4D Fiction

Exploring the many dimensions of creative storytelling...

Browsing Posts published by Geoff May

Ten Year Anniversary

Ten years ago a significant event occurred: A game and story was produced which joined a list of groundbreaking entertainment campaigns, winning awards and creating a community of fans that would forever remember its legacy.

Before Halo 2 was released, an Alternate Reality Game coined “I Love Bees” became a prominent name, ushering an era of mainstream ARGs. The first of its type within the mainstream video gaming genre, this promo campaign took the Halo storyworld to a new level by expanding on the story that at the time only existed within the scope of Halo: Combat Evolved and another relatively minor promotional project localized to the core Bungie community in their own forums – the Cortana Letters.

In 2004, ILB was launched by the flash of the URL “ilovebees.com” in the Halo 2 theatrical trailer, and also via honey jars filled with letters, mailed to select news outlets, such as ARGN.com. At this point, I would be remiss to fail plugging the special ARGFest taking place in Portland, Oregon over July 31-August 2, 2014. A significant portion of this ARGFest is dedicated to the 10 year anniversary of I Love Bees, and shouldn’t be missed!

But this post isn’t about I Love Bees…

:@)

Rolling back to 2009, a small band of people set out to create a grassroots ARG, an homage to I Love Bees. Actually, to create a prelude to an ARG which became a grassroots ARG itself:

This Was The Way Their World Ended, Prologue: Intimation

What became known to players as “Intimation” was an ARG created as a project we’d hoped would help bridge the gap between I Love Bees and other extended and promotional content, and the grander Halo storyworld which existed in the video games and the growing number of major additional supplemental Halo story content, such as those released in novels, comics, and animated shorts.

Observing over the years sentiments from Halo fans who never had a chance to participate in the I Love Bees ARG, I wanted to tell a new story, inspired by I Love Bees, as a tip of the hat to that experience, designed with those people in mind. The hope was to create a traditional ARG that would mirror some of the themes and experiences from ILB for new players, and provide some nostalgia for veteran ILB players, and also begin telling an epic tale that’s been brewing in my head since the days ILB concluded.

The result is an ARG we consider the Prologue – a shaky first-time production from a puppetmaster team of creatives, which had its ups and downs with tough lessons learned and wonderful memories made, on both sides of the curtain.

An Intimation…

With this year being the 10th anniversary of I Love Bees, these events categorized as the “Intimation” ARG are detailed out for its 5 year anniversary in a Case Study that will be released shortly here on 4dfiction.com. It is long and detailed, but should hopefully be an interesting read both for players of the ARG, and for creators of ARGs.

It was a beginner’s ARG, with a reach that exceeded its grasp, but carried out by a team that put every effort into its production and sustainability, seeing it through to the end. And this announcement has been under wraps for 5 years. It’s time the truth was known!

The events of Halo reach much deeper than we realize… As the SFTA can attest.

Intimation: A Grassroots ARG Case Study

PRESS RELEASE -
ARGFest-o-Con 2012 conference starts July 26, 2012 in Toronto, Ontario

ARGFest-o-Con – the annual conference/festival comprised of presentations, panels and special events showcasing the best in Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG), transmedia entertainment and serious games – is coming to Toronto, Ontario from July 26-28. ARGFest-o-Con is designed to appeal to both new and seasoned players, professionals & innovators in the field, and students alike. MovieViral.com has described ARGFest-o-Con as “the most interactive conference out there… think of it as a form of Comic-Con before Hollywood fell in love with it.”

ARGFest-o-Con 2012 is the eleventh event of its kind in the last ten years. It started as a small social gathering in 2003, and has grown to include panels and presentations from some of the brightest minds in transmedia entertainment and gaming. In past years, many people have attended to hear presentations by industry leaders such as Brian Clark (GMD Studios), transmedia storyteller and novelist J.C. Hutchins, science fiction writer Maureen McHugh (No Mimes Media), Michael Monello (The Blair Witch Project, Campfire), Elan Lee (Fourth Wall Studios), Steve Peters (Fourth Wall Studios), Sean Stewart (Cathys Book), independent game designer and visionary Dave Szulborski and Jordan Weisman (Harebrained Schemes)

Highlights of this years event held in Toronto include:

  • FestQuest, a city-wide scavenger hunt produced and sponsored by Stitch Media
  • Keynote address by two-time Emmy Award winner Evan Jones
  • A presentation on the popular web series Guidestones by filmmaker Jay Ferguson
  • A sneak peek of The Institute, a feature-length documentary by Pen & Banjo Productions
  • A presentation on IdeaBOOST, an exciting new program by CFC Media Lab
  • International speaker, Rob Pratten presenting: “Future Storyworlds: Building a Pervasive Entertainment Platform”

ARGFest-o-Con 2012 takes place at the Pitman Hall at Ryerson University, located in downtown Toronto, in partnership with the CFC Media Lab, Stitch Media, Dog Tale Media, No Mimes Media, and StoryWorld Conference+Expo. Kick-off party starts 6:30 pm, Thursday July 26th. Registrations are open to the public and discounts are still available.

Thank you for your interest in ARGFest-o-Con 2012. For more information, visit the event web site at www.argfest.com. For the event voicemail, call 630-274-5425. Please contact project manager Jonathan Waite at jon@argfest.com for information on media passes to the conference.


Take a look at the fantastic lineup of confirmed speakers and presenters at ARGFest 2012

Our conference schedule is now available, from the Kick-Off party Thursday evening to the FestQuest finale followed by social festivities on Saturday evening.

To register for ARGFest, Please follow this link, and select a pass that best suits your interests – from an all-access package, or passes for individual fest components.

You don’t want to miss this conference!

IMMEDIATE RELEASE: ANNOUNCING THE LAUNCH OF TRANSMEDIA 101

July 2, 2012, Toronto — Transmedia 101 is a community building initiative that encourages collaboration between both transmedia professionals and creatives, innovators, & instigators from ancillary industries/ interests who desire to learn more about how to apply transmedia strategies to their properties & projects.

Started in July of 2011 as “Transmedia Toronto” a simple meetup-group, Transmedia 101 has relaunched as an organization that: brings like-minded innovators together to discuss, experiment and push transmedia forward; educates and elevates the understanding of the possibilities transmedia strategies can support; raises industry awareness and spotlights the profiles of transmedia professionals, both Canadian and International, who are actively engaged in the field; and connects our growing local/ Canadian community to an international network of transmedia practitioners through guest speakers, workshops and master classes. International speakers range from transmedia strategists and educators, shared storyworld and experience designers, and seasoned web series producers.

Founded by Siobhan O’Flynn, Anthea Foyer, and Carrie Cutforth-Young, Transmedia 101 has several community building initiatives planned for local Toronto transmedia enthusiasts including its “101” series of introductory presentations/panels and workshops, incubations and other creation based events as well as three large special events over the course of the next year. In addition, Transmedia 101 has just launched its Transmedia 101 monthly newsletter bringing you the latest in cross-country Canadian and Transmedia 101 news.

Upcoming meetups held at our host location, InterAccess Electronic Media Arts Centre, include:

For more information, please visit our website Transmedia101.ca or email info@transmedia-101.com.

(source)

View ByoLogyc’s 20th Anniversary Celebration on Youtube

On March 20, 2012, ByoLogyc Inc held an exclusive party for “investors” in the corporation. With ByoEnrich, ByoMate, ByoBreath, and ByoGrow on display and CEO Chet Getram giving his celebration speech, the event demonstrated ByoLogyc’s dedication to improving the human lifestyle through highly advanced biotechnology.

ByoLogyc Inc is an organization in the fictionalized live performance / interactive drama project being created by ZEDToronto. ZED.to has created a crowdfunding campaign through IndieGoGo to have the audience both support and participate in the endeavour, to experience the story over 8 months through online narrative and in 3 planned live events.
To take part and help fund this creative project, simply become a contributor through IndieGoGo donating any amount you choose from the available tiers – each successive amount provides increased immersion and rewards.

 

As for the party, after a short period of mingling in the Ingram Gallery with staff and trying out products, Chet arrived with Diva Capricia as his ‘special guest’, who gave a chilling performance of “Ebben? Ne andro lontana” from Catallani’s opera “La Wally” to help set the mood for the evening.  I can’t say I’m a fan of opera, but after being chilled to the bone by Capricia’s live performance, I had to research the song and find out what story it was that she was performing. The discovery did not disappoint.

That was only the beginning of the night, however, as more drama unfolded throughout the party – including a minor brawl with the bartender, and the removal of the contracted media coverage team for asking too many questions.  And sadly, Capricia was the one left behind at the party as Chet took leave early – with Olive Swift on his arm.

But what of the attendees? We were given the opportunity to try some of their products.  We were treated to catered oer d’oeuvres …from a biotech company experimenting with pharmaceutical drugs hoped to improve human lifestyle. Could we have really been labs rats? Two ByoLogyc scientists, including Davian Baxter, who were taking swabs from guests and asking a list of questions didn’t provide any comfort on that front.

The event was held at the Ingram Gallery in Toronto and was a live preview event executed as part of the ZED Toronto project. The full experience plans to ‘chronicle the end of the world’, in a zombie apocalypse as it were, with ByoLogyc at the helm. The finale event to be held in October promises to be a live, exciting and dramatic experience, and a struggle for survival at a yet undisclosed location.

 

What happens next? Sign up at ByoLogyc.com for the company newsletter, and follow @ByoLogyc, @ChetGetram, @OliveSwift, and @DavianBaxter on Twitter.

Please consider helping to fund this creative team of storytellers and actors by visiting indiegogo.com/zedto and pitching in — Campaign funding closes April 15th.

More information about the project is available at ZED.to and via @ZEDToronto

Check out many more photos from the event below, and at lisamorrismurray.com and these flickr galleries

Ebben? Ne andrò lontana from Catalani’s opera “La Wally”

Ebben? Ne andrò lontana,
Come va l’eco della pia campana,
Là, fra la neve bianca;
Là, fra le nubi d’ôr;
Laddóve la speranza, la speranza
È rimpianto, è rimpianto, è dolor!

O della madre mia casa gioconda,
La Wally ne andrà da te, da te
Lontana assai, e forse a te,
E forse a te, non farà mai più ritorno,
Nè più la rivedrai!
Mai più, mai più!

Ne andrò sola e lontana,
Come l’eco è della pia campana,
Là, fra la neve bianca;
Ne andrò, ne andrò sola e lontana!
E fra le nubi d’ôr!

Rough English translation:

Well? I will go away,
As goes the echo from the church bell,
There, amid the white snow;
There, amid the clouds of or;
Where the hope, the hope
Is regret, is regret, is sorrow!

O my mother’s joyous home,
Wally will go away from you, you
Far enough away, and maybe,
And maybe, he will never return,
Nor see her again!
Never again, never again!

I will go alone and far away
As the echo of the bell,
There, amid the white snow;
I will go, will go alone and far away!
And the clouds of gold!

ByoLogyc clearly dictates that the needs of the many shall provide significant profit in pharmaceutical products that make their lives better.

ByoLogyc Inc. is a pharmaceutical research company that is claiming to provide humanity with lifestyle enhancing drugs and technologies. Meet Chet Getram:

“At ByoLogyc, you’ll not only be investing in one of the most profitable, forward-thinking biotech and lifestyle enhancement laboratories available, you’ll be helping humanity fulfill its deepest desires, and unlock its hidden destiny.”

Chet is the CEO of ByoLogyc Inc, the central organization within  a 3-part theatrical storytelling experience being created by Mission Business, an “adventure laboratory” based in Toronto. This project, ZED.to, is being presented as a live theater, an immersive, interactive storytelling experience, which will include online components and 3 live events in Toronto, culminating at the final grand apocalyptic event in late October.

ZED.to is also asking for support via an IndieGoGo campaign, to help raise funds for the project and invite interested participants to experience the adventure and the story they’re planning to tell through the year. Online components help fill out the narrative and open the story to a much wider audience who won’t necessarily experience the live events.

You can visit ByoLogyc Inc’s website ByoLogyc.com. They also provide a call-in number 1-866-BYO-6090 for testimonials, and their Twitter account @ByoLogyc. Chet Getram, its CEO is also on Twitter, along with other employees, Davian Baxter – head of research, and Olive Swift – quality assurance.

ByoLogyc also provides details about some of their products:

  • ByoMate, magnify your natural desireability
  • ByoEnrich, all-day vitamin enhancements
  • ByoBreath, get more oxygen from the air you breath
  • ByoGrow, enhanced hair growth
  • ByoBaby, biological and genetic enhancements throughout pregnancy

Surely, these products have been perfected… right?

The Invite: 20th Anniversary Celebration

On March 20th 2012, ByoLogyc is hosting an exclusive preview event specifically for IndieGoGo supporters and select invitees. ByoLogyc products will be on display for perusal and hands-on viewing. Chet will also be speaking in person following a special video presentation.

ByoLogyc is celebrating their 20th anniversary with an invitation-only soiree at a swanky art gallery. This is our first in-narrative event, and we’re going to make it count. The purpose of the event is twofold; we’re using it to avoid the notorious mid-crowdfunding-campaign slump, and we’re also initiating our asks for larger donors and sponsors down the road. To that end, we’ve invited a pretty hot crowd of influencers, connectors, and people-in-the-know who can help us take the project to the next level. The event is a small taste of what ZED.TO will be; we’ve got all our characters playing major roles, we’ve got actual ByoLogyc products for sampling, and we’ve got live opera.

Upcoming campaign events

What’s in store for this entire production? Well, if you become a supporter of ZED.to’s campaign on IndieGoGo, you’ll have exclusive limited access to content and narrative elements.  Take a look at some of these tier perks:

  • A personal call and thanks from Chet Getram
  • Sampler packs of ByoMate pills
  • Super-secret sensitive data from ByoLogyc
  • A special limited key providing access to a restricted area at October’s finale event
  • Become a part of the finale event; a custom experience and role, plus other luxuries
  • A special extravagant dinner with Chet, on him, to talk the future of biotech
  • …and more

With 27 days left in the campaign as of this writing [March 20], there’s still time to get your foot in the door of this fast-moving corporation, and help the project truly take off – whether you’re participating at the live events, or only online. Who knows what this corporation could do for humanity’s future!  Live events are scheduled for:

  • July 4-15: Toronto Fringe Festival
    “ByoLogyc: Where you become new”
  • September 29: Scotiabank Nuit Blanche
    “Patient Zero”
  • October 17-Nov 3: Undisclosed location
    “End Game”

More details are available on their IndieGoGo project page, and ZED.to’s blog.

Relevant links:

Not an official logo, just an excited doodle :)

The decision has been made.
Come 2012, the ever-awesome ARGFest-O-Con will be finding its place, once again, north of the border – to be hosted in Toronto, Ontario!

In its earlier years, ARGFest had one incarnation in Vancouver, British Columbia, but over the following years the fest has grown and mutated, filling out its amazepants of awesomesauciness.

If you’ve been to previous ARGFest events, you’ll already know how entertaining and enjoyable the conference is, even just by the community focus and social tomfoolery. But in addition to all that, ARGFest has become a hotspot for speakers and experience designers to share their studies, advice and woes, educate and entertain through their presentations and case studies in the Alternate Reality Gaming and Transmedia Storytelling space – from grassroots creators to mainstream media marketing campaigns.

Speaking for myself, it’s greatly exciting to finally be able bring this event which is dear to my heart to my home country (I hadn’t yet been sucked into ARGs back when Vancouver played host), and it pleases me to no end that the fest committee has chosen Toronto to host next year’s conference.

ARGFest 2011, Bloomington

I very much encourage you to consider attending this event — the gears are in motion and planning is under way, and as soon as more details are decided (such as the dates), you absolutely must mark them off on your calendar!  Whether you are a professional designer, transmedia producer, ARG creator, artist, storyteller, or especially a player of ARGs, or simply enjoy creative projects, stories, and games – this event is for you!

The ARGFest committee has more than proven their ability to create a conference that will impact in many ways, both in professionalism and social merriment. With games to play, puzzles and mysteries to solve, wisdom to soak in, inspiration to take home, and many friends to make, meet and greet (probably for the first time in meat-space), and a wonderful urban attraction (Toronto, remember?) to explore and discover, how could anyone not want to come and experience some Canadian hospitality?

As the exquisite J.C. Hutchins, who offered the keynote at last year’s ARGFest in Bloomington Indiana, said:

People, man. People.

Canadians are all over that :)   Stay tuned for more announcements as the planning progresses… Read the official announcement at ARGFest.com

And finally, don’t ever, ever watch this video to whet your appetite for Canada… seriously, don’t even think about it. Ever.

Also: Poutine. Tim Hortons. Mounties. Canadian Tire. C(anadian) N(ational) Tower. Maple Leafs. Igloos. Royal Ontario Museum. Toronto Island. Ontario Science Center. Skydome Rogers Center. Harbourfront. Hockey. Hockey Hall of Fame. And sooooo much more, eh…?

“it was going to be just an excuse to draw some spaceships blowing up and a Spartan kick’n butt…Those original 13 pages did not appear.

Ultimately, the visuals mean nothing to me if there isn’t emotion behind them.”

~Levi Hoffmeier

For the 4th and final part of this series on storytelling in the Halo universe, I chose to explore a more visual side of storytelling. I got in touch with Levi Hoffmeier, otherwise known as “Leviathan”, who created a comic series that has gained much praise and support from the community. So much so that he’s been given his own hosted site at leviathan.bungie.org for his Halo artwork and graphic comic series “A Fistful Of Arrows”.

————–
Can you briefly summarize what your comic series is about?

Halo: A Fistful of Arrows attempts to fill in some of the questions Reach decided to leave open, as well as expanding and enriching the characters featured within the game.  The primary narrative of the comic follows the Spartan super-soldier “Jun” and Dr Halsey, creator of the original Spartan program, as they attempt to make it to CASTLE base before the planet Reach is totally destroyed.  During this, we learn through flashbacks more of the back-story behind Jun and his ill-fated comrades of Noble Team.

————–
What would you say is your artistic inspiration for this series?

My inspiration mainly came from boredom, hah.  After completing Reach’s campaign back in September 2010, I started doodling random things while I waited to be sorted into a Matchmaking multiplayer game.  The main thing that my brain kept imagining was what happened to Jun and Halsey after they left the rest of the main characters in the game.

————–
How did you decide on the story you wanted to tell? Was it more of a desire to explore visually, or to tell a story, explore characters?

Initially, it was going to be just an excuse to draw some spaceships blowing up and a Spartan kick’n butt.  I had about 13 or so pages doodled of Jun and Halsey’s Pelican avoiding a massive ship-battle and Jun fighting a back-against-the-wall battle at the footsteps of CASTLE base.

Then I sat down to actually paint the real pages on my computer.  Those original 13 pages did not appear!  Instead, I found myself beginning a much larger and deeper story concerning all of Noble Team, through a complicated narrative of alternating timelines.  (I’m sure having six seasons of Lost drilled into my brain helped that inspiration.)

Ultimately, the visuals mean nothing to me if there isn’t emotion behind them.  Those action scenes I initially doodled would have meant nothing to me if there wasn’t a real, believable motivation and emotional cause behind them.  So that’s why I ultimately extracted a 77 page story from my brain.  The main plotting came rather quickly, during that first sit-down. Since then, its mostly just been about nailing the details.

I thought Jun would be a great character to explore throughout this graphic novella, because his character in Reach sometimes feels almost contradictory in nature.  At first, that may seem like a flaw in the writing or the creation of the character, but I disagree – most people I meet in real life are full of contradictions.  That’s realistic.  Its human.  I tend to remember this quote from Walt Whitman:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)


And so Jun was perfect to center a longer story about.  With each scene I could slowly build onto his character, and ultimately it will make his final decisions in the last pages of my comic seem all the more believable and powerful.

I hope!

————–
Is your series planned out to an end, or is it open-ended, creating each chapter as it comes to you?

During that first sit-down and inspiration-explosion, I planned out a rough outline of where I wanted to go.  A lot of the visuals that Ive just now gotten out there have been stuck in my head all this time.  But I’ve messed with the details and tweaked the dialogue a ridiculous amount since its inception.  I’ve switched locations, characters, etc. but still the main points have remained the same.

————–
What are your thoughts on working within the Halo canon? Do you have any qualms about contradicting canon, or are you vehemently adhering to it?

I try to vehemently adhere to it, actually!  I’m quite the canon-stickler in all stories I’m interested in.  Adaptations and other things are a bit different, but if you’re trying to tell a story that fits in with an established universe, you need to do your research, just as if you were trying to write a novel about say… solar flares.  You don’t just make stuff up!

It seems “adhering to canon” does sound a bit scary and/or boring to some authors and artists.  But I don’t actually believe canon is in any way constricting to a storyteller.  It means you have a whole world, a whole system of logic supporting your story.  I think if a writer breaks canon, it might just be they’re not thinking creatively enough.  You can always think your way out of a situation when making a story!

I also love working with canon because I don’t just have other stories enriching mine, I get to enrich others.  If I make a nod to Reach, Fall of Reach, or First Strike, it makes the whole universe stronger I believe.  Hearing Halsey say, “Whatever It Takes” to her A.I., Kalmiya in my comic, and then seeing that again in the First Strike novel where you realize that’s actually a code for Kalmiya to break her ethics protocols… I just think that’s a really cool thing to do.  Its like building a spiders web to ensnare the reader into this universe.

————–
Are you an active Halo community member? Do you play online often?

I think so, when I feel like it, hah.  I enjoy hanging out at the Halo.Bungie.Org forums and lurking at the Waypoint forums.  I like to keep tabs on whats going on with my Twitter too.

I play XBox usually a few times a week, when I have time for it (and I’m always wanting more time!) and play a Halo title pretty consistently.  I mostly play campaign and Firefight Matchmaking, but I also like going in with friends for multiplayer playlists.

————–
How have your fans supported you?

Besides just discovering that I actually had fans, they’ve been awesome.  I get to constantly hear reactions back from consistent readers at the HBO forums, DeviantArt, and now at Leviathan.Bungie.Org.  Its all very humbling and encouraging, and really helps me keep going on a big project like Fistful of Arrows (its the most ambitious art project Ive done so far).

A guy who goes by Arithmomaniac also created a petition to try and get me a job at 343 Industries or Fistful of Arrows published, which was super awesome of him. It’s got over 140 signatures now and has a ton of nice things people have said.  [Ed: Here’s the sign-up if you’d like to add your support]

As well, Sean Mortensen wrote and recorded an awesome soundtrack for the comic (available here), and Matt Turney (OneBitRocket) offered his web-design services and completely revamped Leviathan.Bungie.Org including interactive flip-book style viewing formats of the comic.

————–
Do you feel like there’s added stress or expectations to create something they’ll like, or is your art and story purely going in the direction you want it to go, uninfluenced?

Yes, the latter. The story is the story.  I cant change it.  I feel like I’m merely discovering it.  When I know that’s whats supposed to happen, or that’s what a character would truly say here – something clicks in my brain and then I cant change it.

But I do definitely feel some stress to just make sure the work is of top-quality though.  I cant cheat, I cant take corners.  Every panel has to be beautiful.  That’s my goal, at least.

————–
What are some of the challenges you face in creating a series like this?

I’d say some of the biggest challenges for such a long-term project is finding the time.  Then if you’ve found the time, how do you instantly switch to productive-mode?  Art is a fickle thing and you cant just jump in the chair and watch magical unicorns appear out of nothingness.  So sometimes it doesn’t feel like play, it really feels like work.  My sore back and red eyes can attest to this.

————–
How much of a passion is art in your life?

Its a big part of me.  Its what I do everyday.  For the most part, its what I always have done.

When I was very young I started carrying a pencil, paper, and a clipboard everywhere I went, restaurants, Wal-Mart, etc.  My first love was drawing comic book characters, then anime like Dragon Ball in elementary school, and then designing my own video games in late elementary/middle school.

High school I took a big break from art for the most part and got a girlfriend.  Once she was securely ensnared, I slowly revealed all my nerdiness and eventually went back to art in college.  Initially I thought about a journalism major as I love writing as well, but I found myself in the art department and spending hours and hours to get better.  And thus, I’m calling myself an artist once again.

————–
What was the first piece of Halo-inspired art you created?

This is one of the earliest I can remember doing, while staring at the EGM issue that covered the Halo 2 reveal:

————–
Have you created anything like this comic series in the past? Did you submit any entries for previous Halo art contests or community collections?

I created “A Sanghiellis War Is Never Over” a few years ago, as well as illustrating an adaptation of the beginning of Ghosts of Onyx by UNSC Trooper.  They were definitely stepping stones to what Fistful of Arrows became.

The last Halo art contest I remember entering was the Halo Evolutions Community Art Contest, where the winners would get their illustration in the pocket-size reissues of Halo: Evolutions.  I won for the story “Pariah”, my favorite in the novel, and it was quite an honor to see my name in the contents, just a few lines from the Famous Frankie!  I also had a completed illustration for Dirt, but ultimately didnt enter it (I could only enter one). I believe both images are on my portfolio website or DeviantArt.

————–
Will you continue making other comic series set in the Halo universe once this is done?

Its very likely, I’d say.  I already have a number of stories from various parts of the Halo universe in my head (I have all of the missing time between Halo 2 and 3 thumbnailed in my sketchbook for example, my version of Halo 4 is already storyboarded, too).  But after Fistful of Arrows, Ill be taking a break and working hard on some other projects of my own creation for a while.

Someday, I’d love to be able to live off this kind of thing so I could spend all my time making art!

“Halo, to me, is about the Spartans. This is the main element of warfare which differentiates Halo from so many other sci-fi franchises…the backbone is and must always be the Spartan”

~Jared Pelletier

*UPDATE* [January 12, 2012] The announcement was made today during a live interview with Jared Pelletier that the Halo: Faith film may not see the light of day. For more info and background, please see their Facebook page. To appease the community, however, the team has publicly released the screenplay, and may also release the raw filmed footage, without digital effects.  Stay tuned for more updates.

The screenplay for the curious can be downloaded via this link.

And now enjoy the interview!

 

For part 3 of this series on grassroots storytelling in the Halo universe, the creator of one of the most ambitious live-action Halo films to date, Jared Pelletier, answers a few questions about his film “Faith”.

But first, sit back and enjoy this brand new official trailer released today, for Halo: Faith!

————–
Can you briefly summarize what Halo: Faith is about?

‘Faith’ is about a group of Spartans sent to defend power generators on the planet Reach as the Covenant begin their first wave of attacks.

————–
What inspired you to take on this particular project?

In early 2010 I was approached to direct a short project based on James Cameron’s “Avatar”. The goal of the film was to showcase unprecedented visual effects for a micro-budget film exhibited exclusively on Youtube. That project never came to be, but the idea of creating something incredibly ambitious and revolutionary was inspiring. I wanted to set the standard in this category. I believe this will be greatly beneficial to the professional careers of everyone involved.

————–
Jake Commons was initially involved with the writing for the story, but early on it underwent a full re-write. Can you describe your process for the writing of Halo: Faith story?

Jake wrote a fantastic screenplay based on a few drafts I had been working on earlier in production. We actually had a total of 17 drafts before the final product. During our first days on set, we shot exactly to the specs of Jake’s script. Unfortunately during the dailies and early edits, the script did not translate to a coherent narrative on screen. I then went back with Erik Tallek to come up with a new script which works as a better picture, while still maintaining Jake’s touches.

————–
Did you have any concerns about what should or shouldn’t be included, how the story might interact with Halo canon, and how fans might react?

This is always something we keep in mind, but not our primary focus. At the end of the day, we have to make our movie. This is a completely independent vision of this universe. Some aspects will be significantly different from the games, other areas will remain exactly the same. We’ve maintained the integrity of Bungie’s work, which was most important for us. I believe that all of the changes made were necessary in adapting this material to the screen. From the very beginning my goal was not to take the games and turn them into a movie, but rather to create a realistic interpretation of what this universe may really be like.

————–
Was Halo: Faith always going to be a free, grassroots production for the Halo community?

Absolutely! The goal of Faith is to deliver an incredible cinematic experience, while furthering the careers of us as filmmakers.

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Has your fan community, or the Halo community in general, played a role in the development of your film?

The fan support has been instrumental in bringing key members to our team. Our visual effects are the key aspect and driving force behind this project. We’ve been able to bring major players from ILM, Digital Domain, and Weta to the film – largely in part to the following and buzz around the project.

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How did you go about forming the team that would work together to create this film?

This process has been long and involved. We began in September 2010 and to this day we’re bringing new people on board everyday. It’s all about selling ourselves as filmmakers and selling the project as being worthwhile. The response to our requests has been incredible. Some of the most talented people in the world are working on this film on volunteer hours.

I think forming any great team comes down to having a great product and vision people believe in.

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It has to be asked: If you could film Halo: Faith as a 3D movie, would you?

I would have loved to shoot ‘Faith’ in 3D. My cinematographer is familiar with the format, and has experience on 3D set ups. I think 3D is a valuable asset if it helps tell your story, and in our case, it definitely would be a great asset. We’ve explored some fantastic 3D conversion techniques, but I can’t confirm that Faith will be getting a 3D release. In any case, this is a medium I plan on exploring with future projects.

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What would you say is your favourite moment so far on set?

I think every moment on set during ‘Faith’ was fantastic. We had a great energy from the cast and crew, tons of dedicated people, all with the common goal of making something significant. I think everyone had the feeling that we were doing something very special, not even regarding the end result, but just our process. The challenge of shooting a live action film which ultimately consists of about 95% CG was an amazing experience.

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What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in this production?

Continuing my last thought, over 95% of this film is CG. This process is incredibly consuming and involved, especially when just about everything in this Halo world is being created from scratch. Once you start seeing the results, it’s instantly worth the seemingly endless hours of work and late nights.

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How are you working with your composers in creating the musical soundtrack for the film?

Both Daniel Ciurlizza and Giancarlo Feltrin are working on the OST. This is an interesting process, as we’re trying to maintain the familiar sounds of Halo while also bringing something very cinematic and fresh. I try to be very flexible with the music. I’ll give an idea as to what I want, and let them work it as they interpret my direction. I think this is important with all creative aspects of the filmmaking process. I don’t believe in limiting the abilities of anyone, as I don’t think that’s the best way to get the very most out of creative individuals.

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What is it like working with a team of creative minds, and Halo fans, to bring this film together?

That has been one of my favourite parts of this production. The team is incredibly dedicated, and everyone really believes in the product we’re creating. Without all of these talented people, the film doesn’t happen. A picture like this requires an incredible team, and I’m lucky enough to be working with one.

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What are some past projects which you’ve created that have brought you to this point?

I’ve worked on a number of films over the past 3 years. In March 2010 I had my first experience with visual effects on a movie called ‘The Haunted Soldier’. The film went on to win some awards, and I instantly fell in love with the freedom visual effects can give. You’re really only limited by your own imagination. Another more recent film ‘In the Hearts of Men’, a WWII epic, premiered at the AZFAME Film Festival in Arizona this past March. It went on toe win Best Director, Picture, Editing, and Cinematography. That film added a ton of credibility to my name, which has helped in the recruitment of large visual effects studios.

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Earlier this year you revealed two other videogame related film projects in the works to follow Halo: Faith. What’s one thing you’ve learned in creating Faith that you can apply to these?

As per request, I can’t discuss any projects at the moment or confirm that any are officially green lit. All I can discuss about my next film is that it’ll be presented in 3D!

“The only way that I’m going to become a better writer is to do things that I haven’t done before.  To push my limits and see what I need to work on, or discover that I can do something that I wasn’t sure of before.”

~Mike Morgan “Dagoonite”

In part 2 of this series on storytelling in the Halo universe, I check in with the puppetmaster of a grassroots ARG named “Bzzt!“.  Mike Morgan, aka ‘Dagoonite’ began creating his ARG long ago, and after some growing pains it was soon launched and picked up at the HBO forums and Args.bungie.org.

Before it settled down, players had discovered some controversial elements that prompted some debate — Mike opted to have his story purposefully contradict some established Halo canon in order to tell the story he wanted to explore. Over time, his team had also dwindled to just himself, making running it practically a full time job. The focus of his project was a story- and dialogue-driven experience centered around a Spartan named F484, and allowed the community to interact with some characters. All this unfolded in parallel with a narrative timeline of events occurring in the future.

I chat with him below about his experience as a first-time puppetmaster, a Halo fan, and about storytelling unofficially within the Halo canon. Mike is a passionate writer – his detailed responses are certainly a testament to that!

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First, can you briefly summarize what your ARG was about?

The UNSC Theseus comes to an uninhabited star system to build an unmanned space station, reportedly to listen in on Insurrectionist communications.  However, two crew members are in a hold when a mysterious explosion is going on, and appear to have disappeared.  On one datapad is some basic information on F484, an Orion IV.  (This setting’s version of Spartans, effectively.)  When the Captain questions HIGHCOM about this, he’s given a stern “none of your business.”  Soon after, an ONI operative contacts the Captain, “leaking” information to him about F484.

As time goes on, strange things continue to happen, with fortunately fewer deaths.  As the story of F484 unfolds, the crew’s own stories become apparent: a survivor of an incident hundreds of years in the past; a woman all too familiar with [post-traumatic stress disorder]; an unorthodox but idealistic XO; a marine engineer who has SPECOPS in his blood; a poor guy who just wants to run his RPG despite claims that he’s lost it; and more, if you read closely enough.

As things begin to get serious, the ship receives a supplementary AI from ONI who is less than helpful.  Though through the quick thinking of the Captain and the history of his own AI, the ONI AI calms down and becomes a valuable member of the crew.  Together, they achieve extremely limited communications with the forces disrupting their ship, and appease them.  This comes as the truth is revealed about F484, how he (almost) single-handedly wins the Human-Covenant war, and even the true mission of the ONI operative that’s been in contact with him.

A short synopsis that doesn’t answer much, but a more detailed version would take quite a while to go through.

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What was it that inspired you to create this type of interactive fiction?

Halo, naturally, especially [Eric] Nylund’s books.  But explanations like that are a dime a dozen. I got turned onto ARGs with The Beast, the ARG for the movie AI.  Since then, I’ve always been a passive participant.  I either didn’t have the technical skills to solve a puzzle piece on my own, or somebody would post an answer to it before I did, so I pretty much kept quiet and enjoyed the stories.

The wonderful Enkidu ARG and ilovebees were two other great inspirations. A good fusion of two things that I love: ARGs and Halo.

The wonderful Enkidu ARG and ilovebees were two other great inspirations.  A good fusion of two things that I love:  ARGs and Halo.  How could I not love it?  I’m a sucker for a good story, what can I say?  Halo Fanon also inspired me quite a bit.  I’m hesitant to share most of my work for various reasons, but to see so many people working at it and interacting…  It was an oddly huge inspiration.

I’ve done plenty of roleplaying, both at a table and online.  I was an AST for White Wolf’s moderated chats for some time, and am both a participant and a room-level moderator for a chat-based roleplaying site.  I don’t mind interaction, and enjoy the challenge of working with somebody else to tell a story, especially when that story can change greatly in no time flat.

I’m hesitant to share most of my work for various reasons, but to see so many people working at it and interacting… It was an oddly huge inspiration.

Lastly, the desire to stick my neck out.  I want to be a full-time writer.  The only way that I’m going to become better at the craft is to do things that I haven’t done before.  To push my limits and see what I need to work on, or discover that I can do something that I wasn’t sure of before.  This project was one way for me to do that.

Perhaps the most important thing, though, was that I had a story that I wanted to tell.  Several stories, actually.  This was an effective way for me to tell a lot of stories at once, in a way that people might enjoy.

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How did your story come about? How much did you plan ahead of time, and how much was written dynamically as the community interacted with characters and played through?

I was playing Reach and was a little dissatisfied with certain aspects of the story.  As usual when I have this problem, I started thinking about how I would have done it differently.  That started with my tag, F404, as the main character.  That mutated into F484 (4+8+4 = 16, 1+6 = 7) and the F404 became a bit of a joke.  But as I worked, I realized that I needed to go back further than that.  All the way back.  With that, I sat down and started to write the story of F484.

This started with research.  Reviewing the books and the games.  Analyzing everything that I could on Halopedian.  I don’t even want to try and count the hours spent researching.  With that, the story of Chair (the ONI contact) virtually wrote itself.  When I got to the end, I raced back and rewrote sections to give subtle hints as to her relationship with F484.

And then, when I adapted the whole thing for the HBO forums and it went live, I tossed most of that right out the window.

While I had some people reviewing that, I went back and started to work on the story of the crew.  I created a core cast of characters that “interesting” things would happen to, what their motivations were, and how I could work in more nods to the community.  From there, I wrote out a basic set of scenarios and interactions, taking breaks only to edit the core story of F484.

The character of Raschad was created from all the time I’ve dealt with people who suffered from PTSD.  I saw how they could appear to the average person to be a normal member of society, but yet they could be terribly haunted by it.  It also helped to have a different viewpoint; all of the ship’s cast were written as people who had come after the Human-Covenant war.  I liked the idea of there being somebody there for whom the Rainforest Wars meant as much to as the H-C war meant to the rest of the crew.  He was actually kind of bitter about that, though the circumstances for him to address it never came up in the game.

And then, when I adapted the whole thing for the HBO forums and it went live, I tossed most of that right out the window.

Ask any RPG game master and they’ll tell you that people do crazy stuff that you can never anticipate.  It happened before the game even went live.  I created Hive, fleshed out Helen, and watched as the players proceeded to do things that I could never have anticipated.

I’m glad I had that core work done, even if most of the crew stuff was rewritten on the fly.  Scenes were shuffled (with some meant for early on appearing late in the game and visa versa), deleted, or completely mangled beyond recognition.  Almost every aspect of the crew portion went through at least partial editing during it.  A great deal was rewritten completely.

Surprisingly, the base Chair stuff stayed the same.  I added supplementary communications with the emails and other communications, but a great deal came from one of three drafts of the script, the majority being the first draft.  Though it was more rough, it was also the most familiar to me, and would lend itself to the fastest adaptation.  Because when you’re hammering out replies as fast as you can, familiarity is vastly important.  I also found that the roughness worked for the character of Chair.  With who she really was, reliving all of this was hard on her.

Of the crew stuff, I’d say that in the end 70% was written or rewritten within 48 hours of it being posted.  Of the Chair stuff, only about 10% in total was written dynamically, but part of that number comes from the sheer amount of text that was in the total Chair stuff.

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There are some elements of your story that don’t quite jive with official Halo canon. Can you expand on your choice to take some creative liberties? What are your thoughts on working within the Halo canon?

Perhaps the most important thing to me was showing this man who had been all but destroyed when made an Orion quickly degrade, while the players knew that it was happening to all the Orion IVs.  That it wasn’t the Covenant that was destroying them, but the fact that their bodies had been pushed farther than they could handle.  It’s a potent thing to me, and perhaps the most interesting aspect of a super soldier program.

The most interesting aspect of a character in my mind isn’t what they accomplish, it’s what they fail at. Or accomplish despite their flaws. I like to see people fall and get back up. Emotionally, physically, spiritually, seeing people get back up is really what makes me feel for a character.

Of course, Spartans don’t have this problem.  They’re perfectly balanced, assuming that they survived the augmentation process in good enough condition to graduate.  That has never sat well with me.  Though some of the supplemental information has shown that this isn’t quite the case, I never really felt that it was handled with the horror necessary.  Honestly, that’s the core of the entire story that I wrote.

The most interesting aspect of a character in my mind isn’t what they accomplish, it’s what they fail at.  Or accomplish despite their flaws.  I like to see people fall and get back up.  Emotionally, physically, spiritually, seeing people get back up is really what makes me feel for a character.  In real life, all of us are broken in our own ways, but we push forward.  I like to see that in fiction as well.  Therefore, I had to break the Spartan II program.

However, I tried to make all of the changes make sense within the Halo universe as best I could.  That was one of the initial rules: none of this is actually broken, don’t fix it if you don’t have to.  For example, I considered making a small tweak to the Rainforest Wars but decided against it.  On one hand, it’s so far back that it would hardly make any ripples.  On the other hand, what would be the point?  Better to work within the confines given me than not.  Besides, outsmarting your constraints can be fun!  Even if they are self-imposed.

In the end, I kept the changes as minimal as possible, and let those major changes leave their ripples.  The first was that the Orion program was never shut down.  This would negate the Spartan program completely.  The second was changing the dates of the Human-Covenant War.  I achieved this by having the Elites smarten up a little bit early and turn against the Prophets.  Unlike in canon, the Prophets were caught by surprise with this, causing a much quicker shift.  Without the truth about the Halo array, however, they continued on with business as usual.

Some people may think that I threw around changes willy-nilly. This was as far from the truth as possible.

Was changing the dates so important?  Yes, but not for reasons that anybody ever realized.  Nobody did the hard math or caught subtle clues that I threw out there.  Maybe they were too subtle.  It’s a risk that you run in a project like this.  One that I didn’t fully appreciate until I was up and running.

Each change was debated, and only after analysis of the canon version.  Many “ripples” were negated entirely because I could see how things would end up the same.  Some were caused by the necessity of it not being a game — that which makes a compelling video game plot does not necessarily make a good writing plot.  (Again, much credit goes to Nylund.)

This is how things like Myung, the Guide, and Monitors being rebooted every so often came into being.  I still haven’t had a chance to read Cryptum, so I had to take a logical approach to the Forerunners as I saw them.  Since then, I’ve learned that some of my guesses were off course, but I tried as best I could.  I tried to have the Forerunners have, I dunno, foresight?  (Yes, you may beat me for that.)

For the events on the ship, I just tried to make a slight and general progression in technology.  Seven years for a Smart AI became 25.  (Another seven reference.)  I found something to do with Smart AIs who had thought themselves to death.  That sort of thing.  Changes, yes, but more of a sense of progress than anything revolutionary.  If a game happens 60 years after the canon end of Halo 3, it has to show some sort of progress in technology.

Some people may think that I threw around changes willy-nilly.  This was as far from the truth as possible.  Believe me, each change was agonized over for far longer than I’d like to admit to.

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Are you an active Halo community member? Do you play online often?

I play Reach almost every day, but rarely multiplayer.  I’m not very good, so I stick to what I’m best at: single player and firefight.  (Best implying that Heroic didn’t take me a week to pull off.  Which it totally did.)  That and I guess I’m still stuck in the days where you said “Good game” at the end of a match.  I try to be a polite guy, and I suppose I expect others to be as well.  When they aren’t, I tend to become very discouraged.Since the ARG finished, I’ve been getting into more community-driven games.  Honestly, I really enjoy them.

I regret having been so quiet. I’ve already made some friends, and have gotten to play with some amazing people. People seem to actually read what I have to say

But the community beyond just the games?  I love it.  I’ve lurked on HBO since before Halo 2 came out.  I was unemployed when ODST came out, and I clung to HBO for information and the chance to live vicariously.  There’s so much talent within the Halo community in so many diverse ways.  There hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that I haven’t been able to find something entertaining put out by the community.  Be it forum posts or videos, or reviewing costumes and playing flash games, or even the fan fiction, the community never ceases to amaze me.

I never really said much though.  Two posts, I think, before Bzzt.  If memory serves me correctly, they were both about the Enkidu ARG.  I’m not much of a forum guy, and the chats were kind of…  I had the feeling that it’s where the cool kids hung out.  I usually have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the initial interaction by somebody else.

Now?  I regret having been so quiet.  I’ve already made some friends, and have gotten to play with some amazing people.  People seem to actually read what I have to say and not start out with the insults — a huge change for a guy who used to write stories for the most hostile and abusive site on the internet.  I really wish that I would have started talking in the community sooner.

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What were some of your favorite moments during Bzzt’s run?

I wish you could hear me laughing as I read this.  Since “the whole thing” is an awful answer that’s horribly overused, I’ll break it down by category.

Jaded: The day after it finished.  I came home from work exhausted.  I looked longingly at my bed and realized “Oh, hey, I can go to bed now if I want to.”  And I did.  And a full eight hours of sleep never felt so good.  As much as I loved Bzzt’s run, it did a number on my sleep.

Gleeful: Every single time that somebody said that they didn’t care if it was canon or not because they enjoyed the story.  That’s when I knew that I wasn’t wasting my time and my chest puffed with pride.  I’m not fragile, but I occasionally like to know if I should keep going or not.  I think we all like to know that our work is appreciated.

Amazed: The moment when people started researching real-life military protocols to use as ammunition against Helen.  Wow.  Above and beyond the call of duty?  A little bit, in my opinion.  Appreciated?  Greatly.  I felt that I had to change the game a bit in order to accommodate that level of dedication.  There was supposed to be greater fallout from that situation which I kind of smoothed over.

Jaw, Meet Floor: When a certain player wrote a certain speech to the crew.  I know that the player didn’t think that it was going to cause that big of a stir when he wrote it, but there’s one speech that completely changed the game.  It made me take every plan that I still had for crew mutiny and toss it right out the window.  It was that point that the character of the Captain completely solidified for me.  Looking back and reading it, it may not seem like much, but at the time it was a total game changer.

I’m man enough to admit I cried.

Though the sleep deprivation probably helped with that.

Content: After the game ended, I chatted with the players, the people who put up with my madness and inability to spell.  I liked hearing back from the people who participated and enjoyed it.  It was like sitting around with a bunch of old friends…  on the internet.  And to think that some of them are still writing stuff about it.  It completely blows my mind.

Awww: I kept on expecting people to break up Raschad and Wolfe.  They didn’t.  Yes, the two were eventually going to be separated, but not immediately.  Every time they were allowed to spend some more time together, I felt my heart grow a size.  I’m a sucker for romance, and I’m always glad when players foster it.

Endgame: When it ended, the players did some things in-character that were…  unexpectedly sweet and touching.  They reached out to F484 and Myung in a way that I didn’t expect.  They honored Helen, and comforted Hive.  That last day will always hold a special place in my heart.  The things that they said they believed the Captain would do were magical to me.  I’m man enough to admit I cried.  Though the sleep deprivation probably helped with that.

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Can you describe some of the challenges you faced in the execution of this ARG?

The ARG was supposed to be rather…  different.  It’s own website, an internal “email” system for communication with Chair, daily reports, everything needed to really make you believe that you were the captain of the UNSC Theseus.  The transcripts were supposed to be actual audio logs.  There was supposed to be limited machinima involved.  Hidden pages, puzzles, a separate website for a Prowler where you had to use the puzzles to find pages, images, a subplot about a computer tech aboard the ship trying to figure out what was going on…  The works.

To make a long story short, all of that fell apart.  I don’t blame anybody; I doubt that most people knew the scope of what I was asking when they signed on.  Even the voice actors.  Which is fine, honestly; I’m used to rolling with the punches.  It’s when I do some of my best work.

My poor netbook! It wanted to kill me! I had Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer, Notepad, WordPad, OpenOffice, and Widows Media Player open all the time.

After moving it to the forums (and then the ABO forums) I had brand new challenges.  I moved up the interaction quite a bit, since players no longer had a database to search.  So I had to rewrite most explanations to fit from Hive’s POV.

The name Bzzt comes from Hive’s unique method of communication, prefacing each paragraph with a variation of Bzzt that indicated the importance of his message.  (Thank Louis Wu for that — my name for it was always Orion IV.)  I’ve described him in different ways, but I think the best description is of a person who desperately wants to be liked so he tries to be helpful any way they can despite being a little on the innocent side.  Writing for Hive was an unexpected challenge because of this, but I enjoyed it greatly.  I think he’s my favorite character.  He’s like a little kid that just happens to be the brain of a space ship.  Maybe the heart of it, too.

One major unexpected challenge was that I honestly (mistakenly) expected players to catch onto the fact that this wasn’t canon early in the game.  I tried various ways to reinforce this, but with limited success.  I had to teach players their limits without stating the rules, and I mangled it on occasion.  I learned a lot from it, and know how to handle it better in the future.  I hope.

One of the “star” characters was Raschad.  I wanted to make a tragic guy who came off as completely normal at first glance.  A bit of a jerk at times, but an all around good guy who wanted to help out people.  Sure, he got some of the best lines, but I also had to reel him back a lot.  With the lines being the facade that he wore, I couldn’t make them too natural.

In one bit of stupidity on my end, I never made it clear that the Captain could request people report on their fellow crew members or talk to them in depth.  (“Hive, send this person this message and return their response.”)  I had various things written up for all the “star” characters, I had both shifts of the bridge staff, and a lot of really good stuff that never got used.  One thing that would have come to light had the Captain asked around was that Raschad never gave the same background information twice.  I had some extremely good stuff about McAllister, the XO.  I still regret not doing more with her, but I misjudged what the audience wanted in that regard.

(And no, I’m not sharing these, because they’re perfect for recycling into other things.)

Another challenge was a purely technical one.  My poor netbook!  It wanted to kill me!  I had Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer, Notepad, WordPad, OpenOffice, and Widows Media Player open all the time.  I kept begging it to last just a little bit longer.  It pulled through, but even after a format I don’t think it’s forgiven me.

The greatest challenge, however, was staying a step ahead while still, you know, sleeping.  At one point I was getting about three hours of sleep a day, just so that I could get stuff typed up in advance.  I had tons of flow charts, if/then statements, record sheets, and notes that I updated constantly.  An offhand comment could cause me to have to change three things.  Everything rippled, and not in obvious ways.  One time, as I was typing out a lengthy post, somebody said something that made me delete it all immediately.

And I loved it all.

All in all, this was perhaps the most all-around challenging project that I’ve ever done.  And to think that I’m not opposed to doing it again.  I might need therapy.  I wonder if there’s a real-life version of Dr. Muldoon…

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How big was your team? How did you communicate and plan out the content?

In the end, it was only me.  All of it.
Tip:  Don’t do that!  You’ll kill yourself!

I had a great crew of people helping me. Psychologists, physicists, engineers, military personnel, people in various medical fields, historians, a politician, a sociologist, an environmental historian who works for lobbyists…
But, sadly, in the end it was just me.

In the beginning, though, I had a great crew of people helping me.  Psychologists, physicists, engineers, military personnel, people in various medical fields, historians, a politician, a sociologist, an environmental historian who works for lobbyists…  There isn’t one aspect of the story that I didn’t talk with somebody over in some form.  There were aspects of the story that never made it to the public eye that were discussed and researched in rather great detail.  The research that went into it was insane.  My third biggest project yet, in terms of research.  I wanted it to feel as real as possible.

The people who reviewed the story for me were also wonderfully helpful.  They caught that my spell-check somehow turned Corps into Corpse, amongst many other things.  (I kant spel.)  Serdar Yegalup offered me so many story insights despite not actually being into either video games or ARGs.  So much, in fact, that I have to call him out by name.  The fact that he doesn’t do any of this stuff actually helped out a lot.  When he responded to one draft that it almost put him in tears, I knew I was doing the right thing.

Some of the people brought in for voice acting and image editing helped out greatly even after they bowed out for various reasons.  The machinima crew were also very responsive, even if we were never able to coordinate.

I was making notes and rambling plans out loud during a haircut.

But, sadly, in the end it was just me.  Which saves me a lot of trouble on the communication part, but the whole “life” part kind of went to the wayside for longer than anticipated.  My roommates can tell you, the few times they saw me I was constantly muttering to myself trying to plan out the next two steps.  One of my coworkers is a beautician, and she will attest to the fact that I was working on Bzzt as she was cutting my hair.  Think about that a moment.  I was making notes and rambling plans out loud during a haircut.

Man, I wish I could have had somebody else manage it for at least an hour or two every day.

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How pleased are you with how your story and this project played out?  Would you do it again?

Mistakes were made.  Lessons were learned.  And I had a blast.  The term “labor of love” gets thrown around more often than it should, but it’s true.  You don’t put so much of yourself into a project like this if you don’t love it and believe in it.  You laugh, you live, you learn, and you have fun with it.

If I could go back and do it again, would I?  Do you have a time machine handy?

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Have you created anything like this in the past? Do you have any plans for future projects?

An ARG?  No.  But I write constantly.  A short a day, sometimes it only qualifies as flash fiction.  Sometimes I write multiple stories a day.  Sometimes I’ll devote a week or more to writing something bigger.  There are places where I’m relatively well known, but I don’t share most of my work; more that I keep my ideas for bigger projects.  I love writing, and I’m always paranoid that the well will run dry.  So far it hasn’t.  I hope to keep it up.

F484 is still out there, and his story isn’t done.

As for future projects, I’ve currently got a good foundation for a sequel in mind.  F484 is still out there, and his story isn’t done.  I’m still debating if I should go for it, though.  I’d like to do this one properly, but if everything fell through again, I’m not sure if I could bring myself to do it.  I’m desperately trying to get published or get a job writing for the industry, and that takes a lot of time and effort when you have to build up the courage to send the email.

Of course, I also have ideas that are more canon.  If I had the finances/skill, I even have a very short Halo-related fan-film I’d like to make. (And a Bzzt! one too, of course!)  So who knows?  I might do any number of projects next.

“Some of the greatest acts of heroism in war have come on the eve of a conflict’s end. There is no greater tragedy than for someone to lose their life when a war is about to finish, and it’s even worse for those involved when they’re aware of the fact the end is so close.”

~Peter Cooper

To begin this series on grassroots storytelling in the Halo universe, I caught up with Peter Cooper, writer and director of the upcoming fan film Operation Chastity, who answered some questions about the production and his perspective as a fan on the Halo storyworld and franchise.

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Can you briefly summarize what Operation Chastity is, what it’s about?

Operation Chastity is a feature length film project set at the very end of the Human-Covenant War, February 2553. The Covenant have long since fled Earth and the UNSC are mopping up what’s left. Lieutenant Ashton and his group of hardened Marines fight in the final operation of the Human-Covenant War, knowing the war is almost over and longing to go home. But when the Marines cross paths with an ONI agent and a Spartan on a top-secret mission, Ashton is torn between his duty to his comrades and suicidal orders.

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What inspired you to take on the creation of a film of this scale?

The initial concept began quite small. The idea was to build the Warthog, a few costumes, then do a series of comedy shorts. As time went on and we built up a head of steam, however, more and more people suggested we build on the idea and push it a little bit further. So, it went from being comedy to action-drama, and from shorts to extended shorts, and eventually evolved into the full-scale feature project we are working on today.

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How did the story for Operation Chastity come about? How did you decide on the time and place in which to tell the story?

My academic life was spent largely studying military history, so I spent a lot of time learning about conflict and how it affects the human condition. The core story of Operation Chastity draws on that knowledge, looking at the Halo universe and exploring the experience of regular ground troops within the conflict – the trials they endure, the dangers they face, and the challenges they overcome. That helped me immensely in choosing the specific time to set this particular piece.

Some of the greatest acts of heroism in war have come on the eve of a conflict’s end. There is no greater tragedy than for someone to lose their life when a war is about to finish, and it’s even worse for those involved when they’re aware of the fact the end is so close. That sentiment set the tone I was looking for – if there was a story to be told, it had to be at the moment. A closing statement to the human experience of war against the Covenant, looking back on the pain inflicted upon them and as well as humanity’s hope for the future.

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Operation Chastity: Behind the scenes:

View trailer on Youtube

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Did you have any concerns about what you should or shouldn’t include, how you might interact with Halo canon, and how fans might react?

As both a fan and an aspiring film maker there was a lot of personal struggle to temper my desire for “cool” things and fitting in with continuity. All the time I was busy looking over my work ensuring that whatever I did would not incite some kind of fan rage. I approached it as though it was another piece of official literature, and gave the canon the respect it deserves.

It’s one thing to take the story in a new direction and another to fly in the face of established fact within the canon. Fans appreciate this and so did I. I avoided making up new Spartans and other issues that many fans have held as contentious, but was also eager to push the story to the limit to make it a dramatic and compelling experience for everyone.

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Did you look for any support from Bungie Studios or 343 Industries when you began the project?

Most of our interaction has been with 343 Industries, who have been very supportive of our endeavour to bring a fan-based story within the Halo universe to the big screen. Our project began after Bungie’s handover of the rights to 343 Industries post-Halo 3, so while we have had little contact with them, we are doing everything possible to do justice to their universe.

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Was Operation Chastity always going to be something created for the community, for the fun of it, to share freely?

We always intended Operation Chastity to be a gift for the fans, our way of giving something back to the community. On a personal level, the Halo community has kept me entertained and given me so much pleasure over the years, so there’s always been a drive to give something back.

Partnering with such a reputable company as Machinima to bring our film to the web has enabled us to branch out to a much broader audience, including fans not familiar with Halo. We hope that by creating a solid piece of dramatic entertainment, we won’t just be giving back to the community, but perhaps introducing new fans to the community and helping to expand it.

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What sort of technical challenges have you faced in creating this film?


The technical challenges have been great, from replicating the look and feel of Halo through costumes and props to shooting big action sequences, right through to recreating all of Halo’s iconic vehicles and ships as part of our ground breaking visual effects work. We’re aiming for a production that is of a Hollywood level, and that inherently makes our project more challenging because where something might be forgivable in an average fan film, it’s totally not for us.

Were it not for our producer, Nicola Instone, we wouldn’t be able to aim for that target. I am a first time filmmaker, and her knowledge and experience has meant we can push for that Hollywood quality. Thanks to her exhaustive skills in the fields of production and visual effects and the team she has assembled for the teaser, every single challenge has been met and overcome, and the results are stunning.

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Can you describe some of your favourite moments on set?

Every moment on set filming the teaser was an amazing experience for me as it was my first time on a production of that magnitude. Having so many experienced industry professionals give up their weekends to bring my story to life was something I will never forget.

Perhaps one of the funniest moments came in rehearsals. One of our actors, Vin Hawke, knew I was a big fan of District 9. We were going through one of our scenes, and on his cue, rather than shouting out his proper line, he shouted “YEAH! TAKE DET YOU FOKKEN’ PRAWNS!” I totally cracked up.

 

 

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What was it like working with your team of creative minds, and Halo fans, to bring this film together?

Collaborating with so many wonderful people has been an absolute dream, and a lot of our team are film industry professionals as well as being Halo fans. That love of the source material has ensured that, with the teaser as well as the coming feature, we stay true to the universe while at the same time finding new and interesting ways to push it forward.

Our propmaster, Ed Woodward (who recently finished work on Ridley Scott’s Prometheus), is a massive Halo fan and brought a great depth of industry knowledge as well as a love of Halo to help build props that looked straight out of the games, using concept art and in-game stills to help in fabricating realistic Marine armour.

Our visual effects supervisors, Richard Briscoe (Iron Man 2, V For Vendetta, The Bourne Ultimatum) and Sean Farrow (Batman Begins, The Da Vinci Code, 1408) have been performing miracles in bringing the Halo universe to life through our visual effects, and the teams working for us (including major names such as Digital Idea, Lipsync, Malditomaus and Bleed VFX) helped us really push the boundaries of what is possible in low budget projects.

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What are some other past projects you yourself have created? Do you have plans for any future projects?

For a time I worked in a special effects studio and helped make props that were used in Doctor Who, and Ive also worked within the wardrobe and props departments on a variety of independent films including the sci-fi miniseries Trenches. Operation Chastity is my first feature film project as a filmmaker, and I’m hoping to build on that.

Right now all my energy is primarily being invested in getting Operation Chastity on the big screen as a feature film. We are frantically working at finishing the teaser, which will be released in the coming months, and collaborating with Hollywood screenwriter Marvin Willson in editing the script ready for production of the feature length version of Operation Chastity.

I also have several original scripts in the works, and working on a graphic novel with a phenomenal artist named Adam Burn, who I had the pleasure of working with on Operation Chastity.

 

 

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Are you planning to attend any shows to promote the film and meet fans before release?

Closer to the release of the teaser we will certainly be attending events and beginning promotion for the feature film.

We’ve been involved with the community for some time, running Reach tournaments and competitions. Our involvement with the community is something we enjoy and are very committed to.

“[Halo is] a synthesis of a myriad of sci-fi stories, as well as many other fantasy and militaristic franchises… And what Halo does best is…it still cuts a straight path forward with its own style and tone.
It’s an ode, and something new, at the same time.”

~Levi Hoffmeier

In the beginning…

Halo entered the sci-fi scene as a video game in 2001 with the release of Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox.  Being strictly a video game, no one expected it to spawn the dynamic, evolving universe that exists today.  Bungie’s franchise that began with this launch game for Microsoft’s Xbox has since become a series of games, including (at the time of this article) Halo 1, 2 and 3, Halo: 3 ODST, and Halo: Reach. Microsoft has additionally produced Halo: Wars, with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary set for November 15th 2011 release, and Halo 4 on the horizon.

But video games, arguably, aren’t the core to the success of the Halo franchise – at least not as it stands today.  Technically speaking, Halo itself wasn’t a groundbreakingly innovative video game. One of the biggest factors of what made the game and eventually the series popular was how the stories were told, and the significance of these tales within the grander universe.  Microsoft saw this, and since purchasing (and now having complete creative control over) the Halo franchise, which manifested in the form of 343 Industries- an in-house organization created in 2007 to oversee the franchise- they have taken Halo to all new levels, so to speak.

The expanding ring…

Back in 1999, Bungie – who themselves hold their community in high regards – provided additional fiction outside the video games for fans of the franchise.

They first teased their fans with the Cortana Letters – communications from the AI construct Cortana – hinting at details about the story of the upcoming game Halo: Combat Evolved. But while the Master Chief led the charge into the primary Halo confrontation, in his wake were left hints of other untold places and characters, times and conflicts. In 2004, the promotional campaign “I Love Bees” broke new ground in the Alternate Reality Gaming genre to promote Halo 2 – bringing Halo fiction back in time into our 20th century while exploring in parallel a civilization with which we could sympathize in 2552. In 2007 this community-centered story expansion trend continued with “Iris” to promote Halo 3 – introducing fans more intimately to the much older, mysterious legacy of the ancient Forerunner race.

With such development of the Halo fiction universe, expectations were high that a feature film would be in the works. But when hopes were dashed with the news of unresolved disagreements between Microsoft and interested film studios, it seemed to bolster the community passion for more Halo fiction.

343 Industries continues to explore the Halo world through a myriad of novels, live actions shorts, and short story collections comprised of anime and literature — but they’ve also recognized the creative power of the Halo community, and their desire to be a part of, and to help shape the universe.  Halo Waypoint is a key element in 343 Industries’ efforts to connect with and work with the community. Among its strengths is its existence as a hub highlighting fan-made content; whether in the form of in-game videos, or machinima video series, or other community creations.

The articles to follow in this series are not about the primary Halo creators and their stories that compose official canon.

Rather, with the many creative fans that have been inspired by what they’ve seen, watched, and experienced over the years, itching to explore the universe even further themselves, putting their own time and money into the creation of stories that enhance all that they’ve already come to adore — this series is meant to focus on them.

Write more good!

[Fan-fiction authors] are without a doubt some of the most passionate writers in existence

Fan-fiction is often promoted as an important element of a franchise’s transmedia strategy – affording the flexibility for a storyworld to expand and explore unique content, telling stories that may have only ever been hinted at, and enhancing the greater mythology conceived by the original creators.  Quite often a fan-fiction community can run amok with enthusiastic writers taking characters in directions never initially considered (or desired), or otherwise making extra effort to adhere strictly to established canon. Many writings may only ever even reach the eyes of their fellow writers – but these creators are without a doubt some of the most passionate writers in existence. The Halo universe curators have taken this into account, actively embracing and promoting the creativity of its community – who produce content ranging from machinima, to fanfic, to fine arts, and many other forms of expression.

Fast forward to today… This November marks the 10th anniversary of the Halo franchise. And so, as part of my tribute to Halo, the articles to follow in this series are interviews in which I touch base with a few talented community individuals and Halo fans who have overseen the creation and execution of various storytelling projects. I present each of them a number of similar questions to get their own unique takes and perspectives on the Halo universe, to hear about their inspirations, to find out what spawned this desire to explore the storyworld, to learn about the successes and struggles they faced in creating each of their projects — and ultimately find out what it is that Halo means to them.

 

First up: Peter Cooper, director of Operation Chastity

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s article!

 


Has it really been 10 years?

Here’s a little bit of a look back at the Halo franchise, from some other Halo and gaming community leaders…

Gametrailers.com has been covering the history of Halo’s 10 years in these retrospective videos:

Index 1 – The Hushed Casket

Index 2 – Once More Unto the Breach

Index 3 – Tip of the Spear

Index 4 – The Way The World Ends

Age of Gratitude

The Halo community has written a veritable love letter to the franchise in the form of a collection of memories and tributes to Bungie and Halo. Go browse the exhibition at AgeOfGratitude.com

More fan productions

Halo: The Fallen – VFX Teaser

This fan film is currently in production, and looking for community support (see links below the video for more!)

Halo: The Fallen VFX Teaser from HaloTheFallenFanFilm on Youtube

Other links to check out

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Other articles in the Halo Tales series:

Who would have thought, so many years ago, that a community of gamers and storytellers, hobbyists and professionals, players and creators, would come together from around the world so often and so enthusiastically, to create an event as enjoyable, entertaining, and educational as ARGFest?

Bloomington, Indiana was ground zero for ARGFest 2011, and it was arguably the most successful fest to date. The most prominent thing I always seem to come away with from this annual event is this: Community. In the words of J.C. Hutchins, “People, man. People.”

Indeed, this conference/fest (or rather, “fest-o-con”) is filled with wonderful people, who come together in an environment that promotes equality and mutual respect and admiration for creative talents and inspirational ideas. Players and creators co-mingle, learning from each other, and often meet for the first time in person people only acquainted via a series of tubes.

Players learn how creators of ARGs and other experiences they’ve enjoyed actually think, and are given an opportunity to thank, and heck, even acquire autographs, of those people they admire. Puppetmasters and newcomers to the field have an extremely valuable opportunity to play games and chat with players – the people for whom they create their games, art, and stories.

This is what makes ARGFest tick.

People.

From panels and sessions composed of professionals and players (or players who have become professional creators…or even professional players) – to general social interaction and pure enjoyment of the venue and city in which the fest takes place.  Below is an overview of what I took away from this year’s ARGFest.

The Hutch

This year, I had the pleasure of finally meeting J.C. Hutchins. I first came across ‘The Hutch’ in late 2008 when he began blogging enthusiastically about a silver briefcase he received in the mail. This mystery “silver case” was quickly discovered to be part of an ARG executed for the video game FEAR 2. At that time, he seemed to me a super-mega-popular-celebrity-blogger with an infectious joy for excitement and stories and a healthy love for people, and I’d followed his antics ever since.

After meeting him this weekend at ARGFest – that perception has not changed. J.C. is a professional author and creative storyteller, with a demonstrated genuine love for people. He attended ARGFest to grace us with a keynote speech which he titled “Getting to Good”, in which he describes his years from college to today and the lessons he learned as someone who wanted to create things. His keynote hit me on a very personal level – I felt his passion, and his childhood and youth experiences struck a chord; how his life as a youth who often spent time alone shaped his perception of the world and the importance of story, and of people. His closing remark for those working their way up the ladder as a creator of stuff struck home: “You won’t be alone. If there anything this community has taught me, it’s that you’re not going to be working alone.”

That’s the key element to this community, as JC put it – “the incredible value of collaboration, playing nice with others”. So often fledgling creators are left wondering if what they’re doing, if the type of stuff they’re creating will be accepted and gain an audience, if their vision will be understood, if they can make a living on it. Or as players, we often find ourselves surrounded by people who don’t “get” what we do or what we love. Yet when we’re able to come together and form an oft-cited “hive mind”, something happens – not just an intellectual sharing of knowledge and experience, but a personal encouragement and inspiration, a whole greater than the sum of its parts. We are not alone; neither as players nor creators, and ARGFest really is an embodiment of this community mentality.

After the fest concluded, I and a number of other stragglers had the pleasure of having one last meal with him, and on his way out, he continuously emphasized how happy and thankful he was to be able to spend time with us. JC is indeed a celebrity of his own right, but he treated everyone else like the celebrities. That’s an inspiration, and if only everyone thought like that, one can only imagine the types of things we’d be able to create together.

Check out JCHutchins.net for more about his past work and collaborations.  J.C. Hutchins left an indelible impression on us with his keynote speech – you can watch it below.

ARGfest Keynote 2011: “Getting To Good” from J.C. Hutchins on Vimeo

The ARGish Inquisition

Through previous years, a tradition took hold in which an individual would act as a “Grand Inquisitor” – an evil character who opens the floor for questions during or after panels and speaker sessions, typically in a nefarious, challenging manner, asking the tough questions, and getting the ball rolling.

This year, Andrea Phillips took on the role, and gave it a twist… she’d hoped to play a kinder, gentler inquisitor. Where previous inquisitors (including the likes of Elan Lee, Brian Clark, and Steve Peters) entertained by instilling in speakers and panelists a nervous fear of the upcoming questions, she would ask the difficult questions in the manner of a sort of genuine curiosity.

However, whether it was her subdued evil demeanor, or the fact that all she made any audience members who had a question don a nefarious black wig, Andrea shared: “I was sure I’d be the mildest Inquisitor ARGfest has ever seen, but in fact I found depths of cruelty I hadn’t realized were there.”

Andrea did a wonderful job as Grand Inquisitor this year, clearly putting much thought and effort into her role! You can follow her musings and writings at DeusExMachinatio.com.

Curation? A 4DF first

At previous fests, the ARG museums were organized by the likes of Dav Flamerock, Agent Lex, and Konamouse. With past organizers not in attendance this year, however, I was asked if I’d be willing to step in to head up the display. After brewing on it for a while, I opted to take the step.

Then it got real… The fest that is. Taking on the museum with only a few weeks to spare, I didn’t want it to be a half-brained last-minute fest component. I have a great respect for the creative talent that’s poured into artifacts created for use in many ARGs and marketing campaigns — It’s only fair to put a solid effort into displaying that work as an inspiration to other creators.

So, in moving forward, I opted to extend the museum with an additional element. I’d initially intended to have QR codes provide a detailed outline about each project on display, a sort of mini-IMDB purely for this ARGFest museum. But, as the weeks before ARGFest turned into days, there simply wasn’t enough time to build the entire system and catalogue all the details I’d envisioned.

In the end, I focused on a trivia element for the museum, providing for attendees a chance to have a bit of fun, test their past knowledge, and encourage a little more appreciation and exploration of the artifacts others had created. The mobile web-based trivia system ended up being a great success.

There was even an…unexpected intrusion. Some other evil inquisitor hatched a plot to infiltrate the museum and trivia game in a fit of vengeance, having been replaced by this year’s kinder inquisitor. It appeared, however, that this “Evil inQuisitoR” hatched his QR plan a little too late, and thankfully no ill came of it. Let that be a lesson to envious inquisitors looking for vengeance – it helps to launch your plans while there are still curious eyes exploring the exhibits, and less drowsy, sleepy-eyed late-night partiers who’ve already done their fair share of exploration. ;)

At the conclusion of the sessions, 5 winners were announced and given bragging rights for their ARG knowledge – Dee Cook, Daniel Van Gool, Kyle Woollums, Eric Kays, and Jim Senderhauf. Prizes included a selection of topically related books including:

Unfortunately my time at the fest ended up more focused on the museum than the sessions, but it was a fun and a rewarding experience. I was honored to be asked to take on the task, but my thanks must go out to all those who donated items for the museum display and trivia prizes, as well as helping with many trivia questions – it would not have been a success without you.

On Hospitality, Hustling, Herman and a Silver River…

While half of ARGFest is composed of panels and sessions, the other half is a social and gaming mixing pot. Other elements include FestQuest, a hospitality suite, and the straggler’s supper, but there may also be anything from collaborative mystery solving to late night drinkering at local establishments.

One element that seems to have become a tradition are Rock Band sessions in the hospitality suite. It’s quite a spectacle when a packed room erupts along with a drumset and two guitars in a chorus of Still Alive. The hospitality suite is the hang out during periods between scheduled events, and especially in the evening while people trickle away for what few hours of sleep remain each night.

The sessions this year were opened with an entertaining game from Awkward Hug (creators of Must Love Robots and Socks Inc.) called Wisconsin Hustle. This is a mobile game that’s set to release in winter 2011, but was brought to ARGFest for play-testing in card form and, well, for pure entertainment. Suffice to say, many retro dance moves made a reappearance, and the game got rave reviews from attendees (though no one ended up pantsless).

Another thing people have started doing in recent years is geocaching. Having been geocaching for two years now, I made the effort to get out and around the venue area, as did a few others who have taken up the hobby. Bloomington boasts a fairly active geocaching community, and Indiana University is peppered with caches around campus – including one named for Herman B. Wells, “Hangin’ with Herman“. I visited this one with SynthBio, and we had a bit of… fun with Herman. Geocaching is also a great way to appreciate the area and even learn a bit more about its history.

What better type of meal at an interactive storytelling/gaming conference than an interactive restaurant? A crowd of us hit up the HuHot Mongolian Grill for dinner on Saturday night. At the Grill, you fill a bowl of ingredients of your choosing to hand off to the grillers who literally circle a sizzling slate, tossing and cooking up your meal in front of your eyes as you wait, and making a show of it. And it’s also Delicious!

In addition to the social elements, gaming, discussions, sessions and panels on ARGs and transmedia, often there are puzzles included in the festivities. This year was no exception, although much of the puzzling seemed to be well focused on one particular piece from fellow Canadians Stitch Media. In the same manner as last year, Evan Jones included a puzzle in the ARGFest program. An apparently simple puzzle taunting attendees to solve it — a few lines of poetic phrases, emblazoned with Stitch’s logo. …were it so easy.

A number of us pored over the puzzle, drawn in by its intricacies and stubborn mysteries. We researched, tested, played, folded, poked, drew, scratched, and tore our hair out over the course of the weekend. All to no avail. Eventually, with the fest drawing to a close, we were nudged ever so slightly in the right direction, until it finally clicked, and we saw glorious freedom from its shackles! That puzzle is here reproduced along with the hints for your likewise inevitable discombobulation.

Socks and Cogs: FestQuest

This year’s FestQuest was organized by Studio Cypher‘s Ian Pottmeyer. It began Saturday at 1pm a couple of blocks from the venue. We set off at staggered time in a number of teams, following clues that took us from location to location around the university, with puzzles ranging from mathematical riddles to cryptic decoder rings to maze-like instructions told to us by Ian-himself-disguised-in-drag.

Teams set out at scattered times, but it was my team that ended up at the destination last. Not without reason, of course! With the intended access to a segment of the quest unexpectedly locked, we still opted to go for the full experience, so we circled around the building for another access point into an underground tunnel spanning two buildings on the campus. We were glad we did, but it also allowed another team to pass us. Nonetheless, much entertainment, brain teasing, and hijinks were had in this year’s FestQuest.

In the end, it was another raging success with many heartily enjoying the experience. Many props to Studio Cypher on a well-planned and executed scavenger hunt.

Other memorable moments

On Friday night I had an intriguing chat with Reed Berkowitz (@soi) regarding his perspective on the nature of fiction and reality. Reed spoke on the Saturday morning in a session entitled Reality As a Story-telling Medium.  He had some very intriguing and philosophical views on the perception of reality, truth, and fiction, and his session prompted a good amount of questions.

Martin Aggett of Remix Fiction launched a new project at ARGFest through the ARG Museum. The Martin Aggett Story chapter 1 ran in parallel to ARGFest, and included a black briefcase display incorporated into the museum. Some elements of his launch plans were met with a few minor hiccups though, which he discusses at opengamedesign.com.  But hey, who could avoid examining a mysterious briefcase in the environment of mysteries that is ARGFest?

In heading across the border on the way to ARGFest, I also learned a lesson for future border crossings with a large luggage bag of random collected items: Don’t say you’re going to a “convention” and setting up a “display”. That equates to products and sales at the border crossing guards. Also, document and itemize all items in print for easy perusal when questioned, including a detailed outline of what you’re actually doing, and for whom. (Who merely ‘attends’ an organized event, but helps with an element of the event itself, voluntarily, with no monetary gain?)

Final thoughts

There is a growing group of us who would be excited and willing to prepare a proposal for ARGFest Toronto 2012 – any thoughts?  Where would you like to see ARGFest next year?

For photos from ARGFest Bloomington, check out this flickr group!

Below are some of the sessions from the weekend as videos or in slide form. Thanks for Remix Fiction for recording and making videos available on Vimeo:

Now, if you dare, continue on to page 2 to relive ARGFest vicariously through a collection of tweets that went out from attendees over the weekend!

Only days remain until a crowd of Alternate Reality Gaming and Transmedia enthusiasts converge in Bloomington Indiana for another year of ARGFest-O-Con.

This year I’m happy to announce that 4D Fiction will be officially curating the ARG Museum. This element of ARGFest is a place where creative artifacts and ‘swag’ incorporated into various campaigns and artful projects are put out for display for the fest attendees. It’s an opportunity for everyone to check out the work others have put into extending their storyworld tangibly into our reality, and perhaps for some aspiring puppetmasters and artists to gain some inspiration from others’ works.

This year I’ll be adding a section to the display specific for ARG-related books – whether game-specific, informational, or just related to the ARG genre in general.

This year’s museum will also incorporate an extended component, using – yes – QR Codes! Each display will have extended details about their project available for skimming by scanning their code on a smartphone. And as an additional bonus for the fun of perusal, there will be a trivia question for each display!

Yes, ARG Museum Trivia will be a playable component to this year’s museum.  Here are the juicy details…

Points will be rewarded for correctly answering trivia questions (and bonus points if you get it right the first time!).  The top 3 scoring (and present) attendees by Saturday lunch will win first choice of any of a selection of books to take home that were on display. At the time of this writing, the selection will include:

  • “This Is Not A Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming”, by Dave Szulborski
  • “This is Not A Game”, by Walter Jon Williams
  • “House of Leaves”, by Mark Z. Danielewski
  • “Codes, Ciphers, Secrets and Cryptic Communication”, by Fred B. Wrixon

So read up, stuff that ARG brain with campaign lore, and see if you can outsmart the rest!

A Call For Museum Submissions

If you’ll be in attendance at ARGFest this year, we’d love to have you help the museum by bringing any past ARG related items you may have to be included in the museum display.  Every year it’s been a collection from numerous community members and puppet masters.  The more items brought in to help populate the museum, the wider a variety of content and experience we have as a whole.

If you have something you can take to the fest, please contact me via this form, or on Twitter (@4dfiction or @thebruce0), so it can be registered in the collection.  Don’t worry if you’re not sure whether it’s appropriately ARG-related, I can be the judge of that :).  All items will be catalogued and guarded so they can be returned to their rightful owners at the end of the fest.

* As a bonus incentive for providing items for the museum’s display, those who bring any items that are put on display will be awarded bonus points towards the Trivia game!

Additionally, if you have anything you may wish to donate towards the prizes (collectible ARG artifact, books, etc), that would be awesome!  Please let me know beforehand.

Please visit this wiki page to see what people have offered to bring and whether you have something for an unlisted campaign, or an unlisted item for a campaign that may already be on the list. The more the better!

I’m very excited for this year’s ARGFest and Museum, and I hope you are too. ARGFest begins later this week in Bloomington – have you registered yet?
For more information, please visit ARGFest.com

Follow me, if you will, through a little bit of a history on my love for creative, interactive storytelling — and how it led to what I’ve come today to know as alternate reality gaming

When I was child, my best friend Greg and I went through a stage of imaginative paper-based adventures — sure, we occasionally played “cowboys and indians” and whatnot, and we played with toys and action figures, instilling life into Star Wars figurines (I even vaguely recall a Star Wars lunch pail!) — but this was different. This was actually a very simplistic, childish sort of ‘game mastering‘.

I can’t remember how it actually started, but this was what we did for fun: We each took turns designing mazes on paper, secretly, on our own time, and then we’d sit down and take turns pretending to be trapped in each others’ mazes, exploring and trying to escape by saying where we wanted to go or what we wanted to do.

If I was the one exploring, I’d only see a portion of the map – whether it was obscured by a piece of paper with a hole cut in the middle that he’d move around to follow where “I” went, or whether he actually drew the maze as I moved around. But as I explored, as I turned each corner, opened a door or entered a new area, something new would happen – I might discover some treasure, a special item, some crazy mysterious object, or have to face an enemy and decide what to do. Whatever happened after I made my choice was decided by him.

The levels we designed for each other would typically be very simple (we were kids after all), but we loved the fun of exploring, interacting with other, and making decisions on the fly knowing that the results really were made up as we went along – that’s what made it fun.

The more we played, the more adventurous our games got, the more our levels ‘matured’ as we tried new things. The environments became labyrinths, forests, or space ships with intricate maps and structures. We’d start writing little introductory stories to lay out a mission or some task that had to be accomplished. I remember designing out levels of buildings, with secret rooms and interesting items to find, pick up and discover. We even built in ‘triggers’ where, for example, we’d note that somewhere on that map a door or hole in a wall might now be open if they picked up a particular item or flipped a switch somewhere else.

As a child, this was our game-like way of storytelling, of having fun, and it was a unique sort of adventure for us. This type of gameplay was of course nothing new – it’s a basic form of what’s known as table-top role playing, where a game-master (GM) creates a world, and leads other people, friends or acquaintances, in a game of exploration with characters the players design and improve within the guidelines of the environment defined by the GM.  Every action and decision is interactive between the player and the GM, and the story itself might unfold over the course of a day, weeks, months, or more.

It’s also the basic structure of role playing games (RPGs) – where a player controls an avatar of sorts, and explores a storyworld, discovering its story and seeing their character grow and change dynamically with every decision they make and encounter they face.

As I grew older and migrated to computers for gaming, that form of play translated to computer RPGs – text-based dungeon crawlers (like Zork), early internet Telnet environments (like the Muddy Waters MUD), and classic graphical RPGs (like the Bard’s Tale trilogy).  One thing remained the same for me, however – it wasn’t the idea of role-playing that I loved as much as the act of discovery. Any game that had a complex story or an environment ripe for exploration, I set out to map. Whether it consisted of rooms I connected as nodes and lines on paper after exploring cardinal directions in text, or whether it was a map of walls and doors sketched on grid paper – I simply had to discover and explore, to visit every nook and cranny, find secrets, uncover the whole story.

Today, when I look back at those games I first played as a child on a piece of paper, I realize that the passion I had for exploration and discovery has translated into what many today call alternate reality games (ARGs).

While both ARGs and RPGs both generally consist of core narratives, ARGs do have a clear distinction from RPGs.  In a role-playing game, the player enters the realm of the story in the form of a character or avatar; you play that role and explore the storyworld within its reality, revealing the narrative and building your character. In an alternate reality game, it’s the other way around – it’s as if the characters in the story are “playing the role” of real beings in our reality.  Where in an RPG, the Game Master effectively throttles how we role-play a character in their world, in an ARG the Puppet Master (PM) defines how the characters play their roles in our world.

And yet, the PM still has the final creative word on how the story plays out. They decide what narrative is uncovered, what characters exist and how they interact, what events will, can, or might happen, and to what degree the players influence the story. But, by its very nature of playing out in our reality rather than in a relative sandbox of a defined world environment, it means the results of every action and decision made by the player are essentially decided live by the PM. As a result of this interaction, the story that the player takes away from an ARG can potentially be far more personalized – not based on the decisions of the character they role-play, but based on their decisions in the real-world, on themselves, now an actual part of the story.

Sample ARG Timeline for “International Mimes Academy” from No Mimes Media, diagram by Robert Pratten (source)

For myself, I also find it interesting that my childlike love for exploration and discovery, for mapping out environments and worlds, has translated to the ARG genre.  If the world of an RPG could be mapped out on grid paper, then the ARG equivalent could be described as the ‘trailhead’ — a timeline trail of interconnected events and assets laying out the route that the player, or players, have taken through the experience, through the open-ended exploration of… well, a real-world series of ‘nodes’, as the story is revealed.

For me, that love for world-mapping has taken shape in the form of the wiki. That eventually led to the creation of Wikibruce.com – the resource I set up for ARG players, providing a platform to ‘map out the story-world’ as it were; to document discoveries and retrace stories as they’re uncovered – stories created by the puppet-master as their games progress.

I was never really one for “role” playing, personally (heck, I can count the times I’ve dressed up in a costume with three fingers). And even in ARGs I’ve recently begun taking more of a back-seat when it comes to interaction and ‘play’ (mostly due to lack of spare time).

But this, really, is one of my attractions to the ARG genre — I don’t have to play some version of me that isn’t me. I can just be myself (with a tiny bit of suspended disbelief, or rather performance of belief).  If you think about it, it’s actually the PM that ends up playing more characters roles in an ARG than the players themselves.

If I were to define an Alternate Reality Game, from my perspective it would be something like this:

An ARG provides an experience for both the discovery and creation of a dynamic story, in real-world time, that interacts with and incorporates its audience and elements of their real life within its narrative – from its beginning through to its end.

This is, to me, the most appropriate description of an alternate reality game or what I, here at 4DF, refer to when I say four-dimensional fiction.

The hallways and mazes once drawn in pencil on paper are now city streets; the items once picked up to the inventory now show up in the mailbox; the hidden items once discovered are now retrieved from GPS-located dead-drops; the puzzles once solved to unlock doors are now encoded messages in personal email or cell phone voicemail; the crazy mysterious objects are now physical, tangible artifacts from within the story itself; characters encountered while traveling down a street may now maintain blogs and have social profiles – and who knows, they may actually be encountered out on the street…

It’s my childhood pencil and paper games of discovery and adventure translated to 21st century real-life story-based entertainment — whether I am the one exploring the maze, or the one secretly drawing out the levels.

Lost Zombies is a project conceived and executed by Skot Leach and partners Ryan Leach and Rob Oshima. It began with the goal of producing a community-generated film, a crowd-sourced zombie documentary, but ended up being quite a different beast.  In the following case study, Skot highlights many key milestones in the project, lessons learned along the way, and how much it actually changed from the initial concept.

1. We established our goals and values.

The first thing we did was sit down and discuss our goals for Lost Zombies. We developed a kind of core purpose which was “to tell a story in a new way.” From there we came up with our goal, “to create a community generated zombie movie.” Specifically we wanted to invite anyone interested to contribute content they created to our website lostzombies.com. We intended to compile these submissions into a feature length film. 

We had our Purpose and Goal and next we talked about the core values we wanted to embrace with the project. We concluded that the project should be: Epic (large in scope and scale), Open (allowing outsiders to influence and shape the project), Cohesive (we wanted a clear story world) and Disruptive (we wanted to challenge the status quo of how films are made and what the role of the audience is).

Lesson Learned: Having a goal and clear set of values gave us something to fall back on as the project evolved. There were times (still are) where the project seems 180 degrees from where it began, but having values and a broad goal allowed us to not get caught in the details. When decisions become tricky we simply look back to our values.

2. We wasted a lot of time plotting our story which we believed people would fully embrace.

Once we had our goal and values we began to craft an elaborate series of plot points for our film. We first decided to go with a zombie theme. We felt that in order to allow for the highest level of participation and to achieve our “cohesive” and “open” values we needed a theme that would enable someone with limited skill and tools the ability to submit a piece of content… Basically our thinking was that in 30 seconds of video a person could easily establish a zombie scenario full of action and drama. 

People assume the idea for the project arose out of a passion for zombies. That wasn’t the case, we like zombies, but they weren’t the driver. We simply felt that zombies were a universally accessible theme that created a great range for potential stories. 

We began plotting an elaborate scenario in which a cosmetics company uses nano-robotics to reverse aging. This, we thought, would allow us to create a precise moment at which the nanobots would be activated, go awry, and cause a mass, simultaneous, zombie outbreak. Only what we plotted was even more complex. We spent months on this stuff.

Lesson Learned: Consider carefully how much you intend to let the audience “drive” the story. The larger role the audience plays, the less time you should plan details. It’s more important to have a team of people with a range of skills ready to manage the project. If the audience is driving it’s going to become a living breathing thing that you cannot completely plan for.

3. Accidental launch.

We choose the Ning platform for the site’s home.

Ning, for those who don’t know, offers a social network service you can skin to your own look and feel. You can also add and remove features such as video submissions, pictures, blogs, forums, etc. 

On May 1st 2008, one of my partners sent the Ning site, lostzombies.com, to a few friends on Facebook. Within hours the site was gaining members rapidly. At the time I didn’t believe we had our story locked down and ready for prime time, but it was live so we rolled with it.

Lesson Learned: We Should have launched even sooner. My partners release of the site (whether accidental or not… He’s sneaky;) ) was a good thing. We had a clear goal. We had the framework for user interaction in place (website, etc.). We were wasting time planning details that ultimately didn’t matter.

4. 6 hours later, our plan was irrelevant.

 Almost instantly members rejected the story line we were pushing.

They were looking for something simpler and more accessible. We quickly scraped the story we had been building and requested members simply submit any zombie related content. This achieved two things, first we began getting submissions. Second we drew in a larger audience.

Lesson Learned: Remember your goal and vision. What must the end result achieve? What can’t be left out? Keep only the things you must and be willing to change and/or sacrifice everything else based on your users’ wants and needs. Our nanobot zombies didn’t matter. We wanted the audience to participate in the creation of our story world, that was what mattered.

5.We created videos, YouTube accounts, Twitter accounts, Digg accounts, Stumble accounts and more.

Prior to launch we “seeded” accounts. By this I mean we created accounts with all the major social media sites and we began “friending” people who we felt would be interested in our project. We did this obsessively. Around launch time we began posting short zombie videos on YouTube, then inviting our YouTube friends to check them out, pushing the links to Twitter, posting on Digg, and Stumbling the videos. We would do all of this in a very short period of time in an effort to drive a quick bursts of traffic to our videos. Those bursts would send the videos up the ranks on YouTube resulting in more organic discovery. Meanwhile we were managing the website to welcome the wave of newcomers.

Lesson Learned: You can create traffic by seeding accounts and cross promoting your content. BE CAREFUL. It’s easy to get caught up in traffic goals and have your message turn to spam. If you are seeding accounts find like minded people to friend who you believe would be genuinely interested in your project. With a zombie theme, it was easy for us to find zombie lovers. Your tactics here should reflect your story and your values and goal.

6. Pushing

We “pushed” weekly. We called it a “push” whenever we had a video or piece of content we wanted to distribute through out network( YouTube, Twitter, Stumble, etc.). These pushes drove traffic, buzz and most important momentum.

Lesson Learned: Build a network and push calls-to-action and/or content to them to keep them engaged. This creates momentum which pulls in more users and generates more buzz.

7. Is this in-game?

We presented many of our early videos as though zombis were real. The videos were shot in first person and we usually titled them with names like “Zombie attack. REAL?” For awhile we presented lostzombies.com as a place to post “real” zombie footage and photos. We observed this technique in several ARGs and we loved the suspension of disbelief and immersive feel it gave the project. Ultimately it could not be sustained. Trying to create a film while simultaneously attempting to maintain a alternate reality where contributors of the film were role playing as survivors was simply to complex. Newcomers we reluctant and confused to take part. Once we stopped trying to maintain the site as a story world and focused the site on the task of creating a story world, we gained more traction towards our goals.

Lesson Learned: I still struggle with this. I love the in-game feeling the site had early on. But we felt that in order to achieve our goal the site had to become a kind of meta site. The trade off was we gained a much larger user base, which is essential in achieving the goal of creating a film. We also feel that once the film is done we can use it along with other content to create an in-game story world.

8. Created stickers, gave them away

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One of the most effective tools for captivating and drawing people to the project involved stickers. We created stickers that read “WARNING. A zombie apocalypse occurred at this location. For more information go to lostzombies.com.” We ordered 500 of these and gave them away to anyone who sent us a SASE. They were gone in a couple of weeks. Members were posting their photos on the site which we featured and “pushed” across our network ( http://www.youtube.com/user/lostzombiesdotcom#p/u/24/Ixh7QQnhF68 ). The stickers became a way to engage members and get them to participate. As a result of the stickers’ success we began shipping and ordering more stickers, giving away thousands.

Lesson Learned: Find low barrier ways for people to participate that have results you can publish. Shooting a good video is hard, it requires equipment and talent. Sticking up a sticker is easy. If you allow a user to participate via a low barrier entry point and then publish their participation you not only engage that person deeper in the project but the content becomes another way for people to discover you project and to add weight to your story world.

9. TV ads – In August of 2008 we ran an ad on Television.

While browsing through Google’s various ad options, searching for a creative and unexpected way to promote Lost Zombies, I discovered you can run ads on TV using Google. I was initially surprised by this but we gave it a shot and for around $150 we aired a 15 second commercial during Adult Swim. I’m not a fan of commercials, but I felt that if we put together 15 seconds of first person video that featured zombies it might just be cryptic and random enough to grab some eyeballs. It was. Whenever we aired this spot we’d get a 50 to 100 registered users almost instantly. They would head straight for the chat room and say “ I just saw a commercial for this on TV,” which created a new kind of momentum. People seem to believe that in order to get on television, even with a commercial, it requires some kind of special skill. As a result this created a sense of epic scope among users. Everything suddenly seemed larger.

Lesson Learned: Use a mix of formats to extend your story world. I guess this goes without saying, since you’re already creating a transmedia project. Even so, remain open to opportunities to extend your story into areas you weren’t planning to. There are many many platforms our there. Poke around and find one that resonates with your project. These extensions don’t just add to your story world they multiply it.

10. Sold stickers, earning up to 1k a month

After giving away thousands of stickers, we were going broke. We told members we needed to start selling them. We set up a PayPal checkout on our site and suddenly we had a revenue stream.

Lesson Learned: Some people are afraid to charge for services or merch related to their project. Don’t be. If they users don’t want it they’ll let you know. If you are charging for something that is authentic and true to your project you will not alienate your user base. We were concerned with charging for stickers we once gave away. However we were transparent with our members and told them we could no longer afford to give them away and that by charging a small amount it would allow us to better fund the project. They were incredibly supportive.

11. Listened… Created a book based on users behavior.

A couple years after launch the site was something totally different then what we expected when we began. In many ways it was much more exciting and interesting. We had expected a few hundred users and a film by this point. Instead we had thousands of users and some really amazing content and stories, but no film. We essentially had the created the largest zombie site on the web. We wrestled with what to do about the movie and found that users were enjoying the site and weren’t pushing us to finish. In fact the most common question asked was “you’re not gonna shut down when the film is done are you?” Around this time we noticed some users submitting hand drawn notes written from the perspective of individuals surviving a zombie apocalypse. Members were reading each other’s notes and responding with their own. We spotted this behavior and came up with the idea of putting the notes together in a book. We asked for more notes and the members didn’t let us down. We compiled a book which we were about to self publish when we met an agent who ended up getting us a book deal with Chronicle Books. Our book comes out in September.

Lesson Learned: Listen. The audience will do really cool stuff. Let them. Embrace it and celebrate it. If you have the flexibility to let your project evolve do so. Sometimes slowing things down can result in more opportunities for your story world to grow.

12. Still no movie

So here we are almost three years with now movie. So what was all that talk about goals? Making a movie was our goal and we still haven’t done that. However we are still witnessing growth in both our site membership and our story world and as we grow we get more and better content and we increase awareness about the project. We also allow the story to breath and meander in ways that introduce new opportunities, like the book. That said, we do plan to make a movie… Some day.

Lost Zombies Stats

-17,000 registered members on lostzombies.com
-3,000 daily visits ( this spikes whenever we do a “push”)

The Lost Zombies Ning community is still alive and thriving at lostzombies.com and you can reach Skot Leach through his website at skotleach.com. This case study was originally posted by Skot at the Transmedia Artists Guild forum.