Designing a Multi-User Networked Narrative Experience

February 11, 2012

Splash on the Countertop

After a hectic few weeks of keeping myself busy, I’ve finally found some time to catch up on the blog and my recent work. A few weeks ago, I worked with a team to design an experience built around a preexisting network infrastructure (i.e. iChat videoconferencing, Skype and the like). The result was a detective investigation reality game, set in a post-zombie apocalyptic world.

The Narrative
After agreeing that we would create the experience using four webcam feeds (centralized via iChat), we set off to develop the world we would be placing our participants in. The story surrounds Dr. Jill Valentine (named as an homage to the Resident Evil games), a researcher at OMEGA Biochemical Engineering. Valentine is a single mother (her husband Greg tragically died a few years ago), caring for her 5 year old daughter Clarice. At OMEGA, Valentine is a researcher of neurology, particularly interested in the regeneration of brain cells as a means to cure Alzheimer’s. It doesn’t take long, however, for her to find out that OMEGA’s mandate is much greater (and more ominous) than curing mental disease: they’re developing weapons for biological warfare.

Needless to say, OMEGA’s plans go awry and out of control. A neuro toxin known as NT-21 is unleashed upon the public, essentially creating a world of violent, hungry zombies (and in turn, an entirely unlivable, dysfunctional society). Fortunately, it turns out that Valentine actually caught wave of OMEGA’s plans early and worked towards developing a cure for the neuro toxin.

This is where our experience begins. In hopes to find the cure and salvage society, a “national security group” seeks the help of our participants, sent out in three pairs, to look for clues to locate Dr. Valentine’s cure. The groups are sent to locations designated as Valentine’s house, office, and laboratory.

Operator Room

The Experience
Participants begin the experience in what we call the “operator room.” This room features a large screen with the surveillance feeds of the three locations they will be sent out to (as you can see in the photo above). Whoever sits in the operator room is tasked with coordinating the overall investigation initiative, and is given clues (which they read to the rest of the team) if everyone gets stuck.

What comes next is a slightly complicated series of riddles and clues that participants must use to move forward. A clue in one room may be the key to solving a puzzle in another room, meaning everyone must communicate their progress with one another to find the cure. To help participants understand the story world they’re visiting, we also scattered entries from Dr. Valentine’s journal around each room – some contain clues to solving the riddle, while others are simply there to help reinforce the atmosphere.

There were a lot of components that went into this piece, which I’ll attempt to do justice to below with some good old photo documentation.

Tape Recorder

In the laboratory, there is a stack of books. One of the books suspiciously houses a tape recorder. Participants that listen to the recording can hear Dr. Valentine’s voice, reciting the reality of her situation, as well as an important clue.

Beaker

Yes, we had a beaker with mysterious blue fluid.

Bloodied Cloth

Bloodied cloth was scattered around each of the rooms to help set the atmosphere.

Lab Room

View of the laboratory. Here you can see a lock box with a combination lock, the computer used for videoconferencing, some scattered journal entries, and a stack of books.

Survival Kit

“Survival kits” were distributed to each participating team. The bandages and bloody props were for show, but the sketchbook and flashlight were helpful to gameplay. The flashlight in particular was helpful in the laboratory and office, as those rooms were pitch-black.

Journal Entry

One of Dr. Valentine’s journal entries. Her daughter Clarice is an important clue in the later stages of the experience.

Medical Document

One of our team members even wrote up a medical document from Valentine’s research, outlining the schematics of her anti-toxin cure.

Business Card

Business cards were hidden in some areas. One of them featured a particularly blunt clue on the back.

Contracts

Yes, we even wrote up a contract corresponding to a point in Valentine’s career where she was found trespassing into areas of OMEGA without authorization. The letter here notes that OMEGA has learned about her behaviour, and to prevent her from continuing offers her a raise.

Key above the door

A key is taped above a door. The participants didn’t know about this until a clue revealed it to them.

Box Clue

Using the key they found, some more clues were exposed.

House Setup

The setup for Valentine’s house features a suspicious-looking photo of her daughter Clarice, as well as a login screen for OMEGA’s employee portal.

Password Close-up

A closer look at the login screen. The password is hinted at in another room.

Bio Page

Once participants find the password, they’re led to Valentine’s profile page. Certain characters here are suspiciously highlighted in yellow…

Those are all the images I have to share. In my next post, I’ll detail the process involved in some of my responsibilities for this project (which included creating the login site among other things). A documentation video coherently featuring all of the user experience is also coming soon!