Archive for April, 2009

Over the Rainbow

April 29, 2009 - 12:50 pm Comments Off on Over the Rainbow

Amy Walker performs “Over the Rainbow” as Judy Garland, from the young, naive girl in The Wizard of Oz to the troubled woman in her forties who sang on stage – older, hurt, addicted, but still yearning.  It’s a pretty remarkable performance.

Catching the Wish

April 28, 2009 - 8:49 pm 3 Comments

I spent the weekend in Pennsylvania at the memorials for Dave Szulborski. I’m still incapable of expressing all that he meant to me. He was a mentor and a friend and a big brother and an inspiration. It seems impossible to me that I won’t be exchanging chatty emails with him anymore and hearing about the amazing stuff he’s been working on lately.

Anyway, I looked through my backup drive and found this old treasure from Catching the Wish in 2006. Here’s the story: The mayor and other entities were fighting to tear down the library and digitize all the books. Dave’s character, Dale Sprague, and my character, Sarah Wyatt, were totally opposed to the idea. The players rallied to the cause, bombarding the fictional development company with email and setting up a petition site to save the library. This is the audio recording of a call-in City Council meeting where Aglaura opened the floor to let non-residents make statements about the issue. All those who called in were players, save the crazy singing lady, who was one of the puppetmasters – Haley Moore. 😉  Mayor Dobbs was played by Paul Melamud, Sam was Michelle Senderhauf, Bruce was Nick Braccia, and Diana was Kassandra Standridge.



Aglaura City Council Meeting, June 22, 2006 (MP3)

Rest well, Dave

April 23, 2009 - 3:31 pm Comments Off on Rest well, Dave

I don’t have the words to express my feelings right now. I may never have them. Dave Szulborski died last night. All I can do is make travel arrangements to his memorial service. Still in shock.

A Charlotte Post Mortem

April 22, 2009 - 2:09 pm Comments Off on A Charlotte Post Mortem

One of the things about being an ARG designer is that you don’t often have time to be an ARG player. It’s easy to fall out of touch with the rhythm of the player’s side, that feeling of groping in the dark for a light switch that just barely illuminates a tiny patch and then the trek onwards to find the next flash.

I receive a fair amount of trailhead packages in the mail and via email, but either they come at a time when I’m too busy to participate or they don’t pique my interest. The tape recorder for the “Charlotte Is Becoming Real” game (could I have dubbed it anything goofier, I wonder?) was a perfect storm. It came when I had time to play and it was mysterious enough to make me monkey around and figure out just what in the hell it all meant. Normally these things come with some sort of overt puzzle. This, not so much. In fact, it took nearly two weeks to realize there was a puzzle there at all.

This led us down a twisting, snarled pathway of Facebook updates, websites, telephone calls from game characters, both authoritative and confused, frantic searches in Central Park for hidden objects, and finally a paid trip for two players to Berlin, where they had a finale in the Sacrow woods involving a mad psychiatrist, a wobbly rowboat, a bloodstained bathroom, and the grinning author of Therapy, Sebastian Fitzek.

Granted, there were some bugs in the game, at least from my perspective. First, the pacing was uneven – at times glacially slow and at times very quick. Second, the events of the finale were geared almost exclusively towards the two people who traveled to Berlin, and left the people at home no way to participate (or even watch live, because cell signal was weak and the phone battery ran out). Last, the players are left with more questions at the end than they started the game with, which runs contrary to how we expect ARGs to be. However, I’m reserving judgment on the last, because we do have a scheduled PM chat for next Wednesday and it’s possible that there is a reason for these questions to be left. I’m all for telling stories in new ways.

Now, those criticisms aside, I have a lot of praise for the game. First of all, I think that it’s important that an ARG be built around a solid product, and Fitzek’s Therapy is a rollicking good read (although perhaps a bit heavy-handed on the foreshadowing). I just finished reading it again for the second time, going back and noticing subtle clues that I wouldn’t have known to look for in the first reading. My mind is still on stormy Parkum Island, with my ears and toes chilled. But besides the book, the game was intriguing. It was fearlessly gung ho in ways that corporate American games are not: there were no waivers to sign, players were supposed to explore the return address the packages came from, someone needed to go to San Diego and dig up a tape recorder from a random place in a park, and so on. This was not a carefully-cultured, bubblewrapped entertainment experience. It felt more like a gritty, personalized, grassroots game, the kind you can sink your teeth into. A real, old-fashioned ARG, in other words, the kind your Mama used to play.

So to the game designers at VM-People and to Sebastian Fitzek I would like to say thank you for lighting a fresh spark of wonder in my cynical puppermastery heart. I had such a good time playing your game. I hope you do many more here in the U.S. and they’re met with great success. Kudos!

A Charlotte update

April 9, 2009 - 9:16 pm Comments Off on A Charlotte update

A month after receiving the mysterious tape recorder of mystery from P.Martin in San Diego, the game still plays on. Here are my impressions, sprinkled with some search terms in case there are others receiving items in the mail or phone calls and trying to figure out why. If you want a real guide, check out Rowan’s site as she’s done an excellent job at it.

By the way, this game is based on Therapy by German author Sebastian Fitzek, a diabolical man. I ordered and read the book almost immediately after the whole tape recorder incident and enjoyed it very much. Extremely twisted tale. It’s a fast read of a dark psychological thriller. I’m looking forward to his next English release.

Quite honestly, we still don’t have very many answers at all as to why P.Martin sent out those tapes, or why he wanted to point us to Ivan Krotzler’s website. We had some contact with his somewhat ditzy and disturbed assistant, Penny Farmer, who was apparently hired due to the fact that she shared the name of Krotzler’s favorite author, Penelope Farmer (who penned a children’s book called Charlotte Sometimes, which The Cure used as inspiration for their single of the same name).

Penny, although she worked for Krotzler for some time, really had no idea about the man’s personal life or habits and was fairly unhelpful in that regard. One fateful evening she went over to check his garden for evidence of a dog at a player’s request and apparently found something awful and dog-related there that sent her straight into the loony bin for a few days.

At that point we started talking to Jimmy the IT Guy, who was even less helpful, but at least he was able to operate a scanner and sent us clearer pictures of some documents that dippy Penny had attempted to send earlier. Jimmy also helpfully doctored the documents. Weird.

A player in San Diego recognized some locations in Krotzler’s Facebook photos and spent a couple of days searching around there, eventually to be rewarded with a new tape player and recording describing the brutal murder of a dog. Only the dog was imaginary. Weird.

Those of us who had signed up as contacts on Krotzler’s site started receiving postcards from Germany from someone named Anna addressed to “My Dear Ear.” She was sorry to have left without continuing the conversation, but we knew where to find her.

Postcard from Anna

Application of a little heat revealed the message that had been written in invisible ink:


Earlier we had found a hidden directory on Krotzler’s website and had tried seemingly everything to get in there. Turns out we needed to put a space in the Username.
Username: Ivan Krotzler
Password: Sindbad

Lots of neat stuff in there, right? Digging around found this threatening-looking note saying “I know who you are, Ivan!” There were also three screenshots of videos from The Cure. Plus a 0 and 1. After much deliberation, it turns out that if you take the exact times that the image appeared in the videos, put the 0 in front and the 1 in back, and switched it all around, you get a telephone number: 1-646-736-1140. That is an answering machine with an outgoing message from Isabell. (Eek! She’s the wife in the book!)

Several days pass. No contact from anyone. Penny posted a note on Facebook promising to get back to everyone within a two days, but four days later, there was nothing. The players were getting out their torches, pitchforks, flamethrowers, and angry mob etiquette books. The next day, there were even rumors that the whole cast of characters was eaten by wild dogs.

This afternoon I got a telephone call from a blocked number. Letting out a whoop, I fumbled the digital recorder I’ve been carrying around with me like a teddy bear since I left a message on Isabell’s machine days ago and tried to answer the phone, speak coherently, and record everything. Here it is, me running up the stairs as I spoke, trying to evade the curious family who was trying to figure out what in the hell I was doing. I think both my interrogator and I were equally nervous, but we both did well under the circumstances.

So that’s where we stand. Now, here’s the kicker – After listening to German podcasts of Sebastian Fitzek, many of the players are convinced that he’s the man on the tape as well as the man I spoke to today. Considering this is a man who showed up at a book reading in a straitjacket and showed up at a live event in an abandoned hospital bound and gagged, well…

I’ve got to get him to sign my book. 😉


April 9, 2009 - 1:13 pm 2 Comments

This is why I buy the Applecare extended warranty.

On my MacBook Pro, Applecare is due to run out on April 27. I took it in because there were some dark spots on the display, some blemishes on the case, and a loud fan. They did a complete freaking overhaul. They replaced:

  • The top case ($285)
  • The display ($850)
  • The optical drive ($150)
  • The logic board ($650)
  • Both fans ($90)

(Prices from Powerbook Medic.)

Yes, you are out there shouting that all that stuff is overpriced, which I’m sure it is. But I paid $349 for the warranty, and I’m pretty sure you can’t get all these things for any equivalent notebook for under that price. And to have all that stuff replaced on a three year old computer? Win.

To heck with Schlitterbahn

April 3, 2009 - 5:16 pm Comments Off on To heck with Schlitterbahn

Reading the Wikipedia entry for Action Park, an ill-fated amusement park in New Jersey, gives me the willies.