Structuring A Narrative Multiverse

Posted By Robert Matney on Tuesday, December 30, 2014 |

Deus Ex Machina began with a conversation about yielding to an audience agency over a play’s narrative trajectory while preserving the structure and prepare-ability of a traditional play. We settled quickly on diverging, scripted timelines, a multiverse of narrative lines that split at multiple inflection points responding to audience voting.

How to do this gracefully? How to submerge the mechanics of voting into the world of the play to produce a frictionless experience that shines the light on the art, and not a petulant display of technology? Additionally, we wanted to preserve accessibility, selecting a voting input mechanic that we and our audience members could afford. What you see represents our best effort at meeting that challenge, and we are sure that we will learn more than we succeed in this grand experiment, and apply those lessons as we refine this new domain of theater.

Nuts and Bolts

Our custom-built cueing system which drives video and some audio cues, as well as the complete voting integration, is based on Twilio‘s votr project (Twilio is an SMS/voice gateway/platform). To extend the functionality, we merged into votr some plugins from ardrone-webflight, a web interface for controlling drones that Tim Thomas, one of our technology designers, used in a previous play, and which in turn merged live drone footage with static audio/visual cues. The system works something like an interactive, multi-linear power point presentation. The basic technology is built with nodejs with a couchdb backend.

We continue to build the tool out in advance of our opening this weekend. As we extend functionality, we will integrate more technologies into the work.

We hope you enjoy the experiment, and help us break this new ground.