By Haley Moore, November 19th, 2009

Exoriare's comic book tie-in adds human visuals to an otherwise transparent experience.

Smoking Gun Interactive is taking its new ARG very seriously.

Just because the game is intimately tied to the release of a new graphic novel and a planned console game, they aren’t about to treat it like an advertising campaign.  In fact, they’ve been sending out press releases, writing stories for BoingBoing, and talking to The Guardian in anticipation of the ARG, rather than waiting to cover it in triumphant retrospect.

Just from looking at Exoriare, you can tell that this game is meant to be the center of an experience.

Your first interaction with the game is breaking your personal computer out of the conventional network (through an adventure game that takes its first line from Zork) and into the Darknet, a staging ground for the game’s rebel alliance of hackers.  As in portions of other ARGs – recent examples include Jejune and Project Abraham – the flash components of the game represent a computer terminal in an alternate world, with an alternate set of rules.

The genehack game allows you to break out of the regular net, into the Darknet.If you manage to break into the Darknet, you’ll be given a universal username for the Exoriare forums that will also track your progress in the game, and grant you access to a slew of programs for working through the story.  There’s a space-age radio tuner that delivers audio snippets, a remote server hacking widget reminiscent of Uplink, and a punishingly hard DNA game that’s used to hack your computers biometric systems.  For the moment, the experience culminates in a cooperative puzzle game called Global Forager, whose ultimate goal is to pull computers into the Darknet.

The greater storyline is a mashup of ARG staples, involving the Knights of Malta, ancient temples, government cover-ups, obelisks, and a looming alien invasion.

Smoking Gun says that the ARG is just the first element of a new property that will eventually encompass a graphic novel, codenamed X and scripted by author and old-school cyberpunk Douglas Rushkoff, as well as a traditional console game.  (If you aren’t familiar with Rushkoff, you should be.  We have him to thank for the term “viral media.”)  The three narratives will intersect and interact to create a single pervasive story.  According to Rushkoff, this has led to a fluid method of writing collaboration inside the Smoking Gun team.

I build a character, and then they stick her into one of their squads in the game; or they build a weapon that I then steal for the climax of one of the scenes in my comic. If we were trying to figure out whose IP was whose, we’d be sunk before we began – which is why we’ve developed a more “communal” model of creative control and ownership.

In other words, the connection between the three will be more than skin deep.  The design of the ARG’s puzzle games, which are both original and challenging, already seems to signal a strong connection between the ARG design team and Smoking Gun’s traditional game designers.

For interactive story developers, the main question is, will it take?  Will we see more ARGs and other pervasive media moving to the center of large extended experiences with other, commercial branches (such as this comic)?  Will that mean a final end to the “curtain” of anonymity that separated ARG creators from their players in the games that defined the medium?  Will more of our work get this kind of top billing?

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Haley Moore is a newspaper reporter, artist, and playwright based in north Texas. She has worked on several indie, fan and commercial Alternate Reality Games.

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COMMENTS

  • Fixed! Thanks for the heads up.

    Exoriare.com is actually the main page for the graphic novel, and the ARG trailhead is integrated into it. You can go straight to arg.exoriare.com without missing any clues, though.

  • JT Swimms

    Really interesting concept and a big fan of Rushkoff so will check this out. The exoriare.com link seems to be dead though - to go to the ARG visit:- arg.exoriare.com

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