A story about futility and control

We wanted to create a whole world around the concept of Esmail Corp—a TV and film production company—without emphasizing any one show. So, rather than describing what Esmail Corp does, we focused on the central theme that pervades its work: You are the agent of your own undoing. This meant first making users feel defeated with shallow interactions that ultimately go nowhere—and then drawing them into a conspiracy of their own making with complex puzzles that feel deep and meaningful. The resulting experience makes it clear that there’s an “unseen hand” drawing you into a strange, uncanny territory. The question is, who does it belong to?

Visit esmailcorp.com

First we make users feel like everything they do is futile

On desktop, users explore the exterior world from the ground to the sky and go infinitely upward, until they return back to where they’ve started. They can jump through time to see how the site has evolved temporally, but it doesn’t solve their space problem. For example, on the date of Mr. Robot’s series finale, the site's metropolitan skyscraper has collapsed. By the time Briarpatch premieres, the ruins have given rise to a remote desert hotel. When season two of Homecoming begins, the building has morphed into a military-industrial office park. While the environment changes to reflect these current events, the experience is always the same to reflect the common theme. Users go up, up, up, but never away.

Esmail Corp website Corporate world Esmail Corp website Collapsed world Esmail Corp website Desert world Esmail Corp website Suburban world
Interior of the Esmail Corp building from the mobile site

On mobile, users start inside the building and take the elevator up to see the world from a different perspective. They can stop along the way to explore their surroundings, interact with cryptic characters, and keep finding those easter eggs; however, just as on the desktop site, no matter how far their travels take them, they always wind up back where they started.

The emergency call button in the elevator (or the phone icon on desktop) connects users to the call center. At last, someone’s in charge! Users can hear backstory on the company, lodge complaints, and even get help navigating the site. But they may find that the automated assistant leaves them feeling more helpless than they did before they reached out.

From 1-6 a.m. every night, visitors will see that, like an old-school TV station, the desktop site has gone “off air” for the night. Sandwiched between “sign-off” and “sign-on” station IDs, the site runs a test card that keeps users from interacting at all.

A Gift For The King test card A Portrait of Donald T Grouper test card A Portrait of Siddhartha Eagleman test card A View From Within test card Always Watching test card Catching The Eye test card Children Of The Eyes test card Encountering The Abyss test card Fulfillment test card Lip Service test card Original Sin test card Seer test card Self Portrait test card Semper Et Ubique test card Tech Repair test card The Blue Eye test card The Dance test card The Gift Of Sight test card The Gray Eye test card The Purple Eye test card The Rainbow Eye test card The Yellow Eye test card Whisperings Of Evil test card Wine Goggle test card

Then we lure them down the rabbit hole—with a little taste of control

Compelling evidence to believe that some “higher power” is pulling the strings presents itself in easter eggs, puzzles, games, and cryptic messages buried throughout the entire experience. Even when the site is off-air and appears to be dormant, there are hidden sounds to be found in the test tone. Assembling these together and feeding the resulting audio file into an oscilloscope creates a video that suggests the company has been operating behind the scenes for some time—and may be an instrumental part of various religions, ideologies, and brands that have shaped history. Though assembling this puzzle may sound next to impossible—and requires coordinating clues from 24 time zones—it was cracked and the results posted online in less than 12 hours.

Time code hints hidden in the source code shown next to the Press section of the Esmail Corp website
Still shot from the oscilloscope video of the Esmail Corp logo Still shot from the oscilloscope video of the Eye of Shiva Still shot from the oscilloscope video of a mysterious cloaked figure Still shot from the oscilloscope video of spiral

Visitors can earn the honor of being named Employee of the Month and showcased on the site by traversing the world more times than anyone else has. There are no instructions on how to do this, of course, and yet some of the top-scoring users to date have scrolled through the site more than 4,000 times in a single session.

… We’re supposed to be a production company that specializes in how we’re going to tell stories no matter what the platform is. So even if the platform is a web page and we are just telling the story of our company what is the most creative and inspiring way to do that? I’ve got to give credit mostly to our website designer Devona who essentially came up with this idea …