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Archive for February, 2009

25
Feb'09

Now it’s personal…

   Posted by: thebruce

A.R.E. Rabbit HoleYou stumble on a blog, one created by a high school student a few days ago who received a mysterious package in the mail and videoblogged it on Youtube. The package contains a small memory card with some pictures and mp3s, and a crumpled paper on which is written a scratchy message to this person by name, saying that something’s coming – something big.  ‘Cool! A new ARG rebbithole!’ you think.  You pass the link around to some friends and let your immediate ARG community know about it… some even secretly wonder what it would be like to get a hold of this note to add to their ARG swag collection at some point.

Yes, this is an ARG, and the blog creator is a puppetmaster; the student is an actor.

Now what if this person were real?  What if the creator of the blog were a real person who received this real package, which was sent to them, and no one else, which even mentioned them specifically by name?  What if this were you?  Is that still cool?  Many would reflexively say yes!

Over the years I’ve been in the ARG scene, I’ve seen a few mysteries like this crop up occasionally.  Anywhere from personalized contact containing mini puzzles like secret santa riddles, to friends pranking friends or creating special birthday experiences. It’s rare that a lot of time and effort are actually put into producing a complex, deep experience, drawing them ever deeper down the rabbit hole, with no other target audience than a single individual. Actually, the only other example I can personally recall to that extent is fictional – depicted in the movie The Game, with Michael Douglas.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Categories: ARGs General, Grassroots, Puppetmasters, Rabbit Hole

23
Feb'09

Home Is Where the Mystery Is (updated! 3-23-09)

   Posted by: thebruce

Update! – (March 23, 2009)

“Xi has begun!” says the official US Playstation blog. Clearly stating:

The world’s first console-based Alternate Reality Game starts today in PlayStation Home.

Called Xi , the adventure takes place in a series of secret areas in Home – and beyond – changing day by day, week by week, in real time. Anyone with a PLAYSTATION 3 can join in the fun for free – in English, French, Italian, German or Spanish.

To discover the mystery of Xi, simply log on to PlayStation Home and look for the graffiti on the wall in the main square. Find that, and all will be revealed…

So, if you’ve got a PS3, go check it out!  See what the hype is about, and whether this really is an “Alternate Reality Game”.


Xi Greek Letter, mysterious symbol found in PS HomeSony is beginning to make good use of their communal Playstation Home virtual space for the PS3 community. While still in an open Beta phase, it’s being adopted by many, many players.  But all is not static and ordinary in this organic, virtual utopia.

North America and Europe have both been receiving odd messages, and finding short, strange video clips eerily displaying a symbol or logo of the greek letter Xi, and what looks like robot head.  At first glance, they may look like bugs in the system, little holes in the code from developers that haven’t been fixed yet.  But… that seems too easy an explanation. Especially since it’s happening world-wide, they’re not getting fixed in a timely manner, and well, the videos are blatantly placed for optimal viral effect. :)

In Home, the player has a PDA that is viewable at any time. That’s the interface to community updates, news, locations, general commands, etc - a typical ‘start’ menu.  In the Community section, however, the News tab has been showing strange text messages; but these don’t seem to be aimed at players, but rather mistakenly placed messages between… well who knows?  The Updates tab has also been showing some odd Java-based code content.  These updates have only shown for short periods of time, but they’ve coincided with discoveries of hidden video clips found in various locations of Home spaces.  It appears these updates have occurred on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Discussion of this mystery is spreading, but the primary sources of player sleuthing are at the Playstation forums for Europe and the US, and at Pandemic Studios.  One user has also set up a Google site to help track the updates.  It’s not easy when the pieces of the puzzle vary from place to place and don’t match up between the US and Europe regions.  So the mystery must be in the content, not the context.  What can you make of these snippets?  I’ve done my best to try to organize what’s known, but dates and locations are hard to nail down.

“AlphaSpace/AlphaZone”

News:
ACCESSING RECORDS…1 ENTRY RECEIVED…FILE
PARTIALLY CORRUPTED…Date…unknown.It has
been days since we had an accurate report from the
computer.The CPU is…failing. Fast. Communications
are…too erratic. External is down. Internal is patchy at
best. Core life-support functionality…that’s restricted
but still working. For now.
Update:
–Open Alpha Test Space–
if s==”AlphaZone3″ then
OpenDoors(AlphaSpace[8])
end
(Video-EU-robohead) at the end of the Redbull video
(Video-EU-zone1) ‘AlphaZone 1′ (EU)

“Barrier”

News:
Visual recognition confirmed.
Security barrier now open.
Update:
– r =
Validate(cSecurityAvatar[g->MAINTENANCE_DATABASE]);
if (r) then bBarrierOpen=true;
Trigger(AudioSecurityOpen);
else
–Transmit(AlertSecutity) //jess :)
Trigger(AudioSecurityFailed);
end
(Video-EU-hallway) at the end of the Redbull video

“Water Pressure Valve”

News:
Three weeks ago there was a significant drop in water
pressure – too large to be explained by any leak.
Yesterday, another drop in pressure was noticed.
Update:
–Home maintenance Aqua – 3/cs:1
svalve=GetWarningSource();
if sValue==’FEC819′ then
–Home Square
CallEngineer(t1);
elseif sValue==’A76bC1′ then
–Central Plaza
CallEngineer(t2);
else
–Apartments
NotifyMaintenanceControl();
end
Return 0;
(Video-EU-stairway) at the end of the Redbull video
(Video-US-hallway) at the end of the Bowling alley “I Love Ninjas” video

“Xi_S93″

News:
jess are you there? ————- Xi is almost ready.
Update:
function Xi_S93() {
MemCpy(&Stapler,&35623,sz);
for ctr=1,MAX_EXP do
SecureWrite(exp[ctr]}
end
Wipe(&Stapler); }
(Video-US-robohead) after the movie theatre previews

“Maintenance Elevators” UPDATE!

News:
HELPFUL REMINDER
Maintenance elevators serve as vital conduits for
Maintenance personnel only, not as a short cut for
alpha testers. Please respect Maintenance rules.
Update:
–Maintenance Power Usage – period to 20th February
2009.
 
% change on previous period
————————————————–
Security +2.1
Repair  -3.8
Manufacturing  +0.6
Staff areas  -7.2
Elevators   +28.4
(Video-EU-underground) after the Redbull video
(Video-US-underground) after the MLB video, Central plaza

An additional mystery (and it’s uncertain if this is related to the strange code, messages, and videos above) has been discovered only in the US Home, where if looking out to the upper-left-most area of the Central Plaza from the right side of the exit doors still within the bowling alley, you can make out the corner of an ad billboard that looks like the latter half of a “KILLZONE 2″ title banner. Some have also found a very low-resolution, blurry clip of what looks like a screenshot from the game.  Could this be a hint that a Killzone 2 space is coming to Home soon?

My theory is this: Sony is brilliantly using mystery within the tool itself, to hint at upcoming additions to available content (it seems to me the timing of new spaces and content is related to the updates above) – rather than just announcing updates, this viral aspect increases hype and discussion, getting people into Home who may not be already.  Well, it worked for me: after hearing about this mystery, I decided to check it out myself.   Home is still in open beta – but third party content spaces have been added already, including spaces for Far Cry 2, Redbull, and Uncharted.  I think people who are speculating at upcoming Spaces with these snippets as clues are on the right track, and the current mysteries may very well be pointing to a new space soon, such as for Killzone 2.  But it’s just a theory.  The significance of Xi, however, remains a mystery. The announcement of a new game would certainly be a strong possibility as well.

UPDATES!

This area will be kept up to date with news on this mystery…

  • (2/24/09) A ninja named Locust_Star could be heard/read shouting “sensootaka sannyuu mokuyoubi” – or, “sensou taka sannyuu mokuyoubi” which translates directly to “war hawk coming thursday”, confirming the arrival of a Warhawk game space with the v1.11 PSHome update Thursday.
  • (2/24/09) A new daily message indicates that there will be certain ninjas running around between 9-10am PST (12-1pm EST) within PSHome, carrying messages to their masters, which could be intercepted.  Version 1.11 of PSHome will also be rolled out on Thursday.
  • (2/23/09) TheSixthAxis has a new entry that’s quite suspicious… The RSS summary for this entry reads: “XI, My Friend. Open Up. I remember when all this was just grass. Sorry, glass.”  TSA has previously posted entries hinting that they have inside info.
  • (2/23/09) The recent video shown on the EU server Redbull video is now available in North America’s Central Plaza.

Whatever the mystery is, however, it’s creepy enough, vague enough, and enticing enough to have people going bananas over this “Xi” the world over.  Suffice to say, they want answers…

Xi Protest

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Categories: ARGs General, Video games, Viral General

10
Feb'09

SXSW 2009 Web Awards Finalists Announced

   Posted by: thebruce

wb_sxsw09South by Southwest Interactive has just announced the finalists for the 2009 Web Awards. The 12th Annual SXSW takes place March 13-22, with the awards ceremony on Sunday, March 15.

A number of familiar names appear in the list of finalists this year, including:

(full list of finalists below)

Read the rest of this entry »

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Categories: ARGs General, Puppetmasters

6
Feb'09

Smorgasboard of News and Updates!

   Posted by: thebruce

In an attempt to cover quite a number of running projects and games, here are a few launches, news items, and announcements to pore over.

Serious Games

Akoha – Come play it forward!
Self-labeled as a “social reality game”, Akoha is physical card-based game with ‘act-of-kindness’ missions to carry out on or with friends. You can get cards by buying decks, or by being given a card by someone who just completed a task. The visual explanation explains how players registered at akoha.com can see each card’s history of good deeds (including video blogs, testimonies, etc), who’s done what, when and where, and players can also earn karma points for carrying out these tasks. With enough karma you can begin creating other missions for people to carry out. Akoha is currently in a beta testing phase, but it’s a “big, bold and crazy kind of idea”, and it’s Canadian!

Ruby’s Bequest
Ruby’s Bequest is a new game from Institute for the Future telling the story of the (fictional) town Deepwell and its residents, and providing “a unique immersive experience in which thousands of people will help forecast the future of caring in the United States.”. Sponsored by United Cerebral Palsy and AARP, the game will play similarly to World Without Oil, where 7 years will pass between the month starting from launch, March 9th to the April 10th conclusion. Find out more information and join in at RubysBequest.org

Movies/TV

Terminator: Connor Chronicles or Salvation?
A website has recently appeared on the radar: SkynetResearch.com. Little to nothing is known about it besides what’s currently visible. More weight seems to be placed on this being related to Terminator: Salvation, slated for May 22 release, as the site is owned by Warner Bros, according to the Privacy Policy linked in its footer. What do you think?

Who’s Watching the Watchmen?
Much has been revealed since TheNewFrontiersman.net was discovered and its contents opened. The New Frontiersman, reporting on ‘hero’-related news in a very mid-20th century manner, also has a twitter account you can follow, a Youtube channel to watch, a Flickr account to view, and a newsfeed to read. Content galore! A true alternate reality – Nixon on Mt. Rushmore?
Watchmen is slated for release March 6.

Video Games

FEAR 2 Level III Testing
FEAR 2′s viral campaign recently executed a live event in New York City, with the Armacham Mobile FEAR Lab experience. Silver case recipient J.C Hutchins was on the scene to record the report the entire experience. Read about and watch his test and experience at JCHutchins.net. Visit Armacham.com (don’t be afraid!) and see what upcoming dates are listed on the calendar… FEAR 2: Project Origin is slated for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, February 10th.

Singularity’s Mir-12
Russian spies, conspiracies, sci-fi, gorgeous women, it’s all here: visit MIR-12.com to find out what happened to Natasha Norvikov, and follow the ongoing investigations. If you can read Russian, you’ll have a much easier time! Raven software is releasing their first person shooter Singularity on Xbox360, PS3, and PC soon.

Halo Mysteries Return:
Mbaraki.2552
– Reported yesterday here at Wikibruce, new mysterious content has appeared in Bungie’s weekly updates in the Halo 3: ODST sections. The latest insert: “IDENT PROC 13262.0 MBARAKI.2552″ appeared in Jan 30th’s news.
* B.Net group Compound Intelligence discussion (membership req’d)
The Way Their World Ended – a twitter account named intimation, believed to be run by a form of AI, made contact with some people earlier this year. A dream-style puzzle was solved leading to the website thewaytheirworldended.com with weekly updates. Explicit references have been made to Halo, and past ARGs Iris, and I Love Bees. Speculation is mixed as to whether this is official or a grassroots ARG.
* Unfiction discussion

More Mirror’s Edge?
Hot on the heals of EA’s release of Mirror’s Edge, a new mystery has arisen hinting at an upcoming Mirror’s Edge 2 (confirmed to eventually become a trilogy). Pirandello/Kruger teases a red door… which soon after led to Newstream Energy. The investigation is ongoing!

Grassroots / other

Are you 23?
Disney’s launched a countdown of their own, located at Disney.com/23, for March 10, 2009. What’s so special about the number 23? (Besides Jim Carrey’s movie of the same name) Speculation, as it pertains to Disney, makes note of points such as Disney’s founding in 1923, or Steve Jobs’ purchase of Pixar in 1986 (23 years ago). The leading speculation which seems to be gaining ground is that it’s related to the March launch of Disney’s “Club 23″ (or D-23?) program. A revealing post on a Disney site has since been removed, but you can read the message here.

Ice Shock – Descendant
M.G.Harris was fairly open and public about an upcoming ARG for her book “Ice Shock“, which I reported on via ARGN.com back in November. She has now revealed the name: The Descendant, in a recent blog post. You can watch a 60-second trailer for the upcoming ARG at TheMGHarris.com fan site. Harris has slated its launch for March this year.

Yellow Curtain returns!
The Yellowcurtain wiki was recently updated with the news: “ATTENTION: Countdown for Yellow Curtain Episode 3 is ON!” While Episode 3 was apparently scheduled for launch January 15th, it may have been pushed a few weeks. Visit Yellowcurtain.com, watch anashel’s channel, or join the Facebook group for updates.

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Categories: ARGs General, Books, Grassroots, Movies, Video games, Viral General

5
Feb'09

Rumours of Activity in Mombasa

   Posted by: thebruce

Halo LogoSuspicious content in two of Bungie’s recent news updates have started the rumour mill turning once again.

January 24 Update
First line in the section titled “Halo 3: ODST”:

IDENT PROC 13217.0 MBARAKI.2552

January 31 Update
Again, in the section titled “Halo 3: ODST”:

IDENT PROC 13262.0 MBARAKI.2552

What’s going down in Mbaraki, and what do 13217.0 and 13262.0 represent?

These updates are much in line with Bungie’s style. Other instances similar to this occurred surrounding ‘The Superintendent’ (a series of posts by a mysterious username on B.Net, and Weekly Update news inserts by the AI seen in the full ODST trailer) and ‘The Smuggler’ (Weekly Update news inserts before the release of the Halo 3 map Cold Storage)

With both Halo Wars and Halo 3: ODST being released in 2009 (March and 3rd Quarter respectively in North America), expect a lot of mystery and commotion to build in the ARGish/viral rumour-mill.

  • Visit the Bungie/Halo 3/viral wiki at halo.wikibruce.com
  • Join in ARG specific community discussion at args.bungie.org
  • Members of the Bungie.net group Compound Intelligence can join the discussion here.

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Categories: ARGs General, Video games

2
Feb'09

Reading material selections

   Posted by: thebruce

7 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT ARGS
Educause Learning Initiative
Abstract Exerpt:

Alternate reality games (ARGs) weave together real-world artifacts with clues and puzzles hidden virtually any place, such as websites, libraries, museums, stores, signs, recorded telephone messages, movies, television programs, or printed materials. ARGs are not computer or video games, but electronic devices are frequently used to access clues. Players can meet and talk with characters in the narrative and use resources like postal mail, e-mail, the web, or the public library to find hints, clues, and various pieces of the puzzle. ARGs open doors into the future of students’ professional lives, where they will be expected to solve complex problems by taking necessary raw materials from multiple resources, thinking critically and analytically, and putting their individual skills, interests, and abilities at the disposal of a group dedicated to a common goal.

The “7 Things You Should Know About…” series from the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) provides concise information on emerging learning technologies. Each brief focuses on a single technology and describes what it is, where it is going, and why it matters to teaching and learning. Use these briefs for a no-jargon, quick overview of a topic and share them with time-pressed colleagues.

( abstract @ Educause / PDF, 2 pages )

EVERYTHING YOU KNOW ABOUT ARGS IS WRONG
By Dan Hon, SixToStart
Exerpt:

This is a re-version of a talk I gave at the Let’s Change the Game conference held on Friday 5 December 2008. It was a very casual, irreverent talk, but one that I hoped would bring some light relief to the day as well as (possibly in a rather confrontational manner) highlight some of the current problems – as I perceive them – with this whole “alternate reality game” business.
(…)
When Adrian kicked off today, he told a nice story about one of the speakers who was excited about presenting today – this was going to be the first talk he’d done where he wouldn’t have to “explain what an ARG was”. This being a conference about ARGs, you’d be pleased to know that no one was going to have to do the whole “this is what an ARG is” thing.

Well, tough luck. I’m going to define an ARG and tell you what one is. I’m going to make this easy and break the phrase “alternate reality game” into smaller chunks so everyone can follow me.

( full presentation @ sixtostart )

WTF IS AN ARG? 2009 EDITION
By Andrea Phillips
Exerpt:

It’s about that time again, boys and girls. The seasonal “What is an ARG?” discussion has flared up on the ARG SIG mailing list. This is the variant strain: What was the first ARG? Which of course leads to a lot of semantic acrobatics as people try to work out what it is we’re describing when we say A-R-G, and then work out whether it’s the same thing anybody else is talking about.

There’s a lot of sense in these discussions, if not a lot of consensus;
(…)
But if all of these clever people can agree so broadly on so many things, why does the topic keep coming up at all? Why can’t we reach a consensus on what an ARG is, and what an ARG isn’t? Why do we return home, like swallows to Capistrano, to that question: What IS an ARG?

( full article @ deusexmachinatio )

THE SERIOUS NEED FOR PLAY
By Melinda Wenner, Scientific American
Exerpt:

Most psychologists agree that play affords benefits that last through adulthood, but they do not always agree on the extent to which a lack of play harms kids—particularly because, in the past, few children grew up without ample frolicking time. But today free play may be losing its standing as a staple of youth. According to a paper published in 2005 in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, children’s free-play time dropped by a quarter between 1981 and 1997. Concerned about getting their kids into the right colleges, parents are sacrificing playtime for more structured activities. As early as preschool, youngsters’ after-school hours are now being filled with music lessons and sports—reducing time for the type of imaginative and rambunctious cavorting that fosters creativity and cooperation.

A handful of studies support Brown’s conviction that a play-deprived childhood disrupts normal social, emotional and cognitive development in humans and animals. He and other psychologists worry that limiting free play in kids may result in a generation of anxious, unhappy and socially maladjusted adults. “The consequence of a life that is seriously play-deprived is serious stuff,” Brown says. But it is never too late to start: play also promotes the continued mental and physical well-being of adults.

( full article @ Scientific American )

POACHING LG15: ARG-STYLE…
By Burcu S. Bakioglu
Exerpt:

As a community-based show partially influenced by its audience, one which elicited many stories that emerged as grassroots initiatives that complemented the primary storyline and encouraged collaboration among its fan base, LG15 gave birth to several fan-created Alternate Reality Games(ARGs), a gaming genre that surfaced as an alternative advertising endeavor in 2001 with the appearance of Steven Spielberg’s movie AI. This gaming genre and its effects on story-telling will be discussed in greater detail in the next chapter. However, since ARG-like elements became an integral component of LG15, delivering the much-desired interactive experience to the fans, but more importantly, becoming a tool with which the main story of LG15 is poached, this section will discuss the role of the fan-created ARGs on LG15 and discuss why it should be considered as an interactive show, rather than an ARG. Because ARG creators, or puppetmasters, and players were not concerned about generating YouTube views for their spinoffs to get into the LG15 canon, they had the liberty to poach the main plot in unexpected ways and even introduce new characters into the Breeniverse. Being somewhat outside of the control of the LG15 franchise, fan-created ARGs posed a destabilizing threat that needed to be neutralized in some fashion.

( full chapter @ palefirer.com )

ARGS AT MIMA SUMMIT 2008
By Dan Grigsby

( full speech video @ unpossible.com - 1hr presentation )

LITTLE BROTHER (online novel)
By Cory Doctorow, 2007
Blurb:

Marcus, aka “w1n5t0n”, is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works – and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when, having skipped school, he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison, where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state, where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

Can one teenage hacker fight back against a government out of control? Maybe, but only if he’s really careful … and very, very smart.

( novel outline / free download sources / hardcover @ Amazon )

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Categories: ARGs General