Little Big Engineers was a project team I was apart of during the Fall 2022 semester at Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC). Our goal was to create a Location-Based Entertainment (LBE) experience for the 2022 ETC Fall Festival. Our team of five designers, engineers, and artists spent the semester exploring the LBE design process and production pipeline.

Our goal was to create an innovative and immersive experience in physical space. We applied our skills in narrative, technology, and design to a tangible medium with completely different constraints and challenges than digital experiences. When hundreds of guests entered the ETC building for the Fall Festival in December, they entered our show-stopping space that stood out as immersive, memorable, and fun.

Our experience, 'The Return of the Dragon', was an interactive walkthrough attraction where guests entered as mages in the land of Eigenrac. In the experience, they learn of the history of Dragons, elemental magic, and the curse dark mages cast on Eigenrac. Our guests' goal is to tap into elemental magic and try to bring harmony back to Eigenrac.

On this page, we will go deeper from my perspective in what it took to make this project happen. You can also find more information on our project website!

Experience Walkthrough

'Welcoming the New Mages'

The Queue Line

Guests queue for our experience in a line outside of our project room. The proper experience starts just before they enter the room. An elemental mage greets the guests as new mages and proceeds to give the elemental dragon scales that are outfitted with RFID tags. 

Our experience uses Phidget technology. The company defines their product as, "building-blocks for sensing and control using a computer, tablet, or phone" (read more here). Phidgets are well known to bridge the gap between physical interactions and digital software. Moreover, we created our experience with various phidget sensors that interface with a Unity Build. 

To create "magical" interactions, we relied on the power of Phidget RFID sensors. In the next sections, I'll explain how the dragon scales we give in the queue is the key for guest to activate interactions throughout the experience.

Dragon Scales given to guests as they enter the experience.
Our experience uses RFID Phidget reader, so we chose to embed Phidget RFID tag into the Dragon Scales.

'The Story of Eigenrac'

Pre Show Video

Our new mages enter the room, thus entering the land of Eigenrac. A new mage shows them a preshow video that explains the history of Eigenrac, elemental mages, and the elemental dragon.

Video Credits: Visuals by Ivy Liu, Narration by Katherine Wheeler, Background Music Composed by Nolan O'Keefe

'Learning the Elements'

Introduction to RFID Magic

After learing the history of Eigenrac, the new mages are guided into an area where they can learn how to use the elemental dragon scales. In this area, RFID readers are hidden behind elemental sigil in lasercut boxes. These RFID readers communicate with our Unity program. When guests tap their dragon scale to the right elemental sigil, Unity will turn on a corresponding elemental feature via a DMX dimmer pack:

The elemental sigil lasercut onto hardboard boxes. These boxes would hold the RFID Phidget readers. 
The RFID reader within its lasercut box. An led was added to bring more attention to it. 
Fire Cauldrons that are activated by touching the fire scale to the elemental fire sigil.
A guest interacting with the waterfall by using the water scale.

'The Elemental Puzzle' 

Testing the Guests 

Using their new found knowledge, the guests try to unlock the elemental dragons eggs from their cages by solving a puzzle. The puzzle is accompanied with a poem that hints towards the solution. 

The puzzle wheel has several elemental symbols inscribed on it, but only three of them are the elemental symbols of fire, water and earth. The guests must align the wheel and tap a dragon scale to the RFID reader if they want to unlock the corresponding elemental egg from its cage; however, they answer is not as simple as tapping the scale with its matching elemental symbol. The poem reveals that each egg requires an elemental power, other than its own, to unlock it. 

The poem reads: 

Turn the circle and tap the scale

The dragon eggs preserved here ail


Water is frozen craving heat

Unlock the flames or claim defeat


Fire is gasping, needing breath

A breeze saves it from flickering death


Air was blown but now too dry

Tap into floods, or say goodbye


If you are worthy, the eggs will know 

And once again let power grow


The elemental puzzle wheel is a giant wooden wheel painted to look stone with elemental symbols covering it. Three of the elemental symbols are fire, water, and air. On the backside of the wheel are magnets that align with these three elementals. When one of these three elemental symbols are aligned with the red arrow, the corresponding magnet will trigger one of three reed switches connected to a computer running the Unity. Since the three elemental symbols have their own corresponding magnet and reed switch, Unity can read which elemental symbol the wheel is pointing at.

The cages holding the elemental dragons eggs were designed in Fusion360 and cut on laser cutters. The doors are on hinges and they are locked by a solenoid underneath its pedestal. An LED strip is also placed underneath the pedestal, and a DMX light is behind the cage. The solenoid and LED strip are controlled by Relay Phidgets. When the guest correctly performs one of the three solutions (detailed above), the LED strip and DMX light of the corresponding egg turn on. After all three solutions are performed, all the DMX lights go white and all of the solenoids locks are deactivated, thus unlocking the cage door. 

'The Elemental Dragon' 

The Big Reveal 

After successfully releasing the elemental eggs from their cages, our new mages take the eggs down one final corridor. As they exit the corridor, they come face to face with the elemental dragon! The roars and billows of smoke coming from its maw shows that the dragon is enraged. The only way to calm the dragon is to put its eggs into the empty nest in the room. Putting the eggs back into nest calms the dragon. At this point, the new mages can approach the dragon and takeaway new scales from the dragon for use in future adventures.

'Watch them Grow!'

Post Show Experience

The main experience has ended and the guests have now left the project room. In the final moments of the main experience, they receive new scales with new RFID tags that can trigger post show videos in rooms across the ETC. These videos will show baby dragons hatching from the elemental eggs, learning their elemental powers, and flying with their mother. 

Team Members

Nolan O'Keefe - Technology Engineer, Producer
Katherine Wheeler - Narrative Engineer, Assistant Producer
Lori Kipp - Set/Theming Engineer
Cleo Ko - Software Engineer
Ivy Liu - Art Engineer

Faculty Instructors

Ruth Comely

Shirley Saldamarco

Faculty Consultant

Dave Culyba

Undergraduate Intern

Louise Cutter - CMU Drama 24'


Sarah Colquhoun 

Yukti Gupte 

Joey Perrino

Martina Saldamarco 

Derek Williams

Special Shoutout

Todd Brown, CMU Lighting Professor in the School of Drama

ETC IT Team: Dave Purta, Steve Audia, Jon Underwood, Bryan Maher

CMU Fire Safety: Shane Schmidt, Jason Heider, Trevor Mahan

ETC Faculty and Staff