“The Optimist” ARG Draws Focus to Disney History

July 11, 2013 · By in Game Launch, News · Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

Making a Deal with the Devil for Kobo eReader Puzzle Contest

May 4, 2013 · By in Game Launch, News · Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entering Maze of Games’ Victorian-Era Puzzle Adventure

February 25, 2013 · By in Game Launch, News, Previews · Comment 

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

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

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

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

February 14, 2013 · By in Game Launch, News · 1 Comment 

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

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

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

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Television and Gaming Merge in Defiance for Transmedia War Zone

January 16, 2013 · By in Features, Game Launch, Rumors · 1 Comment 

Over the years, Rockne S. O’Bannon has transformed more than a few science fiction projects into cult classics: O’Bannon helped shape the futuristic worlds depicted in properties including Alien Nation, SeaQuest DSV, and Farscape. With his newest project, Defiance, O’Bannon explores a future, post-apocalyptic Earth where aliens and humans are forced to cooperate in constantly-warring factions to survive.

While humans and aliens are entering a tentative alliance in the Defiance narrative, television and video games are entering into a novel alliance to tell the story. While a Syfy television show will play out in a refugee camp located in the former city of St Louis, a massively multiplayer online first-person shooter (MMOFPS) developed by Trion Worlds (makers of the popular MMORPG Rift) will follow events in San Francisco, with crossover events from both storylines impacting the developing narrative. The Defiance television show does not debut until April, with the video game version preceding the television premiere by one week. However, the stage is already being set for the launch through a website for Von Bach Industries, a company within the transmedia narrative’s universe.

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

December 18, 2012 · By in Game Launch, News, Rumors · Comment 

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

As the camera zooms in on John Harrison at the 1:07 mark on the trailer, a display panel shows the website AreYouthe1701.com, a website featuring a simple registration page in grayscale.

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

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

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