Sec­ond Sea­sons

They say any se­quel to a suc­cess­ful story is the tough­est act to fol­low, so stay tuned for how PopCorn66 re-ran with retro TV to land re­peat glory on­line

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Pop­corn 66 re­veal how they fol­lowed their orig­i­nal retro TV project with a suc­cess­ful se­quel

Make no bones about it, this age of the on-de­mand boxset has marked an in­cred­i­ble resur­gence for tele­vi­sion on­line. The hunger for high pro­duc­tion, episodic and yes, block­bust­ing shows ri­vals the cin­ema box-of­fice given the flex­i­bil­ity of con­sump­tion for view­ers. Of course the beauty of this is the catchup el­e­ment too, where a grow­ing ar­chive of old TV clas­sics can be found and en­joyed in en­tirety by those who missed them first time around. To ap­pre­ci­ate best our fea­tured web mas­ter­piece this month, this kind of ‘home­work’ would in­deed be rec­om­mended. This is be­cause Pop­corn TV, an in-house project for dig­i­tal stu­dio Pop­corn 66, is a ver­i­ta­ble dream for telly ad­dicts. Based in Paris, France the agency spe­cialises in cre­at­ing rich dig­i­tal ex­pe­ri­ences routed in pop cul­ture ref­er­ences with Pop­corn TV build­ing on a pre­vi­ous out­ing to pack your browser full of them – lit­er­ally. With nods to the ‘hid­den ob­ject’ games pop­u­lar on mo­bile de­vices, the web­site fol­lows on from the movi­ethemed Pop­corn Garage from 2015 to de­liver an en­gag­ing dig­i­tal quiz burst­ing with clues to iconic small-screen smashes. “Pop­corn TV is the re­sult of an­other project that we cre­ated two years ago, named Pop­corn Garage (www. pop­corn­garage.com),” be­gins Ro­main Zi­touni, Part­ner and Art Di­rec­tor at Pop­corn 66. “This project was al­ready chal­leng­ing the in­ter­net on cin­ema cul­ture with 66 hid­den ref­er­ences in a garage. Since its re­lease, it has been a huge suc­cess with more than 1.4 mil­lion play­ers world­wide. With­out the suc­cess of Pop­corn Garage, Pop­corn TV would not ex­ist.” A scary thought in­deed, so af­ter spot­ting this im­pres­sive fol­low-up for our­selves in is­sue 273’s Light­box we leapt from our so­fas to hear from its mak­ers on how the pro­duc­tion came to light.

DIF­FER­ENT STROKES

“Af­ter Pop­corn Garage, we re­ceived a lot of mes­sages from play­ers around the world ask­ing us to do a se­quel,” re­veals Pop­corn 66 part­ner and Cre­ative De­vel­oper Priska, when asked how the story started. “So we took the time to think care­fully be­fore em­bark­ing on a sec­ond ver­sion.” Clearly aware of do­ing jus­tice to the im­pact Pop­corn Garage had made on web au­di­ences, mak­ers Pop­corn 66 didn’t want to sim­ply rush any fol­low-up. The new project would of course also be an in-house pro­mo­tional ef­fort, not com­mand­ing any kind of di­rect com­mer­cial in­cen­tive or sup­port so sched­ul­ing was an is­sue too. “Pop­corn Garage and TV are proac­tive projects with­out any fund­ing so it was there­fore nec­es­sary to get or­gan­ised enough to un­lock the time to work on it.” But the pas­sion cer­tainly re­mained, with Priska con­firm­ing the stu­dio’s con­stant fas­ci­na­tion and in­spi­ra­tion around pop cul­ture. But this time would be a chance to “ex­plore an­other uni­verse” within this, de­mand­ing a new theme, new dé­cor and there­fore a brand-new name too. “We also wanted to sur­prise and chal­lenge each other too,” agrees Ro­main. “The word that char­ac­ter­izes us is ‘Pop­corn’ and not Garage. So for this sec­ond ver­sion, we didn’t want to re­make a new Garage and lock our­selves into the cin­ema theme.” Plus the guys would have com­plete free reign to make those judge­ment calls. Apart from their own cre­ative pres­sure and pride, there would be no cus­tomer or client to im­press. Once a suit­ably fresh theme was set­tled on, the stage would be set and green-lit to go.

THE­MATIC TEN­SION

“For the orig­i­nal idea, we must go back to the birth of Pop­corn Garage,” Ro­main con­cedes when re­call­ing how the new idea came about. “That project started from a very sim­ple prin­ci­ple – the sum­maris­ing of a cult film in one ob­ject. From there, we for­mu­lated a set with sev­eral ref­er­ences to films that had left their mark on us. The idea of turn­ing th­ese into an in­ter­ac­tive game that de­fies all film fans then seemed a pretty nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion. It was then nec­es­sary to find ef­fec­tive game me­chan­ics for mak­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence sim­ple and ad­dic­tive.” This was where the team pointed towards those hid­den ob­ject dis­cov­ery games, a kind of Where’s

Wally for spot­ting the vis­ual hints and metaphors re­lat­ing to each film. So if the me­chanic was al­ready in place and proven to be pop­u­lar, it would now be about ar­riv­ing at a pop cul­ture theme not a mil­lion miles away. “Our first goal was to find the right theme,” Priska con­firms. “So we asked our close friends and some play­ers, about 5,000 peo­ple in to­tal, through a small sur­vey to ac­knowl­edge their de­sires. The ma­jor­ity an­swered in favour of the TV se­ries,” some­thing Pop­corn 66 them­selves ap­proved of too. “Yeah the TV se­ries was a per­fect tran­si­tion from the cin­ema theme,” adds Ro­main. “The uni­verse of the TV se­ries is ex­tremely rich, from the 50s to nowa­days. Now the TV se­ries has be­come more and more cre­ative, to the point of ri­valling the cin­ema. Some even cre­ate a real ad­dic­tion to the point of com­mand­ing their own so­cial net­works, such as Game of Thrones or The

Walk­ing Dead etc. For us, it was an in­cred­i­ble play­ground to ex­plore.” With theme choice made, the fo­cus shifted to de­vis­ing a more so­phis­ti­cated gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence while re­tain­ing Pop­corn garage’s sim­plic­ity. Here the guys took ad­vice from friends Mick­ael Dauphinot and Al­ban De For­taleza, founders of the agency Le Singe and spe­cial­ists in Ag­ile method­ol­ogy – help­ing to or­gan­ise ideas and de­fine pri­or­i­ties. “Here we thought about sev­eral im­prove­ments to sat­isfy all play­ers,” ex­plains Ro­main. “Cre­at­ing a new 4K vis­ual that could in­te­grate a zoom func­tion, an in­crease in play­ing

time by of­fer­ing mini-quizzes, a more im­mer­sive ap­proach to sound design and the propo­si­tion of a world rank­ing to chal­lenge friends with.”

A UNITED Front

The vis­ual design work would of course cen­tre on the cre­ation of a play­ing field that con­tained 66 TV show ref­er­ences. Pop­corn Garage quite sim­ply was styled as a lockup garage/auto shop, pro­vid­ing a sense of place that matched the theme. Ro­main re­veals, “Pop­corn TV had to have its own place that cor­re­sponds to the uni­verse it in­hab­its so nat­u­rally we thought of the tele­vi­sion metaphor. Where be­fore the gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence led us to open up a Garage, for ver­sion two we turn on and off a TV.” This con­cept would throw up front-end chal­lenges such as recre­at­ing ana­log TV ef­fects, a hur­dle that would dic­tate tech­no­log­i­cal choices as Priska con­firms: “The only tech­nol­ogy that can achieve this kind of ef­fect is the WEBGL; I opted for the very fa­mous li­brary Three.js.” “Then the big­gest cre­ative chal­lenge was to cre­ate the game scenery in 4K to in­te­grate a zoom func­tion,” Ro­main in­ter­jects. “The idea was to pace the hall­marks of clas­sic sit­com dé­cor, chiefly liv­ing room, sofa and fridge etc, into a dirty at­mos­phere that re­mains our graphic sig­na­ture. Once the mood was es­tab­lished, it was nec­es­sary to choose 66 TV se­ries ref­er­ences both recog­nis­able and rel­e­vant to the lo­ca­tion. The gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is based on how all the ref­er­ences are ar­ranged in the image, re­quir­ing a bal­ance be­tween the im­me­di­ately iden­ti­fi­able ob­jects and those more com­pli­cated to find – all while keep­ing a vis­ual co­her­ence that main­tains over­all el­e­gance.” Sim­i­larly, although 3D tech­nol­ogy is used within the dis­play Pop­corn TV’S front-end

vi­su­als (the game world) is of course 2D. What this meant was that any ac­tions from the player on the vi­su­als such as in­sti­gat­ing the zoom or pan ef­fects also proved to be puz­zling in terms of de­vel­op­ment. “I had to re­view my trigonom­e­try course to ac­com­plish this task,” laughs Priska.

MO­BILE MOANS

All in all, the project would end up com­mand­ing a lot of as­sets that would also com­pli­cate the back-end side of de­vel­op­ment. The game ended up in­clud­ing 99 TV ref­er­ences to find, 114 with bonuses, and in­volv­ing over 700 quiz ques­tions with 300 or so Blind Test sounds. This is where friend Vivien Ripoche stepped in to of­fer some de­vel­oper ex­per­tise, as­sist­ing in the build of a PHP and MYSQL back­end ca­pa­ble of man­ag­ing the game data and ser­vices be­ing served to the front-end. Within this, Priska re­calls that a par­tic­u­lar headache was caused by the method used by play­ers to sub­mit their guesses. “One of the big­gest coding chal­lenges was cre­at­ing an in­put text recog­ni­tion al­go­rithm. The gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is based on typ­ing in the cor­rect se­ries ti­tle, so it was there­fore nec­es­sary to cre­ate an in­tel­li­gent al­go­rithm that does not pe­nalise play­ers for ty­pos or spell­ing er­rors. It would also need to be smart enough not to con­sider an an­swer as valid if its spell­ing was sim­i­lar to a cor­rect an­swer within the vis­ual, but still not tech­ni­cally right.” This tricky bal­ance to strike was echoed in the co­nun­drum faced by so many th­ese days for cre­at­ing am­bi­tious dig­i­tal ex­pe­ri­ences suit­able for mul­ti­ple plat­forms. “We also wanted a site ac­ces­si­ble on all de­vices in­clud­ing mo­bile,” stresses Ro­main. “An­other big chal­lenge was to cre­ate a game avail­able on the max­i­mum num­ber of plat­forms.” “Since WEBGL is not com­pat­i­ble ev­ery­where, we had to cre­ate two games in one,” Priska adds. “A ‘full’ ver­sion in WEBGL with full-screen video and a ver­sion with­out WEBGL used es­pe­cially for tablets and phones, so it’s a lot of work.”

LIVE SCREEN­ING

At the launch of Pop­corn Garage, the site very quickly ran into a server prob­lem due to the mas­sive, largely un­ex­pected, traf­fic. Fast-for­ward 18 months and Pop­corn 66 were de­ter­mined not to make the same mis­takes. “The re­lease of a project like Pop­corn TV presents sev­eral prob­lems,” con­cedes Priska. “On launch day the site must ac­tu­ally be able to han­dle the load, but there are also all the un­ex­pected bugs to man­age. So to mit­i­gate this, we cre­ated a group on our Face­book page where play­ers could ex­plain any prob­lems en­coun­tered. We spent hours af­ter the launch to set­tle every­thing once it went live.” Beyond such a thought­ful com­mit­ment to ad­dress­ing such in­evitable launch nig­gles, you re­ally get sense talk­ing to the pair that they cared and con­tinue to care im­mensely for what they do. Af­ter the un­de­ni­able suc­cesses of Pop­corn Garage, both re­ally felt the pres­sure when it came to un­leash­ing a fol­low-up be­cause of the nat­u­ral keen­ness not to dis­ap­point ex­pec­tant play­ers. “Four months af­ter go­ing on­line, the re­sults are su­per pos­i­tive,” Ro­main con­cludes. “And we’ve had a lot of me­dia re­lays around the world while pick­ing up Web­site of the Day on FWA, Awwwards and CSS Design Awards. Af­ter ap­peal­ing to cin­ema lovers, we’ve man­aged to drive all TV se­ries lovers around the world sim­i­larly crazy, cre­at­ing a real com­mu­nity through both Pop­corn projects. This is what we are most proud of.”

be­low Pop­corn TV can be en­joyed across all screens

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