You know when you get that feeling that you should have done something last week but you forget what it was? Today was one of those days for me, but luckily a little birdie reminded me about The Institute for Human Continuity, an ARG that launched (gasp!) in November 2008 in connection with the movie 2012. While this campaign has been going for ten months now, activity has been ramping up in recent weeks, with a letter making its way into ARGFest-o-Con 2009 swag bags, as detailed on the Unfiction forums by our own Celina Beach.
We have it on good authority that things are about to get very, very interesting in the next few HOURS, so head on over to theIHC.com (currently redirecting to instituteforhumancontinuity.org) and get your ticket for the survival lottery before it’s too late!
As most of you are undoubtedly aware, ARGFest-o-Con 2009 starts this Friday in Portland, Oregon, and those attending are in for an amazing time. With a Must Love Robots speed dating event, a stellar line-up of panel discussions and presentations on Saturday, and a keynote dinner featuring Jordan Weisman of Smith & Tinker, this year’s event looks to be an entertaining and exciting event. Of course, you can get the latest information at the official conference web site, and we will have panel summaries and event news here starting next week.
One of the things that the public may not realize is that the costs involved in presenting and producing ARGFest-o-Con are high. I know from being part of the Directing Committee that it’s more than just blood, sweat and tears being poured into the planning of this year’s event. There would be no conference if not for the generous donations of so many (including the conference sponsors) and the hours of work put in by volunteers. Now, you have a chance to be an important contributor to ARGFest-o-Con and Unfiction by bidding on rare, valuable ARG swag! Tomorrow night, starting at 5:30 pm PT, ARGNet is hosting an auction that will take place live at the Courtyard by Marriott Portland City Center. The auction will involve those in attendance both at the hotel and in the #arg-netcast chat room on chat1.ustream.tv. The auction will be streamed live at live.argnetcast.com and is estimated to last just over an hour. You can see all of the items at the ARGFest-o-Con wiki, and if you are keen on a particular item or three, send in a pre-auction bid to [email protected].
All proceeds from the auction go directly to ARGFest-o-Con, so bid early and bid often. There are a lot of one-of-a-kind and rare items in the auction, and items left over after tomorrow’s auction will go into a separate silent auction available only to ARGFest-o-Con attendees on Saturday. We hope to see many of our readers at live.argnetcast.com tomorrow night for this event!
Once again, ARGNet is proud to join Unfiction in hosting ARGFest-O-Con. This year’s weekend ARG odyssey sails into Boston, Massachusetts on July 18-20 at the Boston Radisson Hotel and Conference Center. Scheduled events include a Friday night Welcome cocktail party, a full day of conference talks on Saturday, as well as the return of FestQuest – the puzzley adventure that takes you around the highlights of the host city. Registration for the event recently opened on the ARGFest website for the low cost of $25 (the Friday night reception is an additional $15). Booking now guarantees you a seat to the hottest ARG show of the year and a weekend of adventure with fellow ARG enthusiasts. Where else would you be able to rub elbows and fight over the last bits of buffet bacon with some of the biggest names in the genre? Book now!
Rooms at the Radisson are filling up fast, but a few slots remain for those procrastinators among you. Information about booking for the ARGFest rate of $189 a night (plus tax) can be found at the conference website.
ARGFest-O-Con is also actively seeking private and corporate sponsors for the event. Sponsorship opportunities have been outlined and can be viewed on the ARGfest website. This year also tills new soil with the addition of the Order of the Trout, an individual sponsorship tier that promises secret handshakes, troutly designation, and the joy of being referred to as “Fish Face” at the conference. Rarely have I wanted anything oh so badly. Now if only the Order came with a Wii…
In the fourth panel discussion at ARGFest, titled “Defining ARGs and the Future of ARGs”, I was fortunate enough to moderate what turned out to be a lively and entertaining discussion from a panel full of people I have professional and personal admiration for. The panel consisted of Brian Clark (GMD Studios), Adrian Hon (Mind Candy), Jane McGonigal (Avant Game, The Institute for the Future), Sean Stacey (Unfiction), Brooke Thompson (Giant Mice) and Evan Jones (stitch Media).
There was an opening round of statements in which McGonigal talked about her latest project, The Institute for the Future, and spoke about how alternate reality gaming can have an impact on the real world by delivering messages about important world issues. She also discussed World Without Oil, which is poised to launch in two weeks. In his opening remarks, Clark went on to state that he was interested in the idea of sustainability, noting that the community needs to find ways to embrace and celebrate all forms of ARG.
The first question for the panel was, “When asked by others outside of the industry, how do each of you describe what alternate reality gaming is?” Clark described ARG as “platformless gaming,” while Thompson focused on the story and narrative and how pieces of the story can be broken up and distributed in many different forms. Stacey agreed, and as he talked about the “collaborative storytelling process,” he added that player actions ultimately color the experience and make it unique. McGonigal focused on the idea of “massively-scaled collaboration,” where game elements “can’t possibly be solved alone,” and real-time game design. Hon interjected with humor as he talked about a “decision tree” approach that he had used in the past, and discussed the ideas of controls and using real-life interfaces within game design. Jones wrapped up responses by bringing up the accessibility and cross-platform aspects of ARG, adding that talking about the idea that “characters believe that they are real” is one of the ways he describes ARG to others.
After a number of panels featuring discussion between independent puppetmasters and members of different design companies, 42 Entertainment‘s Jim Stewartson (Chief Technology Officer), Elan Lee (Co-Founder, Vice President of Experience Design), Sean Stewart (Co-Founder, Creative Director), Steve Peters (Game Designer) and Michael Borys (Visual Design Director) sat down for a roundtable discussion, moderated by Kristen Rutherford, about how their team works together.
Stewart began the roundtable with a discussion of a chemistry puzzle in the Beast that was intended to look “cool and spooky” but be relatively easy to solve, and 42’s subsequent efforts to reproduce that effect in their other games. One of these attempts was Flea++, the “programming” language used in I Love Bees. In a similar vein, players would “teach” the character of the Sleeping Princess to speak as she cobbled together words and phrases from their emails and replied to them. Stewart’s favorite draft reply was “I want a cupcake.” Lee told him they couldn’t use it because it was too ambiguous — it could be a call to action for the players. According to Stewart, one of Lee’s main roles within the company is removing ambiguity from what the players see (Stewart’s summary: the creative process at 42 consists mainly of Lee saying, “That’s really good but can we have another draft?”).
“Delivering a keynote address to this audience is really difficult. What can we talk about? We can’t talk about anything we’ve done in the past because you were all there experiencing it. We can’t talk about anything we’re working on right now because that would ruin the fun and the mystery of the experience. We can’t talk about anything we have planned for the future because frankly, you are the competition. All that’s left is self-deprecation and the elephant in the room…trust.” — Elan Lee
Those words kicked off one of the most fulfilling experiences of the ARGFest weekend, according to many of the participants. The keynote address by Sean Stewart and Elan Lee not only educated the audience (composed of players, puppetmasters, aspiring puppetmasters and other interested parties) but it also provided memorable insights into the successful games that helped establish 42 Entertainment as one of alternate reality gaming’s lead design companies.
Early on, the speakers noted that alternate reality gaming has a unique cability to evolve at any given time in accordance with the audience’s wishes. That characteristic allows mistakes to be quickly assimilated into the game in a way that avoids the perception of failure (“Yeah, we meant to do that!”).
The discussion was split into three main sections:
— How is trust established?
— Why should puppetmasters care if the players trust them?
— Why do ARGs require trust?