Category: Game Launch (page 1 of 43)

Satisfying Your Wanderlust at Mesmer and Braid

On September 30th, Aconite is launching the story-driven puzzle game HoloVista, where players assume the role of a young artist documenting “an opulent building on orders from a mysterious architecture firm…[where] the house is getting to know you too, better than you know yourself.” The game’s trailer depicts a game of almost meditative exploration in the spirit of Myst. Given that context, it’s more than a little fitting that the past few weeks have introduced players to the world of HoloVista through an alternate reality game centered around Mesmer and Braid, the architecture firm at the center of the mystery.

During the trailer for HoloVista, a Mesmer & Braid offer letter addressed to Carmen flashes on screen, inviting her to join the company as a Junior Architect at the firm. Mesmer & Braid’s phone number is listed, instructing her to call to receive her first field assignment. Calling that number leads to a voicemail from the company directing players to the MesmerandBraid website to take a mandatory Collaborator Assessment that sorts anyone who interacts with the company into fancifully named personalities: Nookfinder, Arkadeer, Glowright, Egressquire, and Chronoservator. An artfully framed QR code later in the trailer leads players to the same assessment. Weeks prior, Steve Peters provided yet another route to the Assessment by hiding the phone number as a puzzle on his bookcase during a live interview with Constructed Adventures. Many routes, for many personalities.

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Gaslamp Fantasy Meets Puzzles for the ASPMC’s Cryptozoological Adventures

During the twilight years of the 19th century, a collective of Massachusetts residents organized a series of tea parties dedicated to the appreciation and conservation of the region’s local wildlife. These parties eventually led to the foundation of the Audubon Society. Around the same time, a more magically inclined group of researchers and preservationists founded the American Society for the Protection of Magical Creatures, as a cryptozoological counterpart to the Audubon Society.

In October 2018, Green Door Labs and Stark Participation Design invited players to join in the creation of the ASPMC through the gaslight fantasy immersive production Save the Munbax at the Eustis Estate, an historic mansion where early members of the Audubon Society met. Over the course of an evening, visitors to the estate traveled back to the 1890s and worked together to help save the Northern Crested Dimmoth Munbax from extinction. This is a familiar playground for Green Door Labs, known for Club Drosselmeyer, an annual immersive performance that combines immersive theater, puzzles, and swing dance for a 1940s era period drama for a period-appropriate holiday party.

When Covid19 rendered many artists, writers, and freelancers in the entertainment sectors unemployed and under-employed, Green Door Labs resurrected the ASPMC and brought it into the 21st century to serve as a home for “original, story-based online puzzle hunts”. Under the game’s framework, the ASPMC sends players on family-friendly, modular missions that can be played independently, but also fit within a singular shared storyworld that is accessible to all. Initially funded through a Kickstarter campaign, the society’s first mission went live in late July, with two more missions slated to follow in the coming months.

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PostCurious’ Emerald Flame Burns Bright in Alchemical Puzzle Experience

The Koschei Society is an organization of scholars and historical enthusiasts. In the course of their research, the Koschei Society stumbled across a handful of artifacts that just might set an enterprising researcher on the path towards a legendary alchemist’s hiding spot, and the recipe for a transformative alchemical elixir. Are you wise enough, resourceful enough, and brave enough to be that enterprising researcher?

PostCurious’ newest narrative puzzle adventure The Emerald Flame begins with an invitation to assist the Koschei Society in poring over a series of letters and artifacts to unearth the ancient alchemist’s secret. Structured across three separate “chapters” of puzzle-driven narrative, players piece together the information necessary to advance the story, verifying answers through an online chat portal. The game’s Kickstarter campaign funded within 4 hours of its launch, and offers the full experience for as little as $69. The campaign will run through June 26th, and has already secured over a thousand backers eager to take on the Koschei Society’s challenge.

Burning Bright: A Seamless Blend of Art and Puzzle
Every chapter’s structure follows a similar framework: aspiring Koschei Society researchers are tasked with extracting information relevant to the investigation. Like many at-home puzzle experiences, these puzzles can be completed in any order, providing structure to the small group solving experience. However, The Emerald Flame‘s greatest strength is its ability to take things one step further, weaving the game’s art and its puzzles into an elegant tapestry.

The puzzles at the heart of The Emerald Flame aren’t always self-contained. So while some puzzles communicate everything that’s needed on a single sheet of paper, others are interspersed across the experience. Pulling on a puzzling thread on one line of inquiry might lead to a revelation about a detail expertly hidden within the art of another page, or teach you the rules of engagement for one of the game’s items. But the reverse is also true, with the game’s artistic stylings serving as signposts for players, hinting at what puzzle pieces are likely to fit together, if seen under the proper light. This interplay between art and puzzle leads to many of the most surprising moments of The Emerald Flame.

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Global Crypto Hunt Tracks Down “Satoshi’s Treasure”

On April 16th, the first three keys to a global scavenger hunt with a million dollar prize were released. To win Satoshi’s Treasure, players must chase after 1,000 keys with clues scattered across the world. The first individual or team to assemble 400 of these keys will be able to stitch them together using Shamir’s Secret Sharing Scheme to claim the private key to a Bitcoin wallet, and control over the hefty sum.

Finding the First Keys
The first three keys were released in dramatic fashion: on the SatoshisTreasure.xyz website, the following clue was posted on April 15th:

The first of one thousand, they are hidden in locations around the earth, in places where many dwell and one with only a small number of inhabitants. These locations can be discovered by monitoring the output of the primitive orbitals known in your time as GALAXY18, EUTELSAT 113, TELSTAR 11N, and TELSTAR18V at 1PM EST, APRIL 14th in the year 2019.

Searching for those “primitive orbitals” turned up Blockstream’s Satellite network, which provides a service that lets users pay to send messages via satellite to receivers trained to listen to them. A good Samaritan posted the message to an encrypted PasteBin alternative, revealing a series of GPS coordinates for locations around the world, and instructions to appear at noon, local time on April 16th. When I went to the Times Square location, the first key was wrapped around a QR code on a sandwich board a man was wearing.

Scanning the QR code leads to a page asking for the passphrase, and entering the phrase unlocks the first key fragment, along with puzzle-themed quotes.

In a recent newsletter post, Satoshi’s Treasure co-creator and face of the game Eric Meltzer notes,

People showed up to the 10 spots we indicated around the world where keys would appear en masse—some drove over 3 hours to get to a spot. Others figured out how to brute force the encryption we used and solved the clues without having to travel (something which we hoped would happen, but thought would take weeks—in reality it took 30 minutes..)

People are forming teams, talking strategy, speculating on the value of keys and where the next clues will show up… and our hypothesis that Bitcoin and cryptography enable a new type of online/offline game experience seems to be getting validated. Subreddits are being created. Telegram groups are forming. Our poor mongoDB is getting hammered with signups. We’re all a bit exhausted after this first day, but we’re also incredibly excited to see what people do with the next set of clues.

The Times Square location had one player travel from Virginia to find out what was going to happen, and one enterprising team got to the location early to post flyers with QR codes driving to a recruitment page for their particular crew. As for the brute-forcing, John Cantrell released a write-up of his process solving the first three keys without needing to travel to the locations, making the initial set available to everyone committed enough to read through the post.

A Game of Trust, and Hints of Things to Come
The first three keys were released publicly with little fanfare. But in an interview with the Citizen Bitcoin podcast, Meltzer explains one of the challenges of Satoshi’s Treasure that will likely unfold as the game progresses, explaining “there’s a really tricky problem with this…if you want to join a team, you actually have to prove that you have keys they don’t, but you don’t want to reveal the keys.” Rather than relying on players to develop tools to manage this verification process, Meltzer and the team behind the hunt will be releasing a tool in the coming weeks that will let players prove that they have keys without revealing the keys themselves. However, since this challenge is as much about collecting people capable of finding future keys as it is about collecting already uncovered keys, that will only solve part of the challenge here. During the podcast, Meltzer also provides a brief explanation of two test hunts conducted on the MIT and USC campuses to work out the more obvious gameplay bugs before going global. Vestiges of these hunts remain on the @ToshiTreasure Twitter account, for those who are curious.

When DARPA ran its Red Balloon Network Challenge in 2009, the MIT Media Lab won by creating a referral-based incentive structure reminiscent of pyramid schemes for the first person to find the locations of 10 red weather balloons scattered across the country, with smaller payouts made to individuals who referred them into the system. The winning team explained that additional manual analysis was needed to separate the wheat from the chaff by identifying patterns in how multiple parties submitted location data from real locations versus faked attempts at throwing the team off their trail.

The hunt is still young, so it’s almost impossible to say what types of challenges will be thrown at players: however, the game’s rules page provides a few hints of what’s to come, with a strong focus on conduct in public places implying the trend of location-specific key drops is likely to continue, although “the general public will never suspect they are in the presence of a Key”. The Rules do instruct players that clues will never be hidden on private property, and that finding clues in publicly accessible locations will never involve breaking or destroying objects. Should players be caught destroying clues to interfere with other teams, the Satoshi’s Treasure team may make that key public, along with any other keys the clan or player has gathered along the way.

Help Finally Solve a Satoshi-Themed Challenge
In 2005, the alternate reality game Perplex City released a card named “Billion to One”, asking players to track down a man named Satoshi with only a first name and a photograph from his vacation in Kaysersberg, France as clues. That mystery remains unsolved, almost 15 years later. Five years later, a different Satoshi played a formative role in developing Bitcoin, before retreating further from the public eye. His location and identity has also remained secret for over a decade. Neither of these Satoshi-related “puzzles” are likely to be solved in the near future. But with a sizable prize on the line and hundreds of clues designed to be found, Satoshi’s Treasure is likely going to find its way into capable hands.

To sign up for updates when new clues to Satoshi’s Treasure drop, go to the game’s website and follow @ToshiTreasure on Twitter. Multiple groups are playing this online, including the “Secret” Escape Room Enthusiasts Slack channel (the link to join can be found on The Codex).

Literally Give Your Heart Away on Tender This Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day! Are you single? Interested in not being single? If so, you should consider signing up for Tender. It’s an AI-driven dating site designed to help you find your soul mate, and it almost certainly hasn’t been co-opted by vampires looking to hunt down suitably compliant blood bags at the click of a button. Just answer a few completely innocuous questions about your emotional state, loneliness levels, interests, and blood type, and Tender will procedurally generate a profile guaranteed to find you that special someone who, again, is probably not a vampire. Even if it is part of what looks to be an official Vampire: the Masquerade alternate reality game.

Let’s take a step back. In early January, a handful of established YouTubers and Twitch streamers started tweeting about their good buddy Knox coming out of the woodwork and asking them to check out this new closed beta dating site, Tender. In between jet-setting around the world, Knox released a series of puzzles on his Twitter account that led to a website, Trust No More. Posts on that site from a writer going by the pseudonym “Manchuria”  In parallel, he started receiving messages from the user “BetrayedMind1”, warning that something was amiss with Tender. Players helped Knox solve a series of puzzles left by the person, leading to a meetup at Griffith Observatory where players laid claim to a conspicuously guarded briefcase. The contents alluded to Tender’s experiments with gamification and operant conditioning to get users hooked on the website. Even more foreboding, documents allude to a secret “Regent Dashboard” known only to select employees at the company. An unidentified Tender engineer’s notes indicate the Regent Dashboard is actively manipulating its users:

Weird. The conditioning reminds me of the effects of the Toxoplasma parasite on rodents. Doesn’t completely change them. Doesn’t make them suicidal exactly. Just a subtle shift. Less afraid of open spaces. Inhibited risk judgement. Willingness to step into danger. Behavior that makes them easier to catch for predators.

Soon after, players unlocked access to the Tender Beta app, allowing them to interact with the perfectly innocuous dating site that’s probably not conditioning its users to be more trustworthy and docile. Under the guise of finding a soulmate, users are rewarded for completing “quests” with experience points, to level up. Some tasks ask players to complete basic research tasks, while others ask users to share simple fill-in-the-blanks status updates about their plans.

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Back to Earth Makes Its Microtransactional Debut With an ARG Short

StarFate Corporation is in the business of making mankind a better version of itself. The company’s flagship product, the StarChip, allows its owners to record and analyze every experience they ever had, capturing details unassisted humans couldn’t dream of securing. Just implant a simple little chip into the back of your neck, and the ability to tap into the network is unlocked. It’s really a damn shame someone figured out how to hack the chips.

In the coming months, Back to Earth will describe what happens to the world in 2023 when presumably unhackable chips become compromised, as told through a short film, a graphic novel, and a television show in development. Our introduction to the storyworld of Back to Earth starts before the cataclysm with StarFate.Tech,  a short immersive experience that lets players ride shotgun with StarFate Corporation engineer Jono Walters as he investigates a train derailment that shouldn’t have been possible.

The short immersive story plays out across StarFate Corporation’s internal systems, with an unidentified assistant guiding players in unlocking Jono’s chip-enhanced memories through a series of nine “Mindchain” blocks. Each block contains clues to unlock the next in the sequence, leading players to hunt down file IDs, timestamps, and user IDs using contextual cues in the text, audio, and video files that document Jono’s investigation in addition to the occasional research task requiring players to hack into the occasional voicemail box. There’s something to be said for an ARG that can be completed in less time than it takes to watch a movie, and Back to Earth‘s debut starts off with an experience that packs in enough surprises to whet the appetite without the time investment of a AAA video game.

Due in part to this brevity, the StarFate.Tech immersive experience has the feel of a finely crafted tutorial mission, gradually introducing players to the skills necessary to unlock each new block, with new complications added every few rounds. It also serves to introduce the game’s StarCredits, a blockchain-based digital currency that exists both in-world and out of world to provide a micro-transaction based backbone to the free-to-play experience. Upon registering, players receive 1 StarCredit. Fractions of a credit can be used to ask “SysOps” for hints along the way, or to unlock a short video that provides a graphic end to Jono’s tale.

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