Monday, August 27, 2012


It's rare that a Kickstarter project catches my interest, but "Whenabouts" is an intriguing idea. In essence it's a multi-media adventure game targeted at teenagers. What makes it unusual, and of interest here, is that the story unfolds via a collection of physical props and ephemera sent to the participants by mail.

Similar ideas have come up in discussion here a few times. Two of the cooler suggestions mentioned in some of those exchanges, the crate-as-story and journal-as-story, both make an appearance in the Whenabouts concept. That had me really jazzed about the project, but as I read on some of my initial enthusiasm started to wane.

In many ways Whenabouts is just a high-touch ARG, differentiated from the dozens of current online games solely by the heavy use of postal contact. From that perspective it's not all that exciting, particularly at such a high buy-in price. I like the idea of an exploratory experience that relies on props as the primary storytelling channel. Getting a mysterious VHS tape in the mail is cool! Receiving a "virtual" VHS tape that consists of a code that lets me unlock a VCR mini-game on a website? Meh.

Admittedly, that's not an altogether fair criticism on my part. It's rather like being upset because they cooked up a chocolate cake when I wanted vanilla pudding. This is a game marketed at teens, and I'm sure they would view having a heavy online component as a feature, not a bug. Then again, it strikes me that the kind of teenager that would be into a game like this would love the idea of having to dig up a real VCR for that obsolete tape.


Alex Kaeda said...

Speaking of Kickstarter..... I've been mentally debating, do I throw in on Chaosiums "horror on the orient express" reboot, and run the risk of you announcing "at the mountains of maddness", or am I safe for a lil' while yet?

orion24 said...

Although it sounds like a good idea, Problems will come up, 1. Postal charges, In this economy can we really afford to spend 45 cents in the U.S. to send someone a copy made on the printer of a torn newspaper clipping? or more for a VHS tape? Years ago it use to be called PBM (Play By Mail) for these type of RPG's after that it was PBEM (Play By E-Mail) which would be cheaper that way. 2. The other problem is you really can't trust people today especially when your giving them you Mailing Address, I would suggest for safety sake do these things online on the computer using PDF files or whatever graphic you want to upload as for the VHS tapes upload it to an account on Youtube and watch it there, This is how you save Money and Problems that you know will happen.

Propnomicon said...

@ Alex Kaeda

Sadly, I think you're pretty safe.

I'm starting to think I've fallen prey to the infamous "the perfect is the enemy of the good".

@ orion24

You raise some good points. Postage can be a real killer, as I've learned during my own projects.

CoastConFan said...

Considering the cost of buying all the D&D books, supplements, adventures and assorted goodies could run into hundreds of dollars invested vs. the time playing and enjoying a game system. I just can’t always say that expensive is bad and cheap is good. Think of the hundreds of millions of hours of play uber RPGs such as D&D have given people. That is what, about a quarter of cent per hour per capita? I recently dug out and sold a friend a just about complete set of late 70s early 80s D&D set of books for about what they cost nearly 30 years ago. They were worn, scuffed and used but quite serviceable but his (adult) son didn’t care, he wanted them for retro play.

I want to do a prop-laden RPG, but I can’t find the monks to make the correct Byzantine vellum manuscripts, a graphophone cylinder player with the recorder head nor a really good Hittite-English dictionary for making tablets. I’m afraid my circa 1904 “Stamboul Horror” and “Constantine’s Seal” will just have to wait.

CoastConFan said...

@ Propnomicon: "The cake is a lie."