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.
Emma Wilson’s journal, on digdecoded.com
The premiere of Dig, Tim Kring and Gideon Raff’s newest thriller on USA Network, DIG, is only two weeks away. But in many ways, the 10-episode series remains an enigma. In DIG, FBI agent Peter Connely (played by Harry Potter veteran Jason Isaacs) is stationed in Jerusalem, and finds himself tangled in a 2,000 year old conspiracy while digging into the murder of a young American. Beyond that, there are only tantalyzing trailers hinting at something hidden in the Promised Land to whet the appetite. Fans will just have to wait and see where the producers of Heroes and Homeland will be going with the mystery…unless, of course, the answer can be found buried deep within the show’s alternate reality game, DIG Decoded.
The DIG promotional engine has been revving up for a while now, with an official prequel novella posted to Wattpad that introduced the curious to Connely’s previous case for the FBI, tracking down the cyber-criminal known only as “Akula” for the theft of $25 million from the US Treasury across the streets of Jerusalem. The tale introduces Connely to the reader, along with Jerusalem’s FBI office head Lynn Monahan (played by Anne Heche) and Israeli detective Golan Cohen (played by Ori Pfeffer). USA Network announced a series of room escape games that will provide further insight into the world of DIG, with free puzzle adventures going live in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Hollywood, and Orlando starting February 26.
Many of the transmedia storytelling elements for DIG are scheduled to build up hype for the show’s March 5 launch, but the DIG Decoded alternate reality game that launched on February 19 is set to run in parallel with the show, with weekly installments adding to the narrative through the show’s May finale. While DIG‘s Wattpad story introduced fans to the show’s major players from law enforcement, the DIG Decoded alternate reality game prominently features the show’s archaeological cast. The story begins through the lens of a journal compiled by archaeologist Emma Wilson (played by A Fine Frenzy’s Alison Sudol), whose story drives the initial narrative. In the introductory chapter of the ARG, a series of photographs, news clippings, text messages, journal articles and videos follow Wilson from her fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania to participate in a dig at the Temple Mount, one of Jerusalem’s holiest locations.
Game enthusiasts are all about the games they play being “realistic,” with higher resolution graphics and smarter AIs. One of the more alluring features of alternate reality games is their ability to blur the lines between reality and game to the point where you question where one ended and the other began, exemplified through the “TINAG” (This Is Not A Game) philosophy. Of course, we all knew it was just a game, but hid that knowledge away back in the “suspension of disbelief” part of our brains, and let ourselves believe it was all real. But what if we could experience a game that was so real, you honestly didn’t know what was game and what was real? David Cronenberg would like to offer you an opportunity to do just that, via a personal on-demand biotech recommendation engine (“POD”) designed to enhance your everyday experience.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it draws on the plot of past Cronenberg films like eXistenZ, where players of a game would use gamepods, flesh-like instruments that allowed them to “jack into” and interact with the game on a real-time. Now, Cronenberg has joined forces with Body/Mind/Change Labs to create PODs similar to the ones in the movie, and you are encouraged to sign up for your own.
In Lance Weiler’s Culture Hacker column in Filmmaker Magazine, he states Cronenberg has “quietly licensed the fictional technology and science found within his films Shivers, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome and eXistenZ for a mind-bending eight-figure sum.” Reporting from the BMC Labs building in Venice, CA, he describes the lab as looking like “something out of a sci-fi film” and describes the company’s previous biotech achievements and their goal “to enhance humankind by harnessing biotechnology to make us smarter, faster and more efficient.” Cronenberg himself released a trailer describing the POD and his collaboration with Body/Mind/Change Labs.
Dig a little deeper and the truth becomes evident – Weiler’s article is the opening salvo for a digital extention of the Toronto International Film Festival’s (TIFF) David Cronenberg: Evolution exhibit set to debut in November 2013 and run through January 2014, and includes “artifacts, props, documentation and audio-visual interviews, as well as reconstructed set-pieces from Cronenberg’s films”. The Body/Mind/Change experience is co-produced by CFC Media Lab and directed by Lance Weiler (Head Trauma, Pandemic, Reboot Stories), and “features plot lines and game mechanics involving biotechnology start-ups, body enhancements, and emotional learning systems.”
According to the project’s press release, the experience is scheduled to launch on October 25th, but there is plenty to do and see while you’re waiting. Visitors to the BMC Labs website are encouraged to sign up for their own POD. After signing up, registrants are presented with a confirmation page hard-coded with a message congratulating them for being “8,743 of 137,234 in line for a POD implant.” The website’s POD Challene page, which is currently “OFFLINE” displaying a field of static, hints at things to come later this month.
Check out the discussion of Body Mind Change on the Unfiction forums to see how the project evolves, and schedule your trip out to Toronto to see the installation for yourself to get the full experience.
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.