Links of Interest: Keys to Publishing Contest & ARG News

I know the contest has already started, but I wanted to get this link up while the contest is still happening. There’s a contest that the people behind Adventures in SciFI Publishing and I Should Be Writing are collaborating on called “The Keys to Publishing”. You basically listen to their podcasts, starting with AISFP #56 and ISBW #94, listen for the key and write it down, and when you have all six, email them to adventuresinscifipublishing@gmail.com with “Keys” in the title. Two lucky winners will receive a set of books from publishers Tor and Pyr SF, featuring their latest titles.

So why should you care? Because each ‘key’ is given by a well-known author, as well as the reasoning behind that key’s title. Sean Williams, Jay Lake, Tobias S. Buckell, to name a few. And it’s fun to listen to, even if you don’t plan to enter the contest. Either way, aspiring authors will get a lot of it.

The only other link I have today is not a writing one, but a (surprise!) gaming one. After the experience of reading the Artificial Intelligience: A.I. ARG, I decided to take the plunge and try out an ARG for myself. There are many websites that speak about ARGs, but the ones that stood out to me was ARGnet, which blogs about the ongoing ARGs that are in play on the Net, and Unforum, a great forum for players to talk about the latest games as well as post rumors on new ones. Through the both of these, I’ve learned of a game that will be put on, by all places, the Smithsonian called “Luce’s Lover’s Eye”. (You can read an article about it here, and to see the actual entry point into the game, you can go to this page here and find the secret link on the upside down writing). I don’t know what’s going to happen when the game starts in about a month, but I’m sure it’s going to be quite an experience.

Contests and eye games, oh my! Looks like the rest is of my summer is going to be pretty busy. Oh yes, and I’ll be writing. Can’t forget about that. Yeah. Writing.

Advertisements

And what did YOU do this weekend? Played an ARG, of course!

Here it is, Wednesday. And I am not doing any work on Willow. Why?

Because I can’t stop reading about this stupid alternate reality game.

Last weekend, I watched “Artificial Intelligence: AI” for the first time. It was okay. A little creepy in parts. I totally understand why people say it should’ve ended 20 minutes sooner; but at the same time, I understand why it ended the way it did. Overall, I liked it.

But while reading the IMDB entry, I noticed one bit in the trivia:

“The elaborate series of promotional websites included information about the characters’ lives after their last appearances in the film. For instance, one website revealed that Martin Swinton grew up to be an architect who, after being traumatized by David’s disappearance, spent his career building sentient AI houses.”

That intrigued me. After all, the movie mainly focuses on David, the boy-robot who can love. I was pretty bummed that the movie didn’t follow up on David’s family after he ‘disappeared’. Such an event would have emotional consequences for them. (And yes, I know I’m including a spoiler for the movie while at the same time being vague. If you haven’t watched the movie, then watch the movie. It’s interesting.) So I figured if I go to this so-called Cloudmakers website, it should include some information on what happened to David’s family in the movie. I thought it would be a webpage or two, at least.

Webpage? Turns out to be a lot more than that.

In 2001, a bunch of Microsoft folk got together and created an interactive online game using puzzles buried fake webpages, journal entries, emails, faxes, voice mails and the promotional posters of AI. Through all of these, they told an elaborate story of love, hate, betrayal, murder, insanity and hacking–not bodily hacking, but website hacking. All this set in the world of AI, where robots are gaining personalities and consciousness for themselves. The game ran from April to July 2001, but there is a well-documented guide that details the entire story from start to finish. And better yet, the website hosts nearly all the webpages used in the game. So basically, you can still ‘play the game’ for yourself.

So that’s how I wasted a whole weekend. And Monday. And Tuesday…and, today, I guess.

Part of the thing is that I’ve never seen anything so elaborate used to tell a story. Well, yes, I heard about such websites games before, mostly lame, obvious commercial tie-ins to movies or products that are featured prominently in the story. This game is different in that it is telling an actual story. A massive complex story (so much that the game has been nicknamed “The Beast”).

And the story’s good. Real good. It starts off with the boating accident of a man named Evan Chan, whose personal homepage you can visit here. From all accounts, it looks like an actual webpage of a man who lived, had a family, loved, life, enjoyed boating. You get pictures of his family and everything, including links to his company and to family friends, Jeanine and Laia Salla, who may be connected with Evan more than you think. Jeanine is mentioned in the AI movie credits as a ‘Sentient Machine Therapist’. Following the webpages, you learn that Laia suspects that Evan’s death wasn’t accidental and that foul play was somehow involved. And we get our first puzzle that will take you to an interesting letter…

I’m not going to go into much detail–if you want to see for yourself, read the guide. But the websites and the clues and the puzzles work to pull you in, where you act as both sleuth and observer. And you start to forget that this is a game promoting a movie–the movie itself is more of a foundation, a surrounding environment for the game and its characters, both human and artificial. When the movie characters do show up in the story, even they are characters in their own right rather than supporting characters from the movie. It’s like…it’s like a fanfic.

Take that, Enter the Matrix video game that wouldn’t load on my computer.

What really impressed me about the whole thing was the writing. Obviously, the story used different formats to tell the story from puzzles to emails to players calling phone numbers to listen to voice mails. But the writing! Take, for instance, one of the ways you got into the game. On one of the billboards and a few trailers, there are notches in the words that correspond to a phone number (don’t ask me how). If you call the number, you will get a message that directs you to a website that spawns an email message for you to send. Then on a certain date, you get an email back:

“Once upon a time there was a young man who dreamed of the sea. The waves, he thought . . . the waves beat like the world’s heart, crashing and hissing against the shore.

Crash and hiss.
Crash and hiss.

He loved the sound of the swell as it slapped and gasped against the hull of his boat.

Slap and gasp.
Slap and gasp.

And he was thinking about the rocking ocean, gentle as a mother’s arms, at the very moment he was murdered.

A mother’s arms.
A mother’s arms. “

“Slap and gasp”…Man! That’s good!

You get pages written in hacker-speak. Transcript style interviews. Rambling diatribes. Alice-in-Wonderland nursery rhymes riddle taunts. A written analysis on a woman slowly sinking into insanity. Letters written before someone’s death (and by the way, to the person who wrote the last Svetlana letter–I’m so not worthy to be a writer. <much bowing and scraping> So not worthy, so not worthy…and I’m never going to take a bath again…) So much good writing here that doesn’t translate well in book form. This game shows that not only webfiction can be done, it can be done well. (It certainly helps that the head writer, Sean Stewart, is a science fiction/fantasy writer.)

Well. I certainly didn’t expect this to turn into a review of a now defunct webgame. I was going to bemoan the fact that I wasted a good part of the week reading and absorbing this thing. That means no writing. No reading of Willow. No looking for markets for “She’s All Light”. And no cleaning. No laundry. No emptying of the dishwasher.

Oy.

But you know, I just need to process this. This whole game was a wonderful way to get a story across. And just think–this was all done in 2001. Before YouTube. Before Twitter. Before broadband. Imagine what would happen if they released that game now? It boggles the mind. Of course, there are now ARGs all over the place, as well as their cousins MMORPGs. None as complex as “The Beast”, but who knows? Course, I got dishes threatening to top over onto the floor, so I think this will do for now. Maybe I’ll use an ARG as a treat once I kick myself into writing again.

Ah, so glad I got that out of my system. Now I can get to work again. At least, until the next new fad hits me.

I don’t think I’ll watch any movies for the rest of the week.

Saturday Fun: Inanimate Alice

“My name is Alice. I am eight years old.”

And thus begins “Inanimate Alice“, an interactive story/game that I found through the Jay is Games website. Alice tells her story through moving snapshots, journaled words and haunting music. We never see Alice, but we know that she has lived all over the world, her parents may or may not be involved in some type of shadowy employment, and she keeps herself entertained through her ramped up phone/ipod gizmo called a “ba-xi”, which she uses to create a playmate called Brad.

Each chapter (there are currently four) contains a mini-game that’s not essential to win in order to finish the story. My favorite is Episode 3: Russia, where you collect nesting dolls. The narrative gets a little dark sometimes–from Alice’s anxiety as she waits for her parents to come home in Italy, to going through an abandoned laberinthine building in England. But the darkness doesn’t get too dark; just enough to add atmosphere to a wonderful story.

I wonder if anyone remembers “Madeline’s Mind”, an interactive game from Digital Planet that came out when Java was brand new. “Inanimate Alice” reminds me a lot of that old game in its haunting play, its feeling of loneliness. But Alice is beautiful in that we start to forget that it’s a just a game and we began to connect with her, all her fears and hopes, and her joy too.

Go play “Inanimate Alice“. Right now.

Game Fun: The Asylum

How would you like to play psychiatrist to a bunch of cuddly, insane toys?

TheAsylum

The Asylum is a nice timewaster of a flash game that is sweet and a little bit sad at times, but also an interesting glimpse into the world of psychiatry. You are presented with a choice of five stuffed animals that have their own psychosis:

Lilo: a hippo who can’t quite put her puzzle pieces together
Dolly: a sheep that barks?
Kroko: a crocodile with a fear of exposure
Sly: a snake too fascinated with its own tail
Dub: a turtle that won’t stop jumping rope

After you pick a toy animal, you take it into a room where you try different ways of curing it, from dream analysis to different types of therapies. Trying to help each toy can be emotionally wearing on the poor things at times . There is a bar at the top that shows green if the toy is making progress or red if they’re regressing into a psychotic state (and there are points where you need to resort to more drastic measures to get the bar back to green again). If you need help, just click on Professional Assistance, and it will give you a psychiatric view of the next step to take.

Each toy comes with its own unique, sad story that is moving to watch. You just want to hold the toys and squeeze them after you see what they’ve been through (and you can even buy a real plush copy of the toys). I really enjoy the game, so I’m sharing it as my link of the day. Have fun!