15 Fragen an Sean Stewart

Sean Stewart im InterviewEiner der kreativen Köpfe von 42 Entertainment ist Sean Stewart.

Er hat sich bereits als Autor von Science Fiction und Fantasy Büchern einen Namen gemacht und vor kurzem in Zusammenarbeit mit Jordan Weisman Cathy’s Book (E) veröffentlicht, das nicht nur für unsere weiblichen Leser interessant sein dürfte. Genauso ist zum Beispiel auch der schwarze Dolch seiner Feder entsprungen.

Er wurde 1965 in Texas geboren und ist von dort aus mit einigen Zwischenstationen an anderen schönen Orten mit seiner Familie ins sonnige Californien umgezogen. Dort stand er uns nun für unsere 15 Fragen zur Verfügung.

1) About when and how did you get in touch with ARGs?

I was lucky enough to be involved with the The Beast, the experience that sort of invented the genre. Jordan Weisman had an idea for building out the world behind AI. Dreamworks studio originally asked Neal Stephenson if he would like to be involved, but Neal was busy and recommended they talk to me instead, for which I am eternally grateful.

2) Did you take part in some ARGs as a player, too? Which?

Never played an ARG per se, though back in the mid-80s I both played and ran Live Action RPGs, an experience that turned out to be very useful for running an ARG.

3) In which ARGs have you been Puppetmaster/BHTS and what was your job in those?

I have been a PM, and lead writer, on three major ARGs: The Beast, ilovebees, and Last Call Poker .

4) Which ARG do you like best and why?

I suspect I will always have the strongest memories about The Beast, for the same reason people remember their first kiss. It was completely unknown territory and we were making up the rules on the fly every day.

5) Which was the funniest/nicest happening while doing/playing an ARG?

Many too many things to list. Playing Mike Royal on the Beast, listening to the shock in people’s voices when they realized they were talking to *a real human being* was certainly a high point. Simply beholding the awesome power of the hive mind was nearly as exhilarating as realizing we were going to have to be accountable to that beast was frightening. <smile> Laia’s first meditation in The Beast, the Clockwork Rat story in ilovebees (and the real-time quest to save the Sleeping Princess); reading the stories players wrote about doing the Small Favors in Last Call Poker, visiting grave sites all over the world and grappling with mortality in the context of an online game… The player *sprinting* to his car to get a guitar and returning to perform a beautiful Pink Floyd cover on ilovebees is another.

And the ultimate reward: getting wedding invitations after each game.

6) Are there any memories to happenings that you wanted to forget about?

There were things that were *hard*, mistakes we made: having worked on three of the biggest ARGs ever, I have almost certainly made MORE mistakes than anyone else in the field. <wry> But I don’t think there is anything I would want to forget. Even the dumb things—like the programmers switching a Shakespeare quote around to read “if music be the love of food, play on!” –are mostly funy now.

7) How do you explain ARGs to your family / friends / relatives and how do they react?

“Movies! Science! Opera! Role-playing! Blah! Blah! Blah!”

“That’s nice, dear. But what do you actually *do*?”

8) Which 3 things does an ARG really need to have, to be a good ARG in your opinion?

1) Players that care

2) PMs that respect them

I’m not sure there is a third thing. I think it is way too early to be trying to make up “rules.” Puzzles/no puzzles. Story/no story. Game/not a game. One website/many websites. We have radically broken our own “rules” every time out. This is an artform in the exploration stage: we do ourselves no favors trying to say what *content* “must” be involved. But no matter how you do it, there is one underlying fact, which is that the audience for an ARG works harder and is more involved than the audience for, say, a TV show. Respect that work. Treat them as collaborators. Make it difficult, if you like, but never be cynical.

9) Do you have a favourite character from an ARG?

Laia from the Beast, I think. The most complete and complex one I have written.

10) What are you currently working on? (if you may tell us/are allowed to tell us 😉 )

Can’t tell you. Sorry.

11) Which puzzle from past ARGs do you like best/was real fun? Can you tell us why?

Coming from the psychological side of the street, I liked the Mike Royal interaction from the Beast, simply because players were confronted with a real human being and had to find out about his past, discover his emotional levers, and convince him to do something he really didn’t want to do, all in real time, with the life of one of their favorite characters on the line.

In a pure puzzle way, of course, it’s hard to beat dripping tap enigma. In ilovebees, the last crewmember task, which involved people answering a phone on one side of the country, passing information on to an online community, and shooting that back down to another group of players on the other side of the country *within 60 seconds* — that was fairly astounding. And the opening of ilovebees, The Widow’s Tale, which required realizing that fragments of computer code were actually telling a fairy tale which was in turn the story of how the whole game had come to be, was as elegant, and in a way, profound puzzle as we have ever managed to create.

12) Do you have something like a “phrase”/”objective” which you follow while organizing and running an ARG?

Let’s make it cool. The players are working incredibly hard. Let’s not let them down.

13) Do you remember a situation, in which you wanted to give up anything? What happened?

See above. When your audience is as passionate and as committed as ours have been, you can’t honorably allow yourself to give up.

14) Was there something like a favourite item from an ARG that you didn’t want to give away, but you had to, because the IG-Character had to?

Not sure I quite understand this question. We are always trying to find MORE stuff to give away.

15) How do you see the future of ARGs?

Hopefully, up close. J

Vielen Dank, Sean, daß du dir die Zeit für unser Interview genommen hast und damit unseren Lesern einen kleinen Einblick in deine Realität gewährst. (PM)

15 Fragen an Dave Szulborski

Dave Szulborski

Auch in diesem Jahr führen wir unsere Interviews bekannter Puppetmaster und Argonauten in der Kategorie 15 Fragen fort. Den Auftakt macht im frisch angebrochenen Jahr Dave Szulborski , der nicht nur im Bereich Alternate Reality Games bereits nicht mehr wegzudenken ist.

Aus seiner Feder sind bereits einige Bücher entsprungen, in denen er das Thema Alternate Reality Gaming einer breiten Öffentlichkeit auf charmante, informative und zugleich witzige Art und Weise nahe bringt. Das wohl bekannteste Buch von ihm ist “This Is Not A Game“, in dem er auch über die Anfänge der ARGs berichtet, genauso wie er über die Freuden und möglichen Leiden des Puppetmasterings erzählt.

1) About when and how did you get in touch with ARGs?

I started playing ARGs with the EA game in 2001 Majestic, shortly after The Beast had concluded. I had heard about The Beast and saw some of the in-game content while the game was live but unfortunately never got seriously involved with it. I did however get very much into Majestic for which I was beta-tester. Despite its flaws I enjoyed the game immensely and saw so much potential in the genre that I began making my own games while Majestic was still running. In fact, my very first ARG was set inside the Majestic universe to some extent, and came about as a result of one of the major flaws in the game design – the excessive periods of “downtime.” EA built the game so players were only given an hour or less of game play each day, so I decided that the thousands of players sitting there for the other 23 hours of every day made a perfect “captive audience” for my first foray into ARG making. This game was technically the first ever grassroots ARG, since it was created and run successfully in 2001 while Majestic was still going on. My second game was also created and run during Majestic, under the auspices of the BIOS program, and became part of the official canon of the game when it was featured both on the main in-game website and EA monthly newsletter.

2) Did you take part in some ARGs as a player, too? Which?

I’ve been involved as a player at various levels in quite a few different ARGs, starting with Majestic and including Push: Nevada, MetaCortechs, and Last Call Poker, along with many of the smaller grassroots games. Sadly, my work schedule over the last couple of years hasn’t left a lot of time to be seriously involved in any games but I do try and stay up-to-date with almost all the games being discussed at the UnFiction forums.

3) In which ARGs have you been Puppetmaster/BHTS and what was your job in those?

2001 – 2 games as a solo Puppetmaster:

  • ChangeAgents
  • ChangeAgents: Operation Mindset – done as part of the Majestic BIOS program and featured on the EA game website and newsletter]

2002 – 1 game as a solo Puppetmaster:

  • ChangeAgents: Out of Control

2003 – 1 game as creator / lead Puppetmaster with grassroots PM team:

  • Chasing The Wish

2004 – 1 game as creator / lead Puppetmaster with grassroots PM team:

  • Urban Hunt

2005 – 1 game as creator / lead Puppetmaster with grassroots PM team:

  • ARGTalk

1 game as Puzzle designer on commercial ARG:

2006 – 1 game as creator / lead Puppetmaster with grassroots PM team:

  • Catching The Wish

1 game as Puzzle designer on commercial ARG:

2 ARG-ish commercial online campaigns

  • Dreamworks and HP’s HedgeGames with Campfire – designed 100 themed puzzles to promote Dreamworks’ animated film Over the Hedge
  • Travelocity Gnomewatch campaign with McKinney-Silver – online interactivity consultant

4) Which ARG do you like best and why?

That’s a really difficult question to answer, because there are certain elements of all the various ARG campaigns I have been involved with that are very special to me, making it extremely hard to single out one particular game as a favorite. Overall, if I was forced to make a choice, I’d probably pick the Art of the Heist, primarily because it had the budget to try and successfully pull off things no other ARG has ever done before. The game was wonderfully written and produced and blurred the lines of reality and fiction very effectively, making it a truly powerful and immersive experience for thousands of players. Plus, some of the puzzles I made for the campaign, including the infamous Evil Cube, were very unique and well-done, if I don’t sound too immodest saying so myself.

5) Which was the funniest/nicest happening while doing/playing an ARG?

The nicest thing that has ever happened is probably the flood of overwhelming “Thank You” messages I received at the end of Chasing The Wish. So many people wrote to me and told me how much they enjoyed and learned from the game, some of them even claiming that it literally changed their lives. This tremendous response made all the hard work worthwhile while also reaffirming in my mind how special this genre and the community that has grown up around it truly are.

The funniest thing will be explained in the following answer.

6) Are there any memories to happenings that you wanted to forget about?

The funniest thing that ever happened to me in one of my ARGs is also something that I’d love to forget about but probably never will. It has to do with an actual book of poetry we created and published for the Urban Hunt ARG called Dead Poems. The book consisted of dozens of pages of original poems and artwork, many of which had secret messages hidden or encrypted within. Because so many poems and puzzles were needed for the book, I asked the other PM team members to come up with puzzle ideas that we could use, with plans of inserting the actual specific story information in the form of clues and solutions later. One of the PMs came up with a great format for a puzzle with the words “Insert puzzle here” used as the solution for the sample she provided me. The entire team loved the puzzle concept and I filed it away for modification later when we actually got around to making the Dead Poems book.

Can you guess what happened next?

I forgot to change the sample puzzle in the rush to get the book done and left the temporary solution in for players to find. Needless to say they did, so amongst a batch of clever and heavily story-related puzzle poems, they found a certain entry that, when solved, yielded the “Insert puzzle here” answer. Despite how painfully stupid and embarrassing it was, I couldn’t help but laugh about it for days and still do when I tell the story.

7) How do you explain ARGs to your family / friends / relatives and how do they react?

I’ve been doing this for over six years now so almost everyone in my family or immediate circle of friends already knows about ARGs and what I do. For people who don’t, however, I most often use the analogy of an interactive novel, that uses the Internet and its various technologies and communication methods – email, IMs, video, audio, etc. – to present itself as real and allow you to participate in and often even influence it. I find most people have the easiest time understanding the concept if you begin with the idea that it is basically just a story, told in some new and wonderful ways via the power of computers and the Internet.

8) Which 3 things does an ARG really need to have, to be a good ARG in your opinion?

First and foremost is obviously a good story. Since ARGs are essentially storytelling, they can’t be good without a unique and engaging story to start from. But for ARGs it’s important to realize that story means more than just plot and the events of the tale you are telling. It also means the mechanics of how the plot and happenings are delivered to the audience. In all other forms of media and storytelling, there is one primary form of delivering the narrative. ARGs are truly multimedia experiences however, combining elements from many of the various traditional storytelling formats – video, text, fictional artifacts, real time conversations and interactions, and so on. So for all intents and purposes, a good story in an ARG means both a well-written and cleverly delivered narrative.

Second, ARGs to be truly engaging and immersive need to allow the audience to interact with the fictional world of the game in meaningful ways. This doesn’t mean just sending email and receiving canned auto-replies. On the simplest level, a good ARG would have personalized email responses, hopefully serving an integral role in the game. But interaction needs to go far beyond that and exist on several levels in a well done ARG campaign. One very important form of interaction overlooked in many games is what’s often called the “archeology” of the narrative, meaning the players need to find pieces of the segmented and disassociated narrative and reassemble it into a meaningful tale. This can be done in many ways; from having the audience discover new websites and characters through their efforts to giving them actual story fragments as the reward for solving puzzles and similar in-game actions. The one critical factor to all the forms of interaction you can build into your ARG is to make sure that the individual player interactions actually affect their experience of the campaign, and that the collective interactions of the audience impact the unfolding of the narrative in some meaningful and rewarding way.

Finally, the third element a good ARG needs to have is consistency, again having multiple meanings and implications when it comes to this genre. Most obviously it means that the fictional world of the game needs to be internally consistent; whether it is set in the future, the present, or the past, the game space and play the ARG provides should be consistent throughout the campaign, according to the rules you’ve established for the fictional world. Consistency also implies a steady level of quality and action throughout the campaign, and sometimes even a semi-regular schedule for updates and interactions within the game. Each of these things can go a long way in helping make an ARG a “good” game.

9) Do you have a favourite character from an ARG?

Hmm, that’s an unfair question. If I based my answer purely on the fictional characters as they were presented in various ARGs, meaning as the writers wrote them, basically, I’d have a very different answer than the one I’m about to give. But, after sitting next to and talking with her for about an hour while we waited for the Park Avenue Art of the Heist live event to begin, there’s just no way I can say anything but Nisha, Nisha, Nisha.

10) What are you currently working on? (if you may tell us/are allowed to tell us 😉 )

I would absolutely love to tell you but as your question anticipated, I really can’t. At least as far as commercial ARGs and similar projects go. There are a few other things I’m involved in or working on I can mention though, including writing a couple of pieces about specific ARG campaigns for an upcoming book called Space. Time. Play. Games, Architecture, and Urban Planning. I’m also speaking at Florida University’s Games and Digital Media Conference on March 1st and 2nd, and hoping to attend the ARGFest and GDC immediately afterward.

I can also vaguely mention without spilling too many beans that I am working with major production companies on both movie and TV projects designed to bring ARG-like experiences to those media. More on that very soon, I promise.

11) Which puzzle from past ARGs do you like best/was real fun? Can you tell us why?

Well, I’ve already mentioned the Evil Cube from the Art of the Heist. That was a truly fun and challenging puzzle. It was a word search puzzle basically, with a 20 x 20 letter grid. Oh yeah, it was also three dimensional, extending 20 layers along the z axis too, along with the traditional x and y axes found in common word search puzzles. The puzzle had words hidden on every single level and in every way possible, on single planes and going back depth wise into the puzzle as well. Finally, every single letter on the 20 levels of grids was meaningful and was part of an encryption in some way. I found a way to take what is normally considered “filler text” in these puzzles and made all of it part of smaller puzzles and clues.

For pure fun though, I’d have to pick the original Turing Principle chatbots from Chasing The Wish. Turing Principle was an actual programmed AIM chatbots that interacted in real time conversation with the players. Its programming was literally crammed full of small puzzle trails though, so saying certain keywords would open whole new areas of conversation and knowledge for the players. Occasionally, I would jump online and supplement the chatbot’s programmed answers, which it very hard to tell if it was a real person or a bot at times.

12) Do you have something like a “phrase”/”objective” which you follow while organizing and running an ARG?

I don’t have any strict formula or even procedure for creating and running an ARG. Each one is such an individual project that they really require customized plans and methods for much of the games. There are some simple and basic rules, such as having an adequately sized and skilled team, etc., but you can read those in many other places so I won’t repeat them here.

13) Do you remember a situation, in which you wanted to give up anything? What happened?

No, I’ve never really wanted to give up although there have been many, many times that running an ARG became so overwhelming it was certainly tempting. Most often I’ve found these situations result from my own mistakes or poor planning, as I find myself unable to keep up with creating and running the campaign at the same time. Perhaps most discouraging though is to actually struggle through a period like that, where you are literally not sleeping for days on end and giving everything you have to the game, only to have a player post a totally scathing and negative comment about the game or some specific event in it to one of the community forums. You definitely have to be thick-skinned to be able to handle the criticism bound to come with any ARG campaign (I can’t think of one that wasn’t soundly criticized for something by the players at one point or another) but sometimes it’s very, very hard to get past.

14) Was there something like a favourite item from an ARG that you didn’t want to give away, but you had to, because the IG-Character had to?

Another difficult question because there have been so many special items included in my games. At the top of the list would have to be the various hand made calligraphy pages from Chasing The Wish and the various masks from the sequel, Catching The Wish.

15) How do you see the future of ARGs?

I certainly no prophet and am usually too busy with current projects to look too far ahead into the future for the genre. I would say that ARGs as a whole are really still finding and filling a level of defining themselves, so any ARG that tries and successfully incorporates new technologies, narrative forms and techniques, audience immersion and involvement methods, and so on, could legitimately be seen as the “next step” or future of ARGs. But I see it not so much a step upward as a step outward, as ARGs are just beginning to fill the huge potential that the genre affords.

Are there ways to make ARGs even more realistic and immersive? Certainly. You’ll see many of them in upcoming projects, so I can’t necessarily provide details and examples at this point. In general though, many of them have to do with using a broader canvas to tell the story, using the incredibly diverse multimedia platform that the age of pervasive broadband Internet affords us as creators.

I also think we’ll see a push to make more ARGs as stand alone entertainment vehicles and not necessarily tied to marketing campaigns. Important people are finally starting to realize the power of this new genre of storytelling and treat it as the potentially revolutionary art form it truly is.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our 15 questions, Dave (PM) 🙂
Vielen Dank, Dave, daß du dir die Zeit für die Beantwortung unserer 15 Fragen genommen hast.

15 Fragen an Brooke Thompson

BrookeWer sich ein wenig in der Welt der Alternate Reality Games umschaut wird ihren Namen bereits gelesen oder zumindest gehört haben.

Bekannter ist sie jedoch unter dem Namen imbri, unter dem sie auch in den Unforums zu finden ist. Ohne vorab zu viel von ihren Antworten vorweg zu nehmen, stellen wir ihr diese Woche die 15 Fragen…

 

1) About when and how did you get in touch with ARGs?

Back in the spring of 2001, I was pointed to the Cloudmakers Yahoo! Group while working on a study of online communities. It immediately fascinated me, not because of the game behind it, but because of the way in which people from all over the world were coming together to work through a complex series of problems. The ARG was intriguing, but I had deadlines to meet for my research and graduation. After those were met, I found myself with a bit of free time and headed back to Cloudmakers community to see if I could make a bit more sense of what all was going on. It must have been fate that shortly after that a message was posted suggesting that the players form a group to create their own game. I joined the group not because I wanted to participate in the creation process but because I wanted to observe it. I figured that it would offer some great research potential – how do online communities differ when they’re solving a fictional mystery and when they’re creating that mystery. Though, things never work out as planned and within a few weeks I found myself as one of the core developers. Once the game went live, I was hooked and my career path was forever changed.

2) Did you take part in some ARGs as a player, too? Which?

This is a hard question to answer. I’ve observed a number of games and participated in a few of them. However, I would say that only Last Call Poker has taken me completely away from the observer role and made me an active player. Part of it was that I had more time to get involved, but most of it was the story combined with the live events and special favors. I really became immersed in that game.

3) In which ARGs have you been Puppetmaster/BHTS and what was your job in those?

I’ve worked on a number of games, though most were for private clients as corporate training exercises. Publicly, I’ve worked on Lockjaw and Metacortechs as a designer & writer and on Who Is Benjamin Stove as a writer.

4) Which ARG do you like best and why?

That’s like asking someone who their favorite child is. They each have their own personality, strengths, and weaknesses. Though, Last Call Poker did capture my attention unlike any other. Though it didn’t achieve the player base that I thought it deserved (millions and millions!), it was a very well designed game that took into account so many different player types – those that enjoy the social aspects were given as much thought and consideration as those that enjoy the puzzle or story aspects. Additionally, it was designed in a way so that you could get satisfaction from the experience if you had ten minutes to devote to it or forty hours.

5) Which was the funniest/nicest happening while doing/playing an ARG?

So many things come to mind, every game has moments to remember. The things that I tend to remember most are things that we, as designers, had little to do with. The spontaneous parties in the player chatroom for Lockjaw, the photoshopping of characters in Metacortechs and Who Is Benjamin Stove. Seeing the players so actively engaged with something that you had a hand in creating to the point where they are creating their own content and fun is my favorite part of any game.

6) Are there any memories to happenings that you wanted to forget about?

I don’t like to forget things, even the bad ones, as there is always something to be learned from it. And, with every bad, there is some good to be gained. For example, in Metacortechs (a game in the Matrix universe that was a bit attractive to hackers) our server was compromised through a relatively simple exploit that we had overlooked. Fortunately, they didn’t really know what they were doing and we were able to patch it quickly – no harm came to the game and there was never a risk to any confidential information (such as email addresses). However, in doing so, they learned that we were the team behind it. Until that point, most of the players were still debating on whether it was an official game for the series or whether it was fan-fiction. So, while we were all quite upset at first that the mystery of who was behind it was solved, solving it let the players move beyond that debate and become more fully engaged with the story.

7) How do you explain ARGs to your family / friends / relatives and how do they react?

I usually start of by explaining that it’s a new twist on storytelling. Unlike television or radio or even the horror story told over a campfire, in Alternate Reality Games, the story has been broken up into lots of little pieces and scattered around. They pieces might be video clips or text or audio files. They might even just be an object. They may show up online, on your voice mail, or even at that really cool statue in town. So, together with all sorts of people, you go out and gather all of these pieces and put together the story. And, the coolest thing about it all is that while you’re putting the story together, you actually have influence on it. So, you might be able to chat with a character or affect whether a character lives or dies.

8) Which 3 things does an ARG really need to have, to be a good ARG in your opinion?

The first and most important thing that an ARG needs is a story. Without a story, the ARG cannot exist. The next thing that an ARG needs is good communication between the players and the developers. The third must have is a solid game design that helps to keep players engaged with the story while facilitating the communication between the players and developers.

9) Do you have a favourite character from an ARG?

Wow, so many good characters to choose from. I think that my favorite was Brutus who was, actually, a house AI in the Beast. He had such a great sense of humor and compassion. You know, for a house and all.

10) What are you currently working on? (if you may tell us/are allowed to tell us 😉 )

Oh, I wish I could tell you all about all the exciting things going on right now. I will say that, if everything goes as planned, it’s going to be a very busy and very fun 2007.

11) Which puzzle from past ARGs do you like best/was real fun? Can you tell us why?

My favorite puzzles are those that truly offer a lot to the story, both in their design and in what they reveal. I also like complex puzzles and those that bring the community together, yet could be solved on your own. And, while I create dozens of smaller puzzles, puzzles that do all of that are my goal. And, of those puzzles, the Seven Sins puzzle in Lockjaw was my favorite.

Lockjaw dealt with the questions of immortality and ethics (business, medical, human). We had developed a web browser for the game that, presumably, all of the characters and a number of the players used. The browser had a built in AI named Mephista. She saw every page that everyone who used the browser saw and, within the story, she dumped certain information into a central server. So, clearly, someone or something was aware of nearly everything that was going on (although players weren’t fully aware of this until the end game). Additionally, we had several characters out for revenge and looking at all of the sins, no matter how simple and mundane they might be, that the other characters were committing.

In order to show that in the game and to add to the depth of all of the characters, I created a puzzle deeply rooted in the mythology and symbolism of the Seven Deadly Sins. Each sin is associated with a color, an animal, and a punishment in hell. Additionally, each sin is paired with a corresponding virtue. For example, envy is associated with green and represented by a dog. If you’re guilty of envy, you will be punished in hell by being placed in freezing water. The contrary virtue of envy would be charity – combating the jealousy of others by giving to them. I used the great painting The Seven Deadly Sins and The Four Last Things by Hieronymus Bosch not only because it’s a cool painting but to help clue players in to the idea that the theme of the puzzle was the sins.

So, the puzzle…

It started off rather simply. Players would be taken to a page with a colored background, an image, and a submit box. Every time you returned to the page, the color of the background the image would change. Every time that you made an incorrect guess in the submit box, it would kick you out to various pages online. At first, it seemed very random. But it wasn’t long before players identified the images as being a part of the painting. That gave them the seven sins reference. But they still weren’t sure what to put into the submit boxes. The kickouts offered the clues.

Each of the four images was themed and was paired up with a long list of kickouts. For example, an incorrect guess on the image showing the view of hell led to websites that dealt with punishment as well. Incorrect guesses on the other images led to pictures of animals, punishments, or sins. Once players figured out the symbolism behind the sins, it was a simple matter of pairing up the color (telling them which sin they were looking at ie green background meant they were dealing with envy) with the image and they knew what they had to enter – the name of the sin, the corresponding virtue, punishment, or animal. There were 28 correct answers in total. Each correct answer would send players to page with an image, poem, short story, or statement that fit the sin and which they could later pair up with characters in the game.

It didn’t stop there. The file names for each correct page seemed random at first with names such as 1heaesnu1.htm. It was what’s known in some cipher crowds as a columnar transposition, but that’s just a big fancy term for “line them up and read up & down”. When they were put in order (marked by the numbers on the beginning and end), a phrase which explained the character’s point for the puzzle appeared: Higher than the question of our duration, is the question of our deserving. Immortality will come to such as are fit for it, and he who would be a great soul in future, must be a great soul now. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Worship” The Conduct of Life.

In my mind, it really satisfied everything that I want to achieve in creating a puzzle. It could be solved individually – there was nothing extraordinarily difficult about it and all of the information needed could easily be found on Google. Yet, it was easier to solve as a group. Refreshing the page to get the right combination of color and image could be a bit tedious and so everyone could pitch in. It also had that awe factor – initially looking at it and seeing it change and thinking you could never make sense of it, yet it was relatively easy to do. It had the excitement factor with each little solution taking you a step closer and providing a bit of satisfaction. And, the motivation for the puzzle, they content of the puzzle, and the information that it provided all fit into the story. But it also led to more questions – who was doing this? why? how?

12) Do you have something like a “phrase”/”objective” which you follow while organizing and running an ARG?

I don’t have a specific statement, but every game has the same ultimate goal… putting the players first. Without the players, there would be nothing. Sure, the client gives me my pay check and that’s nice. I really do appreciate it. But, they give me the paycheck not just to create a game but to engage the audience. And, in games without a client, the money will only come if the players do. You have to put them first and I think more developers and games would benefit from remembering that.

13) Do you remember a situation, in which you wanted to give up anything? What happened?

I really can’t. Sure, we all have those days when nothing seems to go right, but then something happens that reminds you that you have the best job in the world.

14) Was there something like a favourite item from an ARG that you didn’t want to give away, but you had to, because the IG-Character had to?

I can’t think of an item, but I can think of a character… Moot

Moot was a Lockjaw character that the players just adored. We all did. We didn’t mean for that to happen, he was a last minute addition as a very minor character. All we knew is that two people in his little group of characters would have to die. When the players loved him as much as they did, we had to kill him. It made the scene of their deaths that much more impactful. I hated seeing him go. From a writer perspective, he was a gem. He only spoke in punctuation.

Lockjaw seems to be a theme in this interview. I imagine that’s because the five year anniversary is coming up. I cannot believe that it’s been so long.

15) How do you see the future of ARGs?

I have no idea. There are so many directions that you can go in with ARGs and I cannot wait to see where people head. Over the next year or so, we’ll see more people experimenting with various financial and delivery models – things such as the cards in Perplex City, the t-shirts in Edoc Laundry are just the start. We’ll probably also see more people looking at serial ARGs similar to Studio Cyphers. And, with Jane McGonigal’s influence, we’ll see more games taking advantage of play in real world spaces. We’ll also see a booming interest in ARGs in the “serious games” space and moving from corporate training games to education and even activism. But looking 5 or ten years out, it’s difficult to know.

Vielen Dank, Brooke, daß du dir die Zeit für unsere 15 Fragen genommen hast (PM).

15 Fragen an Brian Clark

Rumors say: This isn't Brian Clark

Den Auftakt unserer neuen Interview-Serie macht Brian Clark.

Er ist Gründer und CEO der GMD Studios im sonnigen Orlando, Florida und beschäftigt sich seit 1994 mit seltsamen Experimenten – wovon man sich auch auf der Seite der GMD Studios überzeugen kann.

In den späten 60er geboren, taucht er immer mal wieder als FLMutant in den Foren und anderswo auf, genauso wie heute…

… denn heute stellt er sich den 15 Fragen der ARGReporter:

1) About when and how did you get in touch with ARGs?

I’ve been practicing interactive narrative for quite awhile, so I aware of ARGs. I didn’t really become intensely interested in the community until they started showing up in a narrative about puzzle solvers we were doing for Sharp (“The Legend of the Sacred Urns”) and calling us “puppetmasters”. So in a way, since we had never had such obvert gameplay in our narratives, we’d never been branded as ARG developers before, but the similarities in perspective were incredible.

2) Did you take part in some ARGs as a player, too? Which?

You could say I was a casual lurker of Bees. Long before that, my staff and I got mildly addicted to an early interactive piece called “The Rift” that Vivid Studios produced for Silicon Graphics in the mid 1990s and ended up being the poster children for “those crazy Internet people” after we started building bots to watch for puzzle updates.

3) In which ARGs have you been Puppetmaster/BHTS and what was your job in those?

I was one of the concept developers and creative leads for “The Legend of the Sacred Urns” for Sharp, “The Art of the Heist” for Audi and “Who Is Benjamin Stove?” for General Motors. I was also part of a collaboration last year called “The Voice” that was decidedly ARG-like but turns that metaphor on its head.

4) Which ARG do you like best and why?

I’m not big on picking bests. I don’t think “the perfect ARG” has been made yet, my own work included. So, honestly, when I think about the canon of work in the space title by title, the first thing that comes to mind about each one is some fascinating aspect of the work – Bees for loose collaboration, Regenesis for cross-media integration, Perplex City for productizing, Heist for real-world immersion, etc.

5) Which was the funniest/nicest happening while doing/playing an ARG?

Lou will always be infamous for hiding in a porta-potty (will German’s even know what that is?) from Nisha during a Heist live event.

6) Are there any memories to happenings that you wanted to forget about?

Must … forget … evil … cube … from … Heist.

7) How do you explain ARGs to your family / friends / relatives and how do they react?

I tend to keep it pretty brief in order to avoid confusion, something like, “they are interactive stories that the audience participates in together that unfold in real time”. In general, most of my family and friends already think of me as a “mad scientist” so the reactions aren’t that different than normal.

8) Which 3 things does an ARG really need to have, to be a good ARG in your opinion?

It all really starts with a deep immersive narrative. Assuming you can muster that, then to be a really great ARG it needs to be a narrative that the audience influences and leaves their fingerprints all over … and needs to accomplish that by giving the audience something to do together. Flexible storytelling with meaningful activity.

9) Do you have a favourite character from an ARG?

My answer is pretty obscure! In “Who Is Benjamin Stove”, the main character (Tucker Darby) has to deal with, among other things, his technologically-impared but socially-precocious mother. “Tucker’s Mom” was a recurring character in the community boards penned by Brooke Thompson with deliciously ironic … and then later heartbreakingly sincere … complexity.

10) What are you currently working on? (if you may tell us/are allowed to tell us 😉
)

Mad scientists tend to be a little tight lipped! We have a couple of projects in the pipeline that roll out this winter that I can talk about abstractly. The first is really an experiment in changing the way sponsors work with large corporate games in the U.S. by creating a persistent ARG platform that has regularly occurring episodes: rather than the ARG ending after a few months, instead there is always another episode just around the corner. The second involves a new approach to structuring ARGs that we’ve been playing around with that adopts some of the principles of object oriented storytelling with all that entails: objects and locations driving the storytelling framework, one where you grow to understand the owner of the objects and the locations they personalize. The two are quite different in texture and goals, but share the desire to stretch the fabric of traditional ARGs.

11) Which puzzle from past ARGs do you like best/was real fun? Can you tell us why?

Surprisingly, I’m not a huge puzzle geek. What I tend to remember are the meta-narratives of the audience’s experience solving those puzzles.

12) Do you have something like a “phrase”/”objective” which you follow while organizing and running an ARG?

We have a few mantras we’ve developed over the years. One of them is “how do we create more player agency?” Narratives on tight linear rails are rarely satisfying in immersive stories – the audience should rightly feel the narrative wouldn’t have unfolded at all without them. Another is “it’s working when the audience is entertaining themselves”.

13) Do you remember a situation, in which you wanted to give up anything? What happened?

That’s never more than a passing thought, really. Most of the time, when an ARG is live, the entire structure has a certainly among of looseness, constantly be re-written and explored and brainstormed, often in reaction to audience speculation. So in one way, you give up little things and change little details constantly … and remind yourself not to give up the big things.

14) Was there something like a favourite item from an ARG that you didn’t want to give away, but you had to, because the IG-Character had to?

Wer ist Benjamin Stove ?We bickered and squabbled as a team during Stove about the actual crop circle painting. It became a joke internally about rewriting the story so that it didn’t go out. But it had to for the story to be complete as a journey.

15) How do you see the future of ARGs?

I think it is potentially a label in flux. It describes one set of ascribed rules for immersive entertainment, but at the same time is one of the principal conceptual breeding grounds for some unique concepts inside that bigger playground. Part of that concept is “collective intelligence” which is a collaborative model. Another part is “flexible narrative” which is a storytelling model. Another part is “platformless gaming” which is a counter-culture appropriationist movement. There will be continue to be a huge variety of experiments in immersive entertainment, and some of those experiments might stretch the strict definitions of ARG to the bending or breaking point while still ringing true to the DNA which emerged in this space.

Vielen Dank, Brian, daß du dir die Zeit für unser Interview genommen hast und damit unseren Lesern einen kleinen Einblick hinter die Kulissen gewährst. (PM)