"We've been working towards this kind of experience with Pop Up Playground since the beginning," explains Artistic Director Robert Reid. "We were inspired by alternate reality games and the way they blur the line between real and play, and also by the work of the Agency of Coney. The bank heist idea itself though, came from watching Sayraphim (Pop Up Playground's Constructive Communities Director) play video games and thinking about how thorough she was at clearing out loot, pick-pocketing her victims and so on."
Having been an avid fan of the various events Pop Up Playground have created over the last five years, this one is bound to be hit with anyone who likes tactical games, escape rooms, interactive and immersive experiences and basically...fun. However, creating something like "Small Time Criminals" does come with its own challenges. "Finding someone to work with us to secure the space was going to be the most difficult thing but the Darebin Active Spaces program have been a dream. The team there knew the bank was there and had been waiting to do something with it, and then we just turned up with a crazy plan for turning an old office into an immersive theatre and from there, we have this."
With the Preston venue secure, it's now about making the experience as authentic as possible for the players. Which is where Pop Up Playgrond's Pozible campaign comes in. "We've been largely project funded up until now as a company, which means the games we make usually don't cost us anything, but no one gets paid to run the company and we don't make much profit," explains Reid. "We had enough money to start things off with the lease but to actually build the set and games, we need as much support as we can get and the more support through crowd funding, the deeper we can make the game."
When I spoke with Robert, the campaign had already reached 50% of its target in less than 24 hours. As I write this, they have surpassed their target by almost $2000 with still 28 days left to pledge. "I think that talks about the strength and generosity of the community who already support Pop Up Playground, but I also think that the spread of escape rooms and the popularity of Citydash, gives me confidence that there is an audience out there who want to be the centre of the action, and like being rewarded for being clever."
While the initial target has been met, the team still has a number of stretch goals that will allow them to further heighten the experience for players. "We're planning the quintessential heist experience, dodging a bank of laser trip wires using good old water mist so we need the tech and the installation costs for that," he says. "After that its pressure sensitive mats. and after that, motion detection cameras followed by a fully integrated hackable digital environment (using touchscreens) and so on. Basically, the more money we have, the more ways to break the bank!"
"Small Time Criminals" is expected to open some time in April and while exact dates and prices have yet to be finalised, it will be a permanent fixture and with the possibility of further stories to be created via their stretch goals, it may require a few return visits.
To find out more about "Small Time Criminals" and help back the project, you can follow Pop Up Playground on twitter, like them on facebook, watch the video below and visit their Pozible page.