Anthony E. Zuiker, Fanlala, Fuhu Partner for Mysteryopolis on nabi Tablets [Interview]

Mysteryopolis“CSI” franchise creator and executive producer Anthony E. Zuiker, in partnership with family-friendly entertainment company Fanlala and nabi tablet creator Fuhu, Inc. have today announced “Mysteryopolis,” an animated video series that combines traditional videos with interactive games in a new genre focused on “gamified narratives.” Mysteryopolis debuts this week, exclusively on Fuhu’s new nabi Pass, a subscription service available on the nabi family of tablets.

In Mysteryopolis, viewers / players follow along with the story of Jordy, a typical 13-year old turned secret agent, who must save his hometown of Mysteryopolis from a “major threat.” As users watch each portion of the seven-part series, they’ll play through multiple interactive mini-games to advance the story along. In addition to writing the storyline, Zuiker helped conceive the activities players will complete.

We had a chance to chat with Zuiker, alongside CEO of Fanlala, Alan Anderson, about the development of Mysteryopolis, and what it was like to create a new brand of mystery for a younger audience.

Inside Mobile Apps: What was the inspiration for Mysteryopolis?

Anthony E. Zuiker: Well, I have three children – 14, 11, 7, all boys – so I always wanted to do a mystery for children, as an original series. I had been dabbling in the adult crime space for a long time, and I loved the gaming space in terms of the technology, and I wanted to create something that was sort of a “fashion forward” version of “storytelling 2.0.” We kept the best of what we can do in terms of animation and movies, and combined it with gaming, and invented what we call “gamified narrative,” which basically is consuming a mystery movie for children. Every 30 seconds or so, you’re able to interact and play a mini-game inside of that which moves the story forward. You’re not just watching the episode, you’re playing the episode.

IMA: In terms of these mini-games, can you explain a couple of them or give examples?

Anthony: Sure. So, there’s seven episodes, for a total of about 90 minutes long. Each episode is about seven to ten minutes long. Every time you start an episode, there’s a level of interactivity, whether it’s using your finger to swipe on clouds or doing something to open somebody’s eyes, or something [that] kicks you off in terms of the storytelling.

Inside of that, for example, our main character Jordy is going to school one day on a skateboard, and he actually bumps into a truck that looks like it’s in front of an abandoned building. He gets curious, so he walks up to the gate to go investigate – there’s a lock there, and the camera will go inside the lock, and the gaming begins. So, they’ll do a small little broken key challenge; they’ll put the key back together, the lock opens and he continues forward in animation. He goes to the building, there’s a key padlock. You go ahead and play the key padlock game to gain entry, you’re inside and the [movie] continues.

Another example would be that you’re looking for something that’s buried in the desert. You click on different plots of land, you shake the tablet to sift through it to find the artifact and go forward. There’s always this level of really fun storytelling in terms of animation, with looking forward to these really fun games. They’re not just side mini-games for mini-game purposes; they’re actually intrinsic to move the story forward, and each episode features about five to seven of those.Mysteryopolis 1IMA: What is the exact age range you were going for when you created Mysteryopolis?

Alan Anderson: The whole objective was to have something for four all the way up to ten – that sweet spot. We really believe that because as you get older, kids have really moved more toward even more sophisticated, teenage types of games. These games are really focused on the interactivity – the winnability, if you will. So, that’s the sweet spot for us, not only based on the tablet, but also based upon what we’ve learned over the years as it relates to kids.

At Fanlala, we’ve been in the kids space for quite a while, and there’s definitely a break in that “10, 11, 12, 13” age where they start to migrate toward more sophisticated music, more sophisticated and interesting content from an older standpoint. But it’s that “5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10” age where you really can engage them positively with a really nice little mystery story, with activities that tie to that story. So for us it was natural based upon what we learned over the years, and of course there was no one better to do it with than Anthony Zuiker as it relates to anything written – mystery or otherwise.

IMA: Going back to the mini-games, would you say they’re “trial-and-error” based, or is there any skill-based gameplay to it?

Anthony: Yeah, they’re definitely skill-based. They’re very fun, sort of addictive little games. Most of them, if you don’t do them properly, you lose life and then once you accomplish the games from a satisfactory timing mechanism… you complete the task and you keep going. So, sometimes the games could be five seconds [long] or 30-seconds [long], but they’re all designed to be quick and fun and simple.

What’s unique about the whole entire thing, is when I wrote the script, I would purposefully stop in the writing to write a gaming element inside of that. It wasn’t like I wrote the movie first and went back and plugged games in there. It was all designed with “a little but of writing, a little bit of gaming, a little bit of writing, a little bit of gaming,” to where there’d be a good rhythm in the experience – to really get the rhythm of what gamified narrative is.

IMA: Why did you decide to go with nabi rather than release on a wider platform like iPad or Android tablets?

Alan: There’s a couple of things. First, at Fanlala, we’ve had a relationship with nabi for about two and a half years. That relationship stemmed from us having a relationship where we had created something called nabi Radio, which is – if you will – “Pandora for kids.”

The second thing we’ve done with nabi is – they have a lot of our content from our website on the tablet itself, meaning that it’s native; it ships with the tablet. So, we’ve had a really good relationship there. We knew that, based upon the age we were focusing on, that the tablet itself hit that sweet spot immediately.

The other piece to note is, it’s somewhat of a controlled environment, meaning, we know how many people are going to see this content. If we were going to take a different tack we would have a little bit less control. Now, long term, we do have strategies to continuously expand our distribution, but really, to have a partner that’s very focused on the age category that Anthony wanted to target, and one that we could have some degree of control over was very positive.

IMA: Anthony, when you were writing the script, how difficult did you find it to construct a mystery storyline for kids, that wasn’t too dark, or wasn’t too difficult for them to understand?

Anthony: It wasn’t hard at all – it really wasn’t. I had so much fun with it. I would get up in the morning and write at the CBS commissary from seven o’clock in the morning until 10 o’clock almost every day for three weeks, and wrote the movie. I had an absolute ball. It was fun to be able to write lighthearted, to write for children, to write [something] that’s a little bit more mature than what we’re expecting… It’s also a very smart piece; it doesn’t talk down to kids.

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