package Prototypes

I’ve been working on the packaging for Laser Lace.  I posted some photos of the prototype before, but now I’m to the laser cutting phase.  The graphics need some tweaking, but so far the results look pretty good.

 

These boxes are lasered from various craft papers mounted on poster board.  They’re tied with cord at the moment, but I might change it to ribbon to add a dash of color and control the shape of the bow a bit better.

I was playing around with these materials to see which I liked best; it turns out they’re all pretty great.  I have a special place in my heart for the paper in front, though.  It not only looks like leather; it feels like leather too!

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 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 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.