Summary: Alternate Reality Game - n. an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants' ideas or actions Unless you've been living under a rock these past couple of weeks, you've probably heard about Valve's Potato Fool's Day ARG. It turned out to be a cross-promotion for Portal 2 and 13 various indie games on Steam, but the manner in which was executed has been elaborate, to say the least. Today's Firing Points includes thoughts on the ARG itself, as well as the buy-indie-games-and-help-release-Portal 2-early stunt, which is still going on.
So, has anyone been following this Potato Fool’s Day alternate-reality game Valve has put on? I really haven’t, but some of the things I’ve heard are pretty amazing. Cyphers and glyphs, secret messages stumbled upon by accident, hidden puzzles, bread crumbs of all shapes and sizes were scattered intricately throughout each of the 13 games contained in the Potato Sack bundle. Ever since April 1st, when this thing launched, those games have been receiving updates with Portal 2-themed content. While cool in and of itself, those updates also included all the various clues used for the ARG, which thousands of people have been scouring the games for.
One guy even went to the headquarters of the developer of one if the indie games involved (via coordinates hidden in one of the game’s new levels) and followed a clue up to the top of a street lamp post, where he found flyers with more clues used in other games. Yeah, and they had a surveillance camera watching that spot, so there is footage of him finding it and climbing the pole, which was released on Vimeo (embedded below). What’s more, they seem to have had a garbage truck standing by with more glyphs/clues marked on its side that drove across the frame in that video, which someone noticed and used to solve some other puzzle! It’s all so complex, but the dedicated few have put it together and figured pretty much everything out -- organizers at Valve must be thrilled to watch the progress of this modern day scavenger hunt.
It was even discovered about midway through last week that something big would be happening on Friday the 15th. There was a very well-hidden countdown clock on the Aperture Science website that was set to strike zero at 9AM that morning, and many people conjectured that Portal 2 might be releasing early on Steam. Turns out we had the right idea, but it wasn’t going to come so easy:
With that, a new countdown began on the Aperture Science GLaDOS@Home web site, indicating the projected launch of Portal 2 on Tuesday the 19th at 10AM PST. Below is the status of how many “computations” have been completed, i.e. hours spent playing each game from the Potato Sack. The goal was to play those games as much as possible over the weekend in order to make Valve’s latest be unlocked earlier. Though the total completion has reached about 75% as of Sunday evening, the game obviously has not released 75% early… it looks like the only way the clock is impacted is by filling the progress bar for a game entirely, which has happened for about half of them so far. However, these were the “easier” games, which required fewer hours and knocked proportionally fewer hours off of the countdown clock. I previously predicted that we would be getting Portal 2 one or two days early at the most, but even that estimate wasn’t conservative enough. After an entire weekend of mostly coordinated effort by thousands of people, the release date has been adjusted by less than nine hours, from 10:00 AM to 1:30 AM.
Needless to say, a lot of people are feeling rather disillusioned. Or at least the ones who cared enough to participate, like myself. It’s hard to tell whether Valve severely over-estimated how many people would put in the time (purchasing the Potato Sack bundle or individual games if necessary), or if they never intended to allow Portal 2 to come out a full two or three days early. Either way, we don’t have much longer to wait -- we’ll probably be able to play late Monday evening. On the bright side, those that have been participating have been rewarded with potatoes. Yes, potatoes! They’re little icons on your Steam Community profile page that signify the role you played in finding clues or accelerating the GLaDOS@Home computations (the grand total of potatoes acquired acts as a multiplier for game hours logged). At first, I didn’t really care about those, but then I decided I had to collect them all and get the golden potato next to my name, so that’s what I’ve been up to pretty much all weekend… I hope they last forever!
Firing Points is a weekly editorial that explores popular, pressing, or otherwise provocative topics in the world of gaming. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the rest of the FiringSquad team, or anyone else for that matter.
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