In December 1998, Phoenix Pop Productions hired me to write Spychaser, a six episode web gaming series being developed for Foote, Cone & Belding. Players learned about a line of networking products by 3Com Corporation while eavesdropping on a crew of quirky data pirates in the hi-tech cities of Paris, St. Petersburg, Bangalore, Las Vegas, Singapore, and Istanbul. My role was to develop colorful characters and build simple logic puzzles through dossiers, emails, chat sessions, downloads, and web destinations, all in 100 words or less.
The site drew at least 170% of the expected registrants during its six-month run. Phoenix Pop's Producer Amy Taylor told me, "Without your plot-twisting, character-building, awe-inspiring scripts, this project would not have been ... a widely-recognized, award-winning international sensation ... The stories have been a major reason we have users around the globe returning every month to find out what'll happen in the next episode of Spychaser ... that's no small feat." The award that she mentioned is the 1999 Communication Arts Award of Excellence for Interactive Advertising Design.
Project: James Cameron's Titanic Explorer
Title: Lead Writer
In May 1998, I began work as the lead writer on "James Cameron's Titanic Explorer," a 3 CD-ROM set by CircumStance Design for Fox Interactive. My part of the project consisted of writing a documentary-length narrative voiceover, and a few hundred pages of supplementary text. Each node of the documentary ran 30-40 seconds, requiring a short, freestanding paragraph to capture the essence of that moment while advancing the larger story. Although the team included an ace researcher and two respected Titanic experts, I did considerable reading to help prepare and organize the information. In the final stages of production, I collaborated on the video editing.
I truly enjoyed helping history speak for itself (and the outtake footage from Cameron's film certainly didn't hurt). The production team was passionate and committed, and because Fox Interactive hoped to market the product for Christmas 1998, the pace was intense. After it was all over, CircumStance's Creative Director Tim Barber said, "Thanks for everything you've contributed and put up with during the course of this wonderful and difficult project. Your talent made it possible and I look forward to the next." And years later, producer Michele Thomas told me, "You are still the best writer I've ever worked with." I am proud to add that this title won a 1999 Communication Arts Award of Excellence for Information Design.
Project: Arthur's Kindergarten: Trouble with Arthur's Treehouse
Title: Script Writer
In March and April 1999, I wrote the voiceover script for "Arthur's Kindergarten: Trouble with Arthur's Treehouse," an edutainment CD-ROM by Presage Software/Human Code for The Learning Company. It was a dense six-week project, and my first hands-on lesson in the deep structuring of an interactive script. As the writer responsible for one of three simultaneously developed titles, I worked within the boundaries of a small and specific world. The characters were already well defined, and I had to learn what they could say, when and why they would say it, and in how many variations. Although I worked off site for the entire project, frequent design changes and tight time constraints insured that I was in constant communication with the producers, educational consultant, other script writers, and client.
As Associate Producer Melissa Nagy told the writing team, "Thanks for dedication to this project ... You all did an excellent job at keeping up with the many design changes and keeping the changes in check. It was a pleasure working with all of you on this project."
Project: Daily Horoscopes and Monthly Horoscopes
From June 1997 through April 2004, I wrote horoscopes for Astrology.com, an iVillage channel. To write daily horoscopes, I interpreted the possibilities of simple astrological relationships from a database, and then distilled them into generalized, entertaining forecasts of about three sentences each. The result sometimes bordered on a kind of narrative haiku. After two and a half years of writing daily overviews, in January 2000 I began working concurrently on series' that required longer articles, anywhere from 100 to 400 words, some involving a more sophisticated grasp of astrological principles. At the other end of the spectrum, I also wrote minimal horoscopes to fit the screens of handheld devices.
I created daily, weekly, monthly and yearly horoscopes covering such topics as romance, business and career, fitness, and the high-tech world. iVillage readers are primarily women, and my target audiences included office workers, romantic couples and singles, teens, and PDA users. Kelli Fox, VP of Astrology.com and executive astrologer, said of my work style, "You are soooo good! Keep up the great work -- efficiency always impresses me."
Project: Mondo Media Productions Marketing Newsletter
From November 2000 through February 2001, I wrote a weekly newsletter for Mondo Media subscribers. Mondo Mini Shows were short, humorous web animations in a variety of styles. I downloaded each new batch, reviewed it, and wrote catchy headlines and short, punchy copy that appealed to an audience of 18-to-30-year-old males. This was truly an exercise in brevity being the soul of wit -- I worked within a tight word limit, counting letters and spaces. The subject matter suggested crazy angles and openings for smart-ass remarks. It helped that my style and sensibility were close to those of newsletter's creator. When he passed the project along to me, the transition was nearly seamless.
Sadly, a funding crisis ended this arrangement far too soon. When Community Manager Aimee West sent her regrets, she was kind enough to add, "[We] want to thank you for your excellent work and assure you that you'll stay at the top of our list ... Your witty contributions and style will be missed."
Project: Macromedia MX Demo Script
In April 2002, Odopod hired me to help prepare demo software for a MacroMedia product rollout. They took their angle from a video of a live presentation by a long-winded and not especially articulate speaker. My job was to turn a transcript of this speech into a script for a product demo. The intended audience was middle managers with a general understanding of what their development teams did.
As a writer, I worked with unfamiliar material and created something that satisfied my client. Odopod co-founder Jacqui Moss told me, "The schedule was aggressive, and your first edit flew with the client. Thanks!"
Project: Healthy U of Delmarva's "The Diet and Exercise Private Tutor"
From June to July 2004, my client hired me to develop a narrative element for the social agent that had already made this title's first release such a success. The Private Tutor was a warm, wise, gender-neutral voice that encouraged users to stay with their fitness programs and log their results daily. I came up with a story line that reinforced this character's voice and mission while giving it a complex, amusing, daily soap opera to share with its audience. This effect was accomplished through first person narrative with occasional check-ins by two equally unusual faculty members.
Although a design change ultimately steered the project in a different direction, I did receive these glowing words of praise from Mitzi Perdue, Software Developer and President of Healthy U of Delmarva, Inc.: "Alan Lipton has been a pleasure to work with. He is fast, professional, and delivers his highly creative and imaginative work on time."
Project: Information Sickness
Information Sickness is a print zine that I have self-published since 1991. For Issues # 1-9, my chosen medium was interactive fiction on the printed page. Information Sickness is a many-threaded novel-in-progress, disguised as a news journal that reports on the events of parallel universes. Recent issues include the work of guest authors whose thinking meshes with mine, but the zine still shows a cross section of my favorite approaches to writing:
The experience is enhanced by strange images and factoids culled from mainstream newspapers, often in the context of collages that illuminate their intended meaning or suggest a different one.
I'm currently at work on Issue #10, which will leave behind the world of print and exist exclusively online.