“We’re not for everyone. Just the 1% that matters.”
Byzantium Security International’s slogan embracing the financial elite’s privileged role serves as an uncomfortably poetic accompaniment to the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. And with an out-of-home advertisement proudly flaunting a company’s exclusivity mere steps from Federal Hall in Wall Street, it’s no wonder the image has been repurposed to support the movement.
There’s more to Byzantium Security than an arresting hexagonal logo and a general disinterest in 99% of the country. The fictional company features prominently in Cinemax’s upcoming drama Hunted, and the Wall Street advertisements are merely one of a number of rabbit holes into the company’s inner workings. The series, premiering October 19th, revolves around Byzantium Security operative Samantha Hunt (Melissa George) as she seeks to unravel the mystery behind an attempt on her life. Fans can get a glimpse into the world of a Byzantium operative by completing a five-part examination liberally dosed with more than a few twists. Not everything is as it seems at Byzantium Security, which appears to be a recurring theme throughout the series’ interactive campaign, created by Campfire with the help of Jam3, the development team that worked on the interactive documentary Bear 71.
Yesterday, I received a puzzle box in the mail that serves as an alternate entry point to the Hunted transmedia experience. The hexagonal wooden box slid apart with relative ease, revealing a secret compartment carved into one of the pieces containing a miniature USB drive engraved with Byzantium Security’s overlapping hexagons. The drive contained a single password-protected file named “UNLOCK_ME.” Luckily, each of the three puzzle pieces had three letters etched onto their sides, spelling out “LOR / AGH / SSU.” Unscrambling the letters spelled out “Hourglass,” which unlocked a video driving to the Byzantium Security application page at ByzantiumTests.com.
Byzantium Tests is the core of Hunted‘s transmedia campaign, challenging visitors with five stages of cognitive challenges that progressively qualify candidates as the top-performing 1% in the country and thus worthy of employment at Byzantium Security. Each phase is more fun than the last and delights in subverting expectations.
The first phase is a personality quiz designed by Richard Horton, whose pseudo-psych tests challenge respondents with questions as perplexing as “how safe are your dreams?” The second phase of testing gives prospective candidates the option to log in through either Facebook or Reddit to respond to emotionally charged questions based on images, while the third phase gives users the option to link up with a webcam to test emotional responses through facial recognition. The fourth phase asks candidates to solve a simple logic puzzle while multi-tasking.
None of the tests are as simple as they appear at first glance, but the fifth phase in particular has to be seen to believe. Without spoiling the surprise, I can only add that I was so shocked at the end result that I went through the entire test over a dozen times this past week for the express purpose of figuring out exactly what Campfire did with this final phase. The answer is both simpler and more complex than you’d assume from a single run through. To help add that sense of wonder, Campfire brought in cognitive psychologist, magician, and alternate reality gaming enthusiast Robert Teszka to craft something that Steve Coulson described to Creativity as being equal parts magic trick and interactive experience.
After completing the five phases of testing, respondents are redirected to a restricted section of the Byzantium Security website and assigned one of five roles: Field Agent, Communications Specialist, Information Analyst, Surveillance Expert, and Combat Officer. Each role has access to a different set of images. Candidates who opted in for authenticating through Reddit are automatically assigned a sixth role, Operation Chief, with access to all five sets of exclusive images. Coulson explains that this feature was at Cinemax’s request, who “specifically requested that we focus part of the initiative on an exclusive reward for Reddit members, as they really value building a relationship with that community.”
An opt-in form in the restricted section of Byzantium Security’s site allows newly minted Byzantium Security employees to sign up for “future briefings from Byzantium,” so there’s still more to come from the world of Hunted. While the entire testing process can easily be completed in less than 15 minutes, it’s easy to lose a few hours working through all the nooks and crannies of the campaign.
EDITOR’S NOTE, added on 12/20/2012:
The Byzantium Tests website has been taken offline, and now directs visitors to Cinemax.com/Hunted. Since it is no longer possible to go through the experience on your own, here’s the big reveal.
The fifth and final test asks participants to draw a picture from their childhood on a piece of paper. Throughout the four previous tests, subtle hints were inserted indicating the picture should be of a house. In the first test, one of the multiple choice options was the picture of a house. In the second, there is a picture of a young girl with a crayon drawing of a house in the background. For the third test, an image flashes across the screen of a house. Finally, the seemingly incomprehensible audio in the fourth test instructs participants to draw a picture of a house when played in reverse.
Participants who draw a picture of a house are shown each of the hints pointing towards an image of the house, and are congratulated for successfully identifying the hidden message. A house isn’t the only image that works, however. Drawing images including monsters, stick figures, fire trucks, and families will cause the system to swap out the original hints for ones that conform to the picture the user drawn. A new audio file is shown…the little girl’s drawing is changed…different images are highlighted. And if the system does not recognize the picture? Participants are congratulated for thinking independently.
With Byzantium Tests, Campfire offered different versions of reality that conformed with the applicants’ choices to celebrate their skill at cracking the game’s secret, always hiding yet another card up their sleeve. If you recognized the personality test as the whimsical exploration of the Forer effect, you still might get miss the hidden cues prompting you to draw a picture of a house. Even if you caught those cues, you’d be almost certain to miss the alternate realities hard-coded into the system to celebrate more creative images. And so I’m left wondering…was the puzzle one level deeper still? Was there an image that, when paired with a deep familiarity with the Hunted world, would provide one final surprise to the applicant?