Burke steps through the darkness, his flashlight clenched between his teeth, and carefully pulls back his hunting bow as he looks around every corner. He’s closing in on the trail of two men that have taken everything away from him, and it was time to return the favor. As the tension escalates, a phone — my phone — suddenly rings. The radio chatter coming from the other side informs me that another character, who’s not onscreen, is ready to make a pivotal journey of his own.
Burke (pictured above) is just one of the main characters in Flare, Fourth Wall Studio’s postapocalyptic video series for its proprietary “transmedia” platform, Rides.tv. On this website, viewers use a special video player to watch a show, which will send out optional pieces of content to your mobile device to flesh out the narrative. The first episode of Flare, “The Hunt,” is available now for free on Rides.tv.
“Having developed this world for nearly three years, it’s so exciting to finally be able to share a part of it with our audience,” said Jim Stewartson, the CEO of Fourth Wall Studios, in a press release sent to GamesBeat. “It was such a privilege to be able to work with our director, Dan Brown, and this incredible cast. And as we release more content, we will have created something like an open-sourced story world. I hope that audiences everywhere find this glimpse of the world of ‘Flare’ intriguing enough to want to create their own stories set in this universe.”
Instead of being a sit-back-and-watch kind of experience, Fourth Wall wants you to become more involved with the show (only if you let them access your information) by sending phone calls, emails, and even text messages while you watch the main action unfold on your computer screen. In addition to the phone call, I received a simple but poignant email, with the subject header “My Comic,” containing a colored picture of a witch drawn by Burke’s young daughter, Anna.
It feels little more than a gimmick at first, but hearing the characters speak so close to your ear, or “spying” on their text messages through your phone, reinforces the illusion that you’re the one inhabiting their world, and not the other way around. It’s the same reason alternate reality games — which can also reach out to you via phone calls and messages to give you clues about solving puzzles — tend to attract a loyal following because the genre playfully obfuscates the distinction between what’s real and what’s just fantasy.
The Culver City, Calif.-based company raised $15 million in early 2011 from Patrick Soon-Shiong’s California Capital Equity. Fourth Wall’s founders — Elan Lee (chief creative officer), Jim Stewartson (CEO), and Sean Stewart (head writer) — have extensive experience creating alternate reality games and media, as their previous company, 42 Entertainment, was responsible for the clever 2004 “I Love Bees” ARG that tied back into the story of Microsoft’s Halo 2.
Lee, Stewart, and Stewartson all left 42 Entertainment in 2007 to form Fourth Wall Studios, where among other projects, they once again became involved with the Halo franchise, creating the “Sadie’s Story” radio drama hidden in Halo 3: ODST. Currently, the company employs around 40 people as it creates and hosts a variety of series on its Rides.tv platform, including its Emmy-award winning comedy, Dirty Work.