My first Tweet Your Own Adventure game

the-doll-cyoaI turned an interactive story I wrote for Phrenic into a Tweet Your Own Adventure game. Not only is it a homage to the choose your own adventure type books everyone read as a kid, but it’s also a tribute to the text adventure games I used to try writing in BASIC on a TRS-80 (I was terrible at it). I decided to make a Choose Your Own Adventure game that was played entirely on Twitter.

What is a Tweet Your Own Adventure game?

It’s a new kind of text adventure game played entirely with Twitter interactions using @ replies. You don’t even need to follow anyone. It’s all done by sending @ replies to a character from Phrenic on Twitter, known as @PhrenicDoll. Think of it as a Choose Your Own Adventure story where you make decisions by replying on Twitter.

How do I begin playing?

All you need to do is tweet the word START to @PhrenicDoll

Then @PhrenicDoll will reply to you. At the end of the tweet are two options in ALL CAPS. Reply with one of those options (your answer doesn’t need to be in all caps). You’ll get a new tweet until you reach one of the endings (or if stop replying).

How do I “rewind” to a previous choice?

Let’s say you made a bad choice in the story and want to “rewind” to a previous decision. Just type the ALL CAPS option and you’ll resume the story from that point.

You can also tweet START to @PhrenicDoll at any time to re-start the whole game.

How do I pause the game?

Let’s say you start playing on the bus then get to work and can’t play anymore. Simply stop replying to @PhrenicDoll (she won’t mind). On your bus ride home, you can reply to her latest tweet to resume the story.

How do I stop playing?

To stop playing, simply stop replying to @PhrenicDoll. She only talks to you when you talk to her.

Does everyone see my tweets to @PhrenicDoll?

Your interactions with @PhrenicDoll won’t be seen by people who follow you unless they are also following @PhrenicDoll, or if they go directly to your profile page.

There are a lot of @ mentions to the @PhrenicDoll in my feed. Can I delete them?

Yes, once @PhrenicDoll has replied to your tweet, you can delete your tweet. But if you do that, you’ll lose the conversation thread in Twitter that allows the whole interaction to read like a story.

How did you make this?

I wrote the original story using Inklewriter and then modified it for Twitter using Conducttr.

Special thanks to volunteer beta testers: @EGGmockradio (first!) @Superglrl @phjpdx @QMpolly @audreywalker !!

What else has this Phrenic doll been in?

Introducing… Phrenic version 2.0!

I’m happy/relieved/excited to finally release the second version of my iOS app Phrenic. I’ve learned a lot since launching it in March (and even more since the initial app rejection in October–long story). What’s new? Why should you download it? Why am I making the totally unreasonable demand that you pay .99? First watch the new trailer, then read below…

More Stories, Episodes, and Extras

Now I can add new content without forcing you to install another app update. Just launch Phrenic 2.0 and you’ll have the latest story elements and behind-the-scenes extras. This version has a new mini-episode, a new short story, and a way for fans to submit their own content.

Phrenic still does not have push notifications because I hate those and turn them off except for things like Twitter.

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 6.29.50 PM

Audience Participation

I get asked about allowing fans to get involved by submitting stories or videos to be included in the world of Phrenic. Not that fans are actually requesting to do those things, but some people think a good transmedia project MUST have audience participation. I was initially skeptical but I’m coming around. There are some risks to opening a project to fan generated content (which I talk about here) but I realized I can let someone else’s lawyers worry about that.

mike vogel in doll mask

I’m now using Theatrics to allow Phrenic fans to submit videos or other content. To stoke creativity and give people a chance to remain anonymous, I’ve created a cut-out doll mask where people can disguise themselves and record a video about being a clone (or clone protesters). Approved videos will show up on the Theatrics site, PhrenicWorld, and the iOS app. A rough storyline will launch next week that will make it easy for engaged fans to jump in. If you’re thinking of doing it, PLEASE DO!

Here’s a picture of me wearing the doll mask….

No More In-App Purchases

Phrenic_EpisodesPhrenic 1.0 was free to download and watch episodes 1 & 2, but then it cost money for episodes 3 – 7. What a genius way to keep making money off your audience by releasing more episodes and charging for them! Except people don’t like that idea very much and the always-imminent cost becomes a barrier to getting involved in the story. I’m asking for a very small, one-time fee of .99 and I’ll give you a new kind of story that I hope you’ll enjoy so much that you tell everyone with an iPhone to download Phrenic. I like this model better.

The other reason I got rid of in-app purchases is a technical one. To sell the episodes as IAP, you’d have to download them to your iPhone or iPad. That’s fine if it’s a pre-determined, finite amount, like a movie or comic book chopped into chapters. But Phrenic is on-going with no end in sight. There wasn’t a clean way to delete the in-app purchase episodes and adding more would quickly fill up your device. Phrenic used to be about 45MB before you bought all the episodes, at which point it ballooned up to 165MB or so. The more you watched Phrenic 1.0, the more it bogged down your device. What do you do when an app takes up too much space? Delete it! Phrenic 2.0 is down to 9MB now because all of the episodes are now streamed (which means you’ll have to be online–deal with it!)

A short movie I made waiting at the airport

I was taking a quick flight from Portland to San Jose and when I got to the airport, I realized my flight was delayed and I had two hours to kill. I decided to try and shoot and edit a little movie on my phone and upload it before leaving (thanks free WiFi at PDX). I asked Twitter for suggestions, and Twitter never disappoints in situations like these…

I decided to work gum into the movie because I like chewing gum.

One thing I liked about making a movie this way is that you have to use your limitations to your advantage. Just like regular filmmaking. I balanced my phone on the railing of the people mover (the flat escalators) and used it for a dolly shot. There were empty gates where I was able to set my phone up and walk away from it. I had to balance my phone on my bag and wrap a strap around it for the clip where I unwrap my gum.

Another limitation was my phone’s battery. It was draining fast and I didn’t have a charger with me, knowing there was one where I was going. My fear was shooting too much, or editing too long, would cause the battery to die and the upload to fail. And part of this exercise was getting it all edited and uploaded before the plane took off.

I ended up getting the movie uploaded before my flight took off, but my phone was dead when I arrived. It worked hard enough for one night.

Invincible – My 2012 Filmed By Bike Movie

My daughters always want to make a movie with me. Usually, the movies they explain in detail are feature length and run a budget of about $78,000,000 because they have active imaginations and uncompromising visions.

A few months ago, I was playing with the Action Movie FX app on my iPhone and thought it would make a fun Filmed By Bike movie with my daughters. I had an idea that would’ve involved both of them, but one actress backed out due to creative differences. So we made an End of the World themed movie in honor of 12/20/2012.

I was excited the movie made it into Filmed By Bike and was even one of the five movies nominated for a Golden Helment Award. I was nominated last year too for Right Hook. I have lost twice, which I think is the most anyone has ever lost that award. My goal is to be the Susan Lucci of the Golden Helment.

Here are some photos from the Opening Night Street Party…

LED Hula Hoopers

Hammercize! (If you don’t remember, I made a little video of Hammercize performing last year.)

This is Ayleen Crotty, who started Filmed By Bike 10 years ago!

This is the legendary speed raffle. I did not win this bag.

We went back on Saturday and watched it on the big screen!

The one where I get an iPad and ditch Facebook

I took a week-long break from Twitter, Facebook, and constantly checking my phone for updates or messages of some kind. Sort of a technology cleanse. By the end of the week, I decided I wasn’t getting anything valuable out of Facebook so I closed my account. Facebook is great if you’ve ever need to advertise something, which I’ve done for both my job and the movies I make. You can show people ads based on where they live, when their birthday is, how old they are, which specific things they Like, or generally what type of person they are. If you tend to write, comment, and Like updates about tech, entertainment, politics or sports, you have been profiled so advertisers can try to sell you something. This isn’t a big deal and it’s the same thing Twitter, Google, Apple and Amazon are doing. Facebook is doing it better.

The reason I quit Facebook has more to do with the general vibe of the place. Everything seems to be spun from the land of hopes and dreams and year round New Year’s resolutions. People are upbeat, inoffensive, and overly supportive. It’s a place without nuance, humor, or challenging ideas. It’s important that my inner Holden Caufield still be against the phonies. And, to paraphrase Hemingway, Facebook is a Mecca for bluffers and fakers.

Twitter… we’re cool, I still love you.

The other thing that happened after my technology cleanse is that I got an iPad. (Isn’t it ironic?) What my iPad changed for me is that I’m getting back into reading longer blog posts instead of just status updates. I’m using Flipboard to keep track of my favorite Portland bloggers like Dave Knows, Robert Wagner, Betsy Whim, Mile73, Attorney At Large, The RRS and others. It’s inspired me to post a blogroll again. I tried following blogs mostly through Twitter but I realized reading blogs is more of a focused night time activity for me. Twitter is is sort of a day time background process.

I’m also using my iPad to write. I wasn’t sure if the keyboard would be too small, but my fingers love tapping silently on glass way more than pressing clunky buttons on a keyboard.


If I had to make a Sophie’s choice between my iPhone and iPad, I’d ditch the phone in a second.

I’ve got a screenplay to write this month. I’m going to try writing the whole thing with Celtx on my iPad. We’ll see what happens….

Distribution is easy, finding an audience is hard

It’s been almost a month since I decided to release my second movie “Did You Kiss Anyone?” using the Louis CK way of distributing.  (Someone pays me $5, I give them the movie to stream or download in HD.)

Some people think this is idiotic, but I don’t have any investors to answer to and I want to make it as easy as possible for people to see the movie. (If you don’t have $5, you can watch my first movie for free or you can watch the webseries called “Did You Cast Anyone?“)

When I considered doing this, I thought it would be really complicated and possibly cost tons of money I didn’t have.  Louis CK has said his site cost about $32,000 to get running.  I wanted to see if I could do it for less–a lot less.  Here are the steps I identified as most important:

  1. Secure payment: People should be able to pay with a credit card and I should not know anything about how they paid, only if they paid.
  2. Unique link & order number: Once you do pay, you should get a unique URL to the movie and an order number so if things go haywire you can send me an email and complain.
  3. No hassle streaming or downloading: Once you get the link, you should be able to stream it (in HD) or download it immediately, without any technical difficulties caused by me choosing a crappy web host that’s unable to reliably deliver a 1.75 GB file. Also, you shouldn’t need to have an account for anything.

I’m already paying $7/month to host my movie websites on Front Ave.  In addition to this, everything above cost me $5 PER YEAR. One sale covers the video hosting for the entire year (!).  Here’s how I did it: [UPDATE: How to Sell Direct Downloads can be found here.]

  1. PayPal handled the secure payment. I signed up for a Paypal business account (it’s free) because I needed access to their API. You don’t need to understand any of that, other than knowing where to get your API key within PayPal.
  2. My site is created in WordPress and I used a plugin called MarketPress (also free).  It gives you shopping cart functionality on your site, plus it integrates with PayPal using the aforementioned API key.
  3. The MP4 movie file was uploaded to Google’s cloud storage infrastructure (aka Google Docs).  This is where the expense came in.  I needed to upgrade to 20GB of space, which costs $5 per year. Once you get your custom link, you can begin watching immediately or download it.

People would’ve crapped their pants ten years ago if they knew you could do this.

But now the hard will always be: how do you find an audience? And don’t start regurgitating thought-leaders about building an audience online with social media. No one follows you on social media to buy your stuff.  They follow you because you tell funny jokes or take cool pictures or because your avatar is a hot girl who looks like she’s going to have sexual intercourse with you if you star all her tweets. And the thought-leaders don’t make money selling movies, they make money talking at conferences.

My own movie’s made a little bit of money that I’m going to use to try and find people the old-fashioned way: advertising.  But I want to do the old-fashioned way in a relatively new-fashioned way: targeted advertising that leverages your social graph or things you’re searching for.  I have no idea how I’ll do it exactly, or if it will work.  But I’ll let you know when I get any interesting results, like this.

Okay, now go read this this PBS article because I was interviewed for it and it talks about a lot of this stuff too.