HOW CAN DIGITAL SPACES TELL IMMERSIVE STORIES?

Status:
Completed

Timeline:
8 weeks

Location:
World Wide Web

Collaborator:
Lightcube Film Society

Client:
GOETHE Institut / Max Mueller bhavan, New Delhi


Stories enrich our senses. They immerse us in a world where we learn, build empathy and form connections. But in times when physical distancing becomes a norm, how can digital spaces tell immersive stories?

In 2020, Lightcube Film Society approached us to create a world for their speculative fiction project “The Reanimated Corpse” — a mystery set in 1960s Bombay. Though initially conceived as a physical exhibit at the Max Mueller Bhawan, pandemic restrictions prompted us to explore a digital manifestation of the project as an online multiplayer game.

AfD worked closely with Lightcube to create the universe of the game — from visual concepts to gameplay and player interactions.

The Plot

Somewhere in Bombay, circa 1960, a location scout embarks on an unsanctioned investigation. Introduced to us as Rafique Baghdadi, his exploration of the city brings him to discover the disappearance of Rashida — a yesteryear Bollywood actress.

In unravelling the reasons behind her disappearance, Baghdadi unearths a film that once existed starring Rashida, and of which no records remain.

Trailer of the Reanimated Corpse AND PHOTOGRAPHED ARTEFACTS PRESENTED AS CLUES



VISUAL STUDIES

Like in most projects, we spent the first week pooling together visual references. Since the brief at this point was quite open-ended, we ensured that our process was in sync with Lightcube and what they had in mind.

From early on, we wanted the map to offer choice, surprise and most importantly, a feeling of being lost. We gathered examples of maze-like city visuals to understand the scale of the world we were building.

REFERENCES FOR MAZE-LIKE CITY LAYOUTS

Starting at our comfort zone: Architectural typologies

Since the game sets in 1960’s Bombay, we needed an element that forms a base for memories to connect it back to the city. Representing the working-class of Bombay over elitist symbols, the chawl is an image that is characteristic to the city and in this case, the central place of reference to Baghdadi.

Visuals references of the chawls of Bombay

A film noir aesthetic

The challenge for us was to translate the spiritual confusion and inbetweenness in the appearance of the game. We experimented with use of minimal high-contrast visuals, emphasized shadows and mysterious silhouettes to establish a film noir resemblance.

We consciously transitioned away from a photorealistic depiction and hinted the spirit of the city through outlines, scarce colour accents and some artefacts from the time.

LAYOUTS &
CONFIGURATION

Once we settled upon the chawl as our primary context for the gameplay, we moved to layouts and configurations.

Adopting a modular grid

To reinforce the imaginative aspect to the game, we wanted the configurations to evolve during the course of gameplay. Modular, grid based configurations formed a good choice for the scale and complexity of the map we had to acheive in the two-month timeframe. ︎

Generative design through p5.js

Tile maps are commonly associated with the 8-bit and 16-bit video games. We created a custom chawlmaker p5 script to experiment with different layouts and configurations.

This amazing article by Justin Bakse (he teaches CompForm course at Parsons) gave us a solid starting point to work with. We repurposed the code and added functions like drag-to-build, export to CSV to save valuable time on the project.




take our chawlmaker 1.0 for a spin ︎︎︎

GAMEPLAY DESIGN

We designed the game as a multiplayer journey where participants can join as a group and to take five distinct journeys across one large map. 

The layout begins as a regular stacks of floors, but start to twist and turn — taking the liberty to bend reality and push boundaries of horizontal and vertical planes as the participants venture deep into the narrative.

Designating pathways and clues across five levels of the game

Designing for interactions

We hosted the investigation on Gather, a proximity-driven video-calling platform which melds the charm of retro video games with the technological modernity of virtual conferencing.

We worked our way around features available on the platform to setup micro-interactions in the game.

FINAL SETUP

Putting the spatial design and audio-visual content together formed the most rewarding part of the project. Up until this point, we weren’t exactly sure of the magnitude of team members working on the project — script writers, audiovisual producers and voice actors!



The Reanimated Corpse manifested on 15 December 2020, planned as five sessions through the day. 

Participants were invited to discover Baghdadi’s trail of clues and collectively try and piece together a story. Each participant in the group embarked on distinct journeys to meet over a verbal facilitated discussion to discuss thoughts and takeaways.

Here’s a glimpse ︎







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