Electron Dance
8Jul/14Off

The Making of #warningsigns

weapon-headshot

If you liked some of the music from #warningsigns or just want to know how it was made or how it came about - you've come to the right place.

I don't think it's advisable to read this post unless you've watched the film first. But, hey, I'll throw you a bone. For a good year, the subtitle of #warningsigns was "this is a series about the end of the world".  

The Music and Making of #warningsigns

Right, first up, if you want to know what music was used in a particular scene, I've got just the video to help you out. It also has little notes on the production of the film as well as deleted scenes and - gasp - an alternative ending. Well, it's not that much of a gasp, because it's not that much of an alternative. It's a film not a bloody hypertext narrative, after all.

A Long, Long Time Ago

In 2011, I had planned to write some essays on concepts like F2P, DLC and piracy but I saw a potential series in them. This is how an Electron Dance series usually comes together - I see a pattern in a collection of essay stubs then some magic happens. The title "warning signs" seemed a good fit but was eventually contracted to the Twitter-style hashtag #warningsigns to highlight the connection to internet technology.

Ideas continued to accumulate - Kickstarter, photorealism, next generation hardware, bundling - and this series, always intended to be a rant, was spinning out of control. A big series is always tricky in terms of reader attention and having already been burnt a couple of times, I wasn't up for diving into a new one. Despite this, I slowly began organising the #warningsigns series during 2012.

I knew that every major Electron Dance series had had a video to go with it - The Aspiration had Neptune's Pride: 23 Days in 3 Minutes, Where We Came From had Eulogy for an Atari Childhood and The Academics Are Coming had one too. I didn't want to buck the trend, so started sketching out some ideas. Eventually I used last year's sabbatical month to kick it off. I thought if I finished the launch video, it would inspire me to get the series written once and for all.

The Weapons of Progress

The original plan was to showcase different concepts you would encounter the series: the demand curve, zero price, "innovate products into services" and the like. But as time went on, I kept getting more ideas that transformed it from a sequence of disconnected symbols into something quite different. I became aware that as the video became longer it needed to be something that could stand alone, becoming the first episode of the series rather than merely launching it.

Originally, Sonic was meant to be used to open the video, but I knew it wasn't going to work for a YouTube audience, so transferred it into the #warningsigns preview video last year:

Let's digress for a moment. Here's the last few minutes of the 2011 video Eulogy for an Atari Childhood which represents the death of a gaming childhood.

I was trying to imply the burial of an Atari computer (the flowers are the future growing out of the soil that is now nutritious with the past, obviously). So what if this fictionally-buried computer were unearthed in subsequent years? It would be like a murder mystery with unanswered questions like who did this and why? That's where the opening sequence of a detective talking about exhumed consoles came from... plus I wanted to bury a console for real this time, no messing about.

The thematic motivation for including these scenes was kinda sketchy at the time but as I wrote the script for the murder scene at the end, the phrase "we are all the weapons of progress" emerged. It struck me this phrase was more important than #warningsigns and, in fact, the force that bound everything together: it was a real light bulb moment.

I then bumped off the title #warningsigns in favour of The Weapons of Progress.

Aside

If you've only been reading Electron Dance for a year or so, you might not be aware that "Killer Wally/Waldo" has appeared before. He featured in the 2012 video Fotonica Astonishca.

Never ever play Electron Dance's review of Fotonica... in front of children

A Book is Born

The amount of work needed to complete the series, though, was looking intense and I decided to call it: maybe this series was better off as a book.

The book adopted the name "The Weapons of Progress" which meant the video became an orphan. See, the video made liberal use of copyrighted material, because I felt the message was important enough to dismiss copyright violations and I wasn't looking to make any money off it. But I couldn't make the video an advert for a commercial endeavour - that's just wrong - so the video reclaimed the #warningsigns title. It didn't make too much difference not having a series to rely on; the video had already been fashioned into something that could live independently. (It is only in the last few weeks I made the commitment to call it a film.)

The subject of the series/book had been a secret until last week - and I've now started to open up a little more on the Appendix forum.

Oh No, Not ARGain

Back in 2012, I thought it would be fun to scatter the phrase #warningsigns across lots of videos. Maybe someone would see them, maybe not. If not, I could always turn it into a contest of tracking down the hidden signs to "unlock" the series. I never expected them to remain buried for two years.

I knew after the disaster of The Accidental ARG any subsequent ARG had to be relatively simple, so the #warningsigns ARG was going to be a sequence of relatively easy-to-find video addresses - each one corresponding with one of the hidden #warningsigns messages.

But as usual I always have to go that extra mile. That extra mile too far.

I wanted to reward players who recovered a sign with a short video fragment... but remembered during The Accidental ARG that players would often read too much into the tiny details leaked through the game. I needed to offer something obvious and shiny which would focus attention away from red herrings as I would only have a small player base (I didn't know the half of it - it was only Shaun Green playing after the first few signs). That shiny thing would be the mysterious letters at the end of each recovery video which would spell out, if arranged correctly, @WeaponProgress.

I had this parallel plan, you see, to launch an alt-Twitter account that would showcase the kind of questions and commentary that fuelled the development of the series/video. I kicked it off last September, aiming to update it every couple of days. @WeaponProgress generally stayed out of everyone's way and initiated conversation only a few times. But I wasn't sure if I should work harder at promoting the account so I printed out a batch of Weapon of Progress business cards. But what was I going to do with them?

Obviously make a secondary ARG. Oh, Joel. Oh my God, you don't learn, do you?

I thought it would neat if the address of the sixth sign was shared by developers on Twitter. How would I get them to do this? By sending them packages from the Weapons of Progress. Developers such as Tale of Tales, Ed Key and Squid in a Box would each receive a business card with the address of the sixth sign, a letter showing off screenshots from the #warningsigns video and...

wop_letter_to_developers

...an indie developer wage packet containing lottery tickets. Do you think this message was subtle enough?

wop_wage_packets

I was concerned the entire package might be misinterpreted as a statement against commercialised art rather than as a component of an ARG, so I left a trail of breadcrumbs on @WeaponProgress to assuage any doubt that this was a friendly gesture. (See tweet 1, tweet 2 and tweet 3 if you're interested.)

The big joke, of course, was going to be that the one and only winner in any indie developer lottery would be Notch, as told in a sequence of tweets which played out during the ARG (see tweet 1, tweet 2, tweet 3 and tweet 4).

lottery_winner_is_notch

Nonetheless, all of this was a spectacular waste of time because the developer packages either arrived late or landed on the desks of accountants, and I was forced to give out the sixth sign address using alternative means.

By the way, did you notice there was a Weapons of Progress website?

Making New Progress

So what's next?

The @WeaponProgress account has a life of its own now. It is a repository for observations and links that are useful for the book and, by keeping the Weapons of Progress persona separate, it enables me to make the kind of negative tweets you wouldn't expect from the Electron Dance Twitter account. Also, when the book draws closer to completion, this Twitter account as well as the website will become the official face of the book.

Now at the time of writing, the #warningsigns film has not been enormously successful and even that nice RPS link has generated only a fraction of interest. I guess "art film" doesn't have the cachet you might hope for!

But the film is doing alright. And the important takeaway here is the film isn't the end of a long process... it is merely a beginning.

Download my FREE eBook on the collapse of indie game prices an accessible and comprehensive explanation of what has happened to the market.

Sign up for the monthly Electron Dance Newsletter and follow on Twitter!

Electron Dance Highlights

Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. On one level, my favourite part of this behind-the-scenes featurette is that foxes kept digging up the xbox.

    Very interesting to see what went into the making of the film – both the ideas that were considered and rejected or altered, and the simple graft.

    Shame about the ARG. I guess a risk with the approach you took is that people will think “oh I shan’t bother trying, someone else will inevitably get there first”. There was also a minor issue with the ARG in that you don’t have browsable archives and your search function doesn’t interpret dates as a person would, so in order to find the post referenced in a hint it was necessary to take to google.

    I’m tempted to write around some of the themes you’re exploring in the film on Arcadian Rhythms, but although it would be interesting to, you know, explore being a weapon of progress, I also feel as though I should wait for the book.

  2. I’m glad someone is getting something out of this post, Shaun. So much time went into this post that I just had to promote it to Tuesday; originally, I was expecting to write another article on top of this and Link Drag.

    ARGs are tricky and I’m not sure I can make them work for small numbers. Small numbers mean simpler problems; simpler problems mean no one needs to collaborate.

    Feel free to write what you want! The book isn’t going to emerging any time soon and it’s a pretty dense, involved affair. I’m doubt you are going to steal my thunder!

    (I also like it that the film cannot be fully appreciated without having use pause and/or rewind in YouTube. It’s a very “modern” film.)

  3. Running an ARG is a hell of a time investment. They’re logistically nightmarish. Video projects are also a huge amount of work. Writing books is a huge amount of work. HM works really hard. Forget numbers, HM, be proud of all you’re doing, because it’s great.

  4. Yeah, I know, Steerpike. I should know better, huh? I’m keeping my chin up.

    New Electron Dance subtitle: “HM works really hard.”


Trackbacks are disabled.