>> “People, man. People.” *


As a puppetmaster, there’s an inherent amount of role-playing to be done in-character, interacting with players both privately and publicly. As a player, interacting with ARG characters is itself a form of role play, because the characters are typically known to be fictional, but you treat them (or act them) as real. In larger games with many characters, players may even be unknowingly conversing with not one actor playing a character, but many.

Being on the puppetmaster side of this invisible wall of mutually unspoken role-play interacting as a character is just as unique an experience as that of the player. There’s a disconnect though, because you end up interacting with many players who may not be in communication with each other; perhaps belonging to very different communities and groups of players. You form a sort of indirect friendship and acquaintance with the people – but through the looking glass. You may know who they are, but they don’t know who you are; they only see the character, the mask you’re presenting them. After extended interaction, it becomes a special and personal type of experience as the players begin to feel connected to characters, and you too feel just as connected, both to the character, and to the players as the character.  For example, at the end of I Love Bees during Melissa’s farewell message to the community, Kristen Rutherford revealed that she struggled to record her monologue without welling up with emotion.

A defining moment for us was the point just before the big climax that the players were allowed to freely interact with the AI child – it was a special moment. This particular event was planned and announced publicly ahead of time in the hopes of gathering the community together one last time. It went better than we’d hoped. When she managed to escape and ‘hide’ from her raving dark personality for a time, Sys provided her with enough leeway to reach out and communicate with people unhindered for the first time. Even players from I Love Bees appeared, alongside players of Intimation, and it became a sort of miniature reunion. And it even took place over Twitter.

Many of the excited comments we sent as the AI were accurately portraying sentiments of our own PM excitement, of seeing people joining in and interacting with her.

In a way, this was confirmation to us as a team that this story, this ARG had successfully touched people enough to join and take part in this short period of open character communication, even if the community wasn’t as large as we’d initially hoped.

And then… it was wretched away. The events had played out just as we’d hoped, allowing this touching reunion to lead, as painful as it was, into the frantic climax event where Naira’s fragmented personalities clashed, and she regressed into herself, disabling Sys in the process. This was the point where we’d hoped the players were motivated enough to dive into that cornfield, deep into the AI subconscious and rescue Naira, using all that they had learned.

They did.

Fluffy Hugs

As the level of interaction with the community throughout the project grew more personal, it led to a number of touching moments – memorable comments and communications, both in-game and on a meta level. These moments gave life to the prologue, making the story more than it could be on its own. They made the experience special and fun – hopefully for the community as much as for us behind the curtain.

Even with all the pitfalls we experienced, it was exciting and encouraging to hear very position exclamations at certain points when things went right, like so fracking totally awesome. It was like a sweet redemption. But when it came to player interaction, some moments just can’t compare. Here a few of those memories between players and the AI child “Essy”:

Drizjr: Your story is important to me and many others. It takes a brave person to tell this story. And you are *very* brave.
Essy: You think I’m brave?
Drizjr: I think that you are the bravest little girl that I have ever known!

Anaerin: I wish I could hug you tight, make you feel all better.
Essy: You mean, like {{{{@Anaerin}}}}? That kind of hug?
Anaerin: {{{{{{{Essy}}}}}}}

Drizjr: I don’t like those monsters either! If I get a hold of ’em…*BANG*…*ZOOM*!
Essy: *BANG*…*ZOOM*?! What does that mean?

Essy: Your name isn’t very friendly though. It’s scary too.
Thomas_iz_beast: I’m sorry! What would you like me to change it to? I’d love for it to have my name in it, Thomas.
Essy: How about… Thomas_iz_bunnyrabbit!
Thomas_iz_beast: That name is too big. What else do you have in mind? I’ll change to whatever you’d like me to.
Essy: How about just Thomas_iz_fluffy then!
Thomas_Fluffy: Is this name okay?
Essy: Heehee! You’re fluffy!

Anaerin: I’m not Fluffy. Anaerin means “Guardian”, after all. But I do have my moments, and I do like making my friends feel better. :)
Essy: Wow! A guardian! What are you a guardian of?
Anaerin: I keep my friends and family safe, from all who would try to harm them. I’ve even got a sword, though no white horse. :)
Essy: That’s so neat! Can you be my guardian too? Maybe you can just pretend you’re riding the horse.
Anaerin: You are my friend, Essy. At least, I consider you so. Which makes me your guardian.

Thomas_Fluffy: Have you ever fell in love?
Essy: Heehee, love? That’s icky!

Thomas_Fluffy: I’m glad your okay! Here’s a fluffy hug! {{{{{{Essy}}}}}}

Anaerin: He’s making “pasta and broccoli de rappa”. I just had a cheese and pickle sandwich for late lunch.
Essy: Pasta and broccoli de rappa? What does that look like? It sounds like it tastes yummy!
Anaerin: I’m not sure. Sounds yummy, definately.

Thomas_Fluffy: Sure! What’s your favorite song?
Essy: I have lots, but I don’t think you’d know them. Sing me one of yours! Anything but that boat rowing one.
Thomas_Fluffy: Here’s my favorite song! Its called Billie Jean

Drizjr: S, I’m back now with a full tummy. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk. :@
Essy: Heehee, you’re a stooge! :@) Was the food tasty?
Drizjr: It was delizioso! Thank you. You have made many new friends here. Isn’t that fun!
Essy: Muy muy delizioso! Heehee. I love friends. They’re the most special thing in all the universe!

Thomas_Fluffy: Are you okay? Do you need a hug? {{{{Essy}}}}
Essy: I really need a hug. A big fluffy one!
Thomas_Fluffy: Heres a Big Fluffy one!! {{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{Essy}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}

Krystyn: If it’s a big nasty scorpion, sting back! You are very strong – make like you know kung fu!

Anaerin: They’re safe, Essy, they’re safe.


Intimation was an ARG that was always on its toes, consistently teetering on the precipice of a cliff, while taking on more weight as time rolled on. Were it not for the strength of the team, it would have fallen hard and fast.

What began as a phone call to one experienced PM seeking some assistance and input turned into a team of talented individuals who all had input and creative responsibilities. It was certainly a challenge communicating with everyone and balancing schedules, and with the timing of each week’s events making very tight production windows for required content, I’m still floored at how well it all came together.

I can’t express enough my appreciation and pride for those who worked behind the scenes on this project. Not everyone was able to endure through to the end due to various circumstances and the drawn out length of the project, and some joined after the project launched. But the team as a whole was able to bring cohesion to the story and its execution, and eventually what was a precariously balanced project managed to finish with both feet on the ground and avoid a crash and burn – it was seen through to completion, with all its flaws and gems.

This project has given me a much greater respect both for the work that Jan Libby accomplished alone with her Sammeeeees ARG, and for the work required to plan and organize a team of talented individuals – especially over many months of development, production, reviewing and proofing.

Most importantly, however, it wasn’t just the PM team that made the project what it was – it was the continued dedication and loyalty of the community of players who built and expanded the story, influencing it, defining it, and becoming a part of it. The ARG and its story wouldn’t have existed were it not for everyone involved – on both sides of the curtain.

Credit where credit is due

The “Intimation” Team:

Art: Adriana Blake
Music: Elizabeth Rauchenstein Instagram
“Naira”: Christel Gordon
Writing: Kathryn Zurmehly ArchiveOfOurOwn
Hive-mind: Alex Calhoun @avatrix
Hive-mind: Bill Kline @machiavelli_f
Halo dude: “Avateur”
Ringer: Michelle Senderhauf @varin
ARG PM support/morale: Jan Libby
Project lead: Geoff May

Thank you to all!

* “People, man. People.” ~ JC Hutchins

Epilogue? The Meaning of Life…

I Love Bees sparked a curiosity in me as it explored an aspect of Halo lore that I feel remains largely untouched even in current fiction. ILB set a precedent in Halo fiction that other storytellers at the time hadn’t really addressed to focus on other mainstream topics, and so I’d hoped to continue to explore it further.

Naira/Sacagawea was our central protagonist, following in the footsteps of the Smart AI construct personified by Melissa. She was a construct that, in the process of its creation by which a human brain’s unique neural network is cloned, has the essence of its human consciousness and origin effectively locked away in a subconscious layer. Yet, a Forerunner artifact activated within slipspace had the still unexplained effect of stretching this form of complex artificial construct through space and time, straining its compartmentalized personality components. This effect to me begs an exploration of the nature of human consciousness and individuality as it pertained to the Halo “Smart AI”.

Dumb AIs – explicitly programmed task-oriented constructs – don’t seem to be affected by these undocumented Forerunner artifacts. The Smart AI, however, being a flash clone of a human brain through a process called Cognitive Impression Modeling which necessarily ends brain activity (thus the human’s life) as a side effect, is effectively a digital replica of the original Person, with some supplementary tweaks. Cortana is a prominent example of this in Halo, and a unique instance wherein her human source, Catherine Halsey, actually used a clone of herself (illegally) as the source material for Cortana.

Could this separation of the human identity and consciousness from its organic home into the digital space mean that it exists on some form of higher plane into which a Forerunner artifact – technology far beyond human comprehension – can somehow have an effect? If so, this may help explain why only Smart AIs are affected, and not organic life alone, or the more basic Dumb AI.

As implied by I Love Bees’ plot, with the artifact’s activation and slipspace rift opening, if the resulting mess of consciousness contained in the AI is sorted out before the encapsulating space/time rift is closed, the effect is a “fixed” Smart AI, who has truly and finally come to terms with its human origin.

In Greg Bear’s Forerunner novel trilogy, even the distant origins of Humanity are explored. Might this type of Smart (fixed) AI be now more human than ever, and yet still unbound to an organic host? Is it now immune to rampancy after its 7 year expected lifespan? Even though digital and no longer biological in any way, is it otherwise now indistinguishable from a human, able to truly feel emotion rather than replicated and programmed simulations? Does it far surpass the Turing test into the realm of true sentience, to be considered alive? What now is the inherent value of this Smart AI, if it contains a reconciled, perfected image of the original human Person?
What this all means in the Halo universe, remains a philosophical mystery.

Perhaps this is all too broad and hefty a subject to explore sufficiently, especially beyond the scope of Halo – like trying figure out the meaning of life itself;  but this is precisely one of the philosophical and technological elements of Halo lore that, inspired by I Love Bees, I hope to explore in my ongoing creation of “This Was The Way Their World Ended”.

To the Future