Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Dark Knight Rising ARG is trending

Wanted poster for The Dark Knight Rises ARG

The Dark Knight Rises is due out on July 20th, and as the successor to a movie that spawned one of the longest running ARGs, I was quite expecting this movie to have a viral campaign of its own. However, three months away from the release date, and I’ve heard very little ARG-like buzz about the movie. In fact, I was wondering if there even was an ARG for the movie until I stumbled upon an article that was “trending” on Facebook. I’m pretty sure that just means that Warner Brothers or Yahoo is paying Facebook to put it on their page, not that people are actually talking about it.

As a side note, I never click on article links through Facebook anymore. It’s always asking for me to sign in through Facebook to read the article. I don’t need everyone to know that articles I’m reading. For me, that’s a step too far. So I found the Yahoo article by just Googling it.

After reading the article, I decided to do some digging on the ARG to see if I had just missed the information on its launch.It doesn’t seem as though that is the case. I searched the handy source ARGnet only to discover that the site has only mentioned the game for the movie once in its 2011 review of ARGs. Here is what the blog had to say:

In May, signs of a full-fledged campaign for The Dark Knight Rises were promising, as an audio file on the film’s homepage contained a hidden message leading to the Twitter account thefirerises and a corresponding hashtag. Followers who used the hashtag had their profile picture inserted into a mosaic photograph of Bane. This strategy was akin to an early phase in Why So Serious, where players unlocked pixels in the Joker’s iconic Glasgow smile by submitting their email addresses. However, when a number of faux CIA documents were leaked to Empire and Wired.com’s Underwire blog, the payoff was the ability to transfer GPS coordinates over to the early access to the Operation Early Bird website for tickets to a six-minute preview of the film. Again, this move took a page from the Why So Serious playbook, as players during the Step Right Up phase of the campaign won tickets to an advance screening of the first few minutes of the film. But while The Dark Knight Rises is working from the same playbook, the substance is sorely lacking. The most compelling content to come out of the campaign so far has been the fan-produced Mumble Bane Twitter account, poking fun at the villain’s practically unintelligible dialogue.

This is kind of disappointing news for ARG fans and followers. Why So Serious? was a widely successful game, reaching thousands of people all over the world and creating all kinds of excitement for The Dark Knight‘s release. I was really expecting this next installment to continue the ARG path for movie promotion. The fact that it didn’t is slightly discouraging. It doesn’t make any sense that Warner Brothers didn’t think that the ARG wasn’t successful, because it reached so many people and created so much excitement. The game clearly did its job. However, I have never seen any financial information on the game. Even if it was successful, maybe the cost of such a monumental game was too much for the studio.

However, it does seem as though there some sort of an ARG, just not nearly on the same scale as Why So Serious? The poster that the Yahoo article mentioned is pictured above. At the bottom, it looks to have a hashtag for getting involved in the game. While this game might not be as huge as its predecessor, getting involved might get you some unreleased goodies from the studio before the movie is released.

Update on Lovely Molly ARG

A few posts ago, I talked about the ARG for the Haxan film Lovely Molly. However, it seems as though the current game was originally supposed to be much bigger and more indepth than its current version. According to ARGNet, “due to the film’s limited budget, plans for a full-fledged game fell through. The decision to abandon the film’s more immersive plans was a difficult one, so Lovely Molly‘s director Ed Sanchez edited together a video detailing the alternate reality game that could have been.”

This is very interesting in several ways. One, ARGs cost money. A lot of money. The fact that this film had to cancel its ARG due to budget can tell you that. It’s really unfortunate that all of these ideas were had for this game, and now they won’t come to fruition.

Secondly, and I think most important, this video that Sanchez edited together gives us a really rare insight into ARG production. I can tell you from an entire year of game design research that any kind of explanation or behind-the-scenes look at an ARG is extremely rare. In some cases this is good because the game is supposed to be all behind the scenes and not supposed to reveal itself to the players. On the other hand, this is really detrimental to those studying ARGs (*ahem*) because we have no follow up information on the games, just introduction information. Only major games are really ever really reported on, and even those have limited information.

The games that I can think of that had any kind of followup information was I Love Bees, which Jane McGonigal wrote about several times after its launch, The Beast, which Jane McGonigal wrote the article “This is Not a Game” (really awesome article, by the way), and a few YouTube videos were made about Why So Serious? and Perplex City.

So watch this video that Sanchez put together for a really rare glimpse of inside an ARG.

Why So Serious?

Here is one of my favorite videos about an ARG. It’s a recap of the ARG created for the release of the 2008 film The Dark Knight. It’s really one of the most remarkable advertising campaigns within the last several years, and even watching this video again for the umpteenth time gives me chills. To work on something that epic at that scale would be incredible. Here’s hoping!

Enjoy the clip!

Augmented Reality v. Alternate Reality

So when I was researching graduate schools I wanted to apply to next fall (I’ve now decided to attend Georgia Tech, woohoo!), I came across this idea of Augmented Reality. This sounded a lot like alternate reality, which is clearly my focus, so I did a little bit of research on it and discovered some really cool stuff. Augmented reality is kind of self-explanatory when you think about it, but it’s basically using technology to  augment reality. You reach some sort of physical checkpoint and using technology, whether it’s a smart phone or some kind of totally crazy glasses, you see more information through this technology– maybe it tells you information about the site.

Anyways, when I read about this, my mind totally clicked into “How can this be used for games?” So of course I’m thinking about using this for clues and having people running around with this technology looking for clue checkpoints that will send them on to the next clue.

Ultimately what I think this could really be used for is to make learning really fun. Make learning into a game that uses this technology with clues and checkpoints for students to run around, learn about certain buildings or historical facts, and then race off to another. I see it as being a totally educational and technological version of National Treasure. Yes, that really super cheesy movie with Nicholas Cage. Whatever, I totally adore that movie. It’s so entertaining. Imagine what we could do by mixing augmented reality technology with alternate reality game design with educational frameworks. I think it would just be such a cool idea for kids to learn this way, like a scavenger hunt for knowledge that also uses technology.

I think in researching ARGs and new technology, we should not only be thinking in ways that it can create better entertainment but also how it can create a better society. Super cheesy and idealistic, I know, but if you had the chance to learn American history through a scavenger hunt, wouldn’t you?

Lovely Molly Launches ARG-like Campaign

Alright, so it’s not exactly an ARG, but it does sound like it has ARG-like elements. Lovely Molly is a film by Haxan Films, which released the cult hit The Blair Witch Project thirteen years ago. Like their previous hit, Lovely Molly has the premise of being “found footage.”

ARGNet writer Michael Andersen received a package by the marketing people of Lovely Molly, presumably supposed to be a launch point of viral marketing campaign put together to promote the movie. As we’ve seen in games like I Love Bees and The Lost Ring, sending prominent bloggers starting packages with game clues is a great way to launch the game. You get Big Name Fans (a term from fandoms, technically, but I feel as though this works here too) to talk about your game and product, passing along the information to followers. It’s a great way to disseminate information, and has clearly worked for previous games.

You can read about the full contents of the package Andersen received here, but some of the items included photographs and a large carved disc. The back of the disc reads “Lovely Molly invites you to descend into depravity. Rewards like this await the first five. Simple symbols await a score.”

No idea what that means, but I’m intrigued. It seems as though the key words of the game are going to be “descent” and “depravity,” which helps to set the tone of the spooky film. The message leads to LovelyMolly.com/Descent.htm. So are you ready to descend into depravity?

Define Alternate Reality

In my free time over Spring Break, I attempted to continue making headway in Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken. For a game design student, I feel as though I ought to be taking notes the entire time as I read. But that thought aside, I was reading her chapter called “The Benefits of Alternate Realities,” which I was really eager to read since I was obviously interested to hear more of what she had to say on the topic of my thesis, and I came across something that I found rather thought-provoking. Here, I’ll write it in here. (This seems to be a trend, me copying in McGonigal’s words…)

Chore Wars is an alternate reality game (ARG), a game you play in your real life (and not a virtual environment) in order to enjoy it more. Chore Wars is essentially a simplified version of World of Warcraft, with one notable exception: all of the online quests correspond with real-world cleaning tasks, and instead of playing with strangers or faraway friends online, you play the game with your roommates, family, or officemates. Kevan Davis, a british experimental game developer who created Chore Wars in 2007, describes it as a “chore management system.” It’s meant to help you track how much housework people are doing– and to inspire everyone to do more housework, more cheerfully, than they would otherwise. — Jane McGonigal, Reality is Broken, pg 120

As I read this I thought, “What? Chore Wars can’t be an alternate reality game. It’s not… big enough.” But then I went back and I read what she wrote again– “a game you play in your real life, not a virtual environment.” What? Can this be? An ARG that is so simple? What is this sorcery?

I read a little bit further and realized that maybe this was a form of an ARG. After all, this game is creating an alternate reality in which the chores that you do earns you points in a game land online. That’s not a true reality– it’s a reality that the game creates for you.

This has kind of redefined ARG in my mind. I used to think that an ARG was simply a huge massive game like Why So Serious or I Love Bees that had to have an elaborate and indepth narrative but no, an ARG can be something as simple as something that creates a new framework of doing something in your life. Keeping that in mind, at least for me, helps me to see game design in a whole new way. Instead of forcing myself to think a huge scale, I can look at a design problem and just think, “Okay, how can I create an alternate way of doing this that makes it fun.”

It was kind of a liberating realization, albeit a small one. I’d love to hear any thoughts about this!

This is Not a Game… or Is It?

Though it was not my very first introduction to ARGs, I distinctly remember first hearing the phrase “This is Not a Game.” For those of you well-versed in ARG history, you will know that this phrase comes from the famous and venerated The Beast back in 2001. I actually still have the article that I read for class where I heard about this phrase. I’ll copy in the text:

“All of these immersive strategies reached a climaz in May 2001, when the cryptic disavowal “This is Not a Game” flashed briefly in red letters across the screens of millions of prime time television viewers, carefully embedded in a national commercial for the film A.I. This message has since become the mantra for both players and developers of immersive entertainment. To “TING” a game now means to explicitly deny and purposefully obscure its nature as a game, a task that has become increasingly difficult as immersive players grow more savvy about TING techniques. One of the most interesting post-Beast developments in the immersive genre has been the unusual TING methods devised by games that, unlike the Beast, do first announce and publicize themselves as games (usually to attract a paying player base) and then, only later, try to destroy the game-reality boundaries.” — Jane McGonigal, “This is Not a Game: Immersive Aesthetics and Collective Play” (2003)

I love the idea of immersive game play. The first time I read about The Beast I was in total awe. How on earth could an entire network of clues be sustained and hidden at the same time? The idea of how much work it would take to maintain that just boggled me. And now having created and launched my own game, it boggles me even more.

However, as much as I love the idea of immersive game play and the idea of TING, my entire thesis is basically working against this model. My game framework clearly and boastfully claims itself as a game in order to reach out to as many people as possible. As a promotional technique, it has to reach out to as many people as possible or else it’s not doing its job. This is quite clearly then not TING-esque. In fact, it’s the opposite of TING. And that kind of makes me sad. I am in awe of  The Beast and it would be an absolute dream to work on something as ambitious as that in the future. I think working on something like The Beast would be a career high for me.

But on the other hand, in the way that the ARG genre is shifting, I don’t think that all games can take this approach. TING approach can only be taken by a select few special games. If every game takes it on, it no longer becomes special or exciting. Even more than that, it just seems like the immersive game design industry is turning to what McGonigal refers to in her quote– the backtrack method. Create a game world, and then somehow try to destroy those boundaries that separate the game from reality.

The way that I think that I would deal with this in my own work is to compromise. Create a game that clearly announces itself as a game in order to attract a mainstream audience that will play the game. But then inside the game, in the inner layers, hide rabbit holes to a deeper level of the game that will absolutely thrill the hardcore players. The casual players won’t have to know a thing about it, but the hardcore players will adore having this inner secret of the game. This is something that I attempted to introduce into my own game, but with only one Game Master, this proved exceedingly difficult.

ARGNet wrote an article about “A Fond Farewell to ‘This is Not a Game.'” I’m so torn– while I think that the ARG framework is moving in this new direction, I refuse to believe that ARGs will give this signature up. I want to root for games who do this. Will they be able to compete with the larger, self-declaring ARGs? In player-base size, no probably not. But in richness and satisfaction? Absolutely. If I ever get to the point in my career where I can create a game that employs the TING technique, I will absolutely take that chance. Because I believe in This is Not a Game.

“Real Escape Game”: Totally My Cup of Tea

Okay so this. This is awesome. This reminds me a bit of the game that I just designed except on a much larger and harder scale. You can see the gist of the game in the video, but essentially players gather in a large enclosed area, such as a large building or sports stadium, and have to solve puzzles and riddles in order to move on through the different locations in the building, eventually leading to outside of the building, therefore escaping.

This is super awesome, and something like this is totally the kind of project that I would love to be involved with. It’s clever, it’s got enthusiastic people in it.

A full article about the game is here on ARGnet. Check it out! The American debut of this game is coming soon!

Puppet Masters: The Importance of a Team

Over the past four weeks, I have been in a chaotic state of panic and creativity as I launched my own version of an alternate reality game. I should note that the game that I created and launched was not a true ARG in many ways, but it did create an alternate reality for my University over the span of a week. I will be writing more posts on it later, I’m sure, but I wanted to simply post about the most important thing that I learned over the course of creating and implementing the game: the importance of a team when creating a game.

I feel like maybe this is obvious to some people– if you’re creating a large scale game, it’s going to be pretty much impossible to do all of the planning, implementing, logic-ing. That is clear. However, I think that no matter what the scale of a game is, even a game made only for a small university of only 2400 people and that had under 200 players, a game team is absolutely vital. There is just too much to do, too much to account for that a single person, no matter how brilliant and prepared they are can take care of.

I had help during my game, for sure. I was constantly bouncing ideas off my advisors and another thesis student. However, bouncing ideas off of people is different than having people intricately involved in the game design. If nothing else, having a team helps you with checks and balances. Just having someone there to say, “Hey are you sure that’s a good idea?” or “Maybe if we phrase it this differently, it won’t confuse as many people.”

My game only ran for a week and had under 200 players, and yet any alternate reality game that is launched requires so much attention to detail and so much involvement that no matter the scale, there needs to be a team of at least two or three people working on it. Several semesters ago, I worked on a project at an even smaller scale that the game that I just launched. It was so small that people didn’t even know it was a game and we had no one follow through to the end. We had a blast making it, but even still, it would have been impossible to pull off what we did if it was just one of us.

The technology that I used could have benefitted so much from a team. One of the most important aspects of a team is, of course, the ability to specialize with individuals who have certain specialities. One of my friends was already helping me with graphic design, but I easily could have used a video person for filming and editing, another person for developing an easy-to-use way to keep track of points (because that was an entire job in and of itself), and another for figuring out multiple platform distribution. I used the internet, email, and text messages and of course physical means to deliver my clues, but it would have been a lot cooler to find other technological methods to distribute clues. I feel like that can only be done with a team.