Author: Nicko Demeter

MTV’s Savage County Exposes More Bloody Secrets Through Alternate Reality Game

When MTV chose to add a horror movie to its programming schedule, it was with the understanding that the film would be a stark departure from the reality shows that currently dominate the network. The venture was carefully fleshed out and the pulse of the people was examined: MTV used Eventful.com to see if 100,000 people would express interest. When the counter reached that magic number, Savage County was slated for broadcast on October 7th, at 11PM EST/10PM CST.

Savage County features a group of teens that drive over to the Hardell residence on a dare to pull a knock-and-dash. This prank goes horribly wrong when the eldest of the Hardell clan ends up dead, setting in motion a vengeful killing spree as the rest of the Hardell family seek to impose their kind of vigilante justice on the residents of Savage County.

And where the movie ends, the alternate reality game begins. Head of MTV’s New Media division, David Gale, was inspired to continue the thread of the Hardell story through an online extension, and hired writer and transmedia producer Nina Bargiel to flesh out the experience. Bargiel was kind enough to come out from behind the curtain and offer her perspective on this on-going project. “The ARG is part of the overall transmedia experience,” Bargiel said about the background of this storyline. “When I was hired, there was some pre-existing prequel narrative – the great Sinner’s Medicine comic by Director and Co-Writer David Harris.”

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Dexter Game Concludes with a “Bang”

Just in time for Sunday’s premiere, the Dexter alternate reality game ended on September 23rd with the Infinity Killer’s death.

The game’s conclusion was appropriate for a game riddled with references to the inevitability of fate. Driscoll Connor, also known as the “Infinity Killer” and “F8,” arranged to meet the self-professed “Serial Huntress” Dee Pratt at a restaurant with two remote-operated rifles trained at both of their heads. The Infinity Killer then left both of their fates in the hands of the players, asking them to vote for who would live and who would die. This dramatic stand-off, streamed live at a hacked version of the Serial Huntress website, echoed both characters’ formative experiences as potential victims of the Roulette Killer over thirty years ago. As a child, Connor chose to shoot the Roulette Killer instead of shooting Pratt. And finally, decades later, the players chose to spare Pratt, condemning Connor to a death worthy of a serial killer of his caliber.

The final moments of the game were broadcast live and are now available on YouTube, providing a look inside the mind of a deranged psychopath and also insight into his determined hunter’s motivation. During The Infinity Killer’s final moments, he looked at his monitor, tallied the numbers, and accepted his fate.

The end of this alternate reality game also serves as a chance for Modernista! to tally the numbers and reflect, as the creators of this experience.  The team should be lauded for providing an overarching plot that was easy to follow along with at the developer-created Hunter Prey blog, for allowing for a significant amount of interaction between the characters and the players, and for remaining intriguing to the last moment. Active player discussions led to over 11,000 posts on the Serial Huntress forums alone over the course of the game. Those that followed the Dexter alternate reality game from the beginning will remember it fondly.

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The Hunt for the Infinity Killer Heats Up in Dexter Game

Photo credit: James Hamilton

The hunt for a serial killer is nothing new in the world of alternate reality games. However when this experience is backed by a major broadcasting company, it invariably spills out of the computer screen and into the real world. The culprit in this case is the Showtime television series Dexter. The show follows the life of Dexter Morgan, a forensic expert working for Miami PD who is a serial killer himself. In past years, Showtime has led into the new season of Dexter by setting up a Dexter-themed newsstand parodying popular magazines, releasing a personalized faux-news report letting viewers give friends the “Dexter treatment”, turning thirteen fountains across the country red with fake blood (with Philadelphia’s Love Park Fountain pictured above), and airing an animated web series providing a look at some of Dexter’s first kills. This year, an alternate reality game will welcome in the new season of Dexter, which returns September 25th.

As we previously reported at ARGNet, a Dexter-themed SCVNGR mission at Comic-Con led players to a grisly kill room. The players of this experience joined the hunt through their contact, Dee Pratt, a former FBI agent. Her website, SerialHuntress.com, is the first introduction to the now infamous serial killer known as the ‘Infinity Killer.’ Pratt’s interest in the case borders on obsession but that also translates to frequent updates via her YouTube account, SerialHuntress. In a true stroke of genius, she determined that harnessing collective intelligence would be the most effective way of tracking the killer down, and started her venture Justice By All, which also serves as the in-game forum area.

The technologies used for this game range from Facebook and Twitter to international phones that sometimes reveal vital information (but only if you are nice) and require cooperation of the player base to reach certain conclusions by the timelines imposed. The game’s developers have maintained a steady pace that allows everyone to be fully immersed in a cat-and-mouse thrill ride. All in-game characters have responded promptly to player requests, even the character that was supposedly in China, which helps maintain both interest and interaction.

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Iamamiwhoami: Those Who Play in Mud Grow Mandrakes

Imagine that in today’s tough economy you were forced to sell gizmos to as wide of a population as you can reach. And, all things being equal, your gizmos are not really that unique. Other salesmen are out there trying to sell their similar gizmos to a wide demographic as well. What do you do? Wrap your gizmo inside a shiny wrapper of course! The philosophy also applies to viral marketing that attempts to push a product such as a movie, a video game, or even (in this case) a new album from a music artist to the consumers.

Enter iamamiwhoami, a YouTube user that joined the service and set out to upload music videos of various time lengths under cryptic names and with a content that resembles something between Bjork’s artistic creations and the feature film Pan’s Labyrinth. As time went by, a more coherent message emerged from this viral campaign.

But let’s talk a bit more about the video content. The central figure appears to be a female that quickly sparked the general interest among those following the viral. Speculation abounded with regards to her identity: the popular choice shifted from Christina Aguilera, to Lady GaGa, to a speculation that this is an artist backed by Trent Reznor of NIN/Year Zero fame. Finally a strong possibility has emerged that Swedish singer/songwriter Jonna Lee is the culprit even though her own management denied involvement. The otherworldly themes that appear on the video tend to have a more eco-conscious message, and the music ranges from tribal to electronica. And yes, it even features a male character dancing around in his underwear.

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Harper’s Globe – TV never looked so deadly

harpersislandAn island’s quiet life is rocked by a brutal murder — that is the beginning of the story behind Harper’s Island, the new TV series by CBS set to air starting on April 9th. But even before the series premiere, the curious among us can already immerse themselves into the narrative by participating in the “social show” that has been built to promote the show, and we have news from the team at EQAL as to what we can expect from both Harper’s Island and its multimedia counterpart.

The proverbial rabbit hole, or starting point, is found at the web site harpersglobe.com. Designed as the island’s news resource, it introduces the players to Robin, a college student that was recently hired under mysterious circumstances to be the paper’s community manager and archivist. Working diligently, she posts videos of her progress which is when things get weird. As she starts to unravel the mystery of the island’s past (in full view of all the players, no less), a new character is introduced that has seemingly sinister intentions, drastically changing the atmosphere of the community.

Once the TV show airs, the players will advance further into the story and the mystery surrounding it. CBS is tight lipped about the project’s details, other than promising that the players/viewers will not only watch but also help catch the real killer. It’s possible that this is why people are encouraged to setup their profile once they sign up on Harper’s Globe — the social networking features may help players to interact with the characters of the ARG/TV show.

We had a few questions about what might happen with the online experience once the television show debuts in two weeks, so we went straight to the source yesterday and got in touch with Miles Beckett, the co-founder and CEO at EQAL, who has partnered with the producers of Harper’s Island to create Harper’s Globe. Beckett had as many answers as we had questions, so hit the jump for all of the gritty details.

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Roller coaster enters phone booth, exits as alternate reality game

Up in the sky! It’s a bird…it’s a plane…it’s the New Superman ARG!

A new project set in the world created by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian-born artist Joe Shuster in 1932, this alternate reality game is taking an interesting shape. Within the boundaries of the game, the existence of Superman is recognized, but in a way that a citizen of Metropolis would — by having Superman be a very real super-hero within their “universe”.

The game includes Clawshun Industries, a company hired by Six Flags to build a Superman ride. However, a little bit of investigation on the company’s site informs that Clawshun is actually owned LexCorp, the fictional conglomerate steered by none other than Lex Luthor, Superman’s nemesis.

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The rift between ARGs and interactive storytelling

56172457_cb498c60ea_mAs the Watchmen ARG (and for the purposes of this article I will assume it’s still an ARG) neared the movie’s release date, it became clear to the players that this was not necessarily an alternate reality game with something for them to do. It was more of a story, promoting the movie by giving the players a look into the world of the Watchmen before the premiere. After all, this was to be expected when an ARG deals with a story that is concrete and already clearly defined.

An interactive story seems clearly to be an acceptable way of generating marketing buzz around a product. But when the crowd of seasoned ARG players takes notice, there seems to be a desire from the player perspective for something more. When a player commits their time it should be for more something more than merely the act of lurking a site or subscribing to a YouTube profile.

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Skeleton Creek

For those of you looking for a great cross-media spooky mystery comes Skeleton Creek, a half book, half movie experience by best selling author Patrick Carman. Published by Scholastic Press, the book serves as the doorway to the world of Sarah Fincher and Ryan McCray as they try to solve the mystery of Skeleton Creek. Their challenges come in the form of ghosts, mysterious park rangers, and other discoveries that set the path for their adventure — to which the reader, of course, has a front row seat. Ryan is hurt early on in the story, during one of his and Sarah’s first escapades, and so he resorts to writing down his thoughts in his journal (which is the book) and watching the videos that Sarah provides him via her password protected website (which is the movie element).

Due to the nature of this work, one could not just read the book or watch only the movies and get the entire story. Both media are intricately tied together and work to give the reader/viewer a sense of the story and the world of Skeleton Creek. However, even as the reader reaches the end of the book and has watched all of Sarah’s movies, the Skeleton Creek experience is not over.

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It’s Tomorrow Calling. Do You Accept the Charges?

temporalkinephonics.jpgIf a relative from the future asked for your help to protect the Earth, what would you do?

This is the first line of the teaser email leading to a new alternate reality game called Tomorrow Calling which is aimed to bring environmental awareness to the ARG community. The game offers the usual (such as hidden clues on the sites, YouTube videos, and cryptic blogs) while the flavorful text speaks of an uncertain tomorrow, and an Earth that we must protect now for future generations.

While ARGNet could find no indication that there is any overlap in puppetmasters, characters in Tomorrow Calling link to sites from another environmentally sensitive ARG, World Without Oil, and refer to it not as a game, but as a “reality.”

The message is sent loud and clear within the text as much as within the actual clues. Do you need to find the next website? Then you must read the blog of a woman that muses about her fears for the earth as we know it. Do you want to know why the evil organization is… evil? Check out a Google Earth file with important dates and sites for the environmental movement.

According to its creators, the game so far has welcomed only a few players, in order to work out the kinks for a larger scale launch. With its beta launch back in May, the sites definitely look professional and the blog posts are well thought out. However, it appears to me to be an immersive, but mostly static narrative without a great deal of direct interaction.

The game has garnered some critical acclaim, as its (apparent) creators Jim Wolff and Andrea Sides have won the Grant Challenge Award at the 5th International Symposium on Digital Earth, held this past June in San Francisco. With its aspirations to educate as well as entertain, we are certainly looking forward to more from Tomorrow Calling in the near future.

Why We Eat Strangers’ Candy:  A Reflection on the ARGFest 2007 Keynote by 42 Entertainment

“Delivering a keynote address to this audience is really difficult.  What can we talk about?  We can’t talk about anything we’ve done in the past because you were all there experiencing it. We can’t talk about anything we’re working on right now because that would ruin the fun and the mystery of the experience. We can’t talk about anything we have planned for the future because frankly, you are the competition. All that’s left is self-deprecation and the elephant in the room…trust.” — Elan Lee

Those words kicked off one of the most fulfilling experiences of the ARGFest weekend, according to many of the participants. The keynote address by Sean Stewart and Elan Lee not only educated the audience (composed of players, puppetmasters, aspiring puppetmasters and other interested parties) but it also provided memorable insights into the successful games that helped establish 42 Entertainment as one of alternate reality gaming’s lead design companies.

Early on, the speakers noted that alternate reality gaming has a unique cability to evolve at any given time in accordance with the audience’s wishes.  That characteristic allows mistakes to be quickly assimilated into the game in a way that avoids the perception of failure (“Yeah, we meant to do that!”).

The discussion was split into three main sections:

— How is trust established?
— Why should puppetmasters care if the players trust them?
— Why do ARGs require trust?

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Vive La Resistance!

yearzero.jpgSwirling around the announcement of Nine Inch Nail’s upcoming album, Year Zero, are stories of mysterious finds related to the album: songs “leaked” on thumb drives left in bathrooms during concerts, unsettling websites and videos haunted by an ominous presence, and glimpses into a dystopian future not far removed from our own.

Unfolding from the websites, songs, and videos is a tale of oppression, injustice, and revolution. Fed up with increasing violence, civil unrest and terrorism, an unelected U.S. Government created a Bureau of Morality and restarted the nation’s clock at Year Zero. The First Amendment is now a thing of the past and the authorities have their thumb firmly positioned over all matters pertaining to art and culture. The quasi-totalitarian administration also utilizes the power of reactionary religious organizations to ensure that U.S. citizens are kept under tight control.

If history tells us anything, however, it is that such a restrictive regime cannot last forever. A resistance has been formed to speak out against the government’s oppressive intervention into its citizens’ lives. Using codes, flyers, USB drives left in restrooms across the world, spectrograms on MP3 songs, and a handful of websites, the faithful (or fanatics, depending on your point of view) are spreading their message and gathering in secret to discuss the latest salvos in their ongoing battle against The Man.

But there’s more going on here than just freedom fighters arrayed against the full tide of an overbearing and illegitimate leadership. A hand-like creature has been seen walking the desert, slipping downwards to earth from the heavens. The sightings started after a drug, Parepin, was added to the water in an effort to prevent bioterrorist attacks. Is it a hallucination? Divine intervention? The Angel of Death? Or, as clever Unfiction players recently suggested, might the Presence be a cross-temporal manifestation of the players themselves?

With speculation that this might be the latest production from 42 Entertainment, curiosity about the way the story is being told (is this a flashback hidden between clips of music, a la The Handmaid’s Tale? And how is it being transmitted back in time to 2007?) and a claim from Trent Reznor that this is not “some gimmick to get you to buy a record…this IS the art form,” which is “just getting started,” interest is high. The scheduled release of the Year Zero album is 4/17/07. Until then do not drink the water.

Get talking on the Unforums, or start at the sources: anotherversionofthetruth.com and www.iamtryingtobelieve.com

All is fair in cards, love, and ARGs

StudioCypher4.jpgAfter a brief break, Studio Cypher has launched Episode 4 in their “multiplayer novel.” High Stakes is described as a “comedic love story of cards, kings… and accountants,” and the players have already been introduced to a podcast producer by the name of Vox Diaboli. In his latest broadcast he explains the merits of playing (and losing) the mayorship of a city in a game of cards. And if you listen carefully some new characters are making a power play to steal City Hall.

Again, following their (now) traditional pay-to-play system, StudioCyphers have split the game into the people that pay (also called Wakeful Agents) and those that do not and presumably won’t get to experience everything this episode has to offer.

If you are interested, head over to the StudioCyphers website to sign up. It’s definitely early in the game, and the plot’s not yet to thick for you to comfortably dive in. Now, where did I put my smoking jacket?

Links:
StudioCyphers
In Game Website
Unfiction forum

Dude, Where’s My Monster?

thehost.jpgWe all have enjoyed a monster movie at some point. From the ones that are so painfully bad (you can see the zipper on the rubber suit) to the awesomeness in graphic animation that dawned on films since Jurassic Park. The Host is one of those monster movies. Or is it? Reading around the net about the movie you’d be as confused as I am: described as a “comedy”, a “family drama”, even as a “personal sacrifice epic,” this is poised to not be your typical monster-comes-out-of-the-sea flick.

It also seems that an ARG is also hidden within the marketing for this perplexing movie. After watching the movie trailer and heading over to the official website, one might find themselves staring at a “Monsters are Real” message that links to a website that investigates sightings of Yeti, Nessie, and a weird looking fish.

Link after link, a mystery unravels between friends, college buddies, movie lovers, and tattoo freaks. Why would someone disappear when they are investigating something that must surely be a hoax anyways? Why would you want to implant a chip with a blinking LED in your arm? What will happen in NYC at the special screening of the movie in February 12th? And in general, why is there a mystery surrounding a monster movie anyway?!?

Promised to be an adventure full of twists and turns, Monster Hunter Club is currently being watched via MySpace and the unForums. So hop on over, join in the mystery, and remember: Don’t feed the animals.

Links:
Thing in the Water – Meta In-Game blog to catch up quickly and follow the progress
The Host – Official movie site
MySpace account for the movie and entry point for the ARG
Current UnFiction thread

StudioCypher Back At It Again

StudioCypherStudio Cyphers returns with the release of the latest chapter of their multi-player novel (MPN), “The Cyphers”. This chapter, entitled Descry, starts with The Cyphers diving into the mystical world of rituals and spirits while following the experiments of a curious professor — experiments that might have gone a bit too far in the investigation of the paranormal.

What remains true from previous episodes is the overwhelming feeling of “spookiness” and the This-Is-Odd factor that players experience when they first encounter an in-game site or clue. Also, the puppetmasters again seem committed to realism by emailing players individually (instead of canned responses from an auto-reply program) and by conducting IRC chats where the professor and his helpers interact in real-time with the players.

In past episodes/chapters, Studio Cyphers has worked with a subscription model where ‘Wakeful Agents’ (those who pay to play) get information more rapidly, or receive additional clues for game play. For Descry, it is not yet clear what premium content the ‘Wakeful Agents’ are getting. Perhaps a more prominent or clearly defined set of benefits for the subscribing members would draw more players to participate in the paid version of the episodes.

A change of note is that this episode seems a more focused on establishing cooperative play between the players. This is evident by the number of players that currently use IRC and the Unfiction forums to discuss and solve the latest clues, which happened less frequently in previous installments.

To get started, head over to the Studio Cyphers Website and the Unfiction forum section for Studio Cyphers.

The (dark) Cube Hunt

Perplex CityThe San Francisco Connection for Perplex City came and went. Below is a brief summary of the events that took place.

Early in the morning several Cube Hunters gathered at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. With the doors still closed, the Hunters entertained themselves by listening to the podcasts, trading cards, and in general having conversations about the game. When the doors finally opened, Hunters were allowed into an area that contained several tables with free cards, a big screen TV with Guitar Hero, and a puzzle table for those that wanted to stretch their mental muscles before the main event.

On a wall, a projector was keeping track of the “solved” status for numerous puzzles. After several minutes of waiting, Hunters were told to gather to the amphitheater next door. There, representatives of Mind Candy explained that the connection between Earth and Perplex City had been severed and that only with the help of the Hunters would the connection be restored.

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Stranger Adventures or Waiting Game?

sa1.jpg“We want to let everyone know that we will release Daily Rage! very soon. Although we can not supply a specific start date…”

And so came and went another update from Tech Support at Stranger Adventures, an ARG that uses Flash technology to grant the user access to an interface in which they can gather clues, watch videos of the updates, and help solve the case.

After three runs on plots that spanned the period of days, Stranger Adventures announced that it will be creating the Daily Rage, an interactive self-concluding daily ARG. While the player base remained sceptical, the developers announced that the cash rewards (yes, winners there get real money) will continue with the Daily Rage and will be awarded to the winners, well, daily.

However, the already ambitious project seems like it has been placed on an indefinite hold. The SA fans, loyal to the core, proclaim that they will remain steadfast until the release of Daily Rage, yet plenty of them have already signed off. The updates from SA, while filled with ambiguity, hint that the release date is not far. We will remain on the case, as it were, and let you know when you can go visit and get your dose of Daily Rage.

Treasure Hunters: The Hunt Is Almost Complete. Will There Be More?

TreasureHunters.pngIt started with an all-call at NBC for short audition videos of unique teams of three willing to put themselves on the line using their brains and stamina. From the submissions, NBC picked ten teams that would be emerged into a part-reality show, part-ARG, hunt for treasure. Teams receive directional messages via video and text messages to their cell phones, while driving, flying, sailing, riding, hiking, and climbing their way to the clues and, ultimately, the treasure. The game itself has hints of the movie National Treasure (with the music having a VERY familiar undertone to the movie’s score), and it educates the viewers and the participants in the mysteries surrounding the American Revolution and the initial creation of the United States.

This is the second endeavor of a TV network to place participants in an ARG-like situation, rather than running an ARG parallel to the show as in Push, NV, following Fox’s cancelled Murder in Small Town X. Will this show be more successful? So far they have managed something that seems to be important to current, large-scale ARGs: corporate sponsorship. The fact that companies bought into this plan gives hope that the ARG’s are not only the future of gaming, but the future of entertainment for the masses, be they participant or spectator.

The series comes to an end next week, airing live Monday, August 21 at 9pm on NBC. From the original 10 teams, three remain: Air Force, the Geniuses, and the Southie Boys. Tune in to watch the exciting conclusion of the hunt.