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Behind the Horrific Hordes: How SFU's TLC EdMedia team devised a transmedia game

Contributed by Duane Woods
ETUG had been circled on our calendar for a few months here at SFU. We knew that, as TLC’s Educational Media team, we wanted to do something exciting for the one-day Fall workshop. We talked over many ideas, but settled on transmedia. Transmedia storytelling is a new technique of telling a story across multiple platforms, mediums, and formats using current digital technologies, as well as older, standard technologies. This would give us not only a cutting-edge project to work on, but also a chance to showcase the specialties of our EdMedia team: Manager of Educational Media John Born, Interaction Specialist Jason Toal (interactive media), Media Designer Gabe Wong (print and graphics), and myself, Duane Woods, as the Visual Designer (audio and video)).
And, since ETUG was taking place close to Halloween, we decided on a zombie theme. Coupled with ETUG’s theme of failure, this solidified our direction because nothing screams failure on multiple levels more than a mob of bloodthirsty zombies. Zombies in Wonderland: that was our story. And we settled on a title that evoked a cross between a B-movie horror and a Dungeons & Dragons supplement: The Horrific Hordes of the Hangar.
Coming up with the transmedia story was one thing, but executing that story as a competitive, sequential game was quite another. The simple logic must make sense as one clue ebbed to another.
There were a myriad of practical details we needed to consider along with developing the story and the assets for that story. We decided to make three videos. In the week leading up to ETUG, we divvied up the heavy workload to the team members. We would create a map, an introductory video, a closing video and nine clues. The videos would be uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo, with the audio clue on SoundCloud. Graphics and written clues were created to be hidden physically at the Hangar and posted on Twitter.
We were finally ready. But would we get any players?
ETUG was abuzz on October 28. It was a full house and the clues were all planted. We ended up with 13 participants over three teams. It was a decent number considering the limitations of people’s time at an event with so many other displays and networking.
We launched the game by sending the rules (the timeframe, the boundaries, the objective), the video introduction and the first video clue to everyone, as portrayed with royal ferocity by SFU Educational Consultant Sarah Turner:

Water and Fire, an extinguishing mix
One sets the blaze, with this jetting its liquid fix
Find the red iron dwarf, a modern titan of wet salvation
Dousing hell and it’s incineration for civilization’s preservation

The teams were surprisingly neck and neck throughout the story, which made for exciting gameplay. Two teams made it to the final clue at virtually the same time, which meant that whoever solved the final clue first would be the winner. The last clue read as such:

You’ve come to the end
Through twists, turns and bends
And do you know, Little Rabbits, that the Red Queen is your friend?
Remember Obama’s poster, the one that helped him rise?
It will help you decipher where this clue’s geography lies
Where are you now, are you in front of Hell’s Gate?
That’s too far, way beyond the Mission of your fate
Careful with this clue, try not to get Chilliwacked
But the final answer lies where Rambo First shot and hacked

After some silent pondering of the clue, there was a breakthrough. “Is it Hope?” one player asked.
That was indeed the correct answer, referencing the BC town and the inspiration for Obama’s presidential run. His team was the final winner of the Horrific Hordes of the Hangar, winning themselves a fancy red SFU mug full of chocolates that served as a replacement for a zombie vaccine that would not come. For the reality of ETUG, it was hopefully a source of amusement for the players themselves to have fun and explore our game and story as they went down the rabbit hole of transmedia.