In March 2015, for what turned out to be the final year of the Gottacon gaming convention, my partner Kay and I created an inaugural Augmented Reality Game (ARG). It was an interactive sci-fi story in which the players could side with characters from one of two factions: CHRONOVENTURES Inc, a megacorp releasing a new interactive experience who maybe hadn’t playtested their software as thoroughly as they should have, and the Hacker collective known as PURRv.0 (pronounced Perversion Zero), who were looking for a weakness to exploit in order to expose the corporations secrets and crimes. By the end of the story, the players themselves decided the fate of not only these characters and their faction, but possibly also the fate of an Artificial Intelligence.
It was a challenge to create a gaming experience such as this as a two-person team. We wrote ad copy, timed in-game fiction elements, background stories, in-character emails, puzzle challenges, embedded clues and website copy. On top of that, Kay created all the art work, and I developed all the web code to run the game.
We built the game’s AR elements using LAYAR (https://www.layar.com/) and asked participants to download their app. We created a newspaper ad using LAYAR and ran it in the local paper. Two of the convention’s major sponsors, Zotac and Nvidia, generously agreed to sponsor our ARG with some pretty amazing prizes too, including video cards, a game shield, and more. The grand prize winner of the game thoroughly earned his prizes, as he tracked down every puzzle and fiction element in the convention center that he could find.
We even had actors roaming the convention halls at key times, where the astute players could interact with them to gain crucial clues. One such character was highly valuable to both factions as you can read below, when Cycl1 (leetspeak for Cyclone) of PURRv.0 reaches out to coax the players to join his cause and to find the character, Blossom.
The Cycl1 Approaches
A strange figure starts appearing all over the Retro Gaming Experience, showing up in the various rooms and buildings of the convention. Multiple versions of a dark-haired avatar wearing strange glasses and a grey and pink sweater of some sort. As soon as one notices you, he approaches and speaks in a dark tone,
“It appears some of you haven’t been paying attention. Some of you ignored my previous messages. Well you have no choice but to hear me now, for a cyclone goes where it wills. The dangers posed by CHRONOVENTURES and their technological gambits are graver than we had first imagined. My steadfast allies in Purrv.0 have received information that we feel will lead us to the evidence we need to shed light on the recklessness of your corporate overlords.
“You who are inside of the simulation are in a unique position to change the balance of this battle. Will you not help us? Surely your signature on a non-disclosure agreement can’t be held equal to the threat posed to the public by CHRONOVENTURES’ rampant disregard for privacy and free will.
“That’s right, I said free will. Still don’t believe me? See for yourself.
“We predict there will be another appearance of the anomaly between the hours of 10am and 2pm, today. Find and document the anomaly (codenamed: Blossom) for us, and you will see what we already know to be true. Cycl1, out.
Here’s the blurb from the convention booklet and website:
Special Event – AUGMENTED REALITY GAME 2015: Chronoventures Presents: Retro Weekend Beta Test
By: Kay & Chris Slater
Sponsored by: Zotac and Nvidia
Day: All Weekend
Time: Friday 8:00am to Sunday 6:00pm
Location: Special Events
*requires access to mobile phone – see below
Scan, respond, socialize and solve clues using your mobile devices at GottaCon 2015 to unravel the story behind the launch of future corporation CHRONOVENTURES’ Retro Gaming Experience Beta. Preregistered gamers who have already signed up for the game’s email list could receive an email as early as February 15th with pregame story.
“You’re a journalist from the year 2077 who reports on games. One afternoon, your iView projection flashes a message from an unknown sender marked VIP. You gesture to view the message and learn that CHRONOVENTURES is launching a new virtual mmo with a retro beta weekend. After doing a quick cursory search, you find that this CHRONOVENTURES launch is a pretty hot ticket and decide that you’ll reschedule your lunch with friends for another weekend. You hold your credit card against your wrist for a moment to approve your new travel plans and then sit back to daydream about your forthcoming minibreak to “2015”.
The 2015 Augmented Reality Game will run from Friday 9AM – Sunday 6PM and can be played in between regular game slots. There are a few timed story events that become available to gamers who solve the correct clues. The game is designed so that new players can join throughout the weekend, but cutoff for registration will be 12PM on Sunday.
*Players will need access to a smart phone or device with wifi, camera, GPS, and AR reader Layar as well as a SMS data plan for the full game experience. Basic player requirements are access to email, a mobile browser and a way to read QR codes. It is possible to “win” the game’s prize with basic requirements.