Exoriare: Exploring the Darknet

exoriareBoingBoing suggested it. The Guardian praised it. Jay is Games recommended it. And now, I’m adding my voice to the resounding chorus: if you like alternate reality games, you should check out Smoking Gun Interactive‘s new transmedia experience, Exoriare. While the experience has only recently launched, it has already drawn together successful elements from a wide array of alternate reality games to create a compelling narrative.

Smoking Gun Interactive introduced their world through a graphic novel created by Douglas Rushkoff and drawn by in-house artists Cheoljoo Lee and Younger Yang. Rushkoff notes that the graphic novel serves as both the trailhead of “at least” one alternate reality game and as a back story for an upcoming videogame series. As he explains, “[t]his is a big big universe – a giant war for the future of humanity, of course – with maybe one overall timeline but many different pathways through the material.” Smoking Gun CEO John Johnson told The Guardian that Exoriare‘s story involves “hundreds of pages of backstory documentation, mixes ancient technologies, military conspiracies and that old favourite, covert alien invasion…[i]t’s sort of X-Files meets Dan Brown, with a dash of academic research.” Sold? Head over to Exoriare.com and begin the adventure. Still not sure? Read on to find out what to expect.

Secreted on the thirteenth page of the graphic novel’s online preview, a glowing computer screen serves as the portal to an intense alternate reality gaming experience. By clicking on the computer screen, the player is taken to a text-based homage to Zork called White.House. After navigating the short interactive fiction story, the player is presented with one of three different red buttons, and provided with a simple decision: do you press the red button and fall further down the rabbit hole?

GEN.HAKAfter pressing the red button, players are taken to a rather difficult DNA splicing game called GEN.HAK before gaining access to the Darknet, which serves as the alternate reality game’s interface. Thankfully for players like me who are atrocious at puzzle games, failure is rewarded with additional splicing time for the next attempt. Embracing the spirit of darknets, players are assigned usernames rather than choosing one for themselves. Under this alias, players are charged with completing a number of tasks centering around a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr. Gideon Marconi. By accessing ECH.LON (Echelon), players can track Marconi’s story through a series of brief telephone conversations. Audio files located at D.MUX.R. (Demuxer) reveal further snippets from the Exoriare universe.

Global ForagerAfter completing enough tasks, players gain access to GL.BAL FORAGER* (Global Forager), an online puzzle game designed to infiltrate network grids across the globe, binding them to the Darknet. The game mechanics for Global Forager are reminiscent of those used in Chain Factor: while the game itself is played individually, the collective efforts of the playerbase as a whole are necessary to unlock the next step. There are three modes of gameplay with increasing difficulty levels: Soft Target, Hard Target and Black Echo. According to Jay is Games, some of the people at Smoking Gun Interactive worked on the award-winning strategy defense game Company of Heroes, so I don’t have to feel too embarrassed when I say I can barely beat the game on Soft Target mode. As some players decode documents written using characters taken straight out of the Voynich Manuscript, others piece together the story unfolding through a series of audio files. Still others focus their efforts on infiltrating network grids across the globe by playing Global Forager.

Douglas Rushkoff reports that a print version of the graphic novel X will be available in the next few months, clocking in near 120 pages. The online preview of the graphic novel will continue to roll out over the next two weeks. Smoking Gun’s approach to the franchise is ambitious, as Johnson explains: “[o]ur perspective is, if you can interact with it, then it can be part of the experience we deliver. And if you cannot interact with it, then we will evolve it to the point where it can be part of our universe. There are no boundaries to where we can go or what we can accomplish.”

Click Here to start the experience with the online preview of X.


  1. Burnaby

    can’t wait to play it.

  2. Jane Doh

    Thanks, Michael, for this great description of the puzzles and game so far. I guess I just want to add my voice to the chorus.

    Really, in all the big elements I’m looking for in a compelling game, I think it might have it all. Rich story, possibly perfect execution, variety of challenging puzzles, tasks, and enigmas that make SO much sense in that universe.

    But, perhaps most important to me: a fantastic and distinct aesthetic. It’s just gorgeous.