The Time Traveller’s Clock: Murder at Acorn Dorms

adelaine Fischer-Bernhut, 3161996
Salisa Jatuweerapong, 3161327

February 26, 2019

Atelier II: Collaboration
Prof. Simone Jones



YOU are one of Toronto Police Commission’s top detectives, with the best track record for solving cases the force has seen in 65 years. Having never left a case unsolved, your co-workers joke that it is like you have the ability to “be in the room where it happens”. That is merely a rumor, of course; you dismiss it easily, of course. When asked what your secret technique is, you say: “my ears”. While that technically isn’t a lie, your true secret lies in your clock: imbued with a mysterious magical presence, it allows you to turn back time to hear all the sounds that are happening in a specific place.

TODAY, you have just recieved news of a MURDER at ACORN DORMS, of an unfortunate 19-year-old girl. Your subordinate brings you all the information on the suspects they were able to find, but it is now your turn. You have already set the location in your clock to the dorm room. Time to figure out who did the deed.

Are you ready?


Item Choice:

From the beginning, Madelaine was sold on using a clock as a narrative device to allow the participant to be transported through time in a narrative and imaginary space. Initially, the idea was to have the triggered audio of the clock to be atmospheric and environmental. The audio would be reflective of and be recorded from different times in everyday life (meals, getting ready, recreational time, leaving for work, etc) and in spaces where clocks are usually found (kitchen, living room, bathroom, bedroom, office, etc).

When Salisa came on board, she introduced the idea of having a more structured narrative through a murder mystery, where the clock would become a device for solving a crime. It is well known in the crime investigation industry that there is the greatest chance of solving a case within the first 48 hours after a crime is committed. 48 hours is a long time and an analog clock has a 12-hour cycle so we initially decided on a 24-hour time frame over two days. A separate trigger in the form of a day calendar would allow the participant to switch between days and AM and PM. Ultimately, we decided on a 12-hour period of time because it took long enough to just move through all twelve hours one time that moving through multiple cycles would require too much time and too many audio clips in the time that we had. Each audio clip came to be 30sec to a minute long, we had nine clips.   



We were aiming for that classic, cluttered paperwork office feel. We felt the mundaneness and beureucractic systems would be a nice foil for our magical realist element of the clock.


We went for a simple murder mystery and prioritized the non-linearness of the puzzle, above all. We wanted this narrative to be playable in multiple directions–with time being our mutable element, it made sense for our narrative to be independent from order.

We told the 12 hours before the crime in small vignettes– a dinner, watching TV, taking a shower, talking on the phone. Diegetic clues, including background noises and the direction of the sound, let the player know which room the vignette took place in. As well, the crucial piece of the puzzle to figuring out the mystery is a diegetic clue: the sound of the shower being left on for far too long alerts the player to something being off.

Below is a list of all the scenes and times listed out:



Living Area,


10:25 kitchen *cooking sounds*
PAT: “Hey Denise, you’re gonna drop by for dinner before you and Emma go to the party, right? Oh, you’re downstairs? I’ll come let you up… it’ll be nice to hang out again; we haven’t really talked since you left… and Emma and I… yeah. We’re all good right? No hard feelings? ”
Denise & Pat plan dinner. Emma is not home.
10:45 kitchen *sound of people eating; crashing sound* PAT: “I know it was an accident, don’t worry.”
*phone numbers input* *dial tone*
PAT: “Hi, can I request a cleaning service for around 7 tomorrow morning? We accidentally broke some glass… I will be here to let them in, yeah, thank you!”
Denise & Pat @ Dinner.

Pat calls service.

2:10 *living room* EMMA: *dial tone* “ Heeyyyy cutie-PATootie, it’s your favourite Emma,  just letting you know that we’re crashing at the frat & won’t be home till tomorrow morning. Don’t worry, nothing will happen, Denise and I are chill now. love ya!!!!!” *party noises*
2:25 *living room* *turning off television* *yawning*
2:45 *living room* EMMA: *dial tone* BABE PICK UP YOUR PHONE; DENISE IS WASTED LIKE SHE TRIED TO KISS ME and i maybe? lost her? I think she’s heading back to ours though; hope you don’t mind.. *door opening, footsteps*
7:10 *bathroom* PAT: *hair dryer* *sink going* “What? You’re awake?” *THUNK*  *door closing*
7:25 *living room* *sink going* *vacuuming noises* *vacuum shuts off* [Anna cleaning] *sound of door opening/closing*
7:45 *bathroom* *sink going*
10:10 *bathroom* *door opening* “Heeeey, I’m finally home and my mouth tastes like DEATH. is Denise still here? That you in the washroom, love? You left the sink on. Oh god there’s a body, Pat, Pat, Pat???!!!!!!” 

*note that you do not know who the speaker is at first and you must listen to several sound files to learn the voices/names.

Logic Puzzles:

Since we were worried about overcomplicating the narrative, we thought to work off a base structure: grid logic puzzles. This hint-based puzzle worked well with the non-linear narrative. Examples here:

We came up with a grid like so:

7:25 PM 2:10 AM 10:10


Emma Roberts O O
Denise Cheng O O
Keisha Megat O O
Anna Miller O O
Pat Larsson  –  –  –  –  –

Ultimately we strayed from this structure as we kept developing our narrative, and we ended up with a more natural problem-solving process rather than logic (the narrative would have to be set-up and justified as: only one person entered at a time into one room at a time.)


Hardware Creation:


Initial prototyping was done using a poster board prototype. It was difficult to simulate the way the hands would come in contact with the face of the actual clock, so the biggest take away from the tests were design related plans for how we would go about wiring up the clock. We did connect this prototype to MAX MSP to test the triggers. In the prototype, we used aluminum foil as our conductive material.

img_20190214_114601118_hdr img_20190214_114555693_hdr

The picture above shows the plans for the sensor/trigger placement. A piece of poster paper was used in order to reinforce the face of the clock as the clock itself was hollow except for a couple of supports. Without the reinforcement, the hands of the clock were not always in contact with the face and caused scrubbing issues when the audio was triggered.

The hands were fortunately made of metal and were both conductive and flexible enough to bend them in a way that would allow better contact with the face. Originally, we tried using aluminum foil on the clock face and the hands (as the hand were raised off of the face of the clock), as we had done in the paper prototype, but this caused more scrubbing issues where there would be inconsistent contact and the audio files would be triggered over and over again. This issue was solved after we replaced the aluminum on the hands with conductive fabric. Although the fabric was great at staying in consistent contact with the face, it was difficult to attach to the clock hands and was hard to hide. This resulted in the hands becoming a lot more delicate than intended as the fabric could easily get caught on the conductive materials used on the clock face.

For the conductive materials on the face, we found that the aluminum foil was too delicate to use as it would constantly tear when we attached it to the wires feeding out the back of the clock. In the end, we agreed to use strand wire, as we could easily poke it through the clock face. Still, when we decided to use fabric, the hands sometimes got caught on the wire. In the future, the use of conductive copper tape (or something similar) may have been a ‘stronger’ and ‘smoother’ choice of material.


The length of the clock hands made limited the placement of the face triggers. Only second, seventh, and tenth hours and tenth, twenty-fifth, and forty-fifth minutes had triggered. The rest of the wires are decorative for a less obvious and seamless design. The use of a flat conductive material would have made it more seamless.



We decided to use MAX. We were able to create a system of if-statements that corresponded to the specific hour/minute hand combinations we needed. The playlist~ function allowed us to store all of our tracks in order on MAX, and then access them by sending the corresponding number to the playlist. It was easy to organize our sounds this way.

Our major issue was a flow issue where the receive integer would not take more than 3 inputs into the playlist~. Maddie was able to solve this by banging out the integers into the send/receive.

We created 3 playlists (all responding to the same if statement), one for each room. The kitchen sounds were played on the left speaker, the bathroom sounds on the right speaker, and the living area sounds on both. This allowed us to easily have multiple tracks playing in different areas at the same time, with a single trigger. A ‘silence’ track would be played when nothing was happening.

While we did code the AM/PM trigger as well, we did not put it to use as we decided it was unnecessary.

max1 max2CIRCUIT:

We considered creatively wiring up the circuit to trigger the clock instead of using ‘if’ statements in the code, but surmised that the ‘if’ statements were less complicated. We used 6 pull-down resistor switches.




All the paperwork, as well as the clock, are spread out on a desk, cluttered like in our moodboard. As well, there is a notepad, with some clues and a chart with clues as to how to structure the narrative to solve the mystery. We wanted the player to feel immersed in the case as soon as they sat down– we gave them all the materials needed to solve the case, right in front of them.

Salisa designed all the paperwork, which contains all the background info for the case. There is also a floor plan with the dorm layout:

artboard-1 profiles-2-copy-2 profiles-2-copy profiles-2 profiles floorplandaily-planner


At the eleventh hour, MAXUINO decided to crash on us. While switches were triggering on the MAXUINO GUI, it was not showing in the MAX patch where we had our sounds. The inlets/outlets seemed to be right so we weren’t sure what was wrong. Because we hadn’t realized it was MAXUINO problem we ended up troubleshooting lots of different components: rewiring the circuit (Nick suggested it was a short), recreating the sound code, trying different laptops etc.

In the end, everything was solved by re-downloading MAXUINO.

As well, another class decided to occupy the installation space we wanted (Chandelier room). We wanted the ambiance of that room since it matched our moodboard, and we think we lost a bit of the immersive feel from doing it in the classroom.

SUMMARY: Future Improvements

While what we had was a good first run, ideally we’d want to create a more immersive environment for future iterations. That includes staging it in a room that had more ambiance, as well as collecting better props–for example, an antique, 19th century clock would’ve been much more believable as a magical item. It would also be great to have the introduction (at the beginning, in bold) recorded and played aloud once the viewer sat down in the chair, and immediately after have the clock trigger its first sound file. It would all be in the timing.

We were worried about the narrative being uninteresting/too complicated, but class feedback said it was quite alright, which was a relief.

Lastly, while we took care to make the trigger designs as inconspicuous as possible, we would want to experiment with less finicky triggers.

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