San Francisco Detective Larry Hayes thinks he’s hit bottom when he wakes up in an alley after a bad trip with no memory of the last four hours. This is only the beginning of his problems. Two blocks away, Hayes’ informant, a homeless man named Noble Jon, lies dead, beaten and stabbed. The eerie pangs of guilt seep into Hayes. Is he Jon’s killer? The mounting evidence says so. Hayes mounts his own investigation to stay one step ahead of murder charge and disappears amongst the city’s homeless community. The world of Lowlifes is built around three characters:
- – SF Detective Larry Hayes whose story is told in a novella
- – Larry’s wife Jennifer Hayes whose story is told on her blog
- – Lauren Ortega whose story is told in a 10-episode web series and a multi-platform interactive mystery
The key narrative experiment with Lowlifes was determining if it were possible to write a story that could be layered across multiple platforms with each platform contributing more than the sum of the parts. Although each platform (novella, web series, blog) tells a linear story, the audience is able to decide which platform they’ll start with, which will come next and which they’ll finish with. Further, the audience can move between platforms at any time deciding, say, to watch the first 3 episodes of the web and then reading 5 blog posts and finally the whole novella before returning to the other platforms.
Lowlifes was published over a three week period. The novella chapters were available via a free email subscription. Although delivered to a date and time schedule, readers could email requests for chapters in advance. Webisodes and blog posts were published on YouTube three times a week.
The Lowlifes novella is available in paperback and on Kindle and reads like any book. At the end of several chapters there are QR codes which the reader may or may not choose to scan. Each scan links to an audio file or image that reveals a new subplot about a secondary character – hence deepening the narrative only for those who choose to scan.
The interactive mystery
The original mystery invited audiences to be tested for a job as Lauren Ortega’s assistant. The test was a series of puzzles asking audiences to crack a safe, assemble a codeword, find a location and identify a crime number. The puzzles were predominantly based around existing factual data available on Wikipedia or the San Francisco crime map plus two very simple Flash-based games that produced a word or code that could be emailed to Lauren. Conducttr picked up the codes and replied with the next puzzle or saying that the answer was wrong.
A year or so later the original mystery was replaced with a murder mystery in which the audience must identify a killer, their motive and a murder weapon. This was accomplished by questioning various characters who may or may not be witnesses to the crime. Interestingly, characters are aware of each other and aware of your snooping! For example, if one player questions the club owner then subsequent players are told by a doorman that “he’s busy” until a time expires and then the club owner responds. One character, the girlfriend of the murder victim, is much more forthcoming with information if you offer your condolences than if you don’t.
Conducttr published all the content to the original date and time schedule and provided all the character interactions. It also acted as a content management system for all the website links, QR codes and rich media, blogs, SMS and emails.