Geoffrey Long
On Wings of Flame
The challenge

In the summer of 2015, I was invited to create a narrative app experience that would unfold as audiences moved through downtown Los Angeles. The experience would be delivered exclusively via users' personal mobile devices (e.g., phones, phablets, etc.), and neither the environment nor the people in it would react to the user's actions or choices. The only interactivity would come from how the user chose to navigate the city.

The solution

In the experience I designed, On Wings of Flame, audiences are instructed to begin at the Pacific Electric Lofts building downtown. When they arrive, the app directs the user to start walking towards the Bradbury Building and prompts them to play an audio file on their mobile device as they walk. That audio file is a short scripted scene (“Prologue: the Pacific Electric Lofts”) that introduces the main character (Gabriel Graystone, a onetime angel who now walks a fine line between good and evil as a private detective) and presents the user with his latest case. When the user arrives at the Bradbury Building, they are prompted to play a second short scripted scene (“1. Bradbury Building”), after which the user is presented with several choices as to where to go next. If they choose the correct answer, the mystery continues to unfold at the next stop. If they choose the wrong one, they are directed back to the right destination so the story can continue. Making too many bad choices results in too much wasted time, and the villains literally get away with murder.

It's a very simple mechanic, and as designed it satisfies an original super-challenge: to get people to experience a wider range of locations in downtown Los Angeles. Originally the experience was intended to be audio-only, and the story, while set in 1937, directed the user to places that either existed in 1937 (e.g., Angel's Flight) or deliberately evoked a mood akin to 1937 (e.g., The Edison). The main reason for the detective being a supernatural creature is to grant him a limited ability to see through time, which resonates with the audience taking a time-distorted tour of LA as well. The primary design goal here is to establish a mood through what is effectively an augmented tour, a la the Museum of London's Streetmuseum app.

To download the brief white paper I wrote summarizing the experiment, and to read a sample of the project script: "On Wings of Flame: Towards an Aesthetics of Augmented Reality Storytelling".



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