2. What were your inspirations for creating the series?
A: The biggest inspirations were the movie Videodrome, and the ARG ECKVA Network. I won’t describe either in detail here, but I highly recommend you check both out; they both feature broadcasting companies that begin to peddle with forces out of their control. Both proved inspirational for different aspects of both the original idea and what the series ended up becoming. I also took some thematic inspiration from the HBO show Westworld.
A less direct inspiration came about while I was rewriting the presentation of the story, which happened at the end of 2020/beginning of 2021. That was when a lot of series began to rip-off a well known ARG called Local58. I have nothing against the series; it’s well made, and I respect what the creator does with it. However, it’s not my favorite thing in the world, and the ARG sphere began to look more and more like a soulless copy of Local58. There were some good ones, but the vast majority were not. I was frustrated at ARGs and analogue horror specifically for going down that route, so I wanted to make this to play with similar ideas, while doing something completely different with the presentation.
3. Why all the connections to theatre, with things like stage directions, the audience, etc.?
A: It’s interesting when characters know they have limited control. Watching them adapt to their circumstances and think of ways out is fascinating to explore, for me. For Upstaged Communications, I knew that I wanted the characters to be aware of being trapped in a story they only had partial control over, and I decided to show this dynamic through a comparison to theatre. The characters were performers on a stage they didn’t pick, acting out a story they didn’t write, forced to adapt to scenarios forced upon them by the playwrights: Edward and the Signal. And even the playwrights were subject to the whims of the ones who held the power to decide their reality, which was the audience. After all, you need the audience to watch the show if you want to tell your story.
4. How many people worked on this?
A: Just one! Some stock photos and sound effects were used, but I did all the writing, editing, production, all of that.
5. What stuff did you use to make this?
A: I used Vegas Pro 18 for putting the videos together, and a mix of Krita, Artbreeder, Photomosh, and Photoshop for all the visuals. I made the Marionettes UI and pages in Krita off of a base template I came up with at 4 in the morning years ago, used Artbreeder to create the character portraits, used Photomosh to mess them all up for the receiver portraits and distort the various things that got distorted, and did some touching up on them in Photoshop. For the backgrounds in the Event Simulator, I took public domain images from Pexels. The music was all created by me using a mixture of Bfxr, a $50 bass I got off of ebay, and audacity. I used melobytes to generate some of the music, but I usually edited it significantly to make sure it wasn’t literally painful to listen to, and used the things I mentioned to beef it up a little.
6. What was with the break between 2018 and 2020, and the break between 2020 and 2021? Why did you kick things into gear properly in 2021?
A: After I made the initial posts in 2018, my personal life got in the way, and forced me to stop production pretty much immediately after I started. That kind of bummed me out, so I put it on the backburner for a while, choosing to tinker with the story behind the scenes while working on other projects.
All my tinkering resulted in a story that was too convoluted, so I ended up scrapping about a year and a half of plotting to return to my original plan, which is what the return in 2020 was; specifically, the “An explanation” blog post. That was me committing to the original story, instead of risking ruining it by making it too complicated. It was already complicated enough as is.
Despite committing to the original story, I was still unmotivated to work on it, so I put it back on the backburner for a couple months. The presentation I had in mind would have involved lots more time and money than I was able to afford. Then, in either October or November 2020 (I don’t remember which) I decided to hunker down, and work on it. I spent the next several months extrapolating my idea in detail, based on the original plan I had, while reworking how I’d present all the video elements, and pushing a lot of the things originally planned to be filmed to writing. Things moved slow due to other projects, personal matters, and covid, but by the time May rolled around, I was prepared to finally dive into Upstaged Communications, with fully written out plans that accounted for every likely possibility.
7. What were the other possibilities for how the story could’ve gone?
A: This is a longer answer. I’m also roping in other questions that all boil down to this point, like how much influence the players had on the story, whether sending emails or leaving comments changed anything, etc.
The short answer is that communicating with Penelope was how you changed the story, while communicating with Edward was how you gathered information to present to her. There were a lot of minor points where things were flexible, but all of it ended up resting on two main turning points, which in turn would inform how the story would’ve proceeded. They were the video Upstaged, and the video Cutting Strings. I’ll describe the three possible endings and how these turning points dictated them.
The first possibility was the worst case scenario. This is what would’ve happened if nobody interacted with the story at all, or chose to focus on things so out of left field and unimportant that it essentially distracted Penelope. In this scenario, she would’ve remained stagnant after the events in Encore!, leaving her extremely paranoid. This would’ve meant that the events of Upstaged wouldn't have happened, as she wouldn’t believe the fake Riley. This would’ve triggered an event that revealed the fake Riley, with the real one reaching out to Penelope. However, Penelope also wouldn’t trust the real Riley, and wouldn’t have downloaded her letter.
This would’ve majorly disrupted Edward’s (and Riley’s) plans. Edward would still attempt to complete Project Assembly Line, but it wouldn’t have been possible through writing. Instead, he would’ve slipped hijacked broadcasts through Marionettes. It would’ve been his counter to the Amygdala Simulations, called Hippocampus Restorations. They would’ve been a lot more vague, and wouldn’t have worked. Penelope would download the second letter after the Hippocampus Restoration videos, but would have ignored its contents, letting the Signal retain control of Marionettes. Cutting Strings would've been different as a result, and renamed to Marionettes Strings.
Edward still would’ve tried his plan, though, as it was the only thing he could do. Event Simulator would’ve been created, but this time by the Signal, so it could chisel Edward’s extermination into history. Events would progress similarly to Bitter, Sorrow, and One By One. In the finale, however, Penelope would not go to Station 85. Nashiko would’ve brutally killed Edward; Riley, however, would’ve been unable to kill Nashiko in time. After all, she had nothing to live for anymore; her plan wouldn't work. The two would’ve ended up killing each other instead of Riley proving victorious. That would leave everyone dead except for Penelope, who would’ve had to live with her actions resulting in the death of everyone involved. The Signal would slip into inactivity, but it would still be alive, waiting in the building for some unlucky person to wander in. It’s the worst of both worlds--almost everyone’s dead, and the Signal lives.
The second possibility is what I expected. This would’ve happened if people interacted with the story, but didn’t note the specifics of how Riley was interacting with Penelope--specifically, reaching through the glitches. If people managed to prevent the events of Upstaged while Penelope wasn’t on high paranoia mode, there would’ve been some clarification from the real Riley that informs Penelope of her talking through the glitches, which would’ve allowed Cutting Strings to happen the way it did, which would’ve led to the best possible ending. I’ll get to that after this. If Upstaged wasn’t prevented and nobody pointed out the glitches thing to Penelope, though, things would’ve proceeded roughly the same as what actually happened until Cutting Strings.
In Cutting Strings, Penelope wouldn’t quite understand what she was doing, and would’ve gotten distracted. This means that she would’ve failed at the last moment: Riley’s segment in the Marionette’s Grave page. This would result in the Signal using the system to shove her to a downward spiral, and she would’ve fully succumbed to the Signal again, becoming an active transmission tower. Edward would, however, pick up where Penelope left off, and finish the task of bringing Marionettes back under his control. He would then run the channel and blog, while Penelope was asleep.
From there, Bitter, Sorrow, and One By One would’ve been roughly the same, except Riley would be more desperate. During Showtime!, Penelope would still go to Station 85, while Edward and Riley have to rush to end Nashiko. After all, if Penelope arrived while Nashiko was an active transmission tower, it would’ve had the unlimited spread it wanted. That would’ve made it powerful enough to poison the rain again, instead of relying on the pendant.
They’d find her in the basement, in front of the Signal’s television, and fight. Nashiko would’ve violently killed Edward, while Riley would shoot Nashiko. At that moment, Penelope would arrive to the station, and would’ve looked for Riley. Thinking of the ace up her sleeve, she would’ve waited by the television, where Penelope would find her. Riley would attempt to reason with her, saying that she can bring both of them a better ending, but Penelope wouldn’t listen, being too far gone in the Signal’s delusions and dreams. The two would’ve fought, with Penelope fatally wounding Riley by stabbing her in the heart; however, Riley would’ve been able to shoot Penelope before she died. Then, with her dying breath, she would’ve turned around and shot the television, killing the Signal as it gloated over her failure.
Riley would then die. The last slips of her consciousness would be brought forth before the audience, and the conversation would’ve been similar at first, with Riley convincing the audience to cement the Signal’s end. This time, however, she would say that it was a satisfying ending that left no loose ends. The audience would’ve accepted this, and the fate of her consciousness would remain unclear. Marionettes would decay, ending the series. In the end, the Signal would’ve been dead, but everyone else would have died. There would also be next to no information given out about the audience.
The best ending is close to what happened. I had expected the previous ending to be what happened, because Upstaged wasn't stopped. This meant that Riley never had a chance to directly tell Penelope about communicating through the errors, and that meant she should’ve failed at Cutting Strings. However, a player actually figured this out independently, and informed Penelope of this. It wasn’t something I expected--I thought that, at best, it would’ve required a whole email exchange with Edward--but it redirected the story back to the best possible ending. Penelope freed herself, the Signal died, Penelope and Riley survived, and the audience was explained. Indirectly, at least.
That was what audience participation dictated. In the end, the best ending was found.
8. Did you have any unused or unfinished things from the production?
A: Not a whole lot, but I have some. I’ll link an imgur album below with everything in it, and explanations for why they were unused.
9. What was the hardest part of making this?
A: Figuring out the formatting for the final five episodes. Before the rework of 2020/2021, I wanted them to be live action, found footage episodes from the perspective of the character’s eyes, with actual actors doing what was described in the final videos. That wasn’t possible, so I had to figure out a way to tell the same story in video format. I eventually settled on Event Simulator, where it was almost like watching someone else play a text adventure game.
10. What’s your favorite episode?
A: Cutting Strings. I feel like it encapsulates the Marionettes side of the series perfectly, and is (in my opinion) much more visually engaging than the other Marionettes centric episodes. Upstaged was also fun for how different it was, being the only one to feature true live action footage. Also a fan of Amygdala Liberation.
11. What was your favorite blog post?
A: "The future that never was" is my favorite bit of writing in the entire series. I'm also a fan of Project Assembly Line 8: Edward Marion. Exploring the future that never was something I had to consciously limit myself on, since explaining too much of it wasn't a good idea, but it was fun to explore.
12. Who’s your favorite character?
A: Nashiko. I like characters that go through so much shit that they decide that they’re going to do something about it, no matter how destructive it might be.
13. Is there anything you wish you could’ve done with the series?
A: Plenty of things. There was the plan for live action I mentioned earlier, as an example. The biggest thing, however, is that I wish I could’ve made a website that let you interface with Marionettes as it updated. Unfortunately, I lack any programming knowledge, and that’d be surprisingly expensive. As a result, it was all limited to the blog and videos.
14. Are there any codes or puzzles that were left unsolved?
A: There are two secrets left. One is probably easy to find, but just hasn’t been pointed out in any place I can see it. It won’t give any new information; it was just about Penelope. The second has not been and never will be found.
15. What was with the Upstaged splash screen that appeared in Marionettes: Hunger?
A: I received a couple direct questions about the story; what the Signal really is, what the audience is, whatever. I won't answer those, because I feel like the series already said what I wanted to say about them, but I'll answer just this one.
If you look at where it first appears in Marionettes: Hunger, it's right after the final words of Marionettes the system, telling Penelope to restart Project Assembly Line and contact Edward. After that, the words "TEETH AND BLOOD" appear over the system, then transform into red and black lines, or tendrils, that cover the entire thing.
After that, there's a glimpse of the audience and the Signal, before it fades to the broken, worn, decayed logo of Upstaged Communications. The idea I was attempting to show was that the tendrils of teeth and blood (aka the Signal) clamped down on Marionette's corpse and took control of it, which the Signal explicitly calls attention to in Amygdala Simulation 3. The appearance of the audience is their first direct appearance, so showing it with the Signal there showed whose story was now taking over.
I don't mean to get overly detailed with explaining what certain things meant, but I think doing so there was justified since I didn't see anyone understand it, and I got a specific request to explain it. If you don't understand anything else about the series, go back and read/watch it again. I'm sure it'll make more sense now that it's complete.
16. What are you working on next?
A: I have another series in the works called The Concrete Forest. It’s another ARG, but it is NOT in the same universe, and is found footage instead of… well, whatever the hell you’d call Upstaged Communications. It’s going to be bigger, bolder, and better than anything I’ve made yet. I’ll link the channel and a general progress thread below. I'm also working on a little thing called Signal Hijack, if you haven't noticed.
17. What is Signal Hijack?
A: Legacy breaker from a scorned character in this story's past.
That’s all for today. Thank you for the questions, and thank you for watching! Here’s some links you should click:
Unused stuff for Upstaged Communications: https://imgur.com/a/hnIhPqm
The Concrete Forest channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCK7YlEe0dOOL6VF3rkNBLPw
The Concrete Forest progress thread: https://twitter.com/HeartfulKitty/status/1415763542507237379?s=20
My personal channel (I upload independent projects on it): https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbEuRYk9dW45POZN5u6YD6Q