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.
Wired UK has teamed up with alternate reality game designers Six to Start, creators of the 2010 SXSW Best Game Award winner Smokescreen, to make this month’s issue of Wired UK a platform for a transmedia game contest. Six to Start’s immersive transmedia games have been widely recognized for high-quality storytelling and entertaining game play. In Smokescreen, Six to Start and Channel 4 launched a fictional social network that brought issues of online identity and privacy to the forefront for a target audience of 14- to 19-year-olds. We Tell Stories, winner of the 2008 SXSW Experimental and Best in Show Awards, involved a collaboration with Penguin Books to encourage the reinvention and retelling of classic stories.
A novel mix of traditional print publishing and digital experience, this month’s issue of Wired UK contains a game within its pages. According to Six to Start producer and game designer Matt Wieteska,
The game has been designed to exist within and alongside this month’s Wired. The issue’s focus is on the rise of location-based and social gaming, and the idea of game-like ‘achievements’ and how they drive our curiosity and progress. Our tasks and puzzles are scattered throughout its pages, margins, graphics and text – so keep your eyes peeled! Of course, the issue is just the beginning – the game soon expands to take in online content and puzzles, alongside some cool bells and whistles that I don’t want to spoil for you!
Suggesting something even more than a puzzle contest, Wieteska teased me with this: “[t]he game itself does have a theme, an interesting setting, and some cool little stories nestling inside it. I don’t want to give too much away, but we’re hoping you’ll enjoy the fun, tongue-in-cheek tone and all the little easter eggs and references we’ve hidden to some of our favourite things.”
Only players based in the United Kingdom will be eligible for the grand prize of an iPad, but according to Six to Start co-founder, acting CEO, and chief creative officer Adrian Hon, the creators have “made an effort to make as many of the assets available internationally” as possible. Non-UK players will still be able to experience most of the game online, even though, according to Wieteska, “[w]e’ve got some really cool stuff going on inside the issue, so people should grab one if they can!”
It’s time for day two of PICNIC, and a new day means a new theme: Exploding Media. The theme brought with it an exciting schedule, filled with more on social media, but this time focusing on trying to find parallels between social media and brands and marketing strategies, as well as on games and interactivity.
The first speaker was movie director Chris Burke, who is also the creator of This Spartan Life, the world’s first and only “talkshow in game space”. I hadn’t previously heard of This Spartan Life and thus wasn’t familiar with the show’s format, where a host (Burke) interviews a guest (in this case, Gerri Sinclair, CEO of the Center for Digital Media), while playing Halo.
Apparently, This Spartan Life has been a big hit since 2004 and has gathered quite a bit of praise for its innovative presentation. I can see how the concept might work well with smoothly edited episodes showing Halo game play supplemented by added voiceovers. However, as a live concept, I thought it came off as a forced way of trying something new. The Halo backdrop compounded by the clumsiness of Sinclair trying to master the controls of the game were so distracting that I hardly followed the actual interview.
Sinclair, hailed by Burke as a “gaming professor who actually knows what she’s talking about” has a great track record when it comes digital media and narrative . Most of the times when the interview took an interesting turn, though, the conversation got interrupted by shrieks of “Oh no! I fell of a ledge!” and “someone is shooting at me!” or with Burke trying to keep track of where his interviewee went in the Halo level. It’s a shame, because I would have loved to hear more of what Sinclair had to say on gaming and the changing ways of delivering narratives.
Onwards to part two of the first day of the PICNIC conference schedule–this section of three consecutive panels and presentations was all about the shifts in demographics: the role that race and ethnic background play in producing theatre on Broadway and in emerging online communities, and the role of a changing audience and the way that audience divides its attention on “traditional” media.
First off was a presentation by renowned producer David Binder, who talked us through his experience bringing Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun back to Broadway for a modern day revival. As A Raisin in the Sun is a classic African-American play, Binder wanted to honor its roots, which to him meant that he had to find an African-American director. Broadway isn’t exactly brimming with diversity (of the 40 directors active on Broadway last season, 36 were men and only one person of color), so Binder had his work cut out for him.
What followed was a mildly interesting relay of his quest for a director (he ended up working with the then relatively unknown Kenny Leon) and cast (he managed to snag Sean Combs aka P Diddy for the lead role). I think my appreciation of Binder’s excited monologue was slightly hampered by the fact that my knowledge of all things Broadway is virtually nonexistent and the fact that as a European, I’m a lot less used to such a heavy emphasis being placed on race, so some of his points sounded (literally) rather foreign to me.
On a personal note, Binder gets a lot of credit from me for having the creative guts to bring The New Island Festival to New York City. The festival is based on two important Dutch theater festivals, Oerol and De Parade. From what I gathered from his talk, reviving a play like Raisin in the Sun took a lot more guts than that.
In 2008, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg proposed a social networking analog to Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years. “Next year,” Zuckerman posited, “people will share twice as much information as they share this year . . . [t]hat means that people are using Facebook, and the applications and ecosystem, more and more.” Recent studies suggest that individuals are willing to trade privacy in exchange for small rewards and convenience. As the online marketplace is embracing social networking and the “free” economy, people are increasingly faced with limited bargaining power and ignorance about what information they are offering in exchange for services. In order to address many of these issues, the British public-service broadcasting network Channel 4 has paired with veteran alternate reality game designers at Six to Start to create “Smokescreen,” a 13-part online adventure designed to educate youth in the UK about issues of online privacy, identity and trust. The online game will be released in September.
“Smokescreen” is about a vicious new game called “The Rumor Mill” sweeping its way across the fictional social network called “White Smoke.” The network’s owner, Max, is concerned the game might be a front for something else. According to Channel 4, the game, targeted towards 14-19 year olds in the UK, will allow players to network, collaborate and challenge each other using their identity as a weapon, and privacy as armor. Six to Start’s Chief Creative Officer Adrian Hon explains that “Smokescreen is a game about life online. Every time you hear about a teenager being hauled up at school because of their Facebook profile, or someone being conned out of their password on Twitter – that’s what Smokescreen aims to explore. And because our game puts players in a simulated situation, we can give them an experience that is far more powerful and immersive than any other media.” Six to Start’s CEO Dan Hon adds that “[i]t’s about the implications of what sharing information means to daily life, beyond just stealing identities or credit cards . . . [t]his could simply be one character asking you to find out information about another character, leaving you to decide whether you tell them or use it to your advantage.”
Channel 4 Education is embracing the cross-media entertainment model, with game budgets Routes, an alternate reality game addressing the implications of genomic research. Alice Taylor, Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor, told Escapist Magazine that Channel 4 aims to get “more teens and more impact for our investment. We still do television projects – but now they’re native to the internet, and sometimes they act like games, too.”
Providing information about yourself on the internet is not in and of itself a bad thing. However, disclosing information should be an informed choice. And “Smokescreen” is a step in the right direction towards fostering media literacy.
Image courtesy of the SXSW Interactive Web Awards site.
It’s a big night for three campaigns tonight, as the teams behind The Dark Knight ARG, Lost Zombies and We Tell Stories have won major awards at the 12th annual SXSW Interactive Web Awards. The awards were handed out earlier tonight at the Hilton Austin Downtown, and according to The Underwire blog at Wired, the major hardware found its way into the hands of the wonderful people behind these highly successful campaigns.
One of the biggest wins of the night came for We Tell Stories. This project was a collaboration between Six to Start and Penguin Books and, as reported here in March of 2008, was a way for media-savvy designers to retell classic stories through the use of technology. We Tell Stories won in the Experimental category, but as a bonus, also walked away with the Best in Show Award. This is a monumental win for the company, formed at the beginning of 2008 by former members of Mind Candy.