Project OMEGA: The Final Run-Through

February 12, 2012

House Setup

From an overall standpoint, Project OMEGA’s final executed experience seemed to go relatively well. Participants seemed to enjoy themselves and were often humoured by the details of the narrative (sometimes going as far as to play along). Personally, I’m proud of the atmosphere and attention to detail that the team was able to pull off in a relatively short time period. Superfluous elements like the bloodied bandages, face masks, most of the journals, and background sounds were all fantastic pieces of the experience that contributed to the strength of the project as a whole.

That said, it’s incredibly difficult to pull off a seamless and bump-free user experience when there are, well, users involved. And we had many of them (seven to be precise). Below, I’ll try to outline a few of the minor problems that I observed. Feel free to follow along on our documentation video.

Team Coordination
The most critical component of the Project OMEGA experience was teamwork. The piece was based on a four-way networked videoconferencing software, and virtually all clues in one location were only useful to participants in another location. I noticed that some players were more interested in their environment and solving their own puzzles, while others were unable to keep up with the pace of the other teams. Sometimes players in one space would find a clue and reveal it to the other players while they weren’t paying attention. For the most part this is inherently an issue of our set-up, though I’m sure there are methods to help enforce better communication. For instance, our “operator” was a volunteer like the rest of the players. It might have been wiser for one of the project organizers to help facilitate communication instead.

Preemptively Finding Clues
Because all players are reliant on one another to proceed, there was quite a bit of downtime for some teams where they were waiting on other players. As a result, these participants did more thorough searches of their spaces and found clues before they were needed (and outside of our planned order). Specifically, the team in the lab discovered the tape recorder hidden inside one of the books very early on, while the team in the house found a clue hidden inside the picture frame just before it was needed. Luckily, we laid out the clues so that this wouldn’t hinder the riddle-solving process. Instead, these clues were simply put aside and referenced later on when they became important.

Clues Disguised as Fluff
The team actually anticipated that there would be some downtime for players early on during our own testing of the experience. As a counter to this, we scattered entries from Dr. Valentine’s journal around each of the spaces to entertain participants with pieces of the narrative. Unfortunately, I noticed that these journal entries were written off as “fluff” for the most part early on, and were not thoroughly analyzed until much later – one of the entries actually had an important clue on it (a hint for the login screen password), which was discovered after the players had gotten stuck.

In a future iteration, I would focus on a bit more subtle “hand holding” – not enough that participants feel like they’re being walked through the process, but just enough so that answers or directions emerge in the player’s minds with a bit of observation and thought. Despite these issues, the clues did fit together well and the participants found the cure to the toxin in a reasonable amount of time. From a narrative and experiential standpoint, there were many interesting elements to sustain interest (among journal entries, business cards, partially signed contracts, and the like). I would declare the overall experience a success as a result, and a good first attempt at developing a complicated narrative experience.