We consulted with BAFTA-winning games design studio Preloaded and global games publisher Epic to create interactive educational materials and lesson plans for Wonders: Pyramids Of Giza: an immersive map for the chart-topping videogame Fortnite that recreates the Giza complex of Ancient Egyptian pyramids during their construction.
We produced a robust and engaging standards-led lesson and assessment plan that challenged students to reconsider the stereotypes they may hold about the past, while responding creatively to the game environment through their assessment.
We were awarded a digital residency grant with the Alan Turing Institute, the UK's national institution for data science and artificial intelligence.
We worked with datasets relating to the Living With Machines project, producing a kinetic, generative 3D poem, recreating a 19th-century railway journey using 3D models and moving, algorithmically-generated textual vignettes.
We were commissioned to provide UX design, programming and technical support for Chronic Insanity's digital theatre experience OnlyConnect, written by Maya Little. The play allows the audience to log into a fictional 'hire-a-friend' app, interacting with characters in between live performances.
We produced bespoke interfaces and interactions to mimic the fictional app, including login pages, profile pages and a flexible, animated chat interface that allowed audiences to both make discrete choices and enter their own responses to characters' messages.
We served as lead consultant game, interaction and narrative designers for Apart Of Me's new app-based therapeutic story experience, entitled Nadiya. Designed for families that have been through traumatic experiences together, and initially developed for Ukranian refugees in response to the war in the region, *Nadiya* uses a simple, fairytale storyworld and playful, collaborative mechanics to encourage families to work together, communicate and recognise their shared experience in a way that is healthy, proportionate and sustainable.
Nadiya was designed in collaboration with design teams across Europe, and a steering committee of world-leading therapists and psychologists.
We provided creative consultancy services to Southampton Museums & Archive in the redevelopment of their Southampton Stories online resource. A webapp designed to showcase the collections of Southampton City Council to a wider audience, Southampton Stories uses artefacts and ephemera to explore thematic and personal stories from across the area's history.
Responding to mixed feedback from focus groups, we conducted further research and made a number of proposals to improve the site's usability and attractiveness to less-traditional audiences: in particular, through a focus on human stories rather than wider historical themes.
We received an Arts Council England Project Grant to develop a new site-specific storytelling project, in collaboration with public artist Hugh McCann and the East Looe Old Gaol Museum. Working in collaboration and consultation with local communities, we created a fictional murder mystery, explored through an interactive audio installation on display downstairs at the Museum.
Set in 1763, but commenting on many of the issues facing Cornwall today, A Master Betrayed! asks visitors to find the truth in a murky criminal case. A local girl has been accused of killing her employer, a businessman visiting Looe from London. There is no body, but the man is missing, and the girl is found with a bloody knife and a silver locket bearing his initials. A simple case of theft and murder, or something more? Visitors can listen to the gossip and conjecture of six local people, all with connections to the crime, before drawing their own conclusions as to what happened. Objects placed amongst the museum's real artefacts also provide clues, and question the reliability of some of the witnesses. As the visitor explores the evidence before them, the bitter tensions, petty vengeances and dark humour begin to surface...
In collaboration with Exeter University scientists and Hugh McCann, we served as lead interpretation designers and interaction developers for Breaking The Ice, the inaugural pop-up event for Exeter's new STEAMM discovery centre. The event sought to engage local people and visitors alike in the practice of science; to help them to understand how scientific study impacts their everyday lives; to demystify and humanise the work of scientists; and to bolster local support for a new, permanent home for science education in the South West.
Combining Exeter University studies on climate change and the observation of planets far beyond the solar system, we created a non-linear and exploratory experience for visitors, structured around a hunt for the 'ingredients' needed to grow a pot plant. As they gathered soil, water and seeds, visitors were shown how the natural laws that control the climate and the environment on Earth also influence other parts of the universe. Exhibits included a 'Science Confessional Booth'; virtual reality tours; interactive data visualisations; arts activities for families (including build-your-own exoplanets); and 'Science On The Sofa', where members of the public could have frank discussions with scientists about their work.
We worked with Museum In A Box to devise and produce three new collections for the Musical Museum in London: home to an unparalleled collection of automatic instruments, musical machines and other devices from throughout the history of recorded music.
By placing a special card onto one of MiaB's boxes, visitors can hear the Museum's famous tour guides explaining the history and function of eighteen objects from the collections. Turning the card over will reveal an audio imagining of how the device may have sounded in its original context: from a crowded Victorian steam train, to a 1990s rave...
We were commissioned by Kill The Cat Theatre to provide technical support, programming and UX design for their new, online theatregame, ESCAPE TO MARS!, based on their award-winning show The House Never Wins.
Players gamble their life savings on a chance to win a seat on a rocket leaving a dying Earth, in a game created by a sinister corporation. But as the game progresses, they realise that the very act of playing is destroying the planet for good - and the stakes are rigged against them...
Working with a consortium of designers including Form Atlarge, TVAC and Elbow Productions, we helped to develop, script and propose cinematography for a suite of new A/V installations at Newhaven Fort, a Victorian sea defence on the south coast of England, as part of the site-wide reinterpretation.
As one link in Britain's necklace of Channel defences - its construction fuelled by paranoia of foreign invasion - there has been a military presence on the Fort's site for over 2000 years; culminating in the extant, ingeniously-designed concrete-and-brick structure built in the mid-1800s.
The films explore this history through a wry lens, charting the immense amounts of money and personpower that went into building and maintaining these defences against an enemy that never arrived. In the Grand Magazine, a 180-degree projection show allows visitors to take a virtual tour of the hidden, inaccessible passages and chambers below the surface of the Fort.
We were commissioned to provide a range of potential videogame designs for The National Trust For Scotland's interpretation team, who were interested in the potential of systemic, interactive experiences to help audiences appreciate the complexity of Scotland's natural and social history.
The Trust's Pioneering Spirit project was used as an initial testbed, and in collaboration with Jam Creative Studios we developed audience analysis, a critique of the current 'heritage game' landscape, and three proposed designs for exploring the history of illicit whiskey distilling in the Highlands through interactive experiences.
We partnered with Palma Studio to develop new online interpretation for the Jane Austen House Museum, designed to engage teenagers in a little-known part of the Jane Austen story: her 'juvenile' writing. Few people know that in her youth, Austen wrote a series of short stories and fragments that are once familiar and outrageous; stretching the rules of fiction, and satirising the canon of her day, as she slowly learnt her craft.
We were comissioned to research, design, write and program a work of online interactive fiction based on one of these stories, "The Beautifull Cassandra". Players find themselves whiling away a rainy afternoon with the young Jane, helping her to dream up the adventures of the titular heroine. They must decide on Cassandra's path through the story - taking in wars, haunted castles and shipwrecks - before facing the most horrifying challenge of all... a society ball. Players even have the chance to write sections of the story themselves, when Jane falls prey to writer's block!
In collaboration with PLB Ltd, we designed and developed a new immersive exhibition space for the Old Guildhall Museum & Gaol in Looe, Cornwall; exploring the murky morality of the smuggling trade that flourished along this coastline in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Designed to replicate the sounds, sights and atmosphere of a sea cave, visitors can use interactive flaps in the exhibit to hear the stories behind the displayed artefacts. Each object is tied to a haunting, echoed monologue by one of the figures involved in the trade (both real and fictional) - each trying to convince the visitor of their particular point of view, and tying Looe's past to the pressing issues of its present and future.
We worked with Museum In A Box to design, script and produce a new collection of objects and audio stories for The Royal Mint, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the decimalisation of UK currency in 1971.
The Boxes are designed to be used in care homes throughout the UK, as a focal point for 'reminiscence sessions' with residents. Each object in the collection, when placed on the Box, activates a short audio drama, based around the life of Linda Thomas. Linda is a fictional resident of Llantrisant, in South Wales, living through the five-year period between the announcement of decimalisation and 'D Day' itself. Each object allows the listener to eavesdrop on a few moments in Linda's life, as she comments on the changes that decimalisation is bringing to her everyday life. From nights out with the girls in Cardiff and country walks, to her husband's choir practice and Saturday markets, Linda brings this period of British history to life in all its ordinary poignancy - as well as encouraging listeners to discuss their own memories of decimalisation.
By the end of 2021, the boxes will have reached over 50,000 care home residents in the UK.
We were commissioned to help research, design and script a WhatsApp chatbot as part of IKEA's global *Wonderful Everyday* initiative: using psychotherapeutic journalling techniques to help users to track and reflect on their mental health through periods of isolation during the CoVID-19 pandemic.
The bot, a cheerful persona based on IKEA's Ektorp brand, sent periodic prompts for self-reflection, as well as responding to the user's submissions with warmth and humour. The pilot ran for 12 months across multiple European territories.
The underlying algorithm simulates how English placenames arise and mutate over time, before placing these generated facsimiles onto real Ordnance Survey maps. See if you can tell them from the (often equally implausible) real names. When you find one, you have the option to submit your own story of how the place came to have this name: stories arising from geographical features, ancient ruins, famous former residents or miraculous events.
We served as technical advisors on the inter-institutional True Echoes project: a collaborative program to digitise, and distribute, historic recordings of Australian and Oceanic cultures back to those communities where they were originally captured.
Our role was to advise on the best way to provide access to these recordings, and the contextual research surrounding them, for communities across the Pacific region - often in areas with little Internet access, or even a reliable provision of electricity. Working with project partners at the British Library, we helped to develop a robust solution using the Raspberry Pi platform as a self-contained, battery-powered unit that can be shared amongst communities in-situ.
A cautious note of optimism for digital innovation in museums.
The history of interactive fiction, and how it has come to define our practice.
A love letter to the work of the British Library Collections Care Department, written during our residency at the Library in 2014-2015.
A piece exploring the tensions that arise when museum exhibitions and fictional narratives are squashed into the same headspace. Written during our residency at the Library in 2014-2015.
A very long (and now slightly-illegible) essay about the nature of choice, art and history. Sympathetic readers only.
We were commissioned by visitor experience specialists Jam Creative Studios to help design and write a series of in-gallery videogames and interactives for Nottingham Castle: part of a site-wide, £30 million restoration and reinterpretation.
Three of the games are sited in the new Rebellion Gallery, charting the tumultuous history of civil dissent in Nottingham. Players can help a group of Luddites plan a midnight raid; strategically guide Nottingham through the Civil War as its embattled governor; and can even try and control the unpredictable crowds of angry protestors during the 1831 Reform Act Riots. In the new Robin Hood Gallery, a large touchscreen tabletop houses a virtual, living recreation of medieval Nottingham, where players can compete in a series of arcade-style games which explore the sometimes-strange everyday life of the 14th-century town...
We were contracted by Jam Creative Studios to provide narrative and game design for the virtual reality experience Mission: Planet Earth, commissioned by National Museum Wales to reinvigorate their interpretation of our planet's geological and meteorological history.The experience places visitors behind the controls of a time-travelling 'chronocraft'. Aided in their adventures by a plucky if accident-prone robot named L.W.N.A, visitors are tasked with collecting environmental samples from several periods in Earth's deep past; providing them with the raw materials for understanding the changes in our climate today.
We provide a full copywriting, journalistic and editing service to a wide range of clients in a number of sectors; from charities and publishers, to creative collectives and cultural institutions. We combine solid research, and an academic grasp of rhetoric and narrative, with agile, vivid imagery and a genuine interest in the subject matter.
We only work with partners whose values we subscribe to, and who we think have something worth saying. Through good communication, confident editing and a holistic understanding of what underlies the task at hand, we produce prose (short and longform) that immerses, galvanises and inspires action.
Past clients have included OCRS, Text Appeal, Shelter UK, Enhanced Editions, Bath Spa University, The British Library, PiC, OCRS, MCN, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, The Writing Platform, CreativeWorks London, ATS Heritage and TGAC.
We served as principal interpretative designers for English Heritage's transformation of Boscobel House: the site of the Royal Oak, and one of the waypoints on Charles II's nailbiting escape from England during the Civil War. Alongside PLB Projects and Stand + Stare we devised an unobtrusive but effective mixed reality interpretation, allowing visitors to carry a flickering (electronic) candle through the dark rooms of the house, searching for triggers which, when activated, bring these fateful sequences from England's national myth to life.
We also provided development and design consultancy for the other exhibitions and interpretation across the rest of the site, as well as producing a virtual, app-based version of the house tour for when access to the building's interior is restricted.
We were further commissioned by Museum In A Box to research, design and script a Collection to accompany the launch of their online shop.
This first original Collection, The Greek Gods & Goddesses, is designed to introduce 8 - 10 year olds to the bickering politics of Mount Olympus. Each of the thirteen major deities of the Ancient Greek pantheon is represented, and they are eager to have their say on the rest of their dysfunctional family.
The accompanying cards use public-domain images from museum collections around the world, and as well as activating the Box they can be used for a simple 'Top Trumps'-style game, pitting the gods and goddesses against each other in categories such as Intelligence, Beauty and Cruelty.
The collection is available to download by anybody who has purchased a Box.
We were commissioned by Museum In A Box (MIAB) to design and script one of their 'boxes' for the National Justice Museum's Creative Courtroom initiative for UK schools. MIAB is an education technology company that uses 3D printing, NFC technology and the Raspberry Pi microcomputer to bring interactive learning to cultural institutions across the world.
We worked with the Museum to develop a series of postcards, each representing a different role in an English courtroom. When placed on one of MIAB's 'boxes' the postcards each trigger a humourous and informative audio piece, in which children listen to judges, ushers and even defendants explain their place in the courtroom; all while a tense trial is taking place. These pieces are further linked to other Key Stage exercises and discussion topics for workshopping.
We worked with ATS Heritage to create pilot interpretation for Bucks County Museum in Aylesbury; part of an initiative to reveal the secrets of the Museum buildings' tangled, 700-year history to the public for the first time. Using workshops, consultation and research to help museum staff focus on one particular historical resident of the property, and one particular room, we designed and scripted a dramatic multimedia experience, using ATS' celebrated platform.
The fifteen-minute experience takes place in the now-empty Georgian drawing room at the centre of the Museum. It uses immersive audio design, character-driven scripts and subtle interactives to introduce visitors to the people who once lived and worked in the buildings across the first half of the twentieth century. It involves them in the complex lives and times of suffragette maids, wounded soldiers and imperious little girls; and brings a bare, often-overlooked corner of the Museum back to its former bustle.
We provide a full front-end web design service for smaller charities, heritage organisations, trusts and businesses. This can include conceptual and information design, copywriting and editing, graphic design, social media integration, animations, interactives, database management, ongoing maintenance and webhosting, depending on requirements and budget. All work conforms to the latest standards and innovations in web accessibility, security and responsive design for a wide range of devices.
A Twitterbot, built with JSON and Tracery, which randomly generates and posts a fake English pub name every six hours. We built this bot in response to the alarming news that a quarter of British pubs have closed since 2001, symbolising an incomparable loss of local and national heritage. The Lost Pubs stands as a small tribute to those establishments which have already gone, and those in danger of closing; endlessly generating new establishments, and their attendant histories embodied by their evocative names, in a futile attempt to replace what is steadily being destroyed.
An interdisciplinary PhD project, the result of the award of a prestigious SWWDTP scholarship and in collaboration with Bath and Bath Spa universities. A practice-based work that combines academic research and industry development, Knole explores the potential of digital technologies for creating immersive, resonant character-led narratives, in particular for heritage intepretation.
In partnership with the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, Cornwall, we developed an immersive, mixed-reality installation piece, exploring the social and political contexts of 18th-century England through the fictional narrative of a Yorkshire 'cunning woman' and the supernatural 'familiar spirit' who lives in the walls of her house. The installation, presenting a virtual version of the 'spirit' using artificial intelligence techniques and an array of sensors and props for interacting with visitors, is accompanied by the 'cunning woman's' spellbook, giving instructions on how to use the creature to cure the ills and ailments of a superstitious population.
After the award of AHRC funding, we undertook a weeklong residency at the Inshriach Bothy, one of a collection of off-grid living and working spaces across Scotland owned by arts charity The Bothy Project. Alone in the Cairngorms for the week, we embarked on a creative prototyping process, centred around a desire to understand the role of landscape, loneliness and the psychology of solitude in people's relations with place and history. As well as hiking, climbing, writing, swimming, and dodging red deer stags, we produced a continuous paper of scroll of handwritten pseudo-code, workshopping potential digital experiences without access to any digital tools.
Our experience was later written up as a self-reflexive essay.
We were invited to devise an installation for the Crossroads of Curiosity, the British Library's festival celebrating creative uses of its public domain archive material. Alongside international artists such as David Normal, we presented a 'fictional exhibition' of objects, documents and live-performed music surrounding the life of an invented Arctic explorer; using materials from our CreativeWorks residency at the Library, as well as public domain materials from the Library's digital archives.
We were part of a large consultancy team brought together to create the initial vision for the Woodland Trust's Canopy Project, latterly the Tree Charter: a scheme designed to engage the public in British woodlands and champion their conservation through the collection of thousands of 'tree stories' from across the country. Through a series of workshops, provocations and activities, we developed conceptual processes and methodologies for engaging and educating the public in the narratives of British woodland.
As part of CreativeWorks London Festival of Ideas, held at King's College London and Somerset House, we were invited to devise installations and exhibitions relating to our work with the British Library. This led to a large exhibitionary space, showcasing objects and documents from our residency, a participatory digital mapping platform to collect geolocated anecdotes and contributions from visitors, and musical performances and lectures in the College's chapel.
We are often invited to deliver lectures and seminars on a variety of subjects, including artistic practice in museums, digital narrative design and virtual heritage. Appearances include:
We frequently deliver workshops and classes for a variety of audiences, from senior academics to school-age children; teaching narrative, interpretation, interactive design, creative writing and coding. Some of these appointments include:
We were awarded CreativeWorks' Creative Entrepreneur-in-Residence funding, in partnership with the British Library, in order to explore artistic and intepretative practice in conjunction with a London heritage institution. Attached to Lines In The Ice: Seeking The Northwest Passage, the Library's exhibition about polar exploration, we used both research and interpretative/artistic practice to examine the many different ways that the Library's audiences could interact with this exhibition, and with the contested histories which it presented.
Using the narrative framework of a fictional Victorian explorer, we produced a 'parallel exhibition', with both physical and online presence, designed to engage the Library's audiences in new ways. Outputs included handmade books which visitors could read, touch and even deface; found and constructed objects presented as actual historical artefacts; musical recordings and performances; interactive digital maps; seminars and symposia; websites and blogs; hidden web servers in the exhibition space, serving secret documents to curious visitors; online archives and interactive fiction works. We even produced a range of ship's biscuits from original recipes, inked with messages and legends by fictional characters, as an attempt at a form of 'narrato-gastronomics'!
The residency was a huge success, helping Lines In The Ice in extending its term for three months and reaching over 15,000 individual visitors. The residency also formed the focus of a chapter of the exhibition's accompanying book, Exploring The Roof of the World.
A work of online interactive fiction produced in conjunction with housing charity Shelter, as part of their 2014 summer campaign calling for reform of UK welfare payments. Built in response to the shocking statistic that over 50% of UK households would be homeless within three months as the result of a job loss, we proposed this project as a way to overcome powerful social biases against the welfare state and what was perceived as 'scrounger culture'. We used interactive narrative techniques to allow players to make choices on behalf of the protagonist Lucy; exploring her house and its history, her family life and their problems, before allowing players to try (always in vain) to help Lucy keep her home when things inevitably go wrong.
Though fictional, The Spare Set was informed by extensive research in Shelter's archive of case studies, and helped to instil empathy for the charity's beneficiaries during a complex and politically-charged campaign.
A set of short stories and Key Stage 3 teaching materials developed in conjunction with housing charity Shelter UK. These stories were proposed and written, with illustrations by Paper Moon, to supplement Shelter's annual Gingerbread House Sale run in thousands of UK schools; a scheme in which schoolchildren design, build and sell their own gingerbread houses to raise money for the charity.
We felt that a narrative supplement to the main fundraising activity, telling the stories of the fairytale inhabitants of these houses, would not only inspire creativity on behalf of the children building them, but would also introduce them to Shelter's work; using the characters to appropriately showcase the social problems which Shelter tackles, and providing teaching materials to allow the children's understanding to develop beyond the Sale itself.
Bonfire Dog is a narrative design, interpretation and digital consultancy, working with national and regional museums, galleries and archives; videogames companies, schools, universities and research bodies; charities, technology partners and design studios; heritage sites, tourist destinations and managed landscapes.
Our projects interpret heritage collections and landscapes, advocate for governmental policy change, develop new audiences and new understandings of complex social issues, create innovative artistic interventions, and research and implement new approaches to the act of telling stories across media, disciplines and industries.
Our founder and creative director, Dr. Rob Sherman, is an expert in multidisciplinary storytelling practice and theory, working as an academic, consultant and artist across many different media, disciplines and specialisms.