We're making a next-generation treasure hunt for the BBC, The Code...
If you've followed Six to Start for a while, you'll know that we have a thing for treasure hunts, whether that's a bibliophile's dream prize of 1000 books in We Tell Stories, or our worldwide hunt for the launch of Muse's album The Resistance. And of course, before Six to Start, I was the lead designer of Perplex City, an 18-month long epic alternate reality game with a £100,000 prize.
Treasure hunts have a special kind of romance about them, the prospect of fame and fortune, if only you can be smart and persistent and lucky enough. The best treasure hunts are not the most difficult, nor those with the biggest prizes, but those that offer up an intoxicating mix of mystery and revelation that keeps pulling people back to stare, just one more time, at that cryptic riddle or that strange pattern. You know there's a solution, if only you can find it...
Perplex City was unusual in having a huge range of puzzles with different difficulties, from simple spot the differences that were easy even for children, to ultra-hard codes and multi-step challenges. We were a little concerned about whether we were making the puzzles too niche at the high end, but what was extraordinary was the real desire for players of all abilities to solve them, whatever it took - even if that meant learning to read hieroglyphs or figuring out the intricacies of the RC5 cipher. In other words, treasure hunts can be great ways to motivate people to learn.
It's not unusual for TV shows to tie in online treasure hunts, like ABC's Push, Nevada and Channel 4's The Search. Unfortunately the treasure hunt tends to take a back seat to the show, to the extent that the clues are either:
a) Really, really obvious (as in, repeated multiple times in plain sight)
b) Literally tacked on to the end of the show
And this is often simply because the work of creating the treasure hunt tends to be left very late - sometimes after filming of the show itself has actually finished. Now, this makes sense if you're treating the treasure hunt purely as a promotional tool, but not if you actually expect anyone to take part, or - you know - learn anything.
That's not the sort of experience we're going to make with the BBC.
Later this year, a BBC 2 documentary about maths called The Code is going to air, presented by the fantastic Marcus du Sautoy, Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, and it'll have a 'next-generation' treasure hunt (i.e. not a normal one) seamlessly integrated with it. I mean seamlessly; we sit alongside the TV production team and we've been talking about the project before the scripts were even written. We are going to take full advantage of the fact that we're on TV. It is not going to be tacked on at the end.
It's going to be fun, challenging, accessible, and exhilarating, all at once. It's going to involve a lot of maths, in the form of awesome Flash games and puzzles and real world challenges! And it's going to recognise that people work together online...
So stayed tuned.