Generation Loss Brings Analog Horror to Livestreaming

Two weeks ago, Showfall Media released a media keynote sharing the news about their exciting new horror comedy project, The Social Experiments. The live experience gives viewers at home control over aspects of the broadcast. The keynote was marred by some unexpected glitches and ominous messages about how “it got everyone…everyone but me”, but a subsequent press release from the team at Showfall Media confirmed that those rogue frequencies are completely untrue, and can be ignored. So there’s absolutely nothing to worry about when the show premieres tomorrow, May 24th at 6pm EST, on the RanbooLive Twitch channel.

It’s worth noting that Showfall Media is a fictional company and The Social Experiments is the show-within-a-show for a new analog horror series called Generation Loss (GenLoss, for short). However, this Wednesday’s livestream is real, with the Wednesday premiere followed by additional streams on the 26th and 28th to extend the story. The series is created by Ranboo, a Twitch streamer who already has experience with semi-scripted livestreaming through his involvement as a character within the Dream SMP Minecraft server.

A scene from the Generation Loss teaser game

Early Glimpses at Generation Loss
While the team has kept fairly tight-lipped about exactly what Generation Loss will be, there have been a number of teasers hinting at things to come. In May 2022, the series released its first teaser trailer – a 30 second video with flashing messages that inspired a 16 minute Game Theory episode theorizing about what the project might bring. In the video, MatPat notes that “generation loss” is likely a reference to the gradual degradation of quality as analog media gets copied over time.

Recent teaser content posted to the Generation Loss Twitter account supports that theming, with a video of “The Hero” switching from 16-bit avatar to photorealism, just as the audio switches from an ominous 16-bit tune to a more orchestral version. Players can even take direct control of that avatar through a game on the Generation Loss website, where players can guide the Hero to talk with three characters, before encountering a glowing orb that further degrades the 16-bit world.

Two scenes from Connected, a video that highlights a Missing Person poster

One video in particular implies that the show is dangerous: a series of five posters warn players to ignore The Social Experiments – “It has all changed. It has changed everything. It will change everything. I will stop it.” These warnings are soon covered over with Missing Person posters. Calling the number leads to a voicemail from Showfall’s Missing Person hotline that says “we appreciate your call, but you are not able to help us”.

Ranboo staring at the Times Square banner for Generation Loss that ran over the weekend

Over the weekend, Generation Loss even took out a banner on Times Square featuring the message “SAVE HIM” superimposed over the Hero’s face – Showfall Media’s press release begging their fans to pay no mind to “rogue frequencies” from an individual who wants to destroy their horror-comedy experience was in response to the outdoor advertisements as much as it was addressing the hijacked keynote.

So, the setup for Wednesday’s premiere: Showfall Media is outwardly promoting a lighthearted horror comedy series called The Social Experiments. But something has gone wrong enough that even watching the show on RanbooLive at 6pm EST on March 24th is dangerous.

Continue reading

Excuse Me, There’s A Puzzle on Your Jacket: The Wearable ARG Experience

Puzzle shirts featured in Hung Out to Dry, via Edoc Laundry co-founder Shane Small

During its third season, CSI: NY aired the episode Hung Out to Dry, revolving around a series of grisly murders. Each victim was found wearing a mythologically inspired t-shirt, with the logo Kodecon emblazoned on the collar. Solving the puzzles embedded in the shirt’s design would reveal information about the motive for murder, both through the hidden meanings woven into the shirt’s design and through a video clip unlocked on the Kodecon website.

Hung Out to Dry was inspired by the real world company Edoc Laundry, founded by a number of 42 Entertainment veterans to use a line of designer clothing to introduce players to the band Poor Richard, and unravel the mystery of who killed its lead singer. And while Edoc Laundry’s narrative puzzle shirts may be over a decade out of print, there’s been a recent resurgence of experiences that hide stories in fashion.

Solve Our Shirts’ games Escape From the Maze of the Minotaur and The Treasure Trove of Pirate Cove

Solve Our Shirts: This T-Shirt Comes With Its Own Sea Shanties
When the pandemic shut down escape rooms and immersive theater companies across the globe, designers explored different ways to recreate the escape room experience for players in the comfort of their own homes. Many rooms translated their existing rooms into online Zoom experiences, where players instructed in-person avatars on how to navigate the room’s challenges. Some experimented with audio escape experiences, mashing up escape rooms with tabletop gaming. Still others effectively re-invented alternate reality games, by asking what an escape room experience would look like if the narrative was no longer enclosed within a single building.

While Illinois escape room company CU Adventures also created their own series of more traditional “play-at-home” escape games, their foray into fashion with Solve Our Shirts is what really sets their at-home offerings apart.

Introductory postcards from Solve Our Shirts games, along with unlockable envelopes

To play a Solve Our Shirts game, “wish you were here” postcards themed to the game provide login instructions to CU Adventures’ at-home player portal, where players are tasked with a series of tasks that ask them to more deeply interrogate the secrets hidden within the shirt. After completing certain puzzles, players might also be instructed to open a series of marked envelopes to aid them in their journey through the shirt.

Continue reading

ARG Coverage and Where to Find It

A selection of sources for ARG news and coverage, from outlets past and present

ARGNet has been publishing news about alternate reality games and the extended immersive space for over twenty years now. But at no point in that history was it the only outlet reporting on the space: websites dedicated to the space like MovieViral, Web Series Today, 4DFiction, Despoiler.org, WonderWeasels, and Unfiction.com‘s own blog were complemented by frequent coverage and updates from international outlets like Germany’s ARG Reporter and Japan’s (still running) ARG Information Bureau.

And after twenty years, it’s past time to highlight some of the other places ARG coverage can be found.

Examples of ARG coverage across Theorist Media properties

The Real MCU – MatPat’s Cinematic Universe
Over the past fifteen years, Matthew Patrick has steadily grown his YouTube channel Game Theory into an entire ecosystem focused on ARG theories and lore breakdowns, adding Film Theory, Food Theory, and the newly created Style Theory to his coverage repertoire. While MatPat is probably best known for the dogged tenacity of consuming every piece of media ever created within the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise to assemble a comprehensive timeline of events for the game about creepy robot jumpscares, his network of channels have covered indie and blockbuster ARGs alike.

Game Theory, Film Theory, and Food Theory regularly integrate narrative summaries and explainer videos on ARGs, and while Style Theory hasn’t gotten around to reporting on Edoc Laundry yet, MatPat has launched a series of limited edition “Quest Jackets”, using fashion as a platform for puzzling in much the same way that Solve Our Shirts has done, literally weaving puzzles into the very fabric of its design. The original fantasy-themed Quest Jacket was released in April 2022, with a sci-fi themed sequel coming soon.

The Quest Jackets aren’t MatPat’s first time working on puzzle experiences: he served as host of Push, Nevada‘s spiritual successor reality television show The Runner in July 2016, and ran a multi-week puzzle hunt that sent groups of Theorist fans down a rabbit hole learning a custom cipher text, digging through past videos for clues, and even finding hidden messages in show merch.

Recommended Viewing: The provocatively titled Game Theory video Are Theories KILLING Video Games is a remarkably nuanced look at how creator-audience dynamics can shape the direction of stories, for better and for worse

Continue reading

Puzzles Designed for a Crowd at the MIT Mystery Hunt

3024‘s “Controller” puzzle, where players need to coordinate pressing 35 keys on a Discord server

Recently, an alternate reality game called I’m looking for 3024 people released. And while 3024‘s core narrative and puzzle experiences are contained within a Steam game and the website FranksComputer.online, the puzzle that players are currently struggling through is one that plays out on the game’s Discord server: in order to hack into a remote PC, players need to button-mash 35 keys in a Discord chat at the same time, to match the pattern pictured on the screen.

Getting a single column to align with its targeted zone is fairly easy: every time a player posts a letter in a specific channel of the Discord, a pixel at the bottom of the screen hops up, for about a second. Posting it again repeats the process, so with enough practice it’s possible to find a cadence to keep the pixel in range. However, in order to complete the puzzle, players need to achieve that 35 times, simultaneously. All of a sudden, 3024‘s puzzle becomes an exercise in coordination more than anything else: scheduling a play session 35 puzzlers is the first (and possibly hardest) challenge of the game.

A screenshot from a recent live attempt at 3024’s Controller puzzle, where players caused two of the letters to “jump up” with a single key press each

MIT Mystery Hunt: The Perfect Playground for Puzzles Designed for a Crowd
Outside of alternate reality games, there are relatively few opportunities for people to engage in large-scale collaborative puzzle solving: in part because scheduling more than a dozen people to tackle a puzzle together can be a daunting task. The MIT Mystery Hunt is one of the notable exceptions to that rule. For over 40 years, the puzzle event has been an excuse for increasingly large teams to converge on the MIT campus for a weekend of puzzling.

2023’s Mystery Hunt was the puzzle competition’s first year back at the Cambridge campus since 2020. According to the Hunt designers, there were over 6,000 puzzlers participating across over 300 teams, and over 1,600 players were on campus for the event. Multiple teams threw over 100 players at a series of extremely difficult but wildly creative puzzles. Which raises the question:

What can puzzle designers do when they know teams will be able to throw dozens of players at a puzzle, working together at the same time?

Continue reading

Immersive Nutcracker Show “Club Drosselmeyer” Gives WW2 Puzzling a Swing Dance

Ginger Lamarr (Elise Roth) performs on stage at Club Drosselmeyer, backed by the house band

The year is 1939. The United States of America has yet to officially enter World War II, but those who are in the know suspect that it’s only a matter of time. Particularly enterprising corners of the private sector recognize the military-industrial complex is likely to pay top dollar for technological innovations that can deliver an edge in the coming conflict. In Cambridge, two companies are leading the charge: Drosselmeyer Industries seeks to push the boundaries of science with its research in artificial intelligence, while Rattibus Labs is exploring more paranormal lines of inquiry, attempting to use mind control on Earth’s smartest creature: the noble rat.

Of course, none of this should matter at Club Drosselmeyer: the local nightclub planned a big night of music, dancing, spirited performances, and even more spirited libations to provide a needed distraction from the increasingly dire state of the world. To be sure, there’s rumors of an escaped test subject from Rattibus Labs on the loose…and a curiously strong yet na├»ve man known only as “our cousin Alan” says the most curious things while wandering the nightclub floor…but none of that should be important. Not at Club Drosselmeyer.

“Cousin Alan” (Devon Courtney) performing a series of lifts with his handler Carla (Madeline Song)

Club Drosselmeyer is an annual immersive show by Green Door Labs that transforms the holiday classic tale of The Nutcracker into an evening at a World War II era nightclub. And while it’s possible to treat Club Drosselmeyer as a fancy night on the town with live performances and swing dance lessons, the show can go in a surprising number of directions. Fans of puzzles can help the night’s adventures unfold by solving a series of puzzles, while attendees more interested in live action role-playing can adopt a persona to interact with over a dozen character actors scheming their way through the night. Club Drosselmeyer offers up a buffet of immersive possibilities, and it’s up to each attendee to decide what balance of dancing, puzzling, and character interactions they want to chase to fill their plates for the night.

The Main Course: Picking Sides Through Puzzles with a Side of Roleplay
The events of Club Drosselmeyer open as Herr Drosselmeyer receives an encoded telegram from his mentor. The message is encoded in what should be an unbreakable cipher…luckily, the artificial intelligence his company has been working on, “Project Nutcracker”, should be capable of translating the message after assembling a module from five component parts, and installing it in the Nutcracker. At the same time, Erasmus King is looking for help with his mind control experiments…some of his experiments escaped from their cages, and he needs help tracking them down.

Players interested in helping with either of these challenges were directed to check in with characters at opposite ends of the ballroom floor to receive puzzle packets to assist in the respective investigations. For instance, the Drosselmeyer puzzle track revolved around solving pen-and-paper variety puzzles to determine the names of the five components.

Project Nutcracker’s fully assembled translation module, ready for installation

Just knowing the name of the component, of course, was not enough to help out. Armed with that knowledge, players could start chatting with the characters scattered throughout the event to find where those components could be found. For instance, Club Drosselmeyer host Fritz Stahlbaum was sitting on a suitcase full of one particular component. The only problem? He had a bit of a gambling problem, and owed Erasmus’ son Rhett King a sizeable chunk of money. Players would have to find a way to help him out in order to get the MacGuffin. And while some of these tasks involved the accumulation of in-game currency, others challenged players to join a character for a short dance, or collect signatures for a birthday card a character neglected to prepare for his mother.

The largely pen-and-paper puzzles would have felt right at home at a Puzzled Pint event in both variety and difficulty, and were particularly good at blending the flavor of the challenge with the puzzle’s structure and design. The puzzle that led to Fritz Stahlbaum’s first component, for instance, involved reviewing research notes from a scientist who inadvertently took faulty readings: correcting the mistake and tracking the real results would spell out the component’s name.

After assembling all five pieces of the module through a combination of puzzle-solving and character interaction, Herr Drosselmeyer guided players into a back room to confirm it was in working order. After that, players were instructed to head up to Drosselmeyer Industries’ safe to recover Project Nutcracker’s blueprints so the module could be installed properly.

Missing blueprints in the Drosselmeyer safe leads to a mind-controlled Erasmus King

Once players entered the safe, they discovered that Erasmus King arranged for the theft of Project Nutcracker’s blueprints: luckily, the rats’ irradiated paws meant that a trail of blue prints could be seen under UV light, leading players to Erasmus King…or rather, an experimental rat who mesmered Erasmus King’s body into reenacting Ratatouille. The blueprints would help the rat take control of an even more powerful body: Project Nutcracker, who was “cousin Alan” all along. Realizing what he’d done, Erasmus briefly regained control of his senses and handed off the blueprints and told the group to flee.

Continue reading

PostCurious’ Adrift Transforms Puzzling into Artful Poetry

PostCurious’ newest narrative puzzle adventure, Adrift

Everything started when Jasmine Perodine’s grandfather passed away, six months ago. While wading through heaps of old maps and newspaper clippings Jasmine stumbled across a series of four satchels marked with sigils, and felt compelled to take them home. That’s when the dreams began. Without fail, the same sequence of dreams would haunt Jasmine’s nights: four ethereal creatures, tied inextricably with the elements: one for the sky, one for the earth, one for water, and a final one for the woods. Upon waking, Jasmine would feel compelled to document those dreams: but like a being possessed, the words came out through poetry and through art…tapping into skills she didn’t know she had. That’s when she reached out to an expert in dream interpretation for assistance. That’s when she reached out to you.

Adrift is PostCurious’ latest narrative puzzle adventure, casting players in the role of expert oneirologist, unraveling puzzles embedded in poetry as a close proxy for dream interpretation to receive instructions on how to find meaning in the four artifacts left by Jasmine’s grandfather. The resulting game can be finished by experienced puzzlers in 2-3 hours and delivers one of the most physically satisfying puzzling experiences I’ve had. This, more than any other at-home puzzle game I’ve played, is an experience designed to be held and perceived.

The four color-coded Adrift satchels, and their corresponding envelopes containing depictions of Jasmine’s dreams

A Satisfying Structure That Won’t Leave You Adrift
There is no official starting point for Adrift: any one of the four elemental satchels can serve as the beginning of players’ investigation into the world of dreams. After selecting one of the envelopes and its corresponding satchel, players are presented with a series of three poems, a piece of artwork depicting the dream’s central elemental figure, and a physical artifact to manipulate.

Correctly “interpreting” the first poem provides information or instructions essential to solving the puzzle hidden in the second poem. Similarly, interpreting the second poem provides information or instructions that feed in to the third poem, which provides instructions on how to manipulate the round’s central artifact to reveal a fragment of a message. After properly manipulating the contents of each satchel, players unlock a message from beyond that helps explain why Jasmine has been plagued with these dreams in the first place.

Because Adrift relies on sequential puzzles within each elemental chapter, poems are clearly labeled to indicate their position in the puzzling narrative: a single sigil marks the first poem, paired sigils mark the second poem, and a ring of three sigils marks the third.

Poems from each of Adrift‘s four chapters: Sky, Earth, Woods, and Water

However, relying on this puzzle-centric explanation of Adrift‘s structure does the full experience a gross disservice. The poems at the center of Adrift don’t merely serve as hollow vehicles for puzzle delivery: they also paint a lyrical picture of each elemental figure’s domain as vividly as the lush artwork does. And that gradually unfolding creation myth is as compelling as the puzzle experience itself.

WARNING: while this article does not spoil any of the puzzles or surprises in Adrift, after this point the article will show one of the pieces of artwork and one of the artifacts in its unsolved state. If you would prefer to save that as a surprise for your playthrough, now would be a good time to stop reading and order Adrift.

Continue reading
« Older posts