ARG Guardrails

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Dan Adelman, and I’ve been working as Billy’s sidekick for the last couple years, helping him with the business and marketing side of Animal Well so he can focus all of his energy on actually making the game.

Animal Well is a game about many things, which makes it all the more difficult to talk about. It’s a platformer. It’s a metroidvania (sort of). It’s a puzzle game. About 9 months ago, we were brainstorming ways to show the world what Animal Well is all about without spoiling too many of its secrets. We wanted to build awareness of the game of course, but we also didn’t want it to be pushy or gratuitous. If people were going to give us their attention, we wanted to give something back in return. We eventually came up with the idea of putting an ARG puzzle in our Day of the Devs video, which we were excited to see people really enjoy. If you are new to the Animal Well community, I’d encourage you to check out the video and see if you can solve the puzzle yourself! If you get stuck, here’s the full solution.

When we wrote up the solution, we ended it with 2 contradictory thoughts. In the 2nd to last paragraph, we talked about how we want to be respectful of people’s time and attention. We didn’t want people looking for clues that weren’t there. And then in the last paragraph, we contradicted all of that by including the line, “Puzzles may be lurking anywhere and everywhere."

Our Discord community took that challenge to heart. They quickly found the hidden secret Billy included in the main Animal Well website. And whenever we put out any new blogs posts, the community discovered and solved the puzzles far faster than either of us expected.

All of that was great and completely in the spirit of what we were hoping would happen. We found our community soulmates. People who loved looking for clues and solving really, really obtuse puzzles. (Just to be clear, though, Animal Well isn’t a collection of lots of difficult puzzles. There are some complicated puzzles in addition to the main gameplay mechanics.) But as time went on, that 2nd to last paragraph became increasingly salient. Just to save you a click, here’s what that paragraph said in full:

I want to continue putting out challenges to the community, but at the same time, I realize that I’m going to need to be more cognizant of what people might accidentally assume is a clue but isn’t. I’ll be honest that I haven’t figured out the right way to do this yet. I could jump in and tell people if they’re on the wrong track, but that seems too heavy handed. Likewise, a lack of any response from me could be misconstrued as tacit acknowledgement that there is a clue to be found. When puzzles could be anywhere, they could be everywhere. I want to make sure solving these challenges is fun and rewarding, not a series of frustrating dead ends.

We started to notice that a few dedicated people were imagining clues where none existed. They checked out work that Billy had done years before Animal Well in the hopes he may have buried a clue back then. They checked his github page. One person noticed that the file size of the test build on Steam increased by 7kb. The joys of the communal act of solving a puzzle together in real time are counterbalanced by a sense of FOMO in case the community discovers a puzzle without you. We are hoping to keep the joy and eliminate its shadow. Just to be clear, at this point there are no unsolved puzzles out there in the world for you to discover.

Billy and I started to put together a list of guidelines of where puzzles would or would not be, but the system got overly complicated. At one point, the list got up to 14!. We have since narrowed it down to two:
  1. All new ARGs will have a direct connection to the official Animal Well social media channels or websites, official videos put out about Animal Well by Billy/Shared Memory, blog posts written by Billy or me, and of course the game itself once it launches.
  2. If we jump in the Discord to let you know there's no ARG somewhere, you can believe us. We're not trying to throw you off the scent.

As much fun as the ARGs are, and we do intend to keep doing them, they take a lot of time and effort to put together. Right now Billy has to focus on finishing the game so although we will be putting some more out from time to time between now and launch, they won't be super frequent. Just want to temper expectations.

Please enjoy your FOMO-free holiday season and have a wonderful new year!

No comments:

Post a Comment