Category: Features (page 1 of 33)

Dinn’s Card Game Mystery Draws on Legacy of TCGs to Elevate Story

Charlie Neil, investigating the deck of cards she received in the mail following her sister Natalie’s disappearance

In 2017, the computer programmer Natalie Neil disappeared without a trace from the quaint town of Rock Springs, Wyoming. Despite making national news and triggering a statewide search, Natalie appeared to have vanished without a trace, and the investigation was closed. But recently, individuals close to the investigation started receiving mysterious packages in the mail, containing a USB drive with an old voicemail message from Natalie, and a personalized decks of cards.

  • Charlie Neil, Natalie’s sister, received a deck of cards pulled straight from Arthurian legend, featuring figures of myth and legend;
  • Don Horn, the detective who investigated Natalie’s disappearance before getting pulled off the case, received a deck of cards with more beastly and animalistic attributes;
  • Ava Whitehall, Natalie’s former boss at Whitehill Mining, received a deck with a more demonic bent.

All told, six people close to Natalie received these mysterious packages. And buried within those decks just might lie the secret behind The Disappearance of Natalie Neil, the first season of the trading card game Dinn. By following along with the investigation through Dinn‘s alternate reality game embedded into the cards players can unravel the mystery themselves, and even exert a degree of influence over the story’s progression.

Currently available Dinn decks include three themed starter decks and two expansion “chapter packs”.

Deconstructing Dinn: A Brief Overview of the Card Game
On its face, Dinn is a relatively fast-paced trading card game for two players. The goal of the game is to shatter the opponent’s three heart cards by defeating their heroes. Weaker heroes may only shatter one heart when defeated, while more powerful heroes end the game upon a loss, while equipment and action cards are played to give heroes an edge in the battle.

While many trading card games rely on asynchronous gameplay where players take turns driving the action, with Dinn players make their choices simultaneously. Every round starts with both players selecting a hero, and placing them face down on the table. Both players then reveal their hero cards, before activating any abilities written on the card. The process repeats two more times for action and ability cards placed face down, before determining which hero emerges triumphant.

A sample board state featuring a Sentient deck vs a Horror deck, after all the cards have been revealed

Themed starter decks provide pre-constructed decks that allow players to start playing immediately, while “chapter pack” expansions provide players with additional cards they can integrate into their decks to level up the gameplay experience. There are no card rarities in Dinn: buying a starter deck or expansion pack gets players all the cards in that set, similar to the model used by Fantasy Flight Games with their “Living Card Games”, where seasonal releases give players full access to the game’s card evolving card library.

The Story Behind the Cards: Dinn’s “Artificial Reality Game”
The narrative framing for Dinn is that each of the six “starter decks” of cards in the game are associated with one of the key figures associated with Natalie Neil’s disappearance, and represent a facsimile of what those characters actually received. Accordingly, every starter deck has a meta-puzzle scattered across the cards that helps reveal and advance the character’s story.

For instance, solving the puzzle scattered across the cards from Charlie Neil’s “Sentient” deck of cards involved players mapping out the cards that gave a series of alphanumeric characters – adding that text string to the partial URL added to the footer of all the cards in the deck leads players to discovering Charlie’s blog, What’s Wrong with Rock Springs.

In it, Charlie notes that strange things have been happening in the town of Rock Springs for a while, and that her sister wasn’t the first to disappear. A town with a population of ~23,000 people had over 300 of their residents disappear in the last three years alone. Finally, Charlie blogs about receiving the package with her own personal deck of cards, and a USB containing a voicemail from Natalie, shortly before her disappearance. If players check out Charlie’s “Contact” page, they can register the fact that they solved the puzzle (with the first to solve celebrated for the feat on Dinn‘s website), and even vote on how the story should progress.

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Finding Hell’s Master, Future Puzzles in Stranger Things’ New Trailer

Author’s Note: if you’re looking for up-to-date answers to the weekly challenges, this Google Doc is providing updates on the solutions as new Lite Brite-based puzzles launch.

Stranger Things is returning for its fourth season on May 27th, bringing back one of Netflix’s largest and longest running success stories – according to Netflix, fans have logged over a billion hours watching the series. So it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Netflix is having a little fun with the leadup to launch through what they’ve cheekily dubbed an “interactive curiosity voyage” centered around the website I Am Hell’ s Master, launching in earnest on April 29th.

Finding Hell’s Master: Cracking Stranger Things‘ Hidden Trailer Puzzle
Last week, Netflix released the official trailer for Stranger Things 4, and fans quickly noticed that amidst a flurry of extra-dimensional lightning strikes, one particular frame at the 1:59 marker showed a particularly interesting image featuring colorful bursts of energy, labeled with four additional timestamps.

Stranger Things‘ single frame trailhead, urging players on with time codes for 0:33, 0:52, 1:46, and 2:30

Taken individually, the images found at each of the timestamps was fairly sedate: an image of Billy Hargrove’s grave, a Hellfire Club baseball tshirt, a government building in Lenora Hills, and a Dungeon Master’s screen.

The four timestamps, mapped to their location on the initial trailhead – 1:46 is a little sensitive, and the 12th frame is what you’re looking for

However, when those two images are superimposed, a message is revealed – I AM HELL’S MASTER is legible, if you read the characters in timestamp order. Fans put together the pieces relatively quickly, and patted themselves on the back for a job unearthing extra-dimensional easter eggs, well done.

That changed yesterday, when Netflix reposted a TikTok video from @woozzs breaking down the solve to their Instagram, with a teasing message:

the world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes…

close but not close enough šŸ™ƒ

I AM HELL’S MASTER, decoded

After another round of investigations, fans put together the missing pieces and treated the solution as a URL, leading to the IAmHellsMaster.com website.

While finding the perfect frame from each timestamp might have lead to slight headaches, the construction of this puzzle was exceptionally satisfying, given Stranger Things‘ themes of overlapping layers of reality that most people blissfully ignore.

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This Article Spoils Love Actually: Breaking Down a Mystery Hunt Puzzle

Love, Actually the classic Christmas movie was released almost 20 years ago, so the cinematic statute of limitations on spoilers has expired long ago. Hugh Grants’ iconic dance through No. 10 Downing Street has already been enshrined as one of the greatest dances in movie history (a sentiment shared by everyone except Hugh Grant himself), and Andrew Lincoln’s equally memorable cue card fueled love confession is practically a holiday staple for Saturday Night Live, with both Pete Davidson and Kate McKinnon stepping into the role. But that’s not the Love, Actually this article plans on spoiling. That honor goes to the 2022 MIT Mystery Hunt puzzle named Love, Actually, which provides a perfect illustration of how puzzle hunts construct their challenges to serve as a love letter to their source material.

And the craziest part? The source material Love, Actually the puzzle is celebrating isn’t even Love, Actually the movie – instead, it’s a puzzle-filled homage to Dropout’s trivia game show Um, Actually.

Pen Station: the central hub for a puzzling tour of genre-cities ranging from The Quest Coast and Noirleans to Recipeoria

Introduction to the Mystery Hunt: On Meta-Puzzles and Reading Into Things
Since the 1980s, passionate puzzlers have made the trek to Cambridge, Massachusetts to compete in the annual MIT Mystery Hunt – a weekend long puzzling competition where teams of aspiring solvers tackle hundreds of extremely difficult puzzles in an attempt to win a special coin, and the privilege of designing the next year’s hunt. The puzzles are tied together with a loose narrative justification, and solving special puzzles known as “meta-puzzles” unlocks more of the story.

Meta-puzzles are one of the defining features of puzzle hunt events like the MIT Mystery Hunt, and provide narrative structure for the events. ARGNet’s coverage of the 2016 Mystery Hunt focused on that element of puzzle design. For that year’s Hunt, players realized they were participants in an Inception-inspired coin heist who got lost in the dream and forgot about their involvement. Meta-puzzles were designed to help identify the right way to wake up from the dream, and finish the score of a lifetime. Other years were inspired by everything from Inside Out to musical theater.

This year’s Mystery Hunt was created by Palindrome, and themed around books: at the start of the hunt, players learn that MIT’s Hayden Library disappeared, only to be replaced by a literal tornado of book-themed puzzles. The first round of puzzles acts as an initial round of investigation, revealing the source of the anomaly through the first meta-puzzle: IT’S A PLOT HOLE. Upon entering the plot hole, teams enter Bookspace, and need to figure out what caused the plot hole A VORACIOUS BOOKWYRM RUN AMOK, how to stop it FEED IT A NEW BERRY, and then navigate through a series of genre-inspired lands to construct a Plot Device capable of sending them back home, by BOOK(ING) PASSAGE HOME WITH LITCOIN. Each of these answers and more were found by completing meta-puzzles that drew upon the solutions from a host of individual puzzles.

Mystery Hunt Puzzles: The First Step is Finding the Puzzle
While meta-puzzles are at the core of the Mystery Hunt experience from a narrative perspective, individual puzzle design also tends to be somewhat unique for puzzle hunts like the Mystery Hunt. Traditional puzzles will typically present a familiar ruleset, and ask solvers to puzzle out a solution given limited information. Sudoku puzzles give aspiring solvers a 9×9 grid, and ask players to follow a series of familiar rules to fill in the blanks with numbers. Crosswords give players a larger grid of black and white squares, and ask solvers to do the same with letters. For the most part, the challenge for Sudoku and crossword puzzles isn’t figuring out how to learn the rules of the format: instead, the challenge comes in creatively applying those rules to each new grid.

For puzzle hunt style puzzles, solvers go in knowing they’re looking for a single word, phrase, or even emoji as the solution to the puzzle…but they won’t necessarily know what type of puzzle they’re being asked to solve until investigating further. For instance, Please Prove You Are Human was a puzzle from the 2022 Hunt disguised as a series of CAPTCHA tests. Where the Wild Things Are, another puzzle from this year’s hunt, mailed players a coloring book to complete. Meanwhile, The Salt-N-Pepa Diner presented solvers with a virtual jukebox that almost exclusively played Tom Jones’ What’s New Pussycat, no matter what the song listing said it should play.

Solving Mystery Hunt Puzzles: Breaking Down Puzzles with ISIS
Puzzle hunt puzzles can take almost any form, but one of the most common puzzle types involves asking solvers to immerse themselves in a niche community or subject matter, and apply the ISIS process to use what they learn to find the puzzle and extract an answer from it. Those steps include:

  • (I)DENTIFICATION – When puzzles present solvers with a wealth of information, identify everything contained within it. If there’s a series of crossword clues, solve them. If there’s a series of pictures, write down what they are. If the puzzle is referencing an online trivia show, learn everything you can about it;
  • (S)ORTING – Once everything has been identified, try and figure out if there’s a specific order for that information that makes sense.
  • (I)NDEXING – Once you’ve found the appropriate order for the information, try and find the right way to extract information from it. Does the first letter of every word spell something out?
  • (S)OLVING – Put together the information you got from indexing, and use it to solve the puzzle!

Because ISIS puzzles are so focused on immersing solvers in often unfamiliar subjects, the format often serves as an homage to the subject matter at the center of the puzzle, giving team members already obsessed with the subject matter a chance to deeply engage with the source material on another level, while introducing the rest of the team to what makes the work so special. A Blaseball puzzle might explore the chaotic plotlines of a fantasy baseball league that regularly sends its players to astral planes, while a puzzle themed around Harold and the Purple Crayon might revel in bringing color into fantastical settings.

ISIS puzzles are an arena where knowledge is power, and a passion for everything from the McElroys’ My Brother, My Brother, and Me podcast to the Order of the Stick webcomic can make you the hero of the hour. And this is where Love, Actually (and the corresponding puzzle spoilers) comes into the picture: because fittingly enough, Love, Actually was written by Foggy Brume, the puzzle constructor credited with originating the “ISIS puzzle” term.

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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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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 as “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 VĆ„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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