Story Hack, Beta Part 4

(You can read part one, two, and three.)

The hackathon came to an exciting conclusion yesterday with presentations from all seven teams and a brief awards ceremony. I was too exhausted to write about it last night, an indication that the 34-hour event had been a success. Last weekend my wife ran in a 200-mile Ragnar relay race, and it occurred to me more than once that hackathons are the tech/transmedia equivalent.

Hacking had begun just after 10 a.m. Saturday morning and continued nonstop until 3:30 p.m. Sunday. My own team’s final hours were fueled with adrenaline more than caffeine. As the team’s filmmaker, I created 37 little videos to intersperse on Facebook (via a great tool by Social Samba) and, especially, on an app we created for Android and iPhones. The conceit was that as users/viewers entered a live event in search of the female lead (an approximation of Orpheus entering the underworld to find Eurydice) their phones would begin playing short glimpses of her emerging from or disappearing back into the dark. I’d finished editing these by around 10:00 Saturday so I spent my night and Sunday morning exporting from Final Cut and uploading to Kaltura. While Social Samba — which helps create and manage fictional characters and narratives for platforms like Facebook and Twitter — is an amazing resource for transmedia storytellers, Kaltura is something all filmmakers should check out, whether they’re interested in cross-platform storytelling or not. On the surface it’s another online video player akin to Vimeo or YouTube, but there’s a lot more going on under the hood. For one thing you can upload your videos in just one format and have the Kaltura player process them and maximize them for various platforms (all browsers and operating systems, mobile devices, Internet-connected television, etc.). We also used it to host our audio files, as you can do with images and other rich-media content. There are also editing functions, social features, choices of deployment (SaaS, Cloud, etc.), and other reasons to check it out. My hunch is that for many users it will be worth the membership fee.

Which is also true of Story Hack’s other tech sponsors. Although I personally wasn’t too involved with the Social Samba aspect of our team’s narrative it was a big part of what we did, and four of the seven teams used it–props go to their team for staying throughout the night and hacking along with us. I think a lot of participants were impressed with its possibilities, and different teams used it to get really different results. All of our hosting was done by Logicworks, and nearly every team used Twilio to build some type of interactivity between phone calls, texts, and websites. On Team U.S. Maple, our programmer Shifat Salim managed to hack together Twilio, Kaltura, and the geolocation tool Geoloqi (which is more precise than standard GPS) to make our app text your phone as you approach the live event; this text then becomes a password to get past a live bouncer, and the Twilio-Kaltura combination then begins sending the video snippets mentioned above as you navigate the physical space populated with live actors. Twilio was designed as a business tool — to automatically text your coworkers if you’re running late or to call your mom when you’ve arrived at the airport — and this is the first time it’s been brought into fictional narratives like this.

As my work editing and posting videos was winding down Sunday I was more than impressed as Shifat and our other teammates Carrie Cutforth-Young and James Carter pushed hard to get all the programming, writing, Photoshopping, and PowerPointing (?) done. I introduced the team in Part 1, but both Carrie and James have some great projects in the works — The Karada, a sci-fi series and ARG, and NY_Hearts LES, which was just accepted into The Brick Theater’s Game Play Festival, respectively — that will be worth following.

So how did everyone do? Especially given the timeframe the presentations were pretty amazing. Team Beach Monster, having lost their coder, ventured out into New York City at night, leaving their wallets, keys, and cell phones on their table to create an interactive performance piece for us fellow hackers.

Team Syngergized created “We Are the Shunned,” an online/real world game about a deadly bedbug epidemic that comically investigates real issues of social responsibility (scroll down through their presentation to reach the game prototype).

Team Awkward Hug created “Space Without Us,” a hilarious hand-drawn animation and game in which players are Mission Control, trying to save astronaut Harry from annihilation in deep space (with a cameo by a cartoon Fidel Castro).

Team Vile Ink made “Dr. Knightley’s Society for Experimental Courting Services,” or S.E.C.S. (say it out loud), an incredibly tongue-in-cheek game for two players, guaranteed to spark romance through shared interests in genres (we watched a murder-mystery game) and problem solving.

Team Rodan made an anti-Linked-In called “Your Personal Failure Engine” at http://becourageo.us where people can vent by discussing their life’s greatest failures, or mentor those who are failing now; video and other elements rounded out the transmedia aspects, including a hack of Twilio that won the team new Kindle Fires.

And finally, Team Cupcake and Rainbows took the top prize with their show-stealing “Futuremate,” a post-apocalyptic dating service for survivors of the cataclysm who are both still fertile and not infected with the dreaded Nightwalker Mutation. A Twilio-based tool quickly matched up everyone in the room with a prospective mate, and the accompanying live presentation, which included a ten-foot alien puppet trying to break through the glass wall of the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center amphitheater, brought down the house, though not literally. Check out their work at http://futuremate.us.

It was a fantastic, if exhausting, weekend, and a great leap forward in StoryCode’s progress to become a leading organization and advocate in the transmedia world. The only problem of the whole experience is that I just realized today’s not Friday after all…