Scrub up and enter our world where you are a Red Cross medic on the battlefields of North Sumatra. On your operating room table lies a wounded war criminal, and he needs your help.

Saving Them is an interactive location-based experience prototyped in three weeks for Building Virtual Worlds at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center.

“A big decision to make, and a fascinating way to make it. This will be a BVW landmark for years to come.”

– Jesse Schell, Distinguished Professor of the Practice, Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center  & CEO, Schell Games

Andrew O’Rourke: Producer/Experience Design/Writer
Annie Wang: Programming/Lighting/Prop Design
Antonin Fusco: Writer/Direction/Casting/Sound Design
Cecilia Chen: Programmer/Live Tech Director/Props
Wendy Zhou: Set Design/2D Art/Makeup/Prop Design

Production Gallery:

Production Videos:

Interface Proof-of-Concept:

If a Guest decides to kill the patient, they can push the shrapnel into a water balloon (representing the abdominal aorta), popping it, thereby releasing water to connect two electrodes and notifying our show system that a death has occurred.

Excerpt from first full playtest:

We were blown away. In test after test, Guests chose to save the patient and were very articulate about their reasoning—they took the game seriously. We reached out bar for success. What was even better was that our initial prediction and desire held true: no Guest intentionally killed the patient in testing. We were in the right place.

Excerpt from an accidental kill:

One accidental death that resulted from a Guest having difficulty locating the shrapnel and accidentally puncturing the balloon. Besides prompting us to redesign the inside of the body and add a “tutorial” piece of shrapnel so Guests knew what to search for, this gave us a glimpse into just how invested our Guests were getting in the experience.



Key Facts:

  • Increased theoretical capacity from 3 per hour to 45 per hour
  • Coordinated a cast and crew of 19 for over 14 hours of rehearsals and a 4 hour festival
  • Transitioned from a pre-set CAVE to a black box theater in 7 days and re-designed experience through augmenting lighting, sound, and show control

We were honored to have been selected by our peers and a faculty jury to present our experience at the annual BVW Festival, a showcase of some of the best work from the semester. The way the process works, if nominated by our classmates, we fix outstanding problems and present to a jury. Once selected, we had a week to prepare for the show.

This was a great chance for me to get to work on the production and experience design of something that would now essentially be running as an attraction. Our biggest problem specifically for Festival was throughput. At the end of the project, we were running 7-9 minutes per show, which meant that over the course of the Festival, adding reset times and cast changes, at most 16 people would get to experience our world. Thus, we opened up the experience to 12 audience members per performance whose roles were Red Cross observers. To accommodate all these performances, we had to recruit and train four brand-new casts: a daunting feat!


Another challenge: we didn’t get the room that we had performed in for the class, so we no longer had the screens that created the walls of our room. However, we did get a very large room with some huge bonuses: lots of lights and speed rail on the ceiling and back drape all around. We debated recreating a room so the Guests could feel immersed and isolated, but ultimately decided that the non-participant audience experience would be too negatively affected and that we might not have time to execute well given the budget and time constraints.  We also lost our ability to have a virtual heart rate monitor on screen, so we used a Phidgets Analog controller and an oscilloscope as a physical prop interface.

We also needed to button up the beginning and end of the experience, making it seamless to the Guests and never taking them out of that experience. To that end, what was previously just our greeter became a new character, Dr. Poirot, the head of the Red Cross outpost in North Sumatra. He is busy with another patient, so he’s only present at the beginning and end, and we found this really helped the flow.

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In order to accommodate the crowds we anticipated at Festival, we implemented a timed ticketing system for the Guest playing the doctor, and we also created an experience flow that made it clear which Guests needed to go where:

Dr. Fusco opens door, tells observers to proceed behind green lineBlue load-in lights on
Dr. Fusco tells doctor to enter, closes door, tells them he needs to speak to nurse and will be right backSpot on scrubs comes up
Convey the warzone settingNewscast audio comes on
Bring Guest into operating room, Dr. Fusco leavesOperating room (OR) lights on, oscilloscope (EKG) and heart rate monitor on, load-in lights and spot off
Dr. Poirot appears on SkypeNurse turns OR TV on
If kill, Dr. Fusco re-enters and comforts the doctor, allows nurse to leaveLights slowly turn red if kill by inaction, EKG and audio flat-line in either case
Dr. Poirot leavesDr. Fusco or nurse turns TV off
Guest reflects/is told to get undressedLights in OR down, light on scrubs area come back up, newscast plays
Experience endsLoad-in lights back up


Over the course of the night, we had a packed house and were able to show the experience to about 150 Guests.