Category: Game Launch (page 1 of 44)

Neurocracy Turns Wiki Wrangling Into a Murder Investigation

In 2048, Wikipedia was taken down by a series of spurious copyright claims. Within a year, a successor to the world’s largest crowdsourced collection of knowledge was replaced by Omnipedia, a more centralized online encyclopedia that relies on a select community of human and artificial intelligence contributors, with the backing of Chinese technology conglomerate Zhupao. On September 30th, 2049, Zhupao founder Xu Shaoyong’s helicopter was shot down by a missle fired from one of the airport’s security drones, killing the world’s wealthiest person, along with everyone else aboard. This is the central mystery of Neurocracy, a political thriller that plays out across edits to an online wiki from the future.

Neurocracy is a single-player, interactive narrative game created by Playthroughline, released serially on the Omnipedia.app website. The first chapter of the story (covering Omnipedia updates from September 28, 2049 – October 1, 2049) is freely available, with nine additional chapters released weekly for paid subscribers, with each week’s installment covering a single day of wiki edits and additions expanding the sci-fi universe’s footprint.

And while the assassination of Xu Shaoyong is the primary narrative skein to untangle, there are a number of fascinating side plots buried within the ever-expanding web of Omnipedia entries. Who was really responsible for the murder on season two of Are You For Real, a dating elimination show with a Turing test twist? Who is Adira, and what is their connection to the hacktivist collective Five of Swords? And why are peoples’ neural colloid implants glitching?

The Omnipedia Main Page, circa October 1, 2049

Wiki-Wrangling as Gameplay
Neurocracy‘s gameplay is deceptively simple. With every new episode, the Omnipedia Main Page is updated to highlight a featured article, along with a series of breaking news updates. Using these as a jumping off point, players can learn more about the world by hovering over tooltips, searching for key words or phrases in Omnipedia’s search bar, or clicking on in-line links within articles. Players can also dive deeper into individual articles by using Revision History navigation to see how articles have changed over time, with revisions conveniently highlighted.

By leveraging those features, players can dive into the central mysteries of the narrative, and try to assemble disparate pieces of evidence to figure out what really happened to Xu Shaoyong. Neurocracy is a game of theory-crafting, piecing together clues left behind in online breadcrumbs. Somewhat ironically, Neurocracy‘s gameplay is almost identical to the process of trying to piece together the events of an alternate reality game, after the fact.

Interested in piecing together the events of the Dungeons & Dragons ARG No Stone Unturned, leading up to the release of the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist module? Pore through the game’s wiki, and navigate through a series of pages to piece together the narrative. Interested in how a vampire dating site Tender led to a major Vampire: The Masquerade announcement? Another fan wiki will help guide you through the process. Parsing through wiki entries remains one of the primary way player communities track and document the often sprawling nature of alternate reality games: Neurocracy cuts through the middle-man and makes that navigational exercise a story in its own right.

It’s tempting to compare Neurocracy to other wiki-based storytelling projects like the SCP Foundation. But while the SCP foundation is an exercise in collective storytelling populated by largely stand-alone stories where multiple truths can coexist and contradict each other, Neurocracy is a more singular vision, unfolding in a non-traditional format.

Similarly, Neurocracy is also slightly distinct from alternate reality games, as the experience doesn’t even allow for the illusion of agency in gameplay. Players aren’t interacting with the story because they believe doing so might influence events. They’re interacting to try and piece together the narrative puzzle. That’s one of the reasons why the process of playing Neurocracy is so similar to that of consuming ARGs after they concluded: it’s ARGs, stripped of agency. This form of storytelling is often referred to under the umbrella term of ergodic literature, and focuses on the amount of effort taken to engage in the process of reading as its defining trait.

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Cat Detective Mimo and the Case of the Increasingly Meta Bank Heist

In the mobile puzzle game Detective Mimo, the titular protagnoist is an anthropomorphic cat detective, sent to put a stop to the nefarious Cat Rogue’s crime spree at the Purrfect Bank. By solving a series of increasingly challenging challenges in the game’s point-and-click interface players get closer and closer to the bank’s vault, figuring out Cat Rogue’s true identity and motivation along the way. At least, that’s how the game starts. Before the game is over, Detective Mimo will have players practicing their command line coding skills, cracking open password-protected PowerPoint presentations, and deconstructing practically every playable element of the game to complete the narrative.

The First Round: A Point and Click Puzzle Adventure
Detective Mimo starts out as a relatively simple point-and-click adventure game, albeit one that leans heavily on puzzle tropes. At the Shrimp City police station, Mimo is briefed on her assignment, which doubles as a player tutorial on the game’s core mechanics. Clicking on certain objects of the game allows Mimo to interact with them: clicking on a computer monitor might prompt players to enter a password, while clicking on other objects might transfer them into the player’s inventory, where they can be used by dragging and dropping them onto other objects.

Early challenges in the game are structured around breaking through a series of locks. Find the key to unlock the drawer, then figure out the password to unlock the computer. Find the missing pieces to access the Purrfect Bank’s interior, and then peel back layer after layer of security before finally reaching the inner vault. Practically every lock works on different principles so the process stays fresh, but a comfortable formula is established. Along the way, Mimo will stumble across more narrative clues essential to solving the broader mystery, allowing a successful identification of the Cat Rogue. All the while, the game maintains a lighthearted, comedic tone. Security Guard Mr. Purr Job is obsessed with the pop idol Meowna, while the bank’s Branch Manager keeps a secret stash of catnip locked away in his office.

Second Time’s the Charm: An Evolving Playthrough Experience
It’s only after solving the game’s primary mission that things start to get weird. The game loops back and has players retread familiar ground…but things are different this time. The difficulty of puzzles ramps up considerably, and not all challenges can be resolved through the now-familiar point and click mechanics. In the game’s first cycle, players provided support to cat detective Mimo in her investigation. For the second cycle, you as the player take on a more active role. And this round of gameplay is where Detective Mimo excels, both in its narrative and puzzle design.

From the puzzling perspective, challenges take full advantage of the fact that this is a smartphone exclusive game to force players into thinking outside the box, providing creative solutions to familiar tasks. The narrative complexity also expands, as players have a choice of how to proceed resulting in two drastically different endings. There’s even a secret room in the game available in this stage, containing the most challenging puzzle trail of the game.

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Mysterious Nashville Hides Cached Content in Tennessee

Mysterious Nashville website image

Last week, a series of flyers started popping up around Nashville, featuring an image of a door, alongside the suitably vague message: “ARE YOU LOOKING FOR SOMETHING? Perhaps it’s this.” The bottom of the flyer was filled with tear-off strips, all bearing the same GPS coordinates. The handful of brave and curious passerby who followed the trail were rewarded with a business card introducing them to the organization behind the experience: Mysterious Nashville.

A Little Less Mysterious: Unearthing the First Cache
On Sunday May 2nd, Eva Snyder discovered one of the flyers in Nashville, and tore off a strip with the coordinates: 36.1815368, -86.7361754. After doing a little online reconnaissance, she made a rainy day excursion to the location along with her fiancé and her extremely cute dog. Upon reaching the location, they found a lockbox near a drainage ditch, with a follow-up message: “Open the box. Take one. Leave the box.” Inside, they found a baggie filled with business cards featuring an iconic black door with an eye on it. The back side of the card had a QR code, along with the text “There are no secrets that time does not reveal”.

Around the same time, Ashley Locke received an Instagram DM from MysteriousNashville, linking her to the same GPS coordinates after opening up the conversation with two wide open eye emojis – “👁️👁️”. She made the trek out with her boyfriend, and claimed another one of the cards before posting a video of the experience. Over the next few days, more people made the trip out to a random drainage ditch in East Nashville to claim their card, and receive an invitation to whatever came next, with many of them posting their adventure to TikTok.

While the MysteriousNashville social accounts previously featured the GPS coordinates from the flyers, they have since been updated to explain “There is nothing left at the coordinates”, so this initial phase has concluded. But while the initial entry point to the experience has been taken away, the Mysterious Nashville adventure continues on…

Three photos of Mysterious Nashville flyers

From Mysterious Nashville to Mysterious Website
While all the flyers sent curious Nashville-area residents to the same drainage ditch, the MysteriousNashville Instagram account featured a handful of creative locations the team hid their flyers, ranging from posting them on trees to hiding one inside a little library. Over the next few days, the MysteriousNashville TikTok account expanded on that theme, hiding flyers at evocative locations like the elevator of a building, near a park bench surrounded by natural stone walls, and even behind a graffiti-covered wall behind an abandoned train car.

At the time, visitors to Mysterious Nashville‘s social accounts had nothing more to go on. But people who visited the physical location and scanned the QR code were sent to MysteriousWebsite.com. The team behind Mysterious Nashville has since expanded access to the site, replacing the GPS coordinates on their social profiles with a link to the site.

The upper left corner of the website features an image of the door from the cards, while the upper right includes a link to the Mysterious Nashville Instagram account. Dominating the screen, an animated image of concentric triangles collapse and expand, growing whiter as they fade into the background. Once the triangles fully expand, the silhouette of a man casually strides across the triangles, before repeating the loop once more. A message in small text next to the Instagram link instructs visitors to “look below the triangle”. Doing so reveals the message “Odd things are happening in Nashville”, along with a signup form for updates on future events.

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The Merchant’s Quest Welcomes Resident Evil Fans to Dimitrescu’s Domain

In late April, the Resident Evil Twitter account shared a cryptic puzzle, leading curious solvers to discovering the Reddit account for Village Connoisseur, a simple merchant whose collection of books have been defaced by an unknown vandal. With the help of the merchant’s assistant, players of this alternate reality game are tasked with helping recover the damaged pages.

Resident Evil Village is coming out on May 7th as the newest installment in the popular horror franchise, making it likely that Capcom launched The Merchant’s Quest alternate reality game as a condensed introduction to the Romanian village at the center of the game’s narrative.

Framing the Narrative: ARG as Collection Side Quest
On Friday April 30th, Village Connoisseur set the stage for the coming days with another post to Reddit, presenting the challenge to prospective players:

Greetings, străini. I am a simple merchant, with limited access to the technology you take for granted. I believe you can help me with a situation I find myself in.

I have books of great value to me, but they have been badly damaged. Some madman has torn out various pages and has written nonsense in the margins. La naiba! What kind of monster would damage a precious book?

I have an assistant, she tells me the vandalism looks deliberate, like it might mean something to someone. I see only rips and scribbles. Perhaps you can see otherwise. I will share the details with you as I take a closer look at all the damage.

This simple introduction provides a clear outline for the days to come: as the merchant goes through the damaged merchandise, they plan on sharing what’s left behind, for players to puzzle over. Solve puzzles, and help recover or reconstruct the missing pages, and perhaps unravel why those particular pages were destroyed in the first place. The structure and function of The Merchant’s Quest is reminiscent of more traditional optional side quests in video games: collect the full set of items, and unlock additional lore. Only instead of waiting until the game’s release, The Merchant’s Quest presents its challenge prior to the game’s release ever occurs.

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Searching For Higher Power with Coldplay’s Alien Radio

In New York City, a digital billboard featuring an alien language popped up over the CVS at the corner of Broadway and 49th Street. Similar advertisements around the world. A subway advertisement at Green Park Station in London. England. Another at Jamsil Station in Seoul, South Korea. And a digital crawl during a football match at the Estadio Monumental in Santiago, Chile. All with the same alien text, and a message to go to AlienRadio.FM to learn more.

Alien Radio: Tuning into Frequencies
The Alien Radio website is relatively sparse: after advancing through a screen where the outdoor advertisements flash by in rapid progression, the website shifts into a static-filled night’s sky with a minimalistic, rotating globe in the center of the screen. Visitors’ cursors are turned into a four-pointed star, and moving it across the page “tunes in” the frequency along both X- and Y-axes to reveal multi-lingual messages, with subjects ranging from the anatomy of baseballs and advertisements for the Scottish highlands for satellite launches to excerpts from Sherlock Holmes’ Adventure of the Dancing Men and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The only area that stands out amidst the multilingual chatter: an area in the upper right corner of the screen near 95 MHz x 55 MHz, which triggers a series of tones and scrolling text at the bottom of the screen in what appears to be Baudot (International Teleprinter) code. This message, which the players have taken to calling “signal.svg”, is currently unsolved.

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Diving Into Thickett to Re-Right Grimm Tales

Long ago, in a world very different than ours, a princess convinced God and Death to write a book with the answers of how to live a perfect life. In response, the pair gave her The Book of Turns, a collection of stories providing guidance on how to live well. But after the princess spread pages of the story through the land, the stories changed, stripping away the moral lessons that gave them their power. To fix matters, the princess founded THICKETT: an organization dedicated to dive into the tales, and rewrite the wrongs.

In Cirque du Nuit‘s serial immersive production Thickett, players join one of three departments tasked with re-assembling The Book of Turns through a combination of immersive theater, puzzle-solving, and exploration. Each installment of the game’s six chapter run is intended to function as a stand-alone “Quest” exploring a different theme, with a new 90-minute episode coming out on Fridays and Saturdays every two weeks. The second installment goes live later this week, on November 27th and 28th.

A Glance Beyond the Thickett Fence: Anatomy of a Quest
When prospective players sign up to participate in a Thickett Quest, they are asked to fill out an intake form to get sorted into the appropriate department as a “Seeker”. Once accepted, they are provided with their department, an employee identification number, and login credentials to a departmental-specific resource page with an “Employee Handbook”, providing the in-game and out-of-game rules for the experience, as well as a link to the game’s optional Discord server.

Players started out on a Zoom call with Thickett corporate, before splitting out into departmental breakout rooms to be briefed on the department’s objectives for the mission. The Department of Foxes encourages the use of cunning to advance their personal agendas, the Department of Rabbits are focused on helping others and cultivating friendships, and the Department of Ravens is dedicated to the dogged pursuit of truth. After undergoing a brief onboarding and initiation process, players are thrust into the game world to immerse themselves in the Quest’s theme, before returning to Departmental breakout rooms to compete for the best re-write of the underlying folktale.

Episode 1 thrust players into the story of Godfather Death, although the corrupted tale players were presented with omitted a key element of the tale that stripped it of its morality. However, scattered throughout the world were hints of other Grimm tales, ranging from modern classics like Cinderella to lesser-known tales like The Brave Little Tailor. Each faction had separate objectives to achieve in the world, although the mechanisms were the same: find ways to assist the various non-player characters inhabiting the world, and unlock more chances to alter sections of Godfather Death. As THICKETT CEO, the Princess would go on to select one version of the story to re-write (and hopefully, re-right) the narrative.

Topia: The Heart of Thickett’s Multi-Player Point and Click Adventure
The bulk of Thickett takes place on Topia, a video chat platform layered on top of a point-and-click virtual world: audiovisual feeds from other players and NPCs only come into view when your digital avatar is nearby, and gradually fade away as your avatar walks away.

Thickett‘s world is littered with a handful of clickable items: some items expand to display images or videos, while others are portals that transport players to other sections of the realm. In the first episode, there was even a portal with restricted access: directly entering the location could only be accomplished by talking to the right NPC and getting express permission to enter.

And while players didn’t assume the roles of characters when entering Thickett for the most part: functionally, gameplay resembled other NPC-forward Larp-adjacent experiences like Evermore Park and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. While characters were happy to respond to more active roleplaying when players sought it out, their primary role was sending players out on quests, challenging them to games and diversions, and providing helpful information to arm players for their upcoming revisions.

This spatially-aware system for interacting with the world was incredibly effective at creating a sense of presence in the world, in part due to the resonance of the visuals. Topia’s minimalistic art style plays particularly well with Thickett‘s fairy tale theming, evoking nostalgic memories of EH Shepard’s illustrations of Winnie the Pooh‘s Hundred Acre Wood.

Topia (and Gather, its 16-bit competitor in the spatially aware video chat space) are a powerful tool for creators looking to simulate the joy of exploration and serendipity that lies at the heart of many location-specific immersive theater and Larp productions. While platforms like VRChat, Minecraft, and even Second Life have delivered more sophisticated avatar-mediated virtual spaces, there’s something viscerally satisfying about turning a corner and gradually seeing a human face coming into view.

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