Image of the MIT Mystery Hunt Closing Ceremonies with permission from photographer Chris Ball
“A dim witted love god.”
I was gazing at the dense, tall pine trees around us, a refreshing change from the dry brown and yellow landscape we had already driven past. My wife and I, both Boston natives, were driving south from San Francisco for a wedding, and entertaining ourselves with one of our regular puzzle games. The first person provides a simple description, and the other must answer in the form of a rhyming adjective and noun pairing.
“Stupid Cupid,” I stated rather than asking, confident in my answer. Itâ€™s not a tough game, especially when youâ€™ve played it together before as much as we have. That was in September of last year, and that drive inspired us to evolve our casual game into a much more challenging form: a puzzle for the 2012 MIT Mystery Hunt.
Last year our team Codex won the 2011 Hunt, which is held in January over Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend. Itâ€™s a team-based puzzle solving competition that draws over a thousand diverse fans every year. The victors’ prizes are well-earned respect, and the responsibility of writing and organizing the following year’s Hunt. Each Hunt has a theme, ostensibly to provide a reason for solving all the puzzles. 2011’s Hunt led by the team Metaphysical Plant, had aÂ theme centered around video games. For 2012, Codex chose to focus on musical theater, specifically The Producers.
For the past eight years I competed in the Hunt and even wrote a handful of puzzles for friends, but none had the level of complexity and polish usually found during the Hunt. Every long-time Hunter has a list of puzzle ideas they would like to write someday if they given the opportunity. Translating those ideas into over a hundred working, solvable puzzles takes many thousands of man hours. As our team quickly recognized, years of solving puzzles doesnâ€™t immediately translate to creating puzzles and organizing a live event for hundreds of people. Thankfully, Codex’s team of leaders and editors provided a framework for both novice and experienced writers to participate in the process.
Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is a new interactive experience that debuted on February 22 at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Jonathan Ackley, Senior Director and Show Producer Interactive of Walt Disney Imagineering, and his team spent four years designing and producing the game. Ackley gained early insights into interactivity as a game designer at Rocket Science Games and then by designing critically acclaimed adventure games for LucasArts, such as The Curse of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, and Sam and Max Hit the Road. Ackleyâ€™s interests in nontraditional, nonlinear storytelling gave him an awareness of the possibilities for integrating new technologies into location-based storytelling.
Before Ackleyâ€™s work on Sorcerers, he tested interactive storytelling ideas through the Kim Possible attraction, also at Walt Disney World, treating it as a research and development project on using wireless technology (through Verizon). Ackley immediately saw the advantages that Disney had for environmental storytelling. In an interview with Ackley, he said, â€œWe have themed environments. We are in a unique position to make you the main character in an adventure story. Weâ€™re really lucky that we have such great stories and characters to draw from.â€ The end result is that Sorcerers is an intriguing effort that pushes the boundaries of shared interactive experiences for families with children. Ackley described these experiences as opportunities for players to assume the roles of their favorite Disney protagonists as they make their way through the game. Families can share memories of their favorite films across generations and or create new stories as they play.
The objective of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is to save the Magic Kingdom from Disney villains, including Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians, the Evil Queen from Snow White, Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog, and Scar from The Lion King. These villains were all recruited by Hades, ruler of the underworld and the archvillain from Hercules. Players become apprentices to Merlin, the sorcerer from The Sword in the Stone, who is Hadesâ€™ chief opponent. In order to save the Magic Kingdom, players must stop the villains from capturing the shattered pieces of Merlinâ€™s crystal ball.
In the coming months Christy Dena will release an audio drama titled AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS, guiding you through the story of a gambling philosopherâ€™s quest to earn a living as an autopsy pathologist. While still in development, Christy was kind enough to give us the scoop on her project:
Nathan Maton: Hi Christy. Iâ€™ve been hearing about your latest project, AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS. Can you tell me what inspired you to make an audio drama?
Christy Dena: The web audio navigation format of AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS was inspired by a visit to the Louvre in 2007. I actually did something at the Louvre that some would consider criminal. I did the Da Vinci Code audio tour of the Louvre. But it was an amazing experience. It started before I entered the turnstiles. The narrator instructed me to secure my headphones, and then guided me past the security and through an alternate path through the Louvre. I was the only one in an elevator, riding around the venue following the conspiracy drama that was unfolding under my steps. The audio tour took me to all of the key exhibits of the Louvre, but with a great narrator, story and sound effects. I felt I was privy to another world that added an extra dimension to the already outstanding experience of the Louvre.
I walked out of the Louvre, reflecting on the ease with which I was guided through the venue, how I knew so much about the artworks, and was also emotionally engaged with a story layer. I suddenly thought, why canâ€™t I have this for the web? Why canâ€™t I have audio tours of the web? I immediately thought of ARGs, and how the audio characters could guide players to read the source code of webpages. This seemed a fun way to make ARGs more accessible and also an interesting design challenge. And that is how the idea for AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS being a cross between a radio drama and Google search!
Next week, from Thursday, August 18, to Sunday, August 21, alternate reality gamers and transmedia producers will descend on Bloomington, Indiana, for ARGFest-o-Con 2011. Led by this year’s Grand Inquisitor Andrea Phillips, the schedule taps into the local game development talent as well as the strong academic presence at Indiana University, which features such names as Professor of Telecommunications Edward Castronova.
Thursday night’s Kick-Off party will start the conference, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, with a special interactive event hosted by Awkward Hug, creators of the highly acclaimed ARG Must Love Robots and the pervasive kid-friendly community, Socks, Inc. I caught up with Awkward Hug’s own Jim Babb to ask about A Wisconsin Hustle. their first foray into the smartphone app space:
We are really excited to bring A Wisconsin Hustle to ARGFest! Wisconsin Hustle is something new for Awkward Hug and will be our first venture into Android apps. While the app is not ready to launch until the end of the year, we have turned the excitement of the app into a real-world pants-off dance-off. A Wisconsin Hustle is, an American tradition clothed in mystery and from unknown origins (we are doing intensive research ourselves into the legend). Men, and recently women, challenge each other in pantsless dance-offs for truth, money, and above all honor.
On a rare occasion Hustlers, as they are known, will pants-off dance-off to the death! Players at ARGFest need not worry, we are more interested in the ethnographic, ethnochoreographic, and pantsnographic study of A Wisconsin Hustle than running a “two man enter, one man leaves” sort of affair.
For the next few weeks, Los Angeles residents have a chance to do something many of us can only dream about: a little time traveling, courtesy of Superfreako Productions. Participants in time/trip LA are tasked with finding strategically placed QR codes located in 8 shops and stores around the Hollywood area, starting atÂ Meltdown Comics on West Sunset Boulevard. The QR codes unlock a series of videos revolving around time travel. TheÂ time/trip LAÂ experienceÂ followsÂ Katie and Kelly as they travels through time and space that guides participants through short films keyed to each location.
As part of the experience, time/trippers can submit five pictures of themselves with the QR codes for a chance to win swag from some of the participating retailers. Spoiler-riddenÂ details about the sweepstakesÂ explain the rules and prizes, but players in the LA area are advised to get moving: the contest ends at 11:59pm on August 31.
It’s worth noting thatÂ time/trip LA is not Superfreako’s first foray into the crossmedia storytelling space. One of its earliest attempts is the Last Days Journal, a social media storytelling site for survivors of a zombie apocalypse that launched in 2007. While Last Days JournalÂ was created to support a project that was never developed, the survivor site still “lives” on.
Between 2008-2009, Superfreako worked with Benji Schneider to createÂ The Society for Linian Studies, an art project with alternate reality gaming elements including a live lecture event at the Velaslavasay Panorama and an exhibition of related artifacts at San Diego State University.Â Having followed along with TheÂ Society for Linian Studies, I was impressed with the high production value of the artifacts, acting, and other assets for the project. According to Chad Kukahiko, Creative Director of the superfreakos, “it was fun as hell working on a piece of art so ridiculously original.” The idea of dueling institutes that permeated the narrative, along with the characters and story elements surrounding the Linian Society, was the brainchild of his friend and former coworker Benji Schneider.Â For theÂ TheÂ Society for Linian Studies,Â “the plan was to was continue to do mini-ARG installments perhaps 2 to 3 times a year,” but Schneider’s growing commitments to his band Lord Huron forced the team to modify the game’s plans.
The planning process for TheÂ Society for Linian StudiesÂ provided the inspiration for time/trip LA:Â not in terms of story world or plot, but in terms of techniques and technology.Â As Kukahiko explained to me: “The initial concept from which time/trip grew was a vague QR code wild posting dystopian-themed ARG off-shoot I was tooling around with in my head — something I was actually hoping to bring into the Linian Society fold.”
It’s been three months since ARGNet’s first look back at this year in alternate reality gaming, putting over half of 2011 behind us. Alternate reality games have continued to insinuate themselves into pop culture, spanning movies, television, music, video games, and books. The genre has stretched out beyond the entertainment industry to support social causes, provide more enriching museum-going experiences, and even sell packs of chewing gum.Â During the past three months a number of major campaigns have come to a conclusion, to be replaced by a number of tantalizing prospects. Read on for a few highlights from the quarter.