Sunday, October 24, 2004 is an Alternate Reality Game based around the Halo Universe and timed with the release of Halo 2. After seeing the web address flash on-screen at the end of a Halo 2 theatrical trailer, people (now players of the game) visit the site to find what appears to be a buisness' site that has been hacked.

The entire game is based around players uncovering and deciphering imperfect information hidden in the site. There is almost no information made easily available to the players, beyond giving them (rather subvertly) the location of the game (the site url -- infact the game doesn't have a real name, other than "the ilovebees game"). Even the objective of the game and how to play it is not given to players. This makes for a very unique experiance, but also a very frustrating one.

In most video games players can guess at what the revealed story will be in atleast general terms. It is mostly likely that you (the hero) will defeat the evil enemy and/or save other good people. With an ARG like ilovebees players have no idea what there play will reveal. The only way to advance in ilovebees is to try and find information hidden in scrambled .jpg files, hidden text, and cryptic messages. Player have no idea as to their progress in the game as they are playing it, because the site changes periodically, with changing dates and information. The end is never clearly in site. It seems clear though, that no one person can "beat" ilovebees on his/her own.

An intersting element of ilovebees is that the designers made it so that emergent play is required for players to succeed. There is nothing to guide players through the game or let them know if they are on the right track, and therefor they must find a way to put the peices they find together. The players need to network and share their findings to succeed. So a good deal of the actual gameplay happens on message boards created by other players. People go to ilovebees to collect data, and bring what they've found and interprated to a message board and together with other players develop or squash ideas. So instead of players playing against each other, they are working together to crack the game.

As the ilovebees game progressed the site will change and offer new clues. One version had a grid of numbers that I speculated had some mathimatical meaning, and I tried shortly to find patters, but couldn't figure it out. I visited a message board and some people realized it was GPS coordinats, (I was way off) and were able to translate them into locations that the posted, and people who lived in those areas went to the places at specific times to recieve phone calls from Halo characters. They then recorded there conversations and posted them back on the message board for all other players to hear. It just shows how nessesary the player-created system is to the success of the game.

The problem with making the goal, outcome, and reward so ambiguous was that the game designers (who ever they may be...) didn't realize what the players/fans would expect. Instead of waiting to see what would happen, the players began to speculate and rumors began to fly. Because the release date of Nov. 9th seemed so far off, and people were getting extremely excited about Halo 2, a great deal of people thought that the countdown to Aug. 24th was a countdown to an early release of Halo 2. When this turned out not to be true, im sure many people were let down.

Also, with such an ambiguous "finish line" the effort required to continue play is enormous. While the incentive is also great because the game is so unlike any other, if you don't get totally involved/obsessed, it is easy to fall away from the game. And since the game changes in real time, you can't walk away for a week and expect to come back and pickup where you left off or understand what is going on. In short: it is definatly not a casual game. While playing I found it very easy to get lost in all the different theories and scattered information. At first I felt great sense of acomplishment when I discovered hidden text on the various pages, but after a while I got lost in the story and eventually stopped playing.

However, I'm sure that we will all soon be learning much more about the ilovebees game...


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