Apollo 13: Mission Control

Creating the digital side of a theatre experience that turns its audience into the staff of NASA mission control.

View demo
Case study image

Experiential theatre breaks down the fourth wall and melds performer and audience together.

Live theatre re-imagined

‘Apollo 13: Mission control’ taps into the growing experiential theatre market. Audiences desire to be a part of the shows they attend and in Apollo 13 they have arguably the most important role; that of the mission control staff. Seated behind replicas of 1970’s computer consoles when disaster strikes, it’s up to the audience to get the stranded astronauts home. Organised into teams they must work together to solve challenges, complete tasks, and save the day.

My role on the project was developing those tasks. I got involved with the Apollo project just as I was finishing at Massey University. Kip and Brad had already run a few seasons of the show and they knew they had something special, the next step was making full use of the consoles. Kip, Brad, myself and few others from Massey started to flesh out a series of tasks that would fit into the skeleton of the show. Working out the content and the structure of the tasks was a huge challenge. They had to be as accurate as possible to the subject matter as possible, they had to be ordered to offer a progressive challenge, and they had to fit the narrative of the show. All of this meant a lot of research, planning, and most of all testing.

Keeping authentic to Apollo 13’s time period lead to some design constraints uncommon to my usual web projects.

All alone

Once the team had the basic concepts and sketches for the tasks we moved into the next phase. Kip and Brad returned to Auckland, the Massey team was disbanded and I worked alone from my Wellington flat—getting a firsthand taste of the isolation the astronauts felt. During this phase I set about designing, coding and user testing the tasks. Working alone also gave me experience in managing my own time and setting goals to keep on schedule.

The visual and experience design of the tasks was an interesting challenge. We wanted authenticity but we also wanted them to be understandable for a modern audience. The final visual aesthetic is created by using only black and white, and an artificially low resolution to recreate more familiar UI elements such as scroll bars and buttons. This left us with a 1970’s look and feel that the audience expected but designs that were contemporary enough for them to understand.

The time period also lead to some UX challenges in the hardware side of the interface as well. Apollo 13 is set before the modern computer mouse was commonplace and all user input in the show is done via a built in keyboard. A principle when designing the tasks was making sure the user always knew where they were. This meant using obvious focus states and often spelling out what was happening on screen such as when simulations were running.

Case study image