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.
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?
One of my favorite moments in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail is when the Bridgekeeper asks King Arthur, “what is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?” The film never answers that question, although more than a few resourceful folks have put forward their best estimates. Before the end of this article, I fear I may be asking an equally esoteric question about the noble European swallow: the only difference? I expect you to figure out the answer, because I’m flummoxed.
I received a package in the mail today containing a postcard with the picture of a bird on it, along with a Sony IC Recorder that contained a file named 50-112-251-215.mp3 with the sound of birds chirping for 18 seconds, with a picture of bird watcher Jonathon Jongsma as the featured image. On the back of the postcard was the following message:
Greetings from Innsbruck, Michael.
Spied this fellow building his nest unusually high in a tree. I believe that means the snow will be better here this year. Including a recording of his lovely little song for your enjoyment.
Do with it what you will.
I suspect the bird pictured is a European swallow, since the barn swallow is Austria’s national bird, and bears a striking resemblance to our fine feathered friend. What secret message is hidden within this bird’s idle tweets, and what did “J” hear that made him send the recording in the first place?
Be sure to check the Unfiction forums for the discussion of what has been uncovered so far, and check back soon for updates on the story as it unfolds.
EDITED 10/16 to add: those of you nervous about visiting the website at the end of the initial puzzle might want to try this link instead.
On the Fourth of July, Marvel Entertainment released its “second screen” app for The Avengers DVD, two months prior to the release of the DVD itself. The Avengers Initiative: A Marvel Second Screen Experience, available for the iPhone and iPad, is designed to provide supplemental content, synced up with the film. The timing of the app’s release is odd, as second screen apps are traditionally released in tandem with their associated DVD. However, this particular app came bundled with the first countdown clock of Comic-Con 2012, leading to a scavenger hunt starting Friday to unlock the latest Marvel One-Shot video, Item 47.
According to The Avengers Initiative app’s description: “Become a SHIELD Agent and participate in the Item 47 Comic-Con experience either remotely or in the field.” So what is this Item 47 Comic-Con experience? Upon downloading and launching the app, the main screen launches with three options; “SHIELD Personnel Files”, “Avenger Initiative Timeline,” and “Item 47.” The Avenger Initiative Timeline is not unlocked yet, and the SHIELD Personnel files contain what you would expect: personal dossiers on all the Avengers. Currently, the only dossiers available for viewing belong to Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Natasha Romanov (Black Widow).
It’s been over 13 years since Haxan Films screened its debut film The Blair Witch Project at Sundance. And while the “found footage” format used in the film quickly established its place as a cult classic, the film’s innovative viral marketing campaign that created extensive artifacts insisting on the film’s reality fueled the movie’s rabid fanbase to take over Sundance with sold out screenings. Last year, Haxan Films returned to its found footage roots with his film Lovely Molly, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. And if the package I received in the mail earlier today is any indication, the found footage aesthetic won’t be Lovely Molly‘s only common ground with The Blair Witch Project.
The package I received contained dozens of photographs depicting four riders sitting astride horses with blotted out heads, and a large carved disc. The disc prominently displays the film’s insignia, a dagger with twin horse head quillons surrounded by symbols ranging from ancient cuneiform glyphs and Norse runes to more modern Braille cells. On the back of the disc, a link pointed to a personalized invitation to ARGNet, stating that “Lovely Molly invites you to descend into depravity. Rewards like this await the first five. Simple symbols await a score.”
Last week, cryptic print advertisements started to appear pointing readers to the TestSubjectsNeeded.com website. In last week’s issue of the comic Flashpoint, morse code led the way. In the Seattle Weekly newspaper, it was a QR Code. Both paths lead to a psychedelic movie introducing the viewer to the Human Preservation Project and then goes through an interactive experience asking the users to react to a few prompts around their five senses. Users who complete the interaction and register get a user id badge, which to date has no known purpose.
Some television viewers have noticed the TestSubjectsNeeded.com url flashing during commercials for 5 Gum, so it appears as though Wrigley is involved in this Human Preservation Project. Players have also confirmed 42 Entertainment’s involvement in the campaign by analyzing the website’s .swf file and locating the placement listing for the Seattle Weekly QR code.
Despite the lack of content, news of the project and 42 Entertainment’s involvement has generated interest on MovieViral and the Unfiction forums. Is that enough to get you excited as well? If so, check out the website testsubjectsneeded.com. Let us know if you know anything more about the campaign.