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The description doesn't quite do them justice, as these are not the "1,000 Super Word Puzzles" books your grandmother got from the supermarket. The game's designers use the cards themselves to toy with you. One example I have on my desk is a card with "The Road Not Taken" on it and a little note that "This is one of Violet's favourite[sic] poems. It's been hanging around her room as long as I can remember ... What is the name of the poet?" The card is named Cold Fission, so all signs point to Cold. This is, perhaps, mere trickery, as cunning, clever souls (i.e. not me, the PR rep told me) will notice the card has a candle on it. Rubbing your hand on the card, the friction causing the surface to heat up, will make the letters of the poem fade away to reveal a series of letters hidden in the note itself.
On the back of the card is a brief guide to the game: Collect cards, which range from Common (and Easy) to Rare (and Difficult), solve the puzzles and win Perplex points, which get you fortune and glory on the leaderboard, which brings you closer to that huge cash prize.
Solving certain riddles brought me to aspiring supervillain and Ad Hoc Polymath Andrea Philips. Andrea was one of the Cloudmakers - the largest and most active community back in the days of The Beast - and now, she works for Mind Candy. When I ask her to explain her title, she says, "This means I do a little bit of whatever it takes to keep the game rolling," be it designing and writing puzzles, or live event coordination.
"Entertainment as a whole seems to be heading toward a more immersive, participatory experience," she tells me when I ask for a bit of background. "It's happened in little drips at a time, but it's been getting a lot steadier. The creative teams want to give their audience a way to really affect their experience. So, you have an AOL email address for Homer Simpson," she says, "Or you have a website for some secret society's cover business on Alias. Or Veronica Mars' journal on her website. I consider all of these pretty ARG-y in nature, even if they haven't moved to the full-blown participatory experience, because they're all moving toward deeper levels of immersion. Videogames are getting at the same thing from another angle, by de-linear-izing a lot. You don't really get the feeling that in something like Halo you're really affecting the storyline, but meaningful branching seems to be an up-and-coming design goal.
"With something like Perplex City, we try to pull together the cinema/TV immersion bit with that meaningful choices bit." They take it a step further than the character blogs by letting player interaction with the "fictional" characters have a real effect on the storyline, so not only can players follow the world and get to know the characters, they can also become influences on the plot. Rather than rooting for a favorite character, they can actually work to help them (or hinder them, as happened in one particular case).
"I think of what we do as 'massively multiplayer participatory storytelling,'" She tells me how the Mind Candy team tries to infiltrate their players' lives and blur the lines between reality and fantasy. "Our latest toy is SMS. We've been using that to great advantage to get out breaking news and alert players that real-time events are happening. We've also done the creepy phone call bit: Everyone in a crowded bar gets their phone ringing at the same time, with the same vaguely threatening message. Fun stuff."
They've even taunted their players with a real, live black helicopter. "[We did] the infamous live event in London that ended with a mole from a secret society running off and escaping in a shiny black helicopter," she says. "A real shiny black helicopter."