Author: Michael Andersen

How to Lose Yourself in Unknown 9’s Transmedia Sprawl

Last month, the Institute for Higher Knowledge posted a seemingly innocuous online personality test asking people to discover their true potential. That simple test serves as an entryway into the strange world of Unknown 9, an ambitious transmedia franchise from Reflector Entertainment that plans on revealing its occult mystery across television, film, video games, podcasts, novels, comic books, live events…and an alternate reality game. The prologue to Unknown 9 wrapped up with a live event hosted by the McKittrick Hotel during New York Comic Con, but the first phase was largely designed to establish the occult, conspiracy-laden setting for the storyworld. The second phase launched earlier this week, making this a perfect chance to step into the story. How you do that, though, is based on what type of experience you’re looking for.

Unknown 9: A Rolodex of Immersive Contributors
Before getting into Unknown 9 itself, it might help to take a step back and appreciate how Reflector Entertainment is telling it. The first component of the Unknown 9 universe is The IHK Enrollment Initiative, the alternate reality game that developed as the unseen figures behind the test guided players through a series of eight gated “doors” that introduced players to glimpses of the Institute’s footprint, through everything from recordings from a call-in radio show, creepypasta posts to the r/nosleep subreddit, and even a fully-playable visual novel.

As players neared the final challenges from the Institute, Terry Miles released the first episode of The Leap Year Society podcast, expanding players’ investigations into the IHK to the seemingly related “Leap Year Society”, a secret society that exists within secret societies that gathers once every four years, on the leap day. Miles previously made a name for himself on previous podcast fiction projects playing the character of investigative reporter and producer Nic Silver in TANISThe Black TapesThe Last Movie, and RABBITS. The loosely connected shows blend real-world urban legends, unsolved crimes, and conspiracy theories with supernatural events with a format that pays homage to the Serial podcast’s investigative style. Like its predecessors, The Leap Year Society podcast pairs its episode releases with additional links and files for listeners to explore, to see if they can figure things out before the show’s hosts. While The IHK Enrollment Initiative is a player-driven journey of discovery, The Leap Year Society podcast is a guided tour.

Once players completed the opened the final “door” to the IHK Enrollment Initiative, the Institute’s director Aja Robinson invited them to the LYS Induction Ceremony, an hour-long immersive theater production hosted by the McKittrick Hotel (home of Sleep No More) and directed by The Company P’s Christopher Sandberg. Sandberg is no stranger to integrating alternate reality games with immersive theater through his work at The Company P, where he was responsible for projects like the Emmy Award-winning The Truth About Marika, in addition to working on Conspiracy for Good and an ARG for Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. The initiation gave prospective inductees a taste of the society’s esoteric rituals, before a climactic attempt at otherworldly communication went pear-shaped, a prospective inductee got possessed, and the newly minted IHK members were rushed out to learn that the IHK and LYS are literally two sides to the same coin. After the fact, the IHK tried to distance themselves from the incident by removing Aja Robinson from the organization, replacing her with Chelsea Rose Lancaster as director. In her new role, Chelsea claims the supernatural events were just theatrics, and the possessed attendee merely someone who suffered an unfortunate seizure at the event.

New York Comic Con attendees also might have grabbed a preview of Unknown 9 Archives at the Dark Horse booth. The full comic, set to release in Spring 2019, follows the story of the 17th century merchant Kieran as he is introduced to the network of knowledge seekers that likely evolves into the secret societies players are tracking across platforms in the present. In addition to the comic book, Reflector revealed to Variety that a film is in development by 10 Cloverfield Lane screenwriters Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken, a television series is in the works from Heroes executive producer Tim Kring, and a novel trilogy by Layton Green. The video game component is being developed by Reflector Interactive, drawing on Reflector CEO Alexandre Amancio’s experience as a creative director on the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Combined with co-founder Guy Laliberté’s experience as one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil, Unknown 9 is bringing decades of experience to the table.

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#NOFILTER Imagines an Even More Dismal Social Media Hellscape for Us

Social media can be an absolute trashfire. But don’t worry, starting on October 2nd, it’s about to get a whole lot worse – that’s when pseudonym productions is launching out #NOFILTER, a “horrifyingly satirical, totally narcissistic thriller starring YOU.” For as little as $14, players can sign up to participate in a six-week long experience that invites players to enter an alternate world where the United States government created Connections™ as a mandatory social media platform designed to solve all our problems.

Sarah Elgar, pseudonym productions’ president and creative director, explains that the game is designed “to satirize the sad state of social networks…in the most absurdly over the top ways possible”, and the skewering of social media starts before the game even begins, with the registration process. For $14, players can sign up for the “Follower” level, which provides access to the main game experience that takes place on the Connections™ platform, with the ability to score coveted invitations to the games’ weekly live  “physical happenings”, centered around at least four major cities in California, Florida, and New York. Paying a premium for “Verified” or “influencer” status opens up more personalized character interactions, as well as in-game recognition for their elevated status as a reminder that some people are just better than others.

Once players are registered, they become drafted onto the Connections™ platform, where they are encouraged to perform compulsory life-affirming tasks like completing daily wellness routines and selfie duties. In parallel, players are encouraged to explore the stories of prominent users like the platform’s creator Nolan Stauf, yoga instructor Taylor Hill, and internet provocateur Vokorev with a story that might just verge into the supernatural.

While the game hasn’t launched yet, the #NOFILTER website provides a number of hints at the experience to come, sharing a sample chat log with Nikki as she goes about her daily selfie and NeoGa (Neo Yoga) quota in for the day that devolves into something else entirely. The FAQ is also peppered with more than a few bon mots, and the responses alone provide the best sales pitch for the experience available. Reminding prospective players that status is everything, the FAQ notes that “those who want to be all-in for 6 weeks and absolutely be part of everything they can and have us basically worship them should select the Influencer level, naturally. because Influencers are the most important people in the world. obviously.” The how to play section comes with its own ominous warning, noting that “#NOFILTER‘s story is a satire of social media, so it will help to be familiar with various social networks like facebook, instagram, and twitter – and the horrible trolling, doxxing, bullying, and narcissistic behavior that goes on there. but if that’s not your jam, you’ll still enjoy this experience. in fact, more power to you.” But as much as the game will explore peoples’ horrible behaviors online, it has a clearly stated zero-tolerance policy towards players directing that behavior towards each other – players caught harrassing, bullying, or violating the privacy of other players will receive instant bans, with no refund.

Validate my self worth by sharing this article. Then go back and like, share, retweet, hashtag, pin, upvote, toot, snap, and Insta-fave it whenever you see it online to fill the void in my life. Or better yet, sign up for #NOFILTER to find out how much worse things can get.  But remember, the game starts in earnest on October 2nd, so act quick or you’ll risk a serious case of #FOMO.

A Return for a New and Improved Emma Approved

Five years ago, Pemberley Digital released their first episode of Emma Approved, the Emmy-Award winning transmedia series that reimagined the character Jane Austen described as “a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like” as a modern-day advice coach turned vlogger. Over the course of the show’s initial 72-episode run, Pemberley Digital painted a sympathetic and nuanced portrait of Emma Woodhouse that allows the viewers’ appreciation of Emma’s strength to grow in parallel with Emma’s own personal growth as the series progresses. And to commemorate the five-year anniversary of the show, Emma Approved is returning for a sequel, starting in October.

A Quick History Lesson: Pemberley Digital and the Birth of a Genre
When Hank Green and Bernie Su created The Lizzie Bennet Diaries as a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in 2012, it was far from the first modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s works, nor was it even the first attempt at telling those stories on YouTube as a web series. What set The Lizzie Bennet Diaries apart was its expert use of the vlogging format to make Austen’s characters come alive, reinforced by the social platforms they inhabited as part of the show’s transmedia strategy. This format inspired the birth of a genre, leading to the creation of over a hundred literary web series and the formation of Pemberley Digital that fittingly existed simultaneously as a fictional company within the world of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and as a company focused on producing new literary web series.

When Pemberley Digital released a DVD box set of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, they reinvested a portion of those funds into the creation of Welcome to Sanditon, their second foray into Jane Austen adaptations. In order to flesh out a narrative around Austen’s unfinished novel, the production team turned to the audience to create the town of Sanditon together, with viewers virtually settling to live in the town as an exercise in co-creation, powered by social media and the video platform Theatrics. Welcome to Sanditon was still focused on character-driven storytelling – it just expanded to draw some of its B-plots from the characters its viewers were role-playing. Sanditon veteran Kyle Walters borrowed much of that co-creation framework for The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, while Pemberley Digital opted for a more passive experience with their next project, Emma Approved.

Crafting a More Sympathetic Emma: This Review is Emma Approved
Like its predecessors, Emma Approved was set up as a character-driven show, allowing audiences to gradually come to know the show’s characters both through the video uploads and their online presences. But unlike Lizzie Bennet and fan-favorite Gigi Darcy, Emma Woodhouse doesn’t start off as endearing. “Emma Woodhouse…beautiful, clever, and brilliant. There are many intriguing female entrepreneurs in the love and lifestyle industry, but no one is more dynamic or has more potential than young Ms. Woodhouse.” Hearing Emma introduce herself by reciting that dose of hyperbolic prose to the camera doesn’t leave the best first impression. After seeing her systematically bully and lie to friends and coworkers to get her way in the next few videos, her second and third impressions could use some work as well.

And yet, in a series based in large part around Emma’s personal growth, Emma Approved is just as careful in highlighting how Emma’s greatest strengths are present throughout the series. When Annie Taylor is having doubts about her marriage to Ryan Weston, Emma is empathetic enough to identify what the underlying problem is, without being explicitly told. She just crosses the line by trying to fix everything behind everyone’s back, through subterfuge and deceit. After being confronted with her behavior, Emma internalizes the lesson so that when confronted by a similar situation with her sister, she takes a more reasoned tact. The lesson isn’t “don’t meddle in other peoples’ affairs” – that’s a core component of Emma’s personality and her business model. Instead, the lesson is to do so more directly.

Throughout the series, Emma learns a series of painful lessons after letting down most of the people in her life. And while she learns and adapts, she does not do so at the expense of who she is – the Emma Woodhouse who closes out the series is just as assertive, empathetic, and confident as the Emma who started it. She just finds better mechanisms for channeling that passion. And speaking of passion, it’s almost impossible not to ship the budding romances that form during the show. Bobby Martin and Harriet Smith’s awkwardly adorable overt flirting serves as the perfect foil for Emma Woodhouse and Alex Knightley’s more tentative banter, and the characters’ romantic arcs are equal parts fulfilling and nail-biting every step of the way.

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A Tale of Two Trailheads: Charity Kong and the Golden Age Conspiracy

In Seattle, a jodhpur-clad man wanders into a Seattle corner shop, using strips of gold foil as currency in order to send messages using the shop’s antiquated Telex machine. In Indianapolis, Golden Age comic fans converge at a flea market just outside Indianapolis, chasing a rumor to find a shred of evidence that their beloved comics publisher Stupefying Yarns exists outside their memories. And aspiring comic artist Brian Enright has gone missing, leaving a desperate brother behind. Three different stories all seem to converge with a series of trailheads that have been sent out over the past few days.

The Case of Charity Kong and the Tourist From Another Place
Earlier this week, a number of reports circulated of people receiving black envelopes from “A Friend” with the Seattle Mariners’ stadium listed as the return address. Inside the envelope? A screencap of a girl in a YouTube video, paired with an ominous message:

This is Charity Kong.
She does not know she needs your help.
She does not know our world is in danger.
Find her before they do.

A second, smaller envelope was also included, instructing its recipient to only open it after finding her.

Image courtesy of No Proscenium

On Twitter, @destiniesfic dove into the mystery and located Charity Kong’s YouTube channel. Through her videos, Charity documents her experiences tracking down and helping “The Tourist”, a strange man who uses strips of gold foil as currency and hints at a mysterious past that doesn’t quite add up.

Upon opening the sealed envelope, recipients found a printed Telex, which decoded to the message: “URGENT. BOWLERS IN SEATTLE. WORST CASE: THREE WORLDS WAR”. But back to that later.

Stupefying Yarns and the Comics Erased From Time
Soon after people started receiving warnings about dire tidings for Charity, other reports of envelopes bearing addresses for Major League Baseball stadiums started circulating. Only this time, the letters came in red envelopes from “The Yarnies”, with a return address of Yankee Stadium.

The envelope contained a flyer promoting the Stupefying Yarns fan blog, along with torn up scraps of a comic book cover, paired with the following revelation:

Earlier this summer, a vintage SY cover – not advertised as such – was sold at an estate auction for $34,000.00 to a man in a pinstripe suit.

An intrepid Yarnie found the contents of this envelope in a neighbor’s garbage can the next day.

Image courtesy of ARG Insider

When assembled, the torn up scraps showed a seeming impossibility: the cover of Johnny Delta in Bandit of the Sky, a Stupefying Yarns comic. According to the Yarnies’ forums, their shared memories of Stupefying Yarns comics are challenged by the fact that no one can seem to find any physical evidence the publisher ever existed. Even the most fleeting traces are regarded as objects worthy of the “Holy Grail” designation. Last month, a group of Yarnies traveled out to an Indiana flea market at the mere rumor of a sighing of the Wasserstein Grail, a paper mâché art project rumored to have used Stupefying Yarns pages in its construction. Locating an intact cover seems beyond most members of the group’s wildest dreams.

And then, there’s the page on the flip side of the comic book cover. Scrawled in the margins of an advertisement for the Grumbaum Academy of Art is an ominous message: “Next: Brian Diffracted”.

Brian Enright and Introduction to Color Theory 
The website was set up by Brian Enright’s brother to help locate his sibling, who went missing two years ago. The site describes the brothers’ passion for imaginary words, namely the science fiction world of “Laminar” and the fantasy realm of “Old Gnarly”. Brian’s passion for these worlds continued, and one of the few remnants his brother has of Brian are two sketches of Old Gnarly and Laminar, left on the refrigerator door before Brian disappeared.

Curiously, the heroes featured in Brian’s sketches bear a striking resemblance to fan recollections of Golden Age heroes from Stupefying Yarns, including the musclebound Thor-Ax, his companion Esme, and the jodhpur-clad Johnny Delta.

One curious addition to the Brian Diffracted website is a short screed on color theory: the page recounts Newton’s addition of indigo to the rainbow. As the reflection on color notes:

The fact is, Science can’t tell where Blue stops and Indigo begins. Indigo is supposed to be a different country, but you can’t distinguish it from here. When I pointed this out to Brian, he pulled out a colored pencil marked Indigo and said, “Maybe you can’t find it, but I can.”

Has Brian found a way into these other worlds described in the telex card? And is that what the telex is trying to say about a “three worlds” war?

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Lessons on ARGs and Teamwork Through the Lens of Daedalus

Daedalus is an artificial intelligence built to solve humanity’s greatest problems. And over the next few days, it will be recruiting teams of 5-7 players to participate in a week-long series of puzzles that play out across Daedalus’ neural network, to “complete Daedalus’ programming”. While many of these tasks will take place on the game’s digital interface, some puzzles will cross over into the real world, requiring teams to have at least two players in the Boston area.

This week-long experience is a collaboration between Extra Ludic and Northeastern University that is looking to leverage alternate reality games to study team performance and adaptability, with a particular focus on “individual differences and their effects on adaptability and performance within teams.” Using survey and questionnaire data collected at the midpoint and end of the game, the team hopes to leverage ARG and digital escape room environments to study how teams work together. To provide an incentive for teams to participate, all teams who complete the game and the corresponding surveys will receive a gift certificate, with an additional prize for the team who completes the game in the fastest time.

This is not the first time alternate reality games have been used for research purposes. Indiana University’s Skeleton Chase game presented members of the school’s Foundations of Fitness and Wellness program with a sprawling game that led students across campus, confirming that players presented with a compelling experience could be encouraged to increase the amount they walk every day. Researchers noted that students reporting the highest weekly step counts were the teams that bonded well, forming a cohesive unit that worked together towards a common goal, serving as an early indicator for the success of games like Ingress and Pokemon Go.

The project is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is no stranger to using competitions to test out models for group dynamics. In 2009, they ran the DARPA Network Challenge as a competition to locate ten red balloons located across the country. Player data for Daedalus will remain anonymous, with survey and other data collected through the project anonymized and associated with a unique identifier for use in the research.

It will be interesting to see what emerges from Daedalus from the research standpoint. It will also be a novel experience for participants to get paid to play an alternate reality game – and it’s not too late to make a play for the grand reward. The team is still in the process of recruiting their third cohort for the experience. Registration is limited to participants who are US Citizens or Permanent Residents who are 18 years or older, fluent in English, and have access to a cellphone. However, you don’t have to live in Boston or assemble the full team yourself to participate: the game’s sign-up form implies that researchers may help form teams for prospective players who haven’t assembled a full team.

As appealing as the research element of Deadalus sounds, the most alluring element in the teaser trailer is what almost sounds like a warning from the game’s artificial intelligence: “it sounds simple, but in this puzzle not everything is what it appears to be. So you must be clever, and work together.” To find out what that means, head over to the game’s sign-up page to get started – but don’t take too long, as Daedalus will be wrapping up at the end of September.

Thanks to Room Escape Artist for directing this game to our attention.

Bunker Buddies at the Wildrence, with Broken Ghost Immersives

Note: ARGNet received a comped ticket for this show.

Fifteen people huddled together in the Bunker, arranged in a rough circle of couches and chairs. The room itself was a pastiche of Cold War era kitsch, just big enough to fit our group, but small enough to feel a little cramped. The Nostalgia Electrics refrigerator was fully stocked with beverages of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety, and the kitchenette was stocked with all the essential cooking implements, hanging from the wall. Near the couch, a chess set was prominently displayed near period magazines to help us while away the time in a makeshift living room space. On the other side of the room, a small crafting table was positioned to give the group space for tinkering with the odd bits and bobs we found. The only signs of real modernity in the room: a handful of tablets strewn around the room, and a laptop propped up in the corner, broadcasting security cam-style footage of the room to our Artificial Intelligence-based overseer, De-Bunk. The apocalypse arrived, and this would be our home for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, that foreseeable future was severely limited by dwindling food supplies and a malfunctioning life support system.

This is the scenario that Broken Ghost Immersive’s The Bunker thrusts its players into at Wildrence, a basement events space in lower Manhattan. A loose collective of individuals, met with the challenge of surviving in a post-apocalyptic hellscape with only their wits, a few rolls of duct tape, and a supply of Twinkies. The roughly 2 hour long show is a bit of a hybrid experience: while it combines elements of a number of immersive styles of play, at its core the experience feels like an intimate parlor LARP, where players’ decisions help them learn about the world they find themselves in as they struggle to survive. Routes to survival might involve using tablet devices to negotiate with residents of other nearby bunkers, donning hazmat suits to explore the wastelands to search for supplies and interact more directly with neighbors, and use those supplies to craft items useful for the bunker’s residents. While there is a set narrative underpinning the entire post-apocalyptic scenario, player choice dictates what elements of that story any given show (or player within that show) might encounter.

The Bunker: A Game of Resource Management
Bunker resources are represented through a series of cards that can either be found through exploratory missions into the wasteland, or created by playing a mini-game to combine items at the crafting station. And over The Bunker‘s seven “day” narrative, carefully managing those resources is essential to survival. Every day, players must “consume” one food card, or run the risk of dying right there, on the spot. Satisfying that need is a constant weight hanging over the bunker, with the very real threat of death looming at every turn. Additional cards can be spent at the crafting table to obtain items necessary for short-term and long-term survival, both for the expeditionary forces and the bunker at large. And along with limited resources comes challenges with distribution. Some resources might be pooled for group consumption, while others get held back to ensure individual survival.

The biggest resource for players to manage, however, is time. As with many megagames, how players choose to spend their time is a much more valuable resource than the cards themselves. This isn’t a game where players can get by focusing exclusively on one element of gameplay, as each element informs the others.  Players chatting with other bunkers might unlock new abilities for players tackling the crafting table, while players going out on expeditions might come across information that changes what players negotiating with other bunkers discuss. To encourage players towards a more well-rounded play experience, the game has “nudges” built in that require switching around tasks on a fairly frequent basis. Expedition members might become afflicted with wounds, ailments, and mutations as a result of their journeys, forcing them to be temporarily bunker-bound, while some bunkers may become so hostile that further communications become pointless. Other “nudges” were more direct, as an Achievement Book would dole out cards as rewards to players who helped the team reach set milestones of exploration, crafting, and experimentation.

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A Return to Puzzlecraft, Just in Time for Gen Con

Starting in 2004, puzzle designers Mike Selinker and Thomas Snyder wrote a column on puzzle design for Games Magazine called “Puzzlecraft”. In 2013, the pair condensed a decade of commentary and learnings from the column into a book, the ambitiously titled Puzzlecraft: The Ultimate Guide on How to Construct Every Kind of Puzzle. The book was intended to serve as a resource for aspiring puzzlemakers, passing down guidelines for designing elegant puzzles. As Selinker explains in the book’s introduction, “Whether you’re making puzzles to publish online or befuddle your family or educate your students, you should find what you need [in Puzzlecraft]. If you master everything we talk about, you’ll be on your way to being a puzzlemaker.” The spiral-bound book’s 192 pages lived up to that promise, detailing over 70 different puzzle variations through solvable examples of each type, guidelines to help new puzzlemakers construct those puzzles, and offering italicized hints and color commentary along the way. The only problem was, when you sell a book of puzzles to fans of the genre, they’re going to write in the books. So when Puzzlecraft‘s limited print run was exhausted, obtaining a used copy became a costly endeavor. When Puzzlecraft was initially released, it retailed for $9.99. When I finally got my hands on a copy on the used books market, I ended up spending $65.

No one has to pay that much for puzzling wisdom again, since Lone Shark Games just announced the book’s return, on the eve of Gen Con 2018. The new version of Puzzlecraft has been updated to feature a new forward by Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me‘s Peter Sagal and over 20 new puzzle types, with a focus on ARG-adjacent puzzle types like interactive fiction, escape rooms, puzzle rallies, and videogame puzzles. The alternate reality gaming section of the book has also received an update, adding a miniature alternate reality game to the book. As one of the book’s italicized flavortext hints reads,

To build our ARG, first we had to figure out how a book could become a springboard for an ARG puzzle. Once we had that, we came up with the parts necessary to make that work. I’d tell you more, but This Is Not A Game.

When reached for comment, Puzzlecraft developer Gaby Weidling cryptically responded, “all I’ll say is that it’s our smallest ARG ever!”Puzzlecraft is available for pre-order at the Lone Shark Games store for $29.95 for the book, or $15 for the PDF. And if you’re reading this article after August 15th, you should absolutely do that. Otherwise, there’s an even better option.

To celebrate the book’s release and support the Girls Make Games and Girls Who Code charities, Lone Shark Games partnered with a collection of game designer friends to release the Game Design & Puzzlecraft Humble Bundle, a series of game design books. For $8, aspiring puzzle fans can have a Humble Bundle exclusive edition of the newly expanded Puzzlecraft, along with 10 other books that provide different perspectives on game design like . For $15, newly released “DLC”editions of Puzzlecraft and The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design are unlocked. For Puzzlecraft, the DLC takes the form of a 400 page digital tome of Selinker and Snyder’s first drafts of Puzzlecraft articles for Games Magazine that served as inspiration for the reference book. For The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design, readers are treated to a sneak preview of the book’s 2019 update, featuring essays from Bruno Faidutti, Chad Brown, and Mike Selinker. The Humble Bundle also comes with a 20% off coupon for the Lone Shark Games Store, in case a print copy of the book is what you’re looking for.

If only for its skill at exposing readers to the depth and variety of puzzle types available, Puzzlecraft is an essential text for puzzle solvers and makers alike, and the book’s re-release has made that recommendation an accessible one, at a price that’s hard to beat. Now about that embedded alternate reality game…

To get started, check out the Game Design & Puzzlecraft Humble Bundle for downloadable copies of Puzzlecraft, and the Lone Shark Games store to pre-order its print release. The full list of books included in the Humble Bundle are included below.

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Hybrid LARPs as Immersive Primer: On Dragon Thrones and the Blockbuster Renaissance

All images courtesy of Allison Kern Photography

Magic appears to have left the realm of Cambria, and many of its inhabitants, human and non-human alike, are struggling to cope with its unexpected absence. A scourge of the undead emerged throughout the land, and the machinations of the inscrutable “Godfather” appears to be spreading strife among the Houses of the realm. This is the situation that greeted the players of Game Theatre’s Dragon Thrones 3: Exodus Magi upon arrival at Bryn Mawr College for a long weekend of hybrid gameplay, mixing megagames, blockbuster LARP, tabletop gaming, and puzzle-solving into a hybrid event that served as a surprisingly effective primer to different corners of the broader immersive play space. Individual players were free to pursue whatever narrative or immersive hooks struck their fancy, while their Houses as a collective benefited from members stretching out of their comfort zones into all the different features the game had to offer.

Explaining what Dragon Thrones offered its players requires a step back to examine its component parts, before understanding how those parts fit together to make a broader story. What follows is an introduction to a number of different flavors of immersive play, as told through the magical lens of Dragon Thrones.

Megagames: These Rules Subject to Negotiation
House Wyndon’s Fortress of Sadathea was taken over by an army of the undead, and troops were falling to the horde en masse in an effort to regain control of Wyndon’s seat of power. Things were looking dire for the beleaguered nation-state, until the King of Ardmore completed an arcane ritual that enabled him to ascend to literal godhood, transforming into Lord Lucent of the Light. With his divine blessing on the battlefield, previously slain troops were brought back to light, and the undead forces were routed.

Most traditional board games don’t include mechanics that let its players ascend to godhood as a literal deus ex machina, and doing so would generally be considered a game-breaking mechanic. But megagames are the board gaming equivalent of the classic improv game “yes, and” – while megagames have a core set of rules, gamemasters known as the “Control” exist to give players the flexibility to find creative solutions outside the pre-defined rules without breaking the experience. In the case of Dragon Thrones, every faction was gifted with a single source of untapped potential – in the case of Ardmore, that source was Ardmore’s Dragon Throne, a throne constructed out of the corpse of an elder dragon. The King of Ardmore would approach the Game Theatre team embedded into the story as characters with his plan, and they would in turn impose costs to enact that plan, and describe what form the results of that plan would have on the megagame itself.

While the King of Ardmore’s deification is an extreme example, this flexible ruleset is as an integral a function of megagames as the large team sizes that make separating fact from fiction a practical impossibility. At PAX Unplugged 2017, Ironmark Games ran The World Turned Upside Down, a “short” four hour megagame themed around the American Revolution. Players were assigned roles as famous figures from the fledgling American states or the British Empire, and lobbied for dominance through legislative finesse, military might, and a deft hand at espionage. I played as a British spy, where the two teams had the opportunity to steal resources from each other through a card game. As the evening progressed, it became clear that things were not going well for the British, and the spies collectively planned to embezzle resources and retire wealthy to the Bahamas. We approached Control with our plan, and they set a fee of how many resources we’d need to collect to enact this plan. This type of “last turn madness” is so common for the genre that a podcast dedicated to the space adopted the term as its name.

But while traditional megagames typically use in-game currency and resources as the coin to power “rule-breaking” moves, Dragon Thrones’ biggest moves were powered by investments in time, through the live-action role playing game and puzzle elements.

Live Action Role Playing: A Flavor for Every Player
One of Helfarian’s diplomats called me over. With magic gone, Helfarian’s Iron Drakes were unable to fly due to the heavy weight of their construction. In exchange for sharing the findings of the research, Wyndon offered up access to their wyverns for study, along with access to their wyvern handlers. As Helfarian’s engineer, I was called over to seal the deal and develop a plan of action for redeploying the engines of war. Since I was also serving as Master of Coin for the House in charge of managing Helfaria’s progression along the various megagaming skill trees, I diverted funds to the development of this special unit and provided our General with a new force to bring to bear on the battlefield.

Since LARPs have the potential to leave players both physically and emotionally vulnerable, signing up for Dragon Thrones starts with an introductory call to feel out what players are looking for in an experience, as well as gauging whether they might play nicely with others. Using that information, every player is assigned a character and backstory to better fit into the world. In the world of Cambria, I was given the role of the engineer Nikol Bellum of House Helfaria, and provided with two pages of backstory explaining how I came to find a place in my Kingdom and my personal goals for the weekend, along with what I knew about the other members of other players pre-Cambrian Summit, along with skeins of plot threads that could potentially drive collaboration and conflict. These character descriptions were delivered weeks in advance, giving players the opportunity to negotiate tweaks and modifications to create the character they wanted to play for the long weekend.

Every House had a member of the Game Theatre team embedded as both character and gamemaster, serving as an in-world concierge to guide players through the various challenges, and to check in to ensure players were enjoying themselves along the way. Dragon Thrones is a salon-style LARP, focused on creating and encouraging interactions between players unlike the more combat-focused boffer LARP format. So while many characters brought foam weapons as part of their costuming, players could not use them against each other directly. Instead, the focus was on role-playing through relationships and court intrigue, complemented with questing for the more action-packed tasks, which took a variety of forms.

Lizard and Flower, a pair of fairies idling in the Bryn Mawr courtyard served as quest-givers for many of the more exploratory quests of Dragon Thrones, guiding groups of players through some of the campus’ more iconic locations to help players tackle some of the more global challenges of the game, like the recovery of magic through collecting physical orbs and cornerstones of magic that contained power to influence the world of Cambria, either through the megagame or more personal pursuits. For one particularly memorable moment, I joined a group of players in translating a shroud through an impromptu theatrical performance recounting a tale from the two fairies’ pasts. Teas, hand-fasting ceremonies, and live performances from dancers and magicians also served to create the 360 degree illusion of being immersed in the world of Cambria for those who wanted to evoke that sense of realism. And while Dragon Thrones is not a boffer LARP, lessons in foam weapon combat were provided, culminating in a boffer tourney to whet the appetites of the more combat-inclined.

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Jack Torrance Leads Players Through a Dance Macabre

In a recent interview with the immersive entertainment podcast No Proscenium, Sean Stewart (one of the co-creators of the alternate reality gaming genre as we know it) described alternate reality games as a dance. “In ballroom [dance], they used to say, and forgive the gendered reference, the gentleman proposes the step, the lady decides whether or not to accept. And I think increasingly, entertainment is moving into a world in which as creators we propose the step, but it is a dance. And you can’t do it if they don’t want to come along.” While alternate reality games will typically have creator-driven narratives, one of the most exciting parts of the genre is when creators carve out spaces for their audiences to dance, even if that leads in unexpected directions. And over the past few weeks, found footage horror channel Jack Torrance and horror-centric YouTube theorist Nick Nocturne went on one hell of a dance.

Meet the Dance Partners
Back in 2011, the YouTube channel Jack Torrance purportedly purchased 10 boxes of old footage and vintage records at an estate sale held in a barn just outside of Austin, Texas. The channel gradually started uploading videos, restoring Super 8 and VHS tapes for digital consumption. The found footage was a melange of short clips of Ouija boards, mannequins, and dessicated hands juxtaposed against more sedate scenes of daily life like a child playing or a girl applying makeup. Two years ago, the found footage was replaced with a series of four “modern” videos of someone exploring a house containing some of the items featuring in previous videos before switching back to found footage again.

At the time, Nick Nocturne had been running the YouTube channel Night Mind for almost a year, analyzing and summarizing online horror experiences like Marble HornetsUnedited Footage of a Bear, and Alantutorial. Nocturne’s videos specialized in condensing sprawling experiences into more easily digestible forms, all through the lens of his four-eyed interdimensional cat persona. Night Mind ran a feature breaking down the series and its cinematography in conjunction with Nyx Fears.

Soon after the video aired, Jack Torrance went dark for two years. During its first five years of operation, Jack Torrance was an experience to consume and theorize about, with little to no direct interaction between uploader and audience. Viewers could theorize about what the footage might mean, but the channel was deathly silent. The only clue: in the descriptions of one of the channel’s final videos, the phrase “help” was spliced into the copy of the video description.

Invitation to Dance: The Return of Jack Torrance
Two weeks ago, Jack Torrance returned to YouTube with a livestreamed video titled “Find me”. In a video response, Nocturne explained that he interpreted that title as a challenge to the players to find the mysterious uploader, and that he was up for the channel. In addition to the response video itself, Nocturne left the following comment on the “Find me” video, which quickly rose to the most upvoted comment on the video:

If you want to be found, very well–I’m calling your bluff.

Make me come to Texas and I’ll track you down.

Nocturne received his response in the next video upload, with a corrupted message embedded in the video description answering “it is calling will you answer”. Interpreting this as an invitation to dance, Nocturne planned a trip out to Austin, Texas to hunt down the mysterious uploader and whatever supernatural force might be involved.

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Reassembling Einstein’s Brain By Post – The Gray Matter Sodality

When Albert Einstein died in 1955, New England pathologist Thomas Harvey removed the noted physicist’s brain without asking the family permission. Upon learning of the theft, Einstein’s son Hans Albert gave Harvey permission to keep the brain as long as it was used for scientific research. Over the next few months, Harvey carefully preserved, sectioned, and mounted the brain on thousands of slides, with chunks of the brain periodically getting sent off to researchers around the world from its new home under a beer cooler. Slivers of Einstein’s brain are currently on display at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. As unbelievable as it might seem, this is all true.

This is where the Gray Matter Sodality comes in. The secret society is looking to reassemble the scattered pieces of Einstein’s brain for unknown purposes…and they could use your help.

A Subscription Service for Hunting Brain Fragments
The Gray Matter Sodality is a narrative puzzle experience put on by Traipse, with monthly mailings introducing subscribers to their new role as Inquisitors with the organization, chasing down clues to the locations of Einstein’s brain for subsequent reclamation by specialized teams. Every mission comes with a letter from Gray Matter Sodality Executive Director Artemis Shoal introducing the month’s assignment, along with physical artifacts useful in locating the next fragment. Typically, solutions are a word or phrase appended to the website, with the telling investigators the results of their sleuthing efforts.

The puzzles are self-contained, although there are hints of a larger meta-puzzle in the three mailings I received as a preview of the experience.

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Dungeons and Dragons Explores the Forgotten Realms of ARGs

Between June 1st – 3rd, Dungeons & Dragons is introducing a new adventure storyline to the franchise through the Stream of Many Eyes, a Los Angeles-based event that will be livestreamed on Twitch, featuring gameplay sessions with D&D streamers from popular tabletop shows including Adventure Zone, Dice, Camera, Action!, and Critical Role. And for the past month, Wizards of the Coast has been running an alternate reality game that bridges the gap between Wizards of the Coast’s Forgotten Realms and our own world with No Stone Unturned.

The alternate reality game kicked off on May 1st with a code hidden away at the bottom of the Stream of Many Eyes‘ announcement page on the Wizards of the Coast website.

Decoding the morse code revealed the hashtag #nostoneunturned, which had recently been used on Twitter by Kalesh Marivaldi under the Twitter handle @Immortal4tress. The next day, Marivaldi hijacked the official Dungeons & Dragons account to present fans with a challenge. According to Marivaldi, Elminster, one of Faerûn’s most powerful mages, sent a powerful stone to Earth along with a guardian to protect it. The guardian’s memories of his prior life were replaced with new ones, leaving him ignorant of both his true role and the nature of the artifact he protected. The Forgotten Realms had need of the stone, so Marivaldi charged Earth’s denizens with the task of finding the guardian, helping him reclaim his memories, and sending the stone back to its rightful home.

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Falling Down the Puzzle Hunt Rabbit Hole

“Puppy. Fried chicken. Puppy. Fried chicken. Aw, what a cute puppy!” A small group of people huddled together in a corner of an MIT classroom. As I rattled off proclamations of puppy-or-not-puppy, one fellow solver stared intently at the 20×20 grid of pictures to check my work while a third typed numbers into a grid to record our findings. The image were divided into four quadrants of images likely to fool deep learning algorithms: pictures that resemble fried chicken, pictures that resemble mint ice cream, pictures that resemble croissants, and pictures that resemble blueberry muffins.

The puzzle we were working on was one of the most adorable puzzles from the MIT Mystery Hunt. The puzzle hunt takes place in mid-January of every year…but opportunities to tackle challenging puzzles mean fans of the genre are rarely found wanting for puzzle experiences.

The MIT Mystery Hunt 2018: Head-Hunters
Every year, the Mystery Hunt embraces a new theme to provide the narrative structure for a weekend of puzzling in an experience designed by the winners of the previous year’s hunt. This year, Death & Mayhem turned to the Pixar film Inside Out for inspiration, asking puzzle hunt teams to get Miss Terry Hunter’s emotions under control so she could guide her team to victory, rediscovering many of the formative memories that led to her becoming a puzzle solver in the first place.

It’s relatively easy to experience the MIT Mystery Hunt remotely. Most challenges are delivered through an online website that progressively expands as teams unlock new puzzles, and the increasingly theatrical kickoff event that introduces players to the year’s theme is livestreamed.

But while the MIT Mystery Hunt creates an accessible experience for people solving off-campus, celebrating real world challenges and interactions is a core tenet of the Hunt. For instance, to complete the Pokémon round of puzzles, a small group from our team went to visit the “Safari Zone”, a classroom littered with dozens of Voltorb balls with five different sets of words written on them. After locating every ball, they noticed that one Voltorb in each group didn’t belong, giving them the combination lock password to obtain the bittersweet memory of Terry capturing her first Magikarp.

This year’s Hunt was strongest when it played with that line between digital and analog puzzles, exemplified by the paired puzzles Twitch Plays Mystery Hunt and Under Control. In Twitch Plays Mystery Hunt, teams were given a relatively simple video game to explore. The only catch: just like its namesake Twitch Plays Pokémon, each team was only given one avatar to control. After completing Twitch Plays Mystery Hunt teams unlocked Under Control, sending one member of their team to stand in front of a green screen for a livestreamed ninja dance battle. In order to defeat a series of ninja warriors the tribute had to be guided like a human puppet through a series of poses, with team communication managed by a synthesized voice reading out time delayed comments in the livestream.

The puzzle hunt finale returned to that same theme, with teams playing a modified version of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes by taking over the Emotional Command Center and following printed instructions to guide an overtired Terry Hunter through the MIT campus to the final location, solving the Hunt.

Other puzzles that are worth checking out include Marked Deck (a deck of laser-cut cards that, when properly arranged, provides a hint to the next step of the puzzle), Do You Want A (a puzzle that will be very familiar to people who know what MBMBAM stands for), Space Sounds TV (a puzzle about the history of spaceflight), A Pub Crawl (a very social drinking puzzle), and Special Delivery (a puzzle about musical mixes).

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Happy Escape Room in a Boxing Day!

It’s Boxing Day! The day when thoughtful gifts from friends, family, and coworkers are exchanged for store credit, and when you start planning on how to convert that stack of gift cards into even more presents. Something to consider for puzzle fans: the escape room in a box.

Comparing escape rooms in a box against their traditional escape room counterparts is a bit like comparing a theatrical performance with its cinema adaptation. Paying a premium to see a performance of West Side Story live delivers an experience that can’t be completely translated to film, and attempts to directly lift the experience will make that absence noticeable. However,  in the hands of the right team, cinematic adaptations can do things that would be impossible on a live stage. This article explores how three different companies brought their own particular spins on bringing the escape room genre home.

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Simulacra Games Masters Art of Puzzle Box Sales

Simulacra Games is selling a crate of 1930s era memorabilia from the early days of animation for a studio that never existed. It’s not an elaborate counterfeiting scheme, but rather an elaborate alternate reality game in a box called The Wilson Wolfe Affair. Using the diary of a studio animator as a guide, players are guided through the crate’s exquisitely crafted materials artifacts by the diary of a studio animator to uncover the mysteries behind the Wilson Wolfe cartoons.

The Kickstarter campaign for The Wilson Wolfe Affair ends December 21st at 10AM EST, and the team has already blown past all their stretch goals,  with almost a thousand backers raising over $210K in pre-orders for the experience. This level of support is particularly impressive for Simulacra Games’ first foray into the world of puzzle boxes, and can be a craftily executed promotional campaign designed to showcase the team’s skills without revealing any of the mysteries of the experience itself.

Wilson Wolfe and the Animated Series
Prior to launching their Kickstarter campaign, Simulacra Games released a series of videos that served as an introduction to Wilson Wolfe, Jinks Studio’s version of Felix the Cat. For the first two videos, Wilson Wolfe’s adventures are framed in actual animated shorts. Mad Scientist Wilson highlights a restrained Wilson Wolfe struggling against his bonds as a shadowy figure approaches, while The Spooky Salesman shows Wolfe chased down a hallway by a spectral gloved hand.

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Giving Escape Room Stories Room to Breathe through Theater

Madame Daphne’s Tarot Reading Room and Séance Parlor is hard to find without assistance, hidden away in a Houston artist’s studio. An invitation from Madame Daphne herself provides instructions through the former rice packaging plant’s stark white interior to the medium’s lair, its lavish decor making it feel like a room out of place. Stepping over the threshold begins a 90 minute experience that tells a tale of deception, magic, and love spanning almost a century.

Strange Bird Immersive’s production The Man From Beyond thrusts 4-8 players into a supernatural adventure that combines a masterfully crafted escape room themed around Harry Houdini with an immersive theater performance to frame the experience, set within the walls of Madame Daphne’s parlor.

An Immersive Theater Sandwich
The Man From Beyond‘s fictional narrative starts the minute players step into the room, as Madame Daphne greets her guests with a dramatic flourish. All the standard onboarding activities of an escape room are wrapped up into the context of the room, with a flair for the dramatic. The requisite waivers are still signed, but are done through the narrative conceit of the séance. Players are presented with the rules for the experience through a series of photographs in the hallway leading to the séance parlor, illuminated by candlelight. The séance itself sets the stage for the escape room portion, setting the narrative context for players when they take over the story’s agency.

Once the room’s clock starts ticking, the room transforms from séance parlor into a standard escape room. In a room surrounded by Houdini’s tools of the trade, players must tackle a century-old mystery on a deadline. At key milestones in the experience, micro-moments of theatrical exposition serve as narrative cut scenes, serving the dual purpose of rewarding player’s progress through the puzzle portion and reminding players of their broader purpose in the room. Solving a major puzzle might unlock information about Houdini’s wife Bess’ previous efforts to speak to her dead husband.

Most room escape games leave little room for telling a narrative that exists outside the room’s theming. A room based around an archaeological dig might hide some of its puzzles in a dig site and draw upon those themes to inform its puzzles, but a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required to tackle the room’s challenges. Even rooms that try to adhere to their own internal narrative consistency stick to a bare-bones plot due to the realities of room design. Players must often split themselves up into continually shifting groups to divide and conquer in the most efficient way possible. While this tactic is highly effective at uncovering a room’s secrets, it forces players to experience the room’s narrative in a disjointed fashion. Players might all be aware they’re escaping from a jail cell, but the specifics of their escape route might only be known to a few participants, on a need-to-know basis. This challenge is exacerbated in the final minutes of a room, as teams scramble to put together the final pieces needed to escape. Often, escape room operators’ explanations at the end of the room are as necessary to explain the accomplishments of teammates as they are to highlight overlooked puzzles and clues.

The Man From Beyond addresses that problem by explicitly carving out time outside the escape room’s unforgiving countdown to allow players time to take in the story. Every player is aware of what they’re doing because they experienced the introduction together, before the clock started ticking. Every player knows the main narrative beats because the information is broadcast to the group at key moments. And the grand finale can be fully experienced since it takes place after escaping the room, removing any time pressures that might otherwise cause players to gloss over the story.

Because Strange Bird Immersive created space for players to breathe and take in the narrative, it stopped the puzzles from overwhelming the game’s powerful narrative themes. During my team’s playthrough, we made it through the puzzles at a steady clip, but were so moved by the bittersweet tale that few of us made it out through the full experience without shedding a few tears along the way. It wasn’t just that the story was pulling on our heartstrings. It was knowing everything that happened was because of our actions.

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Acid-Wave Music Might Help Save the World

Late last week, I received a package in the mail from Sledged Infant Records, featuring a double EP of acid wave music. You’ve probably never heard of it before, but the genre of music is typified by its “fuzzy mix of psychedelia, funk, jazz, synthesized electronica, and whole-band improvisation from eccentric artists cranking out dope tracks in relative obscurity. The A-Side of the cassette featured music from GERTRUDE, 75-year old twin sisters out of Minnesota that mix electro dance rhythms and classical music with samples from film and television. The B-Side highlighted the works of Space Butter – recently deceased band leader Henry Wilson explicitly insisted that his works never be released, but in the words of the label, “this shit’s too good for your beyond-the-grave anxiety to stop.” If this kind of thing’s your jam, Sledged Infant Records runs an exclusive, ultra-secret mailing list for the most discerning of acid-wave fans. Oh also, the world may be coming to an end.

The acid-wave music genre doesn’t exist, Sledged Infant Records isn’t real, and the world isn’t actually coming to an end. But that didn’t stop Atlanta-based creative production company The Prudent Mariner from mixing together an hour-long cassette of acid-wave music, and offering a follow-up mix tape compiling the history of the non-existent genre for sale on their non-existent label’s website. The biographies and discographies on the Sledged Infant Records site paint a vivid picture of the colorful personalities who came together to create a music scene spanning almost four decades. And something is very, very wrong in this alternate universe. To understand, let’s fully unpack what I received in the mail.

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Stern Words from No Man’s Sky ARG

On July 8th, Hello Games will run a radio advertisement on at least one of Howard Stern’s Sirius channels, stations 100 and 101. The radio spot won’t be promoting the company’s game of interstellar exploration, No Man’s Sky…at least, not directly. Instead, if past ads are any indication, it will serve as a signal to the game’s fans that the website of yet another fictional company has unlocked, delving deep into the game’s lore as part of the alternate reality game Waking Titan.

From Hype Machine to Stealth Launches
When the video game No Man’s Sky launched last August, it was prefaced by over three years of hype, showcasing the game’s flexibility in creating an entire universe of procedurally generated worlds, promising an unprecedented sandbox for exploration and discovery. The game’s bold promises encouraged half a million players to load up the game on launch day, although many fans left disappointed when comparing the promised release against its reality. Pre-release hype promised gamers the moon, the stars, and everything in between, and the version of the game that shipped failed to measure up to those expectations.

Over the next year, Hello Games took a considerably more measured approach to the No Man’s Sky‘s major updates seeking to bridge the expectation gap for the game’s dedicated fans. News of the game’s free Foundation and Path Finder updates were only announced a week before the versions went live, helping to add greater depth to the game’s almost zen-like gameplay of planetary hopping. The communications strategy around the game’s relatively frequent updates fit well with the overall tone of the game, with its gradual discovery process.

As a game, No Man’s Sky is a plodding journey of revelation, as the player’s character gradually builds a vocabulary to understand the three other intelligent species that populate the game’s universe. Understanding the Gek, the Korvax, and the Vy’keen and their troubled history with the enigmatic planetary guardian Sentinels only leads to the game’s broader mystery: what is Atlas, and what is your character’s relation to it? The game provides partial answers to these questions. It’s here that Waking Titan makes its entrance.

Cassette Tapes and Radio Broadcasts
Last month, Hello Games reached out to the moderators for the game’s subreddit to distribute a series of six numbered cassette tapes– installments in a 16 cassette series. Messages hidden in the spectrograms of each tape spell out the word “PORTAL”, hinting at one of the game’s main enigmas: a series of monoliths located on certain planets within the game with portals reminiscent of Stargate, with no Daniel Jackson to activate them.

Around the same time, started directing people to listen for something on a series of global radio stations, with broadcasts. Starting on June 8, a series of radio stations all aired a radio spot declaring, “We are the mystery hiding in plain sight. You will find us. This broadcast is the first clue.” As with the cassette tapes, examining the commercial’s spectrogram led to a website that would serve as the hub for the alternate reality game,

Future radio spots introduced a series of fictional companies. Echo Software is a company that specializes in bringing back voices of the dead using home video recordings as source material. Multiverse Technologies focuses on topological mapping technologies. Myriad provides satellite-based storage solutions, while Superlumina specializes in temporal communications, sending messages through the past.

Exactly how these companies fit together is a mystery, but poring through the websites has slowly revealed a loose web of connections tying the four companies together.

HAM Radio Enthusiasts and Regularly Scheduled Programming
The Waking Titan website itself is deceptively simple: it features six triangular sigils arranged in a hexagon along with a series of sixteen glyphs lined up along the bottom of the screen. Solve a sigil, unlock a garbled message and the next sigil in the sequence, along with information on where and when to listen for the next radio ad. Solving glyphs doesn’t currently do anything beyond changing the glyph’s color from white to red, but additional puzzles on the assorted websites will often unlock PDFs of internal communications between the various companies.

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Resistance Radio: Fighting Fascists Over Pirate Radio


The year is 1962. It’s been 17 years since the United States surrendered to the Axis Powers after the Nazis dropped the Heisenberg Device on Washington, DC. The formerly United States of America is split with the Japanese Pacific States to the west, and the Greater Nazi Reich to the east. This is the world of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, based on the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name. This is the world of Resistance Radio – a four hour long pirate radio broadcast bridging the gap between seasons of the show.

Special Delivery from the Underground


After the war, the German company Electronica Musikanten won the contract to rebuild America’s infrastructure. In the process, they developed “Uber Fidelity Vinyl”, an evolution in high quality audio recording technology that has become the standard for music. But while the technological standards of music have improved, the cultural influences have suffered, with the Reich condemning any music influenced by gospel, jazz, blues, and R&B as “subversive”. Over the past few days, a number of perfectly innocuous mailings from Electronica Musikanten went out, containing the patriotic album Kinderliederbuch zur Charakterbildung Werkstoffe – the Children’s Songbook for Character Building.


Upon opening up the package, everything checks out as advertised. One Kinderliederbuch zur Charakterbildung album, a flyer for a Reich Youth Music concert, and a spare needle for the record player, just in case. Nothing a government censor would think to explore any further. But if they did, they might notice instructions at the bottom of the flyer: “fold page over to make the arrows touch”. In an alternate timeline, MAD Magazine’s Al Jaffee would make the American populace intimately familiar with this type of puzzle. In The Man in the High Castle‘s timeline, fold-in artwork belongs to the Resistance.


The secret message from Resistance Radio Headquarters points to the location of a speakeasy pop-up and concert at SXSW later this week…but that’s still just skimming the surface.


Packed inside the Kinderliederbuch zur Charakterbildung album sleeve is a vinyl record with music from the resistance, along with a do-it-yourself kit to turn the enclosed propaganda packet into a manual record player using the enclosed needle and a quarter. One side of the record features Sam Cohen’s take on House of the Rising Sun, while the other features Sharon Van Etten’s cover of The End of the World. The call to arms: “tune in to the Resistance at”.

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The Tessera Promises a Spooky Primer to Computational Thinking


The Computer History Museum in Mountain View has never been mentioned in a list of California’s Most Haunted Locations. Its exhibits may celebrate ghosts of computers past and the remnants of now-defunct websites, but the museum has remained resolutely apparition-free…but thanks to The Tessera, that’s about to change. Because starting January 17th, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California is launching an educational alternate reality game designed to teach computational thinking through a host of spectral guides.


Last December, I received a cryptic introduction to The Tessera from computational pioneer Ada Lovelace. In addition to a letter warning of the return of “S” and a punch card, the envelope contained dossiers detailing two other deceased computing pioneers, Steve Jobs and Charles Babbage. The reverse side of Ada’s note featured one of her more famous quotes:

They say that coming events cast their shadows before. May they not sometimes cast their lights before?

Pairing Ada’s quote with the punch card lead to the final destination, featuring a preview of the full Tessera experience.


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Finding the Future Again at the Franklin Institute


Five years ago, Jane McGonigal locked me inside the New York Public Library overnight. I didn’t particularly mind…after all, it did give me the opportunity to thoroughly explore the library while waiting for the building to open for business the next day. Did you know Charles Dickens had his deceased cat’s paw taxidermied and affixed to an ivory letter opener? Or that a special run of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 was bound with asbestos-lined covers? I even got to briefly explore the library’s underground stacks. The experience was part of the New York Public Library’s Find the Future event, a 500 person scavenger hunt through some of the library’s most fascinating artifacts on display to celebrate its 100th anniversary. I still have fond memories of that night under lockdown at the library,  and I was brought back to that moment last night at the Franklin Institute.

The Franklin Institute is a museum in Philadelphia that takes hands-on science seriously. Exhibits ask visitors to do everything from learning about Newton’s laws of motion by using pulleys to lift themselves off the ground, to showing the limits of short-term memory by seeing how many numbers visitors can remember in order to open an increasingly complex combination safe. The museum even holds monthly themed “Science After Hours” events to ensure learning about science remains exciting for people of all ages. Last night, the Franklin Institute’s after-hours event was themed around crime scene investigations, with special stations set up around the museum to teach visitors everything from cryptography to forensic science, through live demonstrations. Mixed into the schedule was a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum for the first 20 museum members to sign up.

The guided tour started off normally, highlighting the museum’s close relationships with the Wright Brothers and its collection of artifacts. The Franklin Air Show exhibit even features diagrams the brothers drew on strips of wallpaper…or at least it would have, if the wallpaper hadn’t gone missing. In its place? A clue, leading our group of 10 to areas of the museum typically not accessible to the public ranging from executive corridors to library stacks. It culminated with the recovery of the missing artifact, as well as the opportunity to see items from the museum archives not normally shown on display.

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Blair Witch and the Kickstarter That Wasn’t

Callie Hernandez as Lisa Arlington. Photo: Chris Helcermanas-Benge

Callie Hernandez as Lisa Arlington. Photo Credit: Chris Helcermanas-Benge

Two years ago Lisa Arlington launched The Absence of Closure, a Kickstarter-funded documentary for her MFA thesis about people coping with ambiguous loss – the grieving process for people who go missing. The campaign ended up reaching its modest $10K goal, before Lisa herself turned up missing during production of the film. This might sound like yet another story of Kickstarter creators embezzling funds…except the campaign never existed. It’s all an homage to the original viral campaign for The Blair Witch Project, in preparation for the sequel’s imminent release.

The Blair Witch Project, In Brief
For those unfamiliar with their film history, The Blair Witch Project is a low budget horror film that helped propel the found footage genre into the mainstream back in the 90’s. While the film was in development, the team at Haxan Films aired a segment for IFC’s Split Screen that presented the core mythos of the film as an earnest historical documentary, presenting the fictional disappearance of the film’s main characters as well as the equally fictional myth of the Blair Witch as if they really happened. The film’s mythos expanded with the release of an in-universe website alongside Curse of the Blair Witch, an expanded feature-length “documentary” that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel. The film’s efforts at blurring the lines between fiction and reality even extended to the filming itself – the actors were taken out into the woods with minimal information of what was to come, subjected to Haxan Films’ “scenario”. Ben Rock’s five-part series for Dread Central on helping create The Blair Witch Project should be required reading for those interested in all the sordid details that led to the film’s Sundance premiere.

The Blair Witch Project is getting a modern reboot, and is looking to honor the spirit of The Blair Witch Project by playing around with the often murky line between fact and fiction. It started with the film’s announcement. Initially billed as an Adam Wingard film named The Woods, Lionsgate waited until two months before the film’s release to reveal it was actually Blair Witch, a new installment to the franchise.

On The Absence of Closure
At face value, The Absence of Closure Kickstarter account is a perfectly legitimate campaign for a niche documentary film that never got made. Focusing on coping with loss, the documentary planned on highlighting how three people coped with the disappearance of their loved ones. Adamya’s wife went missing after a boating accident. Beverly’s son was pronounced MIA during Vietnam. And James’ older sister went missing in the woods on a camping trip with two friends.


The campaign’s backer updates contain everything you’d expect to see about Lisa Arlington buying new equipment, kicking off production, and interviewing the documentary’s subjects. She even set up a production blog to try and drum up support. But then, production takes an unexpected turn when Lisa stumbles across a video posted by “DarkNet666” to his website. The two get in contact, head out to film on location in Northwest Maryland, and then…radio silence.

The comments section reacted slowly to the silence, as people who chipped in to support a campaign about people struggling to deal with loved ones who vanished without a trace began to suspect that its creator also vanished without a trace. Heartfelt prayers for Lisa’s safety are juxtaposed against frustrated comments bemoaning the lack of backer updates and the likely death of the project. Finally, over a year later Lisa’s friend Kaylee Morgan managed to locate Lisa’s login credentials, confirming Lisa’s disappearance and highlighting the Finding Lisa Arlington Facebook Page as a resource for people looking to help. News articles posted to the page confirm that Lisa went missing with Peter Jones and Ashley Bennett and one as-yet-unidentified member of their expedition, likely “DarkNet666”.

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Zombies Run Expands to Virtual Races, Board Games


Lace up your favorite pair of running shoes. Pull up a playlist of some of your favorite songs. Finally, plug in your headphones. Now, you are Runner 5.

Some of you have been Runner 5 for quite some time now. Zombies, Run is well into its fifth season, with 190 missions from Abel Township to date. After finishing those missions, you may have volunteered for dozens of side missions and challenges to protect your village from zombie hordes, rival towns, evil scientists, and shady corporate interests. Others may have fallen behind. That’s okay – if you only go out running once a week, it would take over four years to catch up with Abel Township’s efforts to rebuild a semblance of civilization in the wake of a zombie apocalypse.

ARGNet has written at length about Zombies, Run in the past. But for those new to the free-to-play mobile game, Zombies, Run is an episodic audio narrative designed to blend seamlessly with your running experience. At the start of your run, just load up the app, choose a playlist, and begin your mission. As the series’ silent protagonist Runner 5, you are thrust directly into the narrative through a series of short audio drama vignettes to provide a narrative context behind your run. Your own playlist serves as the musical interludes between the story. Sometimes, tortured groans from zombie hordes serve as impetus to pick up the pace, or risk getting caught and devoured.

The free-to-play version of the game allows you to unlock one story mission a week. If that pace is too grueling, a $19.99 yearly membership unlocks every story mission, along with a host of other features.

Keeping Things Simple Through Iterative Design

Zombies, Run‘s success is built off the back of the most non-intrusive user interface in mobile gaming and its incredibly rich storyworld. It’s generally easy to spot players of other location-based games like Ingress and Pokemon Go on the streets, because gameplay is so heavily centered around looking down at your smartphones, and briefly stopping along your route at dozens of different locations. Zombies, Run still lures players into the real world for its gameplay, but does so more stealthily. It’s practically impossible to distinguish a Zombies, Run player from someone simply listening to a podcast or musical playlist on a long walk or run. And the game’s frequent updates have held to that core principle. Recent updates have made it easier for runners to binge through a series of missions by enabling auto-play functionality to get caught up on the 200+ episodes the first five seasons of Zombies, Run will eventually encompass. Audio syncing capabilities have expanded to allow runners to pull in music from external services like Spotify or Pandora to serve as soundtrack for their runs, expanding past the phone’s built-in playlists. And new offerings like 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and marathon training plans help provide structure to personal goals.

None of that would work without Zombies, Run‘s riveting narrative, which provides the backbone of the experience. Over the past five years Zombies, Run co-creator and lead writer Naomi Alderman has been leading the team of writers through the difficult task of guiding players through their role of silent protagonist through the trials and tribulations of post-apocalyptic survival. For the most recent narrative arc, Alderman notes,

Season 5 takes Runner further from home than we’ve ever been before, in search of the truth about the origins of the zombie plague. Season 5 also sees us have to tackle enemies who are more powerful – and know more about us – than any we’ve ever dealt with before. There’ll be wolves and bears, soldiers and spies and of course constant zombies chasing Runner 5.

The team clearly places a priority on ensuring the highest quality of writing and audio production goes into every mission, and the series pulls on writerly talent from sources ranging from the game’s own fan base to Alderman’s Arts Initiative mentor Margaret Atwood, for a brief cameo appearance.

Even Runners 5 who don’t expect to reach the newest content for a few years still have a few surprises in store for them. One of the more surprising projects in development is a Zombies, Run board game, coming soon to Kickstarter. The pending game is being pitched as “real-time, open world, story-driven, co-operative, and app enhanced.” The other main update? Virtual races.

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Set Aside the Month of July for “The Runner”


Fourteen years ago, Ben Affleck and Sean Bailey worked on a show for ABC together. Secret phrases were hidden in each episode of the show, with a million dollar prize set aside for the first to solve. Push, Nevada was an ambitious project. But this article isn’t about Push, Nevada. It’s about the other project they were pitching all those years ago, that’s finally seeing the light of day. It’s about The Runner…and another million dollars in prize money.

The Runner – Rules for the Road
The central conceit of The Runner is simple: one unidentified “Runner” is sent on the run, and five pairs of two “Chasers” are sent after them, facing arbitrary challenges to catch him. Every day the Runner remains uncaught, the bounty for capturing them goes up by $15K. Once a Runner is caught, the Chasers collect the bounty and a new Runner goes on the lam. If a Runner makes it to the end, they keep the bounty, plus a $50K bonus. Vice News reporter Kaj Larsen and YouTube game theorist MatPat (Matthew Patrick) serve as the show’s hosts.

Over the next thirty days, Larsen and Patrick will provide updates on the hunt’s progress three times a day. Every day kicks off with an episode introducing the puzzle to the Runner’s destination for the day, followed by a second puzzle as Chasers near the daily destination. Afternoon and evening episodes at 3PM EST and 10PM EST provide updates on the teams’ progress.

How to Win Money and Influence Friends
The show’s contestants have a chance at winning half a million dollars over the next thirty days…which leaves another half a million dollars available for the viewers at home to claim. Rather than giving it out in one lump sum, fans have quite a few ways to take home a few bucks for playing along.

The main way to win is to solve the puzzles alongside the Chasers. Every day, two America’s Ca$h Task (“ACT”) challenges will be posted on Viewers have one hour to solve the clues. For each ACT challenge, ten viewers to submit the correct answer will be selected at random to receive $500, for a total of $20,000 in prizes every day. Players can also win big by helping the Chase teams, as the five Chasers are also tasked with giving away one $1,000 “Chaser Cash” prize to one of their followers who helped them out every day. There are also “Social MVP” prizes for the most active viewers.

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Lonelygirl16? Here’s What You Might Have Missed


Ten years ago, Bree Avery started vlogging on a relatively new social platform called YouTube. To celebrate that milestone, a new video was uploaded to her channel yesterday. So, let’s try something a little different. Watch Bree’s first video blog. Got it? Great. Now watch the most recent upload to the channel.

Confused about how a girl making funny faces at the camera could evolve into some sort of cult indoctrination video? That’s perfectly understandable…this anniversary video wasn’t really designed for people with limited exposure to the lonelygirl15 universe. So here’s a brief initiation into one of YouTube’s earliest phenomenons.

Lonelygirl15: Bree’s not real…or is she?

Lonelygirl15 started so innocently. As a geeky, home-schooled teen with overbearing parents, Bree turned to YouTube with the help of her friend Daniel. Most of her early videos were opportunities to talk about her studies, complain about her parents, or just have some wholesome, pointless fun with her boy who was also a friend. Par for the course for the early days of the video sharing site, although the YouTube Community quickly pointed out that the quality of Bree’s videos were suspiciously high for a teen vlogger, and the two teens often seemed to offer more candor to the camera than each other.

More than anything else, lonelygirl15 is remembered for this blurring between the lines of fiction and reality. As the channel rose to be the most-subscribed channel on YouTube at the time. During this heady time of uncertainty, the author John Green wrote a blog entry about the situation, positing that

[Bree] gives viewers a sense that the story might be really real, and that we can uncover its really realness by paying close attention. It gives us a compelling reason to focus intently on the work…books, with few exceptions, cannot mimic this kind of realishness.

Green goes on to note that he hopes the realishness of these projects do not replace the written word since “I’m not good in front of the camera. Text is my only solid medium, and I need it to hang around.” Four months later, John and his brother Hank created the vlogbrothers YouTube account.

Four months after the channel launched, fans tracked down conclusive evidence that lonelygirl15 was a fictional project. The Guardian did an exceptional job of explaining how determined fans unmasked the show’s creators in a recent retrospective piece.

But while this is where the story ends for lonelygirl15 as a pop culture phenomenon, it also marks where the show’s actual story begins.

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Give Me Some Personal Space – No, Seriously


Imagine an alternate timeline where space exploration is funded by reality television. Hard to believe, I know. But in this alternate universe, it didn’t start out that way. In 1991, the American space program sent out the Overture hurtling out into deep space on a mission to reach a distant star. While most of the crew would travel in cryosleep, a skeleton crew of enterprising astronauts would serve in 25 year shifts. The year is 2016, and the first shift has ended. Unbeknownst to the crew, the American space program’s control over the mission has also ended, with Mission Control handing over the program to Actaeon Entertainment, a reality television company.

Personal Space is a web series that follows the story of the Overture’s second shift as told through the ship’s therapy computer, reprogrammed to broadcast crewmembers’ “private” sessions to the viewing public and stir up a bit more drama if things ever get too boring for the viewing audience back home. The web series’ 28 episode run plans on focusing on these vlog-style therapy sessions, peppered with color commentary by Actaeon Entertainment’s hosts and glimpses of Mission Control and its new role.

The project is created by Tom Pike, Dana Luery Shaw, and Zack Wallnau. The three previously worked together on Echo Chamber, a self-referential web series for that illustrated popular tropes through an overarching narrative before evolving into an alternate reality game for its third season. Shaw, who will be serving as Personal Space‘s transmedia producer, also worked as transmedia editor for Pemberley Digital’s Welcome to Sanditon. The three have attracted a stellar cast of characters to Personal Space. Joining the Overture crew after serving aboard Battlestar Galactica are Nicki Clyne, Richard Hatch, and Tahmoh Penikett. Star Trek: Voyager‘s Tim Russ will also be joining the crew, along with Sons of Anarchy veteran Kurt Yaeger. The series will also feature quite a few names familiar in the web series space, including Emma Approved‘s Brent Bailey, A Tell Tale Vlog‘s Sean Persaud, and The Mercury Men‘s Mark Tierno.

Exciting as this may sound, Personal Space still might not see the light of day. Unless the project raises $45K on Kickstarter before May 26th, the project will not be produced. While the future of the show itself still remains in question, transmedia elements have already started to roll out across the Kickstarter campaign with the release of Science Marches Han! Doctor Ian Han is the Overture-verse’s answer to Bill Nye, explaining the science behind the show with all the gusto and grainy footage you’ve come to expect from high quality 90’s edutainment, “best viewed at 240p”. The first of four episodes set to air during the Kickstarter campaign explains the nuclear pulse propulsion system powering the Overture.

In addition to Science Marches Han!, attentive followers of the Personal Space campaign might notice a short alternate reality game designed to provide a sneak peek into this puzzling alternate universe where space exploration and reality television combine. The campaign’s backer updates also include frequent vignettes into the Expanded Universe, filling in additional details leading up to this alternate 2016. Excerpts from Cryptobiosis: Killing Death, for instance, introduces readers to both the process of cryosleep and an impressive list of author Stan Blaszkiewicz’s favorite breads. Sadly, his scones list was cut off.

If the thought of watching a show about a ship full of astronauts subjected to the manipulation and distortion that comes part and parcel with reality television isn’t enough to win you over on Personal Space? The campaign’s transmedia elements play a powerful role in introducing viewers to both the capabilities of the team and the shape of the narrative in a way that goes beyond what can typically be extracted from a typical Kickstarter campaign video. As Shaw explains, “It’s a deep and complex storyworld that we’ve created, and it’s exciting to open so much of it up to our audience before the show even starts.”

To learn more about the exciting world of Personal Space, check out the show’s Kickstarter campaign. Backers receive early access to some of the extended universe features like the Science Marches Han! VHS recordings, but the updates follow soon after on the show’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Just remember, the campaign ends May 25th at 11:59PM (PST).

Archer Scavenger Hunt Returns for Season 7


Never give Dr. Algernop Krieger access administrative access to your website. Last year, the not-so-good doctor used a website for his side business to host screencaps of tentacle porn loosely based around his coworkers, livestreams from cameras hidden in public restrooms, and hacked cell phone pictures featuring coworkers in compromising positions. And those same coworkers just put Krieger in charge of managing the website for their new private investigations agency, The Figgis Agency. That’s right, the Emmy Award winning scavenger hunt for FX’s animated series Archer has returned with a vengeance.

The Algersoft Incident
During Archer season 6, curious fans noticed that the dossier on CIA agent Conway Stern had a serial number in hexadecimal code that briefly appeared onscreen during the season’s second episode. The hex code drove to a video with a hidden message in the audio spectrogram, providing the key to an encrypted url featured in the season’s seventh episode, leading to an anonymous Craigslist posting looking for volunteer test subjects, which in turn led to a Reddit post by Krieger in Reddit’s /r/cyborgs subreddit, before finally leading people to the website and the season’s main puzzle. Confused? Don’t worry, the scavenger hunt’s creators released a flowchart after the final puzzle was solved.

Without delving too much into the details, the primary goal of the scavenger hunt was to break into Krieger’s “” file. Not because someone said it was important…just because it was there, and if Krieger protected and labeled something as insurance it had to be juicy. To do so, Archer fans needed to beat a flash game on hard mode to unlock the web app [email protected] to bruteforce an encrypted message that eventually led to a previously unnoticed easter egg from Archer season 5 where the pool balls in an episode spelled out “CHOKE ME” after converting the numbers to text. Convert that phrase back into hexadecimal, and unlocks to reveal…

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Yer A Witch, Christinia! A Magical ARG Launch

Harry picked it up and stared at it, his heart twanging like a giant elastic band. No one, ever, in his whole life, had written to him. Who would? He had no friends, no other relatives – he didn’t belong to the library so he’d never even got rude notes asking for books back. Yet here it was, a letter, addressed so plainly there could be no mistake:

Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
Little Whinging

-Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, JK Rowling

Remember that moment when Harry Potter got his acceptance letter, only to have it roughly snatched away by Mr Dursley? A magical destiny, unknowingly stolen away just like that. Who knows what would have happened if the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry didn’t have the most obstinate dead letter department ever devised. Which is why I owe Ms. Christinia Forshee one heck of an apology.

Let me explain. Earlier this week, I received this package in the mail. Perfectly normal box, except for a message “spelled” out on the side using Elder Futhark runes, stating “SPIRIT OF CONFUSION / MAY THIS PARCEL / NEVER REACH CHRISTINIA”.
spirit-of-konfusionNot even considering the possibility that this was a magical incantation designed to divert the parcel from its intended recipient, I opened the box up to find a small trunk containing an acceptance letter from “LEDA”, welcoming Christinia Forshee to her magical studies and providing her with the tools to get started with her education.

After brushing aside purple cloth swaddling the trunk’s contents, I uncovered a large red candle, four small vials of fragrant herbs, a bag of small black stones marked with the 24 characters of the runic alphabet, a deck of tarot cards, and four small vials of fragrant herbs – chamomile, lavender, rosemary, and peppermint. Shards of a smaller fifth vial were also present, and references in the full acceptance letter lead me to believe it was meant to contain gemstones imbued with Leda’s power.


One final secret was hidden within the tarot cards. While skimming through the deck, I noticed letters written in the lower right corner on many of the trump cards, as well as certain cards in the Cups and Wands suits. Sorting those cards spelled out an additional message, “BEWARE THE BLUE LADY SHE IS POISON SHE ONLY CRAVES STRIFE”.


One of the most impressive aspects of the launch of this alternate reality game is its economy of storytelling. Currently, the only overt narrative in this piece of fiction is an acceptance letter from “LEDA”, welcoming Christinia Forshee to her new magical life. We don’t even know for sure if Leda is a person or a school. But we have learned that runes are important enough to the magical system to warrant arming new students with runic stones, and that a phrase hastily scrawled on the side of a box is powerful enough to divert it from its rightful owner. Herbs possess power in their own right, gems can be imbued with it, and tarot cards can serve as a window into the unknown.

There are also hints of conflict in the near future. Someone doesn’t want Christinia to begin her magical education, and has the access and ability to divert official school missives. Someone also found a way to sneak a warning about a “Blue Lady” into her deck of tarot cards, assuming the cards would reach her. And Christinia’s plans of documenting her magical studies on a blog? Not exactly the most popular decision.

To learn more about Christinia’s magical studies, check out her blog at, or other places she might be using to establish an online presence. And on the off chance she doesn’t know she’s been accepted? Pass along the good news – I’d hate to Vernon Dursley someone’s magical destiny from them.

Everything You (Probably Don’t) Need to Know About Cloverfield


Bad Robot is releasing a new Cloverfield movie on 03-11-16, more than eight years after its cinematic debut. The film, 10 Cloverfield Lane, isn’t exactly an official sequel to the original, but has been described by JJ Abrams as a “blood relative” to the film. Whether this blood relative will mark the return of the enigmatic Cloverfield Monster remains to be seen, but the familial resemblance is evident with 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s new alternate reality game.

It’s highly doubtful that a thorough understanding of a eight-year-old viral marketing campaign will be required to enjoy the return to the Cloverfield universe…but then again, it can’t hurt to be prepared for anything.

The Mystery of 1-18-08
On July 4, 2007 moviegoers were treated to a trailer for a JJ Abrams film with no name. All they had to go on was shaky footage of the surprise farewell party for a cool dude named Rob, wholesale destruction of property by…something, and a date: 1-18-08.

From the date, players quickly discovered the (now-defunct), which served as home for a growing collection of photographs. Click on a picture and shake it enough, and you might flip it over and find a message or two. Stay on the site long enough, and you might catch a muffled roar. But for the “main” Cloverfield site? That was pretty much it.

The story emerged as players explored beyond the photographs. One path led players to tracking down (now blank) MySpace profiles of a group of friends that would eventually gather for an ill-fated party on January 18, 2008. Yes, MySpace. Hey, it was a different time. Jamie Lascano was particularly active, and set up the website to document her only slightly creepy long distance relationship with Teddy Hanssen through a series of private vlogs, protected under the password “jllovesth”.

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Huntception and the Art of the Meta


Once a year hundreds of MIT students, alumni, and puzzle enthusiasts converge in Cambridge for a weekend of almost impossible puzzles, tied together under a light narrative theme. In the five years I’ve been participating in the MIT Mystery Hunt, teams have been asked to turn to puzzles to put on a Broadway musical, rob a bank, save Wonderland, and explore the ocean’s depths. Progress at the Mystery Hunt is driven by tackling meta-puzzles: puzzles that leverage solutions from a group of puzzles as elements of a larger puzzle. The 2016 Hunt prominently featured its elegantly crafted meta-puzzles, delivering a master-class in solid puzzle design.

This article will explore some of those puzzle design choices. In order to discuss those choices, it will be necessary to “spoil” the answers to quite a few puzzles in the Hunt, so read at your own risk. If you want to try your hand at the Hunt spoiler-free, stop reading now and explore the 2016 Hunt website, which conveniently features detailed solutions to every puzzle in the hunt alongside the puzzles themselves.

Theming and the Meta-Puzzle: The Red Herring
Every MIT Mystery Hunt starts with a kick-off event that introduces the year’s theme. This year, kickoff attendees were informed that the 64 participating teams were competing for the top spot in a Dog Show. Sure, there were a few glitches during kickoff. Slides showing scores to future football games…PowerPoint slides responding to questions from the presenter…all clearly red herrings. The 2016 Mystery Hunt was going to be all about cute, adorable puppies competing.

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Cards Against Humanity Locks Dad in Basement for Holidays

Cards Against Humanity gave their fans nothing for Black Friday this year. More specifically, they sold their fans nothing for $5 a person. It was quite the profitable venture for them, too…they earned $71K with their blow-out sale, giving the company’s non-founding members a well-deserved holiday bonus. And they’ll have earned it, after the logistic nightmare they’ve endured preparing for another year of Cards Against Humanity’s holiday bullshit.

At this point, Cards Against Humanity asking their nearest and dearest fans to give them money in exchange for a series of random gifts (and puzzles) over the holiday season has become a tradition. In 2013, the company embraced their Christmas cheer with 12 Days of Holiday Bullshit, sending 100K fans everything from lumps of coal to personalized Cards Against Humanity Cards. In 2014 the holiday of choice shifted to the Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa, bringing an expanded list of 150K fans good tidings, miracle berries, and rights to a 1×1 square plot on an island in Maine. This year, it’s all about Eight Sensible Gifts, embracing their practicality and Hanukkah cheer.

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A Day Pass for Boston-Area Puzzling at Boda Borg


I have a problem. Years of playing alternate reality games and transmedia storytelling experiences have trained me to love room escape games. Getting locked in a room and relying on a group of friends to figure out what we’re supposed to do to get out? Pretty much my dream come true. But there are a limited number of rooms in Philadelphia, and I’ve done them all. And for the most part, it’s not as fun playing a room escape game for a second time. It’s like going to the same murder mystery dinner party twice. Once you know everyone’s secrets and whodunnit, you’re either stuck watching on the sidelines, or end up spoiling the mystery for everyone else.

Okay, so I’ve done all three rooms currently running in Philadelphia. But there are hundreds of rooms running globally, so I can still scratch my room escape game itch when I’m on vacation…but I have to do it alone, unless the friends I’m visiting haven’t similarly run through all of their local games. Otherwise, I’m stuck waiting for more rooms to open up in my area, or for escape room designers to find a way to make their games more replayable. Luckily, Boda Borg has come up with a solution to both problems.

Boda Borg started in Sweden, and has been running “reality games” since the mid-90s, long before the current wave of room escape games swept their way through Asia and North America. Boda Borg currently has eight locations in Sweden and Ireland, but only recently opened their first North American location in Boston. The core concept is the same: a small team of participants enter the room, and have to figure out how to use the surrounding objects to get out of the room. But because Boda Borg evolved independently from traditional room escape games, the experience is considerably different, in practice. The main difference? The rooms are designed for teams to fail fast, and fail frequently.

Boda Borg’s business model enables this “fail fast” mentality. Rather than reserving a room for a particular time slot, Boda Borg Boston offers a 2-hour pass for $18, or an all-day pass for $28. This buys unlimited access to the building’s 20 “Quests”. Each Quest’s difficulty is rated primarily on the physical demands of the rooms, with “Green” rooms focusing on cognitive challenges, “Red” quests requiring moderate physical activity, and “Black” quests requiring…well, let’s just say “Black” quests lie somewhere between Survivor challenges and American Ninja Warrior, on the difficulty scale. Players who realize a Quest is too cognitively or physically demanding for them can easily move on and try a different room, finding the perfect fit for their personal appetite for challenge.

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Getting SuperBetter with Jane the Concussion Slayer


Four years ago, Jane McGonigal released Reality is Broken to make a case for the positive benefits of games, both as an anti-escapist outlet for personal growth and as a template for tackling serious societal challenges. The focus of Reality is Broken was on dissecting the core principles of game design, providing a series of case studies on how those principles were used to tackle big problems, and creating a community of game developers interested in making “gameful experiences.” Reality is Broken is a book of big solutions for big problems. It’s turning to games to encourage entrepreneurship in Africa, or to reinvent education to be more fun and rewarding for students. The book’s spiritual successor, SuperBetter, tells a much more personal story, of making the world better one person at a time.

Jane McGonigal, Concussion Slayer
Halfway through writing Reality is Broken, McGonigal slammed her head into a cabinet door and suffered a serious concussion that took away many of the things she loved most. To help recover McGonigal assumed a secret identity as Jane the Concussion Slayer. Over the following weeks, she recruited her friends to serve as Buffy the Vampire Slayer-themed allies as she identified the “bad guys” (triggers that made her feel worse) and “power-ups” (concrete actions she could take to feel better) to get better. Longer-term quests helped her along the road to recovery. Jane the Concussion Slayer was a highly personal and transformative experience for McGonigal.

During her research, McGonigal learned that while traumatic events can lead to post traumatic stress disorder, they can also serve as opportunities for people to reevaluate their priorities and experience post-traumatic growth, coming out of their crisis better than they were before. Further research indicated it’s even possible to voluntarily embrace a difficult challenge to experience similar benefits without the trauma, as post-ecstatic growth. SuperBetter is McGonigal’s attempt to tell their own stories of growth, whether in response to personal trauma or as a voluntary route to betterment.

The release of Jane McGonigal’s newest book SuperBetter is not the game’s global debut. McGonigal released the basic framework for it six years ago on her blog, She went on to recount the story in Reality is Broken, before creating a free online portal to make it easier to guide people through the process. The game has been around for a while. The book provides a rationale for playing, an overview of the studies that influenced its design, and a roadmap to start playing the game.

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Pokémon Go into the Wild with Niantic’s Latest Game

Three years ago, Google’s Niantic Labs released Ingress. Since the game’s launch, a lot has changed. The Ingress playerbase has swelled from a couple thousand beta testers to more than 12 million players, with over a million players logging in every day. Frequent live events at locations across the globe encourage hundreds of players to converge at key cities to compete for their faction and the opportunity to influence the game’s narrative. The company launched (and concluded) an alternate reality game for the ancient aliens themed Endgame franchise. Last month, Niantic Labs spun off from Google, forming its own company.

Niantic is making a splash with its transition to independent game developer, announcing that their next collaboration would be with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company, to create a free-to-play mobile game for iOS and Android devices that would bring Pokémon into the real world, coming in 2016. Pokémon‘s core game mechanics will be retained for Niantic’s spin on the franchise, providing players with the ability to catch, trade, and battle their virtual companions. The main difference? With Pokémon GO, gameplay would rely on location data, encouraging players to hunt down specific locations to discover new Pokémon.

Even if it doesn’t provide much insight into what the game will look like on a smartphone screen, the game’s teaser trailer does offer hints at the intended gameplay, with wild Pokémon scattering the virtual landscape similar to how Ingress‘ own portals provide a virtual backdrop to the real world. Players would be able to trade Pokémon with people nearby, or challenge them to battles. The game even hints at what Niantic’s most recent spin on live events would be, with hundreds of players gathered at Times Square for a raid to collectively battle Legendary Pokémon like Mewtwo.

Ingress‘ biggest strength is the social ties it helps forge, and in many ways, the Pokémon model is more fitting for the set of tools Niantic built out. By making certain Pokémon harder to find in certain regions and allowing players to battle each other, there’s a lot more to do at the live events and gatherings that have become a cornerstone of both the Ingress and the Pokemon communities. And with Game Freak’s Junichi Masuda contributing to the project with a focus on connecting Pokémon GO with the main series of video games, there might even be a little blend between projects. It wouldn’t be the first time: a series of Pokémon-themed pedometers allowed players to  level up their Pokémon by walking.

A Group of Friends, Mourning Brian Clark


“All art movements start with a small group of friends…when historians look back on this phase in art, the movement that we will be a part of, what they will marvel at is how interconnected we are.” Brian Clark was fascinated with the formation of movements and creating scenes, and was tireless in his efforts to foster a community of creators looking to find new ways of telling stories in the digital age. Yesterday, Brian passed away after a brief bout with cancer, leaving behind a community and industry he affected deeply.

As president of GMD Studios (originally Global Media Design), Clark helped construct the web realities for Nothing So Strange and Freakylinks, extending the narrative storytelling of film and television onto the internet. He continued exploring different ways of telling stories through his work on beloved alternate reality games like Sega’s Beta-7, Audi’s Art of the Heist, and Eldritch Errors. His projects delighted in stretching the boundaries of fictional worlds outside their comfort zones, asking players to do everything from “stealing” SD cards out of cars on display at events to joining characters at a Lovecraftian cabin in the woods.

Clark worked tirelessly behind the scenes to mentor new creators in the space, offering them help on everything from the craft of subversive storytelling to the realities of running a small business, including knowing what to charge for their work. He delighted in playing with other peoples’ creations and testing their limits, whether that meant donning a Ronald Reagan mask and dancing under his “Jihadi Jazzhands” persona, or creating a well-endowed, chain-smoking sock puppet named “She-Crab” for a game originally intended for children. He was an irrepressible prankster, leading to frequently outlandish conversations punctuated by his staccato laughter.

His impact was not limited to the alternate reality gaming and transmedia storytelling arenas: he was a founding member of Indiewire, helped create an online marketplace for brand journalism, worked on a documentary about the next generation of astronauts, has been accused on occassion of inventing the spambot, and found a creative use for LinkedIn’s “endorsements” functionality.

More than anything, he’s been the dynamo that vociferously argued for the people who knew him to resist complacency, pushing them to make things to see if they’d work, and to figure out what went wrong when they didn’t. People impacted by Clark have turned to Facebook to offer their condolences and share their memories of him by sharing “things I learned from Brian Clark”.

We’re going to miss you, Brian. You took your not-so-small group of friends, and fused them into something bigger through the generosity of your friendship and the sheer force of your personality.

“Zombies, Run” Now Free to Good Post-Apocalyptic Home


Four years ago, a little over three thousand people raised $72K on Kickstarter to make Six to Start’s Zombies, Run a post-apocalyptic reality. The smartphone app allowed runners to step into the role of Abel Township’s Runner 5, the largely silent protagonist collecting supplies for the town in a world infested with zombies. Three seasons and over 200 missions later, over a million people purchased the game, following its often heart-wrenching story as Runner 5 gradually gets to know the inhabitants of Abel Township, neighboring settlements, and the truth behind the zombie infestation. And now, with season 4, Zombies, Run has gone free-to-play.

One of the challenges that Zombies, Run faces is that while it’s an exceptionally intuitive game to pick up, it’s deceptively hard to describe to people who haven’t plugged in a pair of headphones and entered a new audio landscape. It’s easy to assume the game’s appeal is the thrill of the chase: the spike in adrenaline as the moans and groans of an undead horde interrupts an evening jog, and the dread realization that with every step, they’re getting closer. And while the zombie chases are a rush, it’s an optional feature in a game that focuses on a compelling narrative to convince its players to keep coming back out for more. It’s temptation bundling at work – a compelling narrative with fascinating characters you can only encounter while on the move. The ragtag band of survivors in Abel Township has inspired a vibrant fan community.

Zombies, Run‘s shift to the free-to-play model was intended to help make it easier for people to experience the game. As Zombies, Run co-creator and Six to Start CEO Adrian Hon explains,

[the game] has a great hook but a lot of people still think it’s just zombie groans and chases…unlike Monument Valley or 80 Days or Candy Crush, where you can understand the game from just a screenshot or video, Zombies, Run really requires people to try it out…going free-to-play helps people over that hurdle.

So now, players experiencing Zombies, Run for the first time receive access to the first four missions of season 1 right off the bat. Once a week, they have the ability to unlock a new mission to add to their growing repertoire. As a thank you to returning players, anyone who previously purchased a copy of Zombies, Run receives the first three seasons for free, and can use their weekly mission downloads to gradually claim the newest season as it’s released.

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A Brief ESC into Eddie’s Social Committee


You enter a dimly lit room. As you cross the threshold, you’re handed a mobile device and directed to stand over a luminescent circle on the floor, facing the curved video screen taking up an entire wall. Colored lights stream down from overhead, dividing you and your fellow players into teams. After keying in your location to your controller, you’re ready to dive into a moderately massive multi-player game. You’re ready for Eddie’s Social Committee.

Created by Edwin Schlossberg and ESI Design, Eddie’s Social Committee (ESC) is a platform for highly immersive multi-player gaming, delivering social gaming writ large, synchronizing large screen gameplay with dynamic lighting and haptic feedback for a surround-sound experience. Souped-up iPod Touch controllers drive the experience, allowing players to tap, swipe, and tilt their avatars through a series of mini-games with the room’s lighting programmed to literally shine a spotlight on each game’s top performers.


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ARG Behind Tim Kring’s New Show DIG, Decoded

dig-decoded-journalEmma Wilson’s journal, on

The premiere of Dig, Tim Kring and Gideon Raff’s newest thriller on USA Network, DIG, is only two weeks away. But in many ways, the 10-episode series remains an enigma. In DIG, FBI agent Peter Connely (played by Harry Potter veteran Jason Isaacs) is stationed in Jerusalem, and finds himself tangled in a 2,000 year old conspiracy while digging into the murder of a young American. Beyond that, there are only tantalyzing trailers hinting at something hidden in the Promised Land to whet the appetite. Fans will just have to wait and see where the producers of Heroes and Homeland will be going with the mystery…unless, of course, the answer can be found buried deep within the show’s alternate reality game, DIG Decoded.

The DIG promotional engine has been revving up for a while now, with an official prequel novella posted to Wattpad that introduced the curious to Connely’s previous case for the FBI, tracking down the cyber-criminal known only as “Akula” for the theft of $25 million from the US Treasury across the streets of Jerusalem. The tale introduces Connely to the reader, along with Jerusalem’s FBI office head Lynn Monahan (played by Anne Heche) and Israeli detective Golan Cohen (played by Ori Pfeffer). USA Network announced a series of room escape games that will provide further insight into the world of DIG, with free puzzle adventures going live in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Hollywood, and Orlando starting February 26.

Many of the transmedia storytelling elements for DIG are scheduled to build up hype for the show’s March 5 launch, but the DIG Decoded alternate reality game that launched on February 19 is set to run in parallel with the show, with weekly installments adding to the narrative through the show’s May finale. While DIG‘s Wattpad story introduced fans to the show’s major players from law enforcement, the DIG Decoded alternate reality game prominently features the show’s archaeological cast. The story begins through the lens of a journal compiled by archaeologist Emma Wilson (played by A Fine Frenzy’s Alison Sudol), whose story drives the initial narrative. In the introductory chapter of the ARG, a series of photographs, news clippings, text messages, journal articles and videos follow Wilson from her fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania to participate in a dig at the Temple Mount, one of Jerusalem’s holiest locations.

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The Puzzling Rise of the Escape Room Game


Image of Tomb’s sarcophagus illumination puzzle. ©2015, 5 Wits Productions, Inc.  Used by permission.

The first time I visited Boston, I met up with a group of friends and broke into an ancient Egyptian burial chamber. The tomb’s resident pharaoh was not exceptionally happy about our flagrant act of trespass, and forced our group of amateur archaeologists to solve a series of puzzles before barely escaping with our lives.

The rooms in the tomb were designed with a family-friendly audience in mind, and our guide throughout the experience embraced his role with an exuberant gusto I had only seen before from a skipper on Disney’s Jungle Cruise. The experience managed to make even familiar puzzles feel extraordinary: no matter how many times you’ve solved Tower of Hanoi puzzles in the comfort of your own home, it’s a completely different experience when you’re passing oversized pieces across the room while the ceiling is slowly crashing down overhead.

When 5 Wits‘ puzzle adventure Tomb set up shop in Boston in 2004, it was something of a rarity. The interactive exhibit mixed theatrics with physical puzzles to make its guests feel like swashbuckling adventurers narrowly escaping danger thanks to their collective intelligence. And the design was flexible enough to reward that success, allowing for multiple endings based on groups’  performance. While the original location is now closed, the 5-Wits moved Tomb to Tennessee, launching additional puzzle experiences in Washington DC, Massachusetts, and New York covering themes ranging from undersea exploration to espionage. Over the past decade, this type of immersive puzzle experience has expanded exponentially, with hundreds of locations putting down roots across the globe. For many, visiting the nearest real-life escape room is a day-trip away.

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Fragmented Stories in the Cloud Chamber


Image courtesy of Investigate North

Kathleen Petersen, Deputy Director of Research at the Petersen institute, has gone missing. Hoping to learn what became of Kathleen, her co-workers Max and Thomas shared the footage of their investigations into the mysterious signal they were tasked with investigating at the Institute…the same signal that heralded Kathleen’s gradual emotional deterioration and disappearance.

Investigate North’s Cloud Chamber is a video game that attempts to cleanse itself of nearly every design element typically associated with video games. In it, players assume the role of investigator, poring through video footage and scanned evidence to piece together the exact nature of the Petersen Institute’s research into the enigmatic signal, and to figure out what happened to Kathleen. Stripped of traditional methods of interaction, players unlock a branching spiderweb of evidence by selecting a piece of evidence represented by a node, exploring it, and discussing the new information’s implications with fellow players.

The evidence in Cloud Chamber is presented with minimal context, organizing the evidence thematically rather than chronologically. For example, in Part I, where the focus is on Kathleen’s disappearance, players are thrust into the experience through a computer-generated island and presented with a single question, “What is the Signal?” Selecting that question pulls up a video that begins the faux documentary in media res, as the game’s three protagonists break into the Petersen Institute’s roof. While there, the three tap into a massive antenna to listen to a signal without ever properly introducing who they are, why they are interested in the signal, or even what it sounds like. Watching that video unlocks a winding path along the island to “Her Decision”, a series of short, unordered snippets showing a frazzled Kathleen’s emotional deterioration before finally unlocking the video “You are Entering”, where Max and Thomas explain that they plan on releasing everything they’ve learned and appeal for the player’s help in finding out what happened to Kathleen.


The game’s story nodes focus on delivering a high level of authenticity, while the game engine itself delivers a surreal context that takes players from the initial island into increasingly surreal dreamscapes that resemble everything from outer space to neural networks. The juxtaposition of story and game environment should be jarring. But somehow, switching back and forth from the story’s “found footage” storytelling format to an abstract web of connections makes it easier to fall into an almost trance-like state while progressing.

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The Solution to Cards Against Humanity’s Puzzling Obsession with Bullshit


Images of the Reddit expedition to Hawaii 2 courtesy of Pewwer42

Shortly after Christmas, a group of Redditors met up, planning on making the trek to an uninhabited island near Lake Saint George Park in Maine. Previous expeditions to the island confirmed the presence of a wooden shed containing a massive safe at the southern tip of the island: but without the six digit passcode to unlock it, the safe’s contents remained a mystery. Finally, after almost a month of poring over websites, YouTube videos, and physical mailings, community members felt fairly confident they had the passcode that would unveil the safe’s contents.

All this, because of a bit of Holiday Bullshit.

A Little Bullshit Backstory

For this year’s Black Friday promotion, Cards Against Humanity made headlines by removing their popular card game from the market, and replacing it with Black Friday Bullshit – for $6, the company would mail its customers literal bullshit in a box. No more, and no less. At the same time, the company was promoting a separate dose of bullshit for the holidays. While the Black Friday Bullshit promotion was perfectly clear in what it was offering, Cards Against Humanity’s Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa promotion at provided almost no guidance about what it would deliver: only that, for $15, the company would send ten mailings containing…just about anything.

Fans of the company had some idea of what they might expect by using the previous year’s Holiday Bullshit mailings as guidance: a handful of exclusive and personalized Cards Against Humanity cards, a miniaturized prototype of a game, a few comics, maybe a charitable donation to a worthy cause. But for the most part, $15 purchased the ability to find a surprise waiting in the mailbox for a few days…alongside access to an expansive puzzle hunt that promised to be bigger than the last.

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Cards Against Humanity Releases Another Bullshit Puzzle

cards-against-humanity-solutionCards Against Humanity doesn’t approach its marketing efforts like most companies. Nominally, they sell a highly irreverent card game where players compete to find the most outrageous response to a prompt from their hand of cards. In practice, the Chicago-based company has used its past successes to finance a series of elaborate pranks to entertain its ardent fanbase and transform purchasing a casual party game into an experience…which is a good thing, since they give the game away for free on their website (some printing required). Two years ago they celebrated the holidays with a pay-what-you-want expansion pack, and then released an infographic breaking down how much people paid and donating the proceeds to charity. To encourage players to buy the expansion sets, the company sold an extra-long box for holding the game, The Bigger Blacker Box, to store the cards. Without telling anyone, they hid a secret card in the inner lining of the box. For their Black Friday sale last year, they increased prices. When they took out advertisements at last year’s PAX East, they used the platform to promote their made-up company, PWNMEAL: Extreme Gaming Oatmeal.

All of these efforts pale in comparison to the company’s Holiday Bullshit campaign. Last year, Cards Against Humanity asked 100,000 people to give them $12 in exchange for 12 mystery gifts from the company as part of its 12 Days of Holiday Bullshit. As thanks, the company donated $100K to, sent out an early edition of a sex party-themed card game, mailed limited edition customized Cards Against Humanity cards, and even sent fans a lump of coal. And hidden within each mailing? A fiendish puzzle that took fans working together on Reddit’s holidaybullshit subreddit months to solve. Holiday Bullshit is back once more, promises to deliver an even harder puzzle than before.

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Endgame Variations: Multiple Play Styles for the End of the World


Tens of thousands of years ago, mankind’s earliest civilizations were visited by extraterrestrial beings. Due to their superior knowledge and technology, these early visitors were treated as gods. Native Americans knew them as the Sky People. To the Sumerians, they were the Annunaki. Whatever they were called, these visitors came to earth and instructed mankind, leaving behind countless monuments behind. At least, that’s what some people claim. The theory commonly referred to as the “ancient astronaut hypothesis” serves as the foundation for a cross-platform collaboration between James Frey’s Full Fathom Five, HarperCollins, Google’s Niantic Labs, and Fox Searchlight.

According to Endgame‘s legend, Earth’s ancient alien visitors warned mankind that they would return one day for a reckoning known as Endgame. Some believe it to be a punishment for squandering the aliens’ enlightenment, and straining earth’s resources, while others view it as a method of selecting a favored sub-section of humanity for preservation. Whatever the cause, the nature of Endgame is clear: twelve of the most ancient civilizations must select a teenager to represent their society in a deadly treasure hunt where failure means death — the only survivors of Endgame are the members of the winning civilization. For thousands of years, the twelve societies have been training potential representatives from birth to save their people, in case Endgame should fall to their generation. Finally, after over thirty thousand years, twelve meteorites touched down, signaling the beginning of Endgame, and twelve teenagers started their journey to locate three keys hidden across the globe.

This narrative serves as the core of the Endgame experience across every platform. However, people interested in exploring the world of Endgame are presented with a number of dramatically different ways to interact with the story. For players looking for a solitary experience, puzzles infused into the novel leads to the secret to unlocking approximately $500,000 in gold coins kept on display at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. For those looking for a more social gaming experience, an alternate reality game delves deeper into Endgame‘s backstory, while an upcoming mobile app allowing players to take the conflict to the streets in a competitive, PVP style of gameplay.
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Google Rolls Out Ingress to iOS Devices


In November 2012, Google introduced its Ingress scanner app to the Google Play store. And for almost two years, the central point of interaction for Google’s deeply immersive alternate reality game has been an Android exclusive. That changes today: with the release of Ingress‘s scanner app to the iTunes Store, the world of Ingress has officially rolled out on iOS devices.

The Ingress scanner app asks players to join the green Enlightened or blue Resistance faction in a battle for control over portals tied to real world landmarks. The game has a sizeable player base within the Android community. Over 12,000 players have gathered for the game’s frequent live events in cities across the globe so far in 2014, and the game boasts over 4 million downloads. With the expansion into iOS devices, an influx of new players is likely.

To help ease new players into the game, Ingress is introducing new elements to ease the transition into a deep narrative running beneath the game’s surface, and a community that continues to blossom as they take on increasingly extravagant challenges. The primary conduit for introducing new players to the world of Ingress is a new web series featuring two sisters who signed up to play the game for opposite factions, Ingress Obsessed, complementing the existing Ingress Report videos.

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Five Years of Story Revealed Through Trials and Error


RedLynx Studios’ Trials games are pure, unadulterated evil.

The basic premise of their motorcycle racing game has remained largely unchanged over the past decade: navigate through a series of unforgiving and often lethal obstacles to complete the track. More often than not, the “reward” for completing a track is to witness your rider explore new and creative ways to die. Given the game’s unforgiving learning curve, cycling through hundreds of riders on a single track is par for the course. And for most players, that’s where the story ends. Riders enter the track, riders finish the track, and riders die. But for players willing to dig a little deeper, Trials hides a deeper mystery.

It all started in 2009 with Trials HD, RedLynx’s console debut. Many of Trials HD‘s levels contained a series of codes, ciphers, and objects referencing key moments in history tied to the advancement of science and the arts. One level’s course was built around Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, with the song’s notes appearing in the background as the rider’s path followed the rise and fall of the famous song. A projection at the end of another level replicated Charles Darwin’s famous Tree of Life sketch, exploring his theory of evolution. Prototypes of Da Vinci’s inventions provided the backdrop for another level. Even JJ Abrams’ Mystery Box typifying his approach to the integration of mystery in storytelling makes an appearance. Intrigued, players identified the connections between the disparate scientific advances highlighted in the game to reveal metaphysical musings from the game’s creative director, Antti “ANBA” Ilvessuo, on the meaning of life. In Ilvessuo’s vision, much of this thought culminates with the Voyager probe and its Golden Record, as an attempt to reach out to life outside our solar system.

When Trials Evolution was released in 2012, Ilvessuo and the team at RedLynx hid instructions to an even more unforgiving puzzle, despite its more straightforward solution. Various stages in the game contained signposts featuring a message encoded with a Vignere cipher, using text from the Bohr-Einstein debates as the key. Following the instructions unlocked an audio track leading to the website, which soon featured a string of icons representing key moments in science in a manner highly reminiscent of the Trials HD puzzle trail. Matching the names of famous scientists with their discoveries provided an alphabetic cipher for one final riddle before GPS coordinates for four locations in Helsinki, Sydney, Bath, and San Francisco were revealed. Players who went to each location treasure chests containing keys, along with instructions to take the key to Paris, France on August 1, 2113. On that date, one of five keys will open a box underneath the Eiffel Tower.

That’s right: a video game about motorcycle racing is planning on unveiling a mystery box at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in a hundred years, and the mystery box can only be opened by one of five keys entrusted to future generations.

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The Art Hunters Turns Springfield Art Museum Into Crime Scene


The Springfield Art Museum has been plagued with some serious security problems this summer. Last week, George Caleb Bingham’s Portrait of Fanny Smith Crenshaw went missing, transforming the painting’s location into a crime scene. This week, it’s Roger Shimomura’s Kansas Samurai. If cracking the case meant tracking down art thieves unloading their inventory on the black market, the authorities would be well equipped to handle the case. However, the museum suspects these disappearances are an inside job: paintings are coming to life and escaping their frames, breaking out from the inside. So they called in the experts: the Art Hunters.

Shane Beckworth and Brock Hansen are a pair of hard-as-nails art retrieval specialists and co-founders of The Art Hunters, an organization that specializes in art that comes to life. Every week, the duo tackle a new case featured on their online reality show, and enlist the aid of the show’s Art Hunter Reservist fans to track down the missing artwork and return it to the museum. During the show’s premiere episode, Reservists followed a series of clues scattered throughout the Springfield Art Museum that led them to the Maple Park Cemetery. At the cemetery, they discovered the real Fanny Smith Crenshaw’s tombstone, providing Beckworth and Hansen all the information they needed to convince Bingham’s portrait to return to her frame.

Art Hunters Online is an alternate reality game created by the Springfield Art Museum in Springfield, Missouri and red40 Entertainment. The project is set to run through July 17th, with six weeks of escaped art to keep the local community occupied over the summer. Weekly videos introduce the weekly case, informing Reservists where to go to find the missing artwork’s crime scene and its corresponding puzzle trail. By focusing on artwork that has deep significance to the city, the hunt can extend beyond the museum to locations across the city. Solving the puzzles along the way provides a special code that can be entered into the Art Hunters Online website to unlock the second half of the weekly video, depicting how Beckworth and Hansen recapture the escaped art.

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ARGFest Hosts 10-Year Reunion for Bee Enthusiasts in Portland


Ten years ago, the website for Margaret’s House of Bees started acting strangely. Many of the site’s images were glitched beyond recognition, and nonsensical text covered up articles about the Napa Valley-based apiary.

While many of the people who gathered to troubleshoot a bee enthusiast’s website refer to themselves as “Beekeepers”, a passion for the cultivation of honey wasn’t the only reason over half a million people flocked to over the next four months. I Love Bees was an alternate reality game that introduced Halo fans to the first-person shooter’s rich backstory through over a five-hour long audio drama released into the world through pay phone calls, blog posts, emails, and websites in bite-sized chunks.

Between Thursday July 31st and Saturday August 2nd, many of I Love Bees‘ creators and some of its most dedicated players will gather together to celebrate the anniversary in Portland for ARGFest, an annual conference, festival, and meetup that brings together the creators and fans of alternate reality games, transmedia storytelling projects, and serious games.

On Thursday July 31st, ARGFest is adding the IDEA Symposium, with a series of speakers focusing on the business of creating interactive entertainment and transmedia. Serial game designer Mike Selinker, whose recent projects include the narrative puzzle book Maze of Games and the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game will be headlining the day’s events. Joining him for the IDEA Symposium are indie game developers, platform creators, event producers, and experience designers behind everything from Cards Against Humanity’s game design reality show Tabletop Deathmatch to Disney’s The Optimist, a historical fiction retrospective of Disney Parks’ history.

The I Love Bees Anniversary festivities start on Friday August 1st with an interview between ARGNet founder Steve Peters and Jordan Weisman, the chief creative for the alternate reality game, and more recently creator of Shadowrun Returns and Golem Arcana. Friday’s Speakers will also provide a closer look at the state of transmedia in Europe, the climate change serious game Future Coast, and the transmedia thriller Phrenic, guided by Glitchhikers creator Lucas Johnson as Grand Inquisitor, charged with kicking off the Q&A sessions by asking panelists challenging questions. The evening’s keynote will be followed with a performance by The Doubleclicks, who recently raised over $80,000 on Kickstarter to release an album of songs about dinosaurs, tabletop games, and binge-watching Netflix.

The main Beekeeper reunion will take place on Saturday August 2nd, with panels reflecting on the game from players, as well as I Love Bees creators Elan Lee, Sean Stewart, and Kristen Rutherford. The festivities will conclude with FestQuest, a puzzle hunt designed to show attendees the city of Portland in a different light before leading them to the final mystery location to close out the evening. This year’s hunt was created by Puzzled Pint.

Tickets for the full three days of ARGFest are available for $200 through July 2, although attendees are able to purchase tickets for select events at a discounted rate. Check out the ARGFest 2014 website for the full list of speakers, conference schedule, or to register.

Ingress Anomalies Mix Live Events with In-App Gameplay

Ingress Recursion

Disclosure: Google paid for my flight and lodging for the Recursion event. 

The morning of March 29th, two rival factions gathered at Los Angeles’ Grand Park in anticipation for a pitched battle. As noon approached, it became obvious to any passerby that something was going on. Hundreds of people prominently wearing blue and green streamed in through the park steps, conspicuously segregating themselves into colored clumps: blues to the right, and greens to the left. To any random passerby, it must have looked like the staging area for a flash mob. But look a little closer, and you’d see the telltale signs of the virtual battle about to take place. Headphones tapped into private communications channels to coordinate movement. A row of cyclists primed and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. Pennants proudly bearing faction insignia. And more smartphone chargers and batteries than people.

This gathering was an Anomaly event, one of the live events organized by Google’s Niantic Labs team for players of their geo-locative mobile game Ingress. Since early February, 25 Anomaly events took place in countries including the United States, Mexico, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Croatia, Egypt, Israel, and India for a series of events collectively referred to as the Recursion Anomalies. Los Angeles was the final Anomaly event in the series, and Google invited me out to Los Angeles to experience Google’s approach to designing a live event for a massively multiplayer game. Previously, ARGNet explained how Ingress is played at a more casual level. This article explores how gameplay changes for its most ardent fans.

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MyMusic: NewsRadio for the YouTube Generation

It’s a familiar trope: a struggling production company staffed with a cast of eccentric and borderline incompetent employees takes on someone new to shake things up. Some of the best comedies on television start with that premise: WKRP in Cincinnati, NewsRadio, Just Shoot Me, even 30 Rock. But while the shows are about poking fun at the inner workings of media companies, viewers rarely get to see the fictional show’s finished product. Growing up I always wondered what it would be like to turn on the radio and get the morning updates from WKRP’s Les Nessman, to pick up a copy of Blush off the magazine rack, or to flip the channel to NBC to catch an episode of The Girlie Show. I got a taste of what it might be like when Will Ferrell co-anchored CBS North Dakota affiliate KX News for a night as Ron Burgundy to promote Anchorman 2. MyMusic has spent the past two years delivering on that same promise with a four-course meal.

MyMusic is a transmedia production company seeking to reinvent itself after the social media platform it used as a blogging platform went bankrupt. Looking to find a new home, the company partnered with an up and coming video hosting site called YouTube, signing on as one of its Original Channels. To help with the transition, MyMusic brings on a new head of production, Metal to lend his expertise. Before coming to MyMusic, Metal was known as Emmet Allan Klaga. But the company founder’s “Indie” issued an executive decree that all staff members should be known only by the musical genres they represent, because “broad stereotypes are way easier to remember than names.” So Klaga became Metal, joining other genred cliches like Idol, Country, Dubstep, Techno, Hip Hop, and Scene. Conformity to these stereotypes is strictly enforced, and being caught “posing” is punished with a fate worse than unemployment.

Starting with Metal’s entry to the company in April 2012, MyMusic became the subject of a weekly behind-the-scenes documentary series released on the show’s YouTube channel. This self-referential mockumentary forms the heart of the Fine Brothers’ YouTube sitcom, MyMusic. Like its fictional counterpart, the MyMusic show was born out of YouTube’s Original Channels Initiative, Google’s attempt to support premium original content on the site. The Fine Brothers, best known for their Emmy Award-winning React video series featuring focus group-style videos of children, teenagers, YouTubers, and elders reacting to pop culture talking points ranging from Boxxy and twerking to gay marriage. As their next project, the brothers pitched the concept of a weekly scripted series. YouTube accepted MyMusic into the Original Channels Initiative, along with programs like Phillip DeFranco’s SourceFed, Hank and John Green’s Crash Course, and Frederator Studios’ Cartoon Hangover. In addition to providing financing for MyMusic, Google provided the brothers with the use of YouTube Space LA to build MyMusic‘s set.

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The Year (of Ingress) in Review


Ingress at a ZipCar location in Philadelphia. Sorry Ingress players, this is not a new passcode.

It’s been over a year since Google introduced the world of Ingress. At its core, the project is a locative mobile game spawned out of [email protected], an internal skunkworks team based out of the search giant’s San Francisco office. In Ingress, players compete to capture and connect virtual portals situated at real world locations to control the globe for their team. Ingress isn’t the first game to explore this geolocative game mechanic: games like Plundr and Shadow Cities paved the way for Ingress by conditioning “field agents” to take mobile gaming out to the streets. What makes Ingress distinct is Niantic’s narrative ambitions: in the past year, daily updates from the production team through an alternate reality game have introduced players to a sprawling narrative told across websites, videos, novels, live events, and even hidden within the game itself.

Ingress recently opened up to all Android users, and plans to expand out to iOS devices in 2014. With over a year of story to catch up on, entering the world of Ingress may seem daunting. Familiarity with the story isn’t essential to gameplay, but it does add staying power to a game that runs the risk of turning tedious over time. For those looking to take the plunge, here’s a few helpful pointers.

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Caught in an Infiniti Loop with Deja View


A sharply dressed man and woman are lost on an empty stretch of road, with no memories of who they are or where they’re going. The only clues to their identity are the personalized features programmed into their car, and your phone number in their phone’s call history. The nameless man calls your number. For the next 15-20 minutes, you’re tasked with guiding the pair as they retrace forgotten steps, piecing together their past lives and their current predicament.

Welcome to Deja View, a visually stunning interactive film produced by Campfire to promote the Infiniti Q50, that delights in throwing you into the center of a mystery with characters as confused as you are. The experience (limited to United States residents) begins at After watching a brief explanatory video and calling a number to sync up your browser and your phone, voice inputs on the phone can direct what video content plays out in real time, creating the illusion of natural conversations with your fictional on-screen collaborators.

As Deja View progresses through the story’s three main narrative checkpoints, you’re led on a seemingly simple, linear journey. Once or twice per session, you receive a phone call from one of the characters and are asked to respond to a few simple questions: say you’ve spoken with the man before, or deny it. Go to the gas station, or to the diner. Your answer changes how the video progresses, while still driving you inexorably towards a happy ending where the pair free themselves from the loop that has them trapped. The only challenge? One of the central themes of Deja View that enables you to reach a successful conclusion to the story is the idea of eschewing the well-worn path, and breaking free from constraints. You can’t complete Deja View without convincing the on-screen characters to go against their own instincts, but the story rewards you for taking the easy path with a happy ending. The message is conveyed, but you aren’t forced to live it as a co-conspirator.

To address this potential for cognitive dissonance, Deja View has secret narratives that are only exposed to people who resist the easy answers. Ask the right unprompted question, and you might ferret out some additional information about why the pair are stuck in a loop. Make a conscious effort to thwart their journey, and you might make one or both of the characters lose trust in you and each other, irrevocably altering their path. It’s not easy, and most of the changes you make only have a small impact on the overarching narrative. But push the edges enough, and you’ll take things in a completely different direction.

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Domino, Start Recording: A Virtual Boomtown in Sanditon, CA


Pemberley Digital’s The Lizzie Bennet Diaries recently took home a Creative Arts Emmy for Original Interactive Program for its web adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The web series reframed Austen’s classic in a modern setting, allowing the characters to live out their fictional lives outside the show’s main YouTube channel, interacting freely across dozens of social media platforms. On October 7th, the team at Pemberley Digital will be returning to play in Jane Austen’s universe with the release of their next major production, Emma Approved. But between The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved, Pemberley Digital turned to one of Jane Austen’s lesser-known works for an experiment in transmedia storytelling with Welcome to Sanditon.

As one of California’s many Gold Rush boomtowns, the town of Sanditon California was no stranger to rapid change. In The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, William Darcy’s company Pemberley Digital developed an experimental video recording platform, Domino. Sanditon’s mayor Tom Parker met up with Gigi Darcy at SXSW, and signed up his town as a partner community, giving interested townsfolk the chance to share their lives on the platform through blogs, pictures, and videos. Mayor Parker’s aspiration for Sanditon was to transform the city into a vibrant, health-conscious vacation spot, and much of the plot revolved around complications that arose for townsfolk and business owners when the mayor’s idealized version of the city conflicted with its reality.

This comes to the fore through the story’s main plotline, following the interactions between Sanditon Scoops owner Clara Breton, whose ice cream parlour is targeted for a mayoral-encourage rebranding to juice bar, and Parker’s reluctant assistant Edward Denham, who shows a delightful passion for obscure British television. Glitches in the early release of the Domino platform also resulted in bringing a budding romance between the two to the town’s attention, resulting in equal parts consternation and glee. While Gigi Darcy has largely stepped into the town to serve as an embedded narrator, Welcome to Sanditon allows her to complete her own narrative arc. Executive producer Jay Bushman viewed Gigi’s character as the strongest test cases for transmedia storytelling in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, making her reprisal through Welcome to Sanditon the end of an 18-month long journey.
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A Puzzling Prelude to FestQuest 2013


Last year, William Sawtooth III embarked on a great experiment: he sold off 100 shares in his personhood in exchange for a billion dollars. Being a savvy investor, I managed to secure a 6% interest in Sawtooth prior to his untimely demise at the hands of a masked henchman from the Secret Games Society. Yesterday, I received word from Sawtooth’s legal counsel informing me that Sawtooth’s death was confirmed after a thorough investigation, and my shares were reverting back to the Mega Hard Wood Group Board of Directors. As a courtesy, the Board sent me a framed certificate commemorating my brief status as a Majority Stockholder. They also unknowingly sent out an invitation to this year’s FestQuest, an annual puzzle hunt held during ARGFest.

Sawtooth’s misadventures in personal corporate governance were the focus of the alternate reality game Boom the Moon, an extension of Steve Peters’ crowdsourced alternate reality gaming thought experiment World Without Helium by Synth-Bio Productions. For two weeks, players tricked Sawtooth’s silent investors into handing over their shares to prevent a plan to use Sawtooth’s newfound wealth to solve the impending helium shortage by detonating a nuclear bomb on the moon’s surface. Players secured a majority stake in William Sawtooth III, and staved off plans to blow up the moon. While celebrating the win, Sawtooth was shot and presumed dead. The correspondence from the Mega Hard Wood Group only served to confirm that presumption, pronouncing his death a suicide.

After closer inspection, I discovered an invitation to FestQuest 2013 slipped in between the certificate and the frame’s backing. The secret message cordially invited me to join the Sawtooth Circus in Seattle on July 27th. Sawtooth also offered his handwritten assurance that “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” It also included an introductory puzzle to whet players’ appetites for the main course this weekend. The return of William Sawtooth III should be an exciting one for ARGFest attendees, as Sawtooth is one of the most colorful characters in alternate reality gaming to break the fourth wall I’ve seen.

Synth-Bio Productions is resurrecting Sawtooth through their role as host of this year’s FestQuest. Pre-registration for FestQuest is mandatory this year, with groups of 10 asked to provide their email address along with a “Circus Name”. The experience is only available to ARGFest attendees, and is expected to take approximately 2 hours to complete.

What is the Blackhollow Project?


In 1943, the Office of Strategic Services deployed an agent to the European theatre of World War II on an assignment codenamed the “Archimedes Mission.” His task: infiltrate the Soviet Union, and extract a man targeted by the Germans to a safe location. It’s been 70 years since our unnamed American operative’s mission. After the war, he returned to England and settled in as the lighthouse keeper at Blackhollow Point, faithfully looking after the local landmark long after lighthouse operations were modernized, rendering his services moot. What drove this unnamed American spy to move to England and take up residence in a lighthouse for most of his life? And what does it mean now that he’s gone missing?

Yesterday, I received a battered metal box bearing an OSS spearhead insignia in the mail that may shed some light into the curious tale of this World War II veteran. According to a weathered correspondence from the OSS, the goal of the Archimedes Mission was to smuggle a Soviet codenamed “The Mathematician” to safety, taking the RMS Galatia from Southampton to New York. A USB drive taped to the lid of the box contained an audio recording instructing the operative to use a portable audio recorder to provide updates on the mission’s progress. The first stage of the mission was apparently a success, as the metal box was adorned with a luggage tag on the box from the Hart & Cornwell Steamship Company: however, the fields for personal information on the inside were left blank. No further details are provided about the mission, although a scrap of paper slipped in between the framed picture of a ship and the frame’s backing raises the question, “What is the Blackhollow Project?”

The exact nature of the Blackhollow Project is unclear, but it’s likely associated with the Blackhollow Point lighthouse. A postcard taped to the lid of the box featured the historic site. On the back of the postcard, an impassioned letter, “The Spy” declared his intention to keep his promise and wait for his love. If a news clipping about the Blackhollow Point lighthouse keeper is to be believed he kept that promise, waiting at Blackhollow Point for decades.

While the story of a lovesick soldier pining for a lost love is a compelling one, the truth might not be quite so simple. According to the Blackhollow Project website, the lighthouse keeper has gone missing. And while the former OSS operative was unquestionably pining after a lost love, he was also standing watch over a device constructed in parallel with the atomic bomb to ensure victory for the Allied Forces. With quantum fluctuations striking 16 different locations across North America and Europe, piecing together the details of Project Archimedes has become essential. The first quantum anomaly is expected on July 27th, just in time for ARGFest.

Interested in learning more? Head over to and start putting together the clues.

“The Optimist” ARG Draws Focus to Disney History


In 1923, Walt Disney and his brother Roy founded a company that would eventually become The Walt Disney Company. Out of respect for that seminal moment in the company’s history, Disney’s official fan club adopted D23 as its name. With the company’s 90th anniversary fast approaching, Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development has partnered with Walt Disney Studios to produce The Optimist, a six-week long alternate reality game culminating in an event at the D23 Expo.

The Optimist focuses on a young college student named Amelia as she strives to learn more about her recently deceased grandfather, Carlos Moreau, for a documentary film she’s planning on shooting. To Amelia, her grandfather Carlos was an inveterate storyteller whose life remains a mystery. Her efforts to learn more about Carlos’ life and legacy through his personal effects are documented on her blog A series of documents are beginning to paint a picture of Carlos Moreau’s life: after selling a short story called Orbit’s Story to Disney, Carlos fostered a close relationship with the company that saw him collaborating with Disney’s Special Projects team on the 1964 World’s Fair. While the focus of the game so far lies squarely in uncovering Carlos’ past, Amelia provides a personable front for the investigation as she balances research into the annals of Disney with her college studies.

According to Disney Parks, over the next six weeks players will piece together “an imagined story of Walt Disney, the Imagineers and other visionary thinkers and their potential involvement in a secret project that sought to build a better future.” Through this fictional lens, players are given the chance to share their familiarity with Disney’s often unbelievable history. For instance, when The Optimist introduced players to the Lott Family Construction company as a fictional collaborator on Disney’s exhibit at the 1964 World’s Fair, players were quick to point out that M.T. Lott Real Estate Investments was the name of a shell company set up to purchase land for Walt Disney World. Similarly, a phone number written on the back of a napkin led to players discussing one of Walt Disney’s favorite restaurants.

Because this blending of real world people and places might make it difficult to identify the line between fiction and reality in the narrative, all confirmed in-game sites and social media profiles include a disclaimer letting players know when they are interacting with fictional pages in the game’s universe. This way, real establishments can coexist with fictional constructs without creating unnecessary confusion. Trowbridge mentions that the game will extend beyond the web, with interactions ranging from “social media and mobile devices to visiting unique physical sites from the story in and around Los Angeles,” making the distinction all the more important. Upon registering, players are given the option to provide their physical or email addresses for potential mailings, opening up additional avenues for gameplay.

The Optimist has maintained a steady update schedule with new content every day: however, the game is still in its early stages, so there’s more than enough time to dive in before the game’s finale in August. To get caught up, read StoryOrbit’s in-game recaps and Inside the Magic’s collaborative Google Doc summarizing theories and events so far.

ARGFest 2013 Highlights Another Side of Gaming in Seattle


ARGFest-o-Con is a yearly conference that provides the opportunity for fans and creators of alternate reality games and transmedia experiences to gather together and reflect on the genre’s evolution. This year, the roving conference will touch down in Seattle between Thursday July 25th and Saturday July 27th for a long weekend of panels, puzzles, and games.

This year’s list of speakers are a diverse crew. IARPA will be discussing their exploration of whether alternate reality games can be used for behavioral research. At the same conference, Groundspeak co-founder Jeremy Irish will discuss the growth and evolution of the geocaching community, puzzlemaker Mike Selinker will discuss the art of puzzlecraft, Haley Moore will talk about injecting tangible objects into stories, and Ken Morris will introduce attendees to the wonders of glitch art. Past ARGFest Keynote speakers Jordan Weisman and JC Hutchins will be returning, along with the team behind’s alternate reality game The Wall Will Fall, and indie game developers at Silverstring Media and Lazy 8 Studios. This year’s keynote speaker is ARGNet and No Mimes Media founder Steve Peters, who will be reflecting on the ups and downs of a career that spanned some of the biggest companies in the industry.

Three ARGFest traditions will also be returning for 2013. Synth-Bio Productions will be producing the first of those traditions, FestQuest. Every year, ARGFest attendees team up to explore ARGFest’s host city in a real-world puzzle trail. The puzzle trail gives attendees a fun and lighthearted way of putting some practical experience behind the conference’s often theoretical talks. For the second ARGFest tradition, ARGNet’s previous owner and senior editor Jonathan Waite will be stepping into the role of Grand Inquisitor, responsible for facilitating conference discussions with a twist. Finally, ARGFest Seattle will see a return of the ARG Museum, a collection of artifacts from past games.

Regular registration rates for ARGFest are available through July 19th, priced at $90 for a conference pass and $150 for an all-access pass that also includes the kick-off party and keynote address. Head over to the ARGFest-o-Con 2013 website for more information.

Playing Around With Your Health at Games for Health 2013


Image courtesy

Over the years, a number of alternate reality games and transmedia experiences have used their storytelling platform as a medium for serious gaming. In Conspiracy for Good, many of the game’s live events were used as a lure to get players actively volunteering for non-profit organizations. In games like Indiana University’s Skeleton Chase and the American Heart Association’s Cryptozoo, the underlying purpose of the game was to get players more physically active.

To get a better sense of the evolving serious gaming industry, I attended the 9th annual Games for Health conference in Boston. Zombies, Run creators Adrian Hon and Naomi Alderman were there to share some insight into the success of their story-driven exercise app and announce their company Six to Start’s partnership with the UK government on a new project, coming next year. A host of game developers, medical professionals, and technologists added their own perspectives to the topic over the three-day conference. While the conference’s multiple tracks made a full picture of events impossible, I’ve attempted to share a few highlights in the world of serious gaming.

Zombies, Run: Escaping from the Zombie Horde

Since its release, Six to Start’s Zombies, Run has sold over half a million copies of its episodic audio adventures placing fans directly into the shoes of Abel Township’s Runner 5. To date, runners have traversed over 12 million miles in the real world, foraging for supplies through a virtual British countryside during the zombie apocalypse. A vibrant fan community has contributed fan fiction and videos to the universe: one of the members of the Zombies, Run writing team got her start writing fanfic for the game.

It all started when Zombies, Run co-creator Naomi Alderman joined a beginner’s running class. The instructor asked everyone taking the course to explain why they wanted to get better at running, and one woman blithely responded, “I want to be able to escape from the zombie horde.” This motivation resonated with Alderman, as it captured the heart of her situation. As a professional novelist, running isn’t something that helps her reach daily word counts or edit manuscripts. Alderman explains that for most people, running is more about being prepared for when things go bad. At its core, the impetus to run is the wish, “I want to be a healthy animal to escape from predators.” For Adrian Hon, an avid runner, that primal motivation was what was missing from existing apps, pedometers, and sensors on the market. No amount of metrics about heart rate, steps taken, or calories burned provides as much motivation during a run as the shuffling groan of zombies approaching you from behind.

Many design choices for Zombies, Run were made based on what felt right to the development team. For instance, the decision to make runners speed up their pace by 20% was based on Adrian’s decision that it “felt right.” However, one priority for the team was ensuring players could step seamlessly into the role of Runner 5. That meant making Runner 5’s decisions always feel reasonable to the player, especially since those decisions almost always involved running during zombie encounters. It also meant that Runner 5 would always be discussed in gender neutral terms: while it would have been possible to record separate audio streams that customized the experience for the player-protagonist, the team opted to strike out gendered language. Alderman noted that the gender neutrality allowed her to reinforce a feminist subtext into the narrative, as Runner 5’s gender has no bearing on how the story’s protagonist is treated, and is treated as largely irrelevant.

During their keynote address, Hon and Alderman announced that Zombies, Run was undergoing randomized trials to test its efficacy. Additionally, the Six to Start team announced their partnership with London’s National Health Services and the Department of Health in the UK to create a new narrative health app to tackle the obesity epidemic, set for release in 2014. Alderman describes this new app, tentatively titled The Walk, as a spy thriller that mixes elements of North by Northwest with The 39 Steps. You play the role of someone who needs to get a package from Inverness to Edinburgh while evading both terrorists and the police. The goal is to encourage users to go on to add just a bit more walking into their daily lives.

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DIY Days 2013: Black Markets, Phenomenal Work, and Foster Care

My Sky is Falling

My Sky is Falling image courtesy of Reboot Stories, from the Envision 2013 playthrough

The elevator doors open. As I step out, a woman in a hazmat suit and surgical mask steps forward as our guide, offering surgical masks to our group. Masks firmly in place, we’re guided to a classroom liberally strewn with backpacks and jackets. There are already a handful of people milling about in the room without the dubious protection of our masks, grabbing sandwiches and chips from the front of the room. A dissonant hum serves as disconcerting accompaniment to the otherwise silent room. Finally, we’re welcomed by our guide and offered a choice: leave the mask on and remain a silent observer, or take it off and step into the strange world in which we found ourselves.

Over the next hour, my fellow participants and I progressed through a dystopic science fiction world designed to leave us disoriented, confused, and isolated as part of the interactive theater experience My Sky is Falling. The performance, a fictionalized retelling of filmmaker Lydia Joyner’s own experiences in the foster care system, was brought to light by creative director Atley Loughridge through the startup Reboot Stories. The project was also a collaboration with Reboot Stories co-founder Lance Weiler’s New Media Producing class at Columbia University and the Orange Duffel Bag Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to helping teens transition out of the foster care system. Representatives from the United Nations went through the experience at Envision 2013, while I experienced the performance as part of DIY Days NYC, a free conference that took place at The New School at the end of April.

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Making a Deal with the Devil for Kobo eReader Puzzle Contest


An author sells his soul to Asmodeus, King of the Nine Hells for a shot at fame and fortune. Rebels seek to topple a warlord who set himself up as the mythical Minotaur in the land of Dis, a power station left abandoned after the world is struck low by an airborne virus that transforms its victims into violent berskerkers. Two different short stories, depicting seemingly unrelated worlds. The only commonalities? Both tales are riddled with Apocryphal references, and the secrets concealed within both short stories provide pieces to a puzzle contest that could net you $5,000 Canadian dollars and a Kobo Glo eBook reader signed by Dan Brown.

With Dan Brown’s new novel Inferno coming out soon, the Toronto-based eReader manufacturer Kobo saw it as the perfect opportunity to launch a narrative-driven puzzle contest called The Descent. The contest is designed to reacquaint readers with the themes of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy that will feature heavily in Brown’s newest exploration in symbology. To provide the framework for The Descent, Kobo brought in author J.F. Penn to write three short stories exploring three sins: the Sins of Temptation, the Sins of Violence, and the Sins of Treachery. Each short story is offered free for the Kobo eReader or as an EPUB for reading on your desktop, eReader, or mobile devices.

In addition to the short story, each installment contains a puzzle to solve that extends past the virtual pages, leading to a piece of the meta-puzzle. In Sins of Temptation, for instance, readers are asked to explore Tobias “Tobit” Fanshaw’s website. As the nephew of the recently deceased author featured in Sins of Temptation, Tobit shares his uncle’s fascination with the occult and symbology, reminding us that it’s still possible to build websites on and serving as a helpful reference point for the many symbols referenced throughout The Descent.

One nice feature about going through the puzzle-solving experience on the Kobo device is its Book Stats section, which allows readers to share their thoughts on the short story, and collaborate on the puzzles or, alternatively, to hide spoilers and proceed on their own. While no one has taken advantage of these features yet due to the competitive nature of this contest, it remains a useful feature as non-competitive narrative puzzle books like Mike Selinker’s Maze of Games and Andrea Phillips’ The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart become more common.

Once the final short story is released on May 9, players will have enough information to locate and solve the final puzzle by unearthing a secret webpage with a submission form. The first to complete all the puzzles will receive the cash prize and signed Kobo eReader. The next four qualifying players to finish will also receive a signed eReader, along with $100 CAD online credit to their Kobo account. Players are required to have all three free stories in their Kobo library to be eligible to win.

Editor’s Note: ARGNet received a reviewer copy of the Kobo eReader.

Looking Back on a Year with the Bennets


Ricky Collins (Maxwell Glick), Charlotte Lu (Julia Cho), Lizzie Bennet (Ashley Clements), and Lydia Bennet (Mary Kate Wiles) at the final celebration, courtesy of Pemberley Digital

It’s been almost a year since Lizzie Bennet introduced herself to the internet through her video blog, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. With twice-weekly video updates serving as a voyeuristic window into Lizzie’s personal affairs, viewers were effectively invited to take up digital residence at the Bennet household. After spending so much time getting to know Lizzie’s family and friends, watching the final installment of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was like saying goodbye to old friends.

Of course, in many ways it was saying goodbye to old friends. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s much loved novel Pride and Prejudice, which recently celebrated its 200th anniversary. Over the years, I’ve witnessed Elizabeth Bennet fall in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy countless times, complemented by everything from Bollywood dance numbers to zombie attacks. With The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, co-creators Hank Green and Bernie Su sought to re-imagine the classic love story through the modern lens of YouTube.

To modernize the story, the team took more than a few liberties. While Mrs Bennet’s blatant maneuvering to secure husbands for her daughters remains as comically anachronistic as it was in Pride and Prejudice, her notions are not completely out of circulation even two centuries after Austen brought them to light. The family businesses did receive an update, evolving into online production companies like Collins & Collins and Pemberley Digital that serve as bases of operation for some of Pride and Prejudice‘s original suitors that assume roles that are just as important as the Bingley mansion at Netherfield.

Surface-level changes were made to many character names, but it doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to connect the dots between Charles Bingley and Bing Lee, or Georgiana Darcy and Gigi Darcy. Even Mary Bennet and Kitty Bennet, who were excised from the core Bennet clan, still find their way into the narrative. The major changes arose through the challenges faced by the lead characters. For Lizzie, Charlotte, and Jane, the prospect of creating a life independent of marriage is an ever-present and essential reality, and the three finally realize that goal in new and interesting ways that challenge their relationships. While Lydia’s narrative arc still thrusts her into scandal, her character’s reaction to that scandal takes a different turn.

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This ARG Brought to You by the US Intelligence Community?

internet_archiveIn recent years, the United States Government has launched a number of experiments in alternate reality games and collective intelligence. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of ARPANET in 2009, the Department of Defense hid ten red weather balloons across the country with a $40,000 prize to the first organization to verify the location of all ten balloons. That same year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded an alternate reality game designed to help set Hawaii’s pandemic priorities. And now, the intelligence community is interested in exploring how alternate reality games could serve as a platform for social, behavioral, and psychological research.

As initially reported on WIRED’s Danger Room blog, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) issued a Request for Information on “Using Alternate Reality Environments to Help Enrich Research Efforts” (UAREHERE). IARPA is particularly interested in collecting information on the practicalities of running research in tandem with alternate reality games, managing privacy and safety concerns amongst alternate reality game players, and designing a game that balances free play and interactions with more controlled data collection.

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Entering Maze of Games’ Victorian-Era Puzzle Adventure

mazeofgamesHidden within the storied halls of the Upper Wolverhampton Library in Victorian-era England, a musty book lies in wait, ready to entrap the first hapless souls to peer into its pages. While Colleen and Samuel Quaice fall victim to The Maze of Games, it’s up to you, the reader, to lead the two children home by solving a series of puzzles presented by the book’s enigmatic skeletal guardian, the Gatekeeper.

The Maze of Games is a full-length puzzle novel that follows the adventures of the Quaice siblings as they make their way through the Gatekeeper’s labyrinth. While traditional Choose Your Own Adventure novels direct readers through branching narratives through a series of choices, The Maze of Games‘s “solve your own adventure” format directs readers through the experience through the same series of puzzles facing the Quaices. Solving the puzzle unlocks the page number of the next narrative installment. Illustrated by Magic: The Gathering illustrator Pete Venters, the book is designed to look and feel like a book from the Victorian Era.

The puzzle adventure’s author Mike Selinker launched a Kickstarter campaign for The Maze of Games last month seeking $16,000 to fund the project. To date, the project has drawn in over $109,000 in pledges, with an ebook/iDevice edition available to $20 donors and a hardcover edition available for $50. As an added perk, Selinker has arranged for the Gatekeeper to lock a series of famous puzzle designers in cages until they agree to contribute a Victorian-era puzzle to the Conundrucopia, a bonus set of puzzles in The Maze of Games. At set Kickstarter milestones, the puzzle designers are set free from their cages and put to work. The list of confirmed puzzlers is an impressive one that reflects the variety of puzzles contained outside the Conundrucopia. Innovators in the space including ambigram pioneer Scott Kim, 74-time Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings, Perplex City puzzle designer Eric Harshbarger, Puzzazz founder Roy Leban, and Duck Konundrum inventor Dan Katz have all spent their time locked up by the Gatekeeper, with more to follow.

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Psych Unleashes Killer Transmedia Reality Show for The S#cial Sector


Friday, February 15th is a big night for Psych, USA Network’s pineapple-loving homage to ’80s pop culture. Starting at midnight, fans will don their Psych slippers, heat up a pineapple upside-down cake, and settle in for a marathon of 7 fan-selected episodes. And as a surprise addition to the day’s festivities, USA is launching The S#cial Sector, sequel to the show’s Emmy-nominated transmedia experience Hashtag Killer.

The S#cial Sector will exist as an online interactive Psych episode elapsing over the course of eight weeks, much like its predecessor. Directed by Kirsten Nelson (who plays Chief of Police Karen Vick on the show), the narrative follows Shawn and Gus as they investigate a deadly reality television show known as “The S#cial Sector” that takes the elimination process literally. Unbeknownst to the show’s contestants, getting taken out of the competition means getting taken out. It’s up to the show’s fans, interacting with Shawn and Gus on “The Fan Theory Board” as digital assistants, to figure out why the contestants are being killed off, and how to pull the plug on the deadly reality show before it’s curtains for the show’s cast.

As one of Hashtag Killer‘s 452,000 players, I was deeply impressed at the team’s ability to capture the show’s tone, and transfer it to a smaller, more interactive screen. Struggling to keep up with Shawn and Gus’ witty repartee on the SocialSamba platform that drove players’ interactions with the show’s characters reinforced my excitement at hunting down the show’s seemingly endless pop culture references and easter eggs, and working through the meta-puzzles introduced me to the show’s vibrant fan communities as discussion spilled over from the show’s official social platform to more traditional social networks like Twitter and Tumblr.

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Bear 71 Takes Top Honors as FWA Site of the Year for 2012


For over ten years, a panel of judges pulled from the ranks of advertising agencies and brand marketing teams have sifted through the best the web can offer on a daily basis for the Favorite Website Awards (the FWA). Their goal? To highlight a single online property that exemplifies cutting edge creativity as Site of the Day. Rounding out the year, the international panel of judges select one site as FWA’s Site of the Year. And in 2012, that honor went to the interactive documentary Bear 71.

ARGNet previously covered Bear 71 when it was introduced to the world as a featured installment at the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier. The 20-minute documentary follows a collared grizzly bear, tagged as “Bear 71”, as she travels throughout Banff National Park. Visitors to the site experience the wildlife of the forest through Bear 71’s perspective, narrated by The L Word‘s Mia Kirshner. The data-driven project taps into trail cams, animal tracking tags, and photography to tell a story customized to your exploration of the Park, its wildlife, and its many human intrusions.

More than a few transmedia campaigns we covered here at ARGNet have been selected as the FWA’s Site Of The Day. Prometheus, Daybreak, Tap Joint, and Byzantium Tests all received Site of the Day accolades from the FWA. But for the 58 international judges on the 2012 selection committee, Bear 71 stood out as the best of the year.

FWA’s founder Rob Ford praised Bear 71 for its ambition, noting “In a year when we have seen so much experimental work, so many agencies and clients focused on just trying to be cool with mobile, I was delighted to see a real idea and a powerful story win this year’s Site Of The Year.” Ogilvy & Mather judge Corinna Falusi praised the campaign’s design choices: “I especially love that the interactive and fragmented style of storytelling in Bear 71 does not act as superfluous artistry – it truly helps the film makers create a deeper narrative totality. People have been discussing the possibilities of interactive film for decades, Bear 71 is one of the first examples of a director getting it right.”

To experience Bear 71 for yourself, set aside 20 minutes to explore the documentary, but be prepared to spend a few more minutes exploring elements of the map you might have missed the first time around.

2012 Year in Review: We’re Still Here


Over the years, more than a few alternate reality games, transmedia storytelling projects, and advertising campaigns have warned that December 2012 would mark the end of the world. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise: you can’t get much higher stakes than saving the world, and fighting against an ancient prophecy with its own pre-existing mythos (however misinformed) can add mystique to a narrative.

In 2009, the alternate reality game The Institute for Human Continuity reportedly sparked hundreds of letters to NASA’s Astrobiology Institute from people earnestly worried about the coming Apocalypse. Closer to the date in question, Funcom’s The Secret World offered a series of six missions intended to forestall the End of Days both inside and outside the game. Even Old Spice got in on the harbinger of doom act, using points from six increasingly ridiculous flash games to power a laser cutter that slowly etched additional time onto the Mayan calendar for their absurdist campaign, Old Spice Saves the World.

Proclamations of impending disaster weren’t limited to global catastrophe this year, with Fourth Wall Studios’ Elan Lee adding his voice to the chorus claiming that ARGs are dead at the StoryWorld Conference in Los Angeles. And yet, 2012 was in many ways a renaissance for alternate reality games and transmedia storytelling, as new sources of funding arise for a thriving community of developers. What follows is a closer look at some of the major events in alternate reality gaming for the year.

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New Star Trek Trailer Hides Question: Are You the 1701?

Yesterday, Paramount released its newest movie trailer for Star Trek: Into Darkness on iTunes. As the second film in JJ Abrams’ re-imagining of Gene Roddenberry’s original franchise, fans have been speculating wildly about whether Abrams would retell Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan or explore a different aspect of the mythos through the film’s villain, John Harrison (played by Benedict Cumberbatch). Now, fans have a new question to speculate wildly about: are you the 1701?

As the camera zooms in on John Harrison at the 1:07 mark on the trailer, a display panel shows the website, a website featuring a simple registration page in grayscale.

JJ Abrams’ first Star Trek film was prefaced with Alert Vulcan, an intensely immersive alternate reality game that started similarly, with a website hidden in promotional photographs from a Star Trek event in Paris. The game eventually included a staged Romulan crash site in the UK, a crime scene with green blood, and a personal YouTube video from Leonard Nimoy thanking the most active players for their help.

Most of JJ Abrams’ projects find life outside the television screen or cinema. with this new Star Trek viral finding its place in a long line of puzzles, cross-references, and alternate reality games tracing back to the Alias Web Puzzle in 2001. It’s too soon to tell what form this particular iteration will take, but it’s the perfect time to decide: are you the 1701?

Imagineering New Transmedia Projects with Disney’s Living Worlds Program

Walt Disney Imagineering has been using the Disney theme parks and resorts as centers for innovation in storytelling for decades, finding interesting ways to create rich experiences that play out across media. And while the team may be better known for joining narrative with animatronics and special effects for rides like the Haunted Mansion, the team has developed a number of more subtle transmedia experiences that experimented with location-based storytelling. For Phineas and Ferb: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure (previously the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure), Walt Disney World visitors use a mobile phone to activate a series of clues hidden in Epcot’s architectural design, while Sorcerors of the Magic Kingom uses collectible cards to allow Disney World visitors to battle against Disney villains at magic portals scattered across the resort. And thanks to Walt Disney’s Living Worlds program, you might have the chance to collaborate with the Disney Imagineers on your own great idea.

Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development (WDI R&D) announced the Living Worlds program during last month’s StoryWorld Conference as an effort to catalyze and support the growing transmedia community. Interested applicants are tasked with submitting a high-level proposal by December 1st for a location-based narrative experience intended to run for at least two weeks that gives participants the ability to influence the story without costing “more than the GDP of any single nation to mount.” The story cannot use any existing intellectual properties, including Disney properties. During the second round, select participants will be asked to flesh out the concepts into a more developed proposal for consideration.

Scott Trowbridge, Creative Vice President at WDI R&D, says he sees the program as an opportunity for applicants “to gain experience and expertise by giving them an opportunity to produce their work at a professional level.” He adds, “[w]e’re on the cusp of a significant evolution in narrative form. The combination of emerging technologies, societal shifts and audience expectations all combine to make this an exciting time for artists interested in breaking the frames for traditional storytelling.”

While the opportunity to collaborate with Disney Imagineering to realize your dream project is compelling, it’s important to be familiar with the terms and conditions that come attached to the application. While all applicants retain full ownership of their intellectual property, all submissions should be considered public and non-confidential, and applicants grant WDI “a fully paid-up, transferable, non-exclusive, perpetual, worldwide, irrevocable, royalty-free license” to their submissions, along with the right to sub-license the work to third parties. When asked for clarification on the terms, Trowbridge explained that “given that we are engaging [the] artists with the intent to produce their proposal, we must be granted the rights to do so, or in other words, a license to use their creative work, which must be transferable and perpetual.” Trowbridge stressed that WDI R&D would work with artists whose proposals were selected to set up an agreement and working relationship to develop the proposal through to complete concept and potential production.

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Google’s Niantic Project Hints at Smartphone-Fueled Portals

Comic-Con has served as the launch platform for more than a few alternate reality games in the past. At the San Diego convention, Why So Serious held its first live event promoting The Dark Knight at the convention in San Diego, using attendees as the Joker’s patsies by getting them to don the criminal’s signature clown make-up and stage minor crimes. Showtime kicked off its Dexter-themed ARG with a scavenger hunt leading to a grisly kill room, while Disney’s Flynn Lives campaign transformed a nearby warehouse into the End of Line Club from Tron: Legacy. While most of these affairs have been major events centered around entertainment properties, Google appears to have shaken up that trend by slipping their Comic-Con launch of the Niantic Project under the radar, only to have it resurface in force this month.

On July 12th, self-proclaimed “ghost comic book artist” Tycho started working the crowds at San Diego Comic-Con near Artist’s Alley, handing out flyers inspired by his inexplicable visions, dominated by scenes of global landmarks and enigmatic encrypted messages about parasitic “Shapers.” As crazy as Tycho seems, the folks at Niantic seem interested in his ramblings.

These visions drove Tycho to confront Flint Dille about hidden messages regarding extra-dimensional portals implanted for decades in Buck Rogers stories, before security threw him out of the convention. A few weeks later, a university professor teaching his students about visualizing portals with cell phone cameras was escorted away from his inattentive audience, but that was largely the end…until earlier this month, when mystery blogger P.A. Chapeau started updating his virtual conspiracy theory corkboard at

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Skyfall Viral Invites Players to Join MI6

Last week, I posted a brief blurb about a package I received in the mail from “J,” a man with an unwholesome fixation with barn swallows. In that relatively innocuous package, J sent over a Sony IC Reader pre-loaded with 18 seconds of birds chirping. While I did not know it at the time, the package was the entryway into a secretive, five-part application process for Her Majesty’s Secret Service, MI6. The campaign, developed on behalf of Sony by Wieden+Kennedy, revels in secrecy through every step of the design process. As such, unlike many alternate reality games, much of the thrill in this experience can be derived from tackling the challenges on your own.

If you’re up for the challenge, start out with this YouTube video: it should have all the information you need to get to the next step. Otherwise, read on to learn more.

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An Ornithological Puzzle Worth Tweeting About

One of my favorite moments in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail is when the Bridgekeeper asks King Arthur, “what is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?” The film never answers that question, although more than a few resourceful folks have put forward their best estimates. Before the end of this article, I fear I may be asking an equally esoteric question about the noble European swallow: the only difference? I expect you to figure out the answer, because I’m flummoxed.

I received a package in the mail today containing a postcard with the picture of a bird on it, along with a Sony IC Recorder that contained a file named 50-112-251-215.mp3 with the sound of birds chirping for 18 seconds, with a picture of bird watcher Jonathon Jongsma as the featured image. On the back of the postcard was the following message:

Greetings from Innsbruck, Michael.

Spied this fellow building his nest unusually high in a tree. I believe that means the snow will be better here this year. Including a recording of his lovely little song for your enjoyment.

Do with it what you will.

Cheers, J

I suspect the bird pictured is a European swallow, since the barn swallow is Austria’s national bird, and bears a striking resemblance to our fine feathered friend. What secret message is hidden within this bird’s idle tweets, and what did “J” hear that made him send the recording in the first place?

Be sure to check the Unfiction forums for the discussion of what has been uncovered so far, and check back soon for updates on the story as it unfolds.

EDITED 10/16 to add: those of you nervous about visiting the website at the end of the initial puzzle might want to try this link instead.

TV Tropes’ Echo Chamber Turns Self-Referential Attention to ARGs

TV Tropes is an intimidating website. Over the past eight years, the community wiki has displayed frightening tenacity in indexing, codifying, and analyzing the tricks of the storytelling trade in an often irreverent manner. Remember the pilot episode of Community? The TV Tropes community flagged those 25 minutes of television for using over 46 different tropes ranging from Worthless Foreign Degree to The Dulcinea Effect. And the community doesn’t limit itself to documenting tropes that appear on television: everything from fan fiction and webcomics to alternate reality games are fair game.

Here’s where things start getting complicated. Starting in 2011, the TV Tropes homepage was taken over by Echo Chamber, an episodic web series dedicated to illustrating tropes through the lens of an increasingly eccentric cast of characters. For two seasons, Dana Shaw and her collaborators Tom Pike and Zack Wallnau played characters in a “Trope of the Week” Show Within a Show that paralleled events in their fictional lives, under the direction of Zack’s father Mark, Director of Transmedia for “The Other Wiki” (TV Tropes’ tongue-in-cheek nickname for Wikipedia) and the inscruitable Mr. Administrator. Season two ended with a Mind Screw, as Mr. Administrator explains that the entire show is part of a diabolical plot to understand the true nature of fiction and reality in order to inject tropes into the fabric of reality. And that’s where the alternate reality game, named The Wall Will Fall by its players, begins.

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Byzantine Tests Add a Touch of Magic to “Hunted” Campaign

“We’re not for everyone. Just the 1% that matters.”

Byzantium Security International’s slogan embracing the financial elite’s privileged role serves as an uncomfortably poetic accompaniment to the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. And with an out-of-home advertisement proudly flaunting a company’s exclusivity mere steps from Federal Hall in Wall Street, it’s no wonder the image has been repurposed to support the movement.

There’s more to Byzantium Security than an arresting hexagonal logo and a general disinterest in 99% of the country. The fictional company features prominently in Cinemax’s upcoming drama Hunted, and the Wall Street advertisements are merely one of a number of rabbit holes into the company’s inner workings. The series, premiering October 19th, revolves around Byzantium Security operative Samantha Hunt (Melissa George) as she seeks to unravel the mystery behind an attempt on her life. Fans can get a glimpse into the world of a Byzantium operative by completing a five-part examination liberally dosed with more than a few twists. Not everything is as it seems at Byzantium Security, which appears to be a recurring theme throughout the series’ interactive campaign, created by Campfire with the help of Jam3, the development team that worked on the interactive documentary Bear 71.

Yesterday, I received a puzzle box in the mail that serves as an alternate entry point to the Hunted transmedia experience. The hexagonal wooden box slid apart with relative ease, revealing a secret compartment carved into one of the pieces containing a miniature USB drive engraved with Byzantium Security’s overlapping hexagons. The drive contained a single password-protected file named “UNLOCK_ME.” Luckily, each of the three puzzle pieces had three letters etched onto their sides, spelling out “LOR / AGH / SSU.” Unscrambling the letters spelled out “Hourglass,” which unlocked a video driving to the Byzantium Security application page at

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Fourth Wall Studios’ “Dirty Work” Wins 2012 Interactive Emmy

Tonight, the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards held its annual awards, where the Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media – Original Interactive Television Programming was awarded to Fourth Wall Studios for their interactive program Dirty Work. The Emmy-winning show is a dark comedy featuring an LA-area clean-up crew as they go about their grisly business, featuring guest appearances from everyone from Metta World Peace to Kid CreoleDirty Work is built off Fourth Wall Studios’ RIDES platform that integrates telephone calls, text messages, and user input to add a layer of depth to the viewing experience of the episodic web series.

Also nominated for the award was USA Network’s Hashtag Killer, and What’s Trending with Shira LazarHashtag Killer is an online murder mystery built around USA Networks show Psych that allows players to virtually chat along with Shawn Spencer, Burton Guster, and the rest of the cast of the show while hunting down a serial killer who methodically stalked down and killed the top-scoring players in the Hashtag Killer experience. The game was built on the SocialSamba platform and linked to fans’ Club Psych accountsWhat’s Trending with Shira Lazar combines online news articles and video broadcasts to provide a direct feed into what’s popular on the internet. The show recently accepted a grant from YouTube’s Next Lab,  bringing more live and interactive content to the show.

The Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media – Fiction category has historically been friendly to alternate reality games, with the Fallen alternate reality game winning in 2007, the Heroes Digital Experience winning in 2008, and The Dharma Initiative winning in 2009. In 2010, Star Wars Uncut was the final winner for the category, before the Fiction and Non-Fiction categories were combined in 2011. This year, the Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media award was split into two new categories: original interactive television programming, and enhancement to a television program or series. Team Coco’s sync app won the program enhancement award.

Congratulations to Fourth Wall Studios for their win, and head on over to to check out Dirty Work and the other interactive programs the team has developed.

Koatoa Marine Kicks Off with Misdirected Interstellar Mail

The 23rd century is finally upon us. Humankind has mastered interstellar travel and has spread out to colonize 12 brave new worlds, forming a Union of planets with a vibrant trade network. Taking advantage of these breakthroughs in technology, someone went through the trouble of shipping empty cans of fish to me, courtesy of the fine folks at Koatoa Marine in Kariyo, on the planet Oceanus.

Along with a handful of others, I received this highly curious package in the mail from Yimmu Logistics. Buried beneath a sea of packing peanuts was a small crate bearing the Koatoa Marine logo, with a copy of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species firmly tied down with twine, covering up eight empty cans of Razorkan Fish, priced at 3 credits per can. The graphic sensibilities of the 23rd century are apparently equal parts Dharma Initiative and IKEA, with the heavily branded products evoking a utilitarian disposition.

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Susan Lucci Offers Ominous Warnings of Deadly Affairs

By all accounts, Robert and Gabby Spencer have a perfect life. Only a few weeks away from their 13th wedding anniversary, the biggest marital conflict the pair currently face can be boiled down to some good-natured ribbing about over-salted sloppy joes. On Thursday, the couple took their three children out to see Unicorns vs Mechadon 3D, while tonight’s plans have the couple heading off for a romantic evening at the Candlelight Cafe. There’s only one problem: Susan Lucci.

That’s right, Susan Lucci, best known for her years playing the role of Erica Kane on the soap opera All My Children, is taking the Spencers’ wonderful life and predicting a dire future on the Is It A Deadly Affair website. And if anyone knows deadly affairs, it’s Susan Lucci. Since 1970, Erica Kane has lost more than a few husbands to infidelity, murder, faked deaths, and just about everything else an overly imaginative soap opera staff writer could conceive. Plus, Lucci is the host of a new show on the Investigation Discovery channel, Deadly Affairs, premiering September 8th at 10PM. To warm up for her stint at hosting a show about real life crimes of passion, Lucci is turning her attention to the Spencer family and the unknown tragedy that lies in their very near future.

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StoryWorld 2012 Goes Hollywood

For its second year, the StoryWorld Conference & Expo will be taking in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood for three days of panels and presentations from October 17-19 exploring transmedia storytelling from the practitioner’s perspective. Last year’s conference in San Francisco managed to bring in an impressive lineup of practitioners in the space, and this year looks to continue the trend. ARGNet is once again a media sponsor for the event, so you’ll find a discount code at the end of the article. Even if you’re not planning on attending, read on for information about a line-up of free podcasts promoting the event, curated by Transmedia LA.

Last year, StoryWorld’s focus was on the practitioner, with Conference Chair Alison Norrington proudly declaring that “[t]here are no theorists speaking at StoryWorld. I’ve done everything I can to remain focussed on amplifying the wisdom of practitioners who will share their real-life experiences.” While the schedule of events for this year’s conference retains that focus on highlighting practitioners, StoryWorld is placing a renewed focus on partnering with existing organizations to hone the message.

The first day’s panels, for instance, were developed through a partnership with Walt Disney Research & Development. Disney assembled the panels for October 17th, and Disney Imagineers are slated to moderate all of their panels. Similarly, the meetup group Transmedia LA has prepared a full lineup of podcasts, starting with one on Transmedia Activism later today. During the Unconference the afternoon of October 19th, Transmedia LA will be presenting a case study on their Miracle Mile Paradox alternate reality game while Storycode will discuss their recent Story Hack in New York.

If you’re interested in attending StoryWorld, register soon: Early-Bird Pricing ($550 for an individual ticket to the conference) ends this Friday, August 17. You can use the promotional code ARGNET to secure a rate of $525 until the end of August: after that, it will provide a $25 discount off the regular $650 ticket fee.

A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling Takes Over Shelves

Disclaimer: While I was interviewed for my thoughts about transmedia storytelling for A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling, I received no compensation save for a review copy of the book.

Andrea Phillips stumbled across alternate reality games 11 years ago when a friend pointed her towards a website for the Anti-Robot Militia. The website, part of the proto-alternate reality game for Spielberg’s film Artificial Intelligence, opened Phillips to the possibility of taking a single unified story, splintering it across multiple media, and crafting a rich tapestry combing narrative, experience, and game. Transitioning from player to creator, Phillips went on to work on many critically acclaimed forays in the emerging field including Perplex City, Routes, The Maester’s Path, and Floating City.

While Phillips was working on these projects, quite a few trees were killed discussing the potential of these experiences. Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken and Frank Rose’s The Art of Immersion each provided an overview of successful projects of the past and the elements that made them work, while novels like Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother and Walter Jon Williams’ This Is Not a Game gave glimpses of a future where these immersive experiences find their way into mainstream forms of entertainment. These books serve as powerful sources of inspiration for compelling new ways of storytelling, but were not designed to guide creators from idea to execution. This is the niche that Phillips’ new book, A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling, hopes to fill, opening up a practical discussion of best practices for the industry. A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling is guaranteed to stand out on your bookshelf; and not just because the book’s extra-wide pages will dwarf your standard paperback and hardcover books.

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“Real Escape Game” Returns with Mad Scientist, Online Hunt

For Real Escape Game‘s North American debut, 9 out of 10 participants failed to escape from Werewolf Village in time. While this might sound like an abyssmal failure rate, it’s par for the course for Takao Kato’s narrative puzzle experiences, inspired by online “Escape the Room” games. During Escape from the Werewolf Village, visitors to San Francisco’s NEW PEOPLE center in Japantown were locked in the 3rd floor of the venue’s SUPERFROG Gallery for 90 minutes and charged with solving a series of puzzles leading up to the big escape. Over the next few weeks, Real Escape Game is rolling out two new puzzle adventures, both for San Francisco residents looking to redeem their puzzle-solving reputations, and for global participants looking for bragging rights.

Starting July 5th, veterans of San Francisco’s first installment of Real Escape Game and newcomers alike will have the chance to improve on their 10% completion rate as they attempt to unravel The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad, a physicist who requested that his will be sealed for 50 years after his passing. Dr. Mad’s challenge, “can you unravel the mystery of my life’s work,” is unlikely to be a simple disposition of Mad’s possessions. But what else would you expect from a Mad scientist? Tickets to The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad, which will be held at the Fort Mason Center, are $22.

Prior to Real Escape Game‘s North American debut, the game’s founder Takao Kato explained to ARGNet that “as a kid, I always wanted to ‘live in the story,’ and survive the adventure, solve the mystery, and be a hero like the characters in books I loved as a child…Real Escape Game is an opportunity to make these dreams come true.” Sara Thacher, one of the participants of the first installment (and one of the devious minds behind the Jejune Institute), noted in her review of the experience that “it was an elegant puzzle hunt. I think everyone from the girls in Classic Lolita getups at the table behind us, to the sweatshirt-clad MIT Mystery hunt regulars on my team enjoyed themselves.” Thacher went on to add that this was a puzzle hunt with narrative underpinnings, and not a literal translation of the screen-based Escape the Room games that helped inspire the Real Escape Game franchise…many of the tropes of the genre, such as riffling around for hidden keys, were absent.

For those looking for a more traditional Escape the Room experience, Real Escape Game is holding a live online challenge on July 24th (1PM GMT, 9AM EST) in both Japanese and English. Players will have one hour to collect clues within an online locked room, racing against other players for the bragging rights of first to escape. A 15-minute version of the game is free to play, giving players a brief preview, but admission for the main event is $5.

Tickets to the San Francisco hunt can be found at Real Escape Game‘s English website at, but if you’re interested in the live online game, head over to

“Suits Recruits” Throws Fans Into the Deep End at Pearson Hardman

On Thursday, June 14th, USA Network’s legal drama Suits comes back for its second season. For some fans, however, the season started early with an application for an unpaid internship at Pearson Hardman, one of Manhattan’s most elite law firms and the setting for Suits. Over the next five weeks, interns will work as paralegals and interns supporting the cast of Suits on a pending lawsuit in Suits Recruits, an interactive story-game running in parallel with the television show. Two interns will even receive a $50,000 bonus after the successful completion of their time at Pearson Hardman, embracing a compensation plan that’s quixotic even for “big law.”

The experience starts with your job interview at Pearson Hardman, where Donna (Sarah Rafferty) asks if you want to join up as an assistant or paralegal. Assistants are exposed more to office gossip and politics, while paralegals may find themselves parsing through the details of the lawsuit. Most of the game’s action is conducted over the company’s intranet, with characters from the show periodically asking questions to seek advice, gauge how well you’ve been paying attention, or even test your pop culture knowledge. Players are then assigned their first case, a lawsuit ripped from the headlines, with a former intern suing his former employer for unpaid wages a month before the company’s stock goes public. Your goal is to assist the Pearson Hardman team in representing the company…and while getting questions wrong won’t derail the investigation, missing too many questions might result in losing your chance at the $50,000 bonus.

Jesse Redniss, SVP of Digital at USA Networks, explains that Suits Recruits is designed to “bring the intrigue and excitement of working at a law firm to life . . . [and to] simulate that team experience you get when working in a law office.” Accordingly, in order to rise to the top of the internship pool, paralegals will need to share information with their assistant counterparts either by enlisting a friend to join the fun, or at the Water Cooler. As 30 Ninjas’s Julina Tatlock explains, “the two different roles work as a narrative fugue.”

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ARGFest 2012 Toronto Locks in Dinner and a Movie

ARGFest-o-Con, the annual conference dedicated to bringing together players and creators of alternate reality games and transmedia storytelling experiments, is heading north to Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada between July 26th and July 28th. Over the past 11 years, ARGFest has played host to city-wide puzzle trails, panels, and live events that allow attendees to roll up their sleeves and practice what they preach, playing through interactive experiences in between discussing past campaigns and best practices. Last year’s conference won Bloomington Indiana’s “Host of the Year” award. In addition to the mainstays of previous years, ARGFest 2012 is adding a little something extra: an advanced screening of The Institute, a documentary about San Francisco’s long-standing alternate reality game, The Jejune Institute.

For those unfamiliar with the project, The Jejune Institute was a highly immersive alternate reality game that took place in San Francisco over the course of three years. The narrative centered around a secretive new age cult, leading players on an exploration of the city that asked them to discover hidden secrets by following puzzle trails throughout San Francisco that showcased overlooked landmarks both real and fictional. The 90-minute documentary features interviews with the game’s developers at Nonchalance and some of the game’s players/inductees. The Nonchalance team were panelists at a previous ARGFest, providing an introduction to the experience.

Early-bird registration for ARGFest is open until May 31st, so you still have two days before the cost of admission goes up. Keep an eye on in the coming weeks for updates on speakers and events.

Showcase’s “Continuum” ARG Kicks Off in Canada with a Bang

Earlier today, I received a package in the mail from aspiring journalist and college student Tyler Cross containing evidence relating to a series of curious events taking place in Vancouver, Canada. It started in April when Cross was testing her reporting chops at Vancouver’s Fan Expo and captured an activist organization’s efforts to broadcast their propaganda in between panels. More recently, Vancouver’s city streets were rocked by an unexplained explosion.

It seems as though an activist organization called Liber8 is advocating for violent opposition against corporations, and infiltrated Vancouver’s Fan Expo to spread the word. In addition to the video hack Cross witnessed, members of the organization staged a protest during another one of the Expo’s panels, and fielded agents to hand out flyers at the event. Curious Expo attendees could follow this trail to the organization’s website, containing the group’s manifesto, printable propaganda posters, and a password-protected section cordoned off for members.

Tapping into her inner investigative journalist, Cross also took great pains to document her eyewitness account of the explosion that wreaked havoc on the city’s streets. In a video describing her experience, Cross describes seeing a bright light flash before witnessing an explosion large enough to collapse a nearby overpass. As she approached the epicenter of the event, Cross noticed eight figures fleeing the scene in red suits, pursued by a ninth figure wearing a copper suit. At the scene, Cross recovered a fragment of battered fabric bearing a star and the letters “VCP” and a strange, wedge-shaped object.

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Lizzie Bennet Diaries Brings a Classic Spin to the Vlog

Lizzie Bennet’s mother wants the best for her three daughters. Unfortunately for Lizzie, her mother’s antiquated impression of what is best involves settling Lizzie and her two sisters down with the first rich, eligible bachelors to come along. She even printed out a motivational tshirt for poor Lizzie, broadcasting that “[i]t is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” As a graduate student living at home and pursuing a Masters degree in Mass Communications, Lizzie is taking out her frustrations at her mother’s overt attempts to control her life over social media for a class project she’s calling The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, with a little help from her best friend Charlotte Lu. Sound familiar? No? Maybe this will help: the Bennet family’s new neighbor, Bing Lee, is best friends with an abrasive socialite named William Darcy.

That’s right, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, with a modern twist. Lizzie unabashedly assumes the role of unreliable narrator in the video blog (“vlog”) series recounting her various adventures that serves as the crux of the experience. While Charlotte and her sisters occasionally take over the vlog, the cast is purposefully minimal, forcing Lizzie, Charlotte, and her sisters to don over-the-top costumes while mimicking their parents, William Darcy, and even each other in a format that should be very familiar to frequent YouTube viewers. These videos offer a powerful platform for the sisters’ disparate personalities to shine through, allowing the plot to serve as a pleasant afterthought supporting a steady stream of sisterly bickering.

Since the YouTube videos themselves center around Lizzie’s highly biased take on the story, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries provides its on-screen and off-screen talent with social media outlets suited to their sensibilities, allowing viewers to gain a better sense of the story. While Jane’s fashion-centric Lookbook account and Lydia’s animated gif-heavy Tumblr do little to add to the plot, twitter accounts for Bing Lee, his sister Caroline, and William Darcy provide a parallel view of events that does an admirable job of complementing the vlog entries. While these elements are by no means necessary to the story, many of the show’s most amusing moments are either told (or remixed) over these side-channels.

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Haxan Films Provides a Glimpse of the ARG That Could Have Been

Haxan Films kicked off promotions for the limited release of its film Lovely Molly last week by mailing ARGNet a care package containing a cryptic disc leading to a series of puzzles and videos on the Lovely Molly website. Over the past few days, all but one of the puzzles have been solved, with a handful of runic characters standing between players and the full message. An additional installment to the Path to Madness documentary about the history of the movie’s namesake character has also found its way onto the website. The newest installment documents the death of Molly Reynolds’ father Ben Palmer through an apparent suicide by screwdriver.

Concurrent with shooting Lovely Molly, Haxan Films shot the raw footage for an alternate reality game that prominently featured this bloody screwdriver. Due to the film’s limited budget, plans for a full-fledged game fell through. The decision to abandon the film’s more immersive plans was a difficult one, so Lovely Molly‘s director Ed Sanchez edited together a video detailing the alternate reality game that could have been. Continue on for a rare peek at a campaign as its team initially envisioned it.

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Haxan Films Returns to Blair Witch Roots with “Lovely Molly”

It’s been over 13 years since Haxan Films screened its debut film The Blair Witch Project at Sundance. And while the “found footage” format used in the film quickly established its place as a cult classic, the film’s innovative viral marketing campaign that created extensive artifacts insisting on the film’s reality fueled the movie’s rabid fanbase to take over Sundance with sold out screenings. Last year, Haxan Films returned to its found footage roots with his film Lovely Molly, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. And if the package I received in the mail earlier today is any indication, the found footage aesthetic won’t be Lovely Molly‘s only common ground with The Blair Witch Project.

The package I received contained dozens of photographs depicting four riders sitting astride horses with blotted out heads, and a large carved disc. The disc prominently displays the film’s insignia, a dagger with twin horse head quillons surrounded by symbols ranging from ancient cuneiform glyphs and Norse runes to more modern Braille cells. On the back of the disc, a link pointed to a personalized invitation to ARGNet, stating that “Lovely Molly invites you to descend into depravity. Rewards like this await the first five. Simple symbols await a score.”

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“Real Escape Game” Locks Players in for Mystery

Over the last five years, Takao Kato has locked over 100,000 people in bars, clubs, cathedrals, and baseball stadiums with a deceptively simple challenge: solve the puzzles within the time limit, and escape. And between March 23rd and March 25th, Kato is taking his narrative puzzle experience, Real Escape Game: The Escape from the Werewolf Village to San Francisco’s Japantown for a locked room mystery that is quickly selling out.

The premise, inspired by the popular social game Werewolf, is simple. There are sixteen villagers, three of whom are werewolves. Players have 90 minutes to work together in groups to navigate a series of increasingly difficult puzzles that will help them identify the werewolves, save the villagers, and escape. The game is designed to provide a challenge, and Kato explains that players have direct control over the unfolding narrative, noting

[t]he story unravels with each mystery completed by the players and their teammates. If you do nothing, nothing moves forward. And there are no guarantees that you’re even going to finish everything. So you’re going to have to give it your all if you want to put all the pieces together and finish the final puzzle in time.

Past iterations of Real Escape Game prove that Kato is true to his word: as the Real Escape Game‘s explanatory video states, only 9.6% of participants completed The Escape from the Werewolf Village when it was first conducted at Tokyo Culture Culture, with similar success rates for the game when it played out in Taiwan. After failing to complete a Real Escape Game murder mystery in Tokyo, Japan Times writer Edan Corkill explains “the most difficult part of a Real Escape Game is not answering questions — but identifying them in the first place.”

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Telegraphs to an Alternate World with Tap Joint

A man sits at a Chinese restaurant, sitting in front of a telegraph machine enclosed in a wooden box. Carefully placing a pair of battered headphones over his ears, the unknown man uses a cipher key to decipher the message, “Welcome to the city.” This is the scene that greets visitors to Tap Joint, a curious, new narrative experience that plays out almost entirely over the game’s virtual device. As the man’s conversation with his unidentified correspondent continues, visitors learn more about an unfolding narrative that places its participants directly into the story’s distinctive universe.

Through a series of telegraph messages and video clips, site visitors learn that the unidentified correspondent on the other end of the telegraph is a member of an underground movement committed to resisting their city’s government, the Allied Municipal Patrol. The resistance is hard at work assembling Wave Units—single-channel, one-way broadcasting devices. The group’s goal is to assemble 1,000 of Wave Units in time for Illumination Day, an annual holiday taking place on March 9th. The game’s world evokes a distinctly antiquated feel, with old-fashioned technologies like telegraphs and pneumatic tubes carefully housed in wooden assemblies. Visitors see the world from the unknown restaurant-goer’s perspective, operating the man like a puppet, using their computer’s mouse to pull his strings.

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Mark of the Spider-Man Lets Fans Walk a Mile in Parker’s Shoes

Images by Phoebe S.

When Sony released the official trailer for Marvel’s franchise reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, on February 4th, fans tapped into their inner spidey sense, barely perceptable letters spelling out “MARK OF THE SPIDER-MAN” at the 2:28 mark. This message led to a viral website displaying six static video feeds and a Twitter account.

On February 10th, the @MarkofSpiderman Twitter account started posting lost and found notices, broadcasting GPS coordinates to eleven different locations in six cities: Atlanta, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, and Seattle. Fleet-footed fans found Peter Parker’s backpack, containing everything you’d expect the film’s nerdy protagonist to have: Physics and Chemistry textbooks, safety goggles, keys and a MetroCard, and a notebook loaded with class notes. Parker’s photography gear also found its way into the backpack, with the occasional film canister, photograph, or film negative scattered throughout. Parker even left his running shoes in the bag, leaving the recipients of each backpack with the singular opportunity to step inside Parker’s size 11 shoes.
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A Fond Farewell to “This Is Not A Game”

This Is Not A Game. This seemingly simple mantra, coined by a collective of Microsoft Game Studios employees, has served as a rallying cry for alternate reality gaming fans and developers alike. And yet, it is also one of the most misunderstood aspects of the genre. As alternate reality games have evolved, so too has its nomenclature: puppetmasters have gradually given way to game developers and transmedia producers, and “this is not a game” itself has fallen into disuse. Perhaps it’s time to make the term’s retirement official.

Everything Starts with The Beast
The Beast was not the first alternate reality game: the term was coined months after the game’s conclusion, with the launch of Lockjaw. Similarly, promotional campaigns for The Last Broadcast and The Blair Witch Project introduced many of the storytelling elements that would later be embraced by the genre. What sets The Beast apart were its players, who referred to themselves as Cloudmakers.

Jay Bushman, a former Cloudmaker who now works at Fourth Wall Studios, compares The Beast to the Sex Pistols’ concert at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall on June 4, 1976. There were only around forty people in attendance that night, but something magical happened, and those few attendees went on to form Joy Division, The Smiths, The Fall, and The Buzzcocks, creating a renaissance for the genre. The Beast has sent similar ripples through the community as Cloudmakers and developers alike have gone on to found many of the companies and resources dedicated to the genre. And one of those ripples was the phrase “this is not a game.”

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2011 Year in Review: The Final Chapter

In 2011, I tried an experiment: rather than write a single article attempting to sum up the year in alternate reality games, I’d split the daunting task up into four parts and pen my thoughts as the year progressed. This is the final installment in that series, covering the final quarter of the year: if you’d rather begin at the beginning, feel free to do so.

Looking back at the year as a whole, 2011 was defined by the experimentation that took place in the realm of alternate reality games. While the puzzle-ridden romps through conspiracy theories that Ian Bogost so cleverly lambasted in his Cow ClickARG are still a staple of the industry, game developers are experimenting with new models of storytelling, gameplay, and revenue generation to create sustainable projects and business models alike.

Greater Definition in the Industry
Until recently, meetups for people involved in alternate reality games and transmedia storytelling centered around conferences, with gatherings at events like ARGFest, Power to the Pixel, DIY Days, Futures of Entertainment, and SXSW. This year, StoryWorld joined the list with a strong first conference that included its own alternate reality game, Zoetrap, that used a custom-built app for the conference to guide conference attendees through an occult mystery as seen through the cellphone of a missing person. While these events continue to bring fans and creators together, an alternate method of discussion has grown in prominence in recent months. Local meetup groups are increasingly springing up around the world to provide more frequent opportunities to discuss the state of the industry.

The New York and Los Angeles meetups in particular have transformed from informal get-togethers to entities in their own right, boasting hundreds of members: the New York meetup has incorporated as StoryCode, while the LA group launched a website aiming to provide resources and news for the community. However, groups have formed in cities including Toronto, Austin, Vancouver, Paris, and São Paulo.

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World Gold Council Takes Lost Ring Hunt to Twitter

On Miranda’s recent vacation to New York City, she lost her gold wedding band in Times Square. And she’s so desperate to recover the band, she’s offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to its safe return. Miranda is encouraging good samaritans across the country to turn to Twitter to help her in her search.

Miranda’s lost ring is part of the Lost Ring Hunt, an interactive contest sponsored by the World Gold Council. Starting tomorrow, a billboard in Times Square will display Miranda’s desperate plea, kicking off an adventure that will have both New Yorkers and online participants interacting with the characters to uncover clues leading to the ring’s location. And while the missing ring might not be real, the reward most certainly is: the first person to submit the proper response to the email address disclosed though the story will win a $5,000 cash prize and a trip for 2 days and 1 night in New York City to participate in a promotional shoot for the campaign.

Interested in following along? Keep an eye on the game’s Twitter account, LostGoldRing, as well as the Gold Ring Hunt tab on the World Gold Council’s Facebook page, which houses the official rules for the contest. And if you’re in the area on Boxing Day, feel free to take to the streets and see what information you can drum up on Miranda’s lost ring.

Dark Score Stories Hides King’s Secrets in Bag of Bones Photo Essay

Image courtesy of Campfire

In anticipation of A&E’s upcoming adaptation of King’s novel Bag of Bones airing December 11th and 12th, Campfire created Dark Score Stories, a deceptively simplistic photo essay that provides a glimpse at life in the unincorporated township of TR-90. High fidelity black-and-white images shot by award-winning photojournalist Joachim Ladefoged provide artful glimpses into life at Dark Score Lake, complemented by audio interviews with the local townsfolk featured in seven separate sections of the site. Scratch the surface, however, and an entirely new experience inundated with King-themed puzzles and easter eggs emerges.

The first indication that something might be amiss with an otherwise straightforward photo essay comes from the headline images featured at the beginning of each of the seven sections. In her lighthouse studio, Jo Noonan’s smile is briefly wiped clean. Gerald Lean’s face is twisted by a grimacing smile at his shop of curios. And Lance Devore’s hands shift from a protective embrace of his daughter Kyra to a much more threatening grip. These changes are all the more startling for their subtlety, adding a new dimension to the audio commentaries.

Puzzles are integrated into the experience through messages hidden within each photo essay. Bold letters in the website’s introductory message instruct readers to “go down left side” for clues to seven increasingly difficult challenges. Solving each clue leads to a new exclusive preview of A&E’s upcoming miniseries as well as seven GetGlue stickers. The real challenge, however, lies in the photographs themselves.

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Fourth Wall Studios Showcases Revamped RIDES Platform with Spooky Short Story “Home”

Earlier this week, Fourth Wall Studios relaunched its website with a preview of things to come for the company and its first new experience on the company’s proprietary RIDES platform in over two years. The experience, Home: A Ghost Story, provides a proof-of-concept for storytelling that organically weaves video content with other media like email, text messages, and even telephone calls. In the spirit of the season, Home follows two sisters who return to their mother’s home to stage an intervention for her obsessive hoarding, only to learn that their mother wants to add one final piece to her collection.

Home: A Ghost Story starts out with a landing page that lets audience members choose the level of immersion for the experience. The Lite Experience plays out like a television pilot for a new season of The Twilight Zone, with 5 chapters of video content playing out over the course of 20 minutes, punctuated by texts, emails, and online chats between characters that appear directly to the right of the video at regular intervals. The Full Experience mirrors the content found in the Lite Experience but delivers the messages directly to your mobile device. During the registration process, visitors are asked to opt-in to their preferred level of involvement by providing contact information for emails, phone calls, and/or texts. This assures that when a character receives a phone call, the viewer’s phone rings and the action pauses until the call is answered. When the story calls for an email, an email is delivered straight to the viewer’s inbox. While most of the story’s content is delivered directly, visitors will have to actively seek out an additional piece of content featuring a cameo from a voice quite familiar to veterans of I Love Bees.

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2011 Year in Review: The Year in Three Quarters, Nickels, and Dimes

In the past three months, players have demonstrated their willingness to pay for alternate reality games.

Taken in isolation, players reaching into their pocketbooks to pay money for alternate reality games is not news. Ever since the genre’s inception, opportunities to pay money for ARGs have emerged. Majestic, Electronic Arts’ venture into the world of alternate reality games, reportedly convinced about 15,000 players to pay $9.95 a month (or $40 for the CD) for access to its content. Studio Cypher adopted a similar model for its month-long multiplayer novels, which offered custom content to “Wakeful Agents” willing to pay $9.99 for a more immersive experience. Games like Perplex City tied gameplay to collectible puzzle cards that collectively unlocked additional content for approximately $5 per pack, while local interactive experiences like those produced by Accomplice, 5-Wits, and Ravenchase Adventures charge admission to their real-world adventures and hunts.

Having said that, the past few months have seen a resurgence of campaigns seeking players willing to pay for their alternate reality games, with more options of game experiences to buy into than ever before. The past quarter has been a busy one for alternate reality games with experiments in new storytelling platforms and additional institutional assistance for developers. This article will offer a taste of some of the campaigns that have caught my attention since my last broad look at the industry in April.

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ARGFest 2011: A Stellar Puzzle Solution

Last month, I presented you with a deceptively complex puzzle Stitch Media used to challenge ARGFest attendees. To date, only six puzzlers have managed to walk away with the solution. If you still want to attempt to join their ranks, stop reading here, because I’m finally going to reveal the solution below.

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ARGFest 2011: Sandwiching Panels with Play

Image courtesy of Kevin Makice

For almost a decade, ARGFest has gathered game developers, academics, and players in one spot to take stock of the industry, sharing insights into the development process, best practices for design, and personal anecdotes from past campaigns. As I have previously argued, however, one of the best ways to hone the craft is to set aside the PowerPoint slides, step away from the podium, and play games. And since the first ARGFest in 2003, games have peppered the proceedings from start to finish.

FestQuest: An ARGFest Tradition
The longest-running tradition at ARGFest is FestQuest, an annual scavenger hunt through the host city. Exploring a new city through a series of puzzles provides an intimate way to experience the neighborhood, ensuring exposure to the city goes beyond the hotel conference center itself. This year, Studio Cypher designed a puzzle trail that took conference attendees on a tour of Indiana University’s campus with stops at the Monroe County Public Library, the Kirkwood Observatory, the tunnels running underneath Indiana University’s Chemistry building, and the Sweetheart Tree. The sometimes exhausting process of pounding through puzzles was captured on film by a documentary crew from beActive Media, who documented much of the proceedings.

Wisconsin Hustle: Pants-Optional Dancing
Awkward Hug is fast becoming an ARGFest institution: two years ago, they brought the characters from the romantic comedy alternate reality game Must Love Robots to Portland for a round of robot speed-dating, while last year Awkward Hug invited attendees to craft sock puppets as part of the New Employee Orientation to their new game, Socks, Inc. ARGFest 2011 saw a live-action game demo of the company’s first mobile app, Wisconsin Hustle. The game is like a dance-fueled game of Simon, with players competing to execute an ever-lengthening list of winning dance moves in sequential order. Awkward Hug kept the list of moves as memorable as they were simple to execute, including the pop culture-inspired “Egyptian,” “Travolta,” and crowd favorite “Carlton.” The first night’s festivities ended with a championship showdown, with panelists as judges. Co-creator Jim Babb had been an intern for Jane McGonigal’s Top Secret Dance-Off, a game designed to make people feel more comfortable dancing in public, and Wisconsin Hustle retains TSDO‘s whimsical innocence as it asks players to act ridiculously for a game.

The Wars of Authenticity
ARGFest is unrivaled in its ability to gather alternate reality gaming fans in one place, so it’s no surprise the conference is often used as a platform to launch games. One of the most infamous launches occurred in 2008 when the Smithsonian hired Craig Torres, a professional weight lifter and former Mr. New England, to walk into the conference covered in henna tattoos wearing nothing more than a banana hammock to kick off their game, Ghosts of a Chance. John Maccabee, one of the developers behind the Ghosts of a Chance launch, provided a repeat performance, calling in model Lindsay Forster to serve as the physical representation for Terra Firma in 1807. In a short, 10-minute puzzle-solving exercise, conference attendees were asked to answer a series of questions and assemble a device to guide a balloon to Terra Firma. This task introduced attendees to The Wars of Authenticity, an offshoot of the Smithsonian’s alternate reality game Pheon.

Who Is Martin Aggett?
Martin Aggett is not a real person. Rather, he is the lead character in an alternate reality game about…well, Martin Aggett, that’s been in the works for years. That didn’t stop him from attending ARGFest, and this year, Aggett has finally launched his game, which serves as tribute to his fictional narcissism. It started with slips of paper placed in the ARGFest welcome bags: properly assembling the pieces of paper revealed a QR code that contained a secret code that unlocked the first part of Aggett’s story. Aggett “lost” his locked briefcase at the conference, hidden amongst a display of artifacts from past ARGs. Aggett’s birthday unlocked the case, which contained his press pass and photographs from his past. One of the players to find the case set up a lunch meeting with Aggett to return the case. The chase concluded with a dead drop in Bloomington that completed the first chapter of Martin Aggett’s story.

Another Hint for the Stitch Media Puzzle
As for Stitch Media’s puzzle hidden in the ARGFest program print-out? You’ll have to stick around for the solution, but if you’re still puzzling through it, you might be interested to know that the extra print-outs of the program were put to good use as attendees went to great lengths making sure they were connecting the dots correctly.

ARGFest 2011: A Puzzle from Stitch Media

ARGFest is a yearly gathering of transmedia players, designers, and enthusiasts that has been going on for almost ten years. And while the gathering is now dominated by the series of panels and presentation that make up the conference, every year offers ample opportunities for attendees to settle down and tackle perplexing puzzles as a group. Often, the most challenging part is finding the puzzles in the first place.

Stitch Media hid the following puzzle in the ARGFest program, leaving attendees perplexed under an ever-increasing stack of annotated programs. After receiving a number of hints from Evan Jones at Stitch Media, a few players managed to break the code and make their way into the Winner’s Circle. Do you have what it takes to do the same? We’ll release the full explanation for the solution after ARGFest coverage is completed . . . until then, see if you can figure it out yourself!

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StoryWorld Conference Brings Transmedia Practitioners to San Francisco

Between October 31st and November 2nd, the StoryWorld Conference & Expo will be taking transmedia to San Francisco. Last month, I gave a WEBCast for the conference discussing three recent campaigns, and I’m pleased to announce that ARGNet is one of the event’s media sponsors. The upside for you is the extension of our discount code for $50 off registration, available at the end of this article.

In a recent article on her blog, StoryWorld Conference Chair Alison Norrington explains her vision for the conference as an opportunity to bring together “writers, designers, filmmakers, producers, techies and digital mavens” to tackle the numerous challenges that arise in the planning and implementation of transmedia campaigns. Highlighting this focus, Norrington notes, “There are no theorists speaking at StoryWorld. I’ve done everything I can to remain focused on amplifying the wisdom of practitioners who will share their real-life experiences.” Thus, panel topics center around launch considerations, possible business models, and the integration of narrative and gaming elements.

And StoryWorld is not lacking in terms of practitioners: a quick glance at StoryWorld’s schedule for the first two days of the three day conference shows that one of the biggest challenges attendees will face is choosing between the different panel tracks, with many major players in the industry participating in panels at the same time. The final day of the conference is focused on the attendees themselves, offering speed mentoring sessions, workshops, an unconference, and a platform to present projects in development.

Early registration ends on August 31, but whether you register before or after that date, remember to use the discount code ARGN11 for an additional $50 off registration.

Edited to clarify: the StoryWorld discount rate only applies to Individual Full-Conference registrations

Michael Grant Brings Character to the Forefront with “Go BZRK”

Michael Grant is a highly prolific author in the young adult fiction space, with over 150 books to his name. Grant worked on the popular Animorphs and Everworld series with his wife Katherine Applegate and recently went on to release the Gone series on his own. For his newest project, Go BZRK, Grant is trying something different: he’s attempting a project that “was fully conceived as a multi-platform experience with the books only being one aspect of a bigger picture.”

In a Q&A on Go BZRK‘s meta-site, Grant explains that the project is an experiment in transmedia storytelling that extends across websites, blogs, a mobile app, and video. The BZRK novel itself is slated for publication in Winter 2012 under the Egmont Publishing label, but the alternate reality game has already started, with content slowly trickling out over the month of August as the story ramps up at month’s end, “just in time to distract the kids from their schoolwork.” While the story hasn’t begun in earnest yet, the tantalizing tastes offered so far already present a rich cast of over-the-top characters that dominate the experience.

So far, the plot centers around the cult Nexus Humanus. The cult’s spokesperson, Armand Cage, founded the organization after failing at his previous careers as a Canadian meteorologist and a stand-up comic. Mixing the very worst traits of both professions, Cage promotes the cult with an earnest enthusiasm that leads one character to describe him as “like some kind of hypnotized Mr. Rogers.” Cage’s overly personable demeanor is offset by Nexus Humanus’ perpetually stiff president, Billie Carloff.

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2011 Year in Review: Puzzling Through Half a Year

It’s been three months since ARGNet’s first look back at this year in alternate reality gaming, putting over half of 2011 behind us. Alternate reality games have continued to insinuate themselves into pop culture, spanning movies, television, music, video games, and books. The genre has stretched out beyond the entertainment industry to support social causes, provide more enriching museum-going experiences, and even sell packs of chewing gum. During the past three months a number of major campaigns have come to a conclusion, to be replaced by a number of tantalizing prospects. Read on for a few highlights from the quarter.

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Dude, Where’s Cesar’s Car? The Super Civic Quest

“¿Donde parke mi Civic?”

No, this isn’t a scene from the Spanish remake of Dude, Where’s My Car: it’s the call to action for an online puzzle hunt featuring champion Luchador Cesar, whose 2012 Rallye Red Civic Coupe went missing prior to his title match with el Burrito Caliente. As the online quest’s video explains, “the shiny red Civic Coupe was last spotted on YouTube but of course, by now, could be anywhere out there on the world wide interweb.” Complete the 25 puzzles, and you could win Facebook Credits, Amazon music downloads, and even brand new Honda Civic LX Sedans for you and your “bestie.”

Upon starting the Super Civic Quest, players are asked to join the team of one of five eccentric and distinct characters: Jack the Urban Woodsman, Mitch the Zombie Salesman, Teeny the college coed Monster, Aiko the Ninja, or Cesar the Luchador. Players are then asked to hunt through an impressive array of partner sites: expanding beyond the Facebook-YouTube-Twitter social media triumvirate, puzzle content has infiltrated sites like Pandora, Yelp, FailBlog, Foodily, I Can Has Cheezburger, and The Daily Monster. Custom microsites ask players to wear an augmented reality Luchador mask, download ringtones, monitor an online security camera, and read an eBook.

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Unlocking the Future at the New York Public Library

Growing up, my parents had me convinced that one of the local librarians lived the building’s basement. For years, Jim Caccamo was an archivist at the Hudson Library and Historical Society, and spent countless hours preserving the library’s collection of artifacts. He spent so much time there, it was a relatively simple matter for the librarians, with a little help from our parents, to convince many younger library patrons, myself included, that he never left the building. I suspect that one of the reasons we were so willing to believe this local urban legend was because the prospect of staying overnight at the library with all of its artifacts from history was such an exciting one. Sadly, Jim is no longer with us, but the legend he inspired stuck with me through the years. On May 20th, the New York Public Library invited five hundred people to stay overnight as part of the Centennial celebration. I was lucky enough to be one of the attendees at the launch of Find the Future, letting me live out the fantasy Jim planted in my head so many years ago.

Find the Future is a game developed by Jane McGonigal and her husband Kiyash Monsef along with Natron Baxter Applied Gaming and Playmatics, on behalf of the New York Public Library. The game itself involves a mobile scavenger hunt to discover one hundred artifacts including a fireproof copy of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, Malcolm X’s briefcase, the stuffed animals that inspired A.A. Milne’s stories of Winnie-the-Pooh, and Charles Dickins’ letter opener with a handle made from his cat’s paw. QR codes near each object can be scanned in using iPhone and Android apps to unlock writing prompts that ask players to think about their futures. The game provides individuals with a casual way of exploring many often overlooked details of the library along with prompts designed to make visitors think about how each artifact is relevant to their own lives. Interacting with the experience is a deeply personal, contemplative experience that plays out over time as players gradually return to the library and post their responses online. Players are rewarded with points for unlocking artifacts and submitting stories, allowing them to level up their writer level and receive achievement badges. Players can then assemble their favorite stories into an online Epic. Visitors to the public library can play the Find the Future game through the end of the year.

The Write All Night event invited 500 players to experience an intensely collaborative version of the Find the Future game. Players were selected from a pool of 5,000 entrants who explained what they would accomplish by the year 2021. The goal for the night was to create a 600-page book collecting player responses to each artifact prompt between 7PM on May 20th and 5AM on May 21st: in turn, the library promised to preserve and protect the book as long as New York City exists. Paper Dragon Books’ Gavin Dovey was on hand to bind the entries into a book before the night’s end, and editors made themselves available to help participants polish submissions. Before the event started, McGonigal assured players, “we have not rigged this game so you will win: it’s up to you.”

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A Bloody Poker’s Paradise from vm-people

While it often goes unremarked here at ARGNet, Germany has a thriving community dedicated to alternate reality games. Leading the charge in the German-speaking world, vm-people created a landing page to welcome German-speaking players to the world of alternate reality games at Folge dem Kaninchen (Follow the Rabbit). Over the years, vm-people have successfully deployed a mumber of highly immersive alternate reality games including The Final Mill and Join the Pirates. More recently, the company has specialized in games exploring how to bring alternate reality games into the publishing space. Two years ago, the company sent two American players of Push11 to join the game’s German player base for a live event promoting Sebastian Fitzek’s thriller, Therapy. vm-people worked with Zoe Beck to create 66 Letters, a literary puzzle that extended past her novel, Das alte Kind, released last year. Now, the tradition continues with an alternate reality game set around Max Landorff’s new thriller, Der Regler.

I received a package in the mail this weekend bearing vm-people’s “Folge-Dem-Kaninchen” stamp. Inside was a plastic bag labeled “4/15/2011” holding a microSD card. After loading the card into my phone, I was able to watch a video dated 4/10/2011 showing members of a gang gunning down the owner of a mysterious briefcase. At his blog, Alex Vladi translated the Japanese conversation into German and revealed the mailing’s connection with Wer Ist Der Regler.

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Win a Pocket Movie Camera Through Socks Inc. Twitter Contest

To coincide with the launch of Socks, Inc., Awkward Hug has found it in their hearts to offer ARGNet readers a chance to win all the tools necessary to join the fun in style. So put your talents at tweeting to the test for a chance to take home a portable movie camera and Super Awesome Sock Making kit.

The Socks, Inc. Twitter Contest
Socks, Incorporated needs your help to come up with tweet sized commercial tag-lines for the game! They will award a Super Awesome Sock Puppet making kit complete with a Sanyo Full HD 1080 Pocket Movie Camera to the person (or sock) with the best Socks, Inc. themed Tweet. Mr. Barnsworth is taking time from his busy schedule of hanging out with underwear models to judge the contest himself!

To enter the Socks, Inc. Twitter contest, all you need to do is:

  • Write and Tweet a commercial tagline for Socks, Inc.; and
  • Make sure to include the Socks, Inc. website,, and the hashtag #argn

Mr. Barnsworth will be judging on creativity, so go nuts!

The deadline for submissions is Thursday, May 19th, 2011 at 11:59PM EST. ARGNet and Awkward Hug will contact potential winners via twitter on May 23rd. Read on for the Official Rules.

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A Walk Through Westeros: Retracing “The Maester’s Path”

Images courtesy of Campfire

On Sunday, April 24th, HBO’s newest show, Game of Thrones, brought viewers into the world of Westeros, a land flush with political machinations and magic. Based on George R.R. Martin’s highly acclaimed Song of Ice and Fire book series, the franchise came pre-packaged with a committed fan base that has been somewhat patiently waiting for the next installment for six years. With Game of Thrones, HBO hopes to replicate the success of True Blood, their previous foray in fantasy adaptations. To help that along, the studio turned to Campfire, the advertising agency behind True Blood‘s Blood Copy alternate reality game.

With True Blood, Campfire introduced the town of Bon Temps to audiences through a narrative that guided them through the introduction of vampires to human society. However, a similar tactic was out of the question for Game of Thrones, due to Martin’s openly protective stance towards the characters and worlds he creates. Since one of the goals of the campaign was to reassure fan communities that Game of Thrones was staying true to its source material, Campfire chose to focus on the world of Westeros itself through The Maester’s Path. As Campfire’s Executive Creative Director Mike Monello explains,

The work we did with True Blood was really an exercise with building a fan culture for the show, [and] what HBO has seen is how that really helped sustain the show. For Game of Thrones, a lot of this work was designed to facilitate the fan culture that was growing around the show and have HBO be a part of that, to have the fans know that HBO respected that . . . there’s more to fan culture than just “put the show on the air.”

The result of this thinking was a five-week long sensory exploration of the world that brought the rich lore of Martin’s stories to the forefront in “Stark” relief.

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IFP, Power to the Pixel Pair Up to Bring Cross-Media Forum to NYC

For the past five years, Power to the Pixel hosted a Cross-Media Forum at the London Film Festival, seeking to connect the film community with digital innovators exploring new methods of distribution, marketing, and financing for their projects. On April 19th, Power to the Pixel is partnering with the Independent Filmmaker Project to bring the Cross-Media Forum across the pond to New York City, at the Walter Reade Theater.

One of the highlights of the program in years past has been the opportunity to witness pitches for new projects seeking funding, providing open feedback on what financiers and investors are looking for in projects. And the New York edition of the forum will be no different in this respect, with three new film-based transmedia projects slated to be pitched in front of a live audience. The forum will also feature presentations and case studies from leading figures in the transmedia production space, including Jeff Gomez (Starlight Runner), Kevin Slavin (Zynga NY), Lance Weiler (Seize the Media), Ty Montague (Co.), and Nina Bargiel. The Cross-Media Forum will feature a few new networking events to the schedule. On April 18th, the Cross-Media Forum will hold its official kick-off at SPiN with a ping-pong tournament. After the event, Wired is hosting a cocktail party for forum attendees.

You can purchase your ticket online or at the door for $100. If you use the discount code %MISC20D upon registration, you can receive a 20% discount on the price of your ticket.

Tribeca Film Institute Establishes New Media Fund

Making an independent film is an expensive proposition that can become even more costly for innovators interested in integrating transmedia storytelling into their projects. Increasingly, content creators are turning to crowdfunding services like Indiegogo and Kickstarter to produce their passion project on a budget that doesn’t require maxing out credit cards. This fall, thanks to a partnership with the Ford Foundation’s JustFilms initiative, the Tribeca Film Institute (TFI) will provide four to eight filmmakers exploring the new media space with $50,000 – $100,000 in grants per project, making the calculus a bit simpler. Applications are due on May 21st, with the final decisions made by September 30th.

TFI is looking for non-fiction projects that focus on issues relating to contemporary social justice and equality. According to Beth Janson, Executive Director of TFI, the ideal project would have a compelling story that focuses on creating a unique and engaging user experience. Janson explains that one of the key issues facing the industry is how to “look at the audience, and reach out and engage with them” in a self-sustaining manner.

More than merely creating an alternative source of funding for projects, the Tribeca New Media Fund aims to partner with the grant recipients throughout the process, leveraging the TFI brand to assist the project through its dissemination and launch. In turn, the grant recipients would share their experiences through an open-source platform for filmmakers and technologists to provide a peer support network and develop best practices. As Janson explains, the goal behind this initiative is about more than supporting the grant recipients:

Beyond being able to fund projects, we wanted the program to be a service to independent filmmakers and technologists to learn about best practices in the field…we’re looking to start those conversations and build those bridges to tap into the independent film community, and marry that with the technology world.

The Tribeca New Media Fund is intended for projects in the advanced development process and beyond. While foreign projects are eligible to apply, all proposals must be written in English, and all sample work must have English subtitles. Be sure to check the TFI website for answers to frequently asked questions and the official rules and regulations.

Looking for an example of the kind of project TFI is looking for? Check out the Emmy-nominated film Collapsus, which merges a documentary about the pending energy crisis merged with a peek into our near future through an interactive film set in the near future. If your project isn’t ready this year, don’t fret: JustFilms has committed to increase the fund’s initial $750,000 endowment by $1 million a year for five years, so you’ll have ample time to prepare for next year’s application.

2011 Year in Review: Around the World in the First 90 Days

It’s been a little over 90 days since I wrote a Year in Review article on the state of alternate reality games in 2010, and 2011 is already shaping up to be another busy year. Read on for a summary of some of the major news items to hit ARGNet’s radar.

Industry News
One of the most celebrated news items to date occurred when Fourth Wall Studios announced that it received $15 million in financing to expand into an alternate reality entertainment studio. Previous companies that secured multi-million dollar investments to enter the cross-platform market like Smith & Tinker and Mind Candy departed from their roots in alternate reality game development to focus on virtual worlds, creating Nanovor and Moshi Monsters, respectively. A recent job posting by Fourth Wall Studios indicates that the company will be retaining its roots in transmedia and alternate reality gaming development, describing the company’s games as “massively multiplayer online games and enhanced reality worlds on transmedia technology platforms” that will serve as “scalable alternate reality entertainment experiences.”

Area/Code Games experienced its own transformation in January when it was acquired by Zynga, the team behind Facebook games ranging from FarmVille to Mafia Wars. Area/Code is a familiar name to fans of alternate reality games for its work on Drop7, an insidiously addictive puzzle game that stole hours of my life away. The game was introduced as part of Chain Factor, an alternate reality game that launched during an episode of Numb3rs. After the ARG’s completion, the casual game at its heart was rebranded as Drop7. In addition to alternate reality games, Area/Code has developed a number of augmented reality games like Plundr that use geolocative data as a factor in gameplay, encouraging players to play in different locations. Area/Code is one of Zynga’s many acquisitions over the past few months, but may signify Zynga’s interest in bringing alternate reality games and augmented reality to the Facebook audience.

Finally, transmedia and alternate reality game developers may have a new source of financing for their projects now that the Tribeca Film Institute has established a New Media Fund to promote cross-platform storytelling as a means of promoting social change. In its first year, the fund will support non-fiction projects by providing four to eight grants of $50,000-$100,000.

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Fools of the World Unite, Send a Cookie

Earlier today, I received an item in the post. It was postmarked with three stamps from Denmark, and was apparently so interesting that someone else saw fit to open both envelope and box, as it was ripped open when I received it. Inside was a box liberally taped together with the message “Fools of the World Unite! (.com)” along with a flattened, homemade fortune cookie.

I’m sure this fortune cookie would have been delicious (albeit stale), but sadly I had to destroy the cookie to get to the message inside, a veritable fool’s fortune. The message reads “[t]hrow yourself to the ground, while shouting UNITE!”

Heading over to the Fools of the World Unite website, I must admit I am confounded. Apparently, the box I received is covered in Dandelion stickers, and Fools of the World Unite is an organization that has been fooling people with “creative outbursts and spontaneous foolishness in public spaces” since August 2010. The goal? To lose points by engaging in acts of tomfoolery, eventually earning the right to the title of “revolutionary fool.” The Fools are having a “training camp” between March 17th and April 8th at Theatre NyAveny in Copenhagen.

Interested in some foolishness of your own? Contact Kingimars at [email protected] for more details.

World Robot Boxing League Presents History of “Real Steel”

PAX East was held in Boston this weekend, and conference attendees that took the time to dig through their conference swag bags discovered cardboard cut-outs of a futuristic controller. If rumor is to be believed, this innocuous controller serves as the trailhead to 42 Entertainment’s newest alternate reality game for the film Real Steel. Each controller was labeled with an alphanumeric code and the url WWW.WRB.COM. At the time, the website displayed the controller alongside four progress bars. Inputting codes from PAX caused the progress bars to slowly fill up until earlier tonight, when the history of World Robot Boxing was revealed.

The history of robot boxing is charged with clashing personalities. The sport was born at Raiden’s Koma Club in Tokyo’s Akihabara district. Raiden carefully cultivated the bot boxing community, offering scrap from fights in the club to help local designers get their start in the industry. Quickly, Kizu, an up-and-coming designer backed by Cold Siren Industries, dominated the fights with his bot Backslash. Kizu split from the Koma Club to found the World Robot Boxing League with billionaire Nate Matheson before abandoning Cold Siren Industries to create the next champion, Gamma.

Kizu did not get to enjoy his championship long before Gamma was defeated by the Lemkovas, a family of Russian oligarchs, and their bot called Rubicon. Partnering with former rival Tak Mashido, the Lemkovas created the current reigning champion and unstoppable juggernaut known as Zeus. But while the era of Kizu appears to be over, the figure depicted on the controller given away at PAX bears a striking resemblance to Gamma, and the “G2” logo can be found on Gamma’s blueprints, so his work may resurface again.

It is at this point, presumably, that former boxer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) steps into the ring with the Real Steel film. According to IMDB’s description of the plot, Kenton “thinks he’s found a champion in a discarded robot.” The Hero Complex blog hints that you might see director Shawn Levy and Hugh Jackman “using this particular campaign to communicate with fans in some special ways.”

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PC Studio “3:15 Stories” T-Shirt Giveaway

The Ides of March have almost arrived, and with them, the release of Patrick Carman’s 3:15 Stories app. In honor of the release, Carman and PC Studio have graciously offered to give away fifteen 3:15 Stories t-shirts to ARGNet readers.

And what better way to give away fifteen 3:15 Stories t-shirts than to have three methods of entry? That’s right, up to three chances to win fifteen 3:15 Stories shirts for three days, starting on 3/15.

You can use all three methods to triple your odds of winning, but entrants are limited to one entry per method, and each person can only win one shirt. No purchase is necessary, but this contest is limited to U.S. residents in the 50 United States and the District of Columbia (excluding U.S. territories) who are 13 years or older as of the beginning of the contest period on March 15th.

Entry Method #1
Download the free 3:15 Stories app from for your iPhone, iPod Touch, or Android phone. Take a picture of your phone running the app and email the photo it to [email protected] with the subject line “3:15 Stories in the Wild.”
Entry Method #2
Email [email protected] with the subject line “Paul Chandler Scares Me,” and tell us about your favorite Patrick Carman book or what you thought of the 3:15 Stories trailer on
Entry Method #3
Follow @argn on twitter and tweet/retweet the following message:
“RT @argn Retweet for a chance to win a “3:15 Stories” t-shirt from PC Studio #315contest”

All entries must be sent between 3:15AM EST on March 15th and 3:15AM EST on March 18th. After collecting all entries, ARGNet will randomly select the 15 potential winners and notify them on or before March 21st, 2011 (by email for Entry Methods #1 and #2, by a twitter Direct Message for Entry Method #3). Potential winners will have 48 hours to respond with their mailing address before they forfeit their prize and an alternate is notified. Read below the cut for additional rules.

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Fourth Wall Studios Experience Infusion of Cash, Talent

Earlier today, Fourth Wall Studios announced it received an initial $15 million round of financing from Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, along with access to a fund of up to $200 million through the Soon-Shiong’s California Capital Equity. VentureBeat reports that the “studio will be incorporated as a new company under the same name.” A number of prominent alternate reality game developers including Steve Peters, Maureen McHugh, Jay Bushman, and Jackie Turnure have announced they have joined this new company, which stakes the claim as the first Alternate Reality Entertainment (ARE) studio.

Fourth Wall Studios was founded by alternate reality gaming powerhouses Elan Lee, Sean Stewart, and Jim Stewartson after the three stepped down from 42 Entertainment. After departing 42 Entertainment, the three worked on projects including Watchmen‘s 6 Minutes to Midnight, Eagle Eye: Free Fall Halo 3: ODST‘s in-game experience Sadie’s Story. In an interview with Jawbone TV, Modernista revealed Fourth Wall’s involvement in the Dexter alternate reality game as well. Now, with additional funding from Soon-Shiong, Fourth Wall aims to extend these immersive storytelling techniques to mainstream audiences by enabling the interaction with fictional worlds using mobile devices, browsers, and social networks. The studio plans on developing original content and content made in partnership with top-tier creators from film, television, video games and publishing. These experiences, according to the Los Angeles Times, would be financed through sponsorships and micro-transactions.

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PC Studio Takes the Reading Experience Mobile

Books as a form of entertainment are facing stiff competition from an increasing array of options. Patrick Carman, author and head of PC Studio, views this as particularly true with the younger generation, where mobile devices provide constant access to alternative content. As he explains, “if you’re twelve . . . and you don’t have an iPod Touch [or mobile device], somebody standing two people to your left does.” Responding to this shift in the consumption experience, Carman has two apps in development that aim to create a reading experience with the mobile environment in mind.

Books have been migrating to mobile devices for some time now, but traditionally, the pulp edition is imagined (and released) first. Carman’s thinking, however, is that “books have so much to compete with, that trying to stand out as a book, it’s almost better to blend in. [Young readers] are already doing all of these things anyway, so let’s see if we can get a way to have them also reading as part of everything they’re doing, as opposed to just putting it all away and pulling out a book.” What follows is a preview of two projects Carman is using to explore this blended approach to reading: 3:15 Stories and Dark Eden.

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Coast to Coast with “Focus Rally: America”

Like many red-blooded Americans, the idea of going on a cross-country road trip has an undeniable allure for me. I have fond memories of piling into the car for family vacations, and years of watching road movies have convinced me that there’s no better way to experience personal growth. I’m also a fan of living vicariously through reality television, so it’s probably no surprise that I’ve been hooked on Focus Rally: America ever since I wrote ARGNet’s first article on the game. The reality show features six teams of two as they travel across the country, competing in challenges for a chance at $100,000 and a 2012 Ford Focus. So far, the teams have danced in a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, shot hoops with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in Dallas, and engaged in aerial acrobatics in Arizona. They even held a singing and songwriting competition, providing the hilarious footage below.

Focus Rally: America offers viewers the opportunity to vicariously follow contestants via livestream from their cars in between daily episodes posted to the show’s Hulu channel. Viewers can interact more directly by chatting with the contestants online or solving puzzles. While most puzzles typically consist of solving 3×3 slide puzzles and answering trivia questions, a few have involved talking contestants through solving the Tower of Hanoi puzzle, explaining tangrams, submitting photographs to Facebook, and even making an air freshener for the car. Since the Focus Rally website tracks the GPS locations of contestants, some fans have met up with teams on the road to cheer them on. And for one event in Texas, fans were invited to join the contestants for a cook-out challenge. Players can even vote for rewards and punishments for the various teams, ranging from hotel room service to a parrot costume the Red Team will soon be sporting on the road.

I spoke with Elise Doganieri, one of the Focus Rally producers and co-creator of The Amazing Race, who noted that “typically with a reality show, you don’t want people to know what the contestants are doing or where they’re going, but this is the complete opposite: you want people to know where the contestants are and see what they’re doing so they can cheer them on and help them.”

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Patrick Carman Grabs Young Readers with “Trackers”

Adam Henderson is a technical wizard. Growing up working and tinkering at his father’s computer repair shop located in the shadow of Microsoft meant Adam had access to the latest and greatest technology. By fifth grade, Adam was engaged in white-hat hacking, finding and reporting security holes to companies. By sixth grade, his attention focused on Trackers–spy devices cobbled together from video game controllers, cameras, joysticks, and even remote-controlled cars. Adam called upon three of his friends to test these Trackers, not knowing that the four would quickly get sucked into a world of crime obscured by layers of subterfuge and deceit. This is the world of Trackers, a multimedia book series by Patrick Carman that almost seamlessly weaves short cinematic sequences, puzzles, and video games into the reading experience. As with Carman’s previous books, these elements emerge organically from the narrative, playing an essential role in the story’s development.

The two books in the series, Trackers and Trackers: Shantorian, are framed as the transcript of an FBI interrogation conducted by special agent Gantz. As Adam recalls the events that led to his arrest, he periodically provides Gantz with codes to access multimedia files he prepared to support his story ranging from site rips of websites he encountered to video footage recorded using his team’s Tracker devices. Readers can enter these codes on the Trackers Interface or read the text transcripts Gantz entered as appendices to the FBI’s interview transcript, located at the back of the book. While this process may sound complicated, in practice reading Trackers is fairly straightforward: every time you see a code, either go online to watch the action unfold, or read the text transcript if you don’t have internet access.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss the series with Patrick Carman, who explained, “Kids will find a way to get to the material. Kids don’t have a problem with stopping and starting . . . that’s the way they’re wired.” This non-traditional reading experience appears to be resonating with young audiences. According to Carman, the online videos from Skeleton Creek, his previous multimedia book series, received over eight million views. Carman referenced receiving “…hundreds and hundreds of emails from educators, librarians . . . talking about how these kinds of formats are helping to bring readers that we had lost back to books.” Readers are becoming similarly entangled with the mini-games created for Trackers, competing to earn top scores. The scores have become so high, in fact, that the PC Studio team has been “trying to figure out over the past couple of months if there’s some way that [players are] hacking this thing so that they’re able to get these kind of scores, and we cannot figure out how that’s possible . . . the top three or four people are way beyond what we can do here at the studio.”

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W.A.T.C.H. Out as “Battle: Los Angeles” Strikes Home

Yesterday, I received irrefutable photographic evidence delivered to my doorstep that proves my home has been destroyed in the opening salvo of a war against space invaders. Photos don’t lie, so it’s obviously too late for me. but you can still save yourself by enlisting in W.A.T.C.H.

The “largest UFO intelligence organization that assesses planetary threats of extraterrestrial origin,” W.A.T.C.H. is featured in the upcoming movie Battle: Los Angeles, starring Why So Serious veteran Aaron Eckhart. You can join the fight by checking in to the game’s Facebook app using Facebook Places for a “battle,” with the next fight scheduled for Miami on February 23rd, between 12PM and 3PM EST. Alternatively, by exploring the movie’s viral content at websites like and, you find classified (and heavily redacted) documents, video interviews with alien experts, eyewitness testimonials, and intelligence files detailing the alien invasion. While these files don’t call for much interaction, they do offer a fairly comprehensive preview of the film’s alien antagonists. Six Special Ops missions in the viral campaign’s Facebook app involve sifting through this information.

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Odd Jobs for Old Soldiers

While going through his company’s archives, an employee using the moniker “LOKI” discovered evidence of a conspiracy. After contacting the FBI, Loki took his typewriter out of storage, drafted a cover letter explaining his situation, and sent a package of information to me and others as security. Unfortunately, he “forgot” to load the typewriter ribbon, leaving his explanatory message embossed on an otherwise blank sheet of paper. Risking a headache that still hasn’t gone away, I transcribed the message’s contents here.

The package I received sets the stage for Old Soldiers, a new media comic book by Big House Comics, which aims to deliver comics that let you “[s]tep into an immersive world, where you become a part of the story online.” The first comic in the seven issue mini-series is set to debut in March, but it appears as though the alternate reality game has launched earlier.

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Ford Shifts into Overdrive with “Focus Rally: America” Campaign

Reality show audiences can often support their favorite contestants by calling in votes. Focus Rally: America is taking audience participation to another level by bringing fans directly into the action by solving puzzles and completing challenges to help their favorite teams and accumulate points for a series of prize drawings. The Ford Motor Company partnered with the creators of The Amazing Race to produce the show, with episodes scheduled to begin February 5th.

The show itself follows six teams of two people as they drive across the country in the new 2012 Ford Focus competing in tasks. Fans can follow their progress in real-time online on a GPS-enabled map, and long- and short-form webisodes will stream on Hulu five times a week for American audiences, with highlights available worldwide on YouTube. Contestants will be asked to draw upon their fans for support throughout the challenges: twenty-three fans will even win a trip for two to participate in the Road Rally Challenges. Six of these live challenge participants will win a 2012 Ford Focus.

Interested in getting started? Head on over to and register to play. You can start collecting points by inviting friends to join, answering daily trivia questions, and participating in the Road Trip Challenge, a series of fifty online puzzles. Accumulate enough points, and you’ll level up and unlock new privileges and features on the site. Rack up more points than any other player? You’ll win a Ford Focus. An additional Ford Focus will be awarded to a registrant, selected at random. The Road Trip Challenge puzzles are relatively straightforward, requiring you to identify landmarks and cities based on clues like an image or driving directions, but subsequent tasks and challenges are bound to get more complex once the race starts.

For more information, follow the Focus Rally: America Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Correction, 01/27/2011: this article incorrectly stated that Ford would be giving away ten Ford Focuses, with eight going to random followers of the winning team. The contest is for eight Ford Focuses, with cars awarded to six of the twenty-three live event participants. The article was amended to reflect this information.

A Commentary on Jane McGonigal’s New Book, “Reality is Broken”

In 2008, Jane McGonigal delivered a rant at the Game Developer’s Conference entitled “Reality is Broken” that galvanized developers into tackling real-life problems. McGonigal has since refined her thesis through presentations delivered at venues ranging from South by Southwest to TED. She has also put her theories to practical use with alternate reality games and interactive experiences including The Lost Ring, Top Secret Dance Off, Cryptozoo, and Evoke. Jane has taught audiences how to do the Soulja Boy dance, snuck on stage for a Flynn Lives event, and used game mechanics to help recover from a concussion.

McGonigal’s new book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How they Can Change the World, hits bookstores on January 20th, and expands upon the central point of her presentations: reality is broken, because games do a better job of making us happy. Rather than attacking games as an escapist outlet for avoiding real-world troubles, why don’t we subvert those game mechanics to make the world a better place? The book draws upon a healthy mix of psychological research isolating specific tactics for induce happiness (“happiness hacks”) alongside practical examples of those tactics utilized in both traditional and “serious” game design. The net result? A list of fourteen “fixes” that can help readers improve their lives through play. The book did a superb job of outlining concrete examples of why we like games in the first place, and how we can transform that interest into something that will make our lives and the lives of others better. While reading through the book, I often found myself cheering along with the “epic wins” documented in the book, ready to proudly declare, “We can do this! We can make the world better, if only a little bit!” Reading this book about happiness feels good: don’t be surprised if you catch yourself grinning from ear to ear a few times each chapter.

The book is structured in three sections: the first delves into what makes us happy, the second embraces the notion of entering alternate realities, and the third addresses the challenges and potential embodied in massive collaborative projects. Each section could easily be a book in its own right, with the first section providing a game developer’s how-to guide that should be on every development team’s required reading list, explaining key concepts like flow and failure in easily digestible language. Another section addresses how massively collaborative projects like Wikipedia and [email protected] use gaming elements to achieve “epic wins.”

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Sundance Film Festival is Ground Zero for Lance Weiler’s “Pandemic 1.0”

There is an empty lot in Scranton, Pennsylvania on Madison Avenue, located at 41.410806° North, 75.654259° West. Despite its wholly unremarkable appearance, the site may be ground zero for a pandemic that will consume the planet. To find out the truth, exercise this opportunity to make the trek to Park City, Utah, where Lance Weiler’s short film Pandemic 41.410806, -75.654259 will grace the silver screen for the first time on January 24th at the Sundance Film Festival. However, keep in mind that the nine-minute short film is only a small part of Pandemic 1.0, a “storyworld experience” playing out at the film festival from January 20th to 30th. Sundance has already released the Pandemic 41.410806, -75.654259 short film in its entirety online, which serves as an extended teaser trailer for the full fright-filled experience. After watching the video embedded below, read on to learn more about the context for this universe that is equal parts compelling and terrifying.

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A Look Back at the Year in Alternate Reality Games: 2010 Edition

At the end of every year, I like to set aside some time to take stock of the alternate reality gaming space. Last year, I satisfied this rather unwholesome urge by making a list of some of the most talked-about alternate reality games of 2009: I even checked it twice. This year, I’ll be focusing on some emerging trends facing the industry, along with a few highlights from successful campaigns that you might have missed.

The State of the Industry

Alternate reality games aren’t dead, but they have certainly evolved over the past year, as terms like “transmedia storytelling” and “gamification” have insinuated their way further into the developmental lexicon. In April, the Producer’s Guild of America added the “transmedia producer” credit to their Code of Credits, swiftly followed by the formation of the rival Transmedia Artists Guild in July, which aims to provide a support structure for creators. Prominent figures in the entertainment industry including Anthony Zuiker, Tim Kring, and Guillermo del Toro have all publicly committed themselves to transmedia production. Meanwhile, Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk on gamification as a means of leveraging our penchant for play for social good has reignited interest in serious games.

Jay Bushman does an exemplary job of articulating the industry’s formative state in his article about his time as a Cloudmaker, a name affectionately adopted to describe players of the genre-defining alternate reality game for the film A.I.. Bushman notes that the state of the industry can be analogized to the film industry circa 1926, before the release of The Jazz Singer manifested the argument for talkies. As Bushman explains, The Jazz Singer “was not the first film with sound, but it was the first one to make its benefits obvious and to show that sound was the way forward.”

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A Peek Behind Previously Closed Doors with Power to the Pixel

Unless you’ve presented a slide deck to potential production partners and financiers, the process of pitching a transmedia property probably seems like a foreign concept. Since 2007, Power to the Pixel’s Cross-Media Forum has sought to make this process more transparent. The centerpiece of the conference was The Pixel Pitch, where nine transmedia projects were pitched in an open forum before a jury of decision-makers, commissioners, and industry executives with a £6,000 prize on the line.

Michel Reilhac, the Executive Director of ARTE France Cinéma, gave the first of two keynotes kicking off Power to the Pixel’s Cross-Media Forum on October 12, discussing The Game-ification of Life. In his keynote, Reilhac recognized that the ubiquity of gaming culture is a reality that cannot be ignored in storytelling and experience design.

Reilhac traces the gamification of life through cash incentive, loyalty, and status reward systems. He notes that in gaming culture, the status / bragging mechanic is the most powerful tool for interaction, citing the prestige of having a platinum airline mileage card, earning Foursquare badges, and gaining social equity through Twitter followers as examples. Just as players turn to games to satisfy different motivations, transmedia participants seek different methods of interacting with stories. Specifically addressing alternate reality games, Reihlac celebrates the genre’s ability to empower players, not through an avatar, but as themselves. Alternate reality games engender trust that extends beyond the game and into the real world.

The second keynote was delivered by Campfire Media’s Mike Monello with the alliterative title Babies, Buns and Buzzers, a historical look at the last century of experiential entertainment told through the framework of Coney Island, and running through an ARGFest-spawned obsession with tiki bars (along with a brief mention of Campfire’s work, including the multi-platform viral campaign leading up to author Andrea Cremer’s Nightshade).

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SCVNGR Unleashes Zombie Horde Through Social Check-In Feature

Geo-locative check-in app SCVNGR has pulled off some crazy stunts in the past few months. Modernista used the app to lead Dexter fans to a kill room set up at Comic-Con in San Diego, and the New England Patriots used it to help nose tackle Vince Wilfork recover his Super Bowl XXXIX ring. But this time, SCVNGR has gone too far: they’ve unleashed zombies.

Or at least, zombie badges. Just in time for Halloween, SCVNGR has infected ten SCVNGR players with a Zombie badge. Once infected, these hapless souls will be informed of their sad state, and are doomed to wander the streets, spreading the infection. The transmission vector? SCVNGR’s new social check-in feature, where players can earn points by bumping phones together. Normally, engaging in unprotected bumping lets players earn points, with the rewards increasing based on the size of the group. When a player bumps with a zombified SCVNGR user, all the users in the group become infected with the zombie badge.

What will you do to avoid joining the ranks of the living dead? Will you stock up on supplies at Sears’ zombie-themed sale, purchase a Faraday cage bag, or go off the grid entirely? Luckily, this is a limited engagement, so you only need to make plans to protect yourself for the next few weeks. If for some unknown reason you actually want to become a mindless zombie, email [email protected] with the subject line of “BRAINSSS!!” — the first ten to do so will be infected.

Exploring the World of Collapsus with Director Tommy Pallotta

In March of 2010, the Dutch broadcasting company VPRO released the documentary Energy Risk as part of its Future Affairs programming. The Dutch-language documentary explored the impending transition from fossil fuel to alternative energy sources. Recognizing that the average documentary viewer is over the age of 55, the network approached SubmarineChannel to create a more engaging experience that would appeal to younger audiences. Tommy Pallotta was brought on board to direct the experience, and the Collapsus experience was born.

Staying true to the project’s documentary roots, Collapsus presents a global narrative that plays out in the near-future. Told through the eyes of activist vlogger Vera and a cast of supporting characters, Collapsus depicts a complex world of profiteering, geo-political maneuvering, and conspiracy centering around dwindling oil reserves. Stylistically, the experience combines live action film with rotoscoped scenes that should be familiar to viewers of Pallotta’s previous projects, Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. Pallotta notes that “we settled on a hybrid of live action and animation as an aesthetic choice, but also one made for time and budget. The story takes place all over the world so we had to find a way to tell a global story that didn’t show the limitations we had.” This core narrative, combining live action and animation, forms the root of the Collapsus experience. And while this passive experience can provide a complete narrative arc, the story is peppered with a host of opportunities to take a more active role in the story.

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Anthony Zuiker Takes CSI to the Next Level 26

Images courtesy of Level 26

It’s been over a year since CSI creator and executive producer Anthony Zuiker unleashed the grim world of Steve Dark upon readers with the release of his first digi-novel, Level 26: Dark Origins, and on Thursday October 14th, Zuiker is returning to the Level 26 universe with the release of Level 26: Dark Prophecy. The date also marks a CSI-Level 26 crossover, as the “forensics-proof” Level 26 villain, Sqweegel, is scheduled to make an appearance in this week’s episode of CSI. What follows is a look back at the Level 26 franchise along with hints of what’s to come for “Special Circs” agent Steve Dark stemming from an interview with Zuiker about the series.

When Level 26: Dark Origins launched last year, it quickly secured its status as an international and New York Times bestseller, now boasting over 100,000 members at the digi-novel’s website, The novel was peppered with 20 five-minute videos serving as “cyberbridges” in the unfolding narrative. The story centered around Steve Dark’s near-obsessive hunt for Sqweegel, a fastidious serial killer who committed his crimes while wearing a white body condom. Zuiker notes that “the book [Level 26: Dark Origins] was very sexually deviant, very dark . . . and it was vamped that way back then beause we were definitely shooting to do things that were too-hot-for-television.”

During the novel’s concluding cyberbridge, viewers were treated to a tantalyzing glimpse of an empty, black body condom, a prelude to Sqweegel actor Daniel Browning Smith’s entrance into the CSI universe. Thursday’s episode, entitled Sqweegel, will serve as an extended cyberbridge of sorts, linking the events of the first book to the sequel. Zuiker explains that “Black Sqweegel will be on CSI as a forensic-proof killer, and when that particular episode ends, the storyline will continue in Dark Prophecy.”

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Open Source Convention Planning: ARGFest 2011 General Meeting This Sunday

Every year, alternate reality game developers and players assemble at ARGFest to talk shop, discuss recent innovations in the field, and find exciting new locations to discuss future plans while partaking of drinks sporting umbrellas. This year, ARGFest’s planning committee is aiming for transparency throughout the process, and will be holding a General Meeting this Sunday, October 10, online at 1PM EST.

ARGFest has pulled off some impressive activities since its humble beginnings in Las Vegas. At ARGFest 2008 in Boston, attendees watched The Dark Knight alongside creators of the film’s viral experience, took part in The Lost Sport as part of an alternate reality game for the Olympics, and witnessed a bodybuilder clad only in a banana hammock flex for the crowd. The following year in Portland, attendees donned cardboard and tinfoil robot costumes for an invigorating round of Robot Speed Dating, experienced the premiere of the 10-minute alternate reality game Mime Academy, and learned of the early days of the genre at the feet of Jordan Weisman.  This past summer in Atlanta, the Transmedia Artist Guild officially announced its formation, Jim Babb trained attendees in the delicate art of sockpuppetcraft, and Ian Pottmeyer led a rousing game of No Talent Required, a quickfire artistic showdown.

Clearly, ARGFest has a strong history of bringing together strong panelists and engaging events, but according to Unfiction creator Sean Stacey, it’s “the impromptu discussions between sessions and events that make ARGFest all double rainbows and shit.  It’s a good place for ARG and transmedia enthusiasts of all stripes to get together and concoct crazy ideas, such as she-crab.” Based on anecdotal evidence, a number of alternate reality games and partnerships have spawned out of casual conversations in hotel rooms and hallways across the country.

Creating the perfect world for ARGFest’s fruity bounty is a daunting task for the ARGFest staff, and they need your help to make ARGFest 2011 more delicious than the cocktails at a tiki bar. Think you have an idea for a great location, panel, or event? Interested in adding your voice to the discussion on how to make ARGFest 2011 a resounding success? Log on to IRC on Sunday at 1PM EST to join the conversation.  The discussion will take place in the #argfest channel on chat-solutions. If you’re less accustomed to IRC, you can get there by clicking on ARGNet’s chat link, selecting a username, and then typing /join #argfest.

Seeing Red with Webishades: An Introduction to a Few Web Series

Images courtesy of No Mimes Media

Last week, I got a phone call from Felicia Day . . . and you can too.

It all started with an interview with No Mimes Media by Jenni Powell posted on Tubefilter, a news site dedicated to web television. While Tubefilter’s primary focus is web television, alternate reality games and transmedia tactics have been successfully utilized in the space since the early days of YouTube, when lonelygirl15 became one of the biggest breakaway hits for scripted web television.

In the article, Powell mentioned that she recently “had the pleasure to collaborate with No Mimes Media” on a project. And in response to Powell’s final interview question asking where someone could find an ARG to play, No Mimes Media cryptically replied that “you never know, a rabbithole might even be on this very page somewhere, if you look carefully enough!” Sure enough, below that comment was an advertisement for Webishades.

Webishades, it seems, are an amazing new form of sunglasses that let you watch web television on the go. The campy website behind the product fully embraces the aesthetic atrocity that typifies many infomercial pages, while featuring images of the cast and crew from popular web series donning the signature red sunglasses. By following a sequence of clues, players hop seamlessly across websites, email, Facebook, Twitter, and phone trees, punctuated by an automated call from Felicia Day herself.

This experience was highly reminiscent of another one of No Mimes Media’s projects, Mime Academy. Mime Academy was a comedic storytelling experience presented at ARGFest and South by Southwest that billed itself as a “10 Minute ARG” for its ability to tell a cohesive interactive story in a limited amount of time. Webishades succeeds admirably at replicating the condensed feeling of interactivity that made Mime Academy such a powerful exemplar for the potential of alternate reality games.

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F8 Comes Knocking at My Door: Dexter ARG Hits Close to Home

This morning, a knock on my door woke me up. A package greeted me on my doorstep, addressed to ARGNet (care of Celina Beach). Inside was a tiny, elegant package and a postcard with the picture of a grisly kill room and a bloody infinity sign. This was familiar.

This was F8.

We’ve  reported on The Infinity Killer, the nefarious serial killer at the heart of the Dexter alternate reality game, a few times over the past few months. In fact, the image sent to ARGNet bears a striking resemblance to the kill room set up at San Diego’s Comic-Con that launched the alternate reality game. And this package had F8’s name written all over it (figuratively, of course). It’s safe to say we’ve taken an interest in him. And it seems as though he’s taken an interest in ARGNet staffer Celina Beach as well, as the back of the postcard reads:


I’ve been following you for a while. And it seems you’re onto me as well. I have to say, I’m quite flattered. I’m thinking you might be interested in picking my brain (assuming my heart whets your appetite). You + 8 other bloggers I admire have received packages like the one you just opened. I am going to grant an exclusive interview to the first of you to write a story about me + the present. I can assure you, my friends are just dying to see it.

I am always thinking of you

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Animism: The Gods’ Lake Project Attends Fan Expo, Sends Package

On August 28, former Oxbridge University Doctor Declan Grey gave a lecture at the Folklore Academics Network Exposition (FAN Expo) discussing his research on animism at God’s Lake in Canada. Professor Declan seemed blissfully unaware that Oxbridge University is a mythical conceit spawned from the mind of 19th century English author William Makepeace Thackeray, and equally ignorant that he was speaking at a different sort of Fan Expo. This appearance marked the launch of Zeros 2 Heroes Media’s alternate reality game, Animism: The Gods’ Lake, placing a digital twist on an upcoming television program slated for release on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. The Fan Expo events lead conference-goers on an augmented reality-fueled trek to unlock clues using QR codes affixed to posters.

Animism provided me with an introduction to the story that was slightly more grounded in the physical world through a package I received in the mail. After reading Tristan Balfour’s article on Dr. Declan Grey’s termination from Oxbridge University, I learned that Grey was dismissed for claiming to have “discovered proof of woodland creatures that were part animal, part human.” An image dated August 20th displays this hybrid monstrosity ripped straight from a Canadian First Nation legend. In the article, witnesses noted that Grey was forcibly removed from Gods’ Lake Falls, where he was conducting his research. Presumably, the authorities did a terrible job securing the chain of evidence, as I also received an evidence bag with three glyphs carved into wood (the flower-shaped glyph has a jagged “W” carved onto its back). These glyphs, along with others, are pictured carved into a tree in the final photograph. A business card provided Declan Grey’s contact information on one side, with a QR code on its reverse.

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Help Edna? Maxis Cooks Up an ARG for Genre-Switching Darkspore Game

Image courtesy of EA Games

In 2008, Maxis released the video game Spore for the PC and Mac, describing the game as giving players “their own personal universe in a box.” Since then, Electronic Arts and Maxis have taken the franchise to the Nintendo DS, Wii, mobile phone, and Facebook. Coming in February 2011, Maxis is taking the tools they developed for the Spore franchise in another direction by moving into the action-RPG space with the release of Darkspore. Perhaps because of this shift in focus, Maxis is introducing their new game’s universe through an alternate reality game playing out at

Despite the name of the alternate reality game’s website, Help EDNA does not center around collecting merit badges for assisting an old lady across the street. Rather, it refers to Exponential DNA, a substance used by a race of creatures known as the Crogenitors to create a galactic scourge, the Darkspore. The alternate reality game centers around Earth’s first contact with aliens who are presumably seeking help against the Darkspore. So far, all communication has been mediated through a text-based interface administered by an artificial intelligence at the Help EDNA website. Reminiscent of old text-based adventures, players must guess at commands based on information contained on the frequently changing website.

Keeping with the spirit of first contact, the puzzles so far have relied heavily on scientific constants to convey information. For instance, players were presented with a substitution cipher indicating the time and location for Maxis’ Comic-Con panel: to crack the cipher, they needed to recognize that “s f m a tt tf ta ti sf si ft fa qt qf qa mf mi nt na at af ai zf zi ia tut” represents the sequence of the first twenty-six prime numbers. Another puzzle hinged on identifying the chemical compositions of adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, the bases of DNA. Players also needed to recognize that a series of coordinates represented past solar flares. The most daunting puzzle to date centered on analyzing a string of over 12,000 digits of pi for missing digits to reveal a message that implies these puzzles have been a test of our intelligence.

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A Super 8 Update: Rocket Poppeteers Blast Off at Comic-Con, Into Your Homes

Image from the Rocket Poppeteer twitter account

Details about the project code-named Super 8, a new film by J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg, are still ensconced in mystery. And while the movie’s viral campaign offers scintillating tastes of what the film may eventually offer, putting those pieces together is a daunting task, made even more difficult thanks to recent updates. What do vintage Rocket Poppeteers brand popsicles have to do with an antiquated PDP-11 simulator, and how does a collector of rare and unique fish figure into things? While this article will have few answers to these seemingly outrageous questions, it will provide some context for this alternate reality game as it circuitously provides a preview of things to come in the upcoming film.

Last May when ARGNet first covered the Super 8 alternate reality game, players were waiting patiently for a PDP-11 simulator designed by “D. Morris” at the Scariest Thing I Ever Saw website to finish downloading a file. Once the file transfer completed, players could print out two newspaper clippings bearing an advertisement for Rocket Poppeteers brand popsicles, along with some oddly placed redactions. Lining up the two articles and cutting out the redactions reveals a message that Super8News interprets as “No certainty if alive, [it/they] may be after us, we go underground.” Both Rocket Poppeteers spokesman “Coop” Cooper and PDP-11 programmer “D. Morris” have been linked to Dan Morris and Gordon Cooper, real people who play prominent roles in alien conspiracy theories.

The Rocket Poppeteers advertisement served as more than the vehicle for an ominous message. Some players attempted to become a Rocket Poppeteer by mailing the newspaper clipping in to the listed address, and subsequently received a letter welcoming them into the Rocket Poppeteers Astronaut Program. At Comic-Con, the Rocket Poppeteer twitter account reported locations where conference attendees could visit an ice cream truck for popsicles and t-shirts from friendly ice cream men (and women) decked out in old-fashioned apparel. The Rocket Poppeteers website has opened up for online registration, so it’s not too late to get in on the popsicle-related fun, however it relates to the upcoming Super 8 film.

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Conspiracy for Good: Into the Belly of the Beast to Confront Blackwell Briggs

Image courtesy of stevecadman

This past May, Tim Kring launched Conspiracy for Good, and as the summer comes to a close, the events of the past few months are coming to a head for one final event this weekend in London. If you can make it to Bloomsbury Square Gardens in London on August 7, register to play now, and this article should get you up to speed with what you need to know to join in the adventure.

Conspiracy for Good can best be described as an amalgamation of an alternate reality game, a street theater show, and a social movement. Players have been charged with the task of bringing down Blackwell Briggs, an evil global security firm with a penchant for kidnapping and skullduggery. Players willing to risk attracting Blackwell Briggs’ ire joined up with the Conspiracy for Good, an organization of socially-minded individuals committed to opposing the company’s excess.

Using a series of free mobile games available at Nokia’s Ovi Store, players were given the opportunity to hack into the Babbage 1.6.1 website to extract valuable pieces of intelligence, break into the Blackwell Briggs servers, and hack a series of CCTV cameras across London to help smuggle Nadirah, a key Conspiracy for Good member seeking to build a library for children in Zambia, into the city. The final mobile game lead to the next stage of Conspiracy for Good: a series of four live “Actions” occuring weekly in London. Participants at each Action are provided with a Nokia phone with pre-installed software to help complete the task.

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Getting Wired For Your ARGNet Fix: The New Decode Subsite

Puzzle aficionados and alternate reality game players have a new resource for the latest news and views about puzzles, alternate reality games, scavenger hunts, geocaching, and other sources of “harrowing mental torments.” Wired recently launched its new subsite, Decode, in the wake of Wired’s National Magazine Award for best special-topic issue, which recognized the magazine for its puzzle-riddled mystery issue of May 2009.

I am excited to announce that Decode will be syndicating ARGNet content on the site, starting with Jane Doh’s recent coverage of the We Lost Our Gold treasure hunt in New York City. So, in addition to finding our stories here at ARGNet or via our RSS feed, Facebook page, Digg account, or on Twitter, you can visit Wired for the latest news about alternate reality games, transmedia storytelling, puzzle hunts, and that new Juzzling craze that’s sweeping the nation. Wired has consistently explored creative avenues of engaging its readership through endeavors such as Wired Magazine‘s Mystery Issue, Wired UK‘s Enigma Challenge, and the manhunts for Evan Ratliff and the Repo Men film.  Hopefully, our new relationship will help raise interest and awareness in the burgeoning alternate reality gaming and transmedia space.

Special thanks to Chris Baker and the staff at Wired for creating the new subsite, and to Mike Selinker and Teeuwynn Woodruff from Lone Shark Games for spearheading the effort to make Decode a reality.

Tim Kring and The Company P Team Up to Form a Conspiracy for Good

In the summer of 2008, Tim Kring and Christopher Sandberg were discussing the future of transmedia and community-based entertainment, standing on top of Isaac Mendez’ iconic post-apocalyptic tableau painted on the floor of the Heroes soundstage. As a result of that conversation, The Company P signed on to help produce Conspiracy for Good, a large-scale movement with alternate reality gaming elements.  Kring had previously pitched the concept for Conspiracy for Good to Nokia. The movement will play out “across both traditional media and new media platforms including smart mobile devices, game consoles, tablets, and PCs.”  At the heart of the experience is a locative event that will play out over the course of three weeks in London starting in mid-July and running until August 7th.  According to Kring, this is a great week to join in with the action, as “the narrative aspect really gets cooking as far as meeting key characters and key figures.  A lot of the smoke that’s surrounding it will start to lift in the next few days.”

Conspiracy for Good first launched in May with a series of videos featuring celebrities ranging from JJ Abrams to Ringo Starr declaring “I am not a member.” Later in the month, the site hosting the videos redirected to the game’s main portal at Conspiracy for Good. Savvy players discovered a puzzle-locked allegory about Lord Magpie and his efforts to silence the songbirds. One of the puzzles introduced Blackwell Briggs, a global company seeking to increase surveillance by supercharging existing CCTV networks and introducing legislation to subvert mobile networks to track citizens. The Conspiracy for Good leaked the footage to The Pirate Bay, and spokeswoman Ann Marie Calhoun posted a re-edit of the video, revealing a different side to the company. Shortly after posting the video, Calhoun went missing and The Pirate Bay received a notice from Blackwell Briggs requesting that the tracker be removed. Further hints at the overarching story emerged by playing Exclusion, a free game for Nokia phones that includes unlockable codes that lead to additional pieces of information on Babbage, a website discovered through Exclusion. Nokia partnered with Kring and The Company P to launch the project, and will release a series of games expanding on Exclusion to advance the narrative.

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A Call to Action for Alternate Reality Game Developers: Play ARGs

In recent weeks, a number of alternate reality game developers have called for some changes. Brooke Thompson, the chair of the International Game Developer’s Association ARG special interest group, asked developers to make postmortems of completed games publicly available to foster an environment for constructive criticism. No Mimes Media co-founder and ARG Netcast host Steve Peters asked developers to concentrate on creating compelling player experiences as opposed to relying on free giveaways to generate buzz. And now, I’m throwing my hat into the ring.

Play alternate reality games.

Whether you’re an aspiring developers or one with a number of successful campaigns under your belt, you should be playing ARGs as often as you can. Take the time to go through the experience of discovery, and remind yourself what excited you about transmedia and alternate reality games by experiencing the communities that develop firsthand. People enmeshed in the television industry will still go home and watch television: after all, Joss Whedon is a self-professed GLEEk, and George Broussard and Scott Miller (formerly of 3D Realms) love World of Warcraft. What makes alternate reality games so different?

The answer I hear most frequently when I pose that question is “time.” There’s a perception that playing alternate reality games demands extensive time commitments that developers don’t have. And since ARGs have indefinite lengths, it can be even harder to commit to a game. However, if you find yourself unable to drop in and interact with an ongoing game, I would argue that’s a design flaw that you should internalize. Assuming that all ARG players have large blocks of time to dedicate to your game is a dangerous assumption that limits your audience to players dedicated to your game to the exclusion of almost everything else.  And making that assumption feeds the stereotype that gamers are people with shallow pockets and lots of time on their hands. Based on anecdotal evidence, that is far from the truth. However, if game designers continue to operate on that assumption by creating games that are largely inaccessible without absolute dedication to a single game, it may become an unfortunate reality.

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The Secret Is Out There: Coca Cola Creator Doc Pemberton Stars in “Secret Formula” Campaign

The Coca Cola Company has enlisted the aid of Wieden+Kennedy, Portland to create an integrated marketing campaign exploring the history and mythology behind Doctor John Stith Pemberton, the inventor of Coca Cola. The Secret Formula campaign launched with the above video bears many of the trappings of an alternate reality game, with links leading to artifacts across the web, with the promise of expansion out into the real world in the near future. And while it is relatively easy to draw parallels between this campaign and Wieden+Kennedy’s previous Go Forth campaign for Levi’s, on first impression it appears as though Secret Formula will be a more passive experience.

According to the campaign’s The Secret Is Out There video, someone is trying to steal Coca Cola’s secret formula: and based on past experience, Pepsi can be ruled out as the culprit. In order to figure out who is after the formula, players will have to learn more about the two people who know the formula as well as the drink’s inventor, Doctor Pemberton, who has recently discovered twitter, although it seems as though the good doctor had some trouble adjusting to the application at first.

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Interview with Author Patrick Carman

Below is an interview that Michael Andersen conducted with prolific multimedia author Patrick Carman.  Over the past few years, Carman has released a number of projects that seek to redefine the novel.  In addition to his Skeleton Creek series, Carman wrote The Black Circle, book five in the 39 Clues franchise.  Carman released Thirteen Days to Midnight in April and TRACKERS in May.

MA: What lead you to start writing transmedia novels?  (Also, is there another term you prefer for the format?)

PC: I’m just going to come right out and say it at the top: Transmedia, as a unifying term, is beyond lame. And it points to a challenge we’re facing in this space: coining a term is a tricky business. What the heck do we call what we’re doing? I tried vBooks (also lame), others have tried Diginovel, iStories, Vook, cross-platform – the list goes on, and I think they all fail to inspire at a level that will bring everyone under one tent. You guys did better with ARG – Alternate Reality Game – it stuck. How’d you do that?

To our credit (and by ‘our’ I mean everyone trying to explode books into the 21st century landscape) we’re talking about a brand new way of telling stories. We’re probably supposed to fumble around in the dark for awhile, but I think we’re getting closer. My two cents as of today is that we’re basically talking about something that’s been around for a long time, namely multimedia. And really, that’s a pretty good term to describe what’s happening to with these books; they’re becoming something broader, encompassing different medias. It’s interesting that movies and TV shows and web sites don’t have the same challenge. Creators of those mediums aren’t sitting around debating what they should call something when a movie has an ARG and spawns a TV show. It’s simply multimedia. The difference with a project like Skeleton Creek or TRACKERS is that I’m committed to a simple premise those other examples aren’t interested in: for me, the destination is always the book. That means the videos, the games, the web sites – they have a job to do, which is to get young readers turning pages. At PC Studio, where we make all these assets, a video is only as good as the pages it pushes a reader to turn.

Long winded already and I haven’t even exited question number one. The short answer is MULTIMEDIA. That’s what it’s called, that’s what it is.

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Aguatero Industries: Message in a Bottle, or SOS to the World?

Earlier today, I received a package containing a message in a bottle from Aguatero Industries. The company was so excited to announce its expansion into the Las Vegas and Los Angeles markets, it sent me a message secreted inside their newer, more eco-friendly bottle design. On the inside of the bottle cap, I could faintly make out the letters “WP.ME /PURU9-2” written in pen, with the number 998 embossed beneath that.

Sadly, in order to reach the message in the bottle, I had to cut the water bottle apart. Once inside, I unfolded the press release, revealing the following message describing Aguatero Industries’ involvement in worldwide urban water system operation, and announcing its plans for expansion. According to the company’s website, its expansion into Las Vegas and Los Angeles is only part of a larger rollout of services. The press release was dated in the near future, on June 10, 2010.

The company has a social media presence with its twitter account. Refreshingly (pun entirely intended), no one seems to be in physical danger. However, typing in the shortened url on the bottle cap leads to the Our Water Planet blog, which suggests the empty bottle I received represents something more insidious: “It represents something far too many people experience: a lack of water.”  The blog is run by Connor Arter, who maintains a twitter account for the site.

All the signs seem to indicate that this is the launch of a new serious game addressing water scarcity and resource management issues: the Our Water Planet blog even includes a donation link to Charity: Water. Charity: Water is near and dear to to the hearts of alternate reality game fans, as players of Levi’s Go Forth treasure hunt selected the charity to receive a $100,000 donation from Levi’s at the game’s conclusion.

Was this message in a bottle simply a press release, or was it an SOS to the world?

Click Here for the discussion at Unfiction.

The Scariest Thing I Ever Saw: Another JJ Abrams Viral

Editor’s Note: for information on events since this article’s publication, check out ARGNet’s follow-up article on the Super 8 alternate reality game.

Over the past few weeks, rumors have been floating around about Super 8, a new movie by JJ Abrams. Many speculated the film would be the newest installment in the Cloverfield universe. Abrams is going to extreme measures to maintain the mystique of this new project, sending the film’s trailers to theaters in canisters that required special codes to open. Despite these security measures, a “bootleg copy” of the trailer was posted on YouTube prior to the trailer’s release during select Iron Man 2 screenings at last night’s midnight showings.

Hidden within the trailer was the phrase “THESCARIESTTHINGIEVERSAW,” leading astute followers to the website, which accesses a “PDP-11 Simulator” operating on a remote desktop. The simulator was developed by “D. Morris” on February 5, 1977, and executes an as-yet-unknown operation that takes days to load.

Very little is known about Super 8 or its related viral experience, although has provided a succinct summary of what little information is available. Abrams has gone on the record clarifying that the film “has nothing whatsoever to do with Cloverfield,” but has remained silent on any further details regarding the project. Abrams has a proven track record of building buzz around his projects through interactive experiences that attract dedicated followings (including viral campaigns for Star TrekFringeCloverfield, LOST, and Alias) so this newest installment might be worth exploring.  Abrams’ alternate reality games have been inconsistent at times, considering the cancellation of LOST‘s Dharma Initiative ARG and the Fringe ARG devolving into a series of glyph ciphers hidden in each episode.  However, the highs seem to be overpowering the occassional low.  Two LOST alternate reality games have won a Primetime Emmy for Interactive Media – Fiction, and WIRED’s puzzle-filled “mystery issue” guest-edited by Abrams won an Ellie for best special-topic issue.  Furthermore, Abrams’ most recent alternate reality game Alert Vulcan demonstrated that he is still willing to go the extra mile to provide an immersive transmedia experience that crosses over into the real world, so this may very well turn into the scariest thing I ever saw.

Click Here for the discussion at the Unfiction forums.
Click Here for the wiki at

UPDATE 05/08/2010: the original leaked trailer has been deleted from YouTube.

2010 Webby Winners Announced: Letters to the Future, District 9, and True Blood Take Home Honors

Webby_Logo_smallYesterday, the winners of the 14th Annual Webby Awards were announced, recognizing excellence in “interactive design, creativity, usability and functionality on the Internet.” This year, a trio of alternate reality gaming projects came home with accolades. So congratulations to the teams behind Love Letters to the Future (Xenophile Media), District 9 (Trigger LLC), and True Blood (HBO).

Love Letters to the Future swept the Green category, taking home both the Webby Award and People’s Voice Award for the category. The campaign sought to collect messages from the worldwide community to future generations: the top 100 messages were buried in a time capsule at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen on December 13, 2009. Providing an interactive undercurrent to the already interactive campaign, Xenophile Media hid a series of clues and messages from the future on the website, culminating a series of augmented reality images hidden at locations across the globe. To read more about the alternate reality game designed for Greenpeace International, you can follow along with the game’s progress at the Love Letters to the Future blog.

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Know Hope: Will Bluebird Lead to Paradise?

bluebirdWhen I checked my mail today, I found an envelope from Australia amidst the typical stack of bills, circulars, and coupons to Bed Bath & Beyond. Since I don’t typically receive correspondence from Oz, I snapped a few photographs before opening the letter.

Inside was a letter and an employee badge with an attached USB drive. Both the letter and the badge were emblazoned with the graphic of a blue bird with wings outstreched. On the stationery, I could make out the word “BLUEBIRD” printed underneath the bird. The letter stated,

I need you to look after these for me.
Who knows what’s going to happen to Bluebird
over the next little while . . .
One thing I do know is I can’t let this
bird fly. I’ve got to get the word out.

The employee badge was for Kyle Vandercamp, badge #0004584 at Bluebird. Since the letter was signed “K.” and the attached USB Drive was named “KYLE,” I can only assume Mr. Vandercamp was the source of this message. Kyle has a personal blog, a Flickr stream, and assorted other social media pages.

The USB drive contained a single file: (sic.), a video file purportedly created on April 7, 2010 at 4:19:46PM, yet somehow modified on April 7, 2010 at 4:05:50PM. You can view the video below.

What is Project Bluebird, and how will it help stop global warming? Why did Kyle Vandercamp want me to have this file? And will we have a chance to “know hope,” or is there truly “no hope?” At the moment, I only have questions. Hopefully, you can help find the answers.

Click Here for the discussion at Unfiction.

UPDATE:  According to Kyle Vandecamp’s website, this is an alternate reality drama called Bluebird AR, produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and supported by Current. More behind-the-scenes information will be available at ABC’s Bluebird AR page shortly.

Primeval Evolved and Reservoir Hill Win 2010 International Digital Emmy Awards

emmyTransmedia storytelling was well received at this year’s International Digital Emmy Awards.  Primeval Evolved and Reservoir Hill received Emmys for their innovative storytelling, while Heroes creator and executive producer Tim Kring received this year’s Pioneer Award at the award show in Cannes.

This past year has been particularly good for Primeval Evolved developer Hoodlum. In September, the Australian digital entertainment company took home a Primetime Creative Arts Emmy for its work on Dharma Wants You, the third alternate reality game for ABC’s hit drama LOST. Earlier tonight, Hoodlum added another Emmy to its growing collection, as the Primeval Evolved experience won the International Digital Emmy for “Best Digital Program: Fiction.” The campaign allowed players to join the Anomaly Research Centre (ARC) team from ITV’s drama Primeval.

UK residents can still experience the Primeval Evolved interactive drama, a series of ran concurrently with the third season of Primeval. Each chapter of Primeval Evolved is preceded by a recap of the previous episode of the television series, before allowing players to begin the adventure. In addition to a series of online games creating a framework for the story, the series featured Temple TV: In Living Connor, a series of videos filmed by series regular Connor Temple, played by Andrew Lee Potts.

ITV recently announced that Primeval has been picked up for two more seasons starting in 2011 on ITV1 and Watch. Congratulations to ITV, Hoodlum, and Impossible Pictures for their International Emmy win.

Congratulations also go out to Reservoir Hill for securing New Zealand’s first International Emmy. The interactive web series picked up an Emmy in the “Digital Program: Children & Young People” category. At the end of every Reservoir Hill episode, viewers had the opportunity to text in suggestions to influence the course of the story. They could also interact with the main character through weekly video blogs and through her Bebo page. New Zealand viewers can still enjoy the Reservoir Hill web series at TVNZ Ondemand.

Tim Kring received the 2010 Visionary Prize at the awards, honoring his contributions to the field of digital entertainment. International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences President and CEO Bruce Paisner noted, “Tim Kring is a masterful storyteller and the Heroes Evolution digital experience is the ultimate showcase for successfully integrating technology and content.” As the Visionary Prize recipient, Kring delivered a keynote address earlier today to MIPTV conference delegates.

Valemont Wins Streamy Awards for Best Interactive, Mobile Experiences


Image courtesy of Nina Bargiel

Yesterday, the Streamy Awards kicked off its Streamy Craft Awards Ceremony, recognizing excellence in original web television programming. While the Streamy Awards Ceremony will take place on April 11 at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles, tonight’s ceremony at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre recognized innovation in the craft of digital production in particular.

Among the night’s winners were a few series that utilized alternate reality games as part of their storytelling. MTV’s Valemont took home the awards for Best Interactive Experience in a Web Series and Best Mobile Experience in a Web Series. The series was produced by Gemini Division veterans Electric Farm Entertainment, and consisted of a series of two and a half minute episodes broadcast on and through Verizon Wireless’ V Cast service.

Nina Bargiel was tapped to create the alternate reality game for the series that allowed players to enroll at Valemont University, interact with characters across various social media, and participate in the show’s ongoing murder investigation. Since the episodes were so short, the alternate reality game became an integral element in the story’s development. Indeed, after the game’s conclusion, Valemont released two alternate endings for the series. Electric Farm Entertainment is set to produce a Valemont spin-off TV movie and five half-hour episodes that could be slated into a full series in the future. Winning two Streamy Awards may help push these plans forward for the web series and alternate reality game.

Riese will also be returning from the Streamys with an award, after picking up Best Cinematography in a Web Series. The show promoted its release with an alternate reality game that brought the series’ distinctive steampunk flair to life. Riese, like Valemont, has partnered with Fireworks International to manage the show’s transition from web to television.

Click Here to visit Valemont Commons, the fan community for Valemont.

Producers Guild of America Adds Transmedia Producer Credit

PGAYesterday, Deadline Hollywood broke the news that the Producers Guild of America would be adding “Transmedia Producer” to the PGA’s Producer Code of Credits. This Code of Credits is used to ensure production credits are accurate and precise, and to resolve credit disputes. According to Nikki Finke, this unprecedented decision marks the first time the PGA has ratified a new credit in the guild’s history.

According to the new Transmedia Producer Credit Guidelines, a Transmedia Narrative project or franchise:

must consist of three (or more) narrative storylines existing within the same fictional universe  on any of the following platforms:  Film, Television, Short Film, Broadband, Publishing, Comics, Animation, Mobile, Special Venues, DVD/Blu-ray/CD-ROM, Narrative Commercial and Marketing rollouts, and other technologies that may or may not currently exist. These narrative extensions are NOT the same as repurposing material from one platform to be cut or repurposed to different platforms.

The Transmedia Producer credit goes to the people responsible for a significant portion of the project’s development, planning and/or maintenance, including fostering audience interaction with the canonical narrative. PGA President Marshall Herskovitz explained the necessity of the new credit, noting that “as technology evolves, it’s no longer adequate to think of a project as simply a television show or a movie; we now understand that the audience will want to experience that content across several platforms.”

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Sentient Silicon: A Nanovor Primer

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.

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Return of the ARG Practicum: A Three For One Deal

Last year, the University of Texas at Dallas’ Emerging Media and Communications program offered a practicum in ARG design taught by Deus City developer and UT-Dallas professor Adam Brackin. Over the course of the semester, the class developed and produced the Electron Innovations alternate reality game. This year, Brackin’s ARG practicum, affectionately referred to as “ARGlab 2.0,” is back with three new alternate reality games. According to Brackin, these three projects will reflect his Circular Model of ARG Development embracing parallel games, sequels and spin-offs within a shared “game world.”

While Electron Innovations was the product of a six-person team, ARGlab 2.0 is comprised of 20 students divided into four teams. Three of these teams are developing alternate reality games. The fourth team is documenting the creative process of the other groups, and will publish a “making of” documentary upon completion of the ARGs.

The three ARGlab 2.0 ARGs can be found at,, and Priestly Industries explores a contest to win $10 billion in venture capital from the wealthy and eccentric industrialist Gerard Priestly, while I Know What Happened follows novice geocacher Becka Belle as she tries to figure out the meaning of a mysterious box she discovered. Sunshine Books 4 Less, on the other hand, revolves around a series of strange, defaced posters scattered around downtown Dallas.

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An Inside Look at the EVOKE Network

evokeDuring her talk at TED 2010, Jane McGonigal argued that game developers have a responsibility to change the world for the better by harnessing the efforts of gamers to improve the real world. Her dream is to see a game developer win the Nobel Prize by 2032. EVOKE, McGonigal’s most recent foray into the serious games arena, launched on March 3rd and may be a step towards achieving that goal. To date, there are over 9,000 agents registered on the site, with more joining every day.

The primary outlet for gameplay in EVOKE is the EVOKE Network itself. After creating a profile on the game’s ning social networking platform, agents can post blogs, images, or video files responding to a number of Quests and Missions. Alternatively, content can be added or accessed via SMS, mobile web, or mobile Facebook to make the game more accessible to players without access to computers. By successfully completing Quests and Missions, students can earn “mission runes” and achievement badges to track their progress. They can also award EVOKE Powers to contributions that excel in a number of different categories. Structurally, the EVOKE Network is similar to McGonigal’s previous project, Top Secret Dance Off, which relied on the community to identify and reward positive contributions while offering loosely structured challenges.

In addition to the EVOKE Network, the game provides an opportunity to learn more about the EVOKE organization and its leader, Alchemy, through a series of weekly graphic novels taking place in the year 2020. Through EVOKE, Alchemy provides anonymous services to countries in desperate need of assistance in exchange for a percentage of the profits from their contributions. Meanwhile, a second, equally secretive organization is seeking information about EVOKE for unknown reasons. So far, interactivity has been limited to the EVOKE Network, with the graphic novel serving as a passive accompaniment to the larger discussion. For example, in the first two installments of the graphic novel, EVOKE solved a food shortage in Tokyo without requiring or asking for the assistance of the game’s players.

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BREAKING NEWS: Artiforg Defaulters Ciji and Usman Caught

On Monday night, Lone Shark Games, Evan Ratliff, and Repo Men runner Usman Akeju joined the ARGNetcast to talk about their cross-country hunt for four runners carrying artiforgs from the Union. Yesterday, Repo Men hunter Geneva Conventional caught both Usman Akeju and Ciji Thorton at Seabrook Roller Skating Rink in Lanham, Maryland.  Prior to his capture, Usman visited his mother’s house, prompting Lone Shark Games President Mike Selinker to quip, “It proves what I’ve been saying for years: Nothing good can come from bringing a girl over to your mom’s house.”

MovieViral’s most recent RepoCast features an interview with Geneva Conventional along with Lone Shark Games’ Creative Director Teeuwynn Woodruff and hunters Shinma22, fubarcrew, BiggKat77, semisweetCJ, and eviltikimonkey describing Ciji and Usman’s capture, as well as their efforts to catch the other two runners.  Additionally, the Repo Men website has released an official statement announcing the capture, raising a number of questions:

How could two runners be so blind (especially as Thornton had a top-of-the-line Ocurity eye) as to miss someone sneaking up on both of them? Didn’t they have a feeling deep inside (perhaps in Usman’s Nephrolux kidney) that they could both be caught doing one of their individual Groundswell tasks? Will Groundswell loosen its restrictions on the other two runners, Alex Gamble and Will LaFerriere—or will the noose tighten even more?

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Valve Fans Triumphant: Glimmerings of a Portal ARG

portalIn 2007, Valve galvanized the gaming industry when it released the video game Portal. Although ostensibly a first-person shooter built upon Valve’s Source engine, the game’s quirky puzzles, catchy soundtrack, and unreliable narrator GLaDOS quickly captured the hearts and minds of gamers.  Yesterday, Rock Paper Shotgun reported that Valve Software released a special update for Portal, noting that it “[c]hanged radio transmission frequency to comply with federal and state spectrum management regulations.”  The seemingly innocuous update inserted a series of secret messages into the game that have led Valve fans on a merry chase for what may be the launch of an alternate reality game.

As the update’s description suggested, Portal’s radio service has received an upgrade.  Players can now carry the device around the game’s levels, using it as a portable receiver to detect morse code and Slow Scan Television transmissions at specific locations to transmit 26 messages and images, collected here.  One of these images contained the phone number for a BBS located in Kirkland, Washington.  By inputting a username and password provided in one of the morse code transmissions, players gained access to the backup system for GLaDOS v.3.11, the game’s artificial intelligence system. 

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Repo Men Launches: Tracking Down Artificial Organs for Fun and Profit

Ciji Thorton is a 26-year old woman with an artificial eye.
Will LaFerriere is a 27-year old former military man with an artificial heart.
Alex Gamble is a 22-year old female with an artificial liver.
And Usman Akeju is a 27-year old software consultant with an artificial kidney.

For the next month, three simple words can cost these four runners $7,500. Any registered hunter in the country can repossess the runner’s artiforg (artificial organ) by getting within speaking distance of them, uttering a three word phrase, receiving their codeword, collecting their artiforg, and calling their Union rep using the runner’s phone.  Promoting the upcoming release of the movie Repo Men, this alternate reality game will test the abilities of Ciji, Will, Alex, and Usman to remain undetected against an onslaught of investigative skills from “bounty hunters” nationwide.

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Repo Men: Countdown to the Hunt

repomenhuntLone Shark Games, Wired, and Universal have selected four applicants to attempt to disappear for the next month.  According to the teaser page for the campaign, the hunt for these four volunteers begins February 25 at the stroke of midnight, Eastern Standard Time (Feb 24 at 9PM, PST).

As Repossession Specialists, hunters will be seeking out the four individuals previously selected, to “retrieve ‘artiforgs’ [Union-branded artificial organs] from the possession of users who are seriously behind on their payments.  Successfully retrieving an artiforg results in a $7,500 cash prize.  In order to hunt, however, prospective Repossession Specialists need to submit a job application.  The site clearly states that “[o]nly registered Repo Men who follow all local and national laws and Union rules are eligible to receive cash for artiforgs.”  The teaser page now links directly to Repo Men’s Union Cares website, so it looks like the contest will be at least partially integrated with the ongoing viral campaign.  Registration to hunt as a Repossession Specialist hasn’t opened yet, but should become available any day now as the countdown approaches zero.

Clues for the game may come in unexpected places, so players are warned to keep their eyes open.  The teaser specifically charges potential hunters to “scan our posters and media for valuable information,” so stay sharp!  Maybe that string of numbers under the Repo Men title means something after all…

Click Here for’s coverage of the Union Cares viral page
Click Here for the discussion at

Flynn Lives (Again): Countdown to Tron Legacy Viral

flynnlivesLast summer, a number of movie bloggers received a flash drive along with two tokens for Flynn’s Arcade. By decoding and compiling code hidden within five different .gif files, players were lead to, while text printed on the coins lead to These websites lead Comic-Con attendees on a merry blacklight-lit chase throughout San Diego to discover Flynn’s Arcade and a life-sized replica of the reimagined lightcycle for the upcoming Tron: Legacy film, scheduled for a December 2010 theatrical release.

According to Creativity Online, this viral campaign was created by 42 Entertainment. 42 Entertainment previously received numerous accolades for its alternate reality gaming campaign Why So Serious, which created a series of discrete live events and challenges to immerse players within the seedier side of Gotham City that had players finding cellphones in cakes, campaigning for Harvey Dent, and locating customized bowling balls.

It seems as though 42 Entertainment is trying for a repeat performance, as has reported that Puerto Rican tipster Angel Bidot has received a package from Flynn Lives containing an origami a plastic Bit and the message “/zerohour.” RobMagus also reported receiving the package earlier today. At, a binary countdown is counting down the seconds until February 24 at approximately 11AM EST (8AM PST, 4PM GMT).

Click Here for the discussion at
Click Here for the Tron wiki at 

Image courtesy of RobMagus

Speaking of countdowns, remember you only have until 11:59pm EST tomorrow (Tuesday, February 16) to enter to win an iPod Touch, courtesy of Running Press Books.

Interview with Cathy’s Book Co-Author Sean Stewart

Below is an interview that Michael Andersen conducted with Sean Stewart regarding the release of the Cathy’s Book app for the iPhone.  In addition to co-authoring the transmedia storytelling experiment Cathy’s Book, Stewart worked on ARGs including The Beast, i love bees, Last Call Poker and Year Zero.

MA: How did you and Jordan come up with the idea for Cathy’s Book?

SS: It was Jordan’s idea (things often are).  After the Beast we were talking about how fun it was, but how frustrating it was, too, that it was over: even if someone heard about how cool it was, they couldn’t DO it.  “Hey!  You’re a book guy,” Jordan said.  “We should do a book using the same kind of techniques!”

So we did.

We came up with the broad outlines of the story together.  We figured YA was a good place to start, and, to be honest, having written a fair number of somewhat dark sf/f novels, I wanted to write a book I thought my teenage daughters might like.  (They have a cameo in the first novel which Sharp Eyed Readers may spot…)

MA: How would you compare the writing process you used for Cathy’s Book, as opposed to what you used for traditional novels like Perfect Circle or full-blown ARGs like The Beast?

SS: We determined that the thing HAD to work as a book, first and foremost; if you never did any of the ancillary material, you still had to have an enjoyable, satisfying experience.  So I wrote Cathy’s story, if you will, much as I would a regular book.

We used the extra material to fill out the life of Cathy’s love-interest, Victor.  Readers looking through the extra evidence can eventually work out almost every detail of the Many Lives of Victor, from gold camp ragamuffin to WWI flying ace to mobster, and so forth.

Trying to fit together the various pieces of evidence was much more like the storytelling method of The Beast.  Over time, we also changed how we did that.  Cathy’s Book, like the Beast, has a ton of little pieces of stuff for players to link together.  In Cathy’s Key and Cathy’s Ring we moved increasingly to building “interactive arcs,” so that a reader might, for instance, send an email and go through a 3 or 4-step investigation to arrive at a satisfying endpoint.
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The Repo Men Are Coming: Do You Have What It Takes to Disappear?

repomenLast fall, Lone Shark Games and Wired Magazine conducted a month-long, nationwide manhunt for reporter Evan Ratliff, with $5,000 on the line. After 25 days on the run, Ratliff’s love of gluten-free pizza spelled his downfall when the owner of Naked Pizza caught him in New Orleans. This time, it’s your turn. Lone Shark Games, in conjunction with Wired Magazine and Universal Pictures, are searching for a few good men (and women) adventurous enough to put their regular lives on hold for a month, starting in late February. Selected “Runners” will be provided vital technology along with seed money to escape detection for a month. Every Runner to make it a month without getting caught receives a $7,500  reward. But, as the contest notes, “people will be trying to find you, and they’ll use any means allowed in the rules to try to figure out where you are.”

This companion piece to The Hunt for Evan Ratliff serves as a promotion for the upcoming Universal Pictures film Repo Men. In the film, Union employees Remy and Jake (Jude Law and Forest Whitaker) repossess artificial organs from their recipients after a period of nonpayment. Thus, taken in context, the Runners are in for the flight of their lives. Of course, Lone Shark Games President Mike Selinker assured me that Runners who are caught should not have worry about the Union harvesting their organs…for all definitions of “organ harvesting” that you or I would know about.
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Looking Back at Scholastic’s Transmedia Efforts for 39 Clues

39cluesbooksOn September 9th, 2008 Scholastic published The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. The book debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and marked the beginning of Scholastic’s 10-book experiment in transmedia publishing. On February 2nd, Scholastic is releasing the seventh installment in the series, The 39 Clues: The Viper’s Nest by Peter Lerangis. February 2nd will also mark the premiere of The Viper’s Nest audio book and the corresponding set of collectible puzzle cards in Card Pack 3: The Rise of the Madrigals.

39 Clues tells the story of two children, Amy and Dan Cahill, who are thrust into a global hunt for clues that will reveal the secret to the Cahill family’s power. The series is a cross between The Westing Game and The Amazing Race as the two children compete against members of four branches of the Cahill family to uncover the secret histories of famous Cahills including Benjamin Franklin, Anastasia Romanov, and Amelia Earhart. Although the series initially portrays their competition as cutthroat caricatures of their respective family houses, the series gradually reveals the complex motives of their fellow competitors.

While the story is primarily told through the books, each novel serves as a launching pad for further exploration, as a number of clues are hidden within each book’s pages. For instance, in The Maze of Bones, a series of apparently misnumbered pages spells out a secret message that aids the reader in solving a puzzle on one of the six collectible cards that came with the book. By going to the 39 Clues website, the reader can complete a puzzlesolving mission culminating in an online game that explains the message. Alternatively, by buying and solving puzzle cards expansion packs from the series, players can discover the 39 clues for themselves and reveal more of the Cahill family history. The story also branches through products ranging from a board game to Madrigal Maze, an iPhone application. Continue reading

Fight the Apocalypse: A Supernatural ARG for the UK

fighttheapocalypseThe fifth season of Supernatural is coming to the UK this February. To raise awareness for the show’s return, LIVING launched Fight the Apocalypse, an alternate reality game running from today until March 3rd. UK and Eire residents 18 years or over can join the game by registering at and following the @fightapocalypse twitter account. The player who collects the highest number of points over the course of the game will win a flight to Vancouver to visit the set of Supernatural, along with the chance to appear in the show.

In order to play, residents of the UK or Eire can follow a series of clues delivered via the game’s Clue Portal or through videos by the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) that lead to Enochian Sigils scattered online and across the country. By taking pictures of the sigils and sending them via MMS or email, players can help Sam and Dean Winchester stay hidden from Lucifer. The clue to the first sigil notes:

In the heart of London there is a Victorian street of booksellers. Here you will find an esoteric bookshop, established in 1894, specialising in Mysticism, Mind, Body and Spirit. Find a Sigil here and even have your Tarot read while you’re there.

In addition to hunting the Enochian Sigils, players can join armies of fellow players and create alliances through Facebook or their mobile devices. Additional clues and challenges will be released on the game’s twitter account.

While the main focus of the game appears to be hunting down sigils, Castiel’s videos provide an opportunity to extend the story. And since the game asks players to “look out for new ways to score points as the game goes on,” there may be much more to this experience.

Access to the Lucifer is Coming website is restricted to UK and Eire residents.

Hello There, Seeker: A Look Into the Future With Interdimensional Games

projectb6-01On January 1, 2010, Interdimensional Games Inc. (iDGi) issued a press release announcing their discovery of a means of exporting the human consciousness into another dimension by using a satellite, ‘iDGi-1’, orbiting the moon. By accessing the company’s homepage at and waiting for a solar eclipse, visitors can take a peek at the future through the computer of Worldview Industries Employee #1195. This alternate reality game sets the stage for the release of iDGi’s new video game codenamed Project B6 by showcasing the game’s universe.

From the start, Interdimensional Games attempts to replicate the look and feel of PC and console gaming through the web browser. Players are greeted with a title screen promising to “[advance] the art form of interactive story-telling through the creation of emotionally compelling, immersive first-person experiences” before displaying the iDGi logo. After the title screen, players are taken to an interactive space map, where they can watch an impending solar eclipse set to sweeping orchestral music. At the moment of eclipse, the game begins in earnest as players must input a series of symbols in order to unlock the interdimensional interface.

After completing the first puzzle, a cutscene leads the player to an antiquated desktop presumably belonging to Worldview Industries Employee #1195.  The player is greeted as the “Seeker,” and gains access to Employee #1195’s online diary, a series of audio files, and a game of Hangman.  The files reveal a future where countries have replaced their militia with Automated Artificial Intelligence Border Defense Weaponry Systems, shrugged off their dependence on oil, banned Scientology, and cured diabetes.

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The Lonelygirl15 Universe Returns 01/11/10 With LG15: Outbreak

lg15outbreakIt’s been over three years since a young girl named Bree started posting YouTube videos under the lonelygirl15 username. The webseries has since released three seasons and spawned a number of spin-offs both domestically and internationally. The latest addition to EQAL’s Lonelygirl15 franchise, LG15: Outbreak, premieres tomorrow at and will be showcased on the lonelygirl15 Youtube channel. EQAL selected Outbreak from a number of pilot submissions for its second The Show Is Yours contest (TSIY). Outbreak will run for eight weeks, with new content released every weekday.

EQAL offered TSIY as an opportunity for fans of the show to add to the lonelygirl15 canon, leveraging the company’s distribution networks. LG15: The Last was the first series produced as a result of TSIY. For the first iteration of the contest, EQAL provided the winning team with $2,500 to help with production costs. For its second iteration, EQAL sweetened the pot, offering $5,000 for the rights to the show, agreeing to split the net profits from the show.  Additionally, Glenn Rubenstein, the creator of the OpAphid alternate reality game, agreed to offer some assistance to the winning production team.

The Lonelygirl15 series built its community around interaction and puzzlesolving, so fans of alternate reality games should look closely at the first few episodes. Earlier today, the show’s executive producer Austin McConnell linked to an image on twitter with a string of binary code promoting tomorrow’s launch.  McConnell will be producing the series through his company, Tempest Pictures.

Click Here for breaking news from LG15Today on Outbreak.
Click Here to watch Outbreak‘s TSIY2 pilot.

Lance Weiler’s HiM Selected For Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Lab


Artwork by Reinier Clabbers.

Between January 21-31, cinephiles and celebrities will converge on Park City Utah for the annual  Sundance Film Festival, immersing themselves in a rich tapestry of stories from independent filmmakers around the world. However, the immersion will start a few days early for Lance Weiler. Seize the Media’s upcoming transmedia project HiM was selected as one of twelve projects for the Sundance Institute’s Screewriters Lab. Weiler and his co-writer Chuck Wendig will spend the five days leading up to the Festival at the Sundance Resort honing their writing.

Over the course of the workshop, writers meet one-on-one with a distinguished group of creative advisors. Reflecting on his experience, 2009 Sundance Lab Fellow Avi Weider explains that the Lab served as “a great opportunity for everyone who got to go to really work intensively on the script and not to be able to hide from any of the soft spots that are lurking in all of our writing.” Weiler notes that he looks forward to the one-on-one sessions as a chance “to not only be able to workshop the script, but to be able to talk about ideas about how [to] deal with pacing and focus, and how [to] execute across multiple platforms effectively.”

Michelle Satter, Director of the Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program, notes that this is the first time the Lab will support a transmedia project. The Sundance Institute Screenwriter’s Lab has supported an extensive list of award-winning independent films in the past including John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, Kimberly Pierce’s Boys Don’t Cry and Quentin Tarantino’s Resevoir Dogs.

HiM has attracted attention at CineMart and Power to the Pixel for the elaborate transmedia narrative planned. Weiler admits that some of the game’s content has been out in the wild since the end of Hope is Missing in 2007. Sometime in 2010, these assets will be complemented by the release of geo-locative applications for the iPhone and Android tied to the experience. Later in 2010, Weiler hopes to begin shooting the feature film, which will serve as “just one larger component within [the] whole story world.”

DARPA Network Challenge: Seeing Red?

darpa_challengeIf you see an 8-foot wide red weather balloon floating on the horizon during your commute tomorrow, don’t worry. You haven’t been transported into a Nena music video shoot. As we previously reported, DARPA will be deploying ten weather balloons across the United States as part of its Network Challenge, with $40,000 at stake.

A number of organizations have expressed an interest in putting up fake balloons tomorrow. So if you see a red balloon, here are a few tips to make sure you’ve identified a verified balloon. First, approach the balloon, making note of its number: authentic DARPA balloons will be accompanied by DARPA officials carrying appropriate credentials. Take photographs of the balloon, DARPA official, and the credentials if you can manage it: by providing proof of authenticity, your information is more likely to be trustworthy. Plus, if your camera includes GPS coordinates in its metadata, you can provide an additional form of locative verification if the team needs to double-check the coordinates.

If you have a GPS device, copy down the coordinates. Otherwise, write down the nearest cross streets and then follow the simple instructions at Lifehacker to display GPS coordinates using Google Maps. Coordinates within a mile of the balloon’s location will be accepted, so you don’t need to be exact, just close. Now, you’ll probably need to convert the coordinates into degree-minute-second (DD-MM-SS) format, which can be accomplished using this java applet.

Finally, send your information to some of the many groups engaged in the hunt. As DARPA Director Regina Dugan explained at UCLA’s celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Internet, this task is much simpler today than it would have been in 1969. But that doesn’t make it easy by any stretch of the imagination.

Happy hunting to all the teams involved in the challenge.

GO FORTH, O PIONEERS! A Reflection on Levi’s Go Forth Campaign

goforth“You have built a community in Grayson’s name and created cameraderie in his image. That this continues to be his legacy so many years after his vanishing is all he ever hoped for.” After digging a hole 27 paces away from a rock in Zion National Park (located at N 27’10.043″ W 113’10.650″), Laura Hall unearthed a letter bearing those words, along with a check for $100,000. This marked the conclusion of Levi Strauss’ cross-country treasure hunt that spanned the American countryside over six weeks.

It all began with a package asking the question “Who was Grayson Ozias IV and where is his fortune?” Over the next few weeks, players learned about the mysterious Grayson Ozias through a series of recordings left on wax cylinders. The messages allowed players to retrace Grayson Ozias’ journey to thirteen destinations across the country. At each location, they picked up artifacts from Grayson’s travels and met with a variety of challenges, including puzzlesolving in a county jail, strumming on a washboard while singing “When the Saints Go Marching In”, and telling tales by a campfire. After retracing Grayson’s steps, the first 100 players to correctly complete a quiz received the final clue to $100,000 in buried treasure. As the first to unravel the clue, Laura Hall received the honors of digging up Grayson Ozias IV’s fortune.

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Love Letters to the Future: The Time Capsule Talks Back

loveletterstothefutureOver the next few weeks, Love Letters to the Future will be collecting text, image and videos from users around the world sending love letters to future generations. And on December 13, 2009, the 100 most popular messages as selected by the site’s users will be sealed in a time capsule at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The multimedia messages will be encoded and stored as a series of two-dimensional bar codes, stored on microfilm. The microfilm contains meta-information on how to decode the messages. That way, when the time capsule is unsealed a century later, people can access the information regardless of technological changes.

Apparently the time capsule will be a rousing success, since people who submit messages to the website receive a response from 2109, courtesy of Xenophile Media. Over the next three weeks, players will have the opportunity to unlock videos, clues and messages left by Maya, hidden amongst the messages posted on Letters to the Future. Upon submitting a message for consideration, players receive the first clue: the phrase “Me2109.” Maya’s final video will be unlocked by playing a locative game December 9-12 in cities around the world, including Amsterdam, Toronto, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Hong Kong and Istanbul. Maya’s videos will then be played at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

According to Xenophile Media, the objective of Love Letters to the Future is “to collect a critical mass of love letters – messages about people’s fears and hopes for the future, the stories they want to send to their children’s children.” The website has already received over 2,000 text, image, and video submissions.

Head on over to Love Letters to the Future and leave a message for future generations. After all, how often do you get the chance to participate with a time capsule that talks back?

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 and begin the adventure. Still not sure? Read on to find out what to expect.

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ARGNet on “The Digital Edge”

thedigitaledgeARGNet’s own Associate Editor Marie Lamb appeared on South African marketing podcast The Digital Edge this past week to discuss alternate reality games. Marie was joined by alternate reality gaming developers Ken Eklund (World Without Oil), McKinney’s Chris Walsh (Art of the Heist), and Cherryflava’s Jonathan Cherry (Can You Twist). The Digital Edge produces weekly podcasts on topics related to digital marketing.

Marie provided a succinct explanation of what alternate reality games are (and what they are not).  During the podcast, she noted that “a real ARG has to have two crucial elements, in my opinion, to succeed.  It has to have a really good story, and it has to have a strong community of players.  In the best ARGs, these two are interlinked.”  Then Ken Eklund, Jonathan Cherry, and Chris Walsh each described the rationale behind launching an alternate reality game along with brief explanations of their respective projects.

Click Here to listen to the Digital Edge episode on alternate reality games.

Ditch the Tech: Potential Dollhouse ARG for the Hiatus

ditchthetechIn its second season on air, Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse has reportedly been averaging fewer than 3 million viewers per episode. In light of these figures, Fox decided to put the show on hiatus until December 4th, after November sweeps. Undeterred, Whedon posted the following commentary on Whedonesque:

“Howzabout that schedule? Well, I’m not as depressed as everyone else. We weren’t about to rock sweeps anyway, and though there’s a chilly November, December is CRAZY. It’s like an Advent calendar of episodes! We get November to try to spread the word (which I’ll be leaning on Fox to do, though it’s hard to imagine them doing as good a job as the WhyIWatch guy) and then December is pure gluttony. Plus the episodes line up extremely well in these pairs, and we’ll have an absurdly appropriate lead-in.”

It appears as though people desperate for more Dollhouse content will not be forced to wait until the show returns from its hiatus December 4th. Yesterday, Dollhouse fans noticed a new website for Rossum Corporation, the organization responsible for Dollhouses around the world. In addition to advertising an attractive 5-year paid internship for “candidates of superior genetic disposition,” Rossum Corporation provides details about its ongoing Senate investigation. Even the website’s Terms & Conditions strives to establish its authenticity, noting that “all agents shall remain the property of the Company at all times.”

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DARPA Network Challenge: Celebrating 40 Years of Internet

darpa_challengeOn October 29, 1969 at 10:30PM, UCLA student Charley Kline sent the letters “LO” from UCLA to the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park using the ARPANET. Forty years later, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is celebrating the birth of the Internet with a contest that tests its capabilities to bring people together. At 10AM EST on December 5, ten moored red weather balloons will be released across the continental United States for six hours: the first person to submit the latitudes and longitudes of all ten balloons in degree-minute-second (DDD-MM-SS) format will win $40,000. Balloons will be accompanied by DARPA representatives at readily accessible locations visible from nearby roadways.

The DARPA Network Challenge opens for registration on December 1, and will accept submissions until December 14. The Secretary of Defense is authorized to award prizes under 10 U.S.C. § 2374a for “outstanding achievements in basic, advanced, and applied research, technology development, and prototype development that have the potential for application to the performance of the military missions of the Department of Defense.” To achieve this end, DARPA notes in its contest rules that it “may contact individuals to discuss the means and methods used in solving the challenge.”

The Rules state that DARPA will only issue a single check to the winning individual registered on the event website. Thus, successful entrants will have to find an optimal incentive structure to receive timely and accurate data from the crowd. Even assuming the balloons will be visible from Interstate highways, combing almost 47,000 miles of roadways in six hours will be a daunting task. Verifying that data will be equally difficult, especially if people refuse to share their successes and failures or post falsified sightings.

Games like Vanishing Point and Perplex City have previously tackled the challenge of crowd-sourcing tasks that involve a financial reward to a single individual. Therefore, it’s somewhat fitting that Perplex City developer Adrian Hon has provided an in-depth analysis of the challenges this contest’s winner must overcome. Adrian notes that he is planning on running a similar challenge in London with Philip Trippenbach before Christmas.

Click Here to visit DARPA’s Network Challenge contest page.
Click Here for a partial list of groups participating in the DARPA Challenge.

Prank Marketing and the Toyota Matrix: How Far Is Too Far?

yourotheryouIn 2008, Toyota Motors paired up with Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles to release Your Other You, an advertising campaign promoting the Toyota Matrix. Targeting male twentysomethings, the campaign crafted an elaborate transmedia prank experience to overcome the demographic’s strong aversion to advertising and corporations. Saatchi’s creative director told OMMA Magazine that the campaign was all about “empowering the customer…we wanted them to be involved and to feel like they were part of the process.”

According to a complaint filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court on September 28 of this year, Amber Duick did not feel empowered after experiencing the campaign firsthand. The complaint accuses Toyota, Saatchi & Saatchi, and fifty individuals associated with the campaign of: (1) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (2) negligent infliction of emotional distress; (3) negligence; (4) unfair, unlawful, and deceptive trade practices, (5) false, deceptive, and/or misleading advertising; (6) violation of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act; (7) fraud; and (8) negligent misrepresentation. Duick is seeking $10 million in compensatory damages.

Starting in February 2008, print, outdoor and banner ads drove traffic to There, users were encouraged to prank a friend by providing personal information about them including their address, phone number, and alma mater. According to Nicholas Tepper, Ms. Duick’s attorney, the prank’s target would receive an email with a “personality test” containing a link to an “indecipherable” consent form. For the next five days, one of five maniacs would contact the target with personalized texts, emails, phone calls, and videos. The user could track the prank’s evolution through a dashboard indicating which messages their target received over the course of the campaign.

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Pixel Pitch Award Helps Desedo Turn “Heart of the City” Daydream Into Reality

pixelpitchPower to the Pixel’s Cross-Media Film Forum at The Times BFI London Film Festival has come to a close. Capping off the event, Power to the Pixel announced that Desedo Films won the 2009 Babelgum Pixel Pitch Award for their project Heart of the City, taking home a £6,000 prize to turn their pitch into a reality.

Power to the Pixel received 120 submissions from 14 countries for the Pixel Pitch competition. Seven teams from production companies hailing from France, the UK, and the United States were invited to present in London during the festival. In the end, Desedo’s project came on top, with the evocative tagline, “What if Kanye West Met Lord of the Rings?

Heart of the City was pitched as a “quest narrative set in the world of urban teens: a web series, an ARG, comics, products and a feature film.” The story revolves around two New York City teens who discover a talisman that enables them to transform their daydreams into reality. Over the course of the story, they explore the talisman’s secrets “between skateboarding, romance, and momma jokes.”

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Mail Call: Go Forth and Buy Some Charcoal Briquets

graysonoziasOver the weekend, I posted an article about Levi’s upcoming treasure hunt, the Go Forth Fortune Experience. The hunt is scheduled to begin at 5PM PST tonight. The treasure hunt raises a $100,000 question: who was Grayson Ozias IV, and where is his fortune? I received a few answers today in my mailbox, although the information I received raised just as many questions.

graysonozias2When I opened my mailbox this evening, I found a brown package from the Levi Strauss and Co. Archives in San Francisco, California bearing a logo with the words “GO FORTH.” Inside, the package included a photograph of Grayson Ozias IV with the address LEVI.COM/GOFORTH printed on the back along with a handkerchief bearing the question “Who Was Grayson Ozias IV and Where Is His Fortune.” In addition to the photo and hadkerchief, I received an empty 10 pound bag of Royal Oak charcoal briquets. I can only presume I’m being asked to fire up the grill for a night of burgers, beer and brats. So who exactly was Grayson Ozias, and what does he have to do with charcoal briquets?

graysonozias1While the answer to the latter question will sadly remain a mystery for now, Levi’s has released some information on the enigmatic man behind the treasure hunt. Grayson Ozias IV, according to the company, was an American adventurer who journeyed across the country before vanishing into the wilderness in 1896. He was also fast friends with Levi Strauss’s nephew Nathan, who recorded the details about Grayson’s exploits that hint at the location of his considerable fortune. The search for Grayson Ozias IV’s treasure will take players through cities and towns across America in order to solve an elaborate cryptogram requiring a combination of knowledge, skill and determination.

In addition to the $100,000 prize for the winner, participants will have the opportunity to win a number of other great prizes along the way. They can also nominate and vote for a U.S.-based non-profit organization to receive an additional $100,000 at the end of the campaign. Frequent readers of ARGNet will recognize one of the names attached to this project, as Jan Libby (Sammeeeees, lonelygirl15) is working with Wieden+Kennedy and Levi’s to bring the Go Fourth Fortune Experience to life.

For more photos of the package, click here to view the Flickr stream.

Levi’s G.O. IV Fortune Treasure Hunt: Who Was Grayson Ozias IV?

goforthBack in July, advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy Portland unveiled a new direction for Levi’s with its Go Forth campaign. Drawing heavily upon the poetry of Walt Whitman and the frontier spirit, the campaign seeks to bolster flagging spirits (and blue jean sales) with tag lines such as “strike up for the new world,” “this country was not built by men in suits” and “will work for better times.” While Advertising Age remains skeptical about whether the “bootstraps ethic will find a receptive audience in a dustbowl economy,” the chance to discover $100,000 in buried treasure might help convince people to “Go Forth.”

In two days, the hunt for Grayson Ozias IV’s treasure begins as part of Levi’s online component to the campaign. Details about the G.O. IV Fortune experience are scarce, as the contest rules were not available at the time of this article. However, you can get a feel for the interactive component by checking out New Americans: A Portrait of a Country, a collection of user-generated text, images, audio, and video responding to challenges such as “take a picture of you high-fiving a parking attendant” and “re-create Old Glory for today’s America.”

The aptly named G.O. (the) Fourth has a twitter account, and you can sign up for notifications on the countdown page. It remains to be seen whether the hunt for Grayson Ozias’ fortune will tell an engaging story.

Dharma Wants You Wins Primetime Creative Arts Emmy

emmyABC, the producers of LOST, and Australian digital entertainment company Hoodlum walked away from last night’s Emmy Awards with the award for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media – Fiction for their work on the alternate reality game Dharma Wants You. ABC secured a win from its NBC competition, beating out both The 30 Rock Digital Experience and The Office Digital Experience for the award.

The game, centering around the now-defunct website, subjected participants to a series of tests administered by Octagon Global Recruiting on behalf of the Dharma Initiative. Each test included a cheat function, allowing savvy players to achieve higher scores. Participants taking advantage of the cheats were eventually sorted into the Black Swan groups, while those who played “fairly” were placed into the White Swan Group.

According to Hoodlum, Dharma Wants You utilized a “variety of media platforms ranging from websites, exclusive video, interactive games, Bluetooth, mobile, TV, VOIP, social networks, and complex real-world events involving hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide.” Spanning the gap between the fourth and fifth seasons of LOST, Dharma Wants You is ABC’s third alternate reality game for the show. 

The show’s first alternate reality game, The Lost Experience, captured a dedicated global audience, while the show’s second ARG, Find 815, secured a nomination for a Primetime Emmy in 2008.  LOST is currently promoting the release of the season five DVDs with Lost University, an in-depth look at the show’s mythology. Enrollment at the university is slated to commence tomorrow.

Click Here for our previous coverage of Dharma Wants You.

Riese the Series: Delivering Transmedia with a Side of Steampunk

Riese1The dystopian kingdom of Eleysia has its priorities in order: rather than developing automobiles, telecommunications technology, or a democratic political structure, its citizens have perfected the use of tinted goggles as a fashion accessory. Starting later this week, members of an Eleysian religious cult known as The Sect will start proselytizing their ways to our world. You can already view some of their highly stylized promotional materials at their website, This alternate reality game serves an introduction to the transmedia world of Riese, an upcoming web-series scheduled to premiere early this November.

In The Sect Is Here, members of the enigmatic religious cult from the Riese universe have managed to reach our reality, along with a lone renegade seeking to stop them. Through both online and location-specific puzzles, players will have the opportunity to unravel the mysteries surrounding The Sect’s real intentions, in both our world and Eleysia. The alternate reality game will extend past the web-series’ November premiere, and will enter a media mix intended to include print, web, mobile, and television.

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BREAKING NEWS: Evan Ratliff Gets Caught

evancaught1It appears that a penchant for gluten-free foods can cost you, as Evan Ratliff learned earlier today.  As of 7PM EDT tonight, Jeff, the owner of Naked Pizza, the only gluten-free pizza shop in New Orleans, caught Evan redhanded. As a gracious gesture, Evan received the pizza free of charge. As we previously reported, Evan has spent the last three weeks attempting to avoid capture as part of a contest for, with $5,000 at stake.

Read about Evan’s capture here, or follow the whole harrowing ordeal by reading about the hunt at Congratulations to the @vanishteam on Twitter for tracking Evan down, and to Jeff for sealing the deal. 

Congratulations are also in order for Evan, who successfully evaded capture for three weeks before his appetite got the better of him. For a detailed account of his capture, read the breakdown at Newscloud.

Digi-Novel “Level 26: Dark Origins” Goes Live Today

level26Level 26: Dark Origins, the first installment in CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker’s new “digi-novel” series, hit the bookshelves today. The novel, co-written by Duane Swierczynski and published by Penguin’s Dutton imprint, follows former FBI agent Steven Dark as he hunts down a serial killer known as “Sqweegel” as part of an elite, unnamed investigations unit. At least two more novels are planned for the franchise.

The novel’s text is supplemented by twenty “cyberbridges” interspersed throughout the novel. By visiting, the reader can enter a code to access short cinematic scenes that “bridge you from one platform to another.” Additional features including interviews, character breakdowns, and a social community will emerge at the Level 26 website. EQAL was brought on to the project to develop Level 26’s interactive website, leveraging their experience on projects such as Harper’s Globe and Lonelygirl15.

While Level 26 does not aim to be an alternative reality game, it serves as another step along the path of making reading a more interactive process. As Zuiker explained to Forbes,

[t]he digital novel will never take over traditional books, but what it does do is give the consumer a different way to experience the narrative. I think the special sauce here is once you watch the first couple of bridges, which are about three minutes each, you’ll begin to read with those [visuals in mind and you really have this movie experience in the read.

Be warned, however: Level 26 is for mature audiences, as Zuiker refers to its content as “hard R”. Plus, the novel deals with a killer in a full-body condom.

To read more about Level 26, head over to the digi-novel’s website or read the coverage at LG15 Today. You can also enter to win a Level 26 FlipCam with exclusive footage by tweeting using the hashtag #Level26 between today and September 15.

UPDATE:  I have just received word that in honor of the release, SuicideGirls has teamed up with Zuiker to release a photoset, which goes live at 6pm today. seems to be embracing cross-media publishing partnerships, as they previously teamed up with JC Hutchins and Smith & Tinker for the release of Personal Effects: Dark Art.

ROCHESTER, NEW YORK: Picture the Impossible

picturetheimpossibleThis article is the first in a series on “secret tourism” spots: cities that provide immersive experiences to residents and tourists alike, as long as you know where and what to look for.

The Rochester Institute of Technology and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper are teaming up with Microsoft Bing to transform Rochester, New York into an urban playground between September 12th and October 31st with “Picture the Impossible“. The alternate reality game plans to showcase the city of Rochester through a series of online puzzles, live events, and clues hidden within the daily newspaper. Mobile-enabled participants can even test their wits against geo-locative puzzles designed by SCVNGR. Participants are encouraged to join one of three factions, each supporting a different local charity. Players in the Tree, Forge, and Watch factions raise money for Golisano Children’s Hospital, Foodlink, and Wilson Commencement Park, respectively. The experience culminates with an invite-only Halloween ball for the top 300 contestants. Players also have the chance to win prizes from Kodak, a company originally founded in Rochester.

“Picture the Impossible” provides an excellent opportunity to develop community bonds through play, while promoting local charities at the same time. If you live in the Rochester area, give “Picture the Impossible” a try, and see if it makes you look at the city in a different light. If you don’t live in the area, maybe now is the time to visit. While the game doesn’t start for another week, registration opens today at You can also follow along by becoming a fan of the game on Facebook.

Alternate reality games are often touted for their ability to capture attention on a global platform. For example, last year McDonalds sponsored The Lost Ring, a massive alternate reality game that reportedly attracted millions of players across the world, from Beijing to Buenos Aires. The same techniques that lead to the formation of massive global communities can also serve to foster closer connections within local communities, while providing unique ways for tourists to experience cities. With hope, we’ll be seeing and writing more about these experiences in the near future.

Click Here to learn more about the game at the Bing community blog.
Click Here to learn more about the game at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

An ARGNet Update: Same Site, Different Owner

argnetAs you may aleady know, Jonathan Waite has stepped down as owner and senior editor of ARGNet, after almost four years at the helm. Both Jonathan and ARGNet’s original owner, Steve Peters, have left some dauntingly big shoes to fill. Luckily, ARGNet still has an incredible staff of volunteers, and Jonathan will continue to run weekly shows at the ARG Netcast.

Many things at ARGNet will remain the same. ARGNet is still committed to reporting on alternate reality games, cross-media experiences, interactive storytelling, and projects that amaze and astound. And while you may notice a few minor changes to the website’s appearance over the coming months, ARGNet will remain largely unchanged. Here’s a preview of some of the changes you might be seeing in the near future.

New Staff
ARGNet is actively looking for new volunteer staff writers. So if you’re enthusiastic about the genre and interested in writing an article for ARGNet once a month, let us know. The submission guidelines are as follows:

  1. Write a blurb-style article on any currently running game.
  2. Write a feature article on any of these topics: 1) a game, current or historical; 2) an interesting story or aspect of the ARG community; 3) a topic of interest to the ARGNet readership; 4) being a puppetmaster or behind-the-scenes game creator.

Articles should be clear and concise: we don’t pay by the word. In fact, we don’t pay at all. On the bright side, that also means that despite hard economic times, we haven’t been forced to cut writer salaries. Email entries to [email protected] by October 1 at 11:59PM EST. If you’re interested in writing a guest post, contact us with your proposal through our contact form.

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A Second Chance With Maddison Atkins

maddisonatkinsSecond chances are hard to come by. But Jeromy Barber’s media design company 12th Street House decided to give his audience a second chance to save the characters Maddison Atkins and Adam Wilmott from their grisly deaths with the launch of Maddison Atkins 2.0, a reboot of the alternate reality game Maddison Atkins 1.0. Barber explained at ARGFest that he “tried to recreate the plot [of Maddison Atkins 1.0] so there are a lot of things that the players didn’t know but there are a lot of overarching story [elements] that are very similar.”

In April 2007, Maddison Atkins and Adam Wilmott were brutally murdered in the small town of Nacogdoches, Texas. Fifteen days prior to their grisly murders, Maddison received a pigeon with a note tied to its leg at her doorstep. Over two years later, many of the same players who watched Maddison and Adam die returned with equal parts anticipation and trepidation to witness five pigeons delivered to the house of one Ms. Maddison Atkins. The story, which played out over forty-nine YouTube videos and nearly as many video responses, focused on Maddison and Adam’s efforts to trust a community of players attempting to help them while chasing down letters scattered across the globe, from Tucson, Arizona to Sydney, Australia. Indeed, one of the main “puzzles” of the gameplay was winning over its two main characters. As Barber unapologetically explains, “My two main characters are really stupid, and don’t know anything. But they’re very attractive…part of the game is cracking Maddison, getting to know this girl.”

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A Tribute to Dave Szulborski

heartAfter a long fight with Leukemia, our dear friend and alternate reality game developer, Dave Szulborski,  lost the battle. In honor of his memory, Michelle Senderhauf and Dee Cook collaborated with the ARG community to create a tribute video to Dave.

From the beginning, Dave was a pivotal force in the community. In addition to authoring This Is Not A Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming, Szulborski worked on a number of successful alternate reality games including The Art of the Heist, Chasing the Wish, Urban Hunt, and Holomove. He had a knack for creating compelling puzzles that captured the interest and imagination of his players.

The ARG community sent over one thousand wish-filled paper cranes to Dave while he was hospitalized in the spring of 2008 as part of Folding the Wish. Dave Szulborski recovered enough to attend ARGFest 2008 as the keynote speaker. Sadly, he had a relapse, and his condition worsened until he passed away in April.  At ARGFest 2009, Dave’s wife and son attended for a memorial in Dave’s honor, where the community presented them with a Memory Book of letters recounting their experiences with Dave. They also aired a tribute video, which is now available online.

A Modern Day Lobby Lud: Wired’s Manhunt for Evan Ratliff

Find Evan RatliffOn August 13, 2009, Evan Ratliff wrote a feature article for Wired entitled Gone Forever: What Does It Take to Really Disappear? In the article, Ratliff profiles the disappearance and subsequent hunt for family man Matthew Alan Sheppard as well as the stories of other infamous missing people including Marcus Schrenker, the money manager who attempted to fake his death by crashing his plane in Florida. The article goes on to note that every year, thousands of adults decide to abandon their lives: according to a British study, two-thirds of missing adults make a conscious decision to leave.

The article inspired Evan Ratliff and Wired editor Nicholas Thompson to stage a manhunt of their own. Starting on August 15th, Evan Ratliff disappeared and challenged Wired’s readers to find him. The first person to find Ratliff, pass on the codeword “Fluke”, the name of Matthew Alan Sheppard’s black labrador, and email Ratliff’s response to [email protected] will receive $5,000. The contest will either come to a close when someone successfully locates Ratliff, or when he emerges from hiding victorious on September 15th. As Grant Hamilton at notes, this is reminiscent of newspaper contests dating as far back as 1927, when the Westminster Gazette challenged its readers to locate the fictional “Lobby Lud” based on his description printed in the daily newspaper.

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Six to Start Puts Up “Smokescreen” for Online Privacy

In 2008, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg proposed a social networking analog to Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years. “Next year,” Zuckerman posited, “people will share twice as much information as they share this year . . . [t]hat means that people are using Facebook, and the applications and ecosystem, more and more.” Recent studies suggest that individuals are willing to trade privacy in exchange for small rewards and convenience. As the online marketplace is embracing social networking and the “free” economy, people are increasingly faced with limited bargaining power and ignorance about what information they are offering in exchange for services. In order to address many of these issues, the British public-service broadcasting network Channel 4 has paired with veteran alternate reality game designers at Six to Start to create “Smokescreen,” a 13-part online adventure designed to educate youth in the UK about issues of online privacy, identity and trust.  The online game will be released in September.

“Smokescreen” is about a vicious new game called “The Rumor Mill” sweeping its way across the fictional social network called “White Smoke.” The network’s owner, Max, is concerned the game might be a front for something else. According to Channel 4, the game, targeted towards 14-19 year olds in the UK, will allow players to network, collaborate and challenge each other using their identity as a weapon, and privacy as armor. Six to Start’s Chief Creative Officer Adrian Hon explains that “Smokescreen is a game about life online. Every time you hear about a teenager being hauled up at school because of their Facebook profile, or someone being conned out of their password on Twitter – that’s what Smokescreen aims to explore. And because our game puts players in a simulated situation, we can give them an experience that is far more powerful and immersive than any other media.” Six to Start’s CEO Dan Hon adds that “[i]t’s about the implications of what sharing information means to daily life, beyond just stealing identities or credit cards . . . [t]his could simply be one character asking you to find out information about another character, leaving you to decide whether you tell them or use it to your advantage.”

Channel 4 Education is embracing the cross-media entertainment model, with game budgets Routes, an alternate reality game addressing the implications of genomic research. Alice Taylor, Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor, told Escapist Magazine that Channel 4 aims to get “more teens and more impact for our investment. We still do television projects – but now they’re native to the internet, and sometimes they act like games, too.”

Providing information about yourself on the internet is not in and of itself a bad thing. However, disclosing information should be an informed choice. And “Smokescreen” is a step in the right direction towards fostering media literacy.

Fury of Solace: Doing Evil So You Don’t Have To

fury-of-solaceEmmett Furey, co-creator of the web-series Bumps in the Night and a staff writer for Comic-Book Resources wondered, “[d]id Bruce Wayne become Batman because he saw his parents murdered in an alley, or were his parents murdered in an alley to facilitate him becoming Batman, the protector that Gotham needed?” To explore the question, Furey donned the villain’s mask, assuming the titular role in Fury of Solace, a transmedia superhero experience.

Furey and his team released the first episode as a musical video entry to Dr Horrible’s Evil League of Evil application video process. The video introduced Fury of Solace, a supervillain who learned from an oracle named Augur that a young girl would save many lives as a superhero, but only if he killed her parents. By getting his hands dirty for the greater good, Fury of Solace helped create the superhero The Orphan (played by Laurel Rankin).

Episode 1.5 brought the audience into the action through an alternate reality game: Fury of Solace kidnapped Max Mason (played by Todd Livingston), the president and CEO of Mason International, and the video with clues to his location was password protected. A photo of a mysterious belt buckle helped players piece together the clues and unlock the newest video, where Fury of Solace listed out Max Mason’s many crimes. The adventure was concluded in Episode 2, an eight page online comic.

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Power to the Pixel Pitch

pixelpitchCross-Media will be king at this year’s London Film Festival on October 14-16. For the third year in a row, Power to the Pixel will be holding a forum that will allow digital innovators to rub shoulders with fellow practitioners and get in touch with potential finance partners through workshops, the conference, and a think tank. Capping off the experience, up to ten cross-media projects worldwide will pitch their stories to an open forum of financiers, commissioners, tech companies, online portals, media companies, and conference attendees. This year is the first year that the best pitch will be awarded the Babelgum Pixel Pitch Prize of £6,000, to help turn your dream into a reality.

Last year, four cross-media producers participated in the Pixel Pitch in order to gauge interest in the program. Lance Weiler presented his upcoming transmedia project HIM, while Yomi Ayeni presented his multi-media murder mystery Breathe. Jamie King presented his fictional documentary DARK FIBRE, and Arin Crumley presented As the Dust Settles, a multi-perspective documentary filmed at Burning Man 2008.

Since “360° Commissioning” is becoming increasingly popular in Europe, the projects were well received. Jamie King noted that “Power to the Pixel was directly responsible for putting DARK FIBRE in front of investors to help make our project possible.” Lance Weiler explained that the panel also provided a great opportunity to discuss ideas with other panelists. “That’s what’s great about Power to the Pixel. Not only does it help to make those connections, but you end up staying in touch with these people.”

Applications for the Pixel Pitch are due by August 14th at 6pm BST. Power to the Pixel will provide 3 night’s accommodation for successful applicants, and arrange for one-to-one meetings with potential financiers and partners. Submission guidelines and application forms are available at the Pixel Pitch website, and are open to cross-media stories spanning film, TV, online, mobile, and gaming platforms.

In addition to sponsoring the £6,000 prize for the best cross-media project, Babelgum will be making the sessions available on their website.

42 Entertainment Wins Prestigious Grand Prix Award at Cannes


Congratulations are in order to 42 Entertainment and all of the staff involved in the alternate reality game ‘Why So Serious?’ for taking home the coveted Grand Prix Award at the Cannes Cyber Lions ceremony on Wednesday, June 24.

According to an article by Ed White, Lars Bastholm, the Chief Digital Creative Officer at Ogilvy and president of the Cyber Lions jury, noted that the ‘Why So Serious?’ campaign “aggregated the elements of the Batman cultural phenomenon with an ARG, and added that the 18-months build-up prior to the film’s launch heralded a welcome trend in brands taking more time to create deeper relationships with consumers.” The article notes that fellow juror Bram De Rooij noted the underlying metrics supported the campaign’s success.

This is the second consecutive year that 42 Entertainment has taken home the Grand Prix Cyber Lions award. Last year, the company took home the prize for their work with Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor for their work on the alternate reality game, ‘Year Zero.’

Congratulations again to the crew, which included Steve Peters, the previous owner of this website, ARGNet staff writer and frequent ARG Netcast panelist Brooke Thompson, and former ARGNet contributor Krystyn Wells.

Coral Cross: Awareness Is Spreading


Coral Cross has finally launched, with the goal of “gaming a pandemic for greater public vigilance.” At the community level, the game aims to outpace infections with awareness. Pursuant to that goal, the main page features a map of “the progress of pandemic awareness in real time.”

Upon registration, players take a simple 12-question quiz assessing their pandemic awareness. The more you know, the higher your vigilance score. Further vigilance points can be gained by methods including exploring alternative prioritization values, participating in the forums, and tracking down elusive links to “FluFacts” hidden throughout the website.

The game has just launched, so more methods of interaction may arise. So head on over to, follow the Coral Cross twitter account, and start exploring.

Click Here for our prior coverage of Coral Cross.

Chasing Down a Healthier Heart: Cryptozoology is Hard Work

ninja-rabbitI saw a ninja rabbit this weekend.

Even for San Francisco, that’s a little out of the ordinary. But if Jane McGonigal and the American Heart Association have their way, you’ll be seeing a lot more of the elusive ninja rabbit and its cryptid compatriots over the coming months as part of Cryptozoo.

Cryptozoo (pronounced crypto ZO-oh) asks players to put themselves in the role of cryptozoologists, searching the city streets for cryptid tracks in the hope of a rare encounter with an elusive cryptid. Each cryptid has a particular method of running, and will be scared away unless the cryptid chasers match its movements. For example, cryptozoologists searching for a Slamina run backwards, making sure they don’t step on any cracks. More competitive cryptozoologists can challenge teams to a race mimicking one of the thirteen different species of cryptids. Players keep track of their steps with pedometers, and after completing 5,000 steps are inducted as official Cryptozoologists.

The first two official Cryptozoo chases occurred in San Francisco on June 5th and June 7th. Next week, the game is moving to New York City, where cryptic cryptid clues will be broadcast on the MTV screen in Times Square on June 12th from 11PM to 1AM. A second chase will occur in New York City on June 13th.

The game was spawned due to a prediction from the Institute for the Future that by 2019, the dividing line between exercise and play would erode. The American Heart Association challenged IFTF to make it happen sooner, and Jane McGonigal and her team picked up the gauntlet. Drawing heavily upon parkour for inspiration, Cryptozoo lowered the barrier for entry of the activity by focusing on simple tasks that transform urban environments into playgrounds such as running along curbs, sliding under railings, using parking meters as vaults, and spinning around trees. Natalie Cartwright created character designs and costumes for the various cryptids to add an additional layer of adventure to the experience. San Francisco cryptid chasers encountered a Slamina, Triptree, and Ninja Rabbit. Large gatherings of players organized on the Cryptozoo homepage may lead to additional appearances of wild cryptids.

Chasing cryptids is tiring work, but the experience is fun. Really fun. A number of random passerby joined the group for Friday’s late night run through the SoMA streets and gardens. And although this past weekend was the official launch of Cryptozoo, multiple groups met up in the United States, England, and New Zealand to give the game a try. Jane McGonigal explains that as people interact with their environment more in their day to day lives, there’s less of a need to go to the gym to get a workout. Her hope is that players will start to look around their communities and wonder:

Wouldn’t it be fun if I…

A Particularly ARGish Summer Reading List

pileofbooksThe idea of cross-media convergence is anything but a new concept. In the introduction to Rethinking Media Change, media studies scholar Henry Jenkins noted that in the 11th century, the Bayeux tapestry “combined both text and images, and was explicated in spoken sermons–a multi-media bridge between the oral culture of the peasants and the learned culture of the monasteries.” Many novelists are rediscovering the joys of crafting stories that go beyond the book in some form.

Back in December, Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo predicted that “[i]n the future and especially in 2009, the books that are popular will be much more interactive between the reader and the book.” Her theory will be tested over the next few months, as a plethora of cross-media books are hitting local retailers near you. If you’re interested in exploring a potential future for the publishing industry, here are a few recommendations of books that use cross-media elements to enrich the narrative.

Cathy’s Ring, by Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman

On May 4, Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart released the third and final book in a series of cross-media novels about an ordinary teenaged girl and her not-so-ordinary boyfriend. Each book comes with an evidence packet that continues the story through a series of clues that the novel’s protagonist encountered, in addition to intricate doodles in the margins. Some clues add depth to the story, while others forshadow the shocking revelations in future books. The first book in the series came under fire from consumer activists for its cross-promotional arrangement with Cover Girl.

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Alert Vulcan, After the Fact

trekcore_vid_screencapThe most recent Star Trek movie has been a rousing success, earning $76.5 million on opening weekend. And like many projects involving JJ Abrams, Star Trek was promoted using an alternate reality game, Alert Vulcan. While the game has wrapped up, one fan has created a video summarizing the experience, and five lucky players are still receiving rewards for their contributions in the mail.

Back in April, Hollywood party blogger The Cobra Snake posted a series of Star Trek mixers in Hollywood and Paris. Hidden in the background of some pictures were barely discernable text strings that led players to a distorted video of the Narada, Captain Nero’s Romulan vessel in the film. Further code lead to a chat log of five Romulans conversing in English, French, Spanish, Japanese, and German.

One of them left an item in France, which was recovered by “Malako.” Following a series of clues, players uncovered a staged Romulan crash site with Romulan symbols visible from the air. They also gained the ability to manipulate a digital hologram of a starfield via webcam by going to, entering the code U04C5NMD413, and printing out the background image, using a system similar to the Experience the Enterprise viral.

Eventually, players received phone calls explaining the situation: two sets of Romulans crash landed on Earth, with one group attempting to help Captain Nero destroy Earth, and the other group attepting to prevent it. By recreating a transmission at AlertVulcan.comand reposting the file across the internet, players were able to prevent the end of the world.

Capping off the alternate reality game, Leonard Nimoy personally congratulated the participants on YouTube, five players in particular. Matt was selected to receive a replica of the USS Enterprise, while the other four top contributors received a collection of Star Trek related products pictured here and here.

Special thanks to ellisrico for putting together a great video summary of the game.

HBO Brings Blood Copy Back From the Dead for True Blood Season 2

truebloodsignUPDATE 09/12/2010: Welcome to ARGNet, True Blood fans! The website appears to be experiencing server issues due to the finale. If you’re interested in learning more about the viral marketing behind the show, check out our previous coverage, or read about the mysterious package that launched the campaign back in May 2008.

Last year, HBO and Campfire Media created an integrated media campaign to introduce the public to Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series that included targeted mailings, vials of fake blood, and a fake protest in NYC by the American Vampire League, an organization working to secure equal rights for vampires. HBO summarized the content with a weekly faux-documentary, The Blood Copy Report.

With the season 2 premiere of True Blood scheduled to air June 14th on HBO, vestiges of last year’s viral campaign are beginning to surface. Andrew Kasday, one of the characters behind the website, was turned into a vampire, and has “revamped” the site into an expose on human-vampire relations. Andrew has recently hinted that he has a secret reason behind bringing Blood Copy back from the dead.

Building off the success of last year’s Blood Copy Report, many of Andrew’s stories have been picked up by HBO’s vampire news program, The Perspective with Victoria Davis, which is scheduled to run weekly segments until August 18th. While the experience has been relatively passive so far, the decision to air Victoria Davis’ faux-news segment concurrently with True Blood’s air time leaves the possibility for more open.

Click Here to visit
Click Here to watch the first edition of The Perspective with Victoria Davis
Click Here to follow Andrew on Twitter

Image courtesy of Jonathan, via

A Second Look at Coral Cross: When Life Imitates ARG

coralcross2009Back in April, the Hawaii State Department of Heath kicked off a public engagement initiative to raise awareness about the state’s pandemic priorities. The planned campaign included community meetings, a live TV panel, and Coral Cross: an alternate reality game.

Things have changed.

News reports providing detailed coverage on the recent outbreak of the H1N1 virus, commonly referred to as “swine flu”, have impressed upon the global community the dangers of a pandemic outbreak. In the ensuing frenzy, the Egyptian government slaughtered pigs. To date, there are ten confirmed cases of H1N1 in Hawaii. There no longer appears to be a need to raise awareness about the threat of pandemics. People are aware.

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Stephen Colbert Speaks With JJ Abrams, Gets Ideas

colbert_on_notice1On the May 4th, 2009 episode of the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert spoke with writer, director and producer J.J. Abrams about his directoral role in the upcoming Star Trek film. Scattered throughout the episode were clues to a puzzle of a slightly different sort.

No stranger to alternate reality gaming, JJ Abrams has made a name for himself in the industry starting with a series of puzzles surrounding his television series Alias in 2001. Since then, JJ Abrams has made his mark on the industry with popular viral campaigns for Lost, Cloverfield, Fringe, and Star Trek. Now, it seems Abrams has inspired Stephen Colbert to test the puzzle solving skills of the Colbert Nation by hiding a handful of clues to the answer to his ongoing segment, “Where In the World and Where In Time Is Stephen Colbert Going to be in the Persian Gulf?” The segment deals with Colbert’s upcoming trip to somewhere in the Persian Gulf at some point in the near future to perform the show in front of American troops overseas. Colbert is not allowed to disclose further details for security reasons, so he discusses places he might visit.

Scattered throughout the episode, Colbert flashed six four character text strings in places including an audience member’s shirt, JJ Abrams’ cup, and the books on a bookshelf. The Colbert report has a history of engaging its audience, including recent efforts that include write-in efforts to name a module of the International Space Station “COLBERT” and remix an interview with Lawrence Lessig about remix culture.

The folks at Colbert Nation are hard at work cracking this puzzle.

Image courtesy of You’re On Notice!

Coral Cross: Pandemic Preparedness from the Hawaii Department of Health

coralcrossDystopic literature often turns to the threat of pandemics for inspiration. From Albert Camus’ La Peste to Stephen King’s The Stand, authors create global pandemics in their stories to confront issues raised by a threat to human survival that strikes at the very fabric of our society. In order to open a dialogue about Hawaii’s pandemic preparedness and allocation priorities, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is funding an alternate reality game starting in mid-May at

As part of a larger public engagement initiative that includes community meetings and a live TV panel, the Hawaii State Department of Heath has contracted with the Hawaii Research Center for Future Studies to produce Coral Cross, a “playable scenario” on the island of Oahu. According to Judy Kern at the Communications Office of the Hawaii State Department of Health, the goal of the ARG is to “help encourage public dialogue and elicit input for decision-makers on Hawaii’s pandemic priorities.”

The game is scheduled to launch during the second half of May, with each day representing one month of game time. While anyone can play, the game’s core audience will be located in Hawaii, particularly the island of Oahu. As Stuart Candy, researcher at the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, explains,

First, we can make use of the limited geography — a captive audience, if you like — by using more real-life elements to augment the storytelling. Second, as a member of our design team observed, the fact that we’re tackling a global topic, pandemic flu, with a local tilt, not only gives it an interesting flavour, but it also helps the scenario. Instead of trying to evoke every last thing about how the world could transform as a result of a deadly disease sweeping across it, the island acts as a sort of microcosm in which, no matter where they’re from, people will be able to see what’s at stake more clearly and concretely, in particular how lives and communities are affected.

By restricting the geographic field of gameplay to a limited area, Coral Cross will hopefully be able to address the impact pandemics will have on local communities and social structures while providing a truly immersive experience for the participants.

For a number of years, the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies has been facilitating public discussions of future scenarios through “experiential futures.” And as a former Game Master for the Institute For the Future’s forecasting game Superstruct, Stuart Candy received first-hand exposure to the potential of the genre for community forecasting. With serious games like World Without Oil, Superstruct, After Shock, Ruby’s Bequest, and Coral Cross engaging the community in meaningful dialogue, Jane McGonigal’s dream of seeing a game designer win the Nobel Peace Prize is becoming increasingly likely.

Anyone interested in Coral Cross can submit their email address to in order to receive notification when the game begins in May.

Electron Innovations Inc: Much Ado About a Paperweight


Earlier today, I received a press release from Cray Cook promoting the launch of her new company, Electron Innovations, Inc. The company purportedly aims to compete with One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) to provide affordable computers to children with their EI2 model. The EI2 team plans on searching for talented individuals to join their team as the development process advances into the production stage. Before you start dusting off your resumes and polishing your cover letters, this appears to be the launch of a new alternate reality game.

Cray Cook and Bertram Bosworth just finished moving into their new offices in Plano, mere miles away from the University of Texas at Dallas. During the moving process, they discovered a strange metal box that was initially mistaken for a paperweight with the letters “MMCLXIX” on one side, and a series of gold dots on another. A crumpled page of schematics seems to indicate that the cube is some form of electrical device. The pair are currently attempting to find some way to interface with the device. Ms. Cook is currently searching for an old Apple II to see if the interface is based on 8-bit MOS 6502 technology.

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Slicing Code for PIE Theory: A Sun Microsystems ARG

pielogoBaron Rude and Hector Macchiato are quickly establishing themselves as the arbiters of all things paranormal on YouTube. The pair of nerds offer caustically humorous analyses of paranormal sightings. These Paranormal Investigations Experts (colloquially referred to as “the PIE Guys”) are looking for evidence of legitimate paranormal activity to support their theory. The PIE Guys are part of a new alternate reality game sponsored by Sun Microsystems that promises to give programmers a chance to get out and play.

The PIE Guys have a theory about technological development. According to their research, strange events preceded many of history’s greatest developmental leaps in science, technology, and agriculture. Throwing everything we know about causation to the wind, the pair are convinced that recent sightings imply the next JUMP is quickly approaching. In order to prepare, they have created a website at to track strange phenomena and debunk hoaxes.

According to the website’s Terms of Service Sun Microsystems is behind the game, offering free downloads of Netbeans 6.5 and the JavaFX Production Suite 1.1 as part of the “Recruit Toolkit.” The Terms of Service also implies that some of the challenges of the game will involve the development of source code. is rapidly churning out new content, so keep your eyes peeled for more wacky antics from the website’s dynamic duo. There are already a few clues that there’s something going on beneath the surface, so start searching for proof of the paranormal, wherever you may find it.

Click Here to check out the game at
Click Here for the discussion at the PieTheory forums
Click Here for the discussion at Unfiction

Rachael Webster Is Calling Me a Liar: Meet Her at GDC

rachaelwebsterRemember how I insisted a few months ago that Rachael Webster, the video game blogger behind, was fake? The folks at GameSetWatch and I were convinced she was all part of an elaborate yet eloquent ruse to get people to buy JC Hutchins’ new book, Personal Effects: Dark Art.

Rachael Webster called us out. She’s real, and she’s willing to prove it.

Rachael Webster will be attending the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco next week shaking hands and passing out business cards. The first ten people to crack the puzzle on the back of the card and email a picture of themself holding the card to snarl[email protected] will receive “something cool” from her friend Jessica.

During last week’s ARG Netcast, JC Hutchins talked about his work on the transmedia novel Personal Effects: Dark Art. Explaining the debate over Rachael Webster, Hutchins told us that “Rachael is Rachael. Rachael is real in a way that is really kind of brainbending and really cool…Rachael is as real as you want her to be.”

As for me, I’ll believe it when I see it. So if you receive the business card seen above from a snarky woman at the Game Developer’s Conference, convince her to take a picture with you, and send it to us at [email protected] And if I’m wrong, I’ll commit myself to Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital.

Click Here for our previous coverage on Rachael Webster and Personal Effects: Dark Art

JC Hutchins thinks you should be taken to the brink and committed

brinkvaleLast November, podcast novelist and author JC Hutchins spoke with ARGNet about his upcoming transmedia novel Personal Effects: Dark Art, produced by Smith & Tinker. In the interview, Hutchins explained that a number of online-based transmedia experiences would be released prior to the book’s release that would leverage his strengths as both a storyteller and a podcaster. Earlier this weekend, Hutchins announced that he was seeking volunteers interested in becoming committed…to an insane asylum.

By visiting, volunteers can commit themselves to Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital. After filling out their patient profile, volunteers receive their admittance papers and are eligible to submit their “art assignments” to Brinkvale’s art therapist and Personal Effects protagonist Zach Taylor. Submissions will appear in The Brink’s patient gallery. The first assignment, Your Mad World, is already available.

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ARG Lab: UT Dallas Class Offers Practicum in ARG Design

albrackinLast fall, veteran alternate reality game designer Adam Brackin taught a class on alternate reality gaming at the University of Texas at Dallas’ Emerging Media and Communications program. The course required graduate students interested in the developing field to read a series of academic works on the subject, learn about the history of the genre, and follow a currently running game. This semester, Brackin is offering students the opportunity to put their theoretical knowledge to the test with the ARG Lab, a class where students will design their own six-week long alternate reality game, scheduled to launch in early April.

Brackin’s graduate students seem eager to trade their tuition dollars for the opportunity to experiment with game development through the practicum. Candace Barnhill, one of the ARG Lab students, explains that “we learned so much about the history of ARGs and player experiences last semester that I coudn’t resist a peek behind the curtain. I had no idea PMs did so much to prepare for what often appears to be player developed.”

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Available for a Limited Time, CLUE Goes Cross-Media

clueAccording to a recent press release, Hasbro is taking board gaming to the next level with the upcoming release of CLUE: Secrets & Spies Edition. Setting aside their ropes, knives, and candlesticks, the iconic characters from Hasbro’s classic board game will embark on a “globetrotting adventure to foil the plans of the Criminal League for Ultimate Espionage (C.L.U.E.)” starting this fall.

Unlike the classic game of Clue, the goal of CLUE: Secrets & Spies is to infiltrate C.L.U.E. and intercept Agent Black before he discovers your true identity. Players work to complete as many missions as possible with the help of in-game clues using an ultraviolet secret decoder and optional tips sent via cell phone text messages. Jill Hambley, the Global Marketing Vice President of the CLUE brand, notes that Secrets and Spies “takes text messaging from mere novelty to world saving technology. By using their own cell phones, players will turn their every-day phone into a top-secret spy device that is certain to add excitement and suspense to game play.” Hasbro has committed to maintaining text messaging support through December 31, 2011.

Using text messaging to send independent missions and missions to players has the potential to detract from the communal experience of playing a board game. However, it also allows for increased immersion in the gameplay experience. I still have vivid memories of playing the Star Trek the Next Generation Interactive Video Board Game with family and friends, happily shouting responses to a VHS tape. And with the growing ubiquity of cell phone use in families along with decreasing data plan pricing, the time may be right for a board game that text back at you.

Thanks to Steve Peters for the tip

“Save Hazel”: Fox Launches Official Dollhouse Alternate Reality Game


Dollhouse, Joss Whedon’s newest drama, is premiering on Fox this Friday at 9PM EST. In case you’re interested in getting immersed in Whedon’s new universe a little early, Fox Broadcasting Company has launched “Save Hazel”, an official participation drama for the show at

According to the game’s website, “Save Hazel” allows you to “jump in headfirst and wreak creative havoc in the story” by watching and communicating with Hazel, a character trapped inside the Dollhouse. Every night, a new video will be uploaded in response to user-generated videos. Players will control the story’s progression. While Fox carefully avoids referring to the participation drama as an alternate reality game, the description seems to warrant the use of the term.

Last May, ARGNet reported on the launch of “Find Kimi”, which appeared to be the start of an alternate reality game for the show revolving around Kimi Lassek, a character presumably trapped inside the Dollhouse. However, shortly after reporting on the launch, the game stopped releasing updates and faded into obscurity.

With daily video updates and a strong push for user-generated content, “Save Hazel” appears to be aiming for a highly participatory storytelling format that will draw on fan creativity. If the fan submissions to the Evil League of Evil from Whedon’s previous project Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog are any indication, “Save Hazel” has the potential to be highly entertaining.

Click Here for the discussion at the Unfiction forums.
Click Here for the discussion at Whedonesque.

“Routes” Alternate Reality Game Explores the Human Genome with Infectious Fun

In 2003, the Human Genome Project completed the sequencing of the human genome. This herculean achievement has already had far-reaching effects in the fields of science, medicine, and bio-ethics. And on January 29th, the UK’s Channel 4 Education officially released the alternate reality game Routes, an eight-week experience exploring cutting-edge issues involving the human genome. With the help of Oil Productions and Mind’s Eye Media, Channel 4 aims to elicit interest in science amongst teens in the UK through the game.

Back in October, Professor Markus Schoenberg gave a presentation at the Game City Festival in Nottingham raising concerns about the bio-ethical concerns raised by recent scientific advances. He announced the release of Routes Game, a series of flash games highlighting the many uses of genetic information. Sadly, at the Routes Game launch party, Professor Schoenberg’s neice Rachel Burren received a phone call informing her the professor was found dead in his Peruvian hotel room. With the help of investigative journalist Matt Blacker, Rachel is trying to find out why her father died. Were the professor’s former employers at the bio-genetic research company Prometha responsible? Or did activist group DEPAA go too far in combatting the exploitation of indigenous knowledge?

Every week, Routes releases a new flash game addressing a different aspect of genetic information: Breeder; Sneeze; Experimental; Human Zoo; DNA Heroes; Mutants; Ginger Dawn; and Life, Jim! In Breeder, players earn points by selectively breeding their organism in order to achieve targeted characteristics. In Sneeze, players assume the role of Patient Zero, attempting to infect as many people as possible with a single sneeze. Additionally, award-winning comedian Katherine Ryan explores her own genetic identity through a series of informational videos. UK residents are eligible to win prizes for participating including a Playstation 3 and a home entertainment system: a mysterious “Star Prize” is also available to “the natural explorers and those who really get into the whole experience.”

Thanks to a highly intuitive user-interface and accessible video summaries, the barrier to entry for this alternate reality game is relatively low, and the flash games are both addictive and challenging. So head on over and register at the Routes Game website and discover the secrets in your genes.

Click Here to join the discussion at Unfiction.
Click Here to read the article at Wikibruce.

HIM Wins Arte France Cinéma Award at Cinemart

artefrancecinemaawardImage courtesy of Scott Macaulay.

Lance Weiler just got back from his trip to Rotterdam for the International Film Festival. At the festival, Weiler’s upcoming transmedia project HIM (produced by Seize the Media) won the Arte France Cinema Award.

The Arte France Cinéma Award is given out every year to the best CineMart project. The winner receives 10,000 Euros towards financing the development of the project. Filmmaker Magazine noted that director of Arte France Cinéma Michel Reilhac remarked that the award “acknowledged the visionary nature of Weiler’s project and noted that it speaks towards the type of new thinking about audience and platforms that will be necessary if our world of specialty cinema is to survive in the coming years.”

Congratulations to Lance Weiler and everyone at Seize the Media.

Monsters vs Aliens Invades the Superbowl

filkenheimerA few weeks ago, I wrote about the new alternate reality game promoting DreamWorks’ new animated film, Monsters vs. Aliens. This article announces an update of gigantic proportions.

Since our last article, players discovered the existence of Dr. Harold Filkenheimer, an eccentric and ethically flexible researcher at DARGenetech International with a quirky sense of humor. The comical Dr. Filkenheimer carries a grudge against Jeffrey Freedman, and he needs our help to discredit the gullible conspiracy theorist. On Superbowl Sunday, Harold Filkenheimer is going to activate the Abstract Recrimination Generator (or A.R.G.) to “use our most devious black ops skills to create a mass media propaganda campaign to turn the tables on those who would accuse us of problematic things.” Apparently, he will need the “l33t sk1llz” of those skilled with A.R.G.

Dr. Filkehnheimer sent a coded message to players instructing them to “[c]ommence the attack against top secret conspiracy on 1st fish February 2009 convincing public truth all part campaign marketing evidence we planted to discredit him Super Bowl 43.”

According to an article on the Variety website, DreamWorks purchased a 90-second 3-D advertisement for Monsters vs. Aliens during the SuperBowl. In preparation, DreamWorks is giving away 150 million pairs of glasses at 28,000 retail locations. You can also request a pair of glasses by calling 1-800-646-2904. Will the extended trailer lead to something else? Only time will tell. So grab your chicken wings and be on the lookout for something suspicious during the Superbowl.

Go Steelers!

Editor’s note: The aforementioned support of the Steelers is the view of the author and is not in any way representative of the views of ARGNet. ARGNet supports both teams, especially the Cardinals, because everybody loves a Cinderella story. 🙂

IU’s “Skeleton Chase” Gives Students the Runaround

skeletonchase_logoA few months ago, I wrote about Indiana University’s exciting new alternate reality gaming research project, Skeleton Chase. The game was a collaboration between professors Anne Massey (Kelley School of Business), Jeanne Johnston (Kinesiology Department), and Lee Sheldon (Telecommunications Department). Now that the game is over, the three professors took the time to describe the game play and their research to me.

During the first week of the game, students in Indiana University’s Foundations of Fitness and Wellness class were greeted by Steven Cartwright, a public relations representative from the Source Corporation, a fictional company researching health and nutrition. The students would participate in a series of fitness challenges, and were handed a worksheet and free bottles of vitamin water. Through the worksheet, students discovered the Source Corporation’s “Internal Site” using clues from the presentation to access the site. Through the Internal Site, students discovered IU Security reports relating to Sarah Chase, a missing student. Her former associate instructor Sam Clemens was also missing.

Over the course of the next few weeks, the students engaged in a series of physical challenges from the Source Corporation while digging deeper into the disappearance of Sam and Sarah. According to Lee Sheldon, students

searched Sarah’s office (staged with planted assets including Sarah’s diplomas and research notebook); hacked into the IU Security internal website where they could access security camera footage from the night Sarah vanished; found Sam’s hiding place (but not Sam); and were able to uncover a wide-ranging conspiracy tied to a formula that may or may not retard aging. In the process they learned of a third person’s disappearance; were alerted to flying saucers sited near IU’s Cyclotron facility; and investigated appearances of a creature dubbed the “Blomington Bigfoot” in some campus woods.

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Mr. Weiler Goes to Rotterdam: Transmedia at the International Film Festival

HIMlores.JPGArtwork by Reinier Clabbers. Click picture for downloadable hi-res version.

In a few days, Lance Weiler is going to Rotterdam to attend CineMart, the annual co-production market of the International Film Festival. Weiler’s upcoming cross-media project HIM was selected as one of 36 films to participate in this year’s presentation to an expected 850 international producers, sales agents, distributors, and funds. HIM, in addition to being the only work selected from the United States this year, is the first transmedia work to be selected at CineMart in its 26 year history. Previous films selected to participate in CineMart include the Academy Award-winning film Boys Don’t Cry, the grotesquely captivating Ichi the Killer (殺し屋1), and The Eye (見鬼), recently remade for the United States starring Jessica Alba.

When reached for comment, Weiler explained that HIM would be an interactive experience fusing storytelling and gaming, set on a global stage. The thought-provoking horror story will be a film at its core, but will fuse together elements of gaming, live events, serialized shorts, and graphic novel content taking place around the world and in your own living room. While the rules of the universe are established, Weiler has left considerable room in the story for what he describes as “controlled spontaneity”: the rules of the universe are set up, but the ripples from audience participation can have significant effects on the final product. As co-founder and principal of Seize the Media, Weiler developed the Hope is Missing ARG for the DVD release of his immersive film project Head Trauma, and worked with Hammer Films to produce the Beyond the Rave experience on MySpace.

The project is also an attempt to move away from traditional financing models for films relying on private equity and pre-sale financing deals by utilizing branding and licensing agreements. The ideal is to cement transmedia as a new media format. And one of the advantages of transmedia storytelling is the ability to set up considerable story elements on a limited budget, leading to a gradual rollout drawing on an international audience. Indeed, a number of times Weiler hinted that some elements may be floating out there relatively soon.

Presenting HIM to potential investors at CineMart is an opportunity to showcase both the potential and opportunities inherent in transmedia storytelling and alternate reality gaming as a self-sufficient format. And as one of BusinessWeek’s 18 People Who Changed Hollywood, Weiler just might be the man for the job.

This is Not a Game: The Novel

TINAG.jpgThe phrase “This Is Not a Game” has resonated over the years as an often misunderstood mantra for alternate reality gaming. Thus, I say the following with a bit of hesitation: This is Not a Game is, surprisingly enough, not actually a game. At least, it isn’t if you’re talking about Walter Jon Williams’ newest novel of the same name, due out March 24th.

This Is Not a Game (not to be confused with Dave Szulborski’s book of the same title) is a novel about Dagmar, an alternate reality game designer trapped in Jakarta during a revolution. When one of her co-workers is gunned down in the parking lot, she draws on her game’s player base to help her without their knowledge, diverting player talents and energies to solve her problems within the context of the ARG.

Walter Jon Williams is no stranger to alternate reality games, and worked with 42 Entertainment as a writer for Last Call Poker, working with prose, radio plays, comic books, sound files, puzzles, and teleplays. You can read more about his time working on Last Call Poker at his blog, Angel Station. His experience with Last Call Poker inspired him, in his words, “to take this bright, hot, blazingly hip new medium and turn it into ink on dead paper.” Williams’ goal with This Is Not a Game is to capture both the frantic pace and sense of danger ARGs can convey due to the immediacy of feedback and dynamic nature of the game due to player involvement.

While the plot of the novel centers around alternate reality gaming, there are no plans to develop cross-media…yet. However, Orbit Books has already picked up two more books in Williams’ new universe, starting with a direct sequel, Deep State.

Click here to pre-order This Is Not a Game at Amazon

A Top Secret Conspiracy for Monsters vs. Aliens


Conspiracy theorists are often a depressing lot, decrying the end of the world at the hands of a cabal of aliens, monsters, and the Illuminati. Thus, it was refreshing to receive an email from Jeffrey Freedman, internet reporter and administrator for TopSecretConspiracy, who somehow manages to believe every scatterbrained theory he hears while retaining a sense of humor. Of course, it helps that he’s promoting the new Dreamworks animated sci-fi comedy Monsters vs Aliens in the process.

According to Freedman, “There is a massive conspiracy at work being engineered from the media, the NWO, the Illuminati, genetic laboratories, corporations, public utilities, crossword puzzle writers, and various recreational senior activities groups. They want us to be passive and ignore the looming extraterrestrial threat in our midst. They want us to fall asleep at the wheel of our tractor trailer truck of truth and derail on the freeway of propaganda.” is Freedman’s attempt to help people learn the truth, but he doesn’t stop there. In Episode 7 of “Expose the Truth”, Freedman infiltrated WorldCon 2008 to discuss a government and conspiracy to disguise the truth of the alien threat as “science fiction” stories through a comedic series of interviews with convention attendees. The previous six episodes are conspicuously absent from the website, no doubt due to those troublesome recreational senior activities groups.

io9 reports that a number of book covers filmed in “Expose the Truth” include the characters Bob, Dr Cockroach PhD, and Ginormica from the upcoming Dreamworks film Monsters vs Aliens, scheduled for wide release March 27, 2009. Furthermore, the website’s Terms of Use state that the website is made available by Pacific Data Images, Inc., a computer animation production company owned by DreamWorks SKG.

Interaction is currently limited to contacting Mr. Freedman via twitter or email with evidence of the massive conspiracy encompassing practically every aspect of our lives: however, once players prove their loyalty, they can become part of a “trusted cabal of citizen journalists.”

An Interview with JC Hutchins: Personal Effects

jc_hutchins.jpgEditor’s note: this is a companion interview for the article we ran yesterday on Personal Effects: Dark Art, the new transmedia novel written by JC Hutchins and produced by Smith and Tinker. Mr. Hutchins was kind enough to answer a few questions posed by Michael Andersen, and the responses are below. Picture courtesy of CC Chapman on Flickr.

MA: You’ve developed a strong core following through your work with The Ministry of Propaganda over the years — how will we see them utilized through the Personal Effects ARG?

JH: Thanks for mentioning the Ministry of Propaganda! I love connecting with my audience using the MOP, and giving them street team-style missions to perform. They’re amazing, generous people who volunteer their time to help spread the word about my work.

When it comes to Personal Effects: Dark Art, I’m certain I’ll ask them to evangelize the book’s release, as well as some special — and at present, secret — promotional stuff we’re cooking up. As always, the hundreds of MOP “agents” will be on the front lines, firing people up for the project. I’m lucky to have so many cool people in my life.

MA: A lot of the clues will be found with the book and its contents: how much can we expect to see from Personal Effects before the novel’s print release this Summer? And what can you say about your experience working with Smith & Tinker (and St Martin’s Press)?

JH: There’s already some content connected to the Personal Effects universe out in the wild, and I think it’s awfully cool. While longtime ARG players are accustomed to some of the stuff we’ve already released — fiction that’s being updated in real-time, in sync to when Dark Art’s events take place — the Personal Effects experience is ultimately designed for newcomers. We were careful to craft a tale that adult readers would really enjoy, and motivate them to pursue the transmedia experience on their own, solo-style.

That’s not to say we won’t have a “base of operations” forum available for players, or that we don’t welcome dedicated fans of ARG storytelling — we will, and we absolutely do. But we all know that most ARGs require what I call “bunches of brains” … lots of players … to unlock puzzles and push the story forward. Dark Art is different in that we’re aiming to allure folks who’ve never heard the word “ARG” to participate in this awesome breed of storytelling.

Speaking personally, it’s sometimes hard to remember just how remarkable and unique transmedia storytelling is … and how high its barrier for entry can be. The Personal Effects series is built to resonate with the individual reader. We absolutely hope — and totally encourage — longtime ARGers to read, play and share their experiences with the community, but we wanted to make the Personal Effects narrative to be a welcoming one for newbies.

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I Swear, I’m Not Claiming All Girl Gamers are Fake: Personal Effects Goes Live

pixelvixen.jpgBack in September, podcast novelist JC Hutchins tweeted about a friend’s new gaming blog. A little over a week ago, he did it again. And I’m glad he did — since January 2008, Rachael Webster has posted some rather insightful and snark-filled articles critiquing recent game releases under the moniker “PixelVixen707”. The blog has attracted some attention, and Pixelvixen707 even had the impeccably good taste to list ARGNet on her blogroll.

Only one problem: Rachael Webster isn’t actually real. Although the blog’s archives go back to January 2008, the domain was only registered in June. Compounding the problem, her employers at the New York Journal Ledger have a tendency to report news that hasn’t actually happened. Some of that news involves her boyfriend Zach Taylor, a rather popular art therapist at Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital. With the recent addition of personal posts to the PixelVixen707 blog, a simple gaming blog slowly yet subtly drags you into the rabbithole, as GameSetWatch noted earlier today. For a bit of irony, check out Rachael’s article on Matt Hazard, an action gaming franchise that never existed, as described by Ralph Tokey, a game developer that never existed.

These assets set the stage for JC Hutchins’ upcoming supernatural thriller, Personal Effects: Dark Art. The story revolves around Zach Taylor, an art therapist who uses his patients’ personal effects to help decipher their mental problems. However, according to JC Hutchins, “Zach gets far more than he bargained for when a new patient is admitted to the facility: a man who is a suspected serial killer.” The thriller will showcase a spooky storyline featuring a young optimistic hero, in addition to a relentlessly cruel villain with a secret.

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After a Brief Commercial Break, Project Abraham Returns

Resistance 2 / 42 EntertainmentHave you seen the new advertisement for Resistance 2 on the television recently? Apparently, the end of the world is coming soon to a video game retailer near you. And with the game’s release mere days away, the Project Abraham alternate reality game has returned.

Over the summer, Dr. Cassie Aklin (Katee Sackhoff) selected candidates for highly experimental and dangerous clinical trials based on weekly votes by the players. Weekly calls from Dr. Aklin encouraged players to continue as one by one, the soldiers selected for injection died. Finally, only Sergeant Nathan Hale and Lieutenant Kenneth Danby were left alive: Hale, because he somehow survived the injection, and Danby because the players hadn’t gotten around to voting on his death warrant. Following a live event at the Penny Arcade Expo on August 29, the game’s websites went underground.

According to an article on Wikibruce, the silence came to an end on October 17 when the fax machine on the Alliance for American Autonomy website started blinking. Setting a record for longest fax ever, three days later the site was updated with a list of 20 cities and a countdown that expired yesterday at 2PM EST.

The expiration of the countdown revealed the Metastasis website and coordinates for the first five locations: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles. The first lucky player to reach each location picked up a Project Abraham satchel with an assortment of seemingly random items as well as a code that unlocked new puzzles leading to comic panels.

The next drops will take place today. With the game’s November 5th release, it looks like the endgame may be in sight, so be prepared for anything.

Click Here for the list of drop locations
Click Here to join the discussion at Unfiction
Click Here to view the wiki at

Operation Sleeper Cell: Cruel 2 B Kind Live Events

c2bk_grid_cell.pngThis coming Saturday, you can help fight cancer by screaming out compliments and pleasantries to crowds of complete strangers. That’s right, Operation: Sleeper Cell, the ARG with a heart of gold, is organizing not one, not two, but THREE simultaneous games of Cruel 2 B Kind on Saturday, November 1st from 2PM-4:30PM in the following locations:

Southbank, London – 40 places
Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester – 40 places
City Center, Plymouth – 32 places

A nominal (minimum) entrance fee of £4 will be charged for each player, with all profits going to Cancer Research UK. Players must form teams of 2-4. Players need to be at least 16 years old to take part in this event. E.V.I.L. operatives will be conspicuously absent from this event in order to maximize the “loveliness-spreading” out in the field.

queen-of-diamonds.jpgCruel 2 B Kind was created by Jane McGonical and Ian Bogost as a game of benevolent assassination and public space reclamation. Players use a series of compliments to “assassinate” other players and make the day just a little bit better for the random passerby. Thus, holding a series of Cruel 2 B Kind games is a perfect fit for Operation Sleeper Cell developers Law 37. And with three consecutive games running across the UK, the winning teams might even have the chance to call up their cross-country compatriots to “congratulate” them.

Go to the Operation Sleeper Cell Events page to register for one of the games of Cruel 2 B Kind (C2BK) and donate lots of money to Cancer Research UK. Lots and lots of money. On a completely unrelated note, wasn’t The Manchurian Candidate a great film?

Click Here to start playing Operation Sleeper Cell.
Click Here to join the discussion at Unfiction.

Muggle Quidditch 2.0: You Must Be This Big to Play

Video courtesy of GXC Studios, Inc.

You may not be aware of it, but the Harry Potter fandom community does some fairly nifty stuff. Apparently, people like JK Rowling’s franchise enough to put on puppet shows, start rock bands, and write fan-fiction of Professor Severus Snape… well, let’s just say there’s a reason I’m not linking to Snape’s fanfiction here.

Sufficed to say, I consider myself a fan of our bespectacled hero and his ragtag crew of hooligans. When my city transformed downtown into Diagon Alley for the midnight release of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, I was one of over 50,000 in attendance, decked out in House colors. So you can imagine my excitement two weeks ago when I learned about Muggle Quidditch 2.0, a Harry Potter themed alternate reality game. There’s a lot of creative energy out there in the community that could be harnessed for a great game.

Since our last article, the game mechanics of the non-magical version of Quidditch have been revealed. Contrary to my expectations, the ARG’s version of Quidditch will not require players to actually run around cradling broomsticks between their legs. Instead, is hosting a virtual game of strategy, highly reminiscent of Risk, where the four Hogwarts Houses battle for supremacy. Once a day, individual players log on to charge their energy that can be used to move or attack rival territories. Since this process takes less than a minute a day, the game is ideal for keeping its casual players engaged, while creating opportunities for more committed players to create elaborate strategies or negotiate with other Houses.

There’s just one catch: the game won’t start until 15,000 people register to play. Matthew Brimer, Chief Marketing Engineer at GXC Studios, Inc., informed me that “things are pretty hectic around here what with Ludo out of commission and the Ministry breathing down our neck to get this game going with the numbers they’re expecting. We’re just doing the best we can to cooperate with the MQ 2.0 effort and do our part as Ludo’s partner.” In order to achieve these numbers, members of the Chamber of Secrets forums (the official forums of are reaching out to Harry Potter fan communities far and wide to get the word out. The Wizard Rock groups The Gryffindor Common Room Rejects and The House of Black have agreed to create demos to help the cause.

Since one of the main selling points of Muggle Quidditch 2.0 is the opportunity to support your Hogwarts House, GoCrossCampus’s decision to sort players randomly is surprising. While this can be chalked up to a rather capricious Sorting Hat, the decision to set a mandatory player base is harder to rationalize. The strategy has been successfully utilized in the past, but the move is a risky one. When 42 Entertainment launched its campaign for the Dark Knight by removing a pixel for every email sent to the website, a massive fan outpouring revealed the image within hours.

Muggle Quidditch 2.0 has not been put on hold for the recruiting period: numerous clues have been hidden in maps at the GoCrossCampus website, existing websites have updated, and players were charged with drafting a speech for Minister of Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt. However, by waiting to provide an outlet for casual participants, the game may see high attrition rates from registrants before it reaches 15,000.

Click Here to register to play Muggle Quidditch 2.0.
Click Here for the discussion at Unfiction.
Click Here for the discussion at the Chamber of Secrets.
Click Here to visit the game’s Wiki.

“Hooking Up” with Lonelygirl15’s Jessica Rose: Not Quite What I Anticipated

hookingup.jpgImagine, for a moment, half of your favorite YouTube stars going to the same college, obsessively using all your favorite social networking programs. It’s almost like some alternate reality where obsessively twittering, texting, Facebook stalking, and playing Halo is the epitome of coolness.

Apparently HBOlab has an active imagination, as they’ve gathered together Jessica Rose (Bree from lonelygirl15), Phil DeFranco (sxephil), and Kevin Wu (kevjumba) to produce Hooking Up, “a College Comedy Series about Relationships and Communications.”

Starting October 1st, “Hooking Up” commenced its ten episode run, with new episodes released weekly. HBOlab is showcasing the project at the American Film Institute’s DigiFest 2008, billing it as “a cross-platform alternate reality game” seeking to “explore how [an] online narrative series might integrate cross-platform promotions to build both intrigue and audience.” AFI’s Digital Content Lab is working with HBOlab on the production.

So far, the interactive and cross-media elements of “Hooking Up” are admittedly sparse. This may change after adding the characters to my social networking profiles, as the site claims you can “Become friends with your favorite HOOKING UP characters…and be part of the hidden story!” The Hooking Up homepage features “bask-book”, a social networking Facebook clone for the fictitious Bask University and its attendees that leads to MySpace and Facebook profiles, where the characters communicate (and miscommunicate) with each other. A post by Kevin Nalts implies that the series will expand to include access to e-mails between the two main characters. The site also provides links to bonus video content.

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NEWSFLASH: “Major” Charlie Higson and James Bond are Not Dead

The Shadow War logoFor followers of The Shadow War alternate reality game, the success and excitement generated by the experience might convince them that The Shadow War was the game with the golden gun. Charlie Higson, the author of the Young Bond series, kicked off the alternate reality game with a little help from Six to Start at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, launching the main game website The first mission went live on August 27, and players were taken on a worldly, online adventure that spanned seven missions.

On Wednesday, October 6, players faced their final mission. Players supporting the OGPU and SIS raced through the Alpine castle, Schloss Donnerspitze, desperate to save captured British soldier “Major” Charlie Higson, James Bond, and themselves from a bomb. Higson regularly appeared within the game to offer hints and encourage the players in their race to the finish. Prior to the final mission, Higson stated that “it’s the final stage of the game this week, and a chance for all those kids to come together in a race against time and finish the story. I’m really looking forward to playing a part in it and appearing live in the game as a British agent. I just hope the kids solve the problems in time or I risk being liquidated by a fiendish foreign power!”

Upon the successful completion of the final mission, you can see the obviously grateful Charlie Higson thanking his rescuers in this video.

You can still replay the first six missions online, and according to the Danger Society News, there is still more content to discover: 20 copies of By Royal Command include a special variant codeword that unlocks additional content for the third mission. To my knowledge, none of the variant books have been located yet.

You can also view a portion of the live event with Charlie Higson, sans sound, on It gets quite interesting at 5:42.

Traces of Hope: British Red Cross Launches ARG for Civilians and Conflict Month

Traces of Hope logoRegistration opened today for Traces of Hope, an alternate reality game sponsored by the British Red Cross. According to a press release we received last week, the game is “an experience in which on-screen characters reach out into the players’ real world.” The story will revolve around Joseph, a Ugandan teenager searching for his mother during a time of civil war. The experience will combine “storytelling, detective work, technology and treasure-hunt style gameplay in a compelling 21st century narrative, as players seek to reunite Joseph with his mother.” As Joseph arrives at the IDP camp, the game will focus on how the Red Cross’ tracing and messaging service offers the “last traces of hope” for displaced civilians searching for their families.

According to Dorothea Arndt, the New Media Manager at the British Red Cross, this game will provide an experience “where players will feel they are really interacting with Joseph’s world – by communicating directly with Joseph, players find themselves caught up in a hunt across the internet to reunite him with his mother.” And while the game will be interesting and enjoyable, there is a serious side to the narrative, as the action parallels the real life struggles of thousands of people around the world who suffer from the perils and hardships of conflict. Of course, in these real world situations, just as in the game, the Red Cross is there to provide aid for those in need.

The ARG was developed by Enable Interactive and partners with other organizations, including Penguin Books and Reuters AlertNet, to create a world that is “as realistic and authentic as possible.” In the press release, Matt Connolly of Enable details some of the aspects of the experience: “In developing the game we’ve gone to a lot of trouble to place clues, teasers and solutions around the internet, so the boundaries between the game-world and the real world become very blurred. Players will be going to real websites and drawing on genuine lifesaving information to help Joseph on his journey.” He goes on to add, “ARGs are at the cutting edge so it’s fantastic to be working on such an innovative project alongside the Red Cross and to be spreading a very positive message as well as making a great game.”

Readers of this blog may have noticed an influx of Serious Games recently, starting with the award-winning World Without Oil, Indiana University’s Skeleton Chase, Operation: Sleeper Cell for Cancer Research UK, and the Institute for the Future’s Superstruct Game. Whether the goal of the campaign is encouraging charitable donations, raising awareness about issues, conducting research, or harnessing the power of collective intelligence to resolve current and future problems, the ability of alternate reality games to encourage immersion and engagement allows development teams to channel “play” for good. Since all of the currently running games are focusing on different goals, it will be enlightening to compare player responses to the different campaigns.

You can see a teaser video for the campaign on Vimeo.

Operation Sleeper Cell: Making the World a Lovelier Place

operationsleepercell.JPGA few months ago, Adrian Hon gathered together a collection of ARG developers with the battle cry, Let’s Change the Game. In collaboration with Cancer Research UK, aspiring game developers were challenged to create an alternate reality game to serve as a fundraiser for a worthy cause: the fight to cure cancer. The winning team would receive £1300 ($2600USD) seed money to develop a campaign that would be promoted through the Cancer Research UK website, 600 plus stores, mailings to over 20 million people, TV ads, a dedicated island on Second Life, and hundreds of live events and races across the country.

On January 31, the judge’s panel selected the pitch for “Operation Sleeper Cell” by the development team Law 37. The game officially launched earlier today via an email from Agent Herring. The game, heralded as “the world’s first massively multiplayer game designed to raise money for charity”, is currently centered around two websites: the Operation Sleeper Cell homepage and the We Are Not the Agency page. The goal of the game is to activate sleeper cells represented as squares on a grid in an effort to thwart the nefarious plans of E.V.I.L. through acts of kindness, puzzle solving, and “spreading loveliness”.

If any of this seems a trifle confusing, the development team set up a Guide to Playing. Operation Sleeper Cell raises money by having individuals and teams purchase virtual currency bonds (BND) that can be spent activating squares on the Grid that will enable missions, live events, story fragments, or special operations. Once a mission is unlocked, everyone is free to play. Sponsors can also purchase advertising ‘cells’ for the game’s front page.

With a staff of over twenty volunteers, Operation: Sleeper Cell aims to spend the next ten weeks raising funds for Cancer Research through a lighthearted, comedy spy game that takes place over websites, blogs, Twitter, and real life. The game’s budget is limited to £1000 (~$2,000USD), with the staff relying on in-kind donations for any additional expenses. Let’s Change the Game founder Adrian Hon commented on the game, saying that “along with raising money for the vital cause of cancer research, Operation: Sleeper Cell shows that games can be a real force for good in the world. Games are often seen as childish distractions or used as scapegoats – what Law 37 have achieved, unpaid, with Operation: Sleeper Cell is a powerful rebuttal to that.”

Click Here for the thread at Unfiction.
Click Here to purchase BNDs or sponsor the campaign.
Click Here to learn more about Cancer Research UK.

Bungie’s “Superintendent” Returns, For Now


In Late May of 2008, “The Superintendent” registered on the forums. The iconic figure was seen wielding his trusty plunger, informing forumgoers to “KEEP IT CLEAN” while giving a big thumbs up.

Numerous iterations of the “KEEP IT CLEAN” message resolved to indicate that something would happen on July 14, 2008 at 10:30AM, Microsoft’s E3 slot. While nothing happened at E3, a countdown ending on July 16, 2008 at 7:07:07AM turned up. When this countdown expired, Harold Ryan, the President of Bungie, posted a letter announcing that Microsoft altered the plans, but that they looked forward to sharing an exciting announcement “when the right time comes”.

The right time is apparently now, as the Superintendent has returned to the forums with a cryptic post. The post includes a transcript from a conversation between the Superintendent, an Urban Infrastructure A.I., and Prowler “Tokyo Rules”, a Comm. Duty Officer.

It’s too early to tell whether this is an alternate reality game or something else. Whatever it may be, the buzz surrounding the Superintendent has been building steadily despite frequent delays, as the icon has been sighted on top Bungie employees at numerous gaming events.

Image courtesy of Tech Artist

Click Here for a walkthrough of the story so far on the forums
Click Here for the discussion at Unfiction

Indiana University Combats the Freshman Fifteen with “Skeleton Chase”

Indiana University logoIn late May, Indiana University announced that it received a $185,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to explore how interactive digital games can be designed to improve players’ health. Sometime early in the semester, a group of 90 students in the freshman living and learning center at IU will begin to play an alternate reality game named Skeleton Chase, designed by Lee Sheldon. Jeanne Johnston from the school’s Department of Kinesiology and Anne Massey from the Kelley School of Business will be conducting the research for the project.

Sheldon was understandably reticent regarding details of the upcoming game’s plot. However, he did note that it is a “story of mystery, suspense, conspiracies, corporate greed, demented professors, unnatural creatures… You know: the usual.” The story will play out over fictional and real web pages, videos, email, phone calls, text messages, and live events involving actors and lots of physical props. Sheldon promises that by the end of the game, the students “will know just about every corner of this sprawling campus from familiar landmarks to little-known nooks and crannies.”

The research team will collect data on players using FitLinxx ActiPeds, small pedometers that automatically transmit data to a receiver located at the entrance of the students’ shared dorm. Jennifer Boen at the News-Sentinel notes in her article on the project that the high tech monitors will allow the design team to decipher which components are the most motivating and enjoyable, so the results of this study will be of particular interest to game designers looking to increase engagement among players.

Lee Sheldon is no stranger to web mysteries and alternate reality games. In 1983, Warner Books hired Sheldon to write two books in the style of Dennis Wheatley’s Crime Dossiers from the 1930s. Wheatley’s dossiers were fictional police dossiers to crimes presented in sequence, including physical evidence. The project fell through, but Sheldon bought back the rights and released The Light Files: Death in Broad Daylight as a “web mystery” in 1996. Veteran ARG players might also recognize him as the lead writer behind URU: Ages Beyond Myst, which captured the attention of many ARG enthusiasts before the multiplayer’s cancellation in 2004. He is currently a Creative Consultant for the SciFi Channel’s upcoming series Danger Game, about the secretive organization Modern Reality Adventures, which produces alternate reality experiences for the unwitting client. The students at Indiana University are undoubtedly in for a treat over the next few weeks as Sheldon works with the project team at Indiana University to deliver an unforgettable and healthy experience.

Recently, Jane McGonigal and AKQA had participants in The Lost Ring traversing major cities with the Trackstick II and competing in labyrinth runs. Hopefully, the results of Indiana University’s innovative project will help explain what makes us go out and play.

The game is set to run until November 12th.

Media Factory Produces Branded Alternate Reality Gaming Card Game

Case Closed game items名探偵 コナン, better known as Detective Conan or Case Closed in the English-speaking world, is a popular Japanese media franchise. The original manga is currently over 60 volumes long and has spawned an anime series, movies, tv dramas, and video games. When I was teaching English in Japan, I would half-jokingly tell my students that Detective Conan is the reason I learned the word for murderer (人殺し) before I learned how to speak in the past tense. As of April 19, 2008, Media Factory released Cardtantei (Card Detective), adding “alternate reality game” to the list of Detective Conan associated properties

Cardtantei is a collectible trading card game that functions similar to Mind Candy’s Perplex City. Players can purchase packs of cards that contain puzzles ranging in difficulty from easy (5 Detective Points) to hard (30 Detective Points). Going to the Cardtantei homepage linked via semacode on many cards allows you to gain Detective Points by solving the puzzle with the unique identification number scratched off the top of the card. Many of the puzzles are similar to those shown on the Japanese puzzle game show IQ Suppli or in the video game Professor Layton and the Curious Village.

As in Perplex City, however, the cards hide a larger mystery. Upon registering for the site, the player begins to receive emails intimating there is more to the cards than the individual puzzles. Certain cards have portions of a larger picture on the back of the card. Assembling the cards to reveal the larger images provide clues to larger scenarios that draw the player deeper into the mystery. According to kwsk, the webmaster at ARGFan, ARGNet’s Japanese counterpart, following the clues sent via email and inputting puzzle solves leads to additional puzzles, phone numbers with automated voice messages and different websites helping the player uncover crimes that can only be solved by careful observation and investigation. The interaction is fully automated, so players can start at any time as long as they have a few cards and a rudimentary knowledge of Japanese. Detective Conan tells the story of a young detective who solves mysteries, so the brand extension is a good fit. And while the game’s puzzles are relatively simplistic, the easier puzzles allow ambitious players to play through the entire experience on their own.

Kwsk informed me that the game was viewed as a big success in Japan. Media Factory showcased the game with a tutorial event at the World Hobby Fair on July 12-13 of this year, and hinted at the existence of a second season of gameplay with a new edition.

Click Here for ARGFan’s coverage of the Detective Conan ARG or to purchase the cards.

Special thanks to kwsk at ARGFan for his help with this article.

Making Alternate Reality Games Accessible

Card scanner

It’s been a while since I took a look at American Vampire League. But after learning that the alternate reality game was a promotion for HBO’s new series True Blood (premiering September 7th at 9pm), I stopped following the campaign for a while.

Sure, I read about io9 receiving a vial of Tru Blood before they grew to dislike ARGs. And I enjoyed reading Scott Sigler’s impressions of the campaign on the AMC blog. But sadly, I lost track of the campaign somewhere along the way. I missed reading about vampires going public, and didn’t realize that the American Vampire League passed out promotional materials in mid-town Manhattan.

Luckily, Campfire Media, the team behind the True Blood alternate reality game, created a series of videos to catch players up on the campaign. And while I was working on my last article, I overheard my father watching the Blood Copy Report on HBO. The series of weekly videos summarized the game’s progress and caught me up on recent developments in less than an hour.

Increasingly, ARG developers are releasing simplified summaries of their games to get the word out and attract a broader audience. Campfire Media has created videos summarizing past campaigns as case studies, such as the 4400’s Battle over Promicin and Audi’s Art of the Heist. Millions of Us released a series of videos on BoingBoing TV summarizing Enitech Labs, the campaign for the Sarah Connor Chronicles. Brian Clark has gone on the record saying that the planned revenue model for Eldritch Errors includes releasing graphic novels and a television show based on the experience.

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ARGFest 2008 in Review: Long Live Unfiction (Sean Stacey Learns to Whistle)

ARGNet Writers pose at ARGFest 2008
This article is the fifth in a series, providing summaries of the panel presentations at ARGFest-o-Con 2008 in Boston

In 2004, Sean Stacey was traveling through France with a friend. Walking along the Champs Elysees, he encountered a man on the street making the most incredible whistling sounds he ever heard. For the next few days, Sean diligently practiced his whistle, contorting his face in new and unfamiliar ways, attempting to duplicate the sound that fascinated him so much. Finally, his friend explained to him that the man on the street was selling bird whistles. He didn’t say anything before because, “well, you were getting pretty good.” Unfiction is kind of like that. The moral of this story is that Sean C. Stacey is one heck of a good whistler.

The story also helps explain the twists and turns in the evolution of, the largest discussion board devoted to alternate reality games on my bookmark list. When Sean created the website during the alternate reality game Lockjaw in 2002, running a forum was the last thing he wanted to do. He still harbors hopes that Unfiction will not live forever, because the genre will expand beyond needing a single resource.

Sean credited Adrian Hon, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Six to Start, with creating the first alternate reality gaming wiki. He followed that up by noting that no one actually used the wiki. Using wikis, he claims, augment community rather than create it. Thus, the only way you can get Sean to create a wiki on his new website,, is by requesting one. People like to teach others, and wikis can lower entry barriers for complex topics: but only if a community exists to develop it. One of the true pleasures of the Unfiction community, Sean explains, is that reputation is not an issue in how discussions are handled. Everyone, no matter how well known or well liked, must rely on persuasion to justify their thoughts and opinions.

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Puffin Books Announces “The Shadow War”: Young Bond ARG for Young Players

The Shadow War logoPuffin Books announced the launch of The Shadow War, an alternate reality game set in the Bond universe. The game was designed by Six to Start and written by Charlie Higson to create a parallel experience for Higson’s newest Young Bond novel, By Royal Command. The series is intended for 9-14 year old children, and has sold over three-quarters of a million copies in the UK alone. Over 35,000 fans of the series are registered as members of The Danger Society over at While the Shadow War is intended for children 9 years and older, the young at heart are still permitted to play.

The game is comprised of seven missions spanning seven weeks, culminating in a live event on October 8th featuring Charlie Higson, allowing players to ask questions and influence the game. Each mission takes about an hour, and allows players to work as a British SIS agent or a Soviet OGPU spy, exploring familiar locations. Player decisions will directly influence the outcome of the game. Players can join and leave at any point, and can even switch sides if they choose to defect.

Penguin Group has been experimenting with book publishing, most recently with We Tell Stories, a reimagining of six classic novels using different media created with the help of Six to Start. In addition, Jasper Fforde released an alternate reality game to promote his most recent Thursday Next novel under the Penguin imprint, First Among Sequels.

The first mission for The Shadow War will be revealed by Charlie Higson at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on August 23rd. The festival will also feature a panel exploring the future of ARGs including Dan Hon (Six to Start), Alex Fleetwood (Hide & Seek), David Varela (formerly of Mind Candy), and Yomi Ayeni (Expanding Universe).

ARGFest 2008 in Review: ARG International (Lost in Translation)

ARGNet Writers pose at ARGFest 2008This article is the fourth in a series, providing summaries of the panel presentations at ARGFest-o-Con 2008 in Boston

The third panel discussion featured Brian Clark of GMD Studios as moderator, Patrick Moeller (ARGReporter, vm-people GmbH), Alexander Serrano (vm-people GmbH), and Genevieve Cardin (Baroblik communication et multimedia). The panel discussed the blossoming ARG market in countries that have yet to enjoy the wonders of Fried Oreos.

The discussion started with a brief history of the alternate gaming market in Germany, from its humble beginnings as a student project about the World Cup to the present day, with three grassroots projects running concurrently, and commercial ARGs both international and domestic targeting the country. Cardin noted her experiences entering a market she didn’t even know existed through her multi-lingual games.

Often, the developers noted, the decision to go International is more of a matter of budget than that of language barrier concerns. The panelists noted a few differences in play styles. For instance, the media involved for projects with target audiences with limited access to flat-rate internet service plans need to be adjusted accordingly. Additionally, the popularity of devices with GPS capabilities has led to the popularity of geo-caching in Germany.

Creating international ARGs as opposed to region-based games may present its own difficulties. A member of the audience noted that creating games spanning more than one language requires highly skilled translators, since they must create adaptations of the game that take into account its subtle nuances. Furthermore, navigating the international legal quagmires may mean a significant amount of time is spent talking with lawyers. The challenge of finding people in other locations also becomes grander on the global stage.

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ARGFest 2008 in Review: The Live Events (Stealing Sleep an Hour at a Time)

ARGNet Writers pose at ARGFest 2008

There were so many game launches, puzzles, and events at ARGFest this year, it’s a wonder anyone had any time to attend any of the panels. What follows is a brief summary of some of the events that robbed this columnist of his much-needed beauty sleep.

Alpha Agency
The first game launch of the night was a subtle one. Upon arriving at the Cocktail Party at 7pm, Lewis Murphy handed me his business card. He even went through the trouble of writing my name on the card before handing it over. Upon closer inspection, there was a symbol on the back of the card. Sixteen other specially marked business cards were handed out over the next few hours. Thanks to some quick footwork by Mapmaker, the symbols were all collected and assembled to reveal the website for Alpha Agency.

Eight Days
Eight days before the start of ARGFest, a number of players received emails leading to a series of highly technical puzzles and a countdown page. When the countdown ran out, something happened at the cocktail party. The general buzz of conversation was replaced with the rantings of a mad man with a manila folder sticking out of his pants. The natural reaction, of course, was to steal the folder from the crazy man, which is just what EGo did. Inside the folder was a CD containing a video as well as a photo that led the partygoers away from alcohol and into the streets, where they eventually found the following letter marking the end of the scavenger hunt.

The Dark Knight
Luckily, the scavenger hunt ended with just enough time to make it to Loews theater to catch a screening of The Dark Knight, courtesy of ARGFest sponsor 42 Entertainment. Watching the film, I appreciated how aspects of the alternate reality game added to the movie viewing experience.

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ARGFest 2008 in Review: Rules of Engagement with Steve Peters (Brunettes with Glasses are Hot)

ARGNet Writers pose at ARGFest 2008

This article is the third in a series, providing summaries of the presentations at ARGFest-o-Con 2008 in Boston

Steve Peters left ARGNet a few years back, but he still sticks around. Supposedly, he works for some company named 42 Entertainment that sponsored ARGFest 2008 and purchased tickets to The Dark Knight for attendees. In this Showcase Presentation, Steve Peters explained how to deal with Alternate Reality Gaming audiences using the Microsoft Vista-sponsored ARG Vanishing Point as an example.

According to Peters, there are Five F’s of Fantasticness necessary for every alternate reality game: Find, Focus, Fun, Freedom, and Fear.

The first step to every alternate reality game is the FIND: discovering the game. With Vanishing Point, 42 Entertainment targeted early adopters with puzzle boxes, puzzle graphics on Windows and technology blogs, and a taunting message suggesting that the readers wouldn’t be able to solve these. Solving the puzzles led to the main page for Vanishing Point, where, explains Peters, players found the ever effective and tantalizing countdown. So effective, in fact, that Vanishing Point included dozens of countdowns scattered around the website, each one culminating in a live event.

Which brings us to the second step: FOCUS. Players need to know what to expect when they’re entering a game. While you can pick up a book and anticipate the commitment it will involve by the number of pages, size of the font, and reputation of the author, the same does not necessarily apply to alternate reality games. Sticking to regularly scheduled updates helps generate expectations for the players. Setting more explicit boundaries through iconic touches to the websites can also help guide players and protect the developer’s sanity.

The third factor is both the simplest and the hardest: FUN. Under the direct assault of hundreds or even thousands of skilled players, puzzles often need to be difficult. However, they still have to be fun, and often building upon previous puzzles can help with that process.

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ARGFest 2008 in Review: Serious and Independent Games (Move Over, MoveOn)

ARGNet Writers pose at ARGFest 2008

This article is the second in a series, providing summaries of the panel presentations at ARGFest-o-Con 2008 in Boston.

The second panel discussion featured Ken Eklund of World Without Oil as moderator, Brian Clark (GMD Studios), Alice Leung (BBN Technologies), and Dave Szulborski. The panel discussed a little of everything, from projects born from passion to penny-pinching PMs and politics.

Dave Szulborski noted that independent games are the mainstay of the genre, and kept it alive when marketing executives were questioning its effectiveness. He noted that successful games of any type tend to inspire new developers to try their hand in development. Independent ARGs also encourage developers to innovate in new and surprising ways. As Brian Clark noted, “the riskiest things we do are those we do for ourselves,” and grassroots games are the ideal testing grounds for aspiring developers, as long as the project doesn’t serve as a resume of technical development skills that avoids the critical “fun” factor necessary for independent and serious games alike.

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ARGFest 2008 in Review: Extended Media Experiences (The Mustache Strikes Back)

ARGNet Writers pose at ARGFest 2008

This article is the first in a series, providing summaries of the panel presentations at ARGFest-o-Con 2008 in Boston.

The first panel discussion featured Evan Jones of Stitch Media as the moderator, Yomi Ayeni (Expanding Universe), Elan Lee (Fourth Wall Studios), Lance Weiler (Seize the Media), and Blair Erickson (Millions of Us). The panel explored the challenges and advantages that arise from cross-media productions.

Blair Erickson started the discussion with a description of an early project, an alternate reality game promoting World Wrestling Entertainment. Recognizing that a major draw of wrestling is the love of a fight, Erickson moved the rivalry between two wrestlers onto virtual worlds, with a game that played out over more than 100,000 threads, with players contributing in support of their favored athlete. The game culminated in Summer Slam, a pay-per-view match between the wrestlers. More recently, Millions of Us developed an ARG for the Sarah Connor Chronicles, which delved deep into the franchise’s mythology.

Yomi Ayeni discussed his work with Violette’s Dream, an ARG running as part of the upcoming video game, Velvet Assassin. The video game is based on the true story of a female soldier in World War II. The alternate reality portion of the game operates under the assumption that the game’s protagonist repurposed Nazi gold to help undercover agents in need. The aim was to make the game as real to life as possible: the first gold bar was found by former ARGNet writer Dee Cook in Fredericksburg, Texas, a town with deep historical ties to Germany. Ayeni described the project as a “fingerprintless” project that runs parallel to the video game.

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ACME Launches Aporia Agathon Project, Hits Coyote

Aporia logoMere days before this year’s ARGFest-o-Con, Aporia CME has launched the alternate reality game code-named “The Aporia Agathon Project” with the introduction of Mikey Surry, Private Eye. Over the past few months, the project team provided tidbits of clues regarding the game’s plot in dribs and drabs. With the addition of Surry’s website at, however, the slow trickle of information has increased to a steady stream of updates, and the hint of more to come.

In January 2008, Aporia CME released the game’s trailer. A month later, a promotional puzzle trail created to promote the LagTV Network revealed some tantalizing clues about the game. They even mailed a mask to players who posted YouTube videos making predictions about the game’s plot.

Diego, his sister Isobella, and his friend Jan are three youths with a secret. The secret wouldn’t be a very good one if it was already known, but a password used by Isobella referencing chaneques, creatures of Mexican folklore, implies the secret is slightly supernatural.

Which brings us to the present. Last week, Isobella posted a video describing an encounter with Mikey Surry of Surry Investigations that left him rather incapacitated and walletless. He’s still recovering, but just learned that someone in Boston this weekend knows a thing or two about his experiences. Completely coincidentally, I’m sure, a large contingent of ARG fans will be in town.

The game’s pace is picking up fairly quickly, with daily updates, two additional characters, a slew of blog entries, and some great acting. It’s safe to say that the game has finally launched, although the development team has rather gleefully refused to confirm or deny the launch when reached for comment.

Click Here for the thread at Unfiction
Click Here for the game’s wiki

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