- Sydney, Australia
- Invictus Games, 2018
Created with Westpac for the Invictus Games, Mission Dust Storm was an immersive, multiplayer experience designed to raise awareness about the invaluable skills that veterans have to offer in civilian roles and industries. Bringing attention to the high unemployment rate of veterans, and highlighting the immense value of military skills in civilian contexts, the experience challenged visitors to work together demonstrate their competence in the most valuable skill of all: teamwork.
Every year, 5,500 Australian Defence Force personnel leave the military looking for new career opportunities. They bring with them an often unappreciated set of skills with real value in civilian life. As part of the Invictus Games in Sydney, we worked with Westpac to raise awareness about the invaluable skills veterans bring to civilian contexts.
An immersive multiplayer experience, Mission Dust Storm was designed to bring attention to the high unemployment rate of veterans, and highlight the invaluable skills they bring to civil occupations. Taking on the role of driver, navigator or engineer to navigate a vicious dust storm, the experience challenged visitors to demonstrate the most valuable skill of all: teamwork.
The idea was to create a fun, engaging experience that subtly touched on the invaluable skills that military service provides – strong leadership, effective communication and dynamic problem-solving. Taking inspiration from asymmetric cooperative games, the search-and-rescue mission would test players’ skills both individually and as a team. While each had a range of tools at their disposal, the team would only be successful if they worked together.
Mission Dust Storm was a multiplayer co-operative experience. Inspired by games like Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator, the core game design aligned mechanics across both the real and virtual worlds. Here, the virtual world became a master storyteller and tool for players in the real world. Technology provided context and immersion, but the real story was told by visitors themselves as they played.
Entering the experience, each visitor would be given a different role – engineer, driver or navigator – that corresponded to a specific ‘terminal’ within the experience. This helped facilitate one of the game’s central design pillars – asymmetric gameplay. No one player would have access to all the information and tools needed to succeed. Instead, they would need to communicate and collaborate in the real world to accomplish their mission.
The physical set design of Mission Dust Storm played a crucial role in immersing visitors in the world we were creating. The experience would be housed in a pre-existing ‘bank in a box’ shipping container provided by Westpac. We transformed a small section of this into a briefing room, and the remainder into a pseudo military vehicle. Each terminal used throughout the game was housed within an angular control panel, with decals, piping and other subtle touches helping to create a convincing physical atmosphere.
We complimented the physical set design with a number of more technological elements to heighten visitors’ immersion in the experience. For example, we wanted to use audio throughout the experience to help position visitors within the story. Originally we wanted to use chair rumble packs to create tactile feedback. While these were out of budget for this implementation, we were able to get a similar effect by placing a huge subwoofer beneath the players.
We also wrote a plugin for Unreal Engine that allowed us to control the LED lights throughout the space through the game system. This allowed us to dynamically light the cockpit in line with what visitors were actually doing. When the engineer raised the shields, the lights pulsed blue. When the vehicle entered the dust storm, they would flicker and malfunction. And when the vehicle was damaged, the cabin would be flooded with red light.
One of the most exciting things about designing for live events is that we can tailor the environment and interfaces to explore new ideas. For this activation we had three different interfaces to work with – one for each role in the experience. Because we wanted the experience to exist off screen, using human connection as its core mechanic, each of these ‘terminals’ was designed as simply and intuitively as possible.
First up, the navigator. This player had a touch screen map, with toggles they could pull to ‘scan’ the surrounding environment. Glitching when navigation didn’t receive enough power from the engineer, this interface had a futuristic aesthetic that reinforced the player’s feeling that they were the brains behind the operation.
The driver was kitted out with a sci-fi steering wheel, chair and foot pedals – slick tools for a slick operator. Meanwhile, the engineer was given a custom-build panel knobs and sliders resembling a music recording desk to manage the rover’s power and operations. The mechanical inputs for these two roles gave players the kind of tactile, hands-on experience that proved crucial to the believability and fun of the activation.
Providing an experiential marketing component to Westpac’s #IAMINVALUABLE campaign throughout the Invictus Games, Mission Dust Storm helped visitors understand first-hand the value of core veteran skills across leadership, communication and collaboration. Built into one of Westpac’s existing ‘bank-in-a-box’ shipping containers, the experience was both immersive and mobile, a power support for the brand’s commitment to verteran employment at the Invictus Games and beyond.