"What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun?" by David Graeber in the Baffler is an interesting philosophical sketch of how play might be one of the fundamental forces of the universe. I like that idea!Read More
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
A beautiful look at what the MM created at Edwardian Ball 2014!
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
I co-designed a live game for the Mystic Midway at the upcoming Edwardian Ball, January 17-18 2014 called "One Terrible Magical Thing." Details will follow the week after, but as you can see from the flyer below, it's an epic quest involving 5 locations, an ancient Masonic Lodge Theater, and 30 performers!
Behold! The traditional The Ludologist Lovecraftian holiday card for 2013!
I helped out my friends at Out of the Box Games on a little project - I narrated their latest how-to video for Snake Oil. Snake Oil is a new game that expands the emergent social fun behind their hit game Apples to Apples. With a typically elegant design, Snake Oil makes a game out of pitching one out of possibly millions of silly products to a judge with particular perspective. A great game for families, friends and kids that is equal parts creative and goof-ball.
I'm eager to check out the first effort from ToyTalk, a startup that uses natural language understanding to create storytelling conversation "shows" for kids on tablets & phones.
The interview below between ToyTalk CEO Oren Jacob and Techcrunch's Greg Kumparak is a fascinating introduction to the principles behind the product.
A ton of high-end tech is working behind the scenes here to make a transparent entertainment experience for grade school kids. AI, natural language understanding and an authoring system for his team to script conversation trees and for animating the characters. The server-side work is fascinating here, offloading the AI processing, the animation and word are streamed down to the device.
The telemetry issues that ToyTalk are dealing with here is super interesting and right on the bleeding edge of kids and big data. Talking to kids in natural language will generate lots of potential insight into how kids interact with characters, but extracting that insight is a bit of a legal minefield. Anyone who makes games-as-a-service for kids struggles with this challenge, and it is great to hear Oren's take, as a parent, on the safeguards they have implemented to ensure informed consent and kids' safety.
Waaay back when I was an intern at Pixar on Toy Story, I distinctly remember Oren Jacob walking me through the Menv (aka Marionette) software he & his team worked up for the Pixar animators - all procedurally modeled NURBS characters, giving an amazing fluidity and power to the artistic instincts of the crew. That experience inspired me to constantly seek to combine technology and creativity in service of talent. I try to do that in every game development team I work with.
With 13 years in the game industry and time served in theme parks, internet and film before that, Martin Caplan has done some pretty fun and weird stuff. Currently he's consulting as an Executive Producer with Transmedia SF (Connected transmedia experiences) and Neomyx (Mobile / Location games). In the past, Martin has been Executive Producer at Robot 11, creating amazing mobile connected toys. Before that, he was a Producer at BioWare / EA leading teams to create amazing next generation experiences in mobile games with AAA brands. He was Senior Producer and New Business Director at Other Ocean, pitching and running projects in the mobile/social space. At Sixense, he served as Senior Producer leading an internal dev team to create innovative gameplay for the Razer Hydra motion control hardware in a Valve game mod for Portal 2. He was previously a Producer at Sega of America for 5+ years with 18 shipped titles. He has worked in the serious games industry as a game and interface design consultant for U.S. intelligence agencies, earning Secret clearance. Finally, he founded and sold Paragon Games, a tabletop RPG game company, developing and publishing RPG books and boardgames.
Marty can be reached at d33vle at gmail dot com