Friday, April 10, 2015

Meet Uplogix: Merging software & theater development

When Tim Thomas isn't writing code at Uplogix as a senior software developer, he's writing, acting, producing and occasionally even coding for the Austin theater community.

Tim's work and theater lives collided earlier this year when he worked on Whirligig Theatre's production of Deus Ex Machina, a choose-your-own-adventure retelling of the Oresteia that gave the audience control of the play's storyline. While the original Oresteia was performed in 458 BC, this version was a little more modern.

The audience was encouraged to participate through an SMS message voting system accessed through their cell phones. Tim collaborated to develop the technology that collected votes and projected the results on screens built into the set. Through their voting, the audience determined which prophesies were delivered to characters and ultimately how the play progressed down 1 of 12 potential story lines. Additional voting opportunities expanded the on-the-fly changes to over 12,000 possible unique experiences.

Here is what Tim said about his work in a recent article:
The technology builds upon basic web technology. Each screen is simply projecting a full screen web browser…we use WebSockets to tell the screens when to display voting elements and when to change…we chose text messaging because it was the most accessible option. Something like 87 percent of Austin residents have the ability to send and receive text messages. It also has a built in aspect of one phone number, one vote. No need to have users create accounts for the show. We’d like to eventually add voting by other means, but SMS [short message service] is very simple. 
If you'd like to see more, the application is posted here: https://github.com/tthomas48/deus

As a member of the local theater company Loaded Gun Theory, Tim is currently working on creating a new piece that will use the technology again with added concepts borrowed from role playing games. Some ideas that have been thrown out are things like fighting monsters and winning loot. Tim says the challenge is how to make a personal experience for each member of a 60-100 person audience.