Question: How many ARGers does it take to free a group of crack scientists held captive in a super secret research facility? That was the question we needed to answer on Tuesday, as a group of players converged on IRC to tackle one of the more innovative “puzzle events” in recent ARGs. The answer, as it turned out, was “Five, but bring backup.”

In a nutshell – a group of scientists was being held in a compound called “The Village.” A small group of employees outside The Village wanted to stage a rescue mission, but they needed a way around the security system. The only chance to free their co-workers would involve disabling the security system long enough so that they wouldn’t be detected entering the compound. Fortunately, a series of backdoor servers was set up by (former U-media employee but now deceased) Ed, through which a small group of attackers could occupy the computer system, effectively shutting down security. Then, a U-media employee could unlock the gate to the compound (by physically clipping the chain that locked it), and free the captive employees.

Got all that?

This rather complicated sequence of events required players to do the following:

* Do some sleuthing to figure out the names of the backdoor servers
* Recover the login information from Ed’s hidden folder
* Coordinate with U-media insiders and find a date/time that Randall (the boss) would be out of his office so that Miriam could enable the backdoor servers from inside his office
* At the appointed date/time, have 5 different players go to the 5 different backdoors, enter the password, and upload a data file for the servers to process, thus overloading the servers and disabling the security system
* Wait

While in theory this setup may lay on the outside fringes of plausibility, in practice it came together very well – there was a real sense of urgency among the players in chat, and uncertainty towards their ability to pull off the feat successfully. The backdoor interface was simple yet effective, updating in real-time as the players uploaded their respective files. Once the tasks were completed (and presumably, the scientists liberated), the players were directed to a short video. The players exchanged high fives for a job well done, and were left to ponder the fate of the scientists. (A very nice “dramatization” of the events was written shortly afterwards by UF member zazucheck it out.)

U-media is one of the more low-profile ARGs out currently, and has flown under the radar of most players in the ARG community. Judging by this event, however, the folks behind the game are committed to a quality player experience.

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