Sentient Silicon: A Nanovor Primer

April 6, 2010 · By Michael Andersen in Info, Reviews 

lab-rats-groupInside your electronic devices, pre-historic silicon-based monsters are locked in a constant cycle of battle and resurrection. Hanover High School student Lucas Nelson discovered these “Nanovors” using a microscope he cobbled together using his cell phone, some 9V batteries and a laptop computer, and realized the Nanovor could be controlled by zapping them with tiny microvolts. With the help of his eccentric science teacher “Doc Zap” Sapphire, Lucas designed special Nanoscopes that allow his classmates to fight each other with their Nanovor swarms. Thanks to transmedia game designers Smith and Tinker, you can experience Nanovor along with the adventures of Lucas and his friends, the Lab Rats, through a video game, online webseries, novels, comic books, or through your very own Nanoscope that lets you battle against your friends or play solo missions.

Although it is possible to enter Nanovor’s transmedia universe through any of the aforementioned media, I would suggest getting your feet wet by watching the Nanovor webseries, located on both the game’s main page and its YouTube channel. The series follows Lucas and his friends as they discover the Nanovors through two seasons of short, 2-3 minute long videos. The videos provide a thorough explanation of the world and its rules, and is set to fast-paced animation and punctuated by snarky dedications at the end of each video. Viewers quickly discover that Nanovor are more than merely pets after discovering Taslos, a “sensei” nanovor capable of communicating with Nanoscope users. Meanwhile, disgraced nanotechnologist Dr. Richard Diamondback hopes to subvert the Nanovor to exact revenge on his former employer, SKY Labs.

After this introduction, players can choose to delve further into the story through the Nanovor novels and comics, or to jump straight into battling Nanovor with the free online game. For those looking to delve further into the game’s backstory, the innocuous-looking Hanover High website contains a number of mini-ARGs requiring players to hack into voicemail accounts and solve puzzles. The first of these challenges can be found at the Hanover High Beekeper Society, an homage to Jordan Weisman’s earlier work on the I Love Bees ARG for Halo 2. Completing the challenges unlocks Nanovor badges that helps with the game’s evolution system, and reveals background on “Doc Zap” and Dr. Diamondback.

The story also plays out through Nanovor: Hacked and Nanovor: Prank Week, two short novels that follow Lucas and his friends at Hanover High, along with the Nanovor: Game Day comic book. Smith and Tinker tapped a number of well-known figures who cut their teeth in the podcast fiction genre to write stories in the Nanovor universe including Mur Lafferty (Playing for Keeps and the Heaven series), Matt Wallace (The Failed Cities Monologues and The Next Fix) and J.C. Hutchins (the 7th Son trilogy and Personal Effects: Dark Art). Although the descriptions of Nanovor battles can be strained at times, the stories create tension by placing most of the battles within the greater story arc.

The final and potentially strongest element of the Nanovor experience is the game itself. When Nanovor battle, the screen is quickly overtaken by bug guts and gore as Nanovor are slashed, shocked, squished and pounded using a combat system reminiscent of role-playing games like Pokemon. The Nanovor homepage has a counter proudly noting that over 5 million Nanovor have been “splatted” so far. Players can join in the messy carnage by downloading the free game client at Nanovor.com, where they receive their first Nanovor. Additional Nanovor can be received as a reward for completing missions or purchased with Nanocash, the game’s virtual currency, which can be purchased at retail stores or online via credit card using a parent account. Players choose a “swarm” of Nanovor to battle their opponent’s swarm. Since the size of swarms are limited based on the ability of the Nanovor, players must choose whether they want to battle with many relatively weak Nanovors or a few powerhouses. This game mechanic allows players new to the game or those unwilling to spend a lot of Nanocash a fighting chance against more experienced players, given a little luck and a lot of strategy.

Players can battle against the system’s AI, or in matches of up to four players. With the handheld Nanoscope units, players can also play a number of mini-games and purchase expansion packs containing solo missions against Nanovor sensei. These activities earn “Jolts” that can be used to buff Nanovor statistics. Players can still battle friends using their handheld Nanoscopes by connecting up to four units at a time.

While the Nanovor experience is intended for children ages 7-12, it may appeal to the young at heart who still pull out their old Pokemon cartridges from time to time.

Disclaimer: prior to writing this article, the author participated in the game’s beta testing and received review copies of some of the books.

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