>> Creating the Content

Once the project found its niche, the story’s cohesion grew and the rest of the pieces started falling into place – both in content and in plans for future developments. Along the way, good things started happening and memories were made, both behind the curtain and through player interaction. We hoped that the overall experience for those who played was positive and memorable.

It was a challenge to find ways of producing content for presentation that would connect with players and provide an engaging  journey through the story. Having a number of very talented minds focused on specific content made it a far more unique and varied experience.


A key element of the Halo universe that fans of the franchise truly appreciate is its unique and recognizable theme composed by Marty O’Donnell with Michael Salvatori. Marty is a brilliant musician and composer, and the orchestral themes he created for the Halo franchise are arguably some of the best instrumental tracks created for any video game.

Being inspired by this award-winning Halo musical journey, we wanted to include an original, but inspired theme; something that felt familiar to Halo, but independent and unique; music that would represent the story we were planning to tell.

I approached a wonderful independent musician friend of mine, Elizabeth Gordon, to see if she’d be willing to create a theme song. She’d never really listened to the Halo theme music before, though she knew of the game from her brothers. She borrowed the Halo soundtracks to get a feel for the style, and we discussed the general Halo franchise plot. She was excited to try her hand at a piano score for this context, and the result was, frankly, of far greater quality than I had anticipated. She’d written a few experimental themes, but there was one that stood out, and when she first played this theme song for me, it sent shivers down my spine. I was sold on it immediately.

The theme became a core inspiration throughout the project’s execution. It was also amazing to even later see a player in the community decide to take the song and create sheet music for it by ear so that others could learn it and play it. It was a huge encouragement for both our project development and for Elizabeth as a musician to view all the compliments from people that were posting about the theme to various forums. Our hope is that some day it may even reach the ears of Marty himself.

One of the other test themes, while not as Halo-like, was incorporated into the farewell video “Naira’s Dream“, which portrayed the emotion and intent of the scene in the video, and her final goodbye. In the end, using only a grand piano and some graciously pro bono post-production work, the music was a creative component we’d hoped would set an ambiance and feel for the story as it unfolded.


In our effort to be somewhat faithful to the storytelling style of ILB with its radio drama from 2552, we wanted to provide, in addition to the interactive plot elements, a linear narrative to the project – a fictional story arc that could be told in segments, discovered piece by piece. This played out in two significant stories – the crew logs of those on board the Lewis & Clark ship in the future, and the faery tale-like story told by the child AI Naira.

Having an experienced fan-fiction writer was essential; someone who could articulate and breath life into the broader plot outlines that were waiting to be filled in. Early in the project development, someone who had dabbled in the Halo universe caught my attention, and after chatting briefly with Kathryn “zurmdragon” Zurmehly, she was excited to be able to help with the project. While the prologue took shape, she explored various elements within the greater story outline inside which this prologue took place. Many descriptions and variations of scenes were created, in a sense testing the waters and trying to flesh out this storyworld – not just for the prologue, but for the entire ARG we were envisioning.

Once we settled on the scope and direction for the prologue itself, she was able to regularly churn out weekly narratives that could be sliced into smaller segments to be read with the voice of Naira, as well as each of the ship’s crew.

The Lewis & Clark arc was a challenge in that this was the future ship’s crew’s story that could only be revealed through brief glimpses at their individual personal logs; these were essentially transmitted through time similar in style to the surveillance effect demonstrated by Melissa in ILB. The story needed to be very character driven; personal and emotional, yet sufficiently descriptive of what was going on – weekly. As a result, much like a lot of the prologue’s other content, the stories of these characters evolved weekly as the ARG events and interactions played out.

For Naira’s narrative, the challenge Kathryn faced was in weaving a story with a very different perspective, with child-like innocence. It had to have strong visuals to be presented in parallel with the illustrations, and had to be a literary monologue that could easily be read and spoken by an 8 year old. On short notice.

In the end she successfully managed to produce two distinct short stories in the form of 37 crew logs and a 6 chapter, child-narrated, dark faery tale.


Early in the narrative, we hoped to make the child AI character personable and believable as a human child, so we chose to give Naira a voice. At first, we tried recording some audio and playing with a bit of vocal modification tools, just to see how it might turn out, but there was clearly no way that would believably work. The results were scary, creepy, unnatural, and just wrong in every way.

Elizabeth suggested that we try out having a real child provide the voice of Naira. So without doing any sort of casting or pre-testing, being another last minute suggestion in a budgetless endeavour, she suggested her own younger sister, Christel.

They sat down and read through the first chapter together. After they did a few run-throughs, they had a recording in short order. Listening to it for the first time, it sounded wonderful. We felt that her voice was a very nice fit for Naira. Technically, the low quality recording had a raw, rough sound, but she herself sounded natural, that of an innocent and naive young Naira.

For each chapter, each week the two followed the same routine – sit down and record, record, record. The audio was edited, mixing together only the best portions of each reading. It was a difficult task sometimes as the quality of the raw audio clips seemed to vary week by week. Editing each chapter was a challenge in itself, and each week sounded a little different. To help mask that variation, deterioration effects were applied to the audio in keeping with the character’s state, which helped reflect the progressively darkening feel of her narrative.

In ILB, an interesting secret was revealed to the community after its completion which went entirely unnoticed during the ARG. The audio surveillance provided by Melissa contained a very, very faint heart beat in clips taken from actual characters’ chatters (mobile devices), as if held very close to their body — an audio detail which purposefully left out of the very few recordings the AI had fabricated herself, a plot point the community missed. It was a level of detail that went unnoticed during the campaign.

Inspired by that amount of attention to detail, I wanted to do a little something for Naira’s audio that would also make it unique and applicable to a digitally generated representation of an AI’s artificial vocals:
Nowhere in Naira’s narration does she actually inhale a breath.

The audio narration was another production element incorporated into our plan after the project launched to add some variety to the experience. The final tally is around 38 minutes of completed audio, from over 100 minutes of recording time across all 6 chapters, plus a few extra side clips. Considering Naira’s degrading emotions and the growing darkness in her story’s chapter contents, especially given our tight weekly timelines, our little voice actor Christel did an amazing job for her age!


When we decided to depict the childhood story of Naira in hand-drawn imagery, I approached Adriana Blake, another talented friend of mine who created a regular online comic strip inspired by her personal life experiences. Her cartoon style was very cute and fun, and when looking over her work, it seemed to really be representative of the innocence of Naira. As she fleshed out the character design, Naira’s self image slowly took form.

Week after week, Adriana would create comic frames that would be presented in parallel with Christel’s chapter narration, and broken up into puzzle-like pieces. These periodic chapters of hand-drawn content and partnering audio clips came together wonderfully. As the story moved forward, the art itself had to take on a darker, more sinister feel – Naira’s visual style would need to progress from portraying innocence and happiness to fear and anxiety. It was a challenge to take Naira visually down that darkening road, but the end result we feel was a great series of child-like illustrations for the filtered memories she was recalling, taking the player on the journey with her through her mind and emotions, and eventually crossing into a very different realm.

The light-hearted hand-drawn chapters were a clear stylistic contrast to how we envisioned the expression of her darker side, however. This was the portion of her character that was inescapably hooked on fear and the loathing of those who kidnapped her. So while her lighter side was based on whites and brighter colours, her darker side literally emerged from blackness. The chapters grew darker and darker.

For this alternate persona, we chose to incorporate real world locations as a contrast; the hazy memories of actual environments she’d been exposed to as a child. Naira’s light side was a naive fantasy of good memories slowly degrading, and she began depicting those repressed, gritty memories through the part of her that was trying to jolt her back to reality, dumping raw visuals recalled through her traumatic journey, visually influenced by strong emotions and fears.

These visual memories took the form of real-world photographic images.


Naira’s darker side had to become more prominent, unveiling repressed fears, and we had to show that shift effectively. She journeyed through a recap of key places and events that left marks on her, as if her subconscious were trying to ground her back in the reality of her past, that it wasn’t just a faery tale she was telling. There were two key environments described in her story we could depict visually – a secluded mansion, and its surrounding forest.

Creepy Mansion

This mansion was the last place the kidnapped children in Naira’s story would be taken before their conversion to AIs.

What began as a curious experiment and blind curiosity turned into a photo series of what I felt would be an effective backdrop for the creepy house. Near my home was a very old, abandoned castle built in the early 1900’s. After much research, I found that a number of urban explorers had regularly entered the abandoned premises, exploring and photographing everything within its rickety, degrading walls. The building was oozing with decrepit neglect, and I excitedly realized it had potential as a wonderfully tainted reflection of the abandoned structure of the creepy mansion into which Naira was abducted.

So, after exchanging emails with one of the recent photographers, nervously and anxiously one night I headed over with my camera and tripod, looking for a way in based on directions from past visitors. I ended up in the basement of the castle, exploring with access only to 4 rooms, cautiously stepping around on the old creaking floor looking for good visual compositions in the near pitch-blackness. A few of the photos taken were usable and these ended up as eerie backdrops in Naira’s dark imagery.

Knowing how meticulous ARG players are, details in the photos had to be observed. Hundreds of years in a galactic war-ravaged future, what might this old abandoned house still contain? There couldn’t be visible brand names, labels or tags, and even things like light bulbs and light switches should probably be avoided. Its contents had to be at least somewhat feasible. I kept in mind some environmental descriptions used in ILB, in Sadie’s Story, and other gritty future science-fiction environments, and felt the images would still be safe if containing a lot of practical but old and rusty tools and furnishings, antiques and forgotten mechanics.

This photographic exploration of an abandoned castle was an experience I won’t soon forget. Barra Castle has since been demolished, sadly, with tentative plans to rebuild it as a modern condominium complex. The property itself had been through many, many years of maintenance issues and land-ownership debates, with many hoping it could be saved as a protected local landmark. That, unfortunately, never happened. And so only some of its legacy remains incorporated into this fan-made alternate reality game in the Halo universe.

The Forest

Surrounding the creepy mansion where the kidnapped children were held during their final days was an old, immense forest; woods filled with trees and darkness that would seem to cry “there is no escape!”

Living near a city park surrounded by some relatively thick forest, one night after midnight in pitch blackness I took my camera to one of its overgrown forest trails, snapping photos and recording some video that could be turned into a spooky, fearful sequence. Like the castle photos, I had to watch for details, such as an occasional light in the distance peeking through the growth – there could be no sign of civilization.

This imagery of the overgrown forest was used in the depiction of Naira’s final escape attempt from the house, and in that climax the visuals ended up being coined by players as the “cornfield“. While not a cornstalk was in sight, it was nonetheless a suitable nickname, setting a great ambiance for the eerie environment. With those photos actually displaying more overgrowth and tall grass than forest, it’s no surprise that there was a bit of confusion about what was being viewed.

However, I still get chills going to that path in the black of night when it’s as overgrown as it was back then!


When I first set out with the desire to create an ARG, one of my primary goals was to incorporate artistry that shied away from the digital, and to inspire creativity. I wanted to incorporate a number of artistic media into the project – music, hand-drawn art, voice, writing, photography – and to give them meaningful places in the story itself. As Intimation evolved, more opportunities opened to realize this goal. The fine arts would help to contrast the nature of a human life to that of an artificial intelligence formed from that very individual.

As a result, the prologue contained creations from very talented artists. All of this inspired by the work of those artists who first envisioned Halo and its surrounding universe, and those who in turn expanded on it. Perhaps this project may accomplish the same for others.


THE GOOD STUFF: Dancing with Players