Author: Brooke Thompson

Two More Awards for ReGenesis Extended Reality

It’s been a crazy month for the guys at Xenophile media. It started off back in March at the 10th Annual SXSW Interactive Awards when Occular Effect (The Fallen Alternate Reality Game) won the award in the Experimental category. But it was not about to stop there. The nominations were just beginning to roll in. Fallen was nominated for a Banff World Television Award and Regenesis was nominated for both an Interactive Emmy (pdf) and a CNMA Award. The CNMA and Banff World Television awards will be announced in the next few months, but last night the Interactive Emmy went to(pdf)… Xenophile Media for Regenesis Extended Reality Game!

Clearly, they’re going to need to build themselves a bigger trophy case. But the real question is, how are they ever going to get any work done with all this celebrating? We want more!

The Brooke Thompson 2007 Conference Tour, Part One

Editor’s note: Brooke Thompson is back after a whirlwind tour of some of the biggest festivals so far this year. She attended the Game Developer’s Conference and was a speaker at the South By Southwest (SXSW) and ARGFest-o-Con conferences. This article is the first in a series about her experiences.

GDC.jpgWhat happens when you spend 15 days on the road traveling from conference to conference? You get just about nothing done, including writing reports from the road for one of the greatest websites on the internet (that’d be ARGNet, of course). At first this distressed me, but then I realized that most of the conference sessions that I had attended were well documented on blogs and news sites – some nearly word for word! – and that waiting allowed the experiences that I had to sink in and meld together into a bigger picture. It’s that picture that I hope to paint for you over the next few articles.

The thing that I realized as I traveled from ARGfest to GDC to SXSW is that Alternate Reality Gaming is leading the future of entertainment.

We’ve been saying that for a long time. So, what’s different? What’s changed?

The word is out. People hear “Alternate Reality Game” or “ARG” and they understand what you are talking about. I don’t mean to say that everyone that I met understood it, but if I walked into a crowd at least one or two people did and they were able to get the rest of the crowd excited and curious. And explaining it to those that have never heard of ARGs is easier today than it’s ever been. People might not know that Lonelygirl15 has an alternate reality game component, but they’ve heard of it and when you talk about how the story is out there and it’s fiction outside of a book or TV show and, in fact, might send you an email or call you on the phone – they get it. It doesn’t seem strange, it seems cool.

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Games That Alter Reality

logo_gdconf.gifIf you’ve ever played a game through to the end, you know that strange mix of excitement and depression that hits as you realize that the characters that you’ve loved for the last few weeks or months have completed their story leaving you with no more websites to obsessively check or forums to read or fellow players to talk with. It’s bittersweet and it’s what I call the ARG Hangover. I woke up with a doozy of one on Monday morning. ARGfest was over and here I was still in San Francisco.

I suppose that I shouldn’t complain. I’m here for the Game Developers Conference (GDC). It’s a huge and amazing conference that’s the highlight of the year for many game folk. But it is no ARGfest and after such an amazing weekend, I wasn’t expecting much. Boy, was I surprised.

It’s something to sit in a conference room filled with ARG folk – everyone there knows about the magic of Alternate Reality Gaming. We can get excited and discuss or debate the nuances in a way that only those familiar can. It’s filled with our own experiences and, even, biases. It’s something completely different to sit in a conference room filled with folks with a passing awareness, with experiences completely different. And, when the panelist in the front of the room is discussing the power of Alternate Reality Games to alter our own reality for better, it’s absolutely inspiring as you look over the crowd and see their eyes get bigger, their curiosity aroused.

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Erwin Don’t Like It, Rock the MeiGeist

geist.pngErwin is missing! There’s a great twist to this ARG cliché: you see, Erwin is a cat and back in December he fell down a rabbit hole and hasn’t been seen since.

Erwin’s person is Eva McGill. Eva’s a cute 20-something living on her own over in the UK. Her life seems to be quite ordinary. She stresses over her studies, she looks for her missing cat, and, oh yeah, she blogs.

If all that mundane activity doesn’t get you going, what if I told you that there’s an actor, Melvin Geist, who seems to believe that he was experimented on by aliens and can control people’s minds and wants to build some sort of large something on his property outside of Los Angeles, CA? There are puzzles to leave you spinning, some sort of mysterious countdown to keep you guessing, and a most awful sounding herbal supplement with its own bacterial chatbot that knows a bit more than it should (and, like all chatbots, not nearly enough).

Meigeist, the game percolating all of these fantastic moments and images, launched this past weekend and promises to be an eight week long experience unfolding online and off with websites, live events, email, and text messages. It’s being produced by the UK-based Licorice Films with support coming from HP Labs, UK Film Council, and Watershed – with all that support and talent behind it, it is no surprise that it has gotten off to a promising start. So whatcha waiting for? Go follow Erwin down that rabbit hole!

websites:
Learn more and register for the game at Enter-Geist.com
Check in on Eva at EvaMcGill.co.uk
Chat with Yuki at youkin.org
Wrap your mind around a puzzle at KeirJones.co.uk

And, of course, meet and collaborate with other players on the MeiGeist forums at unfiction and on the player-run wiki.

The Human Pet: An Interactive Fictional Horror Story

Ed. Note: Since this article was first published, some of the links to the game have changed. We have updated the links so that they are current to November 21, 2006.

humanpet.jpegThe scene opens with a man tied up and struggling. He’s lying in a white room with a mattress on the floor. A man in a white mask enters carrying a knife which he uses to free the bonds around the captive’s hands. As he leaves, he whispers something into the camera. All we know is he is here against his will

The captive, the Human Pet, has freed himself from his leg restraints and is pacing about the room screaming, asking if anyone can hear him. He finds the camera and, for the first time, we get a good look at his face. Suddenly the face turns into a mask and as he backs away, we see that he’s holding a baseball bat and the Human Pet is laying on the mattress in obvious pain. You will see everything.

This is how the interactive and fictional horror story began three weeks ago. There have been three videos since then, with a new one appearing on a regular weekly basis, allowing us to learn more about the man in the mask and his pet, which he’s named Sunny. The man in the mask has not only uploaded the videos, but has interacted with his audience, going as far as placing the life of his pet in the audience’s hands. There have been messages hidden in the film and in the YouTube tags attached to the short movies that have led the audience to Bible passages that provide more symbolic insight into this man and his motivations.

Since the success of Lonelygirl15, we’ve seen a number of stories told through episodic YouTube videos. While few are well told, intriguing or truly interactive, The Human Pet, directed by the fictional Sam Deercot (anagram of Codemaster) is one to check out. It is a very interesting (if not controversial) story and has provided the audience with some power over the story, albeit purely an illusion. Additionally, while the videos are short and filled with obvious and simple devices, they are quite effective and, considering the subject matter, beautiful. The allegorical shot of the Man, mask off and back to the camera, at the Seder table lit only by candles is a stunning picture ripe with visual delight. The latest video, The Stalker, makes effective use of a classic music cliche as the tension mounts and pulls you to the edge of your seat before letting you settle back down as it sinks in that Sunny is not the first.

Like all good art, The Human Pet invites discussion. The idea of the subject matter is horrid – a human, held captive with a number of other victims preceding him. Even more scary is the idea that this is really happening and that we are watching and participating as it unfolds. Is it possible that such a thing is real? How far should fiction go in blurring that line and, more philosophically, can we ever know what is real and what is fictional? It was brought to my own attention as I was writing this that while this may in fact be art, I have no actual evidence that it is fictional. To that, I reply: watch the movies and contact Sam Deercot yourself. The codes, the multiple interactions (both public and private) from Sam, and a number of shots in the film suggest that this is, just as it claims to be, an interactive, fictional horror story.

To watch the videos, visit The Human Pet on YouTube. And feel free to join in on The Human Pet discussion at Unfiction.

Update: The user account on YouTube has been suspended and the videos were removed as violating the Terms of Service.

Chat tonight with John Little, puppetmaster for Waiting for AV

AVimage.jpg
Waiting for AV came to a frustrating end last night, leaving players wondering just what had happened and if their efforts to complete the game’s ritual were successful. This morning, players woke to learn that while they did manage to complete the final ritual, doing so resulted in the death of Shamash, a player-turned-character.

Not without criticism after starting with graphic imagery and then struggling to adapt to the players, the game generated a small, tight-knit group of players who waited patiently through moments in a game that seemed as if it might end at any moment. While the end-game didn’t bust the climactic scale, the players report that they enjoyed the time that they spent together and are pleased to see such a small independent effort come to a successful conclusion.

John Little, puppetmaster of the effort, has updated the Altus Veritas website with a thank you to his players, and will be participating in a Puppetmaster Chat this evening at 9pm EDT/8pm CDT in #av on irc.chat-solutions.org.

Find out more information at Altus Veritas and the unforums. For those that would like to participate in the chat, you can use the ARGNet chat applet or connect through your favorite IRC client.

New Venture Capital For Perplex City, and the “Earth Link Locked Down”

pxc_earlywine.jpgMind Candy, the team behind Perplex City, has announced that they have secured an additional $7 million in funding from Accel Partners, Index Ventures, and NewMedia Spark. The funding shows confidence in the growing company and their ability to build and develop new forms of entertainment such as Alternate Reality Games and comes in advance of a major expansion in 2007.

The announcement brings with it great news for all of us involved in that seemingly never-ending hunt for the missing cube. No, the link between Earth and Perplex City is still locked down, Earlywine is still the Council Leader, and the Cube has not yet been found — this news is even more exciting. There is more Perplex City on the way! It is official. The second season of the popular game will be driving us mad sometime in early 2007. They also promise that there are loads of new Perplex City products in development including books, video games, and mobile content.

The UK-based company is also expanding beyond Perplex City and is currently working on a new puzzle brand that will be aimed at a younger demographic. With the creativity and level of depth shown with the universe surrounding Perplex City, we can only assume that children everywhere will have their imaginations ignited and their minds broadened – much to the alarmed delight of their parents and teachers.

Congrats go out to the team! We can’t wait to see what you have in store. Oh, and FYI, faithful readers — we have an inside track into why the story is where it currently is, and perhaps some preview secrets into Season Two, so we’re hoping to get some exclusive information out sooner than later. As always, stay tuned!

PICNIC ’06, Day Three: Life After the 30-second Spot

Joseph Jaffe, author of Life After the 30-second spot, offered the keynote presentation for the first of four tracks at Picnic ’06. His talk, which revolved around the topics covered in his book and was directed towards marketers, encouraged the audience to look beyond the 30-second spot in order to provide consumers with a story of their brand. The marketing world has changed and the ad industry needs to change with it or they will be left behind. It’s time to move from the linear one-way communication and towards conversations with the consumers.

With so many options available to marketers, there is no longer a single choice on how to reach and connect with today’s elusive disenfranchised consumer. Consumers have begun to outgrow marketing as they can easily access information about the products as well as when and where to buy. That along with the clutter (so many ads), the lack of creativity (what’s the last TV commercial that you *really* remember), consumer awareness (knowledgeable about products and marketing), and unacceptable levels of wastage (broad appeals weaken the message) is killing the 30-second spot. Add in the fact that it’s now more expensive than it ever has been to advertise on television to a “potential” audience and it’s time to rethink the process. It’s time to rethink branding, consumers, advertising, and advertising agencies.

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Steorn: A Game or Not A Game, That Is The Question

steornlogo.gifLast Saturday, a small company in Ireland began getting some attention for promising the world free energy. Free! Can you imagine? The social, economic, and political ramifications are huge. Not to mention the scientific ones. For hundreds, thousands, of years people have lived by the law that energy is not free – it takes energy to create energy. Proving that this truth is actually false shakes up countless of theories long accepted as fact. So, who are these brilliant scientists and where is that proof?

Steorn. And they came out of nowhere. This huge, momentous, and guaranteed nobel prize winning discovery, was created by a former e-commerce and security firm that happened to stumble upon the technology while working on something completely unrelated. However, they say, when working on monitoring a new system they discovered that there was a net increase of energy when everything they (and the world) believed told them there should be a net loss. And, instead of tying this groundbreaking technology up in the world of academia, they wanted to make it public and to challenge scientists to prove that their technology works.

It sounds crazy and, whether or not this is true, it is.

It also sounds, based on the activity at Unfiction and the number of tips in our inbox, like the perfect premise for an Alternate Reality Game or a Hoax. Our ARG radar (ARGdar?) has been bouncing back and forth on this one and the debates in chat and on the forums have been great. So, let’s go through what we know.

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Not For Noobs … Is It…?

notfornoobs.jpg
5…4…3…6…0…

Yep, that’s right, another mysterious countdown has appeared and this one might just have something to do with a certain gaming console. NotForNoobs.com first appeared last week and savvy gamers will recognize the logo that appears as that of Razer, a company that makes gaming peripherals (that’d be controllers and mice and the like for you non-gamers and computer geeks out there). The signs linking it to the xbox are somewhat weak, but with a few logical leaps, it’s easy to get there. For example, an earlier version of the flash had Microsoft on Channel 1. And, the day that Gizmodo first mentioned NotForNoobs.com, Microsoft hinted at a new optional advanced controller that would perform better when making precise movements.

So, why is ARGN talking about this? Is there an ARG? OMG NOWAI ILB2!?! Let’s not get excited. It’s just a countdown with no other information. It may just end with a redirect to a press announcement for all we know. But, we do know that you all like to go crazy with the spec and watching countdowns count down is oh so much fun!

5…4…wheeeeee…6….oh

Follow up 8/23/06 : As the countdown came to an end, gamers everywhere let out a collective “oh.” as they received pictures of a shiny new gaming mouse, the Microsoft Habu, and a press release that detailed some of the unique features. How did we know that’s all we’d get? Such a waste of a good countdown, too. And, as if that wasn’t disappointing enough, the real wait has just begun. If you’re interested in this low sensitivity mouse with an advanced sensor that promises virtually no latency with the speed of a wired mouse and the feel of a wireless device, don’t go heading out to your favorite store today because you aren’t going to get your hands on the Habu until October.

Red Hot Timewaster

target.pngLooking for a fun, well written, and nicely executed experience?

Yeah?

Then check out the red hot summer campaign brought to you by Target. It’s not an ARG, but you’ll be able to follow along as a girl takes an impulsive trip around the US giving you little puzzles* along the way. Not only that, you’ll get a new song each week and have the chance to enter to win a little red convertable. Not bad! The whole run through should take you about a half an hour or so and, while it’s not as big or as in-depth as a full blown ARG, it’s a great little diversion.

*ok,ok, they’re not up to your standards and they pretty much give you the answer, but it’s still pretty cool.

Let Loose with a Little Daily Rage

strangeradventureslogo.jpg
Stranger Adventures, produced by the two-time Emmy nominee, Riddle Productions, launches new adventures every Saturday. Each puzzle-filled adventure lasts for one week and is delivered through emails and video diaries on the Stranger Adventures website. The adventures are designed in a way that you can work through them by yourself and, if you happen to get stuck, the website contains clues to help you along. At the end of the week, those who solve the adventure’s pass code may find a bit more cash in their pocket. That’s right, each adventure comes with a prize of up to $25,000. There’s still time to sign up for the latest adventure: Daily Rage. So, what are you waiting for, head on over to StrangerAdventures.com and flex those puzzle muscles with a little story action.

Editors’ Note: We mistook the name of the production company, Riddle Productions. This error has been corrected in the article.

Lost in the Experience

lostnumbers.jpgAs many of you ARGN readers know, and for those that don’t… surprise!, there’s an Alternate Reality Game running alongside the hit television show Lost. With the show airing in three different countries on three different schedules, players wondered if they’d be given any juicy story bits. Well, word has it that the juiciest of bits is about to be revealed – the secret of 4 8 15 16 23 42. That’s right, the numbers that have both haunted and puzzled fans throughout the shows run are about to be explained.

If you haven’t been following along with the game, this is the time to get involved. There are thousands of players playing all over the internet, but, of course, you can catch up with all of the happenings at unFiction and feel free to join us in chat at #lostexp and be sure to check out The Lost Experience blog which will give you the scoop on everything that’s happened so far.

Get Lost!

hansofoundation.jpgThe highly anticipated Lost Experience began last night when a brief commercial for the Hanso Foundation appeared during the television broadcasts in the UK, US, and Australia. The commercial, which can be viewed on the Hanso Foundation website, ended with a toll-free number available in each of the three countries. Calling the number provides you with several extensions and interesting messages.

UK: 0800 66 66 40
US: 1-877-HANSORG (1-877-426-7674)
Australia: 1800 22 77 17

Transcripts of the messages, including translations for the Dutch radio, can be found on the lostpedia.

While further details about the game are hard to come by, there is certainly much hope that this will provide the rich narrative experience typical of Alternate Reality Games. And, as always, unfiction is digging in joined by a number of other Lost websites and forums.

:: Discussion at unfiction ::
:: Live IRC Chat in #lost and #lostexp ::

Pherotones

pherotones.jpgPherotones have the potential to transform a friend into something more.

Several weeks ago, Dr. Myra Vanderhood was interviewed by Bruce Stewart for O’Reilly Emerging Telephony blog about the potential of using ring tones to attract members of the opposite sex. Pherotones are the audio equivalent of pheromones, in which people and animals are attracted or repulsed by upon receiving a fragrant whiff of a potential mate. Dr. Myra Vanderhood discovered that sounds can have a similar effect and is testing her discovery on ring tones.

The interview with Stewart linked to Dr. Vanderhood’s blog as well as to a wikipedia article (since deleted) on Pherotones and it didn’t take long for the blogosphere to weigh in with fascination and controversy. Once it was discovered that the wikipedia article had been written by McKinney + Silver (the Ad Agency behind Art of the Heist), there was a justifiable frustration over the manipulation of one of the internet’s best resources for commercial and advertising purposes. And, despite their best efforts of hiding their involvement (going as far as to obscure the registration information for the pherotones.com website), it brought McKinney Silver into the fold. When confronted by this, Dr. Vanderhood explained that someone on the board hired them for promotional purposes (great thinking on your feet!) and added a new “Is this a marketing campaign” question to the website FAQ.

There is still no word on the actual client, though rumors have it ranging from Qwest (a client of McKinney Silvers) to Stephen King’s latest novel, Cell. We do know that the website will be updating (and a wiki of sorts will appear at some point), though the depth of the campaign is still to be determined. However, with the possible interaction (Dr. Vanderhood will chat on AIM and has replied to emails) and the great quick thinking we’ve seen so far, if it goes very deep it should be a fun and well thought out ride.

ARGN verdict: pherotones have the potential to transform the spring gaming season into something more.

Playing Games, Playing Music

blaze.jpgThe Playground, featuring underground music and game talk, premieres tonight (December 8, 2005) on Arizona State’s radio station – The Blaze 1260 AM. Beyond the music, the show will be led by UnFiction’s own Sam Gavin (some may know him by G3K & his sign from I Love Bees) who will discuss games & the gaming world with a particular emphasis on community gaming such as ARGs. With many different possibilities — interviews with game makers and players, player-created music, soundtracks from past ARGs — the show is sure to be filled with a ton of fun. Do the right thing and show it the support that it deserves! You can will listen online 10 EST/7PST from the the station’s website.

Good luck Sam! We can’t wait to tune in!

Last Call for Last Call Poker

LCP LA 01As many faithful readers of ARGN know, the game to play this fall was Last Call Poker, a promotion for Activision’s GUN. Created by 4orty2wo Entertainment, the innovative game provided players with 9 weeks of exciting storytelling and game play, both on- and off-line. The story was the final wish of Lionel “Lucky” Brown, a fictional character who passed away earlier this year, and a portion of his estate was used to celebrate his life with wakes held at six of his favorite cemeteries throughout the United Sates. The final wake was held on November 19th at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California. Dozens of players from throughout the United States and Canada came together to celebrate his life and play one last round of poker… Tombstone style.

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Wikipedia & Jamie Kane

wiki_jamie.jpgYesterday, the BBC Alternate Reality Game, Jamie Kane and the presumed viral marketing use of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit, hit several popular weblogs including BoingBoing and Slashdot. Two entries were found, one for Jamie Kane and the other for the fictional band Boy^d Upp. Both entries presented the fictional characters as real entities and made no mention of the Alternate Reality Game. It was later discovered that the entry for Boy^d Upp originated from within the BBC.

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Oh Serenity! A Firefly ARG?

blue_sun.gifCasual surfing this evening led me to a rather interesting website… BlueSun.org. On the surface, the site is unremarkable with just a simple image and a title of Coming Soon. So, why am I intrigued? What led me there?

Serenity, the feature-length adaptation of Joss Whedon’s prematurely cancelled TV show “Firefly” is going to hit the big screens this fall. Set some years in the future, the space western has often been on the lips of avid ARG players as an ideal property to utilize a promotional Alternate Reality Game. Not only are there great characters and settings to take advantage of, but there’s a very engaging mystery behind one of the main characters.

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Regenesis Wins CNMA Award

cnma_evan_tn.jpgThe Extended Reality project for ReGenesis was presented with the Canadian New Media Award (CNMA) for Excellence in Cross Platform for its innovative work in combining a traditional television broadcast with an alternate reality game component, branded as an Extended Reality by producer Xenophile Media. Lead Designer, Evan Jones, was also honored with the award for Top Graduate of the Year. Congratulations to Evan and the ReGenesis team on the well deserved honors.

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This Is Not A Game…

…and the TINAG Philosophy

Play any Alternate Reality Game or even just read one of the many articles on the genre and you will quickly and repeatedly come across the phrase, “This Is Not A Game.” Your first reaction will most likely be to chuckle at the thought, but before long, you will notice yourself declaring those exact same words. Why? What does it mean? Where does it come from? And, for the “metaheads” out there, what the heck is TINAG?

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