Walt Disney Imagineering has been using the Disney theme parks and resorts as centers for innovation in storytelling for decades, finding interesting ways to create rich experiences that play out across media. And while the team may be better known for joining narrative with animatronics and special effects for rides like the Haunted Mansion, the team has developed a number of more subtle transmedia experiences that experimented with location-based storytelling. For Phineas and Ferb: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure (previously the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure), Walt Disney World visitors use a mobile phone to activate a series of clues hidden in Epcot’s architectural design, while Sorcerors of the Magic Kingom uses collectible cards to allow Disney World visitors to battle against Disney villains at magic portals scattered across the resort. And thanks to Walt Disney’s Living Worlds program, you might have the chance to collaborate with the Disney Imagineers on your own great idea.
Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development (WDI R&D) announced the Living Worlds program during last month’s StoryWorld Conference as an effort to catalyze and support the growing transmedia community. Interested applicants are tasked with submitting a high-level proposal by December 1st for a location-based narrative experience intended to run for at least two weeks that gives participants the ability to influence the story without costing “more than the GDP of any single nation to mount.” The story cannot use any existing intellectual properties, including Disney properties. During the second round, select participants will be asked to flesh out the concepts into a more developed proposal for consideration.
Scott Trowbridge, Creative Vice President at WDI R&D, says he sees the program as an opportunity for applicants “to gain experience and expertise by giving them an opportunity to produce their work at a professional level.” He adds, “[w]e’re on the cusp of a significant evolution in narrative form. The combination of emerging technologies, societal shifts and audience expectations all combine to make this an exciting time for artists interested in breaking the frames for traditional storytelling.”
While the opportunity to collaborate with Disney Imagineering to realize your dream project is compelling, it’s important to be familiar with the terms and conditions that come attached to the application. While all applicants retain full ownership of their intellectual property, all submissions should be considered public and non-confidential, and applicants grant WDI “a fully paid-up, transferable, non-exclusive, perpetual, worldwide, irrevocable, royalty-free license” to their submissions, along with the right to sub-license the work to third parties. When asked for clarification on the terms, Trowbridge explained that “given that we are engaging [the] artists with the intent to produce their proposal, we must be granted the rights to do so, or in other words, a license to use their creative work, which must be transferable and perpetual.” Trowbridge stressed that WDI R&D would work with artists whose proposals were selected to set up an agreement and working relationship to develop the proposal through to complete concept and potential production.
Editor’s Note: At this year’s StoryWorld conference in Los Angeles, Fourth Wall Studios’ Chief Creative Officer Elan Lee stated that alternate reality games are dead as part of the conference’s final panel on “The Way Forward” for the transmedia industry. As one of the driving forces at Microsoft behind The Beast, Lee’s statement questioning the role of alternate reality games warrants closer examination. Adrian Hon, one of The Beast‘s player-moderators, former Director of Play at Mind Candy, and CEO at Six to Start, penned the following opinion piece exploring the statement.
“ARGs are dead”. We’ve heard it said many times over the years, and now most recently by Elan Lee, Founder of Fourth Wall Studios, at the Storyworld conference in LA this past October. While I wasn’t at the conference I gather the statement was made sincerely, and to hear it from one of alternate reality gaming’s ‘founding fathers’ caused no small surprise.
Taken literally, it isn’t true. ARGs are still being created for properties as big as The Avengers, Team Fortress 2, and Google, and grassroots ARGs are still being made, such as the TVTropes Echo Chamber game. It’s possible that fewer advertising and marketing dollars are being spent on ARGs these days, and it’s certain that ARGs no longer command the same number of column inches that they used to – but I’m not sure that 2012 represents such a precipitous change from 2011 or 2010 in those respects.
From a commercial standpoint, things haven’t changed much either. We can’t say that “ARGs are dead” because they don’t make money, as they never really did in the first place. Almost all ARGs have either been promotional or non-profit, with the few exceptions such as Perplex City, eDoc Laundry, and Majestic not being successful enough to sustain themselves over the long term.
You could argue that promotional ARGs generate a return on investment (ROI) by, say, increasing movie ticket sales or selling more cars, but to be perfectly frank, I doubt they ever did in a truly meaningful way – and I doubt that things are any worse today, either. Certainly there isn’t much solid, independently verifiable evidence of ROI out there – instead we’ve had to rely on self-reported figures that are easily biased or falsified. One day I hope ARG designers will engage in a ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ process where we all reveal our true player engagement stats and our near-total lack of knowledge about whether that engagement represented a genuine, bottom-line financial return for the commissioners, but I suspect that will have to wait for at least another few years.
Comic-Con has served as the launch platform for more than a few alternate reality games in the past. At the San Diego convention, Why So Serious held its first live event promoting The Dark Knight at the convention in San Diego, using attendees as the Joker’s patsies by getting them to don the criminal’s signature clown make-up and stage minor crimes. Showtime kicked off its Dexter-themed ARG with a scavenger hunt leading to a grisly kill room, while Disney’s Flynn Lives campaign transformed a nearby warehouse into the End of Line Club from Tron: Legacy. While most of these affairs have been major events centered around entertainment properties, Google appears to have shaken up that trend by slipping their Comic-Con launch of the Niantic Project under the radar, only to have it resurface in force this month.
On July 12th, self-proclaimed “ghost comic book artist” Tycho started working the crowds at San Diego Comic-Con near Artist’s Alley, handing out flyers inspired by his inexplicable visions, dominated by scenes of global landmarks and enigmatic encrypted messages about parasitic “Shapers.” As crazy as Tycho seems, the folks at Niantic seem interested in his ramblings.
These visions drove Tycho to confront Flint Dille about hidden messages regarding extra-dimensional portals implanted for decades in Buck Rogers stories, before security threw him out of the convention. A few weeks later, a university professor teaching his students about visualizing portals with cell phone cameras was escorted away from his inattentive audience, but that was largely the end…until earlier this month, when mystery blogger P.A. Chapeau started updating his virtual conspiracy theory corkboard at NianticProject.com.
Last week, I posted a brief blurb about a package I received in the mail from “J,” a man with an unwholesome fixation with barn swallows. In that relatively innocuous package, J sent over a Sony IC Reader pre-loaded with 18 seconds of birds chirping. While I did not know it at the time, the package was the entryway into a secretive, five-part application process for Her Majesty’s Secret Service, MI6. The campaign, developed on behalf of Sony by Wieden+Kennedy, revels in secrecy through every step of the design process. As such, unlike many alternate reality games, much of the thrill in this experience can be derived from tackling the challenges on your own.
If you’re up for the challenge, start out with this YouTube video: it should have all the information you need to get to the next step. Otherwise, read on to learn more.
One of my favorite moments in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail is when the Bridgekeeper asks King Arthur, “what is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?” The film never answers that question, although more than a few resourceful folks have put forward their best estimates. Before the end of this article, I fear I may be asking an equally esoteric question about the noble European swallow: the only difference? I expect you to figure out the answer, because I’m flummoxed.
I received a package in the mail today containing a postcard with the picture of a bird on it, along with a Sony IC Recorder that contained a file named 50-112-251-215.mp3 with the sound of birds chirping for 18 seconds, with a picture of bird watcher Jonathon Jongsma as the featured image. On the back of the postcard was the following message:
Greetings from Innsbruck, Michael.
Spied this fellow building his nest unusually high in a tree. I believe that means the snow will be better here this year. Including a recording of his lovely little song for your enjoyment.
Do with it what you will.
I suspect the bird pictured is a European swallow, since the barn swallow is Austria’s national bird, and bears a striking resemblance to our fine feathered friend. What secret message is hidden within this bird’s idle tweets, and what did “J” hear that made him send the recording in the first place?
Be sure to check the Unfiction forums for the discussion of what has been uncovered so far, and check back soon for updates on the story as it unfolds.
EDITED 10/16 to add: those of you nervous about visiting the website at the end of the initial puzzle might want to try this link instead.
TV Tropes is an intimidating website. Over the past eight years, the community wiki has displayed frightening tenacity in indexing, codifying, and analyzing the tricks of the storytelling trade in an often irreverent manner. Remember the pilot episode of Community? The TV Tropes community flagged those 25 minutes of television for using over 46 different tropes ranging from Worthless Foreign Degree to The Dulcinea Effect. And the community doesn’t limit itself to documenting tropes that appear on television: everything from fan fiction and webcomics to alternate reality games are fair game.
Here’s where things start getting complicated. Starting in 2011, the TV Tropes homepage was taken over by Echo Chamber, an episodic web series dedicated to illustrating tropes through the lens of an increasingly eccentric cast of characters. For two seasons, Dana Shaw and her collaborators Tom Pike and Zack Wallnau played characters in a “Trope of the Week” Show Within a Show that paralleled events in their fictional lives, under the direction of Zack’s father Mark, Director of Transmedia for “The Other Wiki” (TV Tropes’ tongue-in-cheek nickname for Wikipedia) and the inscruitable Mr. Administrator. Season two ended with a Mind Screw, as Mr. Administrator explains that the entire show is part of a diabolical plot to understand the true nature of fiction and reality in order to inject tropes into the fabric of reality. And that’s where the alternate reality game, named The Wall Will Fall by its players, begins.