The Year (of Ingress) in Review

December 30, 2013 · By in News, Update · 4 Comments 

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Ingress at a ZipCar location in Philadelphia. Sorry Ingress players, this is not a new passcode.

It’s been over a year since Google introduced the world of Ingress. At its core, the project is a locative mobile game spawned out of NianticLabs@Google, an internal skunkworks team based out of the search giant’s San Francisco office. In Ingress, players compete to capture and connect virtual portals situated at real world locations to control the globe for their team. Ingress isn’t the first game to explore this geolocative game mechanic: games like Plundr and Shadow Cities paved the way for Ingress by conditioning “field agents” to take mobile gaming out to the streets. What makes Ingress distinct is Niantic’s narrative ambitions: in the past year, daily updates from the production team through an alternate reality game have introduced players to a sprawling narrative told across websites, videos, novels, live events, and even hidden within the game itself.

Ingress recently opened up to all Android users, and plans to expand out to iOS devices in 2014. With over a year of story to catch up on, entering the world of Ingress may seem daunting. Familiarity with the story isn’t essential to gameplay, but it does add staying power to a game that runs the risk of turning tedious over time. For those looking to take the plunge, here’s a few helpful pointers.

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Domino, Start Recording: A Virtual Boomtown in Sanditon, CA

September 19, 2013 · By in Features, News, Update · Comment 

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Pemberley Digital’s The Lizzie Bennet Diaries recently took home a Creative Arts Emmy for Original Interactive Program for its web adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The web series reframed Austen’s classic in a modern setting, allowing the characters to live out their fictional lives outside the show’s main YouTube channel, interacting freely across dozens of social media platforms. On October 7th, the team at Pemberley Digital will be returning to play in Jane Austen’s universe with the release of their next major production, Emma Approved. But between The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved, Pemberley Digital turned to one of Jane Austen’s lesser-known works for an experiment in transmedia storytelling with Welcome to Sanditon.

As one of California’s many Gold Rush boomtowns, the town of Sanditon California was no stranger to rapid change. In The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, William Darcy’s company Pemberley Digital developed an experimental video recording platform, Domino. Sanditon’s mayor Tom Parker met up with Gigi Darcy at SXSW, and signed up his town as a partner community, giving interested townsfolk the chance to share their lives on the platform through blogs, pictures, and videos. Mayor Parker’s aspiration for Sanditon was to transform the city into a vibrant, health-conscious vacation spot, and much of the plot revolved around complications that arose for townsfolk and business owners when the mayor’s idealized version of the city conflicted with its reality.

This comes to the fore through the story’s main plotline, following the interactions between Sanditon Scoops owner Clara Breton, whose ice cream parlour is targeted for a mayoral-encourage rebranding to juice bar, and Parker’s reluctant assistant Edward Denham, who shows a delightful passion for obscure British television. Glitches in the early release of the Domino platform also resulted in bringing a budding romance between the two to the town’s attention, resulting in equal parts consternation and glee. While Gigi Darcy has largely stepped into the town to serve as an embedded narrator, Welcome to Sanditon allows her to complete her own narrative arc. Executive producer Jay Bushman viewed Gigi’s character as the strongest test cases for transmedia storytelling in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, making her reprisal through Welcome to Sanditon the end of an 18-month long journey.
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Looking Back on a Year with the Bennets

April 3, 2013 · By in Features, Update · Comment 

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Ricky Collins (Maxwell Glick), Charlotte Lu (Julia Cho), Lizzie Bennet (Ashley Clements), and Lydia Bennet (Mary Kate Wiles) at the final celebration, courtesy of Pemberley Digital

It’s been almost a year since Lizzie Bennet introduced herself to the internet through her video blog, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. With twice-weekly video updates serving as a voyeuristic window into Lizzie’s personal affairs, viewers were effectively invited to take up digital residence at the Bennet household. After spending so much time getting to know Lizzie’s family and friends, watching the final installment of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was like saying goodbye to old friends.

Of course, in many ways it was saying goodbye to old friends. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s much loved novel Pride and Prejudice, which recently celebrated its 200th anniversary. Over the years, I’ve witnessed Elizabeth Bennet fall in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy countless times, complemented by everything from Bollywood dance numbers to zombie attacks. With The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, co-creators Hank Green and Bernie Su sought to re-imagine the classic love story through the modern lens of YouTube.

To modernize the story, the team took more than a few liberties. While Mrs Bennet’s blatant maneuvering to secure husbands for her daughters remains as comically anachronistic as it was in Pride and Prejudice, her notions are not completely out of circulation even two centuries after Austen brought them to light. The family businesses did receive an update, evolving into online production companies like Collins & Collins and Pemberley Digital that serve as bases of operation for some of Pride and Prejudice‘s original suitors that assume roles that are just as important as the Bingley mansion at Netherfield.

Surface-level changes were made to many character names, but it doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to connect the dots between Charles Bingley and Bing Lee, or Georgiana Darcy and Gigi Darcy. Even Mary Bennet and Kitty Bennet, who were excised from the core Bennet clan, still find their way into the narrative. The major changes arose through the challenges faced by the lead characters. For Lizzie, Charlotte, and Jane, the prospect of creating a life independent of marriage is an ever-present and essential reality, and the three finally realize that goal in new and interesting ways that challenge their relationships. While Lydia’s narrative arc still thrusts her into scandal, her character’s reaction to that scandal takes a different turn.

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Skyfall Viral Invites Players to Join MI6

October 16, 2012 · By in Reviews, Update · 3 Comments 

Last week, I posted a brief blurb about a package I received in the mail from “J,” a man with an unwholesome fixation with barn swallows. In that relatively innocuous package, J sent over a Sony IC Reader pre-loaded with 18 seconds of birds chirping. While I did not know it at the time, the package was the entryway into a secretive, five-part application process for Her Majesty’s Secret Service, MI6. The campaign, developed on behalf of Sony by Wieden+Kennedy, revels in secrecy through every step of the design process. As such, unlike many alternate reality games, much of the thrill in this experience can be derived from tackling the challenges on your own.

If you’re up for the challenge, start out with this YouTube video: it should have all the information you need to get to the next step. Otherwise, read on to learn more.

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Haxan Films Provides a Glimpse of the ARG That Could Have Been

April 19, 2012 · By in News, Update · 1 Comment 

Haxan Films kicked off promotions for the limited release of its film Lovely Molly last week by mailing ARGNet a care package containing a cryptic disc leading to a series of puzzles and videos on the Lovely Molly website. Over the past few days, all but one of the puzzles have been solved, with a handful of runic characters standing between players and the full message. An additional installment to the Path to Madness documentary about the history of the movie’s namesake character has also found its way onto the website. The newest installment documents the death of Molly Reynolds’ father Ben Palmer through an apparent suicide by screwdriver.

Concurrent with shooting Lovely Molly, Haxan Films shot the raw footage for an alternate reality game that prominently featured this bloody screwdriver. Due to the film’s limited budget, plans for a full-fledged game fell through. The decision to abandon the film’s more immersive plans was a difficult one, so Lovely Molly‘s director Ed Sanchez edited together a video detailing the alternate reality game that could have been. Continue on for a rare peek at a campaign as its team initially envisioned it.

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Stepping into Runner 5′s Shoes with “Zombies, Run!”

April 10, 2012 · By in News, Update · 3 Comments 

A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to try a new iOS app by Six to Start called Zombies, Run!, a “running game and audio adventure” that transplants its participants into a zombie apocalypse. The story begins: you are Runner #5, a refugee of a supply helicopter crash, with no identification to prove you’re not from one of the other rival camps, trying to earn your keep in Abel Township by running on supply or rescue missions. Along the way, you collect items that will help the camp, and sometimes obtain information that might help explain who you are, how the world got in this state, and maybe even how to save it.

Images courtesy of Six to Start

At its heart Zombies, Run! is designed as a narrative complement to players’ running music playlist. After starting the mission by loading up the app and swiping the “slide to run” control, the first segment of the story will start, interweaving music from the phone’s iTunes library with additional story segments until the mission is over. While running, a computerized voice informs you of items you pick up along the way: USB Keys, bottles of water, batteries, clothes . . . and often CDC records, information about other factions, or even other apps. In one document, a newspaper article describing a suspicious fire at a university contained a live Twitter account.

Zombies, Run! received its initial funding through a Kickstarter initiative, and one of the benefits offered to early backers was the ability to be inserted into the story, either as an individual or a brand. One of the companies to jump at this opportunity was the app development company ChipotleLabs. Various items recovered over the course of the story including the “Kensaido sword” and “Kensaido Manifesto” hint at a secret ninja society that predated the zombie apocalypse, and whose members work to combat the growing incursion. In addition to providing more information about the world beyond Abel Township, the items promote ChipotleLabs’ upcoming app, Kensaido.

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