Loud and clear – “Authentic in All Caps”

My background is partly in radio. That’s where I started out, aeons ago, working for youth stations, gradually becoming better and better at what I was doing (and interspersing with work at newspapers, tv etc).

Working with audio has always been a penchant of mine. I remember vividly the many hours spent creating a Monty Python-inspired epos, which essentially was a satirical and bizarre version of Vilhem Moberg’s epic ”Utvandrarna”. We weren’t yet fully digital back then so we worked with those big-ass tape recorders, doing the dialogue first, editing it (by actually CUTTING tape), proceeding to put on layer after layer of manually crafted soundeffects onto the tapes. No room for mistakes there. Brilliant fun though!

AnimatedLadyonCouch_bySimonHoweSo, when I saw that Christy Dena launched ”AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS” I was thrilled. An iPad-based audio adventure to take you around the Internet… I want to see that happen – or, well, hear that happen, I guess. So, seeing the crowdfunding campaign pop up, I immediately became a backer.

But in this day and age, where audio has taken a definitive backseat to visuals in many cases – can a project like this actually make itself heard (pun intended)? Brilliant as it looks, I thought I’d like to know some more. Here, for your perusal as well, a brief interview I did with Christy Dena the other day:

How come you chose to go with audio as the main platform? Coming from radio I know the power of audio, but what were your main reasoning behind it? How about visually impaired people, can they take part?

The spark of interest came when I did the Da Vinci Code audio tour of The Louvre. It was a high-production and immensely rewarding experience (http://www.soundwalk.com/#/TOURS/davincicode/). At the time I had been working on, playing, and researching alternate reality games and transmedia in general. I found there was a design issue involved with guiding your audience from one media touch-point to the next. People were used to things beginning and ending in one place. As creators, we all know the difficulty in encouraging that sort of activity in a single session. So as I was guided around the space of the museum through this compelling narrative, I was struck by just how powerful audio can be as a tool to encourage action (go here, do this) and to communicate a whole world through an economical media. I immediately thought – why not create audio tours of the web?! That is where the spark of inspiration came from.

It has developed now into a radio drama meets web navigation – where players/users are guided to specially-created fictional websites through this radio drama layer. It is a mix, therefore, of both aural and visual modes. The challenge has been getting the sweet spot of this combination: making the audio channel the main communication mode but still providing visual information and aesthetic delight. With the rise of audio tours, audio games, and street experiences that use audio, I can see just how beneficial the use of audio is to encouraging action and providing a narrative layer over the *actual world*. Because of the mix of visual and audio it won’t work if you’re vision-impaired.

You’ve said you’ve gone for satirical and humor rather than intense drama; do you believe humor reaches people easier?

Yes. The inspiration for the story came from my mother’s sudden death. She wasn’t ill, and so I had a lot of questions not just about why it happened physically, but also why philosophically. When I arrived at her home, I looked through all her notes – the last emails she sent, the last phone calls she had, the last song she listened to in the car, where her bookmark was in the novel on her sidetable. I searched through them all to find some understanding about what had happened. I wanted to write about this, but I found straight drama was too…black. And because I’m also weaving in themes of authenticity and identity, I need to find a way to talk about things that didn’t bring up people’s personal walls. Humour is the best way to do this, and it is a lot more fun to write and record! 🙂

There are quite a few audio wizards out there – are you at all opening up for audience co-creation? 

In the beginning, I had grand plans to make the project highly reactive, constantly evolving and growing, and many other things. But of course I found during development and playtesting that this all takes so much time and money. It all changes the nature of the project, and requires a lot of technical and time resources to implement and maintain. One of the goals of the project is to be a repeatable experience. Unlike the wonderfully-reactive live experiences we have on the web, I wanted this to be something I create once and then put out for people to experience any time they please. This creative goal was also linked to the revenue stream of pay-to-play. I could have created a one-time, highly reactive and ever growing experience and possibly charged for that. But I wanted to try something different.

In the original grand grand plan – I wanted to release the story experience with the platform to create your own audio paths and websites to build on the world. But I discovered pretty quickly that creating a start-up and an innovative creative project at the same time is…pretty darn difficult and silly. So I settled on the creative project.

So co-creation as originally planned isn’t in there anymore (as are other grand goals). But I do love people participating in some way, and so I have integrated elements that enable players to contribute anytime. This ranges from adding “Reality Infringements” to creating their own “Artist Assassin Profiles” to having their own “Philosophy Game” included.

Just how hard is it to get through the clutter of cross media and/or transmedia projects nowadays? 

I guess it depends where you’re trying to get through. It is difficult when you’re creating an original property, and when there are limited audiences for particular types of experiences. But in the end, there are difficult levels of clutter. You can break through in one community or area rather than trying to get through all.

You’ve gone down the crowdfunding route; what will happen if you reach your goal, and what will happen if you don’t? How hard does it seem to crowdfund? 

The crowdfunding route is a last resort, but a potentially good one – as it helps give us some funds to complete, builds community, and sparks publicity. All of these will help for when we actually launch. If we reach our goal (wohoo!), then I’ll be going back to the scripts and designs and making sure they’re ready, and we’ll go straight into recording and creating the websites. We’ll then do another playtest and make any changes from there. We plan to have to launched by May (depending on iTunes acceptance time-line), and then release the “Creator’s Log” (a record of a lot of my writing, design, and directing decisions made during the project) within a couple of months after that.

If the crowdfunding isn’t successful, I’ll still go ahead and finish the project in a much limited version. I’ve worked for a long time on the project, with great achievements already — such as having our prototype achieve Finalist for “Best Writing in a Game” at the 2012 Freeplay Independent Games Festival — and so I want to produce something. But what I’ll do is rewrite so it is one short story experience rather than three episodes, and the Creator’s Log will be a scaled down basic website with embedded videos and links and simple navigation. And this will all take longer as we’ll be working around everyone’s day jobs.

As for how hard it is to crowdfund? It certainly isn’t something you just decide to do and then implement. I’ve spent months researching so many elements of crowdfunding, as well as honing the pitch, video, rewards, communication plans and so on. And then of course there is all the work you do during the campaign. It is certainly harder to have a successful crowdfunding campaign when you’re not on Kickstarter (as they attract the most interest and press), but it is possible… 🙂

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