Author: Michelle Senderhauf

Giving Voice to Novel eBook Experience, The Silent History

The silent epidemic began in the year 2011. Children around the world were born without the ability to learn language. They didn’t babble as babies. They didn’t speak as they grew older. They couldn’t understand what their parents were saying. They seemed to show no interest in using language at all. Parents became frustrated, trying every obscure teaching method and advertised miracle cure. Scientists were baffled. There was no virus, no environmental toxin they could pinpoint as the cause of the disorder. As years went by, hope for a cure dwindled, but it became obvious that there was something more to the silents, something everyone had failed to notice.

This is the premise of a new, serialized digital novel, The Silent History, by Kevin Moffett, Matthew Derby, Russell Quinn and Eli Horowitz. Fans of puzzle hunt books might recognize Horowitz as one of the authors of The Clock Without a Face, a children’s book filled with hidden clues that led to real-world buried treasures.

While The Silent History doesn’t have cryptic clues or buried jewels, it does encourage readers to explore the story in several new and exciting ways. The creators, who designed and released The Silent History as an iOS app, are calling it “a new kind of novel”. Initially, the app offers video and text that introduce the reader to the story world. There are then two different experiences a reader can choose to explore: the time-released Testimonials, or the location-based Field Reports.

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Lazy 8 Studios Hard at Work on New Transmedia Project, Extrasolar

Lazy 8 Studios has a new sci-fi themed interactive narrative experience in the works called Extrasolar. Lazy 8 Studios is the company behind Cogs, one of the thirteen indie games involved in the Portal 2 Potato Sack ARG earlier this year.

Extrasolar’s story involves the eXoplanetary Research Institute (XRI), a private agency that sent an exploratory spacecraft beyond our solar system a decade ago. They will soon land the craft on Epsilon Eridani b, where the spacecraft will drop a fleet of rovers designed to explore the alien landscape. XRI is seeking volunteers to control the many rovers as they scour the planet’s surface. This fictional extraterrestrial game is partially inspired by actual astronomical crowdsourcing efforts like MoonZoo, designed to classify the lunar surface, and SetiQuest Explorer, an interface for categorizing patterns in radio telescopic data.

Rob Jagnow, one of the creators behind the game, explained some of the game mechanics in an interview with Gamasutra earlier this month. According to Jagnow, players will drive their rovers around the planet, exploring and taking pictures of the landscape. Once the photos have been beamed back to Earth, players can analyze them for artifacts or creatures living on the planet. The story of Extrasolar will unfold over emails, videos and voicemails as players explore more of the planet.

The spacecraft isn’t scheduled to land for a few more months, but rover volunteers can sign up for more information on the XRI website. Extrasolar will be free to play with the option to pay for rover upgrades and other game extras.

For more information, follow the discussion at UnFiction.

The End of “The Jejune Institute”

Clear your schedule. Cancel all of your appointments and hop on the next plane to San Francisco. Head straight from the airport to 580 California Street and tell the receptionist you need to go to the Jejune Institute on the 16th floor. You don’t have much time, as The Jejune Institute is closing its doors on April 10th.

Nonchalance, a hybrid arts consultancy, is the company behind The Jejune Institute. Their website describes the experience as “an urban interactive narrative set in San Francisco. Think of it as a way to discover a new side of the city, while being absorbed in an epic fantasy.” The experience is part alternate reality game, and part public art installment, with a dash of city tour thrown in for good measure.

For someone familiar with alternate reality games, it could probably be best described as an ARG occurring almost entirely in the real world. Almost all of the world-building details are found in the real world rather than on the internet. Instead of visiting a detective agency’s website, you visit the detective agency’s actual office. Instead of scouring a website’s source code for clues, you search through a parking garage. There are phone calls and websites, but they play a relatively minor role in the unfolding narrative, when compared to most other alternate reality games.

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The Clock Without a Face Treasure Hunt: One Jeweled Number Remains

The race is on to find the final emerald-studded number from the treasure hunt children’s book, Clock Without a Face.  Over the past seven months, treasure seekers have found eleven of the twelve numbers buried at highway rest areas across the United States.  And the final hidden number, the twelve, is rumored to be more valuable than all the other numbers combined.

Each of the numbers was once a part of a priceless (and rumored cursed) clock named the Emerald Khroniker.  According to legend, the clock was built by a pirate named Friendly Jerome.  The greedy pirate looted twelve different cities in twelve different countries, and stripped a jeweled number from each city’s grandest clock for the Emerald Khroniker.  The most valuable number, the twelve, is thought to have been stolen from the tomb of an Egyptian king.  It wasn’t long before thieves stole this valuable clock from Friendly Jerome.   The clock was then stolen again and again, until it ended up in the hands of its most recent owner, Bevel Ternky.  The Emerald Khroniker was not stolen from Ternky; instead thieves ingeniously pried off the numbers and buried each one in a separate location.

Within a month of the book’s release, treasure hunters deciphered the clues that led them to eight of the numbers in eight different states – Florida, Washington, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Connecticut and California.  Since then, three more have been found, but the number twelve is still buried in the ground somewhere, waiting to be found.

On May 25th, I found one of the numbers myself, an emerald-studded silver beauty.  I had read the book several times with my daughter, but the puzzle-cracking grind was a bit too much for a seven-year-old.  She cheered me on and hoped that I would find her lucky number seven.  With help from a group of Unfiction treasure hunters, I pinpointed the location of the number seven to just 30 miles from my home in Indiana.

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Players Fund The Haunted Majora’s Mask ARG

It is a scenario ARG players are all too familiar with. Just when things start to get interesting, the grassroots puppetmaster comes forward with an apology to the players. The game can no longer go on because of lack of funds or time. Some players are disappointed. Others are angry. Most move on looking for another game to invest their time in. Things ended a bit differently with The Haunted Majora’s Mask Cartridge ARG. Instead of giving up, the players of this grassroots game reached deep into their pockets and donated money to the creator so the game could continue. With nearly a half million views on some of the ARG’s Youtube videos, it’s not surprising that the fans are dedicated. What sort of story would touch players so deeply? There was no hot brunette, nor was there a kidnapping. The story is about a college kid and his haunted Nintendo 64 game.

The college kid, known as Jadusable on his blog, thought he had struck gold when he walked away from a neighborhood garage sale with a free copy of the N64 game, The Legend of Zelda – Majora’s Mask. A creepy old man at the sale gave the game to him, saying it once belonged to a young neighbor boy. The boy, Ben, died years ago under mysterious circumstances.

When the game first started acting strangely, Jadusable shrugged it off, thinking it was just a buggy version. Before long, he discovered that his copy of Majora’s Mask was haunted – by someone or something named Ben. Jadusable started recording the strange happenings in the game and by doing so, inadvertently allowed Ben to escape onto the internet. Anyone who downloaded the videos also downloaded Ben onto their computer and into their life. Jadusable eventually disappeared and presumably got himself trapped in the haunted game cartridge, while Ben used his new found freedom to seek out more victims in the real world.

Even though Ben is free from the game cartridge, he and other characters are still somehow affected by items used in the video game. For example, if the players play The Song of Healing from the Legend of Zelda, a character in the ARG gets healed. If they play a time travel song, they travel back in time several days, getting a chance to manipulate the characters in different ways. It is still unclear exactly what Ben’s connection to the game cartridge is, but players discovered he was previously a member of an apocalyptic cult. According to other cult members, Ben “ascended” and his body was never found. Exactly what the connection is between the Majora’s Mask video game and the cult is still a mystery.

The game’s latest chapter has come to a close, so there is plenty of time to catch up on what has happened so far before the next installment.

Read the story so far
Read the player-created wiki
Follow the discussion at UnFiction

Jurassic Park Slope: Dinosaurs, Hipsters, and Bill Murray

Caitlin Burns and Steele Filipek are on the hunt for Bill Murray. When they’re not at their day jobs at Starlight Runner Entertainment, the transmedia producers are covering Williamsburg, Brooklyn with flyers in hopes of attracting the attention of the comedian. Burns and Filipek are developing Jurassic Park Slope, an interactive transmedia experience about urban hipsters and dinosaurs, and are determined to get Murray to star in it.

An homage to the 1993 blockbuster hit, Jurassic Park, Burns and Filipek’s film involves a group of urban hipsters who, while trying to find the ultimate loft party, find that their Brooklyn neighborhood has been overtaken by dinosaurs. Players will follow the hipsters’ adventures through videos, blogs, social media and on their smart phones as they explore Williamsburg. According to one of the producers, Caitlin Burns, “Those not in Brooklyn will have opportunities to participate, though most of the gaming will be located in businesses and GPS locations in Williamsburg. There will be content that can only be unlocked online through games, contests that will be open to all comers, and of course, we’ve been posting, updating and tweeting things that relate to dinosaurs, hipsters and other related topics.”

So why Bill Murray? He has become somewhat of a legend akin to Bigfoot or Nessie in the Brooklyn neighborhood. According to urban legend, Murray shows up unannounced at loft parties and bars or walks up to strangers in public, saying, “No one will ever believe you,” and then slips away into the night, often leaving spectators in shock. Burns says, “Bill Murray is like an enigma wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in unflinchingly hilarious comedy… He seems like a person who enjoys fun, has strong opinions about things and might do something like this just because he dug it. Also, he’s utterly brilliant, even the strange groups that boycott him as the antichrist agree that he’s one of the funniest people alive.”

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ARGFest is Almost Here


This year will mark the 8th anniversary of ARGfest, and this year’s conference promises to be the most ambitious yet. The format has changed and expanded to include four days of information, networking and game-filled fun. The two day conference will take place on July 15th and 16th and will be filled with presentations, panels and roundtables galore. And in the spirit of the conference’s new “Think! Play! Do!” theme, a gaming festival has been added July 17th and 18th, where festival-goers will be able to participate in street games, location-based games, storytelling events and ARG live events.

The full conference schedule has not yet been released, but some of the announced panels include one involving casual social games and one made up of ARG enthusiasts. Presentations include Brooke Thompson’s “Can Transmedia Save the Soap Opera” and Patrick Möller’s “Follow the Rabbit”. The conference will also feature a return of the ARG Museum, a display of artifacts from past alternate reality games. In addition to the typical conference activities, this year’s ARGfest will include a writing workshop with Maureen McHugh of No Mimes Media, a mini game jam that will help participants create a working game prototype by the end of the weekend, and an organic panel session that will be shaped on the fly by the audience.

ARGfest 2010 will take place July 15th through the 18th at the W Atlanta-Midtown hotel. Multiple registration packages are available on the ARGfest website or at the door. Hotel reservations can be made on the website at the discounted group rate.

Editor’s Note:  Tomorrow (June 27th) is the last day for ARGFest’s Regular Registration rates, so now is an ideal time to select the package that best reflects your interests.

Puzzles for the Apocalypse

kinginyellowA little birdie recently pointed me in the direction of a puzzle trail called Third Realm. The site has a labyrinth of puzzles and an apocalyptic countdown ending on November 2nd. The players’ goal is to free the Yellow King with the help of a self-proclaimed “Prophet in the Wild” through his twitter account, thirdrealm. The Prophet has been dropping cryptic clues, and there is a possible London deaddrop that has yet to be investigated.

If you’re in the mood to flex your puzzle solving muscles before the November 2nd apocalypse, head on over to the unfiction thread here.

Interview with Tom Salamon, Accomplice Co-Creator

Accomplice
Below is an interview that ARGNet’s own Michelle Senderhauf conducted with Tom Salamon, co-creator of Accomplice: New York, Accomplice: The Village, and Accomplice: Hollywood. You can find details on participating in Accomplice at AccomplicetheShow.com.

MS: What made you decide to do theatrical performances in the wild rather than in a traditional theatre setting?

TS: A lot of the inspiration came from just loving to people watch in NYC, and all the quirky, crazy people that you see on any given day.  We thought that if we could figure out a way to develop characters that would blend into the woodwork of the various neighborhoods, and have a way that our actors could identify our audience but not vice-versa, we could create an effect that felt like the city was filled with extras in our little story.  We were also watching a lot of the reality TV of the day, and were interested in the sociological aspects of it, and thought that we could emulate the feeling of being on one of those shows for our audience.  
 
MS: Where did the idea for Accomplice come from?

TS: My sister (co-creator Betsy Salamon-Sufott) and I were on a walking tour throughout lower Manhattan a few years ago.  While we were seeing all of these cool, out of the way spots, we found the tour guide boring, and thought that there might be a more exciting way to experience these locations.  We thought we could design a program where people would get dropped into the middle of an adventure throughout the city.  And while there were various gaming events that incorporated quick bits with actors, I don’t think anyone had really taken the time to structure a story and cast legit improv actors, and give them room to breathe and be funny and engaging, and have a narrative unfold that the audience would be in the middle of.  

MS: After signing up for an Accomplice performance, what should the customer expect?  Do you have any suggestions on how to get the most from the experience?

TS: Come to have fun and play along – the cast loves it when you participate.  You’re not role playing, you’re just being yourself, so have fun with it and get involved.  Also, a group of 10 is the best way to attend because you’re with all of your own people, but if you don’t have 10 it’s no problem – you’ll be paired with others – just work together!  

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Accomplice Hollywood: “Legendary” ARG Experience with Neil Patrick Harris

accomplice-hollywoodThis article is the second 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.

He’s played a genius child doctor and a likable womanizer. He’s hosted the Tony’s and will do the same for the Emmy Awards this year. He’s become an internet sing-along sensation as Dr. Horrible. Now, Neil Patrick Harris can add Puppetmaster to his list of credentials, as he is co-producing an ARG experience in California called Accomplice: Hollywood.

Accomplice: Hollywood is a third in a series of live theatrical experiences that send participants out into the city to find clues and interact with characters in public places. Harris describes it as, “[p]art walking tour, part murder mystery, part scavenger hunt”. After playing Accomplice: New York himself a few years ago, Harris collaborated with the original creators, Tom Salamon and Betsy Sufott, to bring the experience to the West Coast.

This third installment involves a missing starlet named Nikki Desmond. Participants purchase tickets in advance, but have no information other than the date and time of the event and a video, starring Harris himself, with some background information on Desmond. A few days before the event, participants will receive a phone call from a character with the meeting location and other details. When they arrive, they suddenly find themselves immersed in the world of Nikki Desmond. They help solve the mystery behind Desmond’s disappearance while exploring Hollywood.

The customer reviews for all three Accomplice experiences are outstanding, with an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars. This definitely looks to be a fun experience for anyone living in Hollywood or New York. Tickets can be purchased through the Accomplice website.

Charlotte is Becoming Real ARG sends players to Germany

berlinTwo of the players of the Charlotte is Becoming Real ARG are frantically packing their bags for a free, last-minute weekend trip to Berlin, Germany. Others are cursing the fact that they let their passport expire four years ago (ahem).

It all started a little over a month ago when several ARGers received scuffed up cassette recorders in the mail. On the microcassette inside each recorder was a portion of an interview with an author who is suffering from a curious condition. Her condition seems to be that everything she writes in her books comes true soon after. It didn’t take long for players to connect the tapes to the recently released book, Therapy by Sebastian Fitzek. The interviews were excerpts from the fictional book.

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Update: Ghosts of a Chance Live Event

goac_01.jpg

The Luce Foundation Center at the Smithsonian American Art Museum is hosting a ghostly scavenger hunt later this month as a part of the Ghosts of a Chance ARG. Attendees will participate in a series of code-breaking, puzzle-solving and ghost-hunting quests designed to help rid the museum of its “mischievous spirits”. The scavenger hunt will take place at the museum on October 25th from noon until 5pm. While exploring the museum, make sure to check out the Ghosts of a Chance art display which showcases art created by players for the ARG.

For those who can’t make it to Washington D.C. for the event, the ghosts of the Smithsonian still need your help! They would like players to work together to create a quilt code to be used during the scavenger hunt.

Save Muggle Quidditch 2.0

Save Ludo logoA few weeks ago, Harry Potter fans started receiving riddle-ridden emails from a man named Ludo Bagman. Ludo, a former professional Quidditch player and current leader of the Department of Magical Games and Sports, has been forced into hiding and his new game, Muggle Quidditch 2.0 is in danger. It seems that goblins, possibly those behind Gringotts Wizarding Bank, are after Ludo for a “small financial miscommunication” and the Ministry has shut down Muggle Quidditch 2.0. Ludo thinks the two are connected and that wizards are influencing the goblins. To make things more complicated, controversy has recently surrounded Gringotts Wizarding Bank and the Ministry, as it seems the effects of the current U.S. economic crisis have reached the wizard world.

So what is Ludo’s Muggle Quidditch 2.0 and why is it so important? In the Harry Potter world, Quidditch is a sport played by witches and wizards at Hogwarts and other schools. Players ride broomsticks while trying to get several different types of balls into goals. Muggle Quidditch is a variation of the game played by Muggles (or humans) sans the magical balls and broomsticks. According to Ludo Bagman, Muggle Quidditch 2.0 is set to launch on October 15th. This new type of Quidditch is going to be an online version where wizards, witches, and Muggles can all play together. Someone (possibly goblins, wizards, or a mixture of the two) doesn’t want that to happen. So Ludo Bagman has gone into hiding and called upon supporters of the game to investigate what is happening. S.P.E.L.L. (or the Society for the Promotion of the Expeditious Liberation of Ludo) has formed and created a website to organize efforts on Ludo’s behalf.

Join in the discussion at Unfiction

UPDATE: Prototype161 vs. Mare Vitreum, Live in NYC

nocandyforyou.jpgAttention New Yorkers! You’re going to have to tell the kiddies trick-or-treating is canceled this year. Something much more interesting is happening this Halloween in New York City. Prototype161 is planning a live scavenger hunt game on October 31st called Mare Vitreum.

Mare Vitreum is a dangerous doomsday cult that has been recruiting its members by sending out etched pieces of glass in the mail. In response, prototype161 wants agents to infiltrate the cult and foil its Hallow’s Eve plans in New York City.

If past events are any indication, this is something that is not to be missed. Last summer’s event had participants scouring the city looking for clues, solving puzzles and interacting with in-game characters. Some of the live interaction included being kidnapped by a van full of masked men and saving a tied-up damsel from inside a locked theatre.

The event starts at 7pm at a yet undisclosed location. Many of the previous events have run late into the night or even the next morning, so bring along some caffeinated gum and money for snacks. The registration fee is $40, although a 50% off coupon is available for the first two people to call the ARGNet voicemail (leave us your email address). So get yourself registered, bribe the kids to skip trick-or-treating (who needs all that cavity-causing candy anyway?) and get ready for a very ARGish Halloween!

Palmer and Gaiman and Folds, Oh My!

Editor’s note: Links within this article lead to web pages that contain images some may find unsuitable for all audiences — namely, some female nudity. Click the links at your discretion.

wkap.jpg

A possible alternate reality game to coincide with the release of Amanda Palmer’s new solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? has recently popped up on ARG players’ collective radar. Palmer, of The Dresden Dolls, has recently “disappeared” and pictures have surfaced displaying her in several difficult (and somewhat gory) positions. The pictures were found by an artist blogger in what the she describes as a “rabbit hole”. While the blogger initially dismisses the photos as an art project, she quickly learns otherwise after being contacting by the organizer of an upcoming Amanda Palmer podcast tribute.

A few celebrities were involved in the making of the album, which should make for quite an interesting suspect list should this develop into a full-blown ARG. Palmer’s blog on the album’s website lays out the events which led up to the album’s completion and her subsequent disappearance. Much of this blog focuses on Palmer’s collaboration with Ben Folds, who was the co-producer of the album. Another familiar name on the possible suspect list is Neil Gaiman, who has written the text for the upcoming book, The Big Book of Who Killed Amanda Palmer. If you’re a fan of Amanda Palmer, Ben Folds or Neil Gaiman, you might want to keep an eye on this one.

The album and the book are available for purchase on the Who Killed Amanda Palmer website.

Eagle Eye Freefall: What Majestic Should Have Been

Eagle Eye Freefall

A new alternate reality game, Eagle Eye Freefall, has launched to promote the upcoming Steven Spielberg movie Eagle Eye. While the game lasts only ten minutes, it’s jam-packed with action and fun that will keep even the most jaded ARG player on the edge of their seat. Seriously. One can only hope that this is the first chapter of a much longer ARG.

The upcoming movie stars Shia LeBouf and Michelle Monaghan and is directed by D.J. Caruso with Steven Spielberg as executive producer. The movie follows two strangers, played by LeBouf and Monaghan, whose live are turned upside down by a mysterious woman phone caller. The woman controls their every move by threatening their lives if they disobey. In the Freefall ARG, you too will be controlled by this mystery woman, so beware!

Eagle Eye Freefall thread at unfiction
Eagle Eye Freefall website
Eagle Eye official movie website

Looking for Love in Dead Space

Deadspace logo

Bored? Looking for a new timewaster? Need a little more survival horror in your life? Look no further. The necromorphs are here for you and ready to entertain (and possibly award prizes!)

Deep Focus recently released No Known Survivors, an interactive narrative series set in the world of Electronic Arts’ upcoming survival horror game, Dead Space. The narrative series is one part of a extensive cross media marketing package which includes comic books, animated shorts, developer diaries, and a movie.

In the world of Dead Space, necromorphs have overrun the USG Ishimura, a deep space planetcracking ship, after a mysterious stone is discovered on the planet below. No one outside the ship knows there are necromorphs (parasitic zombie-like creatures) running around killing the Ishimura crew, so a shuttle is sent to investigate why the ship’s communication systems are down (of course!).

No Known Survivors, however, has subject matter which is a bit lighter. Griggs, a technician in the Organ Replacement Lab, spends his days replacing the organs of the crew and residents of the Ishimura. He isn’t worried about necromorphs (yet), but is more concerned with how to impress a seven-fingered girl named Jane.

No Known Survivors, still in its first chapter, plays out much like an old school PC adventure game with point and click navigation and puzzles to discover and solve. As players advance through the game and solve puzzles, they will be awarded points and a spot on the leaderboard. The top 100 players on the board at the end of the narrative will receive a copy of the Dead Space video game. The first puzzle, a severed finger code, is still unsolved, so it’s not too late to join in!

For those who like to peek behind the curtain, a few familiar names are attached to the project. Dave Szulborski helped out early in the production of the game, while Nick Braccia and Dee “Addlepated” Cook are both on the current development team.

Unfiction Thread

Update: Folding the Wish

cranesLast month, I asked for your help in making one thousand wish-filled cranes to send to Dave Szulborski for the Folding the Wish project. I’m delighted to say that the ARG community faced the challenge head on. In a little over two weeks time, more than one thousand cranes were made and shipped to me from at least seven different countries.

The cranes varied from the most delicate and tiny (no larger than a quarter) to the most extravagant made with handmade paper. Some even included a puzzle or two!

The cranes were carefully strung together and sent on their way last week, arriving on Dave’s doorstep one day before he was discharged from the hospital.

Thanks to everyone who helped on this very special project. For pictures and a message from Dave, visit his website – www.daveszulborski.com/folding.html.

A Call for Help: Folding the Wish

Folding the Wish craneAs ARG players, we often receive cries of help from mysterious strangers. Over the years, people in this community have banded together to help these strangers no matter what the task. We’ve found missing loved ones. We’ve defeated dangerous cults. We’ve saved the world countless number of times.

This time it isn’t a mysterious stranger who needs our help, but one of our very own community members. Dave Szulborski, puppetmaster of countless ARGs over the years including Chasing the Wish and Urban Hunt, has recently fallen ill and will be undergoing treatment for the next several weeks.

So what can you do? Fold him a wish.

There is an ancient Japanese legend that says that anyone who receives one thousand paper cranes will be granted one wish. A few community members have been furiously folding cranes and we need your help.

How to fold a wish:

1. Find a square piece of paper.

2. Write your well wishes for Dave on the paper.

3. Use the paper to make a paper crane.

4. Stick the crane in the mail. Email varin[at]foldingthewish.com for the mailing address.

We will be stringing the cranes together and sending them to Dave by May 2nd. If for some reason you cannot make your own crane or won’t be able to get it to us in time, we will make one for you. Just email us your wish for Dave. We’ll also be compiling a list of the wishes for Dave to read so that he doesn’t have to actually unfold all one thousand cranes to read them. So please be sure to let us know what your wish is if it’s hidden inside the crane.

Check www.foldingthewish.com for updates on the project.

Eldtrich Errors: Live Events Come in Threes for Book Three

redmoonrising.jpgAs we reported a few days ago, Book Three of Eldritch Errors has officially launched. The ARG has started off with plans for three nearly concurrent live events in Sacramento, New York City and Austin. Several players had a clandestine meeting with an in-game contact last night at the first event in Sacramento. The remaining two events are scheduled to happen tonight at 8pm.

Check out the Sentry Outpost or Unfiction to follow the action!

Eldritch Errors, Book 3?

redmoon.jpgMuch to the excitement and delight of Eldritch Errors players across the globe, it looks as if the launch of the ARG’s third book, titled Red Moon Rising, may be imminent. Book two ended with a live event chock-full of Lovecraftian horror goodness. Players and in-game characters spent the weekend together in a rustic cabin on top of Bald Knob in West Virginia. The weekend was full of good-hearted fun, camaraderie, mediocre chili and terrified screaming.

ARGers who are looking for a new game can easily jump in and play without having participated in the previous two books. Players can catch up quickly by reading the detailed Story Thus Far on the game’s meta site. Also, the puppetmasters’ behind-the-scenes blog at www.schmeldritch.com gives a sneak peak behind the curtain (for those who are into that sort of thing).

Join in on the discussion at Unfiction or the in-game forums at sentryoutpost.com.

Does Tom Tooman hail from Jericho, KS?

jericho.jpgIt started with a handwritten message on notebook paper and some barcode stickers found in the mailboxes of Sean Stacey and other alternate reality gaming players. These clues led to a website which showed nothing but an entry box and blank submit button. It was described by one player of the game, xnbomb, as “wonderfully devoid of anything encouraging, which in itself is encouraging”. Eventually, after picking through the clues provided for them, the players entered the correct password and were rewarded with a black and white map of the midwest.

What kind of ARG could possibly come out of a sheet of notebook paper, some barcodes and a map of the midwest? Well, an ARG for a major network television show, of course! A source close to the game has confirmed that the Tom Tooman ARG is an official product for the CBS television show, Jericho.

Over the past three months, things have been slowly ramping up in the Tom Tooman ARG. The midwestern map went through several changes, finally giving an elusive message which included the words, “Are you bored yet?”. While some of the more impatient players may have responded with a “yes” to that question and moved on, those who knew the adage about what comes to those who wait were rewarded with several new meaty updates. New websites were found including one for the Sakanas, Kansas community newspaper where players discovered that the midwest had been hit by several atomic bombs. Another website, for Black Hills Radio Control, has allowed players to scan the radio waves looking for communications from survivors of the attack.

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The Ultimate Search for Jason Bourne (and Prizes!)

bourne.jpgGoogle and Universal Studios have joined forces to bring us the latest and greatest movie-themed timewaster, The Ultimate Search for Bourne. The sweepstakes timewaster coincides with the release of the latest movie in the Bourne series, The Bourne Ultimatum. Players join the game as an agent hot on the trail of Jason Bourne and are promised great rewards if they find him. The prizes include a 2008 Volkswagen, $25,000 and a four destination vacation.

Even if you’ve never seen the previous Bourne movies or read the original novels, the puzzles and storyline are simple enough that anyone can play. It’s a fun little timewaster as long as you don’t mind overlooking a slightly over-the-top obvious advertisement or two. Clues have led players to a fictional dating website and Mastercard’s priceless.com website which doesn’t hide the fact that it is associated with the game.

Ludium II Follow-up: An Interview With Studio Cypher

ludium.jpgLast month I reported live from the Synthetic Worlds Initiative‘s Ludium II conference at Indiana University in Bloomington. The Ludium was designed by one of Indiana’s finest ARG companies, Studio Cypher.

At this point you’re probably wondering what a Ludium is exactly. Thomas Malaby, the spokesperson elected at the conference, explains it best on the Terra Nova blog, “The Ludia are conferences structured as games, and this one was modeled on a political convention, the first Synthetic Worlds Congress.” The goal of this Synthetic Worlds Congress was to develop a set of guidelines pertaining to virtual words that would be sent to all of the major 2008 presidential candidates along with members of Congress.

In the beginning, I wasn’t sure if Alternate Reality Games were at all similar to virtual worlds like World of Warcraft or Second Life. I was reporting on the event purely because it was a Studio Cypher project and I was looking for ARGish elements in the Ludium’s game design. By the end of the conference, I had become a full and willing participant in the Ludium fighting for what I thought fair and just much like the other attendees. I realized that many of the issues facing virtual world designers are the same or at least quite similar to the issues facing alternate reality game designers–issues like developer liability and freedom of expression.

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Live from Ludium II

Editor’s Note: ARGNet’s Michelle Senderhauf is attending and reporting from the Ludium II conference, put on by Indiana University’s Synthetic Worlds Initiative.

This is Michelle Senderhauf reporting live from the Ludium II conference at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. The conference is being run in game format which is interesting since the conference itself is about developing principles for sensible video game policy.

The Ludium game has two goals –

1. to develop a set of policies regarding synthetic worlds that will be sent to real world governments and
2. vote a single person as our de facto spokesperson for the ideas in the platform.

We’re in the second day of the Ludium conference and the group has reached a point where we 33 nominated policy statements and 3 nominees for the Speaker.

Of interest to ARG players, the conference has had its share of intrigue. Several “spies” are playing the game and are trying to derail the process. Also “reporters” are roaming the hall trying to get a scoop. Also, several of the conference attendees or players have thrown a wrench into the puppetmasters’ plans. Overnight, several players tried to merge members from their opposing groups into one large group. A response for this was not written in the game rules that were originally laid out so the puppetmasters were sent scrambling.

These events have brought up many interesting questions. If you’re using a serious game to solve a real world problem at some point or at what point do you abandon the game framework? Is there a point where the game becomes unimportant? Or even a hindrance? Many of the conference attendees agree that the game has definitely had a positive effect. It has successfully facilitated discussions in an organized fashion and allowed for a democratic decision-making process.

What will be the result? We won’t know until the end of the conference. Stay tuned!

The 4400: The Battle for Promicin

terror.gif USA Network has partnered with Campfire Media to produce an extended reality promotion for the hit television show, The 4400. Fans of the show can join in the debate over the use of Promicin, a neurotransmitter found in each of the 4400. When injected into someone who is not one of the 4400, it does one of two things: it either kills them instantly or gives them an amazing supernatural ability. Not surprisingly, the government wants to stop the use of Promicin, but many, like Jordan Collier, think the public deserves the right to choose for themselves.

While the promotion appears to be an extended reality rather than a full-fledged ARG, it’s still definitely worth a look. According to the official press release, the campaign will use seven websites, 70+ videos, mobile phone network participation and several live events across the United States. The three sites found through the rabbithole are already chock-full of well done and entertaining videos, blogs and other fun goodies.

Join the discussion at the UnFiction forums.

B Seeing U

body.jpg B.A. Saint Feline will tell you the truth, whether you want to hear it or not. She’s not a cat person, even though strays follow her wherever she goes. She’s a struggling actor. She’s an honest psychic. She’s an old soul. She also has been dreaming about a burning city, filled with smoke, flames and various ARG community members. Yep, that’s right – we’re going to burn, baby, burn.

Unless, of course, we figure out the mystery surrounding B.A. Saint Feline and her website, www.bseeingu.com. B.A. has been sending packages to the people she sees in her dreams, which include several loose pages from H. P. Lovecraft and various sea monster books (and unsolved puzzles too!). She seems to be searching for more fellow dreamers using craiglist posts in several cities.

To find out more, check out the thread over at the unForums or join in on the fun in the chat-Solutions irc channel #stfeline.

Perplex City Cube Found by Rand0m Player!

Receda%20Cube%20-%20sm.jpgThree years after the Receda Cube’s disappearance, Perplexians can breathe a sigh of relief — the Cube is finally on its way back to Perplex City. Earlier today, Andy Darley (aka Rand0m of the Unfiction forums) visited the Mind Candy office in London to exchange the Cube for his $200,000 reward.

Darley, an amateur archaeologist, found the Cube buried in Wakerley Great Wood, a historic ancient woodland 110 miles north of London. He spent three days digging trenches in the woods before he spotted the Cube in wet clay. Darley could hardly believe that he beat over 50,000 other people to the prize.

In a press release, Darley was quoted as saying, “Of all the 50,000 players, from all these different countries, I never thought for a moment I would be the person to find the Cube. I was playing for the puzzles, and the stories, but it was only a few days ago that I thought I was in with a chance. As I pulled the Cube from the sticky, wet clay, and even after I’d found it, as I was waiting to return the Cube, all I could think about is how bizarre the whole thing really was.”

The game’s in-game newspaper, the Perplex City Sentinel, reports that Perplexian celebrations are in high gear in honor of Darley and his fellow puzzle-solving Earthlings. There are also Earthly celebrations in store for people who can make it down to London on Saturday, February 24th, with a time and location yet to be announced.

Hopefully, more details will be released soon as to the exact location of the Cube and exactly how Darley waded through the myriad of puzzles and clues to find it. With Perplex City’s second season starting in a few weeks, news of the discovery will likely inspire new and returning players to hop on board. One can only hope there won’t be another cube to dig up! Also, we have requested an interview with Darley, so that we can focus more on his experiences as a whole after bringing finality to Season One of the Perplex City game.

Congratulations from all of us here at ARGNet, Andy, on finding one of the most sought-after prizes in alternate reality gaming history, and congratulations to all of the players for their tireless efforts and dedication to the game as it wound its way through the fabric of the past three years.

Andy%20Darley%20and%20Adrian%20Hon%20-%20sm.jpg Andy%20Darley%20-%20sm.jpg Receda%20Cube%20Close-Up%20-%20sm.jpg

Photos for this article courtesy of Sandbox Strategies

Step Aside, Stepford Wives – Township Heights is the New “It” Place to Be Remodeled

Township.GIFBack in November, we reported that Virtuquest, makers of City of Domes and other popular ARGs, had announced that they would be producing a public ARG. At the time, it was known only as Open ARG 6.5. We’re happy to report that the game has launched: Virtuquest’s Township Heights is open for business, inviting players into a Stepford-like world where the most upstanding citizens may also be the most dangerous.

At first glance, the city of Township Heights appears normal enough. They have a yearly festival with a parade, fireworks at night, and concerts in the park. They have a nice little Italian restaurant and a lounge where local bands play. Ah, suburbia! The town’s website proudly proclaims Township Heights “a model town,” one for “living and enjoying” in bold, majestic prose. Stately homes speckle the landscape, making Township Heights appear a modern utopia, but any scholar of Thomas More could tell you that the most utopian of locales is usually anything but.

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Where is Jason C?

grudge2.jpgAn interesting viral campaign for the upcoming Grudge 2 has popped up on ARGN’s radar. While not really an ARG, the campaign does try to blur the lines between reality and fiction and is a fun little time waster.

A student filmmaker, Jason C, is filming his thesis documentary on the making of the Grudge 2 in Tokyo, Japan. The movie’s writer, Stephen Susco, tells him that the movie was based on real events and several pieces of the real Grudge house were used to build the set. Soon after, several of the actors, including Amber Tamblyn and Sarah Michelle Gellar, start experiencing strange phenomena similar to events in the Grudge movies. Jason C suddenly disappears and his roommate back home is left to scour through the documentary videos looking for clues to solve the mystery.

While the most recent post is from June, more updates may appear with the release of the movie set for October 13th.

Studio Cypher: Perfect Friends Forever

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Studio Cypher’s second case, Perfect Friends Forever, concluded last month and players finally discovered who was trying to kill Madame Z, the psychic founder of the Perfect Friends Forever website.

Perfect Friends Forever is a friend matching service where six ghostly spiritual advisors examine and compare members’ spirits to pair up perfect eternal friends. Madame Z lives with these six spirits in the former residence of the wealthy E.S. Wylie and the most famous house in Bay Horse, MO. Just as the PFF service was about to launch, Madame Z received a grim warning, “Die Z”, written in plates and silverware on the floor of her bedroom. Yes, that’s right. Not only did the psycho madman threaten Z, but he threw grandma’s fine china on the carpet to do it!

Players joined forces with a skeptical gumshoe named Anton Jeffries and solved the case. Or did they? As the perp, an antiques dealer who wanted to find the hidden treasure of E.S. Wylie, was handcuffed and taken away to the big house he yelled out that the treasure was still out there waiting to be found. The Studio Cypher PMs have confirmed that the treasure’s location can be found in E.S. Wylie’s will. So those who are looking for a good unsolved puzzle to defeat, check out the thread about it at UnFiction.

It’s Staring at Me, Mommy! Make the Oculus Stop!

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The last time we looked in on Ocular Effect there wasn’t much more to report on than a mysterious countdown and possible connection to an ABC Family movie. Since then the countdown has ended and what looks to be an ARG has appeared in its place.

When the countdown ran to zero, an strange coded sphere called the Oculus appeared. When opened, the Oculus now redirects to the website of Miss Vix’s tattoo parlor in Seattle, WA. Miss Vix was lucky enough to stumble upon and hire a young artist named Faith Arella. Faith has become the hottest new thing to hit the Seattle tattoo scene with her own style of tattoos which seem to give their recipients good fortune.

The all knowing Oculus also reveals a school for gifted children called the Bethlehem Conservatory which privately recruits its students, assuredly for some yet-to-be-determined nefarious purposes. Listed on their site are several missing alumni, one of which we’ve seen before, Faith Arella the tattoo artist. Although yet to be directly proven, it is heavily speculated that Faith could be a Nephilim, or half angel/half human, like the main character of the Fallen movie, Aaron.

If you haven’t yet checked out Ocular Effect you can easily catch up by reading through the many resources for the game including the ingame recap, the discussion forums on UnFiction, the official OE forums and the extensive player-created OE wiki.

Check your local listings for the next showing of Fallen or watch the movie online at the ABC Family website.

Did Studio Cypher Leave Agents Out in the Cold?

studiocypher_02.jpgThe first Studio Cypher Case, Out in the Cold, was released last month when a Cypher field agent, Chuck Lehner, disappeared. Soon after the case launched, players started to receive postcards in the mail from Lehner which led them to his website and a blog that belongs to his friend Sue Terrini. The game, which ended yesterday, had some difficult puzzles, real world hidden caches and even an ingame band which seems to be the hip ARG thing to do these days. Players had been working to unravel the mystery of what happened to dear old Chuck and what mysterious brown pieces of clay had to do with it.

To many, the real mystery surrounding Studio Cypher is whether or not the pay-to-fully-play model is working on all levels. In order to fully participate in each case, players must become a Wakeful Agent for $9.99 ($13.99 outside the U.S.). Only Wakeful Agents will receive special content and can interact directly with the characters. Paying players also get access to game updates before the non-paying players. Those who don’t pay can still play along, but it still remains to be seen whether or not this limited access really allows players to immerse themselves in the story enough to want more and become a Wakeful Agent.

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Studio Cypher

During the live event for the IDEAS Festival ARG, I came across a laminated cipher reference card made by a company calling themselves Studio Cypher. After the curtain was lifted, I got the chance to speak with the Puppetmasters behind both the IDEAS Festival ARG and Ares Station. Ian Pottmeyer, Will Emigh and Nathan Mishler have formed a company dedicated to the production of ARGs called Studio Cypher.

Their website describes Studio Cypher as a company that “creates multi-player novels: stories that place you in the middle of a mystery you can help solve.” Mishler and Emigh explained that they use the term “multi-player novel” rather than ARG to avoid alienating potential players who aren’t familiar with the term. Studio Cypher is going to use a partial pay-to-play model for their ARGs. Players will be able to play along without paying a fee, but won’t be able to access some of the premium content in the game. Although they haven’t announced an official price, I was told that the cost will be less than $10 per adventure. The first episode is due to launch sometime over the next month.

IDEAS Festival 2006

ideasfestL.jpgAs previously reported, the 2006 IDEAS Festival took place this past weekend at Indiana University in Bloomington. The annual festival celebrates Interactive Digital Environments, Arts and Storytelling (IDEAS) and promotes the university’s Masters Program in Interactive Media and Game Design (MIME). In past years, the festival exhibits were judged and awarded prizes. The coordinators of this year’s festival decided to eliminate the judging to create a more open environment where ideas could be shared.

Works in several different media were exhibited including video games, alternate reality games, immersive virtual reality environments, interactive sculpture and mobile art. Many of these pieces explore different ways to immerse or interact with the audience. One piece by Robert Derr, Chance, immerses the art museum-goers by giving them the opportunity to interact with the artist by rolling a die to determine his fate. Derr places four video cameras on his body and moves throughout the city in the direction determined by what number is shown on the die. Another piece, The Uncanny Road Ahead, uses virtual reality technology to immerse players in the virtual environment. I attended the event myself to exhibit Orbital Colony as interactive art and storytelling, but the IDEAS Festival had an ARG of its own, IDEAS Festival 1906. I actually was lucky enough to take part in a live finale for the game during the show:

One of the characters, Director Anderson, entered the hall and announced that he was going to exhibit a game from the future called Non Compos Mentis. This was the cue to begin my mission. I nervously made my way through the halls of the university building, keeping an eye out for Anderson’s cronies. Agent Sueno and Silas McGuffin were counting on me to retrieve the evidence they needed to bring down Director Anderson. I made my way to the locker and unlocked it with the combination they had given me. I found enough evidence inside to ensure that Anderson was going to be brought to justice. Soon after, I joined Sueno and McGuffin to confront Anderson and show him the video of his future arrest.

Overall, the most exciting part of the festival was the high level of awareness about Alternate Reality Games. A surprising number of people in attendance knew what an ARG was and could name at least one example. Most of those who weren’t already familiar with the genre were very interested in learning more.