Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is a new interactive experience that debuted on February 22 at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Jonathan Ackley, Senior Director and Show Producer Interactive of Walt Disney Imagineering, and his team spent four years designing and producing the game. Ackley gained early insights into interactivity as a game designer at Rocket Science Games and then by designing critically acclaimed adventure games for LucasArts, such as The Curse of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, and Sam and Max Hit the Road. Ackley’s interests in nontraditional, nonlinear storytelling gave him an awareness of the possibilities for integrating new technologies into location-based storytelling.
Before Ackley’s work on Sorcerers, he tested interactive storytelling ideas through the Kim Possible attraction, also at Walt Disney World, treating it as a research and development project on using wireless technology (through Verizon). Ackley immediately saw the advantages that Disney had for environmental storytelling. In an interview with Ackley, he said, “We have themed environments. We are in a unique position to make you the main character in an adventure story. We’re really lucky that we have such great stories and characters to draw from.” The end result is that Sorcerers is an intriguing effort that pushes the boundaries of shared interactive experiences for families with children. Ackley described these experiences as opportunities for players to assume the roles of their favorite Disney protagonists as they make their way through the game. Families can share memories of their favorite films across generations and or create new stories as they play.
The objective of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is to save the Magic Kingdom from Disney villains, including Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians, the Evil Queen from Snow White, Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog, and Scar from The Lion King. These villains were all recruited by Hades, ruler of the underworld and the archvillain from Hercules. Players become apprentices to Merlin, the sorcerer from The Sword in the Stone, who is Hades’ chief opponent. In order to save the Magic Kingdom, players must stop the villains from capturing the shattered pieces of Merlin’s crystal ball.
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!
Next week, from Thursday, August 18, to Sunday, August 21, alternate reality gamers and transmedia producers will descend on Bloomington, Indiana, for ARGFest-o-Con 2011. Led by this year’s Grand Inquisitor Andrea Phillips, the schedule taps into the local game development talent as well as the strong academic presence at Indiana University, which features such names as Professor of Telecommunications Edward Castronova.
Thursday night’s Kick-Off party will start the conference, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, with a special interactive event hosted by Awkward Hug, creators of the highly acclaimed ARG Must Love Robots and the pervasive kid-friendly community, Socks, Inc. I caught up with Awkward Hug’s own Jim Babb to ask about A Wisconsin Hustle. their first foray into the smartphone app space:
We are really excited to bring A Wisconsin Hustle to ARGFest! Wisconsin Hustle is something new for Awkward Hug and will be our first venture into Android apps. While the app is not ready to launch until the end of the year, we have turned the excitement of the app into a real-world pants-off dance-off. A Wisconsin Hustle is, an American tradition clothed in mystery and from unknown origins (we are doing intensive research ourselves into the legend). Men, and recently women, challenge each other in pantsless dance-offs for truth, money, and above all honor.
On a rare occasion Hustlers, as they are known, will pants-off dance-off to the death! Players at ARGFest need not worry, we are more interested in the ethnographic, ethnochoreographic, and pantsnographic study of A Wisconsin Hustle than running a “two man enter, one man leaves” sort of affair.
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 LAexperience 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.”
It’s been three months since ARGNet’s first look back at this year in alternate reality gaming, putting over half of 2011 behind us. Alternate reality games have continued to insinuate themselves into pop culture, spanning movies, television, music, video games, and books. The genre has stretched out beyond the entertainment industry to support social causes, provide more enriching museum-going experiences, and even sell packs of chewing gum. During the past three months a number of major campaigns have come to a conclusion, to be replaced by a number of tantalizing prospects. Read on for a few highlights from the quarter.
Six to Start and the BBC have teamed up to create a transmedia experience tied in with BBC Two documentary The Code, expected to air at the end of July.The Code is presented by Professor of Mathematics Marcus du Sautoy (Horizon on BBC2, The Beauty of Diagrams on BBC4) and explores how the world around us conforms to and can be explained by mathematical codes. Six to Start are next-generation storytellers with plenty of experience creating storytelling projects for different clients, often in the form of alternate reality games or treasure hunts. They’ve worked with the BBC before on projects like Spooks: Code 9 and Seven Ages Quest. As a first for the BBC and possibly a world first, an interactive experience called The Code Challenge has been seamlessly integrated in the writing and filming of The Code since inception. Viewers can participate in an engaging treasure hunt which will take place before, during, and after the series that will extend their understanding of basic mathematical principles.
The Code Challenge begins well before the airing of the actual show. Soon, 1000 people in the UK will receive a secret message with one of the first puzzles of the challenge. For a chance to be one of those 1000, keep an eye on Twitter @bbccode and apply via Twitter or e-mail. A few weeks before the show airs, several Flash games containing clues, puzzles, and more information about the Code will also appear online. The series itself is expected to air at the end of July and will be split into three 60-minute episodes: Magic Numbers, Nature’s Building Blocks and Predicting the Future. Six clues are connected to each episode. Three will be hidden in the programme itself, which can be watched live on BBC Two or on BBC iPlayer. One community clue can only be solved by working together with a group of players. Two further clues will be revealed on the blog and through a Flash game. Players can then enter the six answers they found for each episode into the ‘codebreaker’ to receive three passwords with which they can unlock the ultimate challenge.