Author: Michael Andersen (page 1 of 49)

The Aeternus Trailhead: Return to Center

Yesterday, ARGNet received a letter in the mail from an anonymous party. Inside the outer envelope was a letter wrapped around an unsealed envelope, containing what I would soon learn is the trailhead to an alternate reality game centered around the company Aeternus Center. And within an hour of opening the letter, I mailed the contents off to make this someone else’s problem. But to explain why, it’s necessary to learn a little more about this enigmatic trailhead.

The letter contained within the outer envelope was straight to the point:

Subject: Aeternus Center

Hi ARGNet,

Received the following in the mail a couple days ago regarding some sort of ‘company’, though the contents seem ARG-ish and the name it was addressed to was only used in ARG contexts. Unfortunately I don’t have time to investigate with classes going on, but also want it somewhere accessible in case the contents are important for whatever thing is going on.

Out of concern for their privacy, the anonymous sender took a permanent marker to blank out their return address and postmark before forwarding the letter they received from the Aeternus Center. Even if someone claimed they were the original sender, I’d have no way of verifying that fact. The only unredacted information on the envelope was the Center’s return address: a PO Box in Cambridge, Massachussetts.

The contents of the Aeternus Center’s letter was thankfully more forthcoming, and included:

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Satisfying Your Wanderlust at Mesmer and Braid

On September 30th, Aconite is launching the story-driven puzzle game HoloVista, where players assume the role of a young artist documenting “an opulent building on orders from a mysterious architecture firm…[where] the house is getting to know you too, better than you know yourself.” The game’s trailer depicts a game of almost meditative exploration in the spirit of Myst. Given that context, it’s more than a little fitting that the past few weeks have introduced players to the world of HoloVista through an alternate reality game centered around Mesmer and Braid, the architecture firm at the center of the mystery.

During the trailer for HoloVista, a Mesmer & Braid offer letter addressed to Carmen flashes on screen, inviting her to join the company as a Junior Architect at the firm. Mesmer & Braid’s phone number is listed, instructing her to call to receive her first field assignment. Calling that number leads to a voicemail from the company directing players to the MesmerandBraid website to take a mandatory Collaborator Assessment that sorts anyone who interacts with the company into fancifully named personalities: Nookfinder, Arkadeer, Glowright, Egressquire, and Chronoservator. An artfully framed QR code later in the trailer leads players to the same assessment. Weeks prior, Steve Peters provided yet another route to the Assessment by hiding the phone number as a puzzle on his bookcase during a live interview with Constructed Adventures. Many routes, for many personalities.

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Beyond the Secret Society: It’s Influencers All the Way Down

I honestly couldn’t tell you how many secret societies I’ve joined in the past decade. After going through a series of harrowing tasks, I’ve managed to accrue at least tentative membership status in secret societies like Sentry Outpost, the Jejune Institute, PLUS ULTRA, the Leap Year Society, the Gray Matter Sodality, the Koschei Society, Pizza Time Pizza (not a cult), and the Conspiracy for Good. Within the last month alone, I was initiated into the first circle of the Cipher Organization and restarted my application process for the Leap Year Society. Recently, however, there has been a surge of influencer-driven ARGs that provide a different model.

The First Rule of Fight Club Doesn’t Lend Itself to Virality
Secret societies are a bit of a trope within the alternate reality gaming space, and for good reason: investigating and infiltrating secret societies gives a diagetic excuse for locking information behind a series of puzzles and challenges. Want to know what’s really going on by joining the fictional cult? Complete the initiation ritual first, proving that you’re worthy of admittance into an elite circle. Ferreting out evidence from an evil organization operating out of a series of fronts? Find vulnerabilities in their systems, and then pore through confidential documents to find incontrovertible proof of their malfeasance.

While secret societies make a perfect narrative construct for ARGs, the trope also creates barriers to encouraging players to share the alternate reality game without stepping out of the narrative. Prospective secret society members shouldn’t proudly proclaim “I joined another secret society today” on social media – those recruitment efforts are best conveyed by surreptitiously passing notes at coffee shops, or through whispered conversations in church pews at an abandoned church. And when the organizations are evil, publicizing their crimes becomes outright dangerous, within the narrative conceit.

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Sneak in Some Free Virtual RECON for Escape Room Con

RECON eye & penrose triangle logo.

In August 2021, a collective of escape room creators, reviewers, and enthusiasts will converge in Boston for Reality Escape Convention (RECON), a two-day long convention dedicated to the escape room industry hosted by a team of industry leaders. The event promises carefully curated talks from a list of industry leaders, followed by interactive discussion groups with attendees to connect with the community, with early bird tickets priced at $300. The team is headed up by the Room Escape Artist blog, which has previously arranged for a series of Escape, Immerse, Explore escape room tours.

The Reality Escape Convention may be coming to Boston next year, but the wait for RECON content is much shorter. Next week, from Sunday August 23rd to Monday August 24th, the RECON team will be putting on a virtual version of their conference. For free. While the convention originally planned on holding their inaugural Boston con in 2020, they postponed for a year out of consideration for the safety of attendees. However, recognizing that the unprecedented challenges the escape room industry is facing is exactly the right time to assemble the escape room community to connect and share knowledge, the team pivoted to a free virtual convention to help facilitate the sharing of knowledge to set the stage for next year and beyond.

Registration for RECON Global remains open, and over 500 people have already expressed interest in conducting some virtual RECONnaissance in the coming week.

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Gaslamp Fantasy Meets Puzzles for the ASPMC’s Cryptozoological Adventures

During the twilight years of the 19th century, a collective of Massachusetts residents organized a series of tea parties dedicated to the appreciation and conservation of the region’s local wildlife. These parties eventually led to the foundation of the Audubon Society. Around the same time, a more magically inclined group of researchers and preservationists founded the American Society for the Protection of Magical Creatures, as a cryptozoological counterpart to the Audubon Society.

In October 2018, Green Door Labs and Stark Participation Design invited players to join in the creation of the ASPMC through the gaslight fantasy immersive production Save the Munbax at the Eustis Estate, an historic mansion where early members of the Audubon Society met. Over the course of an evening, visitors to the estate traveled back to the 1890s and worked together to help save the Northern Crested Dimmoth Munbax from extinction. This is a familiar playground for Green Door Labs, known for Club Drosselmeyer, an annual immersive performance that combines immersive theater, puzzles, and swing dance for a 1940s era period drama for a period-appropriate holiday party.

When Covid19 rendered many artists, writers, and freelancers in the entertainment sectors unemployed and under-employed, Green Door Labs resurrected the ASPMC and brought it into the 21st century to serve as a home for “original, story-based online puzzle hunts”. Under the game’s framework, the ASPMC sends players on family-friendly, modular missions that can be played independently, but also fit within a singular shared storyworld that is accessible to all. Initially funded through a Kickstarter campaign, the society’s first mission went live in late July, with two more missions slated to follow in the coming months.

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CATAN – World Explorers Takes Popular Game Off Tables, Into Streets

Following Niantic’s breakout hit Ingress in 2012, the company has gone on a world tour of adapting beloved properties for the location-based gaming landscape. 2016 saw the release of Pokémon GO, sending players on a nostalgic trek through local parks and gatherings. Enough people took to the streets catching first generation Pokemon together in those first months, it’s still nostalgically referred to as “the summer of Pokémon GO“. 2019 saw the release of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, where players catch virtual reproductions of key characters and creatures from the series to maintain the Statute of Secrecy and untangle the mystery of the Calamity that put the Wizarding World at risk in the first place.

And now? Niantic has set its sights on bringing beloved tabletop franchise CATAN off the table and out into the real world with CATAN World Explorers . Not much is known about how CATAN will be adapted for outdoor play, but the game’s website offer a handful of clues of what’s to come: like the tabletop game, collecting lumber, brick, wool, grain and ore provides the literal building blocks for gameplay. Relative scarcity of resources also means some resources might be easier to obtain through trading, as you “befriend and bargain with in-game Catanians”. All this is in pursuit of Victory Points, which are used to claim victory for your global Faction, as well as in personal Local Games through a season-based structure.

Many of Niantic’s games have relied on faction-based gameplay in the past, with Ingress fueled by a directly competitive showdown between the green Enlightened faction (the frogs) and the blue Resistance faction (the smurfs) in a strategic game of territory acquisition. With Niantic’s later games, competitive elements eased up: Pokémon GO‘s factions (Valor, Mystic, and Instinct) are used to provide in-game bonuses during raids and provides the occasional head-to-head challenge at special events, while Wizards Unite‘s Hogwarts Houses are a purely aesthetic choice, putting much more weight on players’ choice of Wizarding profession to drive gameplay. World Explorers looks to be a return to Ingress‘ more competitive structure, which makes sense for a competitive board gaming adaptation.

This isn’t Niantic’s first foray into the world of tabletop gaming, as a number of Ingress events featuring “Remote Participation Experiences”, tabletop modules that shifted Ingress gameplay from an app-based experience into a traditional tabletop role-playing game. This time, however, it’s the tabletop game that’s getting the mobile gaming makeover.

While CATAN: World Explorers‘ debut is imminent, Niantic also announced a slate of ten games in development, including a partnership on multiple projects with Punchdrunk, the immersive design company responsible for the immersive theater hit Sleep No More “that will reinvent storytelling for a 21st century audience and further expand the horizon of interactive entertainment.” Punchdrunk has already dabbled in tech-enabled partnerships to expand their immersive theater specialty, ranging from an online complement to Sleep No More in partnership with the MIT Media Lab and a partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Society and Epic Games “aimed at exploring virtual reality across entertainment industries.”

There is no set launch date for CATAN: World Explorers yet, although Niantic’s press release notes World Explorers will enter beta testing “very soon”, and pre-registration is open on the Catan: World Explorers website.

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