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Literary Post, 1974 (an ARG experiment)

A topic by NDcisive Games created Mar 17, 2018 Views: 120
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Literary Post, 1974

“As you were researching at your local library you stumble across an old microfilm of a 70’s newspaper. Upon looking closely, you see that something's not quite right.” 

I'm not usually the biggest fan of online game jams. However, two pieces of inspiration brought us into this jam:

1) The creator of the jam posted that all games are acceptable, but particularly highlighted alternate reality games, pleading “(somebody make one of these please)." So…

2) We saw the first modifier of The Secret of the Abandoned Museum and a line jumped out: "How cool would it be if you had to go to nearby libraries and find a certain book?"

Thus, we began.

One of the big struggles with designing ARGs (in theory – this was our first) is that they are large scale typically and require large amounts of minds to figure out how to solve them – we wanted this to be playable by a single person who stumbled upon it. Also, if you use physical locations, like a library, the information has to be applicable to any generic library – so we took that into consideration as well when picking our source material and designing our codes. Then, ARGs are typically in real-time, so if you miss it – it’s done! it’s over! – and that’s sad, because they’re hard enough to find in the first place. So we wanted our game to be: playable by one or more people, at any place but using/encouraging the use of real places, and playable at any time.

The game jam host urged designers to make a game that “make[s] you feel like a detective.” So instead of a whodunit and try to find the culprit, we went a very different route. The time in my life where I felt most like a detective (other than finding the person who took the teacher’s candy bar in 3rd grade) was when I had to do library research for my college senior paper. Having to find books and cross reference the citations to find other resources the first search pass didn’t pick up. So, we tried to incorporate that idea of “What? I have to go find a book now?” into our game.

Our writer (our Case of the Mysterious Consultant – it was her first time ever working on a game!) actually sparked the idea for leaving book quotes as clues. The first few days of the jam we spent in local libraries, flipping through old classics, finding tons of quotes. The story design was limited by what quotes we found and how they matched together with other quotes from completely separate books. As well, the story had to be non-linear, as we could not predict the order in which our readers deciphered the quotes. It was actually fascinating to see how one could take quotes out of context and craft different stories. In the end, we had to choose not the best story, but the best supportable story we supply through the quotes we had found.

We utilized many different codes (not one is the same, and there’s more than 10) which we tried to provide hints towards within the text itself. At some point we thought “What if they can’t solve this clue? What if it’s too hard?” And you know what? That’s like being a detective. You don’t always solve the mystery. It is okay to make a game that people fail at or can’t beat (at least we think so). Not all of life’s mysteries are as easily solved as games are prone to portray them.

Each article was handcrafted – with more truth in them than you would believe – with much laughter. And at some point, we realized we could do it all on one picture. A whole game in a single .jpg – it became a challenge, a bragging right. NDcisive Games is all for trying things we’ve never seen done before, so this was to be no exception.

So there’s no clicking, no executable. The whole mystery is told in stream of conscious through quotes of public domain books, readily available at any library. Add in some research work and code breaking, and you have Literary Post, 1974.