Author: Michael Andersen (page 1 of 52)

Helios Saves the Planet by Farming Twitch Users for Resources (in a Good Way)

The dramatic conclusion to the Helios alternate reality game, where the planet Earth was saved due to the almost magical power of Twitchitrium.

Last month, Twitch’s main gaming channel was taken over a long weekend with dire news: the Space Weather Prediction Center projected that a massive solar flare threatened the planet with an extinction-level event on December 12th, 2021. The only way to stop the solar flare from wiping out life on Earth as we know it? Take control of production at a lights out factory in order to manufacture a series of multi-stage rockets capable of deploying a protective shield over the planet. Over 50K Twitch viewers were tasked with farming resources to manufacture ship parts, while 66 Twitch streamers banded together to assemble those parts into a fleet of rockets under the project codename Helios: Rampart Initiative.

If the thought of controlling remote factories over Twitch to save the planet sounds implausible, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that Helios: Rampart Initiative was an experimental alternate reality game by Alice & Smith, the team behind ARGs for everything from No Man’s Sky and Bloodlines 2 to their single player ARG experience, The Black Watchmen. Helios played out on Twitch as an idle game, controlled through a combination of dedicated Twitch channels and the game’s custom Twitch extension.

Three levels of play to Helios: Rampart Initiative

Living up to the game’s incremental gaming roots, the primary method of engaging with the Helios game involved tuning into participating streamers’ broadcasts, collecting resources in the background. But players engaging with the ARG layer had to delve into the Twitch extension’s command prompt to activate the lights out factory and remotely resolve the occasional bottleneck stopping the factory operating at peak efficiency.

Helios‘ balance of low effort participation with higher intensity puzzle-solving did an exemplary job of providing broad swaths of the player base with concrete ways to engage on a meaningful level. The game’s greatest strength, however, and what might make this Alice & Smith’s greatest game to date, is how it played around with viewer and streamer dynamics on the platform. But to explain that, it’s first necessary to explain how the game unfolded.

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Midnight Society’s First Release: A Text Adventure FPS

Earlier this month, Midnight Society announced their formation as a new AAA game studio founded by Robert Bowling as studio head, Quinn DelHoyo as creative director, and Dr Disrespect as “6’8″ visionary”. Part of the studio’s promise in the press release was to “[include] communities and influencers much earlier in the development process”. That process has started surprisingly soon, as Midnight Society has already launched a teaser alternate reality game for their first game, playing out across their website and Discord server. Curiously, the core of that experience is a text adventure facsimile of a first-person-shooter game, coded to play out through Discord private messages.

Trail to the Text Adventure: Glitched Tweets and Virtual Consoles
On January 1st, the Midnight Society’s Twitter account posted a system error message directing players to MidnightSociety.com/Access, with the login credentials “VSM” briefly shown in a glitched GIF accompanying the tweet. At the time, logging in with those credentials would open up a virtual console and start to download a series of files, before the console crashes and reboots to try again. Every night so far, the console manages to advance a little bit closer to loading “Midnight Protocol”, adding more and more modules like security footage from a facility’s sectors and mission logs.

The Midnight Society Virtual Console at MidnightSociety.com/Access

Around the same time, Midnight Society opened up a Discord server, and gave members the choice to select the “Claws” role, granting access to ARG-related channels in the Discord. Players noticed that commands from the virtual console worked in these channels, and used the M:\Verify command to start receiving direct messages from the Midnight Protocol Discord bot, which requested a password. Using clues from the virtual console (which noted that the passcode format would be #####XXXXXX), players figured out the password was 14421PCGSPD – grabbing the numbers from the sector numbers displayed on the virtual console, and PCGSPD from the names of “watched users” in a separate popup.

This unlocked the ability for players to direct message the bot to access the M:\Access portal shown on the website, and query the console. Using command cues hinted at on the Access page paired with guesswork, players were able to map out commands, and check on what looks to be the aftermath of an FPS match involving ten players: three of them emerged victorious, and the rest were marked as “KIA – Loadout recoverable.” Through the M:\Map command, players even found an additional page on the website at MidnightSociety.com/Map, featuring annotated concept art of the facilities, including guard sight lines and potential routes.

Annotated concept art of what is assumed to be sector 1

First-Person Shooter As Text Adventure: Mapping Through Murder
Finally, on January 5th, the M:\Access page showed Sector 1 as “ready”, and players were able to trigger an interactive text adventure within the sector, making key decisions by reacting to each successive text post with emojis. The goal? Survive the mission while gathering loot, while simultaneously avoiding death – too many “bad ends”, and players are locked out for the day. Loot persists across mission attempts, so players’ item loadouts grow with every successive raid.

There are multiple valid routes to complete sector 1. Two in particular stand out for allowing players to collect “Visor Cortexes” from Nikolai and LordsofKarma, two of the players labeled “KIA – Loadout recoverable” in the virtual console. So while the text adventure so far is something that can be played solo, risking virtual death to map out each sector as a collective may help players piece together the broader mystery.

An example of Midnight Protocol’s emoji-driven text adventure format

Midnight Society has maintained an aggressive daily update schedule since the game launched with updates at 12AM PST (a potential nod to the Midnight Society’s @12AM Twitter handle), and signs point to that pace continuing through the month of January – typing in the command M:\12AM into the portal notes that “31 total moments [match] the start time of 00:00:00”, before tracking the number of moments that have progressed so far.

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Swamp Motel’s Isklander Hides Supernatural Thriller in Modest Beginnings

Swamp Motel’s three-part immersive sleuthing mystery Isklander is an ambitious remote experience that sends its players on a supernatural adventure, untangling the tendrils of a centuries-old secret society with the fate of the world on the line. But the entry point for the experience starts with surprisingly modest beginnings: players are invited to a meeting of the Plymouth Point Residents Watch, where a sweet older woman is worried that she hasn’t seen one of the neighbors in a while. It’s hard to overstate how charming this gradual entry into the world of Isklander is, and that reason alone would be enough to check out the show before its run concludes at the end of January.

It’s a particularly worthwhile experience for fans of alternate reality games, as it offers a fascinating example of how ARGs’ traditionally open-ended experience can be translated into a timed and ticketed event.

Breaking Down the Isklander Experience
The full Isklander experience plays out across three parts, with rapidly escalating stakes. In Plymouth Point (Part 1), the adventure begins with an investigation into the disappearance of Ivy Isklander, starting with a meeting of the local neighborhood watch for the apartment complex. The Mermaid’s Tongue (Part 2) starts pushing the narrative into supernatural territory in the hunt for an ancient artifact…that starts out in an online drawing class. The story wraps up in The Kindling Hour (Part 3), setting players in a head-to-head battle against a powerful organization…through a trial membership to an Equestrian Club.

The invitation to a meeting of the Plymouth Point Residents Watch, the narrative entry point to Isklander

These pretexts to enter the world of Isklander carry through the experience, leading to a customized video chat platform that serves as the experiential hub. While this initial website serves as a central collaborative platform, the full experience takes players on a journey across websites, social media platforms, and more to gather the intel needed to progress through each installment’s central mystery, serving as digital assistants to Isklander‘s various protagonists as the plot inexorably progresses to a climactic finish, with twists and turns to subvert players’ expectations. Narrative milestones are often rewarded with cinematic interludes that take full advantage of the show’s cast, including Lord of the Rings and LOST veteran Dominic Monaghan.

While the narrative of Isklander takes quite a few twists and turns, the experience itself is fairly linear. Solving each successive challenge unlocks the next one. For players who treat Isklander like a typical escape room, it’s possible to blow through the various puzzle challenges fairly quickly, and get pleasantly surprised by the shocking conclusions to each installment. However, the real joy of playing through Isklander is treating it like an interactive mystery novel, taking the time to chew over the narrative crumbs left behind to figure out the various twists and turns before they hit.

When the group I assembled for Isklander tackled Plymouth Point, we treated the experience like a digital escape room, and had players fan out to investigate the sprawling ecosystem created for the game in parallel. By focusing on puzzle progression, we made it through the experience quickly but missed out on the meat of the experience. For The Mermaid’s Tongue and The Kindling Hour, focusing on a more leisurely exploration of the story improved the experience immeasurably. Isklander relies heavily on ARG-style puzzles, so experienced players should be able to handle Isklander as a solo experience, and small groups are best served pacing themselves, to fully take in the details.

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Riddle Me This: When Does Batman’s Enigmatic Cipher Hunt Become an ARG?

In August 2020, Warner Bros shared the first trailer for Robert Pattinson’s debut as the caped crusader at DC FanDome. Attentive fans noticed that during that trailer, the Riddler carefully wrapped up a greeting card for Batman, posing an initial challenge: “What does a liar say when he’s dead?” The card went on to say “Haven’t a Clue? Let’s Play a Game, just Me and You…” before devolving into a series of nonsensical characters. Nonsensical, at least, until a fan decoded the script to complete the macabre puzzle: HE LIES STILL. A fun, throwaway easter egg that has since returned, launching what looks suspiciously like a new alternate reality game leading up to the March 4th release of The Batman.

Known cipher letters: EHILST

Image by @Bat_Source on Twitter – (full resolution image on their account)

The Batman (Cipher) Returns: Finding the Rabbit Hole
Last week, fans started to notice an enigmatic message at the bottom of movie standees at their local theaters. Using the letters uncovered from the prior easter egg, the message spelled out ??? ??E EL ??T? ?L???. Incredibly, fans were able to piece together the context clues to spell out YOU ARE EL RATA ALADA – a message that doubled as multi-lingual accusation of being a “winged rat”, as well as a clue to check out the URL “RataAlada.com“. At the time, visitors were greeted with a glowing green question mark, and nothing more.

Known cipher letters: ADEHILORSTUY

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10 Tapes ARG Tracks Down Paranormal VHS Cassettes Across Sweden

Earlier this spring, the TikTok user hamcitynr2 moved in to a new ground floor apartment in Stockholm. A few weeks after settling in, he found a strange flyer with GPS coordinates taped onto a road sign outside his apartment, just out of reach from the street. Curious, he did what all too many of us would have done in that situation: he balanced precariously on his windowsill, snatched the flyer, and went off to investigate the coordinates with the words, “beautiful day to not get murdered.”

During that outing, hamcitynr2 (commonly referred to his channel’s followers a “H”) discovered the first of what he would learn was a series of ten VHS tapes, hidden by an unknown figure for equally unknown reasons. Once he realized what was going on, the channel was rebranded to 10_tapes, and a community was formed to help track them down. Over the past five months, H collaborated with his followers to recover seven of those tapes, acting as an impromptu Swedish tour guide through Stockholm’s more esoteric locations for a deeply intimate scavenger hunt. But recently, the tapes have triggered strange events bordering on the paranormal, and other forces are starting to pay attention to H’s otherwise lighthearted search.

10 Tapes: First Person Gaming, Empowered By Silence
As you might have guessed, 10 Tapes is a TikTok-centric alternate reality game created by the actor who plays H. The vast majority of videos are shot from a first-person perspective, with a silent H providing commentary through the videos’ text captions. This is a highly effective method for the viewer to project themselves into H, as years of video games have conditioned our minds to embody avatars in exactly this fashion.

While 10 Tapes has increasingly expanded outside this framework by allowing H to speak to the camera, it’s often reserved for moments where he is either recapping the story so far or describing events that took place off TikTok. Because of these updates, it’s possible to experience 10 Tapes exclusively through updates to the main channel, although the story has spread across additional YouTube and TikTok channels, websites, and even a custom sidescrolling video game.

Because the game’s structure draws so much inspiration from puzzle and scavenger hunts, the city of Stockholm plays a major role in the story. Alfred Nobel’s Blasting Bunkers, Telefonplan’s Colour By Numbers installation. The V√•rbergstoppen Viewing Platforms. Even neighborhood street art installations, with public space features prominently in the ARG, in ways that go beyond passing reference or picturesque settings.

While the game has gradually introduced more narrative context around who keeps hiding the tapes and what is actually going on, the bulk of the experience to date remains centered on the process of uncovering each new VHS tape, with player decisions and advice serving as the driving factor behind practically every new upload. Because of this structure, 10 Tapes has a lot of videos. By the time this article posts, the story will have played out across over 100 “parts” on the main channel alone. However, “essential viewing” to get caught up is limited to a series of in-game recap videos filmed by H that are positively dripping with the character’s dry wit.

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The Light in the Mist Reveals Secrets One Tarot Card at a Time

The Light in the Mist tarot puzzle tale, unboxed

Your friend Sam is missing. She had recently started taking walks through the misty woods beyond a cabin on the outskirts of the forest, to clear her head. But recently, she’s been different. Even more withdrawn and distant, yes…but also, something more. You discover her backpack and her deck of tarot cards at the edge of the woods, and approach the cabin for help. Locals call it the Witch House, but you suspect you’ll need the old woman’s help. Because some people claim the woods are haunted, and there’s a dark force lurking within the mists…

The Light in the Mist is a narrative puzzle experience created by PostCurious’ Rita Orlov and Jack Fallows that uses a tarot deck to guide readers through the story, one tarot card at a time. Every card of the Major Arcana presents players with a puzzle challenge, with clues scattered across the game’s Minor Arcana cards. Every solution unlocks snippets of Sam’s memories. These vignettes allow players to gradually piece together the secrets that led to Sam’s disappearance, and assemble the pieces needed to hopefully get her back.

The game’s Kickstarter campaign (which runs until Tuesday, October 19th) fully funded in two hours, so if you’re already won over, you can pre-order the game now for as little as $32, plus shipping. If you’re still not sure if you’re ready to plunge into the misty woods, read on to learn more about what hides beyond the mist.

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