The Mystic Midway was commissioned to create a performance environment by the Augmented World Expo for their event on May 28 on 2014. This was the first time we have been able to manifest the Midway at a technology conference, and we seized the opportunity. Our goal was to provide immersive commentary and interaction that combined traditional theatrical and sideshow techniques with as much high tech magic that we could manifest. We bit off a lot for this 4-hour performance and overall we were successful in creating something that had never been seen before that provided a sense of wonder and participation for the conference-goers and the Midway performers alike.
After scouting the space at the Santa Clara Convention Center (a mezzanine that would see good foot traffic between the conference sessions and the expo floor) we theorized that we would need a game design that offered a nonlinear way to interact with the space and performers. We developed a hub-with-spoke design that allowed multiple people to do a simple, quick character interaction that combined their effort into a regular payoff that would occur every 10 minutes during the performance. This would suit the walking-by nature of the audience and would also would work with the existing sets and characters of the Midway.
Above is the general concept of how the game flow works. Each of the four locations/characters would have a piece of the Mysticon Codex, and each time players who were flowing through the space would assemble the four pieces at the central techno-magical sculpture. Once the codex was activated, the Airship Wonder would be charged to fly drifting up and off the mezzanine location to float above the vast atrium of the space. Plans, as is usual with most any endeavor, didn't survive the reality of the situation!
New Array of Technical Elements
An amazing array of talented makers, engineers, artists and more worked behind the scenes to create the hardware, software, set and prop elements of the Mysticon Codex. A list of the relatively exotic technologies involved included:
- Augmented Reality
- Video mapping / projection
- Radio Controlled Drone
- Audio capture/realtime mix
- Laser Cutting / 3D Printing
... Plus all the standard computer and network wizardy that one would expect to tie it together. This went far, far beyond what we had done at previous performances (using hand stamps or physical tokens). The technologies combined with the spirit of the performers delivered an effective set of WOW moments to guests on a reliable basis, especially as we refined the ensemble's improv lines and found a performance cadence.
A sound sculpture performance provided an additional layer of interaction and feedback to the space. Within the Miraculum was a kiosk that prompted users to record their vocal thoughts. Technical crew and a DJ mixed these audio quoted into the ambient soundscape. This have a lovely 'voices from beyond' aesthetic to the background music mix, and provoked those listening to model their own thoughts and cast interactions on what they heard.
As we had waves of players come through the space, some experienced one or two performers, gathered Mysticon Codex Pieces, and put them all in the center. This would trigger a video mapped effect that, combined with the reaction of the whole cast, really engaged people. Importantly, the players had earned the Mysticon piece they contributed through the deep inquiry that worked so well in our previous events. A player was engaged in a variety of ways (depending on the cast character they interacted with) to question and express how the mixed reality technology on display at AWE was affecting their future, the lives of others, etc.
Fears and hopes were again the fuel for a memorable interaction that worked for most players who wandered in, no matter how jaded. We feel this was especially effective due to the stark contrast between the high tech corporate environment of the convention center environment vs the colorful, strange and rich Midway set environment
The construction of the codex set piece and prop was a good example of how this performance hybridized traditional skill and high tech. The frame and pieces were all constructed and painted with stage set building techniques, using found / recycled materials. The plastic codex table and props were laser cut and etched via digital files shared among a far-flung virtual team. Finally, the video projection mapping was bespoke code with a microprojector driven by a laptop and cycled through its performance by a wireless mouse. This center piece was a great success and will very likely appear in future performances with additional mixed reality enhancements.
A large effort was spent shooting and designing content for augmented reality targets and displays. Our tech sponsor for this performance, Metaio, provided authoring software, viewing app and cloud hosting that allowed us to create 12 targets that displayed alpha-channel video of the Midway characters, links to previous videos, and links to MysticMidway.com.
Players could download the Junaio app to view the mixed reality content that was embedded in posters, cards and objects in the performance space. We have some big plans for this sort of thing, especially around the Mystic Midway Adventure Deck cards, coming soon!
We feel we have just scratched the surface of the possible ways that we can hybridize the Mystic Midway's traditional skillset with high tech wizardy. We are very much looking forward to the next outing when we can create deep inquiry interactive storytelling supported by our wonderful cast and amazing technology.
After the highly successful "One Terrible Magical Thing" location performance at the San Francisco Edwardian Ball, The Mystic Midway was asked by the Edwardian Ball to create another ambient game environment for their annual Hollywood event.Read More
On January 17th and 18th the Mystic Midway created a live game environment in the Masonic Lodge Theater of the Regency Center in San Francisco. The Mystic Midway is an ongoing transmedia project created and managed by Scott Levkoff (http://baronscottlevkoff.com). Our goal was to engage the audience's imagination and participation who wandered through the event space, and we succeeded beyond our wildest expectations.
Myself and Mr. Levkoff designed a simple game experience that could be completed in 15-20 minutes or so by interacting with the walkaround characters who were present in the Mystic Midway space. 15-20 characters, Two tents and five freestanding attractions defined the space, which was embedded in about 1/3 of the floorspace of the Masonic Theater area on the top floor of the Regency.
The fundamental goal was to have a simple storyline that was flexible enough to intrigue but not intimidate slightly tipsy patrons while creating a space for people to share deeply personal stories with the troupe of performers. The publicized theme of the Mystic Midway event was "the Magical Terrible Thing," a homage to Edward Gorey style ersatz humor. We often draw inspiration from archetypal folklore and symbology systems like alchemy, tarot, Freemasonry, etc. After much discussion, we decided to cast the audience as heroes in a quest to find out something magical about themselves and something terrible about themselves, then combine these things conceptually into the Philosopher's Stone and be granted a wish as their reward.
Functionally, this meant we needed a cast of Mystic Midway denizens who could wander about or remain in an enclosed stage and interact with people to draw out their personal stories, and a way to mark participants as they moved through the quest. We hit on the idea of stamping the left hand and right hand for finding their the terrible and magical things, respectively, keeping with the archetypal notion of left- and right- hand paths of initiation. Our meta-game structure decided, we proceeded to find the talent to fill out the cast and determine the various characters who would be leading the audience through the experience.
Troupes of thematically coordinated characters were assembled and co-created their personas, lines and goals with Director Levkoff. All were themed to be relatively gloomy and dark sense of humor in keeping with the overall tone of The Edwardian Ball.
Fortunetelling booths offered a reading using a Mystic Midway themed tarot-like deck of cards to prompt and inspire audience members to reveal their Magical/Terrible things. This deck contains the characters who were actually portrayed by real actors in the space!
A covered stage that contained the land of the fairies, The Ecstatic Emerald Effulgent, had the Fairy Queen and Mermaids engaging more intimately with patrons to draw out their Magical or Terrible secrets.
The climax to the experience occurred with a magic show presented by The Alchemist in the Miraculum tent themed to the alchemical process, combining the magical and terrible into the gold of illumination. Audience members were given a small gemstone or trinket to commemorate their experience.
Finally, an audience member who had completed the entire quest was directed to the Airship Wonder and her crew. This group needed the wishes of initiated folks to power the flight of their airship. Upon showing proof of their illumination, they would have their names and wish recorded into the Wonder Manifest by the crew. Every so often the airship (a helium balloon remote-controlled drone) would take flight around the space, providing a very public payoff to those who made the effort to complete the quest.
The Mystic Midway interactive experience succeeded beyond our expectations largely due to the sensitivity and commitment of the cast to dive as deep into the interaction with individual audience participants as the latter were willing to go. Very intimate and sometimes heartbreaking secrets were shared with the cast, adding a most important layer of personalization and meaning to the overall experience. Because of the strange and otherworldly nature of the environment and cast, audience members were willing to reveal things they had not even to their closest friends and partners. For example (note - names changed to protect the privacy of the guests):
The cast's skilled listening and empathic nature created a sense of trust in the guests - thus eliciting deep sharing.
In conclusion, "One Terrible Magical Thing" was a highly successful experience for all involved, marking a new level of live event production quality, technological innovation and game design accessibility. The Mystic Midway will manifest again and I can't wait!
Huge thanks are due to the Mystic Midway cast and crew, and to the producers and staff of the Edwardian Ball.
More info on the Mystic Midway: http://www.mysticmidway.com
More info on the Edwardian Ball: http://www.edwardianball.com
Photography: Tristan Crane, http://zoartphotography.zenfolio.com/, Martin Caplan