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
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.
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.
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”.
A sharply dressed man and woman are lost on an empty stretch of road, with no memories of who they are or where they’re going. The only clues to their identity are the personalized features programmed into their car, and your phone number in their phone’s call history. The nameless man calls your number. For the next 15-20 minutes, you’re tasked with guiding the pair as they retrace forgotten steps, piecing together their past lives and their current predicament.
Welcome to Deja View, a visually stunning interactive film produced by Campfire to promote the Infiniti Q50, that delights in throwing you into the center of a mystery with characters as confused as you are. The experience (limited to United States residents) begins at infinitiusa.com/deja-view. After watching a brief explanatory video and calling a number to sync up your browser and your phone, voice inputs on the phone can direct what video content plays out in real time, creating the illusion of natural conversations with your fictional on-screen collaborators.
As Deja View progresses through the story’s three main narrative checkpoints, you’re led on a seemingly simple, linear journey. Once or twice per session, you receive a phone call from one of the characters and are asked to respond to a few simple questions: say you’ve spoken with the man before, or deny it. Go to the gas station, or to the diner. Your answer changes how the video progresses, while still driving you inexorably towards a happy ending where the pair free themselves from the loop that has them trapped. The only challenge? One of the central themes of Deja View that enables you to reach a successful conclusion to the story is the idea of eschewing the well-worn path, and breaking free from constraints. You can’t complete Deja View without convincing the on-screen characters to go against their own instincts, but the story rewards you for taking the easy path with a happy ending. The message is conveyed, but you aren’t forced to live it as a co-conspirator.
To address this potential for cognitive dissonance, Deja View has secret narratives that are only exposed to people who resist the easy answers. Ask the right unprompted question, and you might ferret out some additional information about why the pair are stuck in a loop. Make a conscious effort to thwart their journey, and you might make one or both of the characters lose trust in you and each other, irrevocably altering their path. It’s not easy, and most of the changes you make only have a small impact on the overarching narrative. But push the edges enough, and you’ll take things in a completely different direction.
“We’re not for everyone. Just the 1% that matters.”
Byzantium Security International’s slogan embracing the financial elite’s privileged role serves as an uncomfortably poetic accompaniment to the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. And with an out-of-home advertisement proudly flaunting a company’s exclusivity mere steps from Federal Hall in Wall Street, it’s no wonder the image has been repurposed to support the movement.
There’s more to Byzantium Security than an arresting hexagonal logo and a general disinterest in 99% of the country. The fictional company features prominently in Cinemax’s upcoming drama Hunted, and the Wall Street advertisements are merely one of a number of rabbit holes into the company’s inner workings. The series, premiering October 19th, revolves around Byzantium Security operative Samantha Hunt (Melissa George) as she seeks to unravel the mystery behind an attempt on her life. Fans can get a glimpse into the world of a Byzantium operative by completing a five-part examination liberally dosed with more than a few twists. Not everything is as it seems at Byzantium Security, which appears to be a recurring theme throughout the series’ interactive campaign, created by Campfire with the help of Jam3, the development team that worked on the interactive documentary Bear 71.
Yesterday, I received a puzzle box in the mail that serves as an alternate entry point to the Hunted transmedia experience. The hexagonal wooden box slid apart with relative ease, revealing a secret compartment carved into one of the pieces containing a miniature USB drive engraved with Byzantium Security’s overlapping hexagons. The drive contained a single password-protected file named “UNLOCK_ME.” Luckily, each of the three puzzle pieces had three letters etched onto their sides, spelling out “LOR / AGH / SSU.” Unscrambling the letters spelled out “Hourglass,” which unlocked a video driving to the Byzantium Security application page at ByzantiumTests.com.
In anticipation of A&E’s upcoming adaptation of King’s novel Bag of Bones airing December 11th and 12th, Campfire created Dark Score Stories, a deceptively simplistic photo essay that provides a glimpse at life in the unincorporated township of TR-90. High fidelity black-and-white images shot by award-winning photojournalist Joachim Ladefoged provide artful glimpses into life at Dark Score Lake, complemented by audio interviews with the local townsfolk featured in seven separate sections of the site. Scratch the surface, however, and an entirely new experience inundated with King-themed puzzles and easter eggs emerges.
The first indication that something might be amiss with an otherwise straightforward photo essay comes from the headline images featured at the beginning of each of the seven sections. In her lighthouse studio, Jo Noonan’s smile is briefly wiped clean. Gerald Lean’s face is twisted by a grimacing smile at his shop of curios. And Lance Devore’s hands shift from a protective embrace of his daughter Kyra to a much more threatening grip. These changes are all the more startling for their subtlety, adding a new dimension to the audio commentaries.
Puzzles are integrated into the experience through messages hidden within each photo essay. Bold letters in the website’s introductory message instruct readers to “go down left side” for clues to seven increasingly difficult challenges. Solving each clue leads to a new exclusive preview of A&E’s upcoming miniseries as well as seven GetGlue stickers. The real challenge, however, lies in the photographs themselves.
On Sunday, April 24th, HBO’s newest show, Game of Thrones, brought viewers into the world of Westeros, a land flush with political machinations and magic. Based on George R.R. Martin’s highly acclaimed Song of Ice and Fire book series, the franchise came pre-packaged with a committed fan base that has been somewhat patiently waiting for the next installment for six years. With Game of Thrones, HBO hopes to replicate the success of True Blood, their previous foray in fantasy adaptations. To help that along, the studio turned to Campfire, the advertising agency behind True Blood‘s Blood Copy alternate reality game.
With True Blood, Campfire introduced the town of Bon Temps to audiences through a narrative that guided them through the introduction of vampires to human society. However, a similar tactic was out of the question for Game of Thrones, due to Martin’s openly protective stance towards the characters and worlds he creates. Since one of the goals of the campaign was to reassure fan communities that Game of Thrones was staying true to its source material, Campfire chose to focus on the world of Westeros itself through The Maester’s Path. As Campfire’s Executive Creative Director Mike Monello explains,
The work we did with True Blood was really an exercise with building a fan culture for the show, [and] what HBO has seen is how that really helped sustain the show. For Game of Thrones, a lot of this work was designed to facilitate the fan culture that was growing around the show and have HBO be a part of that, to have the fans know that HBO respected that . . . there’s more to fan culture than just “put the show on the air.”
The result of this thinking was a five-week long sensory exploration of the world that brought the rich lore of Martin’s stories to the forefront in “Stark” relief.
May 5, 2010 / Michael Andersen / Comments Off on 2010 Webby Winners Announced: Letters to the Future, District 9, and True Blood Take Home Honors
Yesterday, the winners of the 14th Annual Webby Awards were announced, recognizing excellence in “interactive design, creativity, usability and functionality on the Internet.” This year, a trio of alternate reality gaming projects came home with accolades. So congratulations to the teams behind Love Letters to the Future (Xenophile Media), District 9 (Trigger LLC), and True Blood (HBO).
Love Letters to the Future swept the Green category, taking home both the Webby Award and People’s Voice Award for the category. The campaign sought to collect messages from the worldwide community to future generations: the top 100 messages were buried in a time capsule at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen on December 13, 2009. Providing an interactive undercurrent to the already interactive campaign, Xenophile Media hid a series of clues and messages from the future on the website, culminating a series of augmented reality images hidden at locations across the globe. To read more about the alternate reality game designed for Greenpeace International, you can follow along with the game’s progress at the Love Letters to the Future blog.