The Overlay Dynamics
New Immersive Design
The Urban Playground
What We Do
Overlay Dynamics creates immersive narratives that are overlaid onto the real world. We tell innovative, interactive stories that unfold as participants travel from place to place solving puzzles and challenges. Our platform transforms the audience into the protagonists – it puts them in the center of the story and gives them the agency to choose how that story plays out.
Immersing the audience in our narratives allows Overlay to explore ideas that traditional forms of storytelling cannot. It blurs the lines between reality and fiction, imbues the everyday world with a sense of wonder, and turns the mundane into the magical. Overlay literally brings stories to life.How It Works >
How it Works
You can imagine Overlay’s narratives as real-life choose-your-own-adventure novels or story-driven escape rooms that span entire cities. They’re like a video game that’s expanded out into reality, weaving an exciting story into everyday places and objects.
All of Overlay’s narratives will be available on a mobile app that guides players to physical locations while the story unfolds around them. When they’ve solved the puzzle at one location, they enter their answer into the Overlay app and are rewarded with audio, video, and/or text that moves the plot forward and provides them with their next clues. In contrast to a traditional scavenger hunt, Overlay’s primary goal is to tell a compelling story – we think there’s no reason an immersive narrative shouldn’t be as well-crafted and engaging as a feature film or serialized television show.
Narratives will be playable either solo or with a group of friends. And while each narrative’s main story is designed to be experienced on whatever timeframe the player chooses, the app will also alert users to optional time-and-site-specific events. These will take the form of live interactive performances, collaborative challenges, and flashmob-style meetups that immerse the audience more fully in the story. The app will also provide time and location based messages to players that start side-quest adventures for each narrative.
Because placing customized physical clues around a city can be costly, time-consuming, and potentially illegal, nearly all the clues for Overlay challenges will utilize existing objects. For example, a puzzle may lead players to a statue in a park and have them search the plaque at its base for a codeword. Entering that codeword in the app may send them to a historic building to search for the name of its architect, take them to a local library to locate a code hidden in an encyclopedia, or direct them to an 80’s music video on YouTube to discover their next location is in the background. In addition to reducing overhead costs, this approach allows the narratives to function with minimal maintenance or staff support. More importantly, it exposes players to public art – it takes things they might normally pass by without a second glance and infuses them with a sense of excitement and wonder.Our Narratives >
All of Overlay’s narratives have a few things in common: they give players the ability to shape how their story plays out, they require players to move through the physical world, and they feature a guiding character that unfolds a larger mystery. Another commonality is that each narrative insists that it’s fact, not fiction – in order to not spoil the illusion of authenticity, Overlay Dynamics will pretend it didn’t actually create any of the narratives, claiming that it merely found real stories in the world and built an app to monetize them.
While they definitely share common ideas and elements, no two narratives will function in exactly the same way – each takes a unique approach to immersive storytelling. Some will be comedic, some philosophical, and some more puzzle-heavy. Some will be linear while others can be experienced in any order. While they will all be playable through the app, some will also have an oﬄine option and can be played using a collection of physical items.Tradecraft >
Tradecraft, Overlay’s flagship narrative, is a search for Emma Foxglove, an irreverent former spy on the run from an international intelligence agency. Bored with her life underground, she’s created a trail of cryptographic clues, that if solved in time, will lead to her current location. Emma openly mocks her pursuers, continually directing them to bars on their search (with pre-paid drinks waiting). After all, she wants people to have as good a time deciphering her codes as she had making them.
This story drives a cryptographic scavenger hunt that leads players on a pub crawl as they search for Emma. Her hints send them on a walking tour of a neighborhood, learning information about Emma’s past while gathering cipher keys. Players use these keys to decrypt messages that reveal code phrases and directions to nearby bars. Once at their destination, they can say a code phrase to their bartender in return for a cryptic reply, a clue that moves the story forward, and a drink (included with the cost of the narrative). The participation of bars not only allows for bartenders to give out clues, but also provides a secure location to plant USB drive dead drops, private-network WiFi routers called PirateBoxes, and other physical clues.
Tradecraft will feature a chapter-by-chapter structure, and a new story will be unlocked after each challenge is completed. As most urban neighborhoods have three or four bars within walking distance, it’s possible to have many chapters in one city. While players will never quite catch up to Emma until the conclusion of the narrative (think, “Your princess is in another castle.”), they will be able to participate in scheduled interactive performances, get time and location based messages from Emma on the Overlay app, and even have their decisions influence later chapters of the story. The narrative rewards those who put more time and eﬀort into uncovering its secrets and immerses them more fully in the Tradecraft world.
While some aspects of the narrative will only be available via the app, Tradecraft is designed to work as an oﬄine experience as well. Tradecraft kits, including a codebook full of instructions, map, and custom decoder wheel, will be available for purchase online, through the app, or at participating bars. The kits will be fully compatible with the app in case players find decoding by hand overly tedious.Conspiracy >
Conspiracy is a satire of real-life conspiracies. It pokes fun at conspiratorial thinking while simultaneously highlighting how easy it is to find complex patterns in unrelated events and objects. The story centers around a man who calls himself Dr. Ronald Airport, an unhinged conspiracy theorist who believes he’s uncovered a globalist plot to use pumpkin spice flavoring to turn every breeding-age woman into a lesbian. To counter this and other “nefarious” plans, he sends players on absurd fact-gathering expeditions and ridiculous covert missions to foil the globalists’ schemes. Along the way, players will stumble upon what seems to be a legitimate conspiracy, and it will be up to them to decide what’s real and what’s fiction.The Everywhen >
The Everywhen is a story told entirely out of order. It starts with players receiving a message from a mysterious woman who claims they have a long history together. As the narrative progresses, players discover that she resides in the Everywhen – a world with a time stream completely different from ours. The woman sends them coordinates for locations with “parallel spacetime” where they can more easily communicate. When players arrive at these places, they’ll solve puzzles on the Overlay app to “align the time streams” and she will appear on their screens in augmented reality. Sometimes she’ll reference things that haven’t happened yet. Other times she’ll have no memory of their past interactions.
It will eventually become clear that the woman wants the player’s help in making her way to our timeline. At this point, players will have a choice to make – help this woman enter our reality or work to prevent her arrival. Unlike other narratives, the Everywhen has a competitive element – because different players will make different choices, they’ll find themselves working against each other to either help or hinder the woman’s attempts to enter our world.Escape Protocol >
Escape Protocol is the framing device for the other stories. As players progress through Tradecraft, Conspiracy, and The Everywhen, there will be hints that their parent company isn’t actually what it seems. After gathering enough clues, players will be able to unlock a hidden narrative called Escape Protocol. They’ll be told that the world we’re living in is actually a simulation (referred to as an Overlay). It will congratulate them on proving themselves through the other narratives and reveal that Overlay Dynamics’ true mission has always been to determine which people have the skills necessary to complete the Escape Protocol and enter the real world. This also serves to justify Overlay Dynamics' overly dramatic name.
As players attempt to exit the simulation, a larger sci-fi story unfolds. Challenges will involve locating membranes between the Overlay and the real world, honing players’ minds for their journey, and subverting a shadowy organization that seeks to keep them in the simulation.
This narrative will culminate in the player entering a pod-like device at a site-specific event. Once in the pod, they’ll be told the “truth” about Escape Protocol. Some players will be informed that they’ve successfully escaped from the simulation. Others will be told that they were betrayed from the beginning – they were in the real world all along, but are now being placed into a simulation. Either way, players will exit the pod to find their surroundings unchanged. They’ll be forced to question whether it matters if we’re living in a simulation, especially if we can’t tell one way or another.Cult >
Cult is a bizarre and ancient cult (called Cult). Has it been controlling Overlay Dynamics behind the scenes for its own infernal purposes? Probably not, don’t worry about it.How We're Different >
How We're Different
In the past decade, an entire industry has grown up around immersive experiences. While many of these are brilliantly crafted, none provides the mix of storytelling, creative problem solving, and personalized experience that Overlay offers. Augmented reality games like Pokemon GO have amazing technology but little in the way of story. Alternate reality games like I Love Bees feature ingenious puzzles but require communities of players around the world to solve their challenges, precluding a personalized experience. Immersive theater performances like Sleep No More have incredible world-building but can be hard to access and prohibitively expensive. Immersive parks like Westworld create life-changing experiences but are full of homicidal androids. Overlay, both as a platform for these stories and the creator of the narratives themselves, is designed to incorporate the best part of these other experiences while avoiding their drawbacks.Revenue Streams >
The demand for immersive storytelling has grown exponentially in recent years, as evidenced by the incredible financial success of many immersive experiences and games. Overlay Dynamics has multiple potential revenue streams, such as:
- A pay-per-narrative structure where players purchase each experience individually.
- A premium monthly subscription fee for access to all narratives.
- In-app purchases to pay for clues and skip difficult puzzles.
- Tie-ins with local businesses (as in Tradecraft where purchase of a narrative includes a digital coupon for pre-paid drinks).
- An online shop with physical narrative kits, allowing players to experience the story offline.
- Custom narrative creation for larger groups, including team building exercises, tourism campaigns, and marketing activations.
Potential for Growth
Overlay Dynamics is a company that can function at any scale. While its business model is designed to be sustainable even in a single city with a minimal number of employees, it also has tremendous potential to grow into something larger. Long term plans for the company include:
- Worldwide expansion, with narratives and puzzles being easily adaptable to new locations.
- Developing linear narratives into open-world stories with numerous branching paths.
- Maintaining offices in major cities that can also serve as performance, installation, and event spaces.
- Allowing for third party narratives to be hosted on the Overlay platform.
Why It Works
Audiences have always loved putting themselves into stories. Overlay’s narratives give them the chance to do just that. In contrast to video games and RPGs where you play as an alter ego, Overlay lets you succeed as yourself. It’s your creativity, intelligence, and knowledge that get you through challenges, not artificial abilities ranked on a screen. This personalized approach creates exciting, meaningful experiences that aren’t possible through traditional storytelling.
Overlay Dynamics imbues the everyday with a sense of magic. It turns the ordinary world into a realm where anything is possible and sends players on fantastic adventures. Our narratives give the audience a vital role in shaping their stories, creating one-of-a-kind experiences that are innovative, collaborative, and above all, extraordinarily fun.