The Story behind Hyphe starts with Birder, a lonely guy who is tired of people's lies and increasing personal distance. As an attempt to counteract, he creates the platform Hyphe and eventually becomes the self-appointed head of the network. He watches and judges every interaction, he guides and he comments – and finally reveals his truth behind the mask.
The spectators become players and participating in Birders twisted game. They are thrown into conversations which are as personal and intimate as it can get. While the network of players is growing and evolving they follow the reveal of Birder.
The overall design challenge was to convert the story into a 90min lasting online game that viewers/players should experience on their private computers at home. Since radical openness and honesty were the essences of Hyphe, the viewers needed to be encouraged to act truthfully. On top of that, the quality of all interpersonal relations should be generatively visualized in real-time. The look and feel of the game were supposed to tie in with the aesthetic approach of the main character, Birder.
Besides the actual game experience, we had to create a holistic technical environment to perform Hyphe. That included the design and development of an online shop to sell tickets with personal access codes for certain showtimes. And on the other hand, we had to build a backside of the game that would allow the team behind Hyphe to interact with all players.
To kick-off the implementation of the game, we led the team of Hyphe through a design sprint. Together we defined the goal of the game – persisting in radical openness. We structured the game into phases and integrated featured that would guide the players to the ultimate goal.
The image of hype - a fungus tissue - becomes the inspirational image for the structure and visualization of the the platform's network. We explored different aesthetic directions and possibilities to realize them through generative design. After deciding on the style of the network, we started to create the other elements of the graphical interface around it. The overall look and feel were determined by Birder being a more or less unprofessional platform creator. This led to a somewhat unpolished and offbeat interface. To still ensure smooth usage of the game, we had to come up with a good balance between user interface convention and the story-inspired attempt. Through user tests and rehearsals we approached a version of the interface which was easy to use and followed the overall aesthetic.
To enable early technical and theatrical rehearsals, we started to develop rough prototypes for each stage of the game. Step by step, we were adding features and effects to shape a unique experience. Facing a crowd of 50 players in each live performance, we had to integrate some automized reactions of Birder inside that game. Triggered through certain behavior, players would receive personalized appearing comments that would make them feel watched and personally treated by Birder himself. At the same time, members of the theater team would always have the chance to jump in each conversation to spur on the game however they wanted.
In May 2020, actor Saladin Dellers and the team of Onlinetheater.Live performed the interactive game Hyphe ten-times including a sold-out premiere. While it was planned a long time, the experience of a new digital theater was a perfect fit in times of the global Covid-19 pandemic. The Frankfurter Allgemeine, the Swiss newspaper Der Bund and others were reporting about the outstanding performance and the unique and ever-changing live experience.
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