Bethany, TX Nethunt (creative direction)

Bethany, TX was a net-based scavenger hunt highlighting information on Microsoft’s extensive website through a narrative about a lost computer salesperson, stranded and missing in a fictitious town. The narrative built from clue to clue and was used to communicate the clues while the solutions drew users into the mystery and developed the story. This net hunt was held in conjunction with the launch of Windows® 95. The game server is now down, so there is nothing public that can be shown of the event.

1995

Participants:

Nathan Shedroff: Creative Direction, Visual Design
Steve de Brun: Visual Design and Production
Lynnly Labovitz: Project Management
Zachary Smith: Clue Master, Game Designer, and Programmer
Kevin John Black: HTML Programming
Raoul Rickenberg: Interaction and Information Design
Ty Shippman: Database Design
Bondy Bondurant: Quality Assurance
Todd Kreiger: Writer

Played out over a two-week period, “Bethany, TX” was woven tightly around the tale of a computer salesperson who disappeared in a small Texas town, leaving only her journal behind. Players turned to the journal daily for new clues and information, then set off to find answers (many of which were found elsewhere within Microsoft’s site). The rich storyline was enhanced by daily editions of the Bethany Observer, everybody’s favorite small-town newspaper, which kept players abreast of developments in the game (as well as hints, tips, and lots of small-town color). Many players contributed their own ideas and “Letters to the Editor” of the Observer.

One of the biggest challenges vivid faced was designing an experience that would be rewarding to a very heterogeneous audience-for some players “Bethany, TX” marked their first excursion onto the Internet. Developing a simple-yet-strong narrative, clues of varying difficulty, a graphically driven site, and an ongoing stream of commentary and feedback from the game administrators (in the Observer) helped give the game broad appeal and offered beginners a comfortable introduction to cyberspace.

vivid was responsible for designing the game, creating all content (text, graphics, audio/video, and clues), and handling all engineering issues (including HTML, scripting, and database design and construction), as well as providing daily game administration. vivid also helped Microsoft promote “Bethany, TX” to the media and on the Internet.

The design had to communicate some complex information in an easy sequence so that players could quickly get to work. Each clue was archived and available from the main clue page (as was each issue of the Bethany Observer). The navigation for the site allowed players to move quickly to each area without needing to return to the homepage and worked equally well in graphic and text-only modes. All graphics and pages were designed to function quickly for players at 14.4 baud (more standard modem speeds). This allowed more people a competitive chance at turning in clues first. Each area of the site was branded as an object available in the Diner so as to be memorable and identifiable. These objects represented the functions of each area.

The clues themselves (if you read the solutions) were complex information solutions, some needing to be gathered throughout the game play. For example, many solutions were based on being observant to small details like the pattern of tiles on the edge of a desk in one of the Poloroid photos and using the sequence as a key to a code elsewhere in the site. While the site itself was designed to always be clear and easily navigable, the clues were explicitly designed to be challenging and obscure.

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