Imagine an alternate timeline where space exploration is funded by reality television. Hard to believe, I know. But in this alternate universe, it didn’t start out that way. In 1991, the American space program sent out the Overture hurtling out into deep space on a mission to reach a distant star. While most of the crew would travel in cryosleep, a skeleton crew of enterprising astronauts would serve in 25 year shifts. The year is 2016, and the first shift has ended. Unbeknownst to the crew, the American space program’s control over the mission has also ended, with Mission Control handing over the program to Actaeon Entertainment, a reality television company.
Personal Space is a web series that follows the story of the Overture’s second shift as told through the ship’s therapy computer, reprogrammed to broadcast crewmembers’ “private” sessions to the viewing public and stir up a bit more drama if things ever get too boring for the viewing audience back home. The web series’ 28 episode run plans on focusing on these vlog-style therapy sessions, peppered with color commentary by Actaeon Entertainment’s hosts and glimpses of Mission Control and its new role.
The project is created by Tom Pike, Dana Luery Shaw, and Zack Wallnau. The three previously worked together on Echo Chamber, a self-referential web series for TVTropes.org that illustrated popular tropes through an overarching narrative before evolving into an alternate reality game for its third season. Shaw, who will be serving as Personal Space‘s transmedia producer, also worked as transmedia editor for Pemberley Digital’s Welcome to Sanditon. The three have attracted a stellar cast of characters to Personal Space. Joining the Overture crew after serving aboard Battlestar Galactica are Nicki Clyne, Richard Hatch, and Tahmoh Penikett. Star Trek: Voyager‘s Tim Russ will also be joining the crew, along with Sons of Anarchy veteran Kurt Yaeger. The series will also feature quite a few names familiar in the web series space, including Emma Approved‘s Brent Bailey, A Tell Tale Vlog‘s Sean Persaud, and The Mercury Men‘s Mark Tierno.
Exciting as this may sound, Personal Space still might not see the light of day. Unless the project raises $45K on Kickstarter before May 26th, the project will not be produced. While the future of the show itself still remains in question, transmedia elements have already started to roll out across the Kickstarter campaign with the release of Science Marches Han! Doctor Ian Han is the Overture-verse’s answer to Bill Nye, explaining the science behind the show with all the gusto and grainy footage you’ve come to expect from high quality 90’s edutainment, “best viewed at 240p”. The first of four episodes set to air during the Kickstarter campaign explains the nuclear pulse propulsion system powering the Overture.
In addition to Science Marches Han!, attentive followers of the Personal Space campaign might notice a short alternate reality game designed to provide a sneak peek into this puzzling alternate universe where space exploration and reality television combine. The campaign’s backer updates also include frequent vignettes into the Expanded Universe, filling in additional details leading up to this alternate 2016. Excerpts from Cryptobiosis: Killing Death, for instance, introduces readers to both the process of cryosleep and an impressive list of author Stan Blaszkiewicz’s favorite breads. Sadly, his scones list was cut off.
If the thought of watching a show about a ship full of astronauts subjected to the manipulation and distortion that comes part and parcel with reality television isn’t enough to win you over on Personal Space? The campaign’s transmedia elements play a powerful role in introducing viewers to both the capabilities of the team and the shape of the narrative in a way that goes beyond what can typically be extracted from a typical Kickstarter campaign video. As Shaw explains, “It’s a deep and complex storyworld that we’ve created, and it’s exciting to open so much of it up to our audience before the show even starts.”
To learn more about the exciting world of Personal Space, check out the show’s Kickstarter campaign. Backers receive early access to some of the extended universe features like the Science Marches Han! VHS recordings, but the updates follow soon after on the show’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Just remember, the campaign ends May 25th at 11:59PM (PST).
Three years ago, Google’s Niantic Labs released Ingress. Since the game’s launch, a lot has changed. The Ingress playerbase has swelled from a couple thousand beta testers to more than 12 million players, with over a million players logging in every day. Frequent live events at locations across the globe encourage hundreds of players to converge at key cities to compete for their faction and the opportunity to influence the game’s narrative. The company launched (and concluded) an alternate reality game for the ancient aliens themed Endgame franchise. Last month, Niantic Labs spun off from Google, forming its own company.
Niantic is making a splash with its transition to independent game developer, announcing that their next collaboration would be with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company, to create a free-to-play mobile game for iOS and Android devices that would bring Pokémon into the real world, coming in 2016. Pokémon‘s core game mechanics will be retained for Niantic’s spin on the franchise, providing players with the ability to catch, trade, and battle their virtual companions. The main difference? With Pokémon GO, gameplay would rely on location data, encouraging players to hunt down specific locations to discover new Pokémon.
Even if it doesn’t provide much insight into what the game will look like on a smartphone screen, the game’s teaser trailer does offer hints at the intended gameplay, with wild Pokémon scattering the virtual landscape similar to how Ingress‘ own portals provide a virtual backdrop to the real world. Players would be able to trade Pokémon with people nearby, or challenge them to battles. The game even hints at what Niantic’s most recent spin on live events would be, with hundreds of players gathered at Times Square for a raid to collectively battle Legendary Pokémon like Mewtwo.
Ingress‘ biggest strength is the social ties it helps forge, and in many ways, the Pokémon model is more fitting for the set of tools Niantic built out. By making certain Pokémon harder to find in certain regions and allowing players to battle each other, there’s a lot more to do at the live events and gatherings that have become a cornerstone of both the Ingress and the Pokemon communities. And with Game Freak’s Junichi Masuda contributing to the project with a focus on connecting Pokémon GO with the main series of video games, there might even be a little blend between projects. It wouldn’t be the first time: a series of Pokémon-themed pedometers allowed players to level up their Pokémon by walking.
You enter a dimly lit room. As you cross the threshold, you’re handed a mobile device and directed to stand over a luminescent circle on the floor, facing the curved video screen taking up an entire wall. Colored lights stream down from overhead, dividing you and your fellow players into teams. After keying in your location to your controller, you’re ready to dive into a moderately massive multi-player game. You’re ready for Eddie’s Social Committee.
Created by Edwin Schlossberg and ESI Design, Eddie’s Social Committee (ESC) is a platform for highly immersive multi-player gaming, delivering social gaming writ large, synchronizing large screen gameplay with dynamic lighting and haptic feedback for a surround-sound experience. Souped-up iPod Touch controllers drive the experience, allowing players to tap, swipe, and tilt their avatars through a series of mini-games with the room’s lighting programmed to literally shine a spotlight on each game’s top performers.
Cards Against Humanity doesn’t approach its marketing efforts like most companies. Nominally, they sell a highly irreverent card game where players compete to find the most outrageous response to a prompt from their hand of cards. In practice, the Chicago-based company has used its past successes to finance a series of elaborate pranks to entertain its ardent fanbase and transform purchasing a casual party game into an experience…which is a good thing, since they give the game away for free on their website (some printing required). Two years ago they celebrated the holidays with a pay-what-you-want expansion pack, and then released an infographic breaking down how much people paid and donating the proceeds to charity. To encourage players to buy the expansion sets, the company sold an extra-long box for holding the game, The Bigger Blacker Box, to store the cards. Without telling anyone, they hid a secret card in the inner lining of the box. For their Black Friday sale last year, they increased prices. When they took out advertisements at last year’s PAX East, they used the platform to promote their made-up company, PWNMEAL: Extreme Gaming Oatmeal.
All of these efforts pale in comparison to the company’s Holiday Bullshit campaign. Last year, Cards Against Humanity asked 100,000 people to give them $12 in exchange for 12 mystery gifts from the company as part of its 12 Days of Holiday Bullshit. As thanks, the company donated $100K to DonorsChoose.org, sent out an early edition of a sex party-themed card game, mailed limited edition customized Cards Against Humanity cards, and even sent fans a lump of coal. And hidden within each mailing? A fiendish puzzle that took fans working together on Reddit’s holidaybullshit subreddit months to solve. Holiday Bullshit is back once more, promises to deliver an even harder puzzle than before.
In recent years, the United States Government has launched a number of experiments in alternate reality games and collective intelligence. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of ARPANET in 2009, the Department of Defense hid ten red weather balloons across the country with a $40,000 prize to the first organization to verify the location of all ten balloons. That same year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded an alternate reality game designed to help set Hawaii’s pandemic priorities. And now, the intelligence community is interested in exploring how alternate reality games could serve as a platform for social, behavioral, and psychological research.
As initially reported on WIRED’s Danger Room blog, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) issued a Request for Information on “Using Alternate Reality Environments to Help Enrich Research Efforts” (UAREHERE). IARPA is particularly interested in collecting information on the practicalities of running research in tandem with alternate reality games, managing privacy and safety concerns amongst alternate reality game players, and designing a game that balances free play and interactions with more controlled data collection.
Hidden 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.