#artctrl Debrief, Part 5

The prize, created by Maria Klingner,
photographed by Adam Thomas.

This is last of five posts about the #artctrl project. If you’ve just landed here I recommend you read Part 1 first.

I started the project with partial inspiration from the novel Sophie’s World, in which increasingly strange things occur around Sophie in parallel to her discovery of the world of philosophy; and Kit Williams’s Masquerade book, which was a fantasy story encoded with puzzles pointing to the location of a physical prize. I wanted to create aspects of both in that audience members would progressively encounter more and more evidence of the conflict between Mr B and T-Bone, and the mythology of the Artifact in familiar local spaces – Civic CBD; You Are Here (YAH) festival events; their Twitter and Facebook feeds – which would draw them into assuming a role in the drama.

Some of the early responses during the first week of the story (especially on Facebook in reaction to the Benevolent Ministry of Art Quiz) were the complete opposite of what I had hoped: suspicion and frustration. The former response, I think, arose from a concern that the project was part of some sort of guerilla marketing campaign and that interacting/participating would equate to publically supporting an unknown commercial product. The common ARG is an intriguing product of entwined commercialisation and creativity, and most of the early big genre-defining ones were indeed  advertisements for products like the Halo games or the AI film. Even though #artctrl was designed as an interactive artistic experience, in order to have the full experience possible the player would have had to attend multiple YAH events and thus, it could be seen crudely as an elaborate advertisement for the festival. This final post will explore a couple of specific examples of the varied audience interaction with the project.

The Benevolent Ministry of Art Quiz was one of the unexpected successes of the project. The interaction was designed to engage the audience with the game world and thus encourage them to take the final step of emailing the Ms X character. This was intended to provided us early on with a direct line of contact to players to enable delivery of personalised in-game content. The “puzzle” was to complete the quiz with a full 30 points. This was virtually impossible on the first attempt and we added the incongruous combo of a message at the end that “This test May Not be Retaken” (in keeping with the authoritarian character of the Ministry) with a link directly beneath it to retake the test. Clicking the link would restart the quiz and, once commenced, would indicate which questions had been answered “incorrectly”. Once the player got the full 30 points they were given Ms X’s email address and advised to send their score to her for further instructions.

Unfortunately, as far as we know very few people tried to retake the test; certainly there were very few who emailed Ms X. There’s a number of reasons why this may have happened. The especially annoying explanation is that people are so used to poor/inconsistent web design that seeing an instruction to not do something, directly followed by a mechanic that enables them to do this very thing could have been considered entirely normal (and in their defence the next screen is identical to the initial intro to quiz screen). We could have countered this with some design elements – perhaps big flashing red arrows – but instead I opted to drop progressively bigger hints to potential players via the social media platforms, which in most cases were ignored.

Nevertheless the quiz was popular in that it was frequently interacted with in the way this genre of web content is usually intended to be: people publicly reposting their scores and discussing the “personality rating” they had received. Responses occurred across a wide spectrum of disinterest through to amusement and confusion through to aggression. This is the gist of one of the annoymus comments left on the BMOA.net.au website (which I “sanitised” in the guise of Ms X):

Bahahahaahahaha this can’t be real, right? Security cleared? Screening? It’s a small town city’s art scene, not XXXing ASIO.

While not really engaging with the game’s world as originally intended, it was rewarding to receive such a colourful response!

Eventually it was the vocalisation of audience frustration that pushed me to provide full disclosure (what Nickamc called “ripping off the mask”) via an FAQ on the YAH blog. This arose from one of the most interesting dilemmas I was faced with: between giving a more general audience an easier way in to what was going on vs. continuing the mystery for a select audience. The select audience approach was much closer than my initial intentions for the project, but then I risked the opportunity of not reaching new audience members that might have fallen into the select audience category had they just been aware of the game (indeed, I think the winner does fall into this category) so I opted to give people the facts. This seemed to satisfy everyone and, despite my worries, it is possible this was worked out as the best way overall: we had several weeks of mystery that built a buzz and then a simple entry point any new player could access through to the end of the game.

I love this Facebook comment from John Lombard (on 26 February 2014), which was pretty damn close to what I was hoping for:

I think you basically need to just have fun and play pretend to enjoy it. Hey, we pretend all the time on stage, let’s make a leap of imagination (picture me making the Spongebob “imagination” gesture while you read that) and play with the idea that artists are fighting an epic battle for the soul of all existence right here in Canberra. Because it’s more interesting to pretend it’s real than to think it’s not.

It’s a pity more people didn’t get to interact with the project in the same spirit, but other people seem to have taken other, different – but still good – stuff away from the the project.

Even though we departed from a straight ARG format (if there is such a thing!) there was enough, I think, to provide a clear rabbit hole for players familiar with the ARG world and transmedia to play the game. Unfortunately I think there’s just not a sufficient awareness of this kind of work – particularly with Canberra’s small population – that the general public might have organically picked up on what was going on. We did attempt to promote to ARG-aware audiences via sources such as ARGNet and local online gamer communities, however timing may have been against us, in addition to the absence of other familiar ARG traits (and the common big budget!). I thought I had sufficiently planned for this problem via overlapping narrative sources (live performances and video, Twitter, Facebook and the Scribe’s blog) but my gut feeling is it sadly comes down to the amount of time that an individual is willing to gamble on an uncertain return.

One of the lessons learned is that future projects in my corner of the world would likely be more successful, at least in terms of participant numbers, if run as short one-off programmed events. That way the audience knows ahead of time the frames for experience – the existence of any commercial involvement, the time involved and upfront cost – before choosing to participate. The guerilla gig approach also hurt the production-side as the stage management became infinitely more difficult than the usual advertised gig. This said, a more clearly programmed approach would have eliminated some of the most interesting outcomes of this project. These occurred as a result of #artctrl existing in the margins of the YAH festival[1], which challenged the audience to make connections between seemingly disparate “genuine” programmed events and to think critically about whole-of-festival themes.

This concludes my initial reflections on the #artctrl project, but I look forward to future discussions. I’d love to receive any comments here, on Facebook or Twitter.

[1] The YAH program itself is a nice metaphor for this: we were included as an “introduction” and back page “advertisement” written by Mr B and The Scribe, respectively, but not mentioned in any of the programmed events.

#artctrl Debrief, Part 4

This is the fourth of five posts about the #artctrl project. If you’ve just landed here I recommend you read Part 1 first.

This post is an quick exploration of the use of multiple story delivery platforms during #artctrl. I hope to delve further into this topic in future writing.

We knew from the start we would need to plot multiple ways to experience #artctrl. Even if we’d gone for something less ambitious, a number of the basic concepts demanded a catch-up service at the very least. This became the Scribe’s blog, which also served to provide a way of developing his character. In traditional ARGs it is common for fan communities to evolve organically around the game, with players creating their own FAQs and introductions to the game for new players. We knew the timeline and context of the game would mean this would be unlikely to occur organically, so we planned for the Scribe to provide this service from the beginning of the story.

The primary platforms for the story’s delivery were Twitter and live performances (several with interactive portions) but, as the Scribe was also live tweeting at all events, the two provided an interesting overlapping of narrative perspectives – even if an audience member would be unlikely to consume both simultaneously.

Predictably video was an important promotional tool, but it also became a significant third narrative platform that went beyond repeating the plot points to also present some material only hinted at in the other two (notably, the Ms X reward videos at the end of the Twine CYOA games). I knew quick episodic video coverage would be important in this project (in addition to being a nod to last year’s Heartbroken Assassin) but in emphasising the catch-up role I undervalued the storytelling potential of the medium in of itself. However, given that I was not yet aware of how great the results would turn out, a light touch was I think a valid risk management approach.

My own contribution via Facebook updates in the #artctrl group provided a second catch-up service that had not been initially planned (some of the reasons behind this change will be discussed in the final post). I had initially decided to move away from Facebook as, unlike with Twitter and Google, it was too difficult to implement fake character profiles. Unfortunately I fear there was a lot lost in being unable to use Facebook as a primary storytelling platform -Twitter was simply not utilised as much by the core audience.

The experience of commentating my own project, initially as if I was an unbiased observer and then more directly, was an interesting challenge. My group posts seemed to attract more interest than the Scribe’s posts, which is probably partly due to the convenience of Facebook to the YAH audience, but I also wonder if the Scribe’s posts received less attention due to being provided in character; thus providing an additional, if small, barrier for engagement with the game (not the detached, simple explanation desired by some audience members).

We had plans that the YAH Facebook and Twitter accounts could also provide an additional sporadic catch-up service. It did in a number of cases – as well as spontaneously generating some new in-game content (thanks Sarah and Andrew!). However this could have been been done better had we had the time to devote to planning this more carefully.

The actors became players too, particularly in the social media space. Those actors who already used Twitter took the opportunity to go off script and play with their character’s interaction – potentially with less fear than they would on stage due to the physical separation with the audience and the easy ability to delete and re-tweet.

I had hoped all actors would do their own character’s tweets. This turned out to be impossible due to time commitments and unfamiliarity with Twitter. As a result we opted to assign ‘Tweeting duty’ to a different person each day – for this multi-account tools such as TweetDeck and TweetBot were very valuable. As some of the actors still wanted to do their own tweets on off days, it was frequently difficult to guarantee a smooth arc of tension throughout a day. In reflection it would have probably been better to use one or the other approach rather than a combination, and potentially schedule each day’s tweets to kick off at the same time each day, to further support player engagement. We could have also experimented with scheduled tweets but the complexity of the stage management across the two weeks seemed like this would be asking for trouble.

A number of the interactions were built around diverse platforms or genres of interaction that we hoped might appeal to different sub-communities we knew existed in the YAH audience. The simple card game, The Game, was designed to appeal to people who would enjoy quick card games like UNO (in fact we often referred to The Game as “UNO You Are Here”). The Ms X games were hosted on philome.la - a common hosting site for Twine games. The physicial puzzles, particularly The Hunt on the first Saturday of the festival, were designed to appeal to fans of cryptic crosswords and code-breaking, and the very successful BMOA Acceptable Art Questionnaire was a fun distraction that parodied the personality quizes you find in magazines and in social media.

Based on the spread of responses and website hits the bmoa.net.au content generated a lot more interest than any of the other online material, a large part of which I ascribe to the professional domain name – reinforced by some excellent posters form George Rose – and the (somewhat) convincing site design (yes such things are possible with a simple Blogger site!)

#artctrl Debrief, Part 3

Photo by Adam Thomas.

This is the third of five posts about the #artctrl project. If you’ve just landed here I recommend you read Part 1 first.

This post is grouped loosely around the theme of eclecticism. I won’t elaborate too much further here on the comment made in my first post – eclecticism as key strength and weaknesses – as there are some other points that I think touch this theme in more interesting ways. It’s probably appropriate then that the points themselves are brief and scattershot. I apologise for this; this is kind of the “loose ends” post, and the final two will be more focused.

This project would have been impossible without Nick Delatovic and Vanessa Wright’s support from the very beginning. That was not just from the practical necessity that I would need to work around the huge range of events programmed for You Are Here (YAH) 14; their support and guidance flowed on to the rest of the team, enabling #artctrl to grow organically through the whole festival, rather than as one isolated event. Attending the production planning weekend in early February was of great value as it enabled me to “sell” (for want of a better word) this complex project to nearly all of the team and to immediately address any of their red flags. Along the line of naming champions; the involvement of the ACT Writers Centre was extremely valuable in increasing the confidence of other stakeholders, a number of which had not previously engaged with each other prior to the project.

Several of the personal motivations for the project also related to a desire to engage more widely. One of the goals that wasn’t realised as much as I would have liked, was an ensemble production. The case is not that any member of the team was unengaged, but had the funding situation been different, or had I established his project as a partnership, this would have provided a less insular creative development process, including from before any of the major story decisions were made.

In truth a fully ensemble project was probably impossible with the number of people involved. From early on in the production certain actors were more interested in the game’s design than others, and after some initial meetings it reached the stage where one person needed to make decisions and then to split the design work into dedicated tasks. This modular approach actually worked out to be the best approach in this context, as it supported quick reactions to changes in timing and unexpected audience interactions (for example, CityNews using a different name for a character let to a meme that rewarded early players). Still, the times when puzzle and interaction design was true team effort were the most enjoyable experience of the game’s development.

The smaller team and budget demanded that I perform a wider range of tasks than I was originally planning. This project confirmed my expectation that diverse experience and skills are essential to ARG/transmedia projects. In this case I drew on past experience in theatrical production and stage management; graphic design and sound editing; web development and computer game design. At the same time I was forced to learn new skills quickly, such as costume design, physical prop design and papier mache Skywhale construction. It was a wonderful challenge to be able to bring all of this together in one production.

Something that surfaced towards the end was a realisation that I  was doing the project in part as “community service”. I don’t say this to make the project sound noble and, in some ways, this attitude might have done more harm than good. I think any sort of arts project that engages audience without financial gain will have some degree of community service to it. My hope was to go beyond sheer entertainment to inspire more imaginative engagement with the real world. One of the problems that arose from this grand goal was focusing too much on the cohesion of the overall experience when I should have been thinking more critically about small self-enclosed entertaining experiences that could serve this overall goal independently.

Eclecticism also extended to the demands made on the audience: in order for the most complete #artctrl experience possible, an audience member would have needed to be comfortable with basic social media usage and a little improvisation; keen on physical and computer games and puzzles; and open minded/enthusiastic enough to attend a number of disparate events to see live scenes play out. Although only baseline investment in each of these activities were required, as a whole this was probably too much for a general audience member. We hoped parallel storytelling platforms would help with this and I’ll discuss this in the next post.

One last point: a major inspiration was music. Not only did concrete visual ideas emerge from diverse musical sources, but choices of genres and individual songs became a great way to develop characters. I’m currently compiling a Spotify mix of the tracks that influenced the story development and were suggested when working with the actors on their characters.

#artctrl Debrief, Part 2

This is the second of five posts about the #artctrl project. If you’ve just landed here I recommend you read Part 1 first.

This post is essentially a retrospective development diary for the 11-12 months leading up to #arctrl. Most of the points I have discussed in the first post are reflected in this development period, although the “what doesn’t kill me…” point is especially relevant here; however I would finish that aphorism: “… makes me or the project stronger.”

March 2013
The You Are Here (YAH) festival had just finished, as had the second round of producing Mall Stories; an audio story tour of Canberra’s CBD. This time I’d added more opportunities for interaction and I was thinking of ways to involve game events in my practice more generally; as well a series of other crazy projects that included a live interactive theatre tribute to Boomerang Software.

April 2013
I attended CYTC’s 35° 17 South show. I marveled at the inventiveness of this production, and that it was happening right here in Caberra. I had been blown away by their earlier show based around Kubla Khan – but this was on a much grander scale; particularly the involvement of AIE enabled some very ambitious use of technology. Director Karla Conway kindly sat down with me for an hour to discuss the show and from this I got the idea of a digital book that enabled you to encounter mysteries and strange stories – particularly with philosophical overtones – around Canberra. #artctrl went in a different direction, but this idea is still kicking around in my head.

May 2013
At some point a great connection happened: I’d been brainstorming ways I could explore new territory with YAH, and I realised this could be via an interactive narrative experience, and maybe it could involve time as well as geography. I met with Nick Delatovic and Vanessa Wright and pitched the idea. They had already been thinking of doing a scavenger hunt-like event and were very encouraging about the project. This meeting spawned a lot of the things that ended up framing the project; particularly the core themes that mirrored the evolvement of YAH: of something purposefully designed with rules that both bounded but enabled the creative chaos swirling about it. And the obvious next step: to approach Boho Interactive.

June 2013
I met with Jack and Michael on my birthday. I’d like to say it was a dark and stormy night but it was day and I have clips in my head from the screening of The Neverending Story I went to afterwards (I only mention this because that story has got to have influenced this one – at least more than the soundtrack that kept showing up in my playlists). The guys were very excited about the proposal and they came up with various crafty ideas on the spot for subtly inserting iconography into events prior to the festival. I actually held on to this plan to conceal the connection between the project and YAH for as long as I could before it stopped making sense. I think it would have been obviously great to do this gradual ramp up – had we had the kind of scope, timeline and budget as something like Zed.To.

July-Oct 2013
I worked simultaneously on the project outline, script, ArtsACT grant outline and a UX subject for uni (turns out this was actually pretty relevant and useful to this project). The grant application quickly eclipsed the rest and nearly ruined a family trip to Brisbane. Nevertheless, by the end of the month I had a very good application and budget, the start of the game bible and the design team: Jack and Michael, Joel Barcham, Alison McGregor, Rik Lagarto, Adam Thomas and Chris Brain. Most of the actors were also onboard: Nick Byrne (Mr B), Alison (Mac), Joel (The Scribe) and Cameron Thomas (T-Bone). I’d also got agreement for The ACT Writers Centre to auspice the grant.

Once the grant was in I returned to the script and the design team met to plan some preliminary puzzles and interactions. At this point, with a large team of very busy people and no real physical meeting space, I was discovering the value of online collaborative tools such as Google Hangout and Google Docs.

November 2013
November brought the disappointing news that artsACT had not funded our grant, and there was little feedback that could be provided beyond “we ran out of money”. We still had financial support from YAH, but based on the pitched budget we had a massive black hole, with very little time to find alternative sources of funding. In the subsequent months I tried every avenue, but time was really against us. The only option was to drastically simplify the project, and to rely on the team’s goodwill.

From the very start I had made it clear to the team that it was possible we would not be funded, and I was heartened that everyone was still happy to proceed. We did however have a change of some team members for unrelated reasons: Chris moved to Perth for study (but left us with excellent visual ideas about the characters and setting) and a couple of actors to other shows. We did however gain the wonderful Emma Gibson. Emma originally came on board as an actor, but ended up instead contributing some fantastic writing. Tamina Koehne-Drube stepped in at the eleventh hour to fill the final role.

I had kept in touch with Nick D and Vanessa throughout the year as they built the festival program, and the constraints introduced by these events actually assisted in providing direction to simplify the project. I began with the low-hanging fruit of a supporting character and his subplot (R2: another of Mr B’s evil experiments, a clone of Mac’s brother) and moving the timeline closer to the start of the festival by a couple of weeks. The only other cuts that could be easily made were to whole puzzles and this was one of the main changes that increased the game’s focus on live scenes during the festival over more online puzzles.

December 2013
Another hard timeline was rapidly approaching: the birth of our first baby, due in early January. As noted earlier, one key lesson to take away from this whole experience is don’t have a baby mid-way through designing an elaborate online and live interactive game experience. Jack, very wisely, decided he would leave the project in January before his second child was due. His major involvement in the project was leading the development of our fantastic “Official” You Are Here card game, which we simply called “The Game”.

My wife and I had discussed early on the practicality of doing the project when our lives were going to be so drastically altered, and agreed that we should proceed. I’m still not sure whether it would have been better to have delayed the project by a year, or run something in separation from YAH. At the most difficult moments of the project between January to March I would have said yes straight away, but it possibly made this project more successful; in that Arthur and Bonnie were my first priority and in what little time remained I had to be extremely focused and decisive with #artctrl. Ultimately it was probably a blessing that I was forced to scale down the project as a result of the cut in budget. I’m pretty sure now that, short of quitting my job, I would not have been able to deliver the project as originally designed.

January 2013
Arthur arrived a week earlier than expected and on the day I was due to return to work. Soon afterwards we experienced a week of 40+ C days, which led to us temporarily relocating to Bonnie’s parents’ home. I had four weeks paternity leave, which was absolutely fantastic. In between learning how to care for this brand new little human being I produced much more than I possibly thought I could. The first draft of the script was finished a week or so before I returned to work, which had a much more manageable planned duration of a one and half months.

February 2013
Rehearsals began in February in the midst of a few events that were initially project killers but all magically resolved themselves just in time:

  • without the grant (and thus auspice fee) ACT Writers Centre generously continued to support the project via insurance and press.
  • Impro ACT managed to hold on to the PASH space where Nick B was generously letting us rehearse for free.
  • Maria Klinger agreed to produce the beautiful prize that also became an incredibly valuable marketing tool.
  • Vanessa, Nick D, Neil Stork-Brett and I managed to get application forms submitted just in time for permission to use Garema Place for the big battle sequence.
  • New Best Friend agreed to design the card game rule sheet and I managed to source 1000 dirt cheap playing cards which I then proceeded to hand punch and number with sharpie in the wee small hours when Bonnie and Arthur were asleep.
  • Agreement was reached from David Caffery to run a key scene as part of Art, Not Apart; and with Chris Endrey and Meg O’Connell to run another as part of In Canberra Tonight (this actually became an interview segment between T-Bone and Chris which is way more than I could have wished to happen. Magic.)

One significant problem I had not managed to solve was finding a replacement for Chris Brain as visual designer, particularly to do costume design. Eventually it came down to a collaboration with the cast. It was one of the most challenging individual pieces of work associated with this project, but I am extremely proud of the results.

Also during February the last member of our design team – Ryan Schipper – joined us to collaborate on the Twine choose your own adventure games. These also turned out to be far more challenging that I had expected, but just as rewarding. I knew the format was completely different from the scripted live sequences and in-game web content, but I didn’t expect just how much writing for this format would change the tone of that part of the story. As a result I completely changed the approach halfway through, and it was due in a large part to some great advice I got from Nick D – to lean further into genre when you get stuck – that helped us get these done.

Shane Parsons also started collaborating with us in February. In a single night he recorded the two Dream of Ms X video sequences (that play at the end of the Twine games) and the spectacular Cam and Mac promo video. I can’t speak more highly of Shane’s work and his influence on this project.

March 2013
There is way too much to document to provide a full run-down of early March and the festival itself, but one of the key points was early in the month I finally committed to make the connection between #artctrl and YAH public from the start of the game. This in part led to a later decision to make a full disclosure of the event with an FAQ and, lastly, to publicise the actual prize. I’ll talk about this in a later post.

During the run there were some strange coincidences between the game world and reality, both local and national: George Brandis’s comments about the Sydney Biennale’s decision to walk away from its sponsorship agreement with Transfield Holdings; and the conversation triggered by Anthony Hayes’s flyer, also touching on funding of the arts, which continued online and across the festival. These interactions are something that I’d like to explore further but is beyond the scope of this series of posts.

#artctrl Debrief, Part 1


This is the first of five posts about the #artctrl project. Part 1 serves as an introduction to the project and sets the scene for more detailed discussion in subsequent posts.

It’s been just over a month since #artctrl finished; the alternative reality game (ARG)/transmedia storytelling experiment that I ran as part of the You Are Here 2014 festival (YAH) in Canberra, Australia.

I’ve been putting off writing this post in order to give myself some critical distance after the year-long period in which #artctrl was produced. I hope my thoughts about the project will continue to evolve into new ideas and projects as time goes by, but here is something of where I am right now.

Let’s tackle the obvious question first (ok not so obvious if you have no idea about #artctrl – if so the FAQ is here): Was it a success? By the number of active players alone, no. The more accurate but frustratingly vague answer is; it depends. We had one very happy winner at the end, a handful of other engaged players, and a passive audience of possibly 250 (that number still seems to be growing via the Facebook group, interestingly).

Ok, so if the project wasn’t an outright success, does that make it a failure? In some ways yes, but only good ones :) For most of the project runtime I kept thinking about it wrongly. I kept seeing #artctrl as a single unified experimental project. Then David Finig reminded me it was more accurately a series of experiments. And it turns out that the experiments that flopped the most were also the most interesting and most rewarding.

I don’t think any of #artctrl completely failed, but the rough parts forced (is forcing) me to learn hard lessons – about compromise, simplification and finding your audience – that I might have learned earlier had I simply been able to produce more stuff before this. I am a part-time artist, creating in and around a new baby, a full-time job, and university study. Experiences such as this remind me I have a way to go to reach the level of insight of my own practice that many of my peers appear to possess. Certainly I still feel sometimes like I’m bouncing around between different kinds of projects, without a clear artistic direction. There are connections there between all of my projects, of course, but often I feel a little of what some people refer to as the multipotentiality experience: of jumping from one project in one area to a drastically different one in another.

Psychology aside, for your insight as much as mine, I present some key lessons learnt from #artctrl. I’ll explore each one in a bit further detail in the following posts.

1. Failure is good.
I’ve had the same wallpaper on my laptop for the last two years. It has a quote from Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever Failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” I think I’m finally starting to get it.

2. Don’t have a baby just as the production design on your ARG is just starting to ramp up.
That said, the biggest things that I thought would make #artctrl impossible were the ones that made it most interesting and, oddly, in some cases more manageable. When you start a huge project like this and you pass whatever exit ramps you set for yourself you make a psychological commitment that is subconsciously working to get you through whatever problems arise. #artctrl was absolutely the hardest project I’ve embarked on so far, but I think once I passed the final commitment point every setback that arose either eventually improved the project or myself as an artist.

3. The key strength and weakness of this project was the same thing: eclecticism.
The ARG/transmedia format enabled me to constantly cross boundaries of medium and genre. That freedom was exhilarating, but it also posed some degree of barrier to entry to all but a very niche audience. There are management and design approaches to deal with this sort of problem, but even carefully employed they can hurt the project’s overall vision. Eclecticism also extends to your own skills and experience and that of everyone else who makes the project happen. Some of the parts of #artctrl I love the most came from the most strange and unexpected directions.

4. Using multiple platforms to tell a connected story will help to reach a wider audience, but the connection between the content on each platform needs to become clear early on in the game/story.
A “general” audience member will instinctively search for an external real world source that will bring disparate parts together into context; to explain it for them. Of course, audiences also fill this void for themselves in the forms of explanatory posts, wikis, fan communities, etc. For some this process of meaning finding is a source of great fun; for others great frustration. (See 3 again about niche audiences).

5. Decide your base “win” criteria way before you make any binding decisions.
We agreed an engaged audience of at least 5 people would be acceptable, but obviously aimed for above that. We basically achieved the base goal, with some caveats. Looking back I think the original estimation was pretty astute given the population of Canberra, and the numbers and the range of people who attended YAH 14 events. It is sad but the truth is it is hard to find an audience who enjoys the unexpected. Most audiences crave fresh and interesting storytelling, but when this requires investment on their part – particularly of an uncertain nature and duration – that creates a significant barrier that even the best design and content may be unable to remove.

As noted I’ll go into detail on these points in the subsequent posts but up front I’d like to put out another big thanks to the team that made this project possible:

Quick links

Four Crystals of Trazere box shot

Since I’m not doing anything else with this space  at the moment, here are some things I’m interested in…

  • The Stone – I’ve blogged about this before. Insanely difficult puzzles (plus a few easier ones, thankfully) on obscure and mysterious things and events.
  • AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS – I backed this via Pozible. It’s an iPad audio adventure with elements of Dirk Gently and Sophie’s World. It’s a wonderful thing.
  • AeroPress coffee – I couldn’t find anywhere to buy one, then someone pointed me to OptimOZ. Best coffee you can make at home without a $1000 machine.
  • Magazines from the Past Wiki - Back before the Internet came to the Fleetwood household, computer magazines like PC Format and PC Gamer were my connection to the games world. This site doesn’t have issues online, but it does have a lot of their contents lists and cover shots, which is filling me with oh so much nostalgia. Now if I could just get a copy of the mag that had the elusive cheat codes for Four Crystals of Trazere (one of the things I can’t actually find the internet yet…)

Still here

Little while since the last post. Mall Stories and You Are Here was great fun and you can still take the tours.

I’m working on a couple of projects – one is interactive fiction based on Coleridge’s experience of writing Kubla Khan. I had minor breakthrough with that last week – I was all hung up on the serious atmosphere and trying to get it completely authentic. Then I found it had become so dry and depressing and I twigged that this can be a fun(ny) project too. I was already doing this to a degree but now I’ve turned the Day of the Tentacle/Peppers/twisted history dial up to 11 and it’s turned into a joyful project once more.

And Bioshock Infinite is quite nice looking. Took freaking ages to get it to work, but pretty none the less. Still deciding about the gameplay…

A Zine about Canberra

Firstly, the Mall Stories 2 callout has been extended to 4 January.

Secondly, something to kickstart your mall story-ing: back in 2008 I made a zine about Canberra. Recently CJ pointed out that in that zine I had promised a second volume sometime in “late 2012″. Well, sad to say the second volume is still a long way off, but to mark the date I’ve uploaded A Zine About Canberra (PDF).

Unfortunately, in order to get the file down to a reasonable size the tour and mix tape scan are way too hard to read. Since I lack the requisite software and time to get this sorted, I’ve uploaded my Canberra ‘Walking’ Tour and mix tape as a separate PDF. Enjoy the excessive use of ‘brilliant’, ‘lovely’ and ‘awesome’ (but really, Canberra is a brilliant, lovely and awesome place. You should visit. Particularly during You Are Here).

Please note that some of this zine including the walking tour are well out of date, as are my contact details at the end.

Mall Stories 2

Well, now Corinbank is over for another year (and ten or so runs of my Live Action Canberra Choose Your Own Zombie Adventure) I can get back on with planning for my next festival event. Namely: Mall Stories 2 @ You Are Here 2013 (check back here and here for a reminder on the Mall Stories project).

Submissions have already opened for creative material to be used for another collection of audio walking tours in the Canberra CBD. Content is welcome from artists in any country, not just Canberra or Australia. Check the full callout and get your non-fiction, poetry and music to youareherecanberra AT gmail DOT com by COB 24 December 2012.

And big congratulations to CJ Bowerbird: 2013 Australian Poetry Slam winner.

yr honourable servant