Find Maria Rivera is a narrative, puzzle-based instillation which follows the story of the disappearance of a water witch from Visalia, CA. Situated between Escape The Room games and Participatory Theater, like Punch Drunk’s Sleep No More, Find Maria Rivera explores themes of environmentalism, mythology, and CSI. The piece leverages responsive objects, web experiences and audio to draw in the participant in a mysterious and emerging story experience. The story takes place in the central valley of California with the backdrop of the looming drought and water crisis. As the user enters the instillation they will be presented with a series of clues and puzzles in a CSI investigation room. The participant will explore the physical objects, text, mobile websites, and audio to unravel the mystery.
During the recent Demo Day I was able to show my work to a number of people. I created a Missing Person poster for the main character, Maria Rivera, which was hung above a chest of 18 small drawers. People seemed engaged with the set of drawers I had on display and they spent time opening them and trying to understand the objects inside. For this demo I was interested in what story the objects inside the drawers told people. Most people seemed to understand that the story was about a missing woman who was a water dowser. They liked the multimedia element of having an iPod playing just one opera song on repeat. A few of them opened all the drawers and even looked up the URL on their phones I had listed on a piece of paper to the Main character, Maria’s blog. Figures 2 and 3 are the list of clues that I originally envisioned for the project. For the demo I had about half of the clues in the drawers. My professor urged me to find a way to orient the users as they engage with the project. I have to find a way to clue them in to how they are meant to engage with the instillation and what their role is within the story.
I examined my feedback and decided to work on some new visual design concepts that might help frame the user’s experience of the story. I also went back to my inspirational game source and played through a number of Neutral’s Escape The Room Games. I also signed up for a live action escape game, The DaVinci Obsession, with Enigma Rooms. The room was interesting to me because unlike the other room I visited before this one has a plot:
“Your client's grandfather, who is a famous historian notoriously known by his obsession of [sic] Da Vinci's work, disappeared after leaving a strange letter to your client. In the letter he urges your client to uncover the secret hidden within his gallery office, as someone after the secret will get to it within an hour…”
Playing through these “room escape” games, both physical and digital, are giving me the tools to create engaging puzzles for my thesis.
I created a timeline for the last day that Maria was seen: How was this evidence put together? Who knew when she woke up? Who knew that she went on a hike? Etc.
7am: Maria wakes up.
8am: She goes to the St. John’s River Trail - She loses her necklace or pendulum.
10am: She appears at work at the Crystal Barn.
1pm: She orders lunch over the phone from Watsons Veggie Garden and picks it up.
4:30pm: She meets at Garcia Farms for a Dowsing session; the session is paid for by farm conglomerate, Cascade Farms. ( I am making this website)
6pm: She goes back to the St. John’s River to look for her lost item.
6 - ?: She disappears. When was she reported missing? Who reported it?
I decided to create three game mechanics or puzzles to control the release of information about the story. They are listed below.
1. Find the phone number to call and listen to a message from ? about ? (this will be a Google voice number that they must call)
2. Find the hidden note or something with the compass and map
3. Find the combo to the lock on the book safe. (I can embed clues to this through Maria’s Tumblr and through a set of Tarot Cards in the drawers.)
I am creating a list of digital/print assets to put on the CSI boards. Right now here is what I have:
San Joaquin River story: http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2014/09/opinion/endangered-river-ctl/
People have no water in Tulare County: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/03/us/california-drought-tulare-county.html
Reservoir conditions graph: http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cdecapp/resapp/getResGraphsMain.action
Chinatown water feud in CA: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/21/us/a-century-on-the-chinatown-water-feud-ebbs.html?ref=topics
Community water center: http://www.communitywatercenter.org/
I also have a chest of 18 small drawers. These drawers will be filled with clues and story flavor elements. One of the drawers will trigger the playing of a Rusalka opera song, as well as trigger a light that will illuminate an object (maybe my Rusalka Headdress).
Experience Map of Find Maria Rivera
I am designing with a few constraints. Unlike an escape from the room game, a gallery instillation has the user's attention for about 10-15 minutes max. Moreover, there may be one to three people in the instillation at a time, so that means that the user should have multiple points of entry into the story and puzzles. I have four points of entry into the story: map, books, drawers, and board of clues. The map color codes those below. The final solution to the mystery of Maria's disappearance lies inside the book safe. However, the user should be able to put together the clues throughout the instillation to start to piece together the story weather or not they open the safe.
Remake the User Experience and Information Release map.
Make a list of artifacts and items that is numbered and connect it to map.
Record Opera Song
Write and Record Poem on Google Voice Number
User Test the User Experience of the puzzles.
Create the song triggering drawer
Set up instillation in the space and test