By Haley Moore, May 25th, 2011

Welcome to Transmedia Talk, a podcast covering all things Story. Transmedia Talk is co-hosted by Nick Braccia, Dee Cook, and Haley Moore and looks to shed light on the topic of transmedia storytelling with commentary, interviews and tips on how storytelling is moving into the 21st century.

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Mike Monello, Brian Clark, Michelle Senderhauf, and longtime ARG player Roxanne (Enaxor) join us to honor the life and games of indie ARG creator Dave Szulborski.

Hosts:
Nick Braccia from Culture Hacker
Dee Cook from Dog Tale Media
Haley Moore

(and Host Emeritus Robert Pratten from Transmedia Storyteller)

Special Guests:
Mike Monello, Founder and CEO of Campfire
Brian Clark, CEO of GMD Studios
Michelle Senderhauf of Dog Tale Media
Roxanne, also known as Enaxor

From This Episode:

Dave Szulborski’s personal site with his biography, game descriptions and puzzles.

Dave Szulborski’s book This is Not a Game

Varin’s guide to Chasing the Wish

Dee’s guide to Dread House

EA’s game Majestic

Push, Nevada

Search4E

Legend of the Sacred Urns

Art of the Heist

Monster Hunter Club

Art of the Heist cube word search puzzle, aka The Evil Cube

Over the Hedge Puzzle Trail

Who is Benjamin Stove

The Strange Creatures video from Monster Hunter Club, currently at over 4,700,000 views on YouTube.

The Host

Cryptid Love, a video from Monster Hunter Club.

Dave’s character stringsends at Top Secret Dance Off

Dave Memorial Video

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Posted in Person of Interest Transmedia Talk arg community design experience podcast storytelling transmedia

Haley Moore is a newspaper reporter, artist, and playwright based in north Texas. She has worked on several indie, fan and commercial Alternate Reality Games.

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By Jason Hood, May 13th, 2011

This week, we return to our contributor-curated series of blog posts with Lori Nix (RADAR ep 33 – Unnatural History). She found us a nice mix of beautiful works of art and some quirky, off the wall stuff–sort of like her own work.

WATCH

Cravendale Cats

That’s it, I’m officially jealous of the British. After outdoing us in music and comedy for years, they now roll out this oddly addicting TV spot for milk—which is undoubtedly a result of years of its creators spending too much time on the Internet. Because—and I’ve mentioned this before—the equation goes: cats + doing weird things = roughly 85% of Internet content. Also, note the strange milk cartons they use over there (hey, at least it doesn’t come in bags like in Canada).

Find more on this clever campaign HERE.

LISTEN

Bodies of Water: Ears Will Pop and Eyes Will Blink

The music from this extremely talented LA-based collective has this rolling, lively Spaghetti Western-esque epicness to it that hooked me pretty much immediately, sort of like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros without all the gimmickry. Ennio Morricone would be proud. But don’t get me wrong, there’s still enough theatrics and choral pieces to make this record the very definition of grand. Listen to it while walking down the street makes your life an instant musical. Just don’t blame me if people stare at you when you start singing along.

You can buy the album HERE
Bodies of Water’s website

READ

Hi-Fructose Magazine

Despite new media’s repeated attempts to kill off the magazine once and for all (blogger’s note: hi there, sorry about that!), Hi-Fructose Magazine may be all the proof needed to show that there will always be a place for a beautifully-made, high quality, full color quarterly. Hi-Fructose aims to profile and discuss alternative artists, while at the same time dissecting what “alternative” means, bending genres and shattering norms in the process. Whatever you want to call it, there’s really some stunning work on display here.

You can pick up a copy at most bookstores, or check out their web presence HERE

GO

Otherworldly: Optical Delusions and Small Realities

It may still be a ways off, but Otherworldly at the Museum of Arts and Design should definitely be worth the wait. Lori Nix and other diorama artists will be showcasing their different creations, extremely detailed microcosms of worlds that are both realistic and surreal—glimpses of our world both as it is and as it could be.

Otherworldly: Optical Delusions and Small Realities
June 7 – September 18
Museum of Arts and Design
2 Columbus Circle
New York, NY 10019
$15 Admission
EVENT INFO

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New York Mag (and comments)

When Lori told me she liked to liked to read New York Magazine online to laugh at the comments following the articles, I wasn’t quite sure what she meant. But I didn’t have to look far to find out—the comments section is a nice concentrated cross-section of the Internet as a whole. You’ll find cynical, snarky millennials, sarcastic storytellers, political pundits who insert their opinions of Bush and/or Obama into every conversation, and trolls of course, because trolls simply are and always will be—they are as deeply ingrained into comment threads as the Pope is into Catholicism. It’s worth a laugh on any day you could use a bit of a confidence boost.

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Posted in News RADAR NYC event music photography storytelling

Jason Hood a recent graduate of the University of Texas, he once co-produced Local Live and The Austin Sessions, a radio-slash-TV show and webseries, respectively, that focused on Austin’s famous independent music scene. He’s also directed a number of 16mm short films, and had a diverse and bizarre series of paid jobs ranging from librarian to travel blogger.

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By Jason Hood, May 5th, 2011

Image via Dr. Sketchy’s

WATCH

Welcome to Pine Point

I’ll be honest; it’s difficult for me to describe this without just suggesting you watch it for yourself, and it’s even more difficult to classify this as “watch.” From the National Film Board of Canada, this project tells the story of Pine Point, a planned mining community in central Canada, the people who lived there, and its eventual demise—being completely razed and taken off the map. It’s told through interactive bits, archival footage, pieces of animation, and recorded interviews with the former residents, and it all combines with some lovely music from The Besnard Lakes (one of my personal favorite Canadian bands) for a truly engaging experience that tells more than a straight up documentary ever could.

Check it out HERE

LISTEN

Washed Out – Eyes Be Closed

Ernest Greene, better known by his recording name Washed Out (RADAR season 3) will be following up last year’s excellent EP with his just-announced debut LP, Within and Without (complete with NSFW-ish cover art), due out July 12. But if you can’t wait that long, you can download the first single off the album right now. Eyes Be Closed sounds like a dreamy, trippy journey through a beautiful desert, or perhaps flying through the clouds. Either way, it’d be cool to listen to on the subway just as your train bursts above ground, the sunlight hitting your face.

You can get the mp3 straight from Sub Pop HERE

READ

How the Social Web Reflected on bin Laden’s Death

By the time President Obama came on to announce the death of Osama bin Laden, it was already old news for a lot of wired people—myself included—who probably found out on Facebook or Twitter, and had about an hour to divulge their two cents on the matter. And it really showed how much the world has changed in the past 10 years. It was fascinating to watch the news unfold over the Internet, through mediums such as social media and imageboards, while major news sites struggled to keep up. Mashable has an interesting article on the role of social media in bin Laden’s death, complete with several fascinating infographics that reveal a lot about the world in 2011.

Read the article HERE.

GO

Cake on the Bowery, Murder in Victorian England

Let Us Make Cake

Shantell Martin (RADAR ep 26 – Hidden Oras) will be joining about a dozen other visual artists will be using the façade of the New Museum as a canvas for their collaborative projection installation, Let Us Make Cake, part of Flash:Light, a night time, site-specific series of temporary art installations that re-imagine public space. Other events are planned at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and on Mulberry Street, so it should be quite a night.

Saturday, May 7 · 8:00 pm
The New Museum
235 Bowery
New York, NY 10002
Free
EVENT INFO

Dr. Sketchy’s Does Jack the Ripper

Not even one of England’s creepiest and bloodiest legends is safe from the imaginations of the good people at Dr. Sketchy’s Anti Art School (RADAR ep 8). Though really, in hindsight it seems like the perfect backdrop for the grisly tale of murders that scared the petticoats off of Victorian England.

Sunday, May 8 · 4:00pm – 7:00pm
The Bowery Poetry Club
308 Bowery
New York, NY
$12-$15
EVENT INFO

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FreedomLab

FreedomLab Future Studies is an Amsterdam-based think tank and research lab committed to finding creative solutions to issues in technology, business, and society. The site also features a blog offering thoughts on subjects such as social media, storytelling, and intelligent green energy, while also emphasizing the growing influence of non-Western societies, such as Brazil and Africa, on the world stage. This is definitely a site to watch if you want to get ahead of the curve in the 21st Century.

FreedomLab’s website
@freedomlab on Twitter

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Posted in News RADAR NYC event music storytelling street art

Jason Hood a recent graduate of the University of Texas, he once co-produced Local Live and The Austin Sessions, a radio-slash-TV show and webseries, respectively, that focused on Austin’s famous independent music scene. He’s also directed a number of 16mm short films, and had a diverse and bizarre series of paid jobs ranging from librarian to travel blogger.

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By Haley Moore, May 5th, 2011

So, Portal 2 is out. You may have heard.

You may have also heard there was an ARG associated with it – or maybe you didn’t. While the game received some media attention right before the launch of Portal 2, it slid past ARG communities without making much of a wave.

The Portal 2 ARG project was a collaboration between several indie studios and Valve. Most of the game was rolled out through hidden content in 13 indie games sold together as “The Potato Sack” on Steam. Playing those games led you to hidden levels and messages from the Portal’s antagonist GLaDOS, and ended up being the key to getting Portal 2 several hours ahead of its official release time.

This game tried a lot of things that are outside the normal scope of ARGs, and I feel like there are valuable design lessons to be learned here.

1) Partnerships are Awesome

Because the ARG was created as a partnership between a large group of video game designers, they were able to deliver the game as a series of easter eggs in video game that were already fully developed and polished. That’s something indie ARG creators wish they could do, but very rarely can.

The additional content inside the games was polished, and the sort of content you could only get from putting quality designers on the project. The GLaDOS levels in Rush and Toki Tori were designed to have the same feel as Portal – they challenged you to be creative with the game’s existing teleportation mechanics. I felt like I was getting a little taste of Portal 2 as I was playing them.

After the game came to its conclusion, we learned that these indie designers were principally involved in designing the entire experience. They created everything from tweets to puzzles to youtube videos and music. The total budget? $100.

The ARG was a labor of indie love designed by Portal fans, who were given free reign to work with the Portal characters and access to Valve resources. I wish I had known this from the beginning because it would have made a big difference in my second point:

2) Don’t Build Your Pay Wall Too High

The primary content for the ARG was distributed through the Potato Sack – 13 indie games that sold in a package on Steam for $38.72. For someone with very limited entertainment cash, that is quite a lot of money.

However, about four days before the release of Portal 2, a little birdie let me know who was responsible for the ARG, and my attitude toward the pay wall shifted completely. Over the course of the next 3 days, I bought Cogs, Rush, Toki Tori, and The Wonderful End of the World for a grand total of $15.

The pre-sale for Portal 2 was priced at $45, so the Potato Sack cost almost as much as the game it was promoting. By contrast, $15 felt like a pretty natural stopping point. (This is pretty comparable to other experiences behind pay walls – the print version of Cathy’s Book retails for $17.95.) That $15 was doled out in four purchases of $5 or less. The option to buy the games individually was the only reason I didn’t just smack into the pay wall face first.

The only thing I can conclude here is:

3) Screw the Curtain

If there’s something cool about the way your project was established, there is no reason to keep it a secret. Valve partnering with indie game designers to create a Portal ARG is cool, and worth supporting. The desire to keep coy and quiet about the history behind this ARG may have kept it from ubiquity.

There’s also a fundamental sales pitch difference. The idea of paying $39 to be advertised to is ridiculous, but it’s reasonable to spend that money to support an indie ARG team.

4) Countdowns Can be Compelling

As the endgame approached for the ARG, a page with a countdown timer was revealed. When that timer ran out, it led to another countdown timer. It sounds like a parody of ARG design, but it worked – and very well – because player interaction drove changes in the final countdown.

Participants had to play the games in the Potato Sack, and earn the secret challenge badges in them, to release Portal 2 ahead of the release time given on Steam. The countdown was a measure of player progress and a call to action, which made it far more interesting than a countdown alone could be. This was another area where the video game roots of the ARG really made for something great.

It didn’t hurt that it was counting down to a much-anticipated event, either.

5) Exclusivity is a Design Flaw

I’m not going to lie. Several times, especially near the end of the game, I was earned my potato badges by replicating cheat videos on YouTube. The extra levels in each of the games were more than challenging; they were hard – and as the clock ticked down, I realized I didn’t have time to beat them by my wits alone.

The previous Portal 2 extended reality campaign, which released last year with the free release of Portal, also had this issue. I had no idea that the extra content in Portal was extra, because I was playing the game for the first time. The content was also a challenge to get to, and in many later levels required a lot of experimentation and gaming skill. It seemed as though the experience was designed to reward veteran players who had mastered the game years ago. That seemed odd, considering the point of giving Portal away was to bring in new players.

This may be a fundamental philosophical difference between video game design and pervasive fiction design. As a storyteller, I seek to create intimacy with the audience. Making players struggle to reach content is one way to make an interaction seem meaningful and personal, but it is far from the only way.

More importantly, it is a bad way to do things if you want to make an experience that will engage a lot of people. To experience the Potato Sack ARG in its entirety, you not only had to buy all of the games, but master them and beat their most challenging levels. That’s quite a lot of work to get to the meat of an experience.

We usually design ARG experiences with late rabbitholes, and mechanisms that allow trailblazers to unlock content for everyone. If you treat every new player as though you expect them to be a trailblazer, only the trailblazers actually play the game. That’s not such a terrible thing if your goal is to create buzz – but when you want people to cross a pay wall, things get a little different.

6) We Can Still Pull Players “Behind the Scenes”

Several players who had been active on the game’s wiki were “kidnapped” during the course of the game. At first, I wondered if Valve had planted fake players – an unpopular but unfortunately common practice.

As it turns out, those players were brought behind the scenes and invited to Portal 2’s launch party as a reward for being active in the ARG. This is something Dave Szulborski did in Chasing the Wish, and it adds a nice layer of audience collaboration to the mix.

7) April Fool’s is a Bad Launch Date

The Portal 2 ARG launched on April 1, which might be aptly called “International Online Fiction Day.” The internet is flooded with interactive and pervasive fiction pieces on April Fool’s, most of which don’t go any deeper than a few web pages and only last one day, as our yearly ritual prescribes. This game got lost in the static, especially after it picked up the name “Potato Fools Day” – which implied that the game was a joke.

BONUS: Music Keeps the Experience Alive

This one is more of a protip than a serious lesson. The popularity of Portal spread in part thanks to Jonathan Coulton and his catchy end credits tune. “Still Alive” has become such a gaming anthem that children’s choirs are performing it, and Portal 2 is continuing that tradition two key songs for the new game. The ARG creators took cues from that, and (along with several remakes of Still Alive) released some original music for with experience.

Audiosurf featured a techno track built on quotes from Portal, called The Device Has Been Modified. 1… 2… 3.. KICK IT included a chill out track called Searching. Emergence. Discovery., and The Wonderful End of the World contains a melodious folk song by Dejobaan Games developer Dan Brainerd called “Hole in the Ground.” This song, with it’s haunting lyrics (“I took up a job that was all absentee”), was stuck in my head for nearly two weeks after Portal 2 launched.

Even though I jumped into the game fairly late, the music cemented my connection with the game and made it memorable.  This is something I might be trying for myself in the future.

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Posted in arg experience storytelling transmedia

Haley Moore is a newspaper reporter, artist, and playwright based in north Texas. She has worked on several indie, fan and commercial Alternate Reality Games.

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By peter katz, May 3rd, 2011

At SXSW I attended the Scandinavia Tech Summit, a panel covering technology and media.  Henrik Werdelin (@werdelin) was one panelist who stood out with his unique understanding of  tech startups.

As disruptive technology is forcing the entertainment industry to either evolve or die, more creators should talk to smart people like Henrik.

Below is our interview.

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Henrik Werdelin. I am the managing partner at Prehype. We are a group of product developers who bridge the world between entrepreneurship  and corporations by spinning new digital startups out of big companies and then selling them back to them. My background has always been around experience design and innovation; from running the product development for MTV International over startups like Joost and Hotpotato to working in venture capital.

What were your highlights from SXSW?
One big moment was the when I experienced first hand the power of social promotion as I stood next to Gary Vaynerchuk when he announced the location of his yearly SXSW wine flashmob. It was incredible to see a room filling from 5 people to over 300 in under 20 minutes. It made me think about how much impact our new social tools have. Normally when we do products and get e.g. 10.000 signups, we feel its only a marginal win. However, seeing 300 people poring into a room within such a short time was quite humbling.

Based on your background in experience design and innovation, how would you tell a transmedia story?
I know it might sound like a bad answer, but I think it very much depends on what the story is. New media are just tools that you can use to tell stories in a new – and often more engaging way. I feel too many media companies try to add new media components to their storytelling just to add those tools – and not because they add value to the story. They also often forget to fully understand how a users daily flow is – and then mold their use of technology around peoples behavior – instead of assuming that they can move people across different new mediums.

Who do feel are the most innovative storytellers and what can creators learn from them?
I think good storytellers – are good storytellers. Most of the more innovative ones uses new technology too add impact to their narrative. That can be from clever use of social media to establish suspense (like the blairwitch project), to simple game shows that adds user participation via sms (think American Idol), over CNN’s way to include their viewers via iReporter and finally people who use digital tools to tell a story. (like the guys who did http://pleaserobme.com/). However, clearly the game developers have managed to engage users in self-made storytelling and that is where I think we will see the most innovation come from.

Favorite books and blogs?
- The Singularity is Near
- Hellohenrik.com :)
- Influences
- The Paradox of Choice
- A mind of its own

How would you make social games more social?
Move more of the gameplay outside the web and into real life.

Can film studios learn anything from startups?
I think everyone can learn from startups. A few lessons;
- Its hard to judge your own ideas in a board room. Therefore, find methods where you can produce components cheap enough to test it against real users and then build on it if it turns out to be successful.
- Identify if your incentive structure is aligned with your objectives. E.g. if you dont think your teams take enough risk, you probably have a structure where only playing it safe is compensated
- Think less – do more…

Will Netflix keep winning in an increasingly competitive market?
Yes. By being restrictive in their deal structures – studios have up to now prevented a healthy industry of innovative distribution partners

What are going to be the next major trends in the entertainment industry?
Gaming seems to be one of those industries that keep taking market share from the traditional entertainment industry. I think we will see more innovation from the game world. The last sprint was social gaming – but I think this form of entertainment that engage users will see more growth. Finally I think the user generated trend will continue also. As the barrier to entry into the entertainment industry goes down you will see a raise of independent overnight sensations.

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Posted in social media storytelling transmedia

peter katz is an award winning filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Peter has produced genre films that have screened all over the world from the AFI Fest to the Rome Film Festival. His first picture Home Sick starred Bill Moseley from The Devil's Rejects and Tom Towles from Henry Portrait Of A Serial Killer. Next Peter worked with Tobe Hooper (director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist) on Mortuary, which premiered on the Sci Fi Channel. Most recently he was a producer on Pop Skull, a psychological ghost film, that has received great reviews in Variety and numerous film web sites. Currently, Peter is developing projects across various mediums including film, comics, and the web.

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