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.