Reality: Transforming USC Film Students’ Freshman Year Into an Addictive Game

December 29, 2011 · By in Features, Interviews · 2 Comments 

Image courtesy of Ben Chance

By Nathan Maton and Rebecca Thomas

School changed this year for the majority of freshman at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Driven, talented future media makers normally waited until their sophomore year to produce any major media through the program, but this year USC partnered with Ph.D. candidate Jeff Watson to produce Reality, an alternate reality game focused on media creation.

Reality, which just completed its first season, is one part trading card game, one part media creation tool, and one part web portal. Three hundred unique cards, color-coded by type and designed to fit together, were handed out to students who unraveled a series of clues leading to the game’s secret campus headquarters or tucked away for discovery as the game progressed. As students discovered other students who were playing, they made “deals” by trading or pooling cards that led to collaborative projects and then published their work to Reality’s web portal so other students could rate and review the projects. Winning projects earned interesting rewards, like meeting industry professionals, for the creators.

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Prepare Yourself for Christy Dena’s New Audio Drama: AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS

October 5, 2011 · By in Game Launch, Info, Interviews · 2 Comments 

In the coming months Christy Dena will release an audio drama titled AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS, guiding you through the story of a gambling philosopher’s quest to earn a living as an autopsy pathologist. While still in development, Christy was kind enough to give us the scoop on her project:

Nathan Maton: Hi Christy. I’ve been hearing about your latest project, AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS. Can you tell me what inspired you to make an audio drama?

Christy Dena: The web audio navigation format of AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS was inspired by a visit to the Louvre in 2007. I actually did something at the Louvre that some would consider criminal. I did the Da Vinci Code audio tour of the Louvre. But it was an amazing experience. It started before I entered the turnstiles. The narrator instructed me to secure my headphones, and then guided me past the security and through an alternate path through the Louvre. I was the only one in an elevator, riding around the venue following the conspiracy drama that was unfolding under my steps. The audio tour took me to all of the key exhibits of the Louvre, but with a great narrator, story and sound effects. I felt I was privy to another world that added an extra dimension to the already outstanding experience of the Louvre.

I walked out of the Louvre, reflecting on the ease with which I was guided through the venue, how I knew so much about the artworks, and was also emotionally engaged with a story layer. I suddenly thought, why can’t I have this for the web? Why can’t I have audio tours of the web? I immediately thought of ARGs, and how the audio characters could guide players to read the source code of webpages. This seemed a fun way to make ARGs more accessible and also an interesting design challenge. And that is how the idea for AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS being a cross between a radio drama and Google search!

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Time Is Running Out for LA Time/Trip

August 4, 2011 · By in Info, Interviews, Opinion · 1 Comment 

For the next few weeks, Los Angeles residents have a chance to do something many of us can only dream about: a little time traveling, courtesy of Superfreako Productions. Participants in time/trip LA are tasked with finding strategically placed QR codes located in 8 shops and stores around the Hollywood area, starting at Meltdown Comics on West Sunset Boulevard. The QR codes unlock a series of videos revolving around time travel. The time/trip LA experience follows Katie and Kelly as they travels through time and space that guides participants through short films keyed to each location.

As part of the experience, time/trippers can submit five pictures of themselves with the QR codes for a chance to win swag from some of the participating retailers. Spoiler-ridden details about the sweepstakes explain the rules and prizes, but players in the LA area are advised to get moving: the contest ends at 11:59pm on August 31.

It’s worth noting that time/trip LA is not Superfreako’s first foray into the crossmedia storytelling space. One of its earliest attempts is the Last Days Journal, a social media storytelling site for survivors of a zombie apocalypse that launched in 2007. While Last Days Journal was created to support a project that was never developed, the survivor site still “lives” on.

Between 2008-2009, Superfreako worked with Benji Schneider to create The Society for Linian Studies, an art project with alternate reality gaming elements including a live lecture event at the Velaslavasay Panorama and an exhibition of related artifacts at San Diego State University. Having followed along with The Society for Linian Studies, I was impressed with the high production value of the artifacts, acting, and other assets for the project. According to Chad Kukahiko, Creative Director of the superfreakos, “it was fun as hell working on a piece of art so ridiculously original.” The idea of dueling institutes that permeated the narrative, along with the characters and story elements surrounding the Linian Society, was the brainchild of his friend and former coworker Benji Schneider. For the The Society for Linian Studies, “the plan was to was continue to do mini-ARG installments perhaps 2 to 3 times a year,” but Schneider’s growing commitments to his band Lord Huron forced the team to modify the game’s plans.

The planning process for The Society for Linian Studies provided the inspiration for time/trip LA: not in terms of story world or plot, but in terms of techniques and technology. As Kukahiko explained to me: “The initial concept from which time/trip grew was a vague QR code wild posting dystopian-themed ARG off-shoot I was tooling around with in my head — something I was actually hoping to bring into the Linian Society fold.”

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A Walk Through Westeros: Retracing “The Maester’s Path”

May 3, 2011 · By in Interviews, News · 4 Comments 

Images courtesy of Campfire

On Sunday, April 24th, HBO’s newest show, Game of Thrones, brought viewers into the world of Westeros, a land flush with political machinations and magic. Based on George R.R. Martin’s highly acclaimed Song of Ice and Fire book series, the franchise came pre-packaged with a committed fan base that has been somewhat patiently waiting for the next installment for six years. With Game of Thrones, HBO hopes to replicate the success of True Blood, their previous foray in fantasy adaptations. To help that along, the studio turned to Campfire, the advertising agency behind True Blood‘s Blood Copy alternate reality game.

With True Blood, Campfire introduced the town of Bon Temps to audiences through a narrative that guided them through the introduction of vampires to human society. However, a similar tactic was out of the question for Game of Thrones, due to Martin’s openly protective stance towards the characters and worlds he creates. Since one of the goals of the campaign was to reassure fan communities that Game of Thrones was staying true to its source material, Campfire chose to focus on the world of Westeros itself through The Maester’s Path. As Campfire’s Executive Creative Director Mike Monello explains,

The work we did with True Blood was really an exercise with building a fan culture for the show, [and] what HBO has seen is how that really helped sustain the show. For Game of Thrones, a lot of this work was designed to facilitate the fan culture that was growing around the show and have HBO be a part of that, to have the fans know that HBO respected that . . . there’s more to fan culture than just “put the show on the air.”

The result of this thinking was a five-week long sensory exploration of the world that brought the rich lore of Martin’s stories to the forefront in “Stark” relief.

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Transmedia Experts Tell the Story to NABShow Attendees

April 29, 2011 · By in Events, Interviews · 2 Comments 

For the second year in a row, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show hosted a panel of transmedia luminaries to discuss the state of the industry. This year’s panel, Transmedia: Telling the Story through Narrative Content, Games and Real-World Adventures was hosted by Henry Jenkins (Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Southern California, and author of Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide) and included Jeff Gomez (President and CEO, Starlight Runner Entertainment), Kim Moses (Executive Producer/Director, Sander/Moses Productions and Slam Internet), Gale Anne Hurd (Executive Producer, The Walking Dead; President, Valhalla Motion Pictures), Danny Bilson (Executive Vice President of Core Games, THQ, Inc.), and Tim Kring (Transmedia Storyteller, Conspiracy for Good, Heroes).

Jenkins started the panel with a definition of transmedia from his book as a starting point for discussion amongst the panelists:

Transmedia Storytelling represents a process by which narrative information is systematically dispersed across multiple media channels for the purposes of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.

Jenkins asserted that the difference between transmedia and other methods is “that each element adds something vital to the mix as a whole” and “expand[s] the canvas on which storytellers work within the entertainment industry.”

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The Smithsonian and MIT Help Your Kids Get “Vanished”

March 23, 2011 · By in Game Launch, Interviews, Previews · 1 Comment 


There is a mystery afoot, and scientists at MIT and the Smithsonian are investigating. But they project that before the next full moon, they will need the help of middle-schoolers across the country to understand an impending environmental disaster, secrets that they alone can uncover.

Vanished is a science-fiction themed alternate reality game launching on April 4th, created and run by MIT’s Education Arcade and the Smithsonian Institution. Vanished invites kids and teens 11-14 to participate in the role of scientific detectives, although older participants can also follow along with special “watcher” accounts. Players will uncover clues, form and test scientific hypotheses, collaborate with their peers, engage online with scientists, and learn about a broad range of scientific fields. Over the course of eight weeks, they will encounter multiple scientific mysteries that require real scientific methods to solve.

Each of the eight weeks of Vanished comprises a chapter with its own activities, scientific content, and another layer of a larger mystery. Online, players will engage with scientists from the Smithsonian via video conferences, play games that will help to illustrate concepts, and unlock clues and hidden messages. Offline, players need to explore their own neighborhoods for scientific data. Journal entries from in-game characters will lead players to visit Smithsonian-affiliated museums for exhibits to gather clues and learn more about each scientific field.

Players will share their offline discoveries with others online to advance the story. They might document what plants are blossoming or what animals live in their area. Contributions are shared so that other kids can see the differences across the country. In forums, moderated by MIT students, players can discuss their findings and how they might apply to solving the mystery. The participating museums aren’t being used for scavenger hunts; rather, they are a way for kids to explore subjects further as the game progresses. Museum staff at the Smithsonian have been warned to expect anything from Vanished players, as participants may have questions the creators did not anticipate.

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