Remember the Beast?
August 27, 2002 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Remember the Beast? Will there be something like it again? Did you have a crush on Laia, suddenly discover a use for your knowledge of lute tablature, or vote for the Mann act? This is basically an excuse to indulge in nostalgia (how many MeFites were Cloudmakers?), but it'd be interesting to see if anyone is still interested in fan-based interactive fiction gaming, or if it was basically a one-shot movie promotion that could only be supported by the resources of a big company. Is "the AI route" a dead end? What is the line between a movie-supported online game and inspired Web marketing? -- Or hell, just tell some Red King stories.
posted by redshoes3 (15 comments total)

 
Nostalgia? Dude, it was only last summer.

Anyway, I doubt this sort of thing will ever be common. It's too expensive to produce, and the payoffs for the producers are negligible.
posted by jjg at 9:39 AM on August 27, 2002


Had AI been a box office success, this type of promotion would be more prevalent. Jig, do you know how much they spent on the campaign? I don't think it could be that much, at least as part of the $50-million Hollywood routinely spends marketing its big films.

There's a similar game for the TV show Alias (one entry point is here, although I don't know if it's still on.) For some good writing about the subject check out (MeFi member) Adrian Hon's site, especially this. See also this not-quite month-old thread, and of course this one about the original AI game (there may be more).
posted by D at 10:05 AM on August 27, 2002


I wouldn't write it off as a one-shot deal just yet. ABC has a new program coming out this fall that blends a similar game into the storyline of the show, titled "Push, NV." This ARG is modeled on the Beast, but a little different in that it offers an actual cash prize. For that matter, ABC ran a similar web-based promotion along with their show, "Alias," last season, and it's about to ramp up for season 2 of that show as well.

Besides these high-profile commercial options, there have been underground volunteer efforts, such as the Lockjaw game that was produced by former Cloudmakers, and the currently running Second State and Change Agents:Out of Control, which are both very popular with their player communities.

This genre is currently being discussed, and newfound games actively played, in the forums over at ARGN. I have started a site to help catalog the genre as well as introduce newbies to the genre, Unfiction.com (warning, self-link). Our own Adrian Hon has been blogging on the subject over at his digs, Massive. And a group known as the Collective Detective, spawned by former Cloudmakers, is developing subscription player services to help facilitate the participation in these types of events.
posted by SpaceBass at 10:19 AM on August 27, 2002


Sean Stewart, the lead writer for the Beast will be at WorldCon in San Jose this Saturday, at 4:00pm.
posted by danhon at 11:04 AM on August 27, 2002


After the game wound up I read some of Sean Stewart's novels -- I liked Mockingbird the best. I thought the voice of his first-person pregnant female narrator was impressive; a lot of male writers bomb out when they try third-person female characters. Sadly, his novelization of the game, which I think was fairly well along, was held up in legal limbo last I heard.
posted by redshoes3 at 11:17 AM on August 27, 2002


The latest news from Sean (and this is from a while back, at any rate), was that the novel was done and dusted, but the lawyers were still fighting over it. The message appeared to be: "don't hold your breath."
posted by danhon at 11:30 AM on August 27, 2002


Curses, just as I was going to link to my own site I find that someone else has already done it for me. Although maybe you shouldn't visit it right now, the front page article is called 'The Decline of Metafilter'...

Will there be more games like the Microsoft AI one? Certainly. As SpaceBass has already said, there are several other games running right now and ABC is going to run a high profile game in a month or two. The BBC actually ran a game in the UK alongside its MI5 spy show called Spooks - it didn't do too well, but at least it shows people know about the genre.

I think a better question would be whether there will be games that attract as large an audience and create as much of a buzz, because there sure as hell hasn't been one that's eclipsed the AI game yet. That's not to say there haven't been any good games since, but Microsoft set the bar very high with its AI game, and the only people that I can say with confidence have the ability to better it are Microsoft themselves.

Of course, the team at Microsoft won't be making any games unless they get someone to pay for them, and that's an entirely different story...

Another interesting question is whether amateur groups can create games that attract hundreds of thousands of players. There haven't been any that have managed it so far, partly due to funding and expertise problems, but I think it's possible. I'd be willing to give it a shot, but writing the plot is always the hardest part.
posted by adrianhon at 11:38 AM on August 27, 2002


I stumbled in late to the whole "AI" thing. I peered around and then...slowly backed out.

It was an amazing thing to witness, but I thank my stars I wasn't in from the beginning.
posted by ColdChef at 11:47 AM on August 27, 2002


I also came in late to the AI game... I don't quite remember how. I seem to recall reading a post somewhere that said: do a search on Google for "evan chan" and hold on to your hat.

I muddled around in confusion for a while and then stumbled into the cloudmaker site from where it was acknowledged within the game itself. Whoa! Now it made sense. I was excited. But the demands of my job were such and the pace of the game was such that it was all I could do to keep up with the amazing progress of the other cloudmakers as they hammered through the puzzles. I held on until the very end, in a voyeur kind of way, working on the puzzles but never managing to be the code-breaker for any individual problem.

AI's game and the Cloudmakers gave me a new hope for the intelligence of the denizens of the internet. Previously, I was about to throw in the towel and let the spammers and the AOL users have the damned thing.

It was about that same, magical time that I stumbled for the first time onto Metafilter. These days, I mostly just read email and metafilter threads, waiting and hoping for the day when the rest of the internet can do more than just waste my time.

I am left with two emotions: deep admiration for the minds of Cloudmakers and Metafilterers, and a deep longing for my magical discovery of more of the same.
posted by Jonasio at 12:42 PM on August 27, 2002


My Tuesdays have been alarmingly more productive since the AI game ended. If another game with the same level of detail came along, I would donate some working hours to it in an instant (and any marketers who are reading this should know that I went to see AI strictly based on the game, even though I had no interest in it beforehand).

If we're reminiscing, the day players got to call a real, "live" character (played by Sean Stewart, if I recall correctly) to beg for the Red King's life was simply the most fun a person could have while pretending to work.
posted by jess at 1:35 PM on August 27, 2002


Jonasio, I couldn't have said it better myself.

Looking at the number of people that participated in the game and even now hearing that someone is nostalgic about it, you would think someone would see this as a new genre of marketable online gaming. Why not create more games like this one for those of us who prefer to put the internet and our brains to good use? For everyone else there's Everquest.

The Beast is my dream of what the internet could be.
posted by nemesis at 2:35 PM on August 27, 2002


I built these:
cybertronics
crash analysis
and the final death scene for Eliza which I can't find now.

That was t he funnest project I ever worked one...ever. I read the cloudmakers group with more excitement than the players I think. I was always blown away by how fast the puzzles were solved...Sometimes I think people used swf strippers to pull apart the code of th e flash games.

I was subcontracted from a subcontractor from a shady subcontractor and got paid a pittance. He alwasy said the budget was tiny, but something told me it wasn't as tiny as he was paying me. I think the people at Microsoft said it cost well under 1 million dollars.

I don't know if you could say the game made cloudmakers or cloudmakers made the game, but it really was a beautiful thing to see when it was running full steam. And the cloudmakers site is the probably the best documentation of anything I've ever seen.
posted by darkpony at 3:47 PM on August 27, 2002


Ack! The time when people called Sean Stewart (playing Mike Royal) was the day the game really grew up. I remember being online when it happened and I wasn't sure what was going on, but reading some of the phone transcripts was great. The thing that struck me was that they didn't get any old contractor to be the phone actor and read a script (which would have sucked) but they got Sean to do it. Sean, the guy who none of the players could catch out because he wrote the game! That shows some real dedication.

If you don't know much about the game and would like to read up more, have a look at the Guide I wrote. It sucked up huge amounts of my life just keeping it accurate and up to date, but it was fun. Reading all these comments makes me remember all the crazy times and late nights of yesteryear. Ah, great days.
posted by adrianhon at 4:42 PM on August 27, 2002


i was along for the ride, more for the story than anything else (never actually first to solve any puzzles).

the beast rocked.
i was particularly impressed when some people from the group got together to do a distributed brute-forcing of a password on one puzzle.

p s thanks for the guide adrian.
posted by juv3nal at 12:51 AM on August 28, 2002


I missed out on this, but read about the following it received. Most of the links are broken these days, which, I suppose, is inevitable, because it was very much of its specific moment: in its ruined state, it's a kind of Web equivalent of Stonehenge, or one of the ruined castles on the south coast, which is actually quite touching.
posted by riviera at 5:22 AM on August 28, 2002


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