Images courtesy of Level 26
It’s been over a year since CSI creator and executive producer Anthony Zuiker unleashed the grim world of Steve Dark upon readers with the release of his first digi-novel, Level 26: Dark Origins, and on Thursday October 14th, Zuiker is returning to the Level 26 universe with the release of Level 26: Dark Prophecy. The date also marks a CSI-Level 26 crossover, as the “forensics-proof” Level 26 villain, Sqweegel, is scheduled to make an appearance in this week’s episode of CSI. What follows is a look back at the Level 26 franchise along with hints of what’s to come for “Special Circs” agent Steve Dark stemming from an interview with Zuiker about the series.
When Level 26: Dark Origins launched last year, it quickly secured its status as an international and New York Times bestseller, now boasting over 100,000 members at the digi-novel’s website, Level26.com. The novel was peppered with 20 five-minute videos serving as “cyberbridges” in the unfolding narrative. The story centered around Steve Dark’s near-obsessive hunt for Sqweegel, a fastidious serial killer who committed his crimes while wearing a white body condom. Zuiker notes that “the book [Level 26: Dark Origins] was very sexually deviant, very dark . . . and it was vamped that way back then beause we were definitely shooting to do things that were too-hot-for-television.”
During the novel’s concluding cyberbridge, viewers were treated to a tantalyzing glimpse of an empty, black body condom, a prelude to Sqweegel actor Daniel Browning Smith’s entrance into the CSI universe. Thursday’s episode, entitled Sqweegel, will serve as an extended cyberbridge of sorts, linking the events of the first book to the sequel. Zuiker explains that “Black Sqweegel will be on CSI as a forensic-proof killer, and when that particular episode ends, the storyline will continue in Dark Prophecy.”
Level 26: Dark Origins, the first installment in CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker’s new “digi-novel” series, hit the bookshelves today. The novel, co-written by Duane Swierczynski and published by Penguin’s Dutton imprint, follows former FBI agent Steven Dark as he hunts down a serial killer known as “Sqweegel” as part of an elite, unnamed investigations unit. At least two more novels are planned for the franchise.
The novel’s text is supplemented by twenty “cyberbridges” interspersed throughout the novel. By visiting level26.com, the reader can enter a code to access short cinematic scenes that “bridge you from one platform to another.” Additional features including interviews, character breakdowns, and a social community will emerge at the Level 26 website. EQAL was brought on to the project to develop Level 26’s interactive website, leveraging their experience on projects such as Harper’s Globe and Lonelygirl15.
While Level 26 does not aim to be an alternative reality game, it serves as another step along the path of making reading a more interactive process. As Zuiker explained to Forbes,
[t]he digital novel will never take over traditional books, but what it does do is give the consumer a different way to experience the narrative. I think the special sauce here is once you watch the first couple of bridges, which are about three minutes each, you’ll begin to read with those [visuals in mind and you really have this movie experience in the read.
Be warned, however: Level 26 is for mature audiences, as Zuiker refers to its content as “hard R”. Plus, the novel deals with a killer in a full-body condom.
To read more about Level 26, head over to the digi-novel’s website or read the coverage at LG15 Today. You can also enter to win a Level 26 FlipCam with exclusive footage by tweeting using the hashtag #Level26 between today and September 15.
UPDATE: I have just received word that in honor of the release, SuicideGirls has teamed up with Zuiker to release a photoset, which goes live at 6pm today. SuicideGirls.com seems to be embracing cross-media publishing partnerships, as they previously teamed up with JC Hutchins and Smith & Tinker for the release of Personal Effects: Dark Art.