Category: Game Launch (page 2 of 43)

A Tale of Two Trailheads: Charity Kong and the Golden Age Conspiracy

In Seattle, a jodhpur-clad man wanders into a Seattle corner shop, using strips of gold foil as currency in order to send messages using the shop’s antiquated Telex machine. In Indianapolis, Golden Age comic fans converge at a flea market just outside Indianapolis, chasing a rumor to find a shred of evidence that their beloved comics publisher Stupefying Yarns exists outside their memories. And aspiring comic artist Brian Enright has gone missing, leaving a desperate brother behind. Three different stories all seem to converge with a series of trailheads that have been sent out over the past few days.

The Case of Charity Kong and the Tourist From Another Place
Earlier this week, a number of reports circulated of people receiving black envelopes from “A Friend” with the Seattle Mariners’ stadium listed as the return address. Inside the envelope? A screencap of a girl in a YouTube video, paired with an ominous message:

This is Charity Kong.
She does not know she needs your help.
She does not know our world is in danger.
Find her before they do.

A second, smaller envelope was also included, instructing its recipient to only open it after finding her.

Image courtesy of No Proscenium

On Twitter, @destiniesfic dove into the mystery and located Charity Kong’s YouTube channel. Through her videos, Charity documents her experiences tracking down and helping “The Tourist”, a strange man who uses strips of gold foil as currency and hints at a mysterious past that doesn’t quite add up.

Upon opening the sealed envelope, recipients found a printed Telex, which decoded to the message: “URGENT. BOWLERS IN SEATTLE. WORST CASE: THREE WORLDS WAR”. But back to that later.

Stupefying Yarns and the Comics Erased From Time
Soon after people started receiving warnings about dire tidings for Charity, other reports of envelopes bearing addresses for Major League Baseball stadiums started circulating. Only this time, the letters came in red envelopes from “The Yarnies”, with a return address of Yankee Stadium.

The envelope contained a flyer promoting the Stupefying Yarns fan blog, along with torn up scraps of a comic book cover, paired with the following revelation:

Earlier this summer, a vintage SY cover – not advertised as such – was sold at an estate auction for $34,000.00 to a man in a pinstripe suit.

An intrepid Yarnie found the contents of this envelope in a neighbor’s garbage can the next day.

Image courtesy of ARG Insider

When assembled, the torn up scraps showed a seeming impossibility: the cover of Johnny Delta in Bandit of the Sky, a Stupefying Yarns comic. According to the Yarnies’ forums, their shared memories of Stupefying Yarns comics are challenged by the fact that no one can seem to find any physical evidence the publisher ever existed. Even the most fleeting traces are regarded as objects worthy of the “Holy Grail” designation. Last month, a group of Yarnies traveled out to an Indiana flea market at the mere rumor of a sighing of the Wasserstein Grail, a paper mâché art project rumored to have used Stupefying Yarns pages in its construction. Locating an intact cover seems beyond most members of the group’s wildest dreams.

And then, there’s the page on the flip side of the comic book cover. Scrawled in the margins of an advertisement for the Grumbaum Academy of Art is an ominous message: “Next: Brian Diffracted”.

Brian Enright and Introduction to Color Theory 
The website BrianDiffracted.net was set up by Brian Enright’s brother to help locate his sibling, who went missing two years ago. The site describes the brothers’ passion for imaginary words, namely the science fiction world of “Laminar” and the fantasy realm of “Old Gnarly”. Brian’s passion for these worlds continued, and one of the few remnants his brother has of Brian are two sketches of Old Gnarly and Laminar, left on the refrigerator door before Brian disappeared.

Curiously, the heroes featured in Brian’s sketches bear a striking resemblance to fan recollections of Golden Age heroes from Stupefying Yarns, including the musclebound Thor-Ax, his companion Esme, and the jodhpur-clad Johnny Delta.

One curious addition to the Brian Diffracted website is a short screed on color theory: the page recounts Newton’s addition of indigo to the rainbow. As the reflection on color notes:

The fact is, Science can’t tell where Blue stops and Indigo begins. Indigo is supposed to be a different country, but you can’t distinguish it from here. When I pointed this out to Brian, he pulled out a colored pencil marked Indigo and said, “Maybe you can’t find it, but I can.”

Has Brian found a way into these other worlds described in the telex card? And is that what the telex is trying to say about a “three worlds” war?

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Lessons on ARGs and Teamwork Through the Lens of Daedalus

Daedalus is an artificial intelligence built to solve humanity’s greatest problems. And over the next few days, it will be recruiting teams of 5-7 players to participate in a week-long series of puzzles that play out across Daedalus’ neural network, to “complete Daedalus’ programming”. While many of these tasks will take place on the game’s digital interface, some puzzles will cross over into the real world, requiring teams to have at least two players in the Boston area.

This week-long experience is a collaboration between Extra Ludic and Northeastern University that is looking to leverage alternate reality games to study team performance and adaptability, with a particular focus on “individual differences and their effects on adaptability and performance within teams.” Using survey and questionnaire data collected at the midpoint and end of the game, the team hopes to leverage ARG and digital escape room environments to study how teams work together. To provide an incentive for teams to participate, all teams who complete the game and the corresponding surveys will receive a gift certificate, with an additional prize for the team who completes the game in the fastest time.

This is not the first time alternate reality games have been used for research purposes. Indiana University’s Skeleton Chase game presented members of the school’s Foundations of Fitness and Wellness program with a sprawling game that led students across campus, confirming that players presented with a compelling experience could be encouraged to increase the amount they walk every day. Researchers noted that students reporting the highest weekly step counts were the teams that bonded well, forming a cohesive unit that worked together towards a common goal, serving as an early indicator for the success of games like Ingress and Pokemon Go.

The project is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is no stranger to using competitions to test out models for group dynamics. In 2009, they ran the DARPA Network Challenge as a competition to locate ten red balloons located across the country. Player data for Daedalus will remain anonymous, with survey and other data collected through the project anonymized and associated with a unique identifier for use in the research.

It will be interesting to see what emerges from Daedalus from the research standpoint. It will also be a novel experience for participants to get paid to play an alternate reality game – and it’s not too late to make a play for the grand reward. The team is still in the process of recruiting their third cohort for the experience. Registration is limited to participants who are US Citizens or Permanent Residents who are 18 years or older, fluent in English, and have access to a cellphone. However, you don’t have to live in Boston or assemble the full team yourself to participate: the game’s sign-up form implies that researchers may help form teams for prospective players who haven’t assembled a full team.

As appealing as the research element of Deadalus sounds, the most alluring element in the teaser trailer is what almost sounds like a warning from the game’s artificial intelligence: “it sounds simple, but in this puzzle not everything is what it appears to be. So you must be clever, and work together.” To find out what that means, head over to the game’s sign-up page to get started – but don’t take too long, as Daedalus will be wrapping up at the end of September.

Thanks to Room Escape Artist for directing this game to our attention.

Reassembling Einstein’s Brain By Post – The Gray Matter Sodality

When Albert Einstein died in 1955, New England pathologist Thomas Harvey removed the noted physicist’s brain without asking the family permission. Upon learning of the theft, Einstein’s son Hans Albert gave Harvey permission to keep the brain as long as it was used for scientific research. Over the next few months, Harvey carefully preserved, sectioned, and mounted the brain on thousands of slides, with chunks of the brain periodically getting sent off to researchers around the world from its new home under a beer cooler. Slivers of Einstein’s brain are currently on display at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. As unbelievable as it might seem, this is all true.

This is where the Gray Matter Sodality comes in. The secret society is looking to reassemble the scattered pieces of Einstein’s brain for unknown purposes…and they could use your help.

A Subscription Service for Hunting Brain Fragments
The Gray Matter Sodality is a narrative puzzle experience put on by Traipse, with monthly mailings introducing subscribers to their new role as Inquisitors with the organization, chasing down clues to the locations of Einstein’s brain for subsequent reclamation by specialized teams. Every mission comes with a letter from Gray Matter Sodality Executive Director Artemis Shoal introducing the month’s assignment, along with physical artifacts useful in locating the next fragment. Typically, solutions are a word or phrase appended to the GMSodality.org website, with the GMSodality.org/solution telling investigators the results of their sleuthing efforts.

The puzzles are self-contained, although there are hints of a larger meta-puzzle in the three mailings I received as a preview of the experience.

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Acid-Wave Music Might Help Save the World

Late last week, I received a package in the mail from Sledged Infant Records, featuring a double EP of acid wave music. You’ve probably never heard of it before, but the genre of music is typified by its “fuzzy mix of psychedelia, funk, jazz, synthesized electronica, and whole-band improvisation from eccentric artists cranking out dope tracks in relative obscurity. The A-Side of the cassette featured music from GERTRUDE, 75-year old twin sisters out of Minnesota that mix electro dance rhythms and classical music with samples from film and television. The B-Side highlighted the works of Space Butter – recently deceased band leader Henry Wilson explicitly insisted that his works never be released, but in the words of the label, “this shit’s too good for your beyond-the-grave anxiety to stop.” If this kind of thing’s your jam, Sledged Infant Records runs an exclusive, ultra-secret mailing list for the most discerning of acid-wave fans. Oh also, the world may be coming to an end.

The acid-wave music genre doesn’t exist, Sledged Infant Records isn’t real, and the world isn’t actually coming to an end. But that didn’t stop Atlanta-based creative production company The Prudent Mariner from mixing together an hour-long cassette of acid-wave music, and offering a follow-up mix tape compiling the history of the non-existent genre for sale on their non-existent label’s website. The biographies and discographies on the Sledged Infant Records site paint a vivid picture of the colorful personalities who came together to create a music scene spanning almost four decades. And something is very, very wrong in this alternate universe. To understand, let’s fully unpack what I received in the mail.

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Resistance Radio: Fighting Fascists Over Pirate Radio

resistance-radio-image

The year is 1962. It’s been 17 years since the United States surrendered to the Axis Powers after the Nazis dropped the Heisenberg Device on Washington, DC. The formerly United States of America is split with the Japanese Pacific States to the west, and the Greater Nazi Reich to the east. This is the world of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, based on the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name. This is the world of Resistance Radio – a four hour long pirate radio broadcast bridging the gap between seasons of the show.

Special Delivery from the Underground

electronica-musikanten

After the war, the German company Electronica Musikanten won the contract to rebuild America’s infrastructure. In the process, they developed “Uber Fidelity Vinyl”, an evolution in high quality audio recording technology that has become the standard for music. But while the technological standards of music have improved, the cultural influences have suffered, with the Reich condemning any music influenced by gospel, jazz, blues, and R&B as “subversive”. Over the past few days, a number of perfectly innocuous mailings from Electronica Musikanten went out, containing the patriotic album Kinderliederbuch zur Charakterbildung Werkstoffe – the Children’s Songbook for Character Building.

resistance-radio-reich-small

Upon opening up the package, everything checks out as advertised. One Kinderliederbuch zur Charakterbildung album, a flyer for a Reich Youth Music concert, and a spare needle for the record player, just in case. Nothing a government censor would think to explore any further. But if they did, they might notice instructions at the bottom of the flyer: “fold page over to make the arrows touch”. In an alternate timeline, MAD Magazine’s Al Jaffee would make the American populace intimately familiar with this type of puzzle. In The Man in the High Castle‘s timeline, fold-in artwork belongs to the Resistance.

resistance-radio-secret-solved

The secret message from Resistance Radio Headquarters points to the location of a speakeasy pop-up and concert at SXSW later this week…but that’s still just skimming the surface.

resistance-radio-secret-contents-small

Packed inside the Kinderliederbuch zur Charakterbildung album sleeve is a vinyl record with music from the resistance, along with a do-it-yourself kit to turn the enclosed propaganda packet into a manual record player using the enclosed needle and a quarter. One side of the record features Sam Cohen’s take on House of the Rising Sun, while the other features Sharon Van Etten’s cover of The End of the World. The call to arms: “tune in to the Resistance at ResistanceRadio.com”.

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The Tessera Promises a Spooky Primer to Computational Thinking

thetessera-header

The Computer History Museum in Mountain View has never been mentioned in a list of California’s Most Haunted Locations. Its exhibits may celebrate ghosts of computers past and the remnants of now-defunct websites, but the museum has remained resolutely apparition-free…but thanks to The Tessera, that’s about to change. Because starting January 17th, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California is launching an educational alternate reality game designed to teach computational thinking through a host of spectral guides.

thetessera-invite

Last December, I received a cryptic introduction to The Tessera from computational pioneer Ada Lovelace. In addition to a letter warning of the return of “S” and a punch card, the envelope contained dossiers detailing two other deceased computing pioneers, Steve Jobs and Charles Babbage. The reverse side of Ada’s note featured one of her more famous quotes:

They say that coming events cast their shadows before. May they not sometimes cast their lights before?

Pairing Ada’s quote with the punch card lead to the final destination, featuring a preview of the full Tessera experience.

thetessera-puzzle

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