We're always dedicated to experimenting with new explorations in media designs, so, one summer weekend evening, we took our ConQuest software out for an eery experiment, set in a cell network dead-zone: the woods. Anna Bradley, Silverstring’s newest team member (Designer, Associate Producer), designed the event for a small group of players (a much different audience to our usual target for ConQuest), using the natural layout of the forest paths to create a real-life adventure game... It was wonderful as designers to see the creative ways guests solved puzzles and addressed technical problems.
When I learned about Silverstring’s ConQuest project, I was inspired to explore it as a new medium for creating cool experiences. With the Silverstring Team’s help, we put together a very successful experiment, an interactive story and scavenger hunt themed after one of our favourite retro videogames! I learned a great deal about writing for mobile storytelling, and had a wonderful time building props and costumes. One of my friends remarked to me afterwards, “I had no idea what to expect. I’ve never experienced anything like it.” Success!
It was a strange, dark experiment set deep in the woods. My family and friends volunteered to become the live stage crew, including actors and stunt people, allowing us to throw an intense small party experience. The night was perfect for our walk: warm, with a full moon and the Perseids meteor shower. Guests collected riches by the light of their cell phones as they walked down gem-studded alleys, making their way towards the “Western Swamp." Arriving at the base of a huge hill at the edge of the forest, they faced off against a masked villain on a longboard. In the woods, guests earned their own masks from an actor by solving riddles and puzzles. Throughout the event on the ConQuest app, we summoned fairies and deities, dragging the ghosts of lovers and dancers back from their graves to tell stories and offer clues. The adventure culminated in a dramatic stunt performance, in a showdown between a longsword-bearing hero and a acrobatic, backflipping villain equipped with lasers.
Mobile-enhanced storytelling is a very new medium, so setting expectations to create suspense and surprises became one of the most interesting parts of writing the experience for me. As events triggered at specific areas, I established the mood of the story to compliment the layout of each environment (from the gem-studded alleyways, to longboarding down the hill nearing the bog, through the dry-ice filled forest pathways, and emerging onto playground castles where the final fight took place). By staying aware of our guests’ attentional focuses, needs, desires, strengths, and points of frustration, we learned a great deal about successfully leading intensive site-specific tech storytelling with this experiment. And then we finished off the night with a house party!
It was a great experience in location-based storytelling, and the capabilities of the ConQuest platform. Here's just a few of the things we learned.
Working with players
Because the guests arrived knowing that some kind of interactive game was to be played, there was an assumed social contract to play along. As a result, they were quick to jump in to co-operatively solve ALL problems--big and small, both intentional and technical.
We discovered that physical puzzles (exploring, searching, dancing) tended to work best for involving the entire group; paper-based puzzles (word puzzles and the like) worked better for groups of 2-4; and math-based puzzles worked best just for groups of 1-2 math enthusiasts.
If their app wasn't working properly, guests made sure they saw the story by forming teams of 2-3 to share. (Having a guide hold a tablet screen could work well for a future walk.)
When individuals took on leadership roles, the rest of the team were quick to play along to support them. (Would all groups have those who would take on the mantle of leader? Perhaps ways to encourage that would be good for future groups, too.)
Snacks and drink rewards were a must to fuel creative energy!
When working with stunts, it's best to place your spectators in a safe zone before actors take to the area.
Establishing the role of actors and audience is critical for controlling audience interaction with actors and environments. (Make it clear only your actors are fighting in order to avoid a mob battle.)
In order to handle the the torque created by some of the stunts, the mask and hat ended up needing to go through several iterations (and one 3D print job which failed due to machinery difficulties). I settled on a sparkly light-weight light-up foam mask with a super-solid adjustable head harnesses.
When working with stunts, in the dark, optimal visibility was a must, so I adapted the villain’s mask to have an open center with a steam-punk aesthetic.
Setting the scene
Using the natural environment can create dramatic level design, adding production value to story beats.
When working at night consider how lights can be used for transitioning the mood: Light is inviting, dark is mysterious. People will walk towards lit objects with little instruction. Flash lights, strobing lights, lasers, coloured lights or spot lights are all rather exciting.
Constant communication with a backstage crew makes changes in plans and addressing mistakes in puzzles/plots/instructions much smoother.
Dry ice doesn’t do well in wind, and 20 pounds of it burns off before you can finish putting on shoulder armour straps.
And a Giant Moon Pinata made of plaster gets destroyed VERY quickly by polycarbonate swords!
Overall, keep communication with players and staff as clear as possible, prepare for last-minute changes and challenges, and have fun. I’d like to thank my crew, Ryan, Michele, Marita, and Allan for making this possible! Special thanks go out to Mat Duncan for taking up the sword, and Liam Mongeon, my tricking coach at Origins Parkour (http://www.originsparkour.com/) for both of their outstanding choreography work. Thank you Silverstring Media for supporting my creation of this magical experiment!