Over the last few weeks, there's been whisperings of a new, mysterious entity with little context, spreading online. Comprising of an Instagram profile, Facebook Group & a Kickstarter campaign, there is so much to unpack, review and comprehend. With stunning visual artworks and delicate, mesmerising audio, Pictures of Gwen is born.
I spoke with Martin Coat, Creative Director of Rogue Beacon, the team behind the project. Here we find out exactly what this exciting concept is and how you can get involved in Pictures of Gwen.
Hello Martin! Thanks for speaking with me today! Let's start off by introducing yourself.
Hey there! I’m Martin Coat, Creative Director at Rogue Beacon. I’ve been Director of Theatre and Concept Development at Boomtown Fair for eight years. I’m here to talk about Pictures of Gwen, an upcoming immersive experience produced by Rogue Beacon.
There has been murmurings of a new project involving some of the Boomtown team for a few weeks now. What are you up to?
Rogue Beacon developed out of Boomtown, a coalition of the people responsible for The Maze, the core of Boomtown’s immersive theatrics, and Escape! 404, the ARG that defined Boomtown’s immersive world in 2019.
Pictures of Gwen is a new project that Rogue Beacon is producing independently. We’re using the methods and experience we developed working for Boomtown to create an urban fantasy, magical realist world for our audience to explore and enjoy.
You've called it “Pictures of Gwen” – what's the story there, and how did you settle on this title for the project?
An alternate reality game (ARG) is an interactive narrative that is transformed by player influence and runs its course through multiple outlets, with many moving parts to be discovered. This means that Pictures of Gwen is a mystery investigation, an exploration; everything, including the name, could be considered a clue.
To put it another way: that’s for you to find out!
For those that do not know, can you explain what an ARG is?
An alternate reality game is an interactive narrative that features storyhunting, investigation, puzzle-solving and audience participation. ARGs are usually delivered transmedia and present themselves as real events taking place in a real world.
Ah, fantastic! So, how will one play Pictures of Gwen?
Pictures of Gwen can be played online, from home, alone or in small groups or as part of the larger online community. For now, Pictures of Gwen features no physical interaction or location-based clue hunting (geocaching).
Awesome! How does it compare to other ARGs?
Pictures of Gwen sets an innovative tone among ARGs. It is not a horror narrative, Episode 1 has no violence at all, it focuses more on worldbuilding and visual aesthetics and it is wholesome and pleasant.
Creating a pleasant, aesthetics-driven experience in a field dominated by horror and crime-mystery has been a challenge and a delight! We’re excited to be making a pleasant story in this medium!
How far into the planning and production is the project currently? What have you achieved so far?
Episode 1 is complete, with all art assets and writing in-hand. Production is ready to begin on Kickstarter rewards, with all fulfilment and distribution channels secured.
Episodes 2 and 3 are in production, with a scoped plan up to Episode 6 encompassing all of Season 1.
Without giving away too many spoilers, how does the story play out?
Pictures of Gwen is a story that develops in real-time in the fictional West Country city of Torstow. Events will happen in Torstow that will be reflected in the suite of websites and social media accounts that represent the city and the game world. Players will explore these accounts and websites, uncovering information and clues whilst interacting with in-world characters.
The protagonist, Gwen, will have an Instagram account that acts as the primary trailhead and it is her adventure that the players will follow as it unfolds episode-by-episode.
What can you tell us about Gwen, the lead character?
Gwen is a 21 year-old Gemini who just got the job offer of her life. She is an art-student type and is unaware of the world of wonder that awaits her!
From what I've seen of Pictures of Gwen, it seems very art driven. Would you say that's a fair comment?
Rogue Beacon’s Art Director, Luke Oram, is the driving force behind the art of Pictures of Gwen. His style is reflected throughout depictions of our world and he has attempted to show Torstow through Gwen’s eyes, as she interprets it through art, rather than through the lens of a camera.
Pictures of Gwen is fundamentally an art-driven project for this reason: the audience’s window into this world is one of artistic interpretation, not photographic realism.
Gwen delivers her artistic interpretations through Instagram, the perfect platform for a visual-driven project as it allows us to bring elements of the real into our fantasy – we hope to feature real artists and musicians and spotlight them within Torstow as an innovative means of exploring the fiction-reality bridge in alternate reality gaming.
So you're in the process of hosting a Kickstarter campaign! What does this mean for the Pictures of Gwen project as a whole?
Kickstarter represents a proven method of introducing the project to a wider audience beyond Rogue Beacon’s loyal following and of funding production on that scale. Kickstarter is also a great platform to use and we encourage people to consider them when thinking about funding options! It really is a great choice for innovative projects and new intellectual properties that need to find purchase to establish themselves.
The Kickstarter video has a very magical feel – is that setting the tone for the story we're about to unfold?
Pictures of Gwen is an urban fantasy, magical realist story that gives the audience the opportunity to explore the enchanted West Country city of Torstow alongside Gwen, an artist who seems to see more in the world than others do.
Once you’ve worked in a magical city like Boomtown you want to carry on. We were inspired by Boomtown’s scope and want to create a similarly sophisticated alternate reality, focused on myths, traditions and British folklore. We want to take these themes and stories and set them in a modern Britain, in the manner of Niel Gaiman or Brian Froud.
What are you hoping to gain from the campaign, and how crucial is it for people to back this project?
Pictures of Gwen has been bootstrapped from nothing on the thinnest of shoestring budgets. It is vital for the project that we reach our Kickstarter campaign target, as we are not able to sustain zero-budget production indefinitely.
How can people get involved?
They can back us on Kickstarter here: http://kck.st/2JrPaTO
They can join the Pictures of Gwen Group on Facebook here: https://fb.com/picturesofgwen
They can subscribe to the Pictures of Gwen mailing list here: https://picturesofgwen.com
Most of all, they can share the project and its Kickstarter page far and wide to get us as much visibility as possible!
I can't wait to see how this project develops over the coming months, but it has to reach it's fundraising goal of £20,000 on Kickstarter to make it a reality. As with all projects on the platform, it's all or nothing. That's why it's so important for this to succeed and get the coverage it deserves!
Please share this interview far and wide so we can enjoy not only Episode 1 of Pictures of Gwen, but 2,3,4,5 and 6! This really is a special opportunity to dive into a magical alternative reality, and we cannot let it pass by!