With more than 21 million users in just the two weeks since it launched, and a projected $3 billion in revenue, the location-based augmented reality mobile game has taken the world by storm. But while Pokemon Go is surely a global phenomenon, another immersive game experience right here in Marin is combining technology and the real-world into an immersive, theatrical experience – with Marin itself playing a starring role.
Meet the Headlands Gamble, “an attempt to bring together the interactivity of a videogame with the real-world immersiveness of a theatrical experience like Sleep No More – all packaged as a travel experience,” says Gabe Smedresman, the co-creator of the Headlands Gamble. “And what makes us unique from the likes of Pokemon Go and others is that we’re not just trying to pull you into the real world – we are taking all of the spectacular beauty that Marin has to offer and we’re showcasing it.”
The Headlands Gamble is the first foray of First Person Travel, the immersive travel company founded by Smedresman and Satya Bhabha, a Los Angeles-based writer and actor who has appeared in films like Scott Pilgram vs. The World and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and TV shows like New Girl and Key & Peele.
Bhabha wrote the Agatha Christie-style mystery that takes participants on a two-day journey throughout Marin, though we’ll keep the specific sites to ourselves so as not to spoil the fun. Smedresman, the creator of the game Pretweeting whose wife Catherine Herdlick is the San Francisco director of Come Out and Play, an annual festival of street games, has worked in the field “of digital and mixed reality experiences that mix the technological and the real” for several years.
In running the business side of First Person Travel, Smedresman says that while they are far from the first people to dive into this space, they are among the first to try to make it a sustainable businesses by adding the travel component. Unlike the hour-or-two experiences like escape rooms and Sleep No More, the Headlands Gamble is a wholly-curated weekend for two.
“We serve as a travel agency in that we’ll plan everything about your trip – but we also give you a mystery to solve over the course of your weekend,” he says.
The mystery unfolds in a variety of ways, from car trips to key sites in Marin to the Headlands Gamble’s iPad-based dashboard where clues and characters are introduced, as well as from actors who pop up along the way. The logistics of making it all happen are complicated, Smedresman says, and involve an off-site stage manager and a field operations person who travels ahead of the participants to set up the scene and the actors, along with the iPad dashboard that keeps the experience moving along. And in an oft-serendipitous wrinkle, participants regularly encounter people at their destinations and must determine if they are part of the experience or not.
“That feeling of not knowing what’s part of it and what’s not is exactly what we’re going for,” Smedresman. “That’s the place we’re trying to get you to, where the technological, the theatrical and the real all meet.”
Smedresman says he’s been excited to dive into this venture and believes the amazing success of mixed-reality games like Pokemon Go will only help.
“Pokemon is the perfect property to use for an augmented reality game – a match made in heaven,” he says. “My hope is that it augurs for an increased awareness of these applications that blur the line the reality between reality and fiction.”
The 411: The Headlands Gamble is two-day immersive experience that blends game design, theater and interactive storytelling, all wrapped into travel package throughout Marin. While the travel package includes a convertible and a night’s stay at a cozy seaside hotel, a DIY version lets local users participate at a lower cost.