Responses by Active Theory.
Background: The “Million Piece Mission” is an online multiplayer puzzle developed for the US Air Force. Ultimately, the goal was to connect users through digital media during the COVID-19 epidemic. The popularity of puzzles has surged since quarantine began, and this piqued interest made this ambitious and challenging project one worth pursuing. Created with potential Air Force recruits and enthusiasts in mind, this puzzle allowed us to utilize our Dreamwave platform—which facilitates massively multiplayer experiences on the web—in a way that forged connection and fun in hard times.
Design core: The experience centers around the puzzle image. The image is divided into smaller tiles, each of which is given a difficulty rating based on image composition. Users can select a section of the puzzle to complete with other users in real-time. We incorporated an element of competition by letting users create profiles to save their progress. A dossier section enables visitors of the site to learn more about the history behind the artifacts in the museum puzzle image.
The design of the site draws from US Air Force branding and the style is reminiscent of the Air Force website. With a gridded background, neutral colors, and a futuristic feel, the experience feels sleek and sophisticated while still being engaging for puzzlers.
Challenges: Sourcing an image large enough for such an enormous puzzle. We did research and some math to figure out how large an image would have to be so that it could be divided into a million pieces and how large the pieces themselves would be. While we looked into some gigapixel images of space, they didn’t seem to be visually complex enough to make the different sections of the puzzle interesting to complete. Eventually we found a 1.03 gigapixel image of the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, which not only fit the technical requirements (the puzzle ultimately contains 1.2 million pieces), but also was content rich enough to be fun and educational for users.
Navigation structure: We knew we had to create the navigation in a way that would help users understand the concept of the puzzle in a clear, intuitive way. Upon entering the site, users are presented with the full gigapixel image of the Air Force Museum, with uncompleted sections of the puzzle appearing as greyed out tiles. Also visible on the landing page are cursors showing other users on the site in real-time.
Rather than have all users attempt the entire puzzle in the same space, we divided the enormous image into 3,000 smaller tiles, each of which acts as its own puzzle that can be completed simultaneously with other users in a virtual “room.” These tiles then come together to complete the image.