After the boot Camp semester, ETC students work on one semester long team project per semester. Many projects are sponsored by faculty or clients from outside the school including corporations, non-profit orgs, or even government groups. Students also have the opportunity to pitch their own projects, but they must be presented to and accepted by a faculty review board. The process is fairly competitive and the student teams must find faculty members willing to sign on as stakeholder sponsors.
My first semester long project was one of these student pitched projects. We created an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) for a casual audience called The Deep Sleep Initiative (our project was called Alternate Reality eXperiment or ARx). For those that aren’t familiar with the concept, an ARG is a game that is played out in the real world. It is not openly advertised as being a game. Think of it as a scavenger hunt where players hunt for clues using the internet, telephony, or sometimes real world locations. They work together to solve puzzles and other challenges and further the narrative.
Our team had been heavily influenced by early ARGs such as I Love Bees, the Lost Experience, and World Without Oil. However, there was one feature of traditional ARGs that we found lacking: they were very much limited to a certain window of time. Because everyone plays at once collaboratively, there wasn’t much of an opportunity for players to join in late. Our goal was to create a more casual experience: one where players could play whenever they liked.
We based our experience around a printed object: a journal that was being kept by one of the characters in our game. We handmade 100 journals and thousands of business cards with links to a digital copy and left them all over the country. These introductory clues are referred to as “rabbit holes”. You can download a copy of the journal here. If you’d like to play the game yourself, here is a rabbit hole of your own:
I worked as the design lead for the project, although since it was a team of seven, we all wore many hats. The game was well received: we were a finalist and audience choice first runner up at IndieCade 2009.