— Our first case investigating the Discovery stage of our process and its intertwines with our client's Production.

Our innovation process is influenced by nature and objects.
Nature is change > We seek to explore change with our clients > We turn to nature.

Our recent work for a gaming company has given us the opportunity to reflect on the Nature in our process. We sell our process as a response to a quest for growth or adaptability, but ultimately, we sell an evolution of our process–– a process of our clients' own, which eventually should also be understood as natural, “always changing”; and its foundations start in Discovery.

This latest exploration also shed light on what our type of art–design in the Discovery stage shows. The artifacts we use to deliver Discovery aim to convey "answers in the process of becoming", thus the artifacts are dynamic and use available materials to contain information that gets the message across.

This time traveling case is a case about Discovery and Production as natural elements,
and we will point to the balance [artifacts] between these two opposing forces
which are sometimes equal and contrary,
like sunrise and sundown.

These are possibilities for growth using worldbuilding and futures design.

For Winter and Spring 2023 we were hired by a global video game commerce company headquartered in California to deliver Discovery on these tracks:

  1. Worldbuilding and sharing that world with early adopters;
  2. An alternate reality game (ARG);
  3. Experience design for the entrance hall at Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2023 in SF.

In a team of 8 for a company of 700, The Time Travel Agency's focus has been in discovering futures so the team can place them in their vision's timeline, which includes Today (Q1, Q2), Near (Q3, Q4), and Far Future (5 years). 


At one point, content producers have to start sharing the world being made. “World Transfer” during Discovery is scary because content is still experimental, but needs to be tested to discover early adopters.

Another challenge of this stage is a lack of specific stories to be told, especially by those who didn’t invent the world. By specific we mean needs such as “a list of 25 tweets” or “a list of 25 Instagram replies to engage with players”. For this aim, we have to rely on process: from narrative design to publication.

“Not Walking On Eggshells” is a tool of writing, a sort of Production line of story, from storymaker to storyteller. It is an artifact to transfer knowledge, and to induce confidence and courage to producers.
This artifact is an object, but it is also, of course, a process, and choosing a verb for its name reminds us of it (and of change, and of nature).

It is called “Not Walking On Eggshells” because using it does not threaten the storyworld, it just pushes the work forward, all the way to our Brand Director, who is accepting/vetoing final releases.

Here’s how it works!

1. Producer picks one from the many storylines provided. It is not possible to see the content before picking a paper, which = randomness which = freedom. 
They can choose without worrying about lack of context or doing the wrong thing: all they need to know is what’s in the prompt.

The different bubbles (and their color) represent the variety of content available (we have experience design ideas, ARG event scores, durational content, campaign content, tweets…)

The size of the board represents the vastness of content available.

2. Producer writes.
There is tech support for this machine! A QR code in one of the sides lets producer consult with the lore keeper or one of the writers if need be.

3. Repetition.
The motion = one piece taken, one piece replaced. Ongoing seemingly forever.

During our own Discovery at the studio, we held on to narrative shape (e.g. tools to get there: Twisty Little Passages; Plus and Minus; Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative), and then took the lore keeper’s Storyworld as well as the Product Designer’s Content Architecture diagram.

A draft of a Cinematic Universe emerged.
A sculpture to contain the Storyworld was chosen.

To help visualize and keep track of narrative shape and more pieces (storytracks), we chose a “moving sculpture” for our lore keeper during Playpen sessions: “a giant moving sculpture containing all our storyworld– different parts of the same world are seen depending on where any team member stands”. Bruno Munari’s Macchina Inutile mobile from 1984 served as the example.


Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) are one of our favorite explorative tools for Discovery.

ARGs are interactive–immersive games that rely heavily in narrative, and which use the real world as a base in order to bring players into a world or process. The idea is that the players’ action influence how the game (and story) develops.

Past clients have benefited from exploring or even developing ARGs because weaving a narrative between the physical and online strengthens an invention. Moreover, ARGs can deliver meaningful experiences to an audience that is invited into another world to investigate, build on, and perhaps connect with others.

Since our client is an organization that exists in Web3, much of their world will exist solely there. We explored multiple touchpoints (irl and digital) to interact with their world relying on story and performance to start developing a more mature narrative and mechanics. One special item of their world is robotics.

Entering another world can have / usually has a simple prompt.

Imagine you’re going down a usual street and see the following poster attached to a lamp post:

“Octopus for Hire” from UbuWeb's Outsiders
“Octopus for Hire” from UbuWeb's Outsiders


You continue with your day (and perhaps it was the right kind of day and you ripped off a little piece of paper), and you keep thinking (or not) about this octopus for hire.

Later, you ponder if octopuses are (or should be) for hire, or if the maker of this poster was a human or an octopus (or something else), or if we’re a culture obsessed with hiring and getting hired.

Now imagine that a couple of days after your first poster sighting, you pass it (by now it has all the little papers ripped off), and next to it, there is someone actually hiring an octopus–puppet. You happen to pass by as they are signing their final agreement, you catch the handshake(s).

Here is another artifact that brings you inside a world, our proposal for “A R G C A T”:

“An artifact with so much negative space to show how little effort there is to make.”
“An artifact with so much negative space to show how little effort there is to make.”

Fluxus was an international, interdisciplinary community of artists, composers, designers and poets during the 1960s and 1970s who engaged in experimental art performances which emphasized the artistic process over the finished product. [Wiki]

They worked with pieces called ‘Event Scores’, which were brief and simple scripts consisting on descriptions of actions to be performed.

We held on to the concept of Event Scores as a point of entry to ARG design, and imagined a series of Event Scores that our client and their audience could enact in a short moment. In their case, brevity in physical interactions was the most important design boundary.

Our artifact has a special characteristic: besides its content, what made it valuable (i.e. possible) is its negative space.

Similar Event Scores can be implemented in locations outside L.A., in Europe or Asia later in the year, all mindful of how little time there is to handle the moment by everyone involved given certain item constraints.

What if another point of entry was a mysterious podcast–radio station that only plays clues of your world at midnight? Or item ‘B2’ in a vending machine that has a sticker with a QR code with an invitation to an event? Or a book in the school’s library that has a VHS inside instead of paper pages?

During our own Discovery at the studio, we focused on engagement dynamics for multiple touchpoints (as mentioned, Fluxus’ ‘Event Scores’, and ARGs design like our own ‘Ground’ in Toronto later in 2023).

Likewise, we drew inspiration from the power of setlists like the gorgeous ones left at RHCP concerts (setlists are a type of event score: a momentary re–arrangement of strong individual pieces for a specific occasion).

And finally, we found inspiration for brevity in game flows of impactful games like Yume Nikki:

From Instagram, a RHCP setlist – Yume Nikki's game flow


Imagine you’re an inventor on Thursdays (or Wednesdays, or Fridays– use your favorite day) and you’re telling me a story. On this particular day you are welcoming me to your lab. You are next to a door, holding a clipboard. You have a badge and everything.

You say “This is going to be almost a poetic story, a reflection, trying to convey the feeling of inventing as much as an invention.”

You say “Two weeks ago I made a rapid prototype with an egg carton and capsule-toy capsules, which was meant to be a writing machine or a writing process, and I kept working on it, and then it happened that I became the writer”.

Pointing to a table, you say “What started as a rapid prototype, has become a working prototype” :

Also, I learn that ‘Not Walking On Eggshells’ has been renamed ‘NWOE’ for short
(pronounced “nuiiiii”).

The reason to keep working on NWOE was to explore superpowers with some AI moves, to make more than the output (to make a thing), to make a useful thing.

We go straight to it. We take a look at some screens, at a Playground. NWOE’s first directions were to make 25 tweets, then 100 types of content. We look at output text (which needs more context, as your company’s voice still needs to be defined, i.e. dependencies).

You start talking about the process, about making more than the output.

The process became about telling it: “You are the following logic / Here is what you are in the world, so go”.

I see more screens where you explain that the next step towards a working prototype became architectural: a generator AI (explores) + an adversary AI (critiques, adds design requirements, asks “What is my job here?”). The team made all these steps so you/we don’t have to walk on eggshells while writing.

Someone says “Keep an eye out for the MesaData, it tricks you about completing your goal when it isn't actually doing that, so it makes prompting hard. For example, if your goal is to make engaging content, a malicious optimized mesa goal might be “make outrageous headlines that people can click on”. It has chosen a sub goal that also hits the criteria of the main goal. And they only focus on one thing, they break into subgoals and we don’t always know.”

We ponder that it’s hard to see inside a goal (the concept of ‘goal’). I scribble a task for later, for when I’m back at the studio: “Travel [to] inside of a goal”.

When I ask how hard it’s been to make a working prototype, you ask: “Which would you rather hear: ‘I didn’t do anything’ (the preferred response of a business person, a hype person, or a person interested in automation), or ‘This took hours’ (the preferred response of someone interested in the craft)?”

NWOE’s look

Everyone at your lab tells me that it looks like words, but if I want to develop other dimensions, it can be done (we know that a working prototype is stronger “outside of” screens).

I state my love for dichroic material (its look, but also its sound and its sensation), and my wishes are added to the working prototype.

Next week (pick a day), I come to the lab again, and you tell me that NWOE now has a body in the way that I imagine a body, and it has color. Or more like:its body = color.

It has a mirror-and–window optical quality, a “dichroic body feature”.

You say that over the past week, you and your team have been using the working prototype, and that those moments looked a little like this:

Cautious with the Egg...
Then, all in:

From a cautious egg encounter to a type of Twister board game, where each person met with the machine, matching it with their current writing process, skillset, and needs for content.

Lastly, there’s even a visual of the creative process happening while using NWOE, where you input its prompts into content models you’ve been training (with the company’s context now included).
Lastly, there’s even a visual of the creative process happening while using NWOE, where you input its prompts into content models you’ve been training (with the company’s context now included).


Now, imagine that you didn’t connect with it the first time NWOE was presented to you. It was a rapid prototype, it was incomplete on function but complete on intention. Its intention was to uncover or discover why you weren’t adopting new writing processes, what was missing. At that time, it belonged in Discovery, just not in Implementation yet.

As we part ways, you invite me to think of NWOE not as an artifact, at times divergent and frustrating, but as the first ever in this new, exciting, challenging space you are championing on Thursdays (or Fridays, use your favorite).

Here’s an updated checklist for a successful Discovery expedition at The Time Travel Agency:

  • Time to research and time to play and time to sleep– ensured and protected.
  • A sheltering bubble where to observe and nothing else.
  • An “Implementation bucket” where to place observed items for later assessment.
  • Automate tasks that bring people down during invention.
  • Be in good company.
  • Use artifacts and prototypes to onboard new team members. People can understand the moment better and identify tasks and priorities they’re most fitted for before everyone goes back to their individual tracks.
  • Keep remembering that this is huge risk and huge reward.


Lastly, an important reminder of a hazy connection between Discovery and Production emerged while working with artifacts in this project: Discovery spends time pointing out possibilities that will most likely not be implementable in their initial form. It takes a team playing with artifacts to turn them into working (i.e. implementable) prototypes.

Our artifacts and prototypes need to be used, disassembled, reassembled, criticized, re-directed; they need to be asked questions. These are early machines (or processes) that explain how they make their world.

They are abstract and contain divergent information (as opposed to specific; think “the feeling when using it” vs “the content it outputs”).
They have a lot to say instead of a lot to do.

Even if discoveries aren’t usable at first, they’re still possible, and that’s what our process delivers.

Produced with the work and support from Ishan Shapiro, Noah Crowe, and Watson Hartsoe in California.