Summoning Santa is the winner of the 2015 First Penguin Award!  This is an award given to the Building Virtual Worlds team that takes the most bold, innovative risk of the semester that may or may not fully succeed.

You’ve been hired as part of a cleaning crew tasked with cleaning up after a Christmas Eve party… but this is no normal party.  Enter the living room of Satanists who appear to have trapped Santa Claus in a séance.  Will you reverse their spell to set Santa free?

Summoning Santa is a rapidly-prototyped location-based experience created in three weeks for Building Virtual Worlds at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. This was our fifth and final round which focused on making something for the BVW Festival.

Jason Cao: Programmer, Props
Ross Houston: Environmental Artist, Story, Props
Jiawen Liang: Programmer, Props
Andrew O’Rourke: Producer, Experience Design, Writer, Video & VFX
Kristian Tchetchko: Sound Designer, Fabrication Lead
Luna Zhang: Concept Artist, 3D & VFX Artist, Prop Artist

Environmental Design:

Learning from my experience on Saving Them, we knew that a strong core concept and design documentation was crucial to giving everyone on the team enough clarity and agency to bring their talents to the project.  Because this was a location based-project, we found concept art to be extremely useful in communicating not only to the team but to the faculty.  Especially because half of the team was not from the West and was not as familiar with Christmas lore as the other half was, this proved to be an important gold spike.

Luna made this amazing concept for one of our interim presentations:


That concept led us to this:

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 12.02.47 AM



  • Three-zone gingerbread man voodoo sensors that can connect via Makey Makey



  • Seven-input mystical tome that can connect via Makey Makey


Pepper’s Ghost Effects:

Step 1: Green Screen in Studio


Step 2: Compositing and VFX in After Effects


Step 3: Arrange image to play on the pyramid in Unity (and add candles!)


Step 4: Play on the TV in the Satanic tabernacle and dazzle our Guests.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 10.48.53 PM



The story evolved quite a bit over the course of the three weeks—and as a matter of fact, the Santa séance idea didn’t exist until week two.  The challenge we were determined to solve was how to make good use of a “hologram.”  Though we knew this was essentially backwards from how we should be designing, the faculty’s initial reaction to our proposal, saying they had never seen a good interactive use, was just the challenging constraint we needed to make something interesting and bold.  There’s good reason for the faculty reaction: thinking up an idea was hard.  But in week two, we came up with this:


  • Guests are “bad kids” in league with T, a teenager who’s into Satanism
  • T has invited you over to help him trap Santa Claus to force him to give you presents
  • You trap Santa by performing a ritual, but you accidentally let Krampus through the portal as well!
  • Santa makes a deal with you: if you defeat Krampus, he’ll give you the presents you seek.
  • Santa walks you through a gingerbread man voodoo ritual to defeat Krampus.
  • Santa thanks you for your help and says to look under the tree for presents the next day.

As we learned from playing it through, the concept had some critical story and interaction flaws, namely that Santa’s forgiveness didn’t really make sense—Guests are still holding Santa hostage, something he might not be willing to forgive. The gingerbread men voodoo was also too simple: it was just one step to defeat Krampus.

Thus, we reworked the story to the core, added a set piece and a smoke machine, and our Penguin-Award-winning experience was born:

  • Guests are house cleaners sent to clean up after a Christmas Eve party.
  • Guests are beckoned by a small Santa trapped in a Satanic tabernacle of sorts and are asked to proceed to the altar to help set him free.
  • Guests release Santa… but oh no! They were tricked! It’s actually Krampus!
  • Thankfully, since it is late on Christmas Eve, Santa is on his way. He bursts through the chimney (with lots of chimney smoke), and chastises the Guests. However, since they clearly didn’t intend to do this, they are not faulted.
  • Santa, well known for his voodoo prowess, urges Guests to find something they could use. They find gingerbread men on the table they first saw upon entering, and they perform the magic. It registers, but is too weak to defeat Krampus.
  • But alas! Santa was bringing these voodoo believers a large doll for Christmas! The Guests help Santa stab the large doll, and Krampus is vanquished.
  • The lights snap on, Frank Sinatra begins playing, and Santa joyfully passes out candy canes for all to enjoy.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.