Designing Nilamox. Rule one.

Rule 1: You only want what you can’t have. If you have it, you don’t want it.

If you lusted after some trophy for years, only to now have it sitting dusty on a shelf, well, you’re human. The potential was endless – the reality is limited. Maybe it’s sea monkeys, maybe eurorack, maybe it’s a now hated job, perhaps even a relationship you once had.

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They’re just brine shrimp!

This leads to the Limited Edition, the Chase, the Now Or Never. It seems an obvious trick but tell people too bad you missed out and watch the boo hoo. Make something easy to get and … crickets. Because easy to get means ‘maybe I’ll get it later’.

(Plenty of boo hoo over Severed Heads right now. ‘Maybe I’ll get it later’. Nup.)

But moving on – let’s develop something positive out of this.

I’ve previously made things that were very limited, not through spite but simply because they were difficult to make. That gave the illusion of success, but really, it’s neurotic marketing – if it’s marketing at all. Nilamox will never be Taylor Swift, but it should hold its little head up high. It deserves to succeed at a reasonable level. On the other hand, how many of us have unsold stock under the bed? C’mon … hands up … I thought so.

Limitation needs to be designed.

Somebody has explained this before better than I can, but this is my take. The audience is a continuum between don’t give a shit and having your babies. For convenience I’m going to divide them into four groups.

  • AT THE DOOR they are looking in and aware that you have something going on. They might stop and look in for the 5 seconds of a Facebook video. Most will move on.
  • INSIDE they see some entertainment value in what you are doing but not invested. Might watch a few videos and steal as much as they can of your work. Hell, might even pay $1 for something.
  • SWIMMING they like what you do and have a few of your things. You are one of many things they like and part of a vibe that they enjoy. If you ask for a big purchase they’ll likely smile and say no thanks.
  • DIVING they’re into it. You come up with some luxury items and they’ll pre-order. Get ready to sign it. You are the best thing that ever happened and need to have an unlisted number in case they track you down for your pelt.

Yeah it sounds like a public swimming pool, I don’t know how that happened.

Sevcom took care of the SWIMMERS and DIVERS. It was not very good at the other groups, possibly because it grew up inside larger record companies who did that part, or it never felt confident about getting people in the door. Sevcom believed the praise the DIVERS gave and made mistakes. Nilamox is supposed to be a fresh approach, with new ways of entertaining people. That won’t work if the refresh is targeted to a small part of the audience – we have to get people through the door to become a new kind of diver.

Every person that encounters Nilamox has to feel like their trophy is somewhere further inside. AT THE DOOR needs to feel like they are diving just that little bit.

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“I’m giving this shit 5 seconds. Impress me Nilamox!”

Let’s look at a concrete example. One of the ambitions of Nilamox is a “Teleport” project to broadcast music around the world with accompanying 3D visuals. At the highest level that would need great audience commitment – VR or AR display, high speed connection, financial contributions. The DIVER is there, but AT THE DOOR is not going to make that commitment in 5 seconds. They need to be shown something quickly, for free, but with the potential that the trophy is within their reach. “Teleport” has to scale drastically – but how?

Another project involves a game world, a kind of screwed up Disneyland where you’re going to have a really strange time. That’s being made in Unity, and again it needs people to dive in to be a success. Can we make it an experience for the 5 seconds audience and the people just inside? Can they learn to dive into something that’s not a standard live show?

Here’s Rule 2: People like people more than anything else.

The band may be great, the sound clear, the lights intelligent – but we’re there to be part of the crowd. The other site might be well designed, the tools excellent – but we’re on Facebook because that’s the crowd. You might not even like the people you meet; you might feel worse for having been there, but damn you’ll go back because people.

Being at the show with the crowd while wearing a AAA pass is the best.

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A long time ago in the Multiuser Dungeons you would strive to be high status character – a level 10 Wizard or some such, on the Apple Support Community you strive to be the arrogant RTFM Level 10 guy, on Facebook you need 5000 friends. To be with other people and own that lanyard is the best trophy of all.

The sad reality is that gamification is the key to getting our DOORS to DIVERS. The same thing as Fly Buys and Mileage Points is how we’re going to get the people into the pool. The design of this gamification is crucial, difficult, it must reward the guest with real happiness. You can see that none of this can be done simply and quickly. Sometimes I doubt it can be done at all.

Where are we?

  • Designing the realms. Of course, the sound and vision have to be priority. Why do this at all if it going to be dull? What is the beauty? What is the threat?
  • Scaffolding the realms. If you know what the DIVE looks like, then can you make a DOOR? If you have a DOOR, then what could be the DIVE?
  • Society how? Are we a crowd, or CB radio or a MUD or Instagram?
  • The technology. HTML5, Unity, lions and tigers oh my.
  • How will we eat? You can’t box an experience can you? It’s not an LP or a cassette. Do we have to sell books like Dungeons and Dragons? Have you been in a shop that sells glossy magazines recently? It’s wonderful.
  • Every day the fear and the impulse to just give up and fall backwards like the rest of the aging, shrinking scene.

An Orphic view of the fun fair.

In which Disney’s desire to expunge Mr. Hyde from Dr. Jekyll’s fun fair is argued to be flimflam.

I’m grateful to my missus for David Younger’s Theme Park Design book, which turns out to be a long and deadly serious text. Seeing as you can have physics textbooks with colour pictures and multiple fonts, it feels as if theme parks are being presented here as no laughing matter.

From it I find that my ideas on narrative have been embarrassingly naïve. Just pretend I didn’t write any of it thank you. The discussion of theme park storytelling is long and embattled, with the Europeans somewhat skeptical and the Americans doubling down. It also depends on the era you’re talking about.

Younger has a nomenclature for design eras, very Disney-centric like everything in the book. But to my way of thinking, it starts too late in the history

‘Traditional’ is the design category for the original Disneyland, immersive and thematic. As Disney became more involved in edutainment the real world became more important, and a ‘presentational’ style downplayed theming in favour of clean and simple lines that kept out of the way. In this scheme Fantasyland is traditional, while EPCOT is presentational. When the luster of big science wore off in the 70’s, the ‘postmodern’ style began to tease and mock the earnestness of these formats – as in the early Disney California Adventure.

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Trylon and Perisphere, with the helicline walkway. 1939.

But I think both presentational Tomorrowland and traditional Fantasyland have lived side by side from the very beginning. The two styles also represent something much older – the ‘ying and yang’ of the world fairs which had a light (inspirational, educational) side matched with a dark (exotic, disturbing) side. It seems fair to say the Trylon and Perisphere of the 1939 New York fair are ‘presentational’, as is the Eiffel Tower. Disney would never had allowed Salvador Dali’s Dream of Venus on site (although they did collaborate on a film) but the dark rides of Fantasyland are informed by those of the Amusement Zone.

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How much was Disney inspired by Elektro the Moto-man to create an improved robot of President Lincoln for the 1965 fair? Did he take notes at Frank Buck’s Jungleland? To what extent did the 1939 model ‘city of tomorrow’ presume the model ‘community of tomorrow’ 30 years later? Did the idea for a main street leading to a central hub already exist?

But was Disney involved at the ’39 fair at all?

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Mickey cartoon for the Nabisco Pavilion 1939 World Fair

Yes, deeply at many levels. And when Disneyland was in financial trouble he first wrote to the companies who had been at the fair for the same kind of sponsorship. They turned him down, but responded when a financial man made serious deals – and Monsanto et al. were on-site, plugging their wares.

Disneyland is in many aspects a small copy of a world fair, mixed with copies of European pleasure parks. It did not spring solely from his imagination.

You can argue that Theme Parks have to start somewhere if you’re trying to keep a document under a page count, or that world fairs are not strictly theme parks. But I can’t base my understanding of the design without tracing the ancestry.

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What was Disney’s point of difference?

The main change he brought about was his desire that the dark, unpleasant aspects of the traditional fun fair be expunged so that children could be safe at his park from dirt of all kinds. Pinocchio illustrates his feelings on the matter.

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Pleasure Island, where unbridled libido is rampant.

The fun fair was a place for adults, where children would be corrupted – turned into jackasses. They were indeed messy and corrupting places filled with more adults than children. That’s the point. Parks are an opportunity for Bacchanalia – the ecstatic, the liberating, drunken and drugged outburst of enthusiasm required by society to keep strong urges in a contained context.

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Still from “Speedy” c.1929 There children mixed in with the adults, but not as expected.

But in 1958 The Saturday Evening Post still counted four adults to one child in Disneyland. The ‘Orphic’ view (as in, that traditionally ascribed the legendary poet Orpheus) is that civilization requires balance with madness, Apollo and Bacchus – and the world fairs had this not by intent, but by demand of their audience. Disney was one man trying to impose his tidyness on the nature of things.

Cutting the dark side of the fun park from the light side wasn’t ever really possible, and lead only to an undeserved historical distaste for the earlier Bacchanalian ‘Luna’ parks. If you can’t climb up, then push down. A ride such as Snow White’s Scary Adventures is just a ghost train with IP attached.

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I argue all of this because I can’t see a logical reason my own city’s park to be cut out of design knowledge. More on that later.