Saturday, 23 July 2011


Well the ARG event is complete, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. But you may be asking what is an ARG and how it may have involved you and Shields Down. Well, let me explain.

ARG stands for Alternate Reality Game, an event where you, the player, participate and affect a story based on your actions or ideas. In this version I based it on the highly successful ValveARG, (it's end result was releasing Portal 2 earlier in the week). I wanted to try this on a small scale (seeing as the ValveARG was MASSIVE!)

Two reasons.
Generate Hype - Shields Down had been offline for a while and my fear was if I flicked the 'on' switch, no one would notice. I wanted to generate some hype, some chatter around the site returning.

Interest - I loved being part of the ValueARG, and I wanted to try one out myself. It looked fun, and I thought "why not" and "when would there be a better opportunity?"

The Plan
The initial plan was to send a large, encoded message, partitioned to many players based on their activity on Shields Down, IRC chat and activity on Core Exiles. Decoding and placing the fragments in the right order would have produced a CE related spam message, but with a hidden embedded URL. The url would have taken you to the "he/is/safe" website.

These messages would have been sent to players and staff alike - I didn't even tell the staff this event was happening! (Apart from Coops; he kindly gave permission to use Core Exiles as the host for the event)

*The next step has been removed from this post as I think it's a great idea, and I might use it again in the future - Sorry!*

Finally, the mech battles. A couple of core mechs to start a timer, followed by more mechs to quicken the timer.

What Actually Happened
With advise from some close friends, I decided to test the water before jumping straight into it.

And am I thankful that I heeded the advise of others.

In the end I decided to encode a small phrase containing some key words - specifically about a Phoenix. If successful I would have reverted to the original plan. If not, I would modified it.

The first few hours didn't go well. Some players were concerned it was a hacker, taking control of my SDLottery account, trying to scam other players. Other players didn't know what to do, so deleted them without reading the message. It got to a point where the Core Exiles staff took administrative action on the account, resetting the account's password and limiting my access. I realised my errors too late, and thought this event was lost.

But, the following morning, I found players had started posting on the forums about it - decoding & putting different fragments together. Successfully, you got the quote, so I continued the ARG. I changed the scenario though, skipping the next step, claiming the password was the quote's author (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra). In IRC, I placed a link to the he/is/safe link.

The event went well after this: 6 major mech battles over the weekend started a clock, followed by many minor ones to quicken the clock. As you hopefully saw, the clock was the time remaining until the site came back online, reducing after each minor mech was destroyed.

What I learnt
A heck of a lot. Almost too much to put in a blog post, but a couple of key points:
  • Build up a background story. I instantly went into an ARG with 1 line giving a background - and that made players concerned and confused. I think building up a story will ease them in, or realise a game is being played
  • Be ready for anything. An ARG is directed by you, the players. The creator may have a plan and may even have players following it, but others will see things that aren't there. This isn't a bad thing - I found a couple of routes they saw that I didn't, so coded them in as I liked them.
  • Confusion by other players. I couldn't customise the mechs names any more then the next person, so if someone else used a mech prefix of SD, others may think it's part of the ARG when it isn't.
  • Monitor and intervening - I was monitoring the chat and the forums, seeing where you were looking and going with the ARG, but there were many times that I wanted to intervene and steer you to my path/plan. But, doing so would make me a director, preventing you from being a player of the ARG. Most the time I was developing on your ideas and thoughts, realising any plan I had was useless. I did make one, major intervention though - when the CE staff got involved in regards to the hacking suggestions. Apart from that, this ARG was created by all of you!
The Conclusion
Overall, I would classify this as a success. The beginning was iffy, and I'm confident that if I went for the original plan to begin with it would have been a complete failure. I'm happy that you found the pattern and worked together to combat the mechs. I learnt a lot from this, and I personally really enjoyed expanding the story based on your actions.

I'm already planning the next ARG, but I'll leave it to you to find it when it starts.

The Recovery

I realised last week that I wasn't progressing as much as I wanted on my new framework, and with each passing day I was delaying my relaunch. After a long coffee I decided that the delays weren't fair on you, the players, the community who want the site back. As such, I changed my goal:

Get the old Shields Down back online and re-secured, and then work on the framework.

So, that's what I did, and that's what happened. It's the same site as before but with each query being checked and going through a vigorous query checker before being executed. I am confident the attacks that happened will not affect the site again.

I've updated some of the schematics, but some of the very new schematics caused my script to collapse. I'm reworking the issue and will update you when the remaining are updated.

Apart from there is one change. You might notice a new tab above. You might want to check it out - especially if you are going to be actively involved in the Stomp The Staff weekend on the weekend of the 29th July 2011!

Take care,