WALLPAPER at Bank Street Arts

Inside the installation

Inside the installation

A few days before the launch of WALLPAPER at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield, final preparations were being made. The gallery space was transformed with a site specific installation made out of a wood frame structure, its temporary walls covered in a subtly textured Yorkshire stone imitation wallpaper. The space inside provided a highly focused, cinema-style environment for the games console and projection, alongside a seating area for up to six people. Speakers were installed and hidden; the insides were layered with drapes of blackout fabric; and outside lighting around the installation put in place to echo the colours of the digital work.

Our exhibition of canvases, inspired by and taken from the project itself, were hung, and iPads were installed to collect research around the impact of WALLPAPER on readers and audiences.

WALLPAPER canvases and feedback area

WALLPAPER canvases and feedback area

As opening time approached, there were last minute nerves, final checks and then ready to go. The door opened onto a wet, rainy and very blustery night. Surely no one would venture out on a night like this? Fears subsided as a continuous stream of people filled Bank Street Arts, a mix of ages and interests, but all here to explore our project.

“Tremendous experience – love the atmosphere of the visuals, storytelling and sound.” 

It was humbling to have an audience of around 70 people gather to celebrate the launch of WALLPAPER. Bank Street Arts were amazing hosts and the venue was perfect for the occasion. Dr Alice Bell, our partner on WALLPAPER from Sheffield Hallam University, opened the event and put into context the research project surrounding it.

The projection screen

The projection screen

Andy and I both spoke about different parts of the project and thanked our collaborator sound artist Barry Snaith for his work. The atmosphere was vibrant and exciting. Our audience wanted to explore and understand what WALLPAPER is and how digital narratives can be accessed and enjoyed. The feedback from the launch night was exceptional. We asked people to comment on social media via #WALLPAPERstory which also provided useful content towards our evaluation.

“Very well done. Lovely atmosphere, brilliant attention to detail.”

Andy Campbell, Barry Snaith, Judi Alston

Andy Campbell, Barry Snaith, Judi Alston

The following week we returned to  Sheffield to do an ‘artists talk’. It was a small gathering of about 12 people who were all incredibly interested in the subject, ranging from how we used technology, through to the story line and the many ways we’d used different digital media. We gave a potted history of our work in this field and organisation, gave a glimpse of some of our other current projects and offered an insight into how WALLPAPER was created, especially the writing and development process and how the two became intricately fused. It was a good session and a very positive place to nurture potential links for future collaboration.

“Held my breath through most of it… Beautiful design and incredibly immersive.”

Enjoying the evening

Enjoying the evening

Our academic partners Dr Alice Bell (SHU) and Professor Astrid Ennslin from Bangor University headed up ‘Reader Group’ sessions around the WALLAPER exhibition. WALLPAPER remained at Bank Street Arts for just under a month and was open to the public most days. There was a steady flow of visitors and we have accumulated some really interesting and informative feedback.

“Intuitive and naturally intriguing, great that you aren’t just sat consuming the story but actually uncovering it.”

Our thanks go out to Bank Street Arts and their team for great support, and to all the visitors who took time to come in and explore the work, often leaving really well thought-through positive feedback.

Next stop with WALLPAPER in 2016 is the Ponteo Centre at Bangor University where we’ll be adapting the work to suit this (very different) space. Bring it on… 🙂

WALLPAPER Wallpapers

To celebrate having reached a playable beta version of WALLPAPER this week (a monumental task!) we thought we’d share a few high resolution images from the work which can be used as computer/device wallpapers… or simply treated as atmospheric eye candy. 🙂

Press an image to view it at extremely high resolution.






WALLPAPER launches at Bank Street Arts in November. Find out more




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White Box

“Didn’t we have a lovely time the day we went to Bangor.”

It’s a long time since 1979 when British folk band, Fiddlers Dram wrote ‘Day trip to Bangor’ and I’m sure they would be particularly impressed with the changes there, most noticeably the new home of arts and innovation, The Pontio.

View from the Centre

View from the Centre

We are excited to be working with Professor of Digital Culture and Communication, Astrid Ensslin on WALLPAPER and this week made the train journey over to Bangor University to have a preview look at the soon to be opened Pontio Centre. Unlike Fiddlers Dram whose journey to Bangor was made complete with a £1 bottle of cider, we were more than delighted to get on the only train out of four that had a plug socket. (Thank you Virgin Trains.) 🙂

Long journeys with both of us travelling together working on the same project, gave good uninterrupted opportunity to think and talk about WALLPAPER, to refine the story-lines, modify the Dalton Manor architecture and plot out other ideas.

Developing WALLPAPER is software intensive and media rich and we’ve found ourselves using almost all our licensed tools at some point or another during the process. Our portable work-office, with its terabyte drives, countless folders of text, 3D assets, photography, moving image and sound, was getting curious looks when working on the train. You could see fellow travelers peering at the screen wondering what this weird 3D house and rotating text is all about.

Judi taking a photo

Judi taking a photo

After 5 hours we arrived. A walk over the Menai Straits footbridge taking photos in the sunset was a good antidote to the long fragmented journey.

WALLPAPER is being researched as part of an AHRC funded research project entitled ‘Reading Digital Fiction’. The Principle Investigator Dr Alice Bell from Sheffield Hallam University is working closely with Professor Astrid Ensslin from Bangor University, and this trip was to see how we could bring WALLPAPER to Bangor.

Light inside the Pontio Centre

Light inside the Pontio Centre

Design Engineer John Story kindly gave us a tour of the Pontio Centre, as it is here that we will be exhibiting our installation of WALLPAPER in 2016. The building itself will house a 450-plus seat theatre, a ’white box’ exhibition space, a rehearsal studio, teaching rooms, a cinema and an outdoor amphitheatre. Exciting social areas for the centre include new Student Union facilities as well as bars, cafes and restaurants. Pontio will include an ‘Innovation Hub’ that will support collaborative design approaches between the university and local businesses.

Walking round Pontio was impressive, the use of light was stunning from how it cast shadows on the white walls, the wonderful expanses of bare wall ripe for projection, huge sky lights, through to the fantastic views of Bangor, Anglesey and the Menai Straits.



It was nice to meet some of the workmen. John, a painter and decorator was one of the hundreds of contractors to have worked on Pontio. He was hopeful they wouldn’t run out of paint until the White Box had been completed and it was fun speculating with him how much white paint had been used in the decoration of this building.

The White Box - with Astrid, Andy and John

The White Box – with Astrid, Andy and John

Pontio in Welsh means ‘to bridge’ and for us WALLPAPER bridges the disciplines of writing, games design, moving image and soundscape – merging all these media together to create a digitally born work.

WALLPAPER will be shown as an installation next Spring for two weeks in the White Box, a large blank canvas of space just waiting for some interesting digital projection (and a few coats of white paint).

Our trip to Bangor was not only a lovely day, but also full of creative possibilities.

Light and dark

Standing around in WALLPAPER doing nothing for 15 minutes. It gets dark. :)

Standing around in WALLPAPER doing nothing. It gets dark. 🙂

One technique we’ve developed specifically for WALLPAPER is the slow deterioration of light.

In the story, our main character PJ arrives in the early evening as the light is fading. The electricity provider long since disconnected the power, so a large portion of the work involves PJ exploring his family home under torch light.

This has been achieved through the slow interpolation of variables attached to lighting effects in the WALLPAPER world – from a primary directional light which acts as “the sun” to volumetric lighting that can be seen gently pooling through the windows on the west side of the house.

Within a real time period, and often without the reader/player consciously noticing, the story world descends into darkness. PJ’s torch light becomes more emphasized and the outside environment more sketchy and disorientating.

Luckily PJ’s prototype device runs on battery power, giving him a limited (and thankfully fairly bright) window to probe his way into the secrets inside his mother’s locked room.

Papering over the cracks

There is something really interesting about the history of wallpaper – its place in our lives and culture. Decorative paper that smooths over the cracks, bringing colour into another wise bland space. In WALLPAPER, we peel through the layers of paper to unearth the stories of times gone by at Dalton Manor, uncovered by the main protagonist, PJ Sanders.

Throughout the history of decorative arts, wallpaper has been a poor relation, a consumer item, fragile but not fragile enough to be exceptional. As it is easy to replace, it has often disappeared from archives and historical records. This absence of archival history seemed to resonate with stories lost in walls of Dalton Manor.



Wallpaper is often thought of as ‘background’ rather than foreground – like those incidental stories that are attached to everyday items that pepper our lives.  Nevertheless, its role in the overall decorative scheme is a vital one, and the choice of wallpaper affects the mood and style of a room, and may influence the choice of other furnishings. The wallpaper itself may be indicative of the function of a room, and will often reflect the age, status or gender of its inhabitants or habitual occupants. Often wallpaper is designed to look like something else – tapestry, velvet, chintz, silk drapery, linen, wood, masonry, a mural. This decorative deception can be reflected in the mementos of family life, children’s drawings, family photos and certificates of achievement standing proud on a sideboard conveying a families social norm, while under the veneer are chinks and flaws.

Prior to the 18th century heavy fabric tapestries would adorn the walls of the wealthy, at first, decorated paper was only for the rich and upper classes, but with changes in manufacturing and printing wallpaper became an affordable substitute for more costly materials and suffered for being seen as a cheap imitation.

Madame de Genlis (in 1760) bemoaned the frivolous fashion for English wallpapers which had driven the Gobelin tapestries out of style. Wallpaper itself comes to stand for a decline in values, both moral and social:

‘In the old days, when people built, they built for two or three hundred years; the house was furnished with tapestries made to last as long as the building; the trees they planted were their children’s heritage; they were sacred woodlands. Today forests are felled, and children are left with debts, paper on their walls, and new houses that fall to pieces!’

Wallpaper becomes a metaphor for dishonesty as opposed to the secure and lasting, and for the valuing of appearance over substance. We paper over the cracks.

The generations of the Sanders family who lived in Dalton Manor spanned the social classes from upper class respected gentry through to illegitimate children from the servants. The house homed them all, and alongside the walls were decorated accordingly. In the early 19th century Dalton Manor enjoyed wallpaper as a luxurious and elegant commodity just in the parlour, but towards the end of the century, in line with machine printing and repeal of excise duty, wallpaper became more modest and affordable for every room, and in easy reach of the Dalton Manor family that had dropped down the social classes.

The Cowshed

The Cowshed

We were delighted to find out that Wakefield Museum had recently been gifted a collection of wallpaper that had been stripped from a 16th century timber frame building in the city. The Cowshed is the stunning Grade 2 listed building around which Joanne Harris created the book Chocolat, adapted into the famous film. It is now a restaurant and during its refurbishment pieces of the wallpaper had been carefully removed and photographed. The curator at the Museum kindly gave us permission to use the images to create tiles in which we could decorate Dalton Manor.

In devising the WALLPAPER story we liked the links often associated wallpaper as a statement on cleanliness and comfort, home and domesticity. In her story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, Charlotte Perkins-Gilman used wallpaper to symbolise the claustrophobia and repressive control that a woman experiences within the confines of her home and family.

In our WALLPAPER story we wanted to create a home that had a history, that had layers that could be peeled back, with stories revealed – we wanted to tell PJ’s story in a multi-layered way through texture, colour and the illusion of a house whose memories and secrets are covered but not far from the surface.

Wakefield Literature Festival: Uncovering Digital Fiction

We were really pleased to be part of this year’s Wakefield Literature Festival hosted by BEAM. The festival now in its fourth year, has grown significantly into a vibrant 10 day programme with a diverse range of literature based events, talks and masterclasses.

Our talk Uncovering Digital Fiction was a great opportunity to share our latest game like narrative project WALLPAPER with a mixed and very interested audience. WALLPAPER tells the story of a man whose elderly, widowed mother has recently died, and he returns to the remote and historic family home to sell the property. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the man has an additional agenda: to discover the secret history behind a room he was never allowed to enter as a child, and which has remained locked until now.

Postcard for Wakefield Literature Festival

It’s been 16 years since One to One Development Trust’s Dreaming Methods project started developing stories, often interactive, with a range of digital media, and always highly atmospheric. Many of our audience had never seen ‘literature’ presented like this and we told the story of our own evolution into this creative practice.

As well as the history of our own work including Inside, Joyride, Clearance and Nightingale’s Playground, and on-going collaborations like Pluto and Inanimate Alice, we talked about several projects that really show how this genre is progressing as an art form in its own right; our examples included PRY by Danny Cannizzaro and Samantha Gorman, and Sunset by Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn.

It was exciting to share the creative process of WALLPAPER with our audience, from its inception as an idea, through to how we secured funding from the Arts Council and its significance as part of a research project, Reading Digital Fiction, with Sheffield Hallam University and Bangor University. Our talk included what inspired WALLPAPER and the story behind the story. The presentation was a vibrant mix of screen shots and video clips documenting the making of the project, giving an insight into the technology, development process, characters and storyline.

Teaser for WALLPAPER, shown at the event

As the creators/authors/producers of WALLPAPER it was a good opportunity to reflect on our own creative journey, the decision to create a digital narrative for a bespoke gallery installation and a digital interactive space, not just confining it to the usual multi-platform options.

The feedback from our audience was encouraging and exciting, many keen to see the project in its installation as well as on computers and devices.

WALLPAPER opens at Bank Street Arts Sheffield on November 12th.
Find out more here


“Very interesting and inspiring, would like to use this in school.”
“Wallpaper – what a fantastic premise for a story! Can’t wait for the launch at Bank Street.”
“A way of thinking about literature that I had never considered.”
“Brilliant explanation of digital fiction, I’m so excited. I want a go!”
“Wonderfully presented, something especially difficult for many creatives.”
“Wallpaper has stretched my mind.”
“Very interesting concept. Like the use of the amorphous use of the written word. Scenes are very atmospheric.”
“So layered and exciting.”
“Really enjoyed the presentation. Can’t wait to see it in Sheffield, very interesting!”

Teaser Footage!

Here’s our very first draft teaser sequence for WALLPAPER showing in-project footage (still under development), best viewed in low light with volume up loud. 🙂

Visual Programming

WALLPAPER has been created using what’s known as visual programming. Actually, that’s a lie: we’ve had to write several lines of code to connect things up between the reader/player and the interactive parts of the game world. 🙂 But that’s it. Hand-coding (typing in reams of commands) has been completely avoided.

We’re putting WALLPAPER together in Unity 5, a popular cross-platform game engine, the personal edition of which can be downloaded for free. Unity itself doesn’t come with visual programming built in – but there are many powerful tools available as extensions for Unity that enable this.

So what is visual programming (or visual scripting) anyway?

Basically, it’s coding through a visual interface instead of through text. Scratch is probably the most popular example. For WALLPAPER, we’re using Playmaker, which is so powerful and fast that even many seasoned programmers use it to make rapid prototypes and speed up their workflow. (If you’re a coder yourself of course you can build your own actions, or tinker around modifying existing ones – a great way to actually learn code).

Encouragingly, Playmaker has helped to power several accomplished narrative games, including Sunset by Tale of Tales (who posted a great insight into their use of Playmaker here) and a PC Unity port version of Dear Esther by the Chinese Room.

Visual programming isn’t the answer to everything of course. It has its rules and limitations and knowledge of programming methods and concepts is still utterly required if it’s going to make any proper sense, especially if you want to build something complex (like we do). But the way in which commands and logic can be woven together into visual ‘states’ – certainly for us – makes creating ambitious digital stories not only possible, but enjoyable and intuitive.

If you’re interested in finding out more, come along to Uncovering Digital Fiction on September 23rd, 6-7pm, as part of Wakefield Literature Festival, where we’ll be showing hands-on how WALLPAPER was put together.

We’re also doing an artists talk about WALLPAPER on Thursday 19th November, 5.30pm-7.30pm at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield.

The Reverse Script

WALLPAPER has been created, for the most part, without a script. We’ve used a shared Dropbox folder to build up snippets of text and resources (fiction, notes, ideas, letters, scans, photographs, video, audio, 3D objects, etc), but the final text being used in the work exists at the moment only inside the work itself. Which means at the end of the day when the project is complete, if we want to produce any kind of “text only” script, we’ll have to reverse-engineer the writing out of the project and paste it into a document.

Like many other works of digital fiction, WALLPAPER doesn’t always show exactly the same text on screen per reading/game play session. How this manifests in terms of text depends on various factors: how far into the story are we? Is the reader/player very active or being purposely annoying or lazy? What elements of the narrative have been uncovered so far? 

Because a large proportion of the work is free to “roam around” computer game-style through PJ’s first person perspective, the narrative is as sprawling and fragmented as the graphics and sound effects, and subject to occasional hints of randomisation. An extracted, “text only” script might be very difficult to follow.

WALLPAPER looks rather different in the Unity editor window

WALLPAPER looks rather different in the Unity editor window

Due to working within the philosophy of experimenting with narrative as something that is created ‘live’ within a project – responding to and influencing the media that works alongside it – the textual element of WALLPAPER will not be properly finalised until the project is published as a whole. Although we’ve explored this methodology before in previous Dreaming Methods works, particularly Joyride (2004), The Flat (2006), Dim O’Gauble (2007) and Clearance (2007), we’ve never quite pushed it to this degree.

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