1600 is a new way for you to experience a year in the life of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave via Augmented Reality using a one dollar bill and your smartphone. It was designed and developed by Nexus Studios in collaboration with the White House Historical Association. Nexus Studios is a highly regarded Academy Award nominated studio and innovative interactive storytelling company - and 1600 was developed by its Interactive Arts devision which specializes in interactive storytelling.
Interactive Arts had recently completed an AR experience for the May cover of the New Yorker magazine when we received an email from White House inviting us to discuss making an AR project together. One of my first questions (after a google search to check this person was the real deal...) was why did they feel AR was the right platform? It wasn't a trick question, we're very excited by the potential of AR too, but what did it offer that another emerging technology didn't? The answer was absolutely on point - and instantly made me a bit jealous. They had made introductions to literally try all the latest technology out there - including the more secretive hardware that isn't out yet or very few people have seen. There was no doubt that there is some really cool developments coming, but there were very few storytelling platforms that right now could speak to an "everybody" audience, remained social, was inexpensive or didn't require any particular hardware that you didn't already own - and was still an emerging technology that could provide that wow moment.
We learned that the Presidents administration had worked tirelessly to open up the White House to be a more transparent place, from festivals on the south lawn to allowing people to explore its rooms through Google Street View, there's been a strong desire to remind the American people that this building is the People's House first and foremost. So the project we'd produce would continue President Obama’s legacy of using digital innovation to increase accessibility to the White House. Naturally this felt like a big challenge, so to begin to develop the story for 1600 we adopted the word 'transparency' as a kind of mantra for us, to design around this hopeful message, which was at the heart of administrations work. We knew the wish for the project was to try to educate and inspire the youngest Americans to learn more about the White House's role in our democracy - and we wanted to underpin that with this notion of transparency -- and then in Nexus sort of way, try to make you smile.
Just like VR, crafting narrative stories for AR is still relatively unexplored - so we knew 1600 would be a challenge but also a real opportunity to creatively and technically showcase the potential for future story based AR experiences. The story takes you on a journey across a year or more literally season by season, beginning with President Obama arriving in the helicopter to sadly leaving with his family (in the 'Beast' Cadillac) in the Winter. Along the way you'll see yearly events like the Egg Rolling on the lawn with the First Lady to press conferences in the Rose Garden with President Kennedy. We've also sprinkled a few surprises like being able to open up the Oval office or release secret service agents onto the roof - and lots more that we'd love you to find. And 1600 has been designed with exploration in mind; at any moment you're able to pause the story (it feels like "bullet-time" ala The Matrix) to find nice historical nuggets or funny moments and take unique photos that we'd love you to share across your social channels.
With its time of release being anything but ordinary, I'm hopeful that 1600 will be received as a good blend of educational and whimsical - and even if just for a moment, a nice antidote to all the political hoopla. In the next few weeks we'll be producing a couple more blogs about some of the interesting creative and technical challenges we faced while making 1600.