It wasn’t too long ago that discussion at the ARG Netcast included a look at The Way Their World Ended, a game that launched through a Twitter account on Christmas day of 2008. At the beginning, a few of the players that followed Intimation on Twitter were discouraged by the flood of cryptic updates to the account, but once the messages were decoded, the game began dropping references to the Halo universe.
In the past week, there have been more discoveries which lead at least one player to believe that this game’s narrative takes place, “after the events of ILB, since this AI knows about ‘the legendary Melissa.'” ILB, for those who may not know, is short for I Love Bees, the massively popular alternate reality game from 2004 which was a promotion for Halo 2. There have also been references to material discovered through the Iris ARG, which Bungie/Microsoft put together for the release of Halo 3.
So, is it an official tie-in to some sort of Halo product, or a fan creation? We’ve sent off an email to Bungie to see what they have to say, and we’ll update once we get a response. In the meantime, if you’ve been waiting for something to fill the void until Halo Wars hits store shelves, this may be just the thing.
Editor’s note: Brandie was ARGNet’s press presence at this year’s Austin Game Developers Conference. This is the first in a series on her experiences at the conference.
At the Austin GDC‘s only session devoted exclusively to Alternate Reality Games, Elan Lee of Fourth Wall Studios shared his thoughts on trust between ARG designers and players along with anecdotes from some of the most well-known cross-media experiences like AI and I Love Bees. In an interactive, real-time game-story experience, the level of trust between the designers (Puppet Masters, if you will) and the players can have a profound effect on the outcome of the game and the memories the players carry away at the end. “ARGs: Fake Websites, Invented Stories, Automated Phone Calls, and Other Methods to Earn the Trust of a Community” examined the building of trust as an integral part of the game-story experience.
Elan Lee opened the session with a look back at “The Beast” the promotional experience designed for the movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Steven Spielberg came to Microsoft and said he wanted to do something promotional that would familiarize his audience with the A.I. world before the movie opened. What evolved from this was a series of websites, puzzles, and events that attracted thousands of dedicated players – who, incidentally, solved several weeks worth of content in a matter of hours. The designers had to scramble to keep adding content, altering the storyline as needed, and even responding to their audience by taking an initially unimportant but player-beloved character (The Red King) and promoting him to the character A-List.
After “The Beast” ended, Elan was surprised to receive three wedding invitations from players who had been deeply affected by their experience with the game. He realized, he said, that something magical was happening, when an audience felt close enough to a total stranger to invite him to participate in their real-life celebrations. “The Beast” and its designers had evoked a trust that transcended the anonymity of the internet and crossed over into the real world. What builds this intense sense of trust? According to Elan, one of the keys to trust is… a magnet.
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?”).
The second panel discussion at ARGFest focused on Running An ARG, and it had a diverse selection of panelists. Sam LaVigne and Ian Kizu-Blair of SF0, voice actress Kristen Rutherford of I Love Bees fame, and Unfiction administrator Jackie Kerr delivered a multi-perspective approach to the subject which in turn provided a thorough look at player relations. It was moderated by Unfiction moderator Krystyn Wells.
Kerr began the panel by enumerating three design difficulties that can create problems with community relations: badly-defined game boundaries that confuse the players to the point of frustration, games that break down the community’s collective intelligence rather than supporting it, and design decisions that provoke so much meta discussion that it becomes difficult to interact with the game itself in a natural manner.
Rumors have been running rampant on various gaming forums of late concerning the emergence of ilovebees2.com, which popped up on our radar sometime last month. While speculation about what the site might be connected to is a hot topic at the UnFiction forums, we have information from a source that the campaign is not connected or related to 4orty 2wo Entertainment, the company behind the original I Love Bees game. As well, Bungie has offically denied any involvement with the web site (3rd paragraph of link). Current speculation points to a fan-based game related to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which ships on March 20th, as much of the content is related to the Elder Scrolls universe.
Maureen was contacted in 2004 to write for I Love Bees. She has a background in teaching English and writing science fiction. She made some interesting points about the emergence of varying types of entertainment being dependent upon what technology is available. As the printing press made novels possible, so has the internet made Alternate Reality Gaming possible. Additionally, she spoke about the emergence of the novel in comparison with the different ARGs we’ve seen so far. In the beginning were fake memoirs – Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders – which were originally published as actual diaries rather than a made-up story. From there, novels moved to an epistolary form (such as Clarissa) where the reader eavesdropped on conversations between strangers. She compared this with The Beast, where the players dropped in on writings which were originally intended for other in-game characters. Next in history, the novel moved into an art form with an omniscient narrator, such as Tom Jones. Could this be where ARGs are headed?