May 062013
 

wonderland

Do you know the Latin phrase “solvitur ambulando”? Used by the wandering scholars of medieval Europe, it means “walking solves it”. It’s always been true for me, as someone for whom walking is both wonderfully meditative and creatively inspiring. I started thinking about using this sentiment in a game context, and came up with an idea that coder Callum Hay and sound designer/composer Adam Axbey were both into, too. We realized a proof-of-concept this past weekend at the Toronto Game Jam.

Wonderland: A Solvitur Ambulando Mystery is an app for the iPhone. You listen to an audio story set in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood in 1915 — the projectionist of the Wonderland, one of the city’s first movie theatres, makes a grim discovery in the aisle one morning. You can listen to the beginning of the superbly produced and acted clip after the jump.

At the end of the chapter there’s a riddle that you have to solve to continue with the story. If you don’t know the answer, solvitur ambulando — walking solves it, literally! The phone’s accelerometer detects after you’ve walked a bit and gives you a hint in the form of one of the letters of the answer. You can solve it at any point, or keep walking until the full word is revealed and the next chapter begins.

This project scratches a few itches with me — one, to try a hinting system that has a legitimate alternate option if you can’t guess the solution. I love puzzles but they can be frustrating, and looking for answers outside of the game feels like cheating, so this way people can continue the game even if they get stumped. Two, I got to set something in my neighbourhood back in the days when it was a rough-and-tumble hub for train traffic. I’ve been really enjoying a lot of historical fiction, especially Poe and Fanny and the Devil in the White City, but it was pretty intimidating knowing where to start. After reading the West Toronto Junction Historical Society‘s great book The Leader & Recorder’s History of the Junction, I found the projectionist (Ernie, pictured above) who sparked my imagination. He’s a dapper yet sinister-looking guy, and after I decided on him as a character the rest of it fell into place.

We’ve got a long way to go with it — we’ve only done the first chapter and puzzle, and a stub for chapter two — but it’s off to a great start.

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