Author: Geoff May (page 3 of 4)

The Joker’s latest task is a Piece of Cake

tdk_postersmall.jpgIt’s been a while since we’ve reported on the alternate reality game for the upcoming movie The Dark Knight, but that doesn’t mean that the action has stopped. In fact, on December 4th, after a long trail of tasks, websites and information spawning from a Halloween countdown from late October, fans of Batman and players of the marketing campaign were treated to a day-long, frenzied scavenger hunt set up by “the Joker”.

At noon EST, the mysterious countdown that was previously featured on was replaced by a strange carnival-style booth, in typical Joker fashion. A note attached instructed viewers to travel to specific real-world addresses to pick up a ‘very special treat’ under the name Robin Banks (get it? Robbing Banks? hahaha!)

Players quickly determined that the addresses were bakeries, strewn across the United States. At first, six addresses were attached to dirty stuffed animals hanging in the booth, but every hour on the hour, another five to seven addresses were hung. Within five hours, all twenty-two addresses had been revealed, as players scrambled to each location to pick up the ‘treat’.

It was discovered that the Joker had left cakes at each bakery, and lo and behold, the cakes had phone numbers written on them in icing! Even more interesting was how, when the number was called, the cake itself rang! Players found that after digging furiously into the cake, there was an evidence bag filled with goodies – a cell phone and charger, a Joker playing card, and a note which instructed the person to call a different phone number.

Once all the cakes had been found and the phones had been used to call the new numbers, the game page opened to reveal the new Batman: Dark Knight movie poster, and another special treat – invitations to IMAX screenings in five cities (New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Toronto) on Thursday and Friday night, Dec 6th and 7th.

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Holy blue jumping spiders!

randibone.jpgWhat happens when you receive an email that looks like spam, smells like spam, and reads like spam, but isn’t flagged as spam? Why, you take it to the ARG community, of course! Starting the week of October 9th, several people began receiving strange emails from someone called “Jumping Spider”. The emails in and of themselves seemed very random and made no sense. They contained a portion of a story, gibberish text, and broken sentences. I received one of these emails, and were it not for the fact that it wasn’t selling a product, I may not have taken notice of it at all. But thankfully, others at the Unfiction forums reported receiving the same email.

The email’s subject read: “Zetria Atrian and the Sparrow-Clam“, and contained what looked to be the first portion of a short story about a girl named Zetria, who in a dreamlike setting, watched a sparrow land softly on a sandy shore and turn into a clam, with which she began a fairly philosophical conversation, before it burrowed away.

The latter part of the email contains inconveniently cut lines of text that appears to be snipped from a chat session. And, amongst the narrative and the disjointed text, the email contains strings of random characters. It was quickly determined that the not-so-random characters are encoded in ROT-17 (see here for a brief explanation of ROT coding) and, when decoded, revealed what can only be described as computer commands, such as MAILSTART, FILELOAD, TRANSFERERROR, COREDUMP, and so on . It appears that whoever this “Jumping Spider” is, the emails are being created by some form of software, sending out portions of various texts.

Most bogglingly, however, is a code that’s appearing in each email, containing 12 characters – 3 sets of one number between 0 and 3, and three letters.

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‘Cause Sooner Or Later, It’s Over…

iris_02.gifA recently leaked article, supposedly posted to Microsoft’s internal news site, appears to verify the dreaded truth — Halo 3’s Iris “spiral marketing campaign” has come to its official end. The article, which was posted to the Unfiction forums with permission from the author, reveals the end date of August 16th, which coincides with the opening of Iris’ fifth and final server, or “episode”. It also details the campaign’s goals, achievements, challenges and failures. Undoubtedly, the primary point of dissension this article raises is the challenge undertaken to provide a “low-key, low budget campaign [which] does more with less, whetting the appetite of the blockbuster video game’s fanatical followers.”

The article reveals that Iris was developed by “more than 50 people from 20 Microsoft teams [who] contributed time, coding expertise, and industry contacts.” The attempt was ultimately to provide a grand marketing scheme incurring little cost while attaining “critical mass” — defined in the article as getting “interview requests from The Wall Street Journal”. “It’s about breaking out of the hardcore and getting into the mainstream,” said Aaron Elliott, online marketing manager for Xbox Global Marketing (also listed as one of the ‘founders’ of the Society of the Ancients, an in-game organization that appeared at the beginning, but was never heard from again).

Strictly speaking, given the resources used to produce the campaign and the costs (or lack thereof) incurred, Iris may be considered an impressive success. However, if one includes the overall sentiment of the demographic that was actually actively playing or following Iris, one might say that their reach had exceeded their grasp. They seem to have ignored (or miscalculated) an inherent factor in the kind of campaign they were hoping to produce – most players had expectations, whether misplaced or not, of another I Love Bees. That potential was lost, and while the production may have been impressive to some, it failed dramatically in achieving what could have been achieved quite easily.

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The Sweet Scent of Mystery

coveticon.jpgSarah Jessica Parker is probably one of the last people we’d expect to see in a web-based mystery, or “interactive fictional story”, let alone actually seeing a web-based game promoting a new perfume. However, Sarah’s new fragrance “Covet” is at the center of a game which begins at (also the perfume’s official website). The premise is this: “You must try to locate the missing bottle of Covet perfume and help prove that Sarah Jessica Parker has been framed for its disappearance. To do this, your goal is to identify the true mastermind behind the theft.”

The game works much like other recently run promotional campaigns where challenges or riddles are released based on a schedule, leading towards an end goal usually consisting of a challenge or draw for a grand prize. In this case, if you’re able to solve each of ten “lead challenges” released over a ten week period (the end date of the game is October 15), you’ll be entered into the grand prize drawing for $10,000, a trip for two to New York to attend Lucky Magazine’s Lucky Shops 2007, and of course a few Covet products. Numerous other secondary rewards are up for grabs, including weekly prize drawings, and prizes for two bonus challenges.

While The Case of the Coveted Bottle seems to follow in the footsteps of similar online ‘treasure hunt’ promotions, a few points stand out about this one. First, the How To Play guide is clear in encouraging community cooperation, even to the point of linking directly to the Unfiction forums as an example of a community to join. Secondly, in solving the weekly leads, not only are you entered into drawings, but the overall story and mystery is also advanced. The game is filled with opportunities to employ numerous research strategies, from googling for information and answers to interacting with characters in their blogs. The two bonus challenges encourage creativity by requiring players to make videos based on particular guidelines, and post them to MySpace or Youtube, where the winners will be chosen by popularity (votes and judging).

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It’s alive! It’s huge! It’s 1-18-08…?

011808.jpg4 8 15 16 23 42 — J.J. Abrams really has a thing for numbers. Beginning last week with the opening of the Michael Bay summer blockbuster movie Transformers, theater-goers were treated to a mysterious, home-movie-style teaser trailer for… well, no one knows exactly. All that’s known is what’s believed to be the release date, shown briefly at the end of the trailer: “1-18-08”. Until recently, the trailer was only viewable in theaters, prompting people to bootleg it on Youtube and various locations (to which Paramount responded by forcing removal of the videos). However, it’s now been made available at for public viewing.

The teaser starts off with a guy walking into a surprise party – lots of people, lots of happy, smiling faces, and one surprised Rob, their “main dude”. Rob is apparently going away to Japan, and his friends are giving him a farewell party. Some of his friends are interviewed, recording their goodbyes. Then, without warning, the lights flicker, car alarms sound, and the apartment is shaken. People flock to the television for breaking news about what’s believed to be an earthquake. Soon people head to the roof to see how the neighborhood’s doing. A dull rumble is heard, and everyone turns to the horizon in shock as a large ball of fire erupts and expands in the distance, hurling large flaming debris into the air. What follows is broken audio and video of the panic stricken crowd scrambling to the street, which is teeming with people running away from whatever’s happening. What can only be described as a deep, loud groan is followed by a swirling object, which impact a skyrise and falls to the ground at breakneck speed, destroying vehicles and anyone in its way. It comes to a stop meters from the camera and we see it appears to be the head of the Statue of Liberty. And cut. A final quick line is shown from one of Rob’s friends – “It’s gonna be the best night ever”

From producer J.J. Abrams. In theatres, 1-18-08.

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Alice is Lost — We Hear Rumors She Fell Down Some Sort Of Hole, Made By A Rabbit Or Something

argnicon.jpgAs if the ARG world just can’t get enough of Alice in Wonderland lingo (rabbit holes, curtains, puppet masters), a teaser was made public on June 1st for an upcoming project from Eric Harshbarger of Perplex City fame, called Alice Is Lost. Eric first made it known at Perplexorum that he had opened the website

Eric released news of the project hot on the heels of the abrupt and unexpected end of Perplex City, knowing that the countless dedicated fans and followers of PXC would be pining for puzzles and mysteries to solve. Eric makes it clear, however, that this is not PXC II: “This is a side project of mine. While I am still at Mind Candy as a Puzzle Designer, this is not a Mind Candy affiliated project.” He expects to launch “the search,” which he’s been working on for nearly a year, to begin this fall.

Fans have already jumped in excitedly, and even created a Facebook group to rally people and keep everyone updated. The group attracted Eric, who decided to come out from behind the curtain and share a bit about his project in the group’s discussion. He described it as having “some ARG elements to it; there will be a story to some extent, but mainly it will be about PUZZLES. Lots of puzzles.” There will be puzzle cards, he says, but they will not be physical. Instead, they’ll be distributed via the website, and only ‘registered’ users will be able to submit solutions and gain points. That raises another significant point: the registration fee. He continues, “There will be a registration fee, yes; but it will be a one-time thing (not a subscription), and it will be pretty small (not more than the cost of a typical boardgame probably.” He estimates the fee will be around $25USD, but is open to suggestions. Registration will most likely also include additional privileges for the player.

“The best way I can think to describe this,” Eric states, “is a massive ‘Puzzle Party‘ like I’ve hosted in the past, but it will be available to everyone on the web.” He also expects the project to run for over a year, although he doubts it will extend as long as two years. That’s nearly a potential twenty-four months filled to the brim with puzzles galore, but the main mystery ultimately will still be How do I find Alice?

So mark Fall 2007 on your calendar. Also, keep an eye on the unfiction thread, or the perplexorum topic, or even the facebook group. But, most importantly, visit and sign up to receive updates.

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