ARGNet: Alternate Reality Gaming Network Your first choice for ARG news. Mon, 11 May 2015 02:10:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Brief ESC into Eddie’s Social Committee Wed, 01 Apr 2015 02:15:31 +0000 esc-01

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.


At the Philadelphia launch, I gave Robot Basketball, one of ESC’s nine launch titles, a try. In the game of virtual hoops, players take control of robots progressing along a track, scooping up basketballs liberally covering the screen. Tilting the mobile controller aims the robot, while tapping on the screen lets players shoot the ball at one of the game’s multiple hoops to score points. While it’s possible to play the game solo, passing the ball to teammates increases the points scored after a successful basket, making inter-team communication and coordination essential for success.


Eddie’s Social Committee is currently rolling out its pilot at Buffalo Wild Wings locations in the Philadelphia PA, Brookfield WI, and Riverside CA test markets. But its easy to imagine similar locations popping up at arcades and at larger conferences, as the immersive experience adds a sense of physical presence to multi-player gaming that is difficult to replicate in peoples’ homes. And while there are relatively few launch titles, the games are built out in Unity, helping ease the learning curve for developers looking to enter the immersive arena. Astro Beams, one of the platform’s launch titles, was developed in partnership with Warner Bros Games and Sarbakan. The developers of the 10-player arcade game Killer Queen are already working on their own take on how the ESC platform can be leveraged, for future release.

With consumer-grade electronics advancing far enough that even virtual reality is something that can be experienced in the comfort of your own home with relative ease, it’s refreshing to see developers craft destination-based experiences that force people to come together in one place, whether that’s through outdoor games, augmented reality experiences, or immersive experiences confined to a single roomEddie’s Social Committee provides another option for destination gaming, and it will be fascinating to see how the platform evolves over time.

To find Eddie’s Social Committee locations near you and learn more about pricing, check out and reach out to your local venue.

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ARG Behind Tim Kring’s New Show DIG, Decoded Fri, 20 Feb 2015 12:47:09 +0000 dig-decoded-journalEmma Wilson’s journal, on

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.

The introductory mission serves as a tutorial for basic puzzle-solving skills, with the solution to the first puzzle leading to a website that serves as a primer for other common ciphers scattered throughout the introduction. The primary puzzle-solving path is fairly obvious and clearly labeled with prominent call-outs explaining how to interact with each artifact.


These relatively straightforward iconography that dominates the primary puzzle path distracts from an underlying current of puzzles that serve to unlock additional secrets and even a few red herrings that are peppered throughout the experience for those who take the show’s entreaty to “dig deeper” to heart.

Combing through the journal entries and videos lead to an introduction to Jewish history for those unfamiliar with the events after the Torah, from the days of Solomon to the fall of the Hasmonean dynasty and the Bar Kokhba rebellion. So far, the ARG seems to balance puzzle and narrative deftly, allowing the single-player experience to unfold with relative ease. New sections of DIG Decoded are set to unlock every Thursday from now until the final installment on May 7. Successfully completing the puzzles each week unlocks sweepstakes entries for the winner’s choice of a vacation for four to Israel, Croatia, or Norway.

DIG‘s basic framework is highly reminiscent of 42 Entertainment’s alternate reality game Legends of Alcatraz, which kicked off with a puzzle-solving challenge inside Alcatraz Prison, with an online narrative unfolding through weekly online puzzle challenges that ran parallel with the show, with major character arcs mirrored in the game. This model gave the show’s fans additional ways to engage with the show in between the weekly television episodes, a tactic Kring openly embraced with the sweeping expanse of the Heroes transmedia universe.

To dive headfirst into DIG‘s alternate reality game, check out You can find the show’s prequel novella on Wattpad, and sign up for one of the escape the room challenges at as long as tickets remain available.

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The Puzzling Rise of the Escape Room Game Thu, 19 Feb 2015 13:42:56 +0000 the-tomb-boston

Image of Tomb’s sarcophagus illumination puzzle. ©2015, 5 Wits Productions, Inc.  Used by permission.

The first time I visited Boston, I met up with a group of friends and broke into an ancient Egyptian burial chamber. The tomb’s resident pharaoh was not exceptionally happy about our flagrant act of trespass, and forced our group of amateur archaeologists to solve a series of puzzles before barely escaping with our lives.

The rooms in the tomb were designed with a family-friendly audience in mind, and our guide throughout the experience embraced his role with an exuberant gusto I had only seen before from a skipper on Disney’s Jungle Cruise. The experience managed to make even familiar puzzles feel extraordinary: no matter how many times you’ve solved Tower of Hanoi puzzles in the comfort of your own home, it’s a completely different experience when you’re passing oversized pieces across the room while the ceiling is slowly crashing down overhead.

When 5 Wits‘ puzzle adventure Tomb set up shop in Boston in 2004, it was something of a rarity. The interactive exhibit mixed theatrics with physical puzzles to make its guests feel like swashbuckling adventurers narrowly escaping danger thanks to their collective intelligence. And the design was flexible enough to reward that success, allowing for multiple endings based on groups’  performance. While the original location is now closed, the 5-Wits moved Tomb to Tennessee, launching additional puzzle experiences in Washington DC, Massachusetts, and New York covering themes ranging from undersea exploration to espionage. Over the past decade, this type of immersive puzzle experience has expanded exponentially, with hundreds of locations putting down roots across the globe. For many, visiting the nearest real-life escape room is a day-trip away.

Large-scale puzzle hunts like The Game and the MIT Mystery Hunt have been going on for decades, but generally only occur a few times a year due to the enormous effort required in creating new puzzle hunts every year. Starting in 2005, Accomplice: the Show experimented with a new model by creating a series of interactive theater performances that use puzzles to guide groups of ten from location to location within the city, meeting actors at every stop. With Accomplice: NYC, now entering its tenth season, audience members are asked to serve as gofers for a group of over-the-top mobsters, solving puzzles to locate each new mobster across lower Manhattan to unlock more of the narrative, before finally reaching the climactic finale.

The real-life escape room trend is yet another iteration on this theatrical model of puzzling, with many tracing their roots back to the Kyoto-based Real Escape Game franchise’s launch in 2007. Inspired by virtual “escape the room” puzzles, Real Escape Game quickly expanded globally, formalizing many of the tropes that are quickly becoming part and parcel of the nascent real-life escape room genre. While games are not necessarily confined to a single room (Real Escape Game’s Attack on Titan-themed game took place inside stadiums) escape room games typically rely heavily on embedding challenges and puzzles within a confined space. Small groups are asked to work their way through the puzzles to figure out how to “escape”. These groups are asked to adhere to strict time limits, with the very real chance of failure for those who can’t figure out the final puzzle before the clock runs out. High failure rates are often celebrated by companies, prominently displayed on their websites alongside photographs of participating teams. Many escape room companies even provide prop signs to heighten the thrill of victory or sting of defeat.

Since it’s difficult to tell whether a real-life escape room’s failure rate is an indictment of the players or the designers looking in from the outside, escape game fans are increasingly reliant on player reviews to assess the quality of the ever-increasing number of companies and scenarios available. Escape Room Hub provides a relatively comprehensive list of global escape rooms, while other sites focus on providing more in-depth coverage of regional games, like Toronto’s Escape Room Addict and Escape Reviewer blogs. Because the reviewers are often discussing experiences that are currently live, details on the actual puzzles and rooms are sparse. As established rooms are retired to make room for new challenges, this will hopefully give way to more detailed postmortems on concluded games to help prospective players choose the right experience in an increasingly competitive landscape.

For the most part, escape rooms operate as a locally-owned single “room” experience, asking visitors to purchase tickets for a time slot like a show. Since the experience is confined to a localized area, some of the larger players are opening up franchises in multiple cities or expanding to include multiple rooms at the same location to attract more repeat customers. Escape Hunt currently has 28 locations worldwide with plans to increase that almost ten-fold in 2015, while Omescape operates multiple themed rooms out of each of its five locations.

Escape room games have already been used as a promotional tactic, created in partnership with experience designers or even some of the larger escape room companies themselves. In addition to its collaboration on an Attack on Titan stadium game, Real Escape Game has partnered with properties including Resident Evil and Case Closed. To promote the film The Purge: Anarchy, the film’s producers created a horror themed escape the room road-show that toured the United States. And recently, USA Networks partnered with Victor Blake’s US-based Escape the Room franchise for a similar collaboration. Starting on February 26, Blake is revamping his New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia locations to run an experience themed around the network’s upcoming murder mystery, DIG. Additional locations will be added at Universal Studios in Hollywood and Orlando.

To find a room in your area, go to Escape Room Hub and choose a challenge to try your luck, and test your wits.

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Fragmented Stories in the Cloud Chamber Thu, 01 Jan 2015 14:24:22 +0000 cloudchamber-header

Image courtesy of Investigate North

Kathleen Petersen, Deputy Director of Research at the Petersen institute, has gone missing. Hoping to learn what became of Kathleen, her co-workers Max and Thomas shared the footage of their investigations into the mysterious signal they were tasked with investigating at the Institute…the same signal that heralded Kathleen’s gradual emotional deterioration and disappearance.

Investigate North’s Cloud Chamber is a video game that attempts to cleanse itself of nearly every design element typically associated with video games. In it, players assume the role of investigator, poring through video footage and scanned evidence to piece together the exact nature of the Petersen Institute’s research into the enigmatic signal, and to figure out what happened to Kathleen. Stripped of traditional methods of interaction, players unlock a branching spiderweb of evidence by selecting a piece of evidence represented by a node, exploring it, and discussing the new information’s implications with fellow players.

The evidence in Cloud Chamber is presented with minimal context, organizing the evidence thematically rather than chronologically. For example, in Part I, where the focus is on Kathleen’s disappearance, players are thrust into the experience through a computer-generated island and presented with a single question, “What is the Signal?” Selecting that question pulls up a video that begins the faux documentary in media res, as the game’s three protagonists break into the Petersen Institute’s roof. While there, the three tap into a massive antenna to listen to a signal without ever properly introducing who they are, why they are interested in the signal, or even what it sounds like. Watching that video unlocks a winding path along the island to “Her Decision”, a series of short, unordered snippets showing a frazzled Kathleen’s emotional deterioration before finally unlocking the video “You are Entering”, where Max and Thomas explain that they plan on releasing everything they’ve learned and appeal for the player’s help in finding out what happened to Kathleen.


The game’s story nodes focus on delivering a high level of authenticity, while the game engine itself delivers a surreal context that takes players from the initial island into increasingly surreal dreamscapes that resemble everything from outer space to neural networks. The juxtaposition of story and game environment should be jarring. But somehow, switching back and forth from the story’s “found footage” storytelling format to an abstract web of connections makes it easier to fall into an almost trance-like state while progressing.

One of the main challenges Cloud Chamber players must face is getting a sense of the story’s timeline, since practically all context is merely implied. Sometimes, these cues are easy to pick up on: the date on an email, the location of the video, the odd contextual cue dropped in conversation. Other times, the ordering becomes more nuanced. Do the characters seem guarded, or do they seem to trust each other? Does the date on that flyer contradict the conversation featured a few nodes back? After getting a basic idea of what happened, it’s much easier to start investigating the numerous and often contradictory theories surrounding the signal. Cloud Chamber never resolves this question, and in the end there are at least half a dozen cohesive explanations about the nature of Kathleen, Max, and Thomas’ investigation.

To facilitate discussion, each node has its own conversation thread, where players can point out clues, explain the frequent references to scientific research, and debate why the information was included in the first place. Taking part in conversations unlocks additional nodes that, while not necessary to the story, add additional insight into the often-contradictory latticework of possibilities. As older comments are phased into the background, new discussions constantly surface in the threads, as players going through the game together form informal cohorts, discovering the secrets together. These conversations often switch from the fictional narrative to the core concepts that shape Cloud Chamber, ranging from particle physics and space exploration to religion and parallel worlds.


Cloud Chamber bears a striking resemblance to alternate reality games, with players encouraged to collectively piece together a disjointed narrative. But by packaging the game as a video game, Cloud Chamber unlocks a number of possibilities rarely explored by the genre. By having its players unlock discussion threads as they progress through the story, the barrier of entry for players coming later into the experience is greatly reduced, providing a rich experience for players beginning today, and a year from today. Cloud Chamber will allow people to peel back its mysteries as long as there are people willing to play it and servers available to host the conversations.

Creating Cloud Chamber as a video game also granted Investigate North much greater control over controlling players’ experiences investigating the story. While it would have been possible to distribute the game’s assets through a series of websites like many alternate reality games, placing all the assets in a central location and providing a visually rich method of navigating those files helps control players’ mindsets going into the game. The peaks and valleys of the virtual landscapes that lend structure to each of the game’s ten chapters provides few clues into the actual narrative, but goes a long way towards shaping the experience by giving players a visual representation of the game’s disjointed narrative. This is augmented by the game’s soundtrack: the deep, pulsing bass notes of the music that guides players from story fragment to story fragment gives the game an ethereal, otherworldly tone that shapes the experience as much as the videos themselves.

Both alternate reality games and video games typically focus on empowering players by creating the illusion that they have control over the story. Investigate North chose to shatter that illusion, putting its players in a more passive role seen with interactive novels like Cathy’s Book and Skeleton Creek, or television shows steeped in mystery like Twin Peaks and Lost. And while Cloud Chamber‘s focus was on an open-ended mystery, the format has the potential to complement a wide variety of stories, from whodunnit to romance and everything in between. Cloud Chamber leaves a host of unanswered questions at the end. One of the biggest is where Investigate North will take its innovative format next.

Cloud Chamber is available on Steam for $19.99.

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The Solution to Cards Against Humanity’s Puzzling Obsession with Bullshit Mon, 29 Dec 2014 15:10:17 +0000 cah-hawaii2

Images of the Reddit expedition to Hawaii 2 courtesy of Pewwer42

Shortly after Christmas, a group of Redditors met up, planning on making the trek to an uninhabited island near Lake Saint George Park in Maine. Previous expeditions to the island confirmed the presence of a wooden shed containing a massive safe at the southern tip of the island: but without the six digit passcode to unlock it, the safe’s contents remained a mystery. Finally, after almost a month of poring over websites, YouTube videos, and physical mailings, community members felt fairly confident they had the passcode that would unveil the safe’s contents.

All this, because of a bit of Holiday Bullshit.

A Little Bullshit Backstory

For this year’s Black Friday promotion, Cards Against Humanity made headlines by removing their popular card game from the market, and replacing it with Black Friday Bullshit – for $6, the company would mail its customers literal bullshit in a box. No more, and no less. At the same time, the company was promoting a separate dose of bullshit for the holidays. While the Black Friday Bullshit promotion was perfectly clear in what it was offering, Cards Against Humanity’s Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa promotion at provided almost no guidance about what it would deliver: only that, for $15, the company would send ten mailings containing…just about anything.

Fans of the company had some idea of what they might expect by using the previous year’s Holiday Bullshit mailings as guidance: a handful of exclusive and personalized Cards Against Humanity cards, a miniaturized prototype of a game, a few comics, maybe a charitable donation to a worthy cause. But for the most part, $15 purchased the ability to find a surprise waiting in the mailbox for a few days…alongside access to an expansive puzzle hunt that promised to be bigger than the last.

A Bunch of Bullshit Gifts

This year’s mailings were tied together by a loose theme: artwork adorning each envelope (and dutifully reproduced on the Holiday Bullshit website) told the tale of Santa Clause’s untimely demise and the subsequent Great Lizard Uprising of 2352 that laid waste to civilization. This was not presented as some dangerous threat to be overcome, or a mystery to be solved. Santa died, lizards will be ruling over the planet we now call home, and those are just realities we must come to accept.

Santa’s death, like the Kwanzaa-themed branding in this year’s Holiday Bullshit promotion, had almost no impact on the presents received, or the puzzles delivered, serving as flavor text for the experience. Many of the presents echoed gifts from the previous year: the 250,000 people signed up for this year’s Holiday Bullshit received holiday-themed Cards Against Humanity cards, expletive-laced stickers, Sunday funnies penned by popular web comic artists, and a booklet mocking the frequently comedic customer service complaints the company receives.


The mailings also featured a miniaturized version of the card game Slap 45, a slap-based card game that raised over $75k on Kickstarter in the Fall, a booklet with miracle berry tablets, and an accounting of every major contribution made for a US Senator in the recipient’s state. Cards Against Humanity donated $250k on behalf of Holiday Bullshit recipients to the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to transparency in politics that provided the source data for the mailing.

As each day’s mailing came through, the Holiday Bullshit website was updated with original musical performances. Kirby Krackle penned the self-explanatory I’m Stuck in a Human Centipede for Christmas, Seth Boyer and Marian Call performed a bitter-sweet duet, Paul and Storm sang the word “Christmas” a lot, the Doubleclicks cheerily wished away sexist bullshit, and Molly Lewis cautioned against overusing the term “miracle”.

The most impressive present sent as part of Holiday Bullshit was sent on the tenth day of Holiday Bullshit. Cards Against Humanity ceded land rights to a square foot of Hawaii 2, an island just off the coast of Maine, to each of the 250k people to sign up for the mailings. Cards Against Humanity included a map of the island to accompany the license, abusing their newly minted naming rights to pinpoint the Michael Bay, Forest Whitaker, Ricki Lake, US Cellular Mountain, and the Screaming Gorge of Eternal Madness. Hidden between bad puns and crashed starships, the map depicts a half-buried safe, simply labeled “The Safe”…which brings us to the puzzle.

Now That’s a Bullshit Puzzle

Last year, the nature of the Holiday Bullshit puzzle was vague, leading community members unraveling the tangled web to view practically anything and everything as a potential clue. Moving into 2014, Cards Against Humanity enlisted the help of Lone Shark Games. On the dedicated Holiday Bullshit puzzle page, a video introduced the team behind the project, as well as the structure of the puzzles to follow.

Fifteen times during the video, encrypted text spelled out enigmatic descriptions of the “base puzzles” hidden throughout the experience:

Apply Butt to Booklet
Endorse Us on Kickstarter
Fetch Me a Podcast
Find a Scaly Creature
Game, Set, Match
Gay Schlafen
Hear Us Roar
It’s a Kwanzaa Miracule
Miscegenate By Color
Open Your Envelopes
Recreate Your Holiday
Slip Out the Window
State Your Admissions
Track Down a Tasty Beverage

Solving each of these initial puzzles was a fairly involved process. “Open Your Envelopes” was the first puzzle to be discovered, when recipients of the first mailing noticed a string of multi-colored numbers printed along the inside seam of their envelopes. To solve the puzzle, community members at Reddit noticed the numbers on each envelope added up to 10, and could be used to create a 10×10 paint-by-numbers image of “BLINKY”, the red ghost from Pac-Man.

For the “Endorse Us On Kickstarter” puzzle, recipients of the miniaturized version of Slap .45 noticed the product code “GS040908060310″ could be used as an index against the six endorsements for the game’s Kickstarter page, giving the puzzle solution “NEWCAR”.

Some puzzles were uncovered in the song selection choices of the Cryptex podcast launched to complement the puzzle hunt, while others involved solving a Yiddush version of the Daily Jumble, “that fercockt word game”. Over the course of the hunt, the Reddit community leading the charge would be treated to everything from a Lord of the Rings-themed parody web comic to a secret message cleverly disguised within a catchy Christmas ballad, and even into the Tabletop archives for a celebration of Wil Wheaton’s losing streak at board games. Virtually every element of the Holiday Bullshit experience was re-purposed to serve as a vehicle for puzzles, and more than a few elements were created to extend beyond the traditional gifts – although it’s worth noting it was never necessary to physically sit on a booklet to reveal a puzzle.

Digging Deeper into the Bullshit

The true evil genius of the Holiday Bullshit puzzle was its method for submitting solutions to these fifteen “base” puzzles. The primary tool on the Holiday Bullshit puzzle site is an image generator. Input a word, and the image generator spits back one of 500 different images. Put in an incorrect answer? Doesn’t matter, an image is still generated. Large puzzle hunts often use a similar structure, with a initial batch of puzzles whose answers can be combined to solve a larger puzzle: but usually, there’s a direct method to confirm they solved each initial puzzle correctly. By running all solutions through an image generator hash, puzzle solutions could instantly be used to solve later puzzles, but players had to proceed at risk, unable to confirm whether their proposed solution was correct or not. A separate submission form page was just as unforgiving: players had to input a series of text fields, where [A]+[B]+[C]=[D]. Putting in an incorrect answer into this second form spits out the warning, “STOP GUESSING.”

The same video puzzle that provided hints on where to find the fifteen base puzzles served up guidance on what to do with the solutions. The different shift cipher values used to encrypt the original text spelled out “AN ORAL THREESOME”, telling players to treat the images generated by related puzzle solutions as a rebus to spell out a new phrase.

For instance, after noticing the puzzle solutions “LEELA”, “OLIVE”, and “BLINKY” all described Matt Groening characters, the images generated by those words (van, doll, and lies) could be combined to spell out “VANDAL EYES”, Anne Wheaton and Bonnie Burton’s personal quest to make the world a better place one set of googly eyes at a time. Plugging the “VAN + DOLL + LIES = VANDAL EYES” equation into the tool generated a new puzzle based on stamps covered in Googly eyes. Matching the stamps to their country of origin spells out the phrase, “STAMP OF APPROVAL”.

Nearing an End of the Bullshit

By combining the solutions to the five meta-puzzles, the Reddit community was directed to the eleventh and final mailing from the Holiday Bullshit team, a list of email exchanges with irate Cards Against Humanity customers. Since one of the emails jokingly referred to how “every card [the company has] ever written is created from an algorithm that takes and recombines every 13th word of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick”, the thirteenth word of every email reply was checked against every thirteenth word of Moby Dick, leading to a perfect match…except for three types of sloths. Plugging the names of the sloths into the image generator led to one final rebus, “WII + LAW + 4CHAN = WHEEL OF FORTUNE”.

Each player to input this final rebus received a separate clue to a crossword puzzle. However, some clues were missing words from prior puzzles: without knowing to plug in “WHEEL OF FORTUNE” into the clue “Z guy”, for instance, it was impossible to know the puzzle was asking for the guy from Wheel of Fortune. Once completed, the crossword puzzle provided instructions on how to obtain the six-digit code to the safe, as well as a hint at what it contained: “ACEDIA IS WHAT’S IN”.

Unlocking the Bullshit

And so, we find ourselves back at the beginning: a little less than a month after the monstrous puzzle was unleashed upon the world, members of the Reddit community set sail for Hawaii 2, the uninhabited island Cards Against Humanity purchased as a gift to their most ardent fans. At this point, it was unclear whether the passcode to the safe unlocked another step in the hunt, or marked the final leg of the journey. The trek was made without even being sure the passcode would work.


Inside the safe? A letter confirming this was the end of the line, a bottle of Loki Scotch (a distillery right around the corner from where Cards Against Humanity’s creators went to high school), a set of 12 Cards Against Humanity cards saying “Being the crazy person to open the safe”…and 250k Cards Against Humanity cards  prominently featuring the face of a sloth for anyone with the combination interested in checking out their own personal square foot of land, paying off the multiple “sloth” references along the way.

So, Was It All Just a Load of Bullshit?

The Reddit community worked together to solve both 2013 and 2014 hunts. Theoretically, it would have been possible for an individual to have cracked the 2013 hunt alone with the right amount of insight and a healthy dose of luck. This year, the hunt was designed to actively encourage tackling the problem with a community of people working together. To encourage collaboration throughout the process, key points in the puzzle-solving journey required information sharing. For the “State Your Admissions” puzzle, players received a string of two letters on the bottom of their Sunlight Foundation report. However, each state received unique letters. Without comparing answers with others, the puzzle couldn’t be solved.

To further encourage collaboration, the final “Wheel of Fortune” crossword puzzle only generated one clue per IP address. Even the most well-intentioned puzzle solving community will often fracture into smaller groups as a puzzle’s endgame approaches, particularly when there’s the temptation of a prize at stake. By subtly encouraging collaboration at the final stage, the Holiday Bullshit puzzle cemented its purpose, as a thank you letter to the community willing to pay $15 for a mystery because they’ve come to trust the company over the years. And by making the final prize large enough so that everyone could have a share? All the better.

Cards Against Humanity bought an island for their fans, and I’m already beginning to see groups planning trips out to visit “their” uninhabited island right next to Lake Saint George Park, in Maine. One of the reasons that can work is because they forged a community that will respect the responsibility of that newfound ownership. Spending a month actively collaborating on an insanely difficult puzzle can go a long way towards forging those bonds. Cards Against Humanity may be a game for horrible people, but they still try and bring the best out of them, at the same time.

For a full accounting of the Holiday Bullshit puzzles and their solutions, check out joshshadowfax and jdllama’s comprehensive puzzle summary, or visit the /r/holidaybullshit subreddit and wiki. A full summary of the gifts can be found at, and additional discussion about the hunt can be found at The Cryptex podcast.

Note: this article originally stated Hawaii 2 was located off the coast of Maine. Its actual location is on Saint George Lake in Maine.

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Cards Against Humanity Releases Another Bullshit Puzzle Tue, 11 Nov 2014 05:24:49 +0000 cards-against-humanity-solutionCards 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, 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.

The inaugural Holiday Bullshit puzzle was not easy. Fake time codes on each of the envelopes hid semaphore messages telling puzzlers to look for secret braille messages hidden in the borders of their cards. This in turn led players (through a highly convoluted process) to two Cards Against Humanity cards, and a website with the solution. As a reward for being first to solve the puzzle hunt, the team sent Reddit user Lets_Go_Flyers copious amounts of alcohol and an autographed set of everything Cards Against Humanity made (prior to the holiday season).

For its triumphant return, Cards Against Humanity’s Holiday Bullshit is abandoning Christmas to celebrate Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa. For $15, the team is preparing ten mystery gifts throughout the month of December for the first 250,000 registrants. And like its previous incarnation, the Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa mailings will include an online puzzle that Cards Against Humanity co-creator Max Temkin described to the Chicago Tribune as “the hardest puzzle ever made.” This year the puzzle experience was designed by Mike Selinker, who has worked on a number of non-traditional puzzles including hiding a secret message in the spine of every issue of WIRED Magazine in 2012, organizing a cross-country manhunt for journalist Evan Ratliff, and a publishing a narrative puzzle adventure book.

This promotion is limited to residents of the US or Canada (although Canadians will need to pay an additional $10 to cover increased shipping fees), and is limited to one subscription per household. Almost 100,000 slots have already been claimed in its first day on sale, so act soon if you want to participate. Go to to subscribe to the Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa, and follow along with the puzzle solving efforts at the holidaybullshit subreddit.

Update: click here for a description of the 2014 Holiday Bullshit puzzle and its solution.

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Road Trip into Terror: Dark Detour Revs Up for a Week of Chills and Thrills Sat, 25 Oct 2014 19:26:17 +0000 darkdetour

In the tarot card deck of Talbot Griffin’s life, the first card on the table would most likely be The Fool, that familiar vagabond traveler blithely setting out into the unknown. Scrolling through his social media accounts, Griffin’s audience can piece together a whimsical portrait of a happy-go-not-so-lucky young musician whose life has hit a few bumps in the road. After making a pilgrimage to Jim Morrison’s grave in the Paris cemetery Père Lachaise, Griffin returned to New York City to find his life taking a sharp curve. His girlfriend leaves him. His boss fires him. And he’s got to find a new place to live. What’s a rising superstar musician to do? “Borrow” his grandfather’s ’67 Mustang and take a cross-country road trip to Los Angeles, where fame and fortune await him, of course!

As Griffin travels, elusive song lyrics distract and disturb him, a cut on his arm festers and refuses to heal, and the same creepy hitchhiker mysteriously appears in several stops along the way. Where is Talbot Griffin really going, and what waits for him at the end of the road?

Described by its creators as “a ghost story for the digital age,” Dark Detour, the tale of musician Talbot Griffin and his travels, is a comedy-horror tale that makes use of several social media platforms, allowing the audience to follow Talbot Griffin’s harrowing adventures in real time. The interactive ghost story will wrap up on Halloween, and comes with its very own safe word – MIMEKILLER – that audience members can use to opt out of the experience at any time if it becomes too intense.

This independent project is produced by a creative team led by Alison Norrington of StoryCentral and Steve Peters of No Mimes Media, along with creative consultants Brian Clark, Jan Libby, Blair Erickson, and Mike Monello. Peters and Norrington raised funds to produce the project through an Indiegogo campaign, with Clark, Libby, Erickson, and Monello added to the team through the campaign’s stretch goals. Perks for campaign backers included postcards, dashboard hula girls, project consultations, and “a personalized phone call to scare the crap out of you on or around Halloween night.”

Dark Detour launched on October 24 with plenty of material to keep an audience busy for a day. Griffin’s soon-to-be-ill-fated journey began four days prior to the launch, so the opening finds him in Arizona, on his way to visit a friend in Phoenix. The character of Talbot Griffin is responsive and accessible, directly responding to people on his Facebook page. Other characters drift through the story architecture, including Talbot’s ex-girlfriend Jenny Clancy (though they have yet to update their relationship status on Facebook) and bubbly/bizarre uberfan Amber who runs the Talbot Griffin Fan Club and fan forums. A phone number on Griffin’s Facebook – (347) 508-3027 – leads to a voicemail box where audience members can leave their numbers for Griffin to call them back, and text messages can be sent to the number as well.

Griffin’s fans can follow him on numerous social media platforms, including Swarm (username: talbotgriffin), Instagram, Twitter, Soundcloud, and Facebook.

As of yet, nothing particularly scary has happened in the narrative, but the devil may be making his presence known in the details, hinting at the direction the story might travel. Griffin’s obsession with his new lyrics, his wounded arm, and the recurrent ominous hitchhiker all indicate creepy plot twists yet to come. An Instagram photo of the compass in Riverside Park is labeled “Crossroads,” and the first page of lyrics to his new song also contain a reference to crossroads – “crossroads on my mind.” A crossroads, as every Supernatural fan knows, is a place where deals are made with demons. Did Talbot Griffin make an unearthly deal for the fame and fortune that he believes awaits him in Los Angeles?

Dark Detour will continue through Halloween. To join in, visit for a summary of the story so far, and discuss the spooky events on the unfiction forums or in the G+ group Griffin Observatory.

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Endgame Variations: Multiple Play Styles for the End of the World Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:16:05 +0000 endgame-map

Tens of thousands of years ago, mankind’s earliest civilizations were visited by extraterrestrial beings. Due to their superior knowledge and technology, these early visitors were treated as gods. Native Americans knew them as the Sky People. To the Sumerians, they were the Annunaki. Whatever they were called, these visitors came to earth and instructed mankind, leaving behind countless monuments behind. At least, that’s what some people claim. The theory commonly referred to as the “ancient astronaut hypothesis” serves as the foundation for a cross-platform collaboration between James Frey’s Full Fathom Five, HarperCollins, Google’s Niantic Labs, and Fox Searchlight.

According to Endgame‘s legend, Earth’s ancient alien visitors warned mankind that they would return one day for a reckoning known as Endgame. Some believe it to be a punishment for squandering the aliens’ enlightenment, and straining earth’s resources, while others view it as a method of selecting a favored sub-section of humanity for preservation. Whatever the cause, the nature of Endgame is clear: twelve of the most ancient civilizations must select a teenager to represent their society in a deadly treasure hunt where failure means death — the only survivors of Endgame are the members of the winning civilization. For thousands of years, the twelve societies have been training potential representatives from birth to save their people, in case Endgame should fall to their generation. Finally, after over thirty thousand years, twelve meteorites touched down, signaling the beginning of Endgame, and twelve teenagers started their journey to locate three keys hidden across the globe.

This narrative serves as the core of the Endgame experience across every platform. However, people interested in exploring the world of Endgame are presented with a number of dramatically different ways to interact with the story. For players looking for a solitary experience, puzzles infused into the novel leads to the secret to unlocking approximately $500,000 in gold coins kept on display at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. For those looking for a more social gaming experience, an alternate reality game delves deeper into Endgame‘s backstory, while an upcoming mobile app allowing players to take the conflict to the streets in a competitive, PVP style of gameplay.
Prelude to Endgame

Image via @endgameiscoming

Image via endgameiscoming

While Endgame officially launched earlier this month, the teams involved in the project have been quietly seeding clues about the project since early this year, with many of the characters in the novel starting to establish online presences on Twitter, Google+, and other social media platforms. At the Endgame is Coming website, players could link their Facebook account to watch a personalized video suggesting which of the twelve factions they were most likely to be aligned with, along with their chances of surviving the coming cataclysm. Magnetically sealed puzzle boxes were sent out to a handful of interested parties, with personalized videos directing players to Once a critical mass of people joined in, players learned that something would be happening at Union Square Park, the day before the book’s official launch date.

That event marked the official beginning of Endgame with a bang, as a section of Union Square Park was cordoned off to protect a meteor impact site that left behind the wreckage of a bicycle and hot dog stand. The crash site attracted men in hazmat suits conducting an investigation, faux news coverage and protesters warning of an event that would destroy everything.

A Solitary Endgame: The Hunt for the Earth Key

James Frey mentioned that one of his inspirations for creating Endgame was Masquerade, a children’s book from the 1980s that contained clues to the location of a jeweled hare hidden by the book’s author, Kit Williams. The buried treasure was eventually found by Ken Thomas three years after the book’s publication, although accusations of Thomas receiving help from Williams’ former girlfriend cloaked the treasure hunt in scandal.

Like Masquerade, the primary vector for storytelling with Endgame is a novel, with Fox Searchlight developing a movie adaptation. Since the plot of Endgame revolves around twelve teenagers following along a global scavenger hunt, the book is littered with a series of puzzles and riddles, personalized to their particular strengths and life experiences. Sometimes, the narrative explains the solutions to those riddles. But just as often, readers are left to try and tackle the puzzles on their own. Other puzzles injected into the book are intended for the reader alone, and lead to a key that can be used to unlock a case containing $500,000 in gold coins. Frey learned a lesson from Kit Williams’ scandal, and ensured that neither he nor Nils Johnson-Shelton knows the solution to the puzzles hidden within the book’s text. For the book’s puzzle design, he turned to Mat Laibowitz at Futuruption, best known for their Midnight Madness puzzle hunts held in New York City.

This co-mingling of narrative puzzles and meta-puzzles can get confusing as the book progresses. Some puzzles like the text hidden in the book’s cover and the illustrations separating chapters have a clear division from the narrative. Others are integrated more directly within the text. Sometimes, this is done with a deft hand and goes by practically unnoticed: a series of messages injected into the idiosyncrasies of one character’s speech patterns is a particularly skillful example. Others are more awkwardly constructed and tend to break the narrative flow: descriptions of time, distance, and direction are particularly affected by this construction. During a particularly dramatic moment, a character’s index finger is described as being “extended to 166°30’32”. During another sequence, characters are described as being “in Turkey for 2.45 days”.

There are multiple entry points to the puzzle hunt: for the trail I have been following, a puzzle within the book lead me to a validation page, asking me to solve a similarly themed puzzle before taking me to an interactive website containing yet another challenge. Progress along this journey is tracked through Google authentication, ensuring that all players have agreed to the game’s terms before proceeding. According to those terms, the puzzles are divided in four discrete phases. The first Stage went live with the book’s launch, with the remaining phases released on three separate, as-yet-unannounced dates in the future. The first person to solve all the puzzles will receive the Earth Key, an item that features prominently in the first book. Solving a similar puzzle trail in the second Endgame book will lead to a million dollar prize, while the final book holds the secret to 1.5 million dollars.

Structuring the contest around secrecy is abnormal for complex puzzle hunts of this nature: collaboration is often required to tackle challenges that call upon disparate skill sets, and the communities that form around tackling the puzzles help educate less experienced solvers interested in getting a taste of the experience. The decision to actively discourage collaboration is all the more surprising since the full puzzle experience will be gradually released over time, so there is no danger of a particularly savvy puzzle solver finding all the answers earlier than planned.

A Communal Endgame: Preparing for the End of the World

endgame-ancientsocietiesFor players more interested in a collaborative approach to the end of the world, Endgame: Ancient Truth turns the clock back two years prior to the start of the novel, following the enigmatic Stella as she explores the history of the twelve lines. So far Stella has provided players with basic information on the twelve factions featured in the book, along with daily puzzle challenges that unlock glimpses into Stella’s slightly atypical family life. Stella also interacts with players by responding to emails in video responses.

The alternate reality game is separated from the puzzle hunt by more than just time: participation will not provide any hints or clues to the $500,000 prize, but also doesn’t come with the hunt’s restrictions on sharing information. Indeed, the alternate reality game’s meta-page explicitly states that “collaboration and sharing of information is not only allowed, but encouraged.”

A Combative Endgame: Adding PVP to the Ingress Model

endgame-fightEarlier this year, Niantic Labs announced plans to follow up the successful release of its geo-locative mobile game Ingress with a new project, set in the Endgame universe. Details on the upcoming mobile app are sparse, but during the franchise’s New York City launch event, John Hanke gave a few teasers of what’s to come. For the mobile game, players are asked to align with one of Endgame’s twelve factions and enter a global, location-specific PVP arena. As Hanke explains,

As you walk around the world, you’ll have a map on your phone, and you’ll see all the other players around you. If you are close enough to them, [your avatar] can fight them…and every time you fight, [your avatar fights] to the death. Everywhere you go in the world with this game, you’ll have to be ready to play and you’ll have to be ready to defend yourself or attack somebody.

This combative model of Endgame may seem to mesh closest with the book’s narrative, where twelve teenagers are thrust into a battle to the death. However, the many ways of interacting with Endgame as a reader, filmgoer, puzzle solver, or player are mirrored in the ways the characters in Endgame approach their roles. In the book, some approach it as a solitary puzzle to be unraveled. For others, it is a contest between players, to be won by dominating the competition. Still others forge uneasy alliances with their fellow Players, despite the belief instilled across generations that death is a certainty for all but one. Endgame as a franchise is designed to cater to the type of experience people are most comfortable seeking out. And while that may lead to a disjointed experience for the most dedicated players who immerse themselves in all aspects of the campaign, the net effect remains a thoroughly engrossing story paired with well-crafted puzzles that may be the most ambitious project of its kind.

To get started with the Endgame alternate reality game, check out Endgame: Ancient Truth for information on getting started and a list of communities following the ARG, or dive straight into the experience at For the $500,000 puzzle hunt, start off by reading Endgame: The Calling before registering to participate at Kepler Futuristics.

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Google Rolls Out Ingress to iOS Devices Mon, 14 Jul 2014 07:06:22 +0000 ingress-van-rollout-pun

In November 2012, Google introduced its Ingress scanner app to the Google Play store. And for almost two years, the central point of interaction for Google’s deeply immersive alternate reality game has been an Android exclusive. That changes today: with the release of Ingress‘s scanner app to the iTunes Store, the world of Ingress has officially rolled out on iOS devices.

The Ingress scanner app asks players to join the green Enlightened or blue Resistance faction in a battle for control over portals tied to real world landmarks. The game has a sizeable player base within the Android community. Over 12,000 players have gathered for the game’s frequent live events in cities across the globe so far in 2014, and the game boasts over 4 million downloads. With the expansion into iOS devices, an influx of new players is likely.

To help ease new players into the game, Ingress is introducing new elements to ease the transition into a deep narrative running beneath the game’s surface, and a community that continues to blossom as they take on increasingly extravagant challenges. The primary conduit for introducing new players to the world of Ingress is a new web series featuring two sisters who signed up to play the game for opposite factions, Ingress Obsessed, complementing the existing Ingress Report videos.

The Ingress Report with Suzanna Moyer has provided weekly updates on news relating to Ingress since early 2013 highlighting key plot advances, live event results, and player-driven initiatives. To help players keep up with the videos, Ingress uploads shares the videos on its YouTube channel, but also pushes them into the game as collectible “Media” items. And while Moyer has been pulled into the game’s narrative from time to time, the channel has attempted to remain an impartial source of news reports on the game.

Ingress Obsessed takes a more humanizing view of the game, following sisters Rebecca and Christina as they learn the nuances of how to play the game and how the game’s factions operate from a beginner’s perspective. The format also allows them to broadcast longer features highlighting local players, like the video highlighting Rebecca’s recent participation in Operation Megaladon, an attempt to link portals in Florida, France, and Brazil. The sisters are also getting pulled into the game’s larger narrative, receiving specialized augmented reality lenses that allow them see the game’s portals without the aid of a scanner app. Like the Ingress Report videos, installments of Ingress Obsessed are making their way to the Ingress YouTube channel and in-app item drops as well.

Ingress‘ long-awaited transition to the iOS platform isn’t the only major update the Niantic Project team have been teasing. Earlier this year, HarperCollins announced a partnership with Google’s Niantic Labs to produce a similar mobile game for Android and iOS devices tied to James Frey’s forthcoming young adult series, Endgame. The first book in the series will be released October 7th: and while Niantic Project’s mobile app is set to launch that same day, many of Endgame‘s characters have started becoming active on social media following a series of meteorite impacts on June 11th, kicking off the narrative. Ingress‘ recent release on iOS devices will likely help inform the development of its Endgame counterpart.

To download Ingress for iOS devices, download the free game from the iTunes Store. Check out prior ARGNet coverage for a closer look at the game’s narrative and live event “Anomalies”. Helios, the newest Anomaly series, will be starting in earnest later this month. The Niantic Project’s Linda Besh will be speaking at ARGFest in Portland on August 1st on making the transition from Ingress player to Niantic Labs team member, followed by a meetup for local players.

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Five Years of Story Revealed Through Trials and Error Tue, 08 Jul 2014 15:46:14 +0000 trials-evolution

RedLynx Studios’ Trials games are pure, unadulterated evil.

The basic premise of their motorcycle racing game has remained largely unchanged over the past decade: navigate through a series of unforgiving and often lethal obstacles to complete the track. More often than not, the “reward” for completing a track is to witness your rider explore new and creative ways to die. Given the game’s unforgiving learning curve, cycling through hundreds of riders on a single track is par for the course. And for most players, that’s where the story ends. Riders enter the track, riders finish the track, and riders die. But for players willing to dig a little deeper, Trials hides a deeper mystery.

It all started in 2009 with Trials HD, RedLynx’s console debut. Many of Trials HD‘s levels contained a series of codes, ciphers, and objects referencing key moments in history tied to the advancement of science and the arts. One level’s course was built around Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, with the song’s notes appearing in the background as the rider’s path followed the rise and fall of the famous song. A projection at the end of another level replicated Charles Darwin’s famous Tree of Life sketch, exploring his theory of evolution. Prototypes of Da Vinci’s inventions provided the backdrop for another level. Even JJ Abrams’ Mystery Box typifying his approach to the integration of mystery in storytelling makes an appearance. Intrigued, players identified the connections between the disparate scientific advances highlighted in the game to reveal metaphysical musings from the game’s creative director, Antti “ANBA” Ilvessuo, on the meaning of life. In Ilvessuo’s vision, much of this thought culminates with the Voyager probe and its Golden Record, as an attempt to reach out to life outside our solar system.

When Trials Evolution was released in 2012, Ilvessuo and the team at RedLynx hid instructions to an even more unforgiving puzzle, despite its more straightforward solution. Various stages in the game contained signposts featuring a message encoded with a Vignere cipher, using text from the Bohr-Einstein debates as the key. Following the instructions unlocked an audio track leading to the website, which soon featured a string of icons representing key moments in science in a manner highly reminiscent of the Trials HD puzzle trail. Matching the names of famous scientists with their discoveries provided an alphabetic cipher for one final riddle before GPS coordinates for four locations in Helsinki, Sydney, Bath, and San Francisco were revealed. Players who went to each location treasure chests containing keys, along with instructions to take the key to Paris, France on August 1, 2113. On that date, one of five keys will open a box underneath the Eiffel Tower.

That’s right: a video game about motorcycle racing is planning on unveiling a mystery box at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in a hundred years, and the mystery box can only be opened by one of five keys entrusted to future generations.

But only four keys have been discovered so far…which brings us to the riddle currently underway as part of RedLynx’s Trials Fusion, released earlier this year. Players toying around Trials Fusion discovered a virtual fifth key, buried underneath a mountain in the game’s track creation tool. A number of unresolved puzzles imply there’s more to be discovered. Players have already identified a secret audio transmission in the game’s end credits hiding a visual representation of cosmic microwave background radiation, and an unexplained entry in the game’s menu entitled “Pyrosequencing” has been cycling through DNA codons paired with number strings. The puzzles are back, but at least one thing has changed with Trials Fusion.

Over the past decade, games in the Trials franchise has never really bothered explaining why their motorcyclists keep throwing themselves at increasingly hard tracks, with death as the only reward at the end. Trials Fusion breaks from that tradition by liberally scattering hints through the game. Two artificial intelligence systems named Cindy and George converse with the player as the game progresses, casually referencing a global catastrophe that led to their creation and alluding to previous riders. While your rider still manages to find elaborate ways to die at the end of every track, detailed cut-scenes infer there might be a larger purpose behind each death. Further pieces of the narrative are doled out in Trials Frontier, a mobile companion game that takes place in an Old Western town in an even more distant future than Trials Fusion. In Trials Frontier, a cartoonish rider faces off against ghosts of people who remember the world before the catastrophe.

The narrative is disjointed across two games, but a few things are clear. Within the Trials universe, the comet Moros hurtled towards earth from the rings of Moros in 2020, making landfall on Antarctica and changing the local climate, broadcasting a massive beacon into the sky. Researchers (possibly associated with the often mentioned Samsara Industries) established a base around the Greater Crater area to study the beacon. Some of the lines in the game imply that humans found a way to take what they found at the crater site and turn it into an artificial intelligence, which then turned the machines against humans, who appear to be largely absent from the world of Trials Fusion.

The presence of the rider and a small cast of characters in Trials Frontier‘s Old West setting indicates there are survivors of whatever cataclysm took place, although there’s convincing evidence that neither rider nor frontier townsfolk are wholly human. One theory posits that the rider in Trials Fusion is being constantly respawned in new bodies, leaving a trail of hundreds of corpses in his wake after every death. As for the more human townsfolk in Trials Frontier? They have an unfortunate habit of glitching like their amnesiac robot neighbor ANBA.

For most people who play games in the Trials franchise, the games are just an opportunity to play an unforgiving racing game where successfully navigating each level is a puzzle designed to test their dexterity. But for those interested in a different kind of puzzle, the Trials games hide something much deeper. With Trials HD, RedLynx experimented with a celebration of mankind’s progress, and attempts to reach for the stars. With Trials Evolution, the team expanded their love letter to progress into the real world, offering an unknown mystery for future generations to discover. It’s too soon to say what the puzzles buried within Trials Fusion and Trials Frontier will bring, but the games’ twin narratives are already weaving elements of past riddles into a greater whole.

Video games are increasingly integrating secret narratives into the gameplay to provide players with less scripted stories to explore if their curiosity is piqued. Valve littered its Portal games with abandoned “Ratman dens” hinting at the life of Aperture scientist Doug Rattman, while Halo 3: ODST scattered the tale of Sadie Endesha through 30 audio files scattered across the game’s map. And in Grand Theft Auto V, an alien conspiracy provides an as-yet-unsolved meta-narrative for players who completed the game to explore. While secret narratives are becoming a common element of video game design, these complex narrative add-ons are typically reserved to provide additional narrative branches for players to explore. With Trials Fusion, the meta-game is the primary method for accessing the puzzle game’s underlying story, hinted at for years. Trials has actively resisted including a story for so long, this comes as almost as much a surprise as discovering a story behind Pac-Man or Minesweeper.

RedLynx’s decision to wait before revealing the game’s final treasure hunt prize is a welcome twist on a common trope. With 99 years to go before the hunt’s finale Ilvessuo is effectively giving each of the five keyholders their own personal Mystery Box as hinted in the Trials HD riddle, never to be opened within their lifetimes. Unlike Abrams’ vision of the Mystery Box, there’s the expectation that the box will have the potential to be opened by someone they entrusted with the key. The sentiment is similar (albeit on a smaller scale) to Jason Rohrer’s A Game for Someone, a board game designed to be discovered 2,000 years in the future. What would an experience designed explicitly for future generations look like?

The Trials riddles are showing themselves to be increasingly interconnected. In Trials HD, the Voyager probe’s Golden Record was celebrated for its communications with future generations, while Abrams’ Mystery Box was lauded for its ability to capture tangible mystery. Both promises were realized through the Trials Evolution riddles. What new secrets await, buried within the newest generation of Trials games?

Trials Fusion is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Steam: Trials Frontier is available on iOS and Android devices. More discussion on the riddles can be found on Ubisoft’s forums dedicated to the game as well as the University of Trials YouTube channel, run by Brad “FatShady” Hill, who compiled much of the information on previous riddles.

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