Robert Sabuda is a paper engineer who designs pop-up books. He — with collaborators — is now running an Indiegogo campaign to put together three Mysterious Cases: boxes that come with clues, props, puzzles and locks. He was good enough to answer some questions for me:
ES: The trailer and photos make these look really appealing and tactile — it looks like there’s a lot of physical manipulation of props to solve these puzzles. And I know you’re a pop-up book artist and have done a lot of past projects that involve manipulating a book in order to bring about, as your FAQ says, a “WOW” moment. What qualities in a pop-up most contribute to delivering that sense of wonder?
RS: I think what it really comes down is providing a sense of a wonder and magic. We like to be surprised, and maybe even a bit fooled, when we’re unable to come up with answer to “how did THAT happen?” Pop-up books and interactive experiences, like the Mysterious Cases, supply that in droves. We want to wrestle a bit and be delighted by new discoveries and the magic of the moment.
ES: Are there moments you’re trying to build in these Interactive Mysterious Cases that feel different from the “WOW” effect of a pop-up book?
RS: Absolutely! With a pop-up book you really only need to use your physical abilities, turning the page, to make the magic happen. With a Mysterious Case, you need to use your brain to figure out the clue or puzzle, and only after you’ve been successful with that are you able to get the magic of the next experience in the next box. And there’s no jumping ahead to get to the end like in a book! In a Mysterious Case you must solve each puzzle or challenge before you can find out how the story ends.
ES: What would you say was the most challenging piece to construct (or source) for these, if you can say without spoiling too much? What makes a piece of paper engineering particularly technically demanding?
RS: Well, it’s not too much of a spoiler, but Mysterious Case No. 354 The Star-crossed Scientists does contain an automaton that will draw the final clue. Needless to say designing this mechanism has been an extraordinary challenge! When I first mentioned the automaton to my creative partners in crime Shelby Arnold and Simon Arizpe they thought I was out of my mind! Maybe I am a bit but we’ve always been known for pushing the limits in our creative endeavors.
ES: We tend to talk about linear structures (where the player has access to one puzzle, solves that, and goes on to the next) vs. branching or non-linear structures (where the player has several puzzles to work on at a time). How are the puzzles structured in your cases?
RS: Since the Mysterious Cases are a completely new form of storytelling, and trust me we looked and tried to find something like it elsewhere, we decided to try both methods of puzzle solving. Some of the Cases are linear in format, like Russian nesting dolls, a box within a box, while others do branch off but still only lead to a final conclusion.
ES: How do the story and puzzles work together here? For instance, are there a lot of elements that exist just for story purposes, or is the story mostly told through the puzzles themselves?
RS: It’s really a combination of both. Objects and puzzles are deeply tied to the story itself since we feel this makes for a much more immersive experience. By the time you’ve reached the end of your Case, we want you to feel that you’ve been invested, not only mentally and physically but also emotionally. This is what great storytelling is all about.
ES: Are there any points where the player can make a choice that affects the outcome of a story, or is the player’s role entirely to unlock challenges and find out what happened in the past?
RS: We’ve had many discussions about this amongst ourselves! Given that the Mysterious Cases are real world objects we’re a bit limited on how far we can stray from keeping the player moving in a specific direction. But who knows what will happen in the future!
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