The Game

For a more visual overview of Bad News, see our gallery.

Bad News is an award-winning installation piece that combines Wizard of Oz techniques and live improvisational acting into an emotionally charged one-on-one experience whose story and setting is uniquely generated, for each performance, by a computer simulation.

In the summer of 1979, a resident in a computer-generated American small town has died alone at home, and a mortician's assistant—the player—is tasked with tracking down and notifying the next of kin.

To do this, the player navigates the richly simulated town to interact with its residents, who are each played live by a professional actor. Throughout gameplay, an unseen wizard listens in remotely to manage the unfolding experience via live coding and discreet communication with the actor.

Bad News has been mounted internationally, at venues including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Slamdance Film Festival, and IndieCade, where it won the 2016 Audience Choice award. Writing about Bad News for Rolling Stone, Steven T. Wright remarked, "This marvel of procedural performance can only be played by a lucky few, and that's a crying shame."

The Team

This is a project by recent graduates of the Expressive Intelligence Studio, a research lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz, that is dedicated to producing new kinds of media experiences that are uniquely enabled by techniques from the area of artificial intelligence.

Bad News was born from lab discussions around the idea of building a novel mixed-reality experience that would improbably combine its team members' diverse backgrounds in procedural generation, social simulation, and improvisational acting.