for Magnopus / Expo 2020
as Senior Quest Designer/Developer
for 2 years
Interactive content for Dubai's world's fair
Designing a quest system from scratch
I joined the project after the intent for Augmented Reality characters and quests at Expo 2020 had been already partly defined. My design partner and I split the responsibilities: they would lead the design and writing of quests and interface with Expo's creative direction, and I would take care of the high-level design of how quests work, the data structures used to define them and save user progress, building out the quests themselves based on their designs, and developing the systems and tools required to support them and interface with other development teams involved (mainly Magnopus & Accenture). I was also the owner of the GDD and TDD for the quests and interactive characters systems, and primary point of contact for other developers when it came to quests & characters.
Quest engine development and integration
Quests needed to be completely server-driven and integrate with a set of live services, so I had to develop the quest system from scratch as a Node module, loaded into Hexagram's pub/sub & database framework, which itself was wrapped by other interfaces, including GraphQL support. The quest engine integrated with various other systems to manage inventory items tied to quests, notifications, meta points based on achievements, AR activations... I also implemented an advanced set of unit tests that could spoof data without connecting to services not reachable from a local machine, load-testing scripts in Python to simulate thousands of players moving around the site and interacting with quests, and optimized the systems to fit within the contractual latency limits.
Authoring and playtest tools
I built the authoring toolset for quests using Vue.js as reactive framework, so it would support creating quests and conversations within them with visual scripting, editing geofences and map markers on a map of the Expo site, automatically managing spreadsheets for text content and importing localized text, presenting documentation within the tool... The client apps (mobile AR and web digital-twin) were not available for a long portion of the development, so I also developped a playtest tool that abstracted various screens of the client app, moving a character around on a map and testing geolocation setups, dialogues, and overall quest logic.
at Hexagram & Meow Wolf
for Meow Wolf
as Technical Experience Designer
for 1.5 years
Immersive experiences in artistic exhibitions
My design partner and I were contracted to take a concept that was floating in Meow Wolf's founders' heads and make it a reality. We applied our knowledge from (open-world) games to real-space design to come up with the best ways to encourage exploration while providing additional depth to the world, lore and characters via a digital storytelling layer on top of and interagrated with the Meow Wolf parks. We also pitched and evangelized our design principles to founders and teams to get everyone on board.
Vertical slice demo
We first designed and built a vertical slice experience in MW's Santa Fe offices using work-in-progress installations & storylines. We worked with MW's tech team to integrate with bluetooth/wifi tracking devices, to locate users and trigger behaviors in the real space and on phones based on location. I developed a web-app to simulate a mobile app's functionality, which allowed users to receive, use and send artifacts, review information in a codex, trigger unique behavior and unlock content at certain installations (e.g. a phone ringing when they passed by, or lighting changing when they use an artifact), chat with virtual characters, use a real crytal shard object containing an RFID chip to activate devices...
Digital storytelling design & development
The demo was a resounding success and shown to investors like George R.R. Martin, so we were asked to apply our design philosophy for real-space interactivity to the whole 52,000-square-foot park in Las Vegas. For months we worked with all the Meow Wolf teams to map out the story and relationships of all installations & spaces, and design a digital narrative layer that could enhance it all -- some of it was akin to quests in a video game, but most of it was to be discovered organically. We ended up with 300+ slides covering the whole park and specified the placement of ~80 RFID readers, and started building the experience. I developed more tools to allow placement and authoring of interactions, and to connect the internal networks & services used by installations to the backend used to drive the experience, and provided support in the design and development of the mobile app.
Eventually, Meow Wolf realized they were going to have to cut down the scope for the Las Vegas park to meet their deadlines, and that they didn't have enough resources to build the full digital storytelling experience (app, web, ARGs, and all the visual content to go on them) so they restructured the department and implemented only a very limited version of our design that focused more on gamified rewards than on encouraging exploration.
Chatbots for animatronic robots
After the scope cuts, Meow Wolf hired my design partner and I to stay on as contractors to develop the chat engine and narrative content for 2 animated robots featured in the Las Vegas park. We applied some of our design principles there, hiding clues, keys and guidance through the dialogues for users to connect the dots.
I built the chatbots from the ground up, with special behavior as they needed to work for any user stopping by, and to deliver cryptic information about the world and characters of Meow Wolf. I also worked with artists & technicians to trigger text-to-speech and fitting animations from the chatbot.
for Netflix/Baskin Robbins
as Technical Experience Designer
for 7 weeks
in June-July 2019
80s-inspired ARG for the release of Stranger Things Season 3
Integration into a high-profile marketing campaign
About 6 weeks before the launch of the Season 3 of Stranger Things, we were contracted to design and implement an ARG for the event. It was integrated into Baskin Robbins' Scoops Ahoy marketing campaign, during which they remodeled multiple stores and introduced new ice-cream flavors.
The ARG itself began with TV commercials providing a phone-line number, and involved a Telnet application, a chatbot, mini-games and digital challenges, faxing, morse code and ciphers present in Baskin Robbins stores... It ran from the 4th of July to the 15th, with new content and challenges unlocked daily.
Chatbot, game-logic scripts, network/database library
I wasn't the main designer on the ARG, but heavily contributed to the design. My main responsibility was to build the chatbot and to connect our back-end service (SAGA) with the Chatscript server and the front-end interface to allow the whole experience to work.
Without the Chatscript library I had created for Skype Originals, this project wouldn't have been possible in that timeframe -- it allowed me to build an advanced chatbot in a few weeks, and connect it to game progression and a calendar of daily unlocks. I also created the chatbot architecture and all Chatscript patterns to ensure that the chatbot could respond to users appropriately.
Overwhelmingly positive feedback from the community
The community congregated on Discord and Reddit to theorize about the mysteries introduced in the ARG and help each other through its challenges. Information and red-herrings planted in BBS messages and files kept them involved, speculating about the wildest theories in the Stranger Things universe. The response from users was very positive towards the ARG itself, as well as the overall marketing campaign. Players ended up designing their own logos, stickers, certificates, t-shirts, memes... to celebrate the ARG.
Thousands of users participated in the experience that week, and half a million messages were sent/received by the chatbot. Hundreds of players completed the ARG, and the first 11 ended up winning free ice-cream at Baskin Robbins, from a lifetime to a year's worth. We enventually participated in an Ask Me Anything session on Discord, as participants were eager to learn more about the whole project.
The campaign received multiple awards, including a Primetime Emmy nomination in Outstanding Interactive Extension of a Linear Program, a Webby Awards 2020 for Advertising, Media & PR – Game or Application and the AICP shortlist for integrated campaign.
for Microsoft Skype
as Designer / Software Developer
for 8 months
in 2017 - 2018
on all Skype platforms
Interactive storytelling on Skype using advanced chatbots, audio, video and images
Demo pitch to Microsoft
The narrative designer and I learned how to develop chatbots and created a demo in a month, pitched to Skype leadership in San Francisco, unlocking funding for 2 projects: a crime-solving mystery and a romantic comedy, using chatbots and featuring videos/photos/images of live actors shot by our team in New York. One involved 3 different but inter-connected chatbot characters, which introduced a lot of technical challenges.
Chatbot design, systems and implementation
Chatscript was too limited for the needs of this project, so I developed a library of macros to add functionality like bot emotions & inventory, story structure management, back-end service integration... I designed and wrote an advanced control script, which dictates how the chatbot parses inputs then generates an output, to support multi-chatbot setups, simplification of sentences, detection of emotions, advanced prioritization of answers, identifying and memorizing subjects in sentences, the ability for chatbots to go offline...
I also assumed many design responsibilities in helping flesh out the experience/story, and define/integrate/create the required assets. I also worked with the narrative designer/writer to structure all narrative scripts: templates, conditional logic, branches...
Back-end interface scripts
We worked back and forth with the Skype team to integrate with their fairly-new API, report bugs with said API and integrate Skype features still under development on various platforms. We delivered regular test versions to get feedback and bug reports from Microsoft. By the time we were done though, the Skype leadership team had been transfered to other projects at Microsoft and momentum behind our project stopped, so the chatbots weren't released.