Time Trails

Time Trails Festival Map

The starting point for this game was a walk down the Thames with a pre-war map, spotting which buildings and streets have changed. That in itself is a fascinating thing in central London, which has been so densely built and rebuilt over the centuries. It’s hard not to feel the shadows of what came before once you start investigating.

The South Bank is a perfect example of this – the Festival of Britain was an excuse to clear some derelict buildings out of the way, including what had once been the Red Lion Brewery (one of its lions is still on the South Bank, a little further west), then a paper factory until it was partially destroyed by fire. There was also a shot tower there, where they made lead shot by dropping molten lead from the top to the bottom – the height perfectly calculated so that the lead cooled into spherical pellets by the time it reached the ground.

After a hard war, it was ripe for what followed – a Festival put together out of canvas, paint, a little concrete and a lot of enthusiasm. It was mostly a statement of intent about what postwar Britain would be like, and in researching the game I talked to people who had been there as children and remembered the Festival Hall lit up in a blaze of colour. To kids whose normality was the blackout and going without, it was extraordinary.

For a Hide&Seek sandpit in 2010 (another festival that coalesces out of enthusiasm and bunting), I joined up with programmer Michael Dales of Digital Flapjack. He had been developing a platform called Placewhisper, an easy to use app which lets you create points and trails with text, images and sound that are triggered by someone with a phone going to a specific place. Together we made a small app that triggered echoes of previous events on the ground players were standing on, rewarding exploration with images and text that layered the locations of bombs that fell on the heaviest night of bombing in the Blitz with events and images from the Festival. It meant that the tightrope walker across the Thames sat next to incendiary bombs and icecream sellers.

Three story trails acted as puzzles, with players using the Festival map (above) to navigate to the next point.

Time Trails Screenshots

As it was designed for a festival, where all the players would physically be in the place, having no components available to people elsewhere was ok. We ran a couple of iterations of the game at successive weekenders, and learnt a lot about patchy GPS coverage and the practicalities of this kind of location-specific game. More about running the game here.