Alt-Minds: Please Don’t Let A Phone Ruin Your Game

Yeah, a logo. What do you want from me? To magic the game from the future?

I am at once intrigued and concerned by the announcement of a new project from Lexis Numérique. Alt Mind’s plans to be a “transmedia” game, launching this Autumn, that will take place on websites, smart phones, and presumably in the real world too. The concerns? Well, first, it’s created by Orange, and although some of the best ARGs have been sponsored, that’s not normally something you learn up front. And second, it thinks it’s doing something wholly original. Which is rarely a good sign.

Calling it “an exciting new approach to interactive fiction,” worries me, because it suggests a lack of awareness of the field it’s entering into, and a suggestion that the wealth of lessons to be learned by the mistakes of those who have gone before aren’t being acknowledged. However, they rather splendidly confuse me by then pointing out that Orange has been getting involved with transmedia projects since 2009, and in fact have an entire division devoted to it.

Of course, being 2012 this one is focusing heavily on apps and casual gaming, where players will need to work together online to unravel the detective fiction mystery. And rather importantly, it’s going to be episodic, which will hopefully prevent it from becoming unwieldy, as the genre is prone to do. Generally when a game is played collaboratively, it pretty quickly becomes exclusionary. Hopefully an episodic model, and an emphasis on the casual market, means they’re working hard to prevent this.

And teaming up with Lexis is great too. These are the people who now mostly publish games, but originally created the absolutely revelatory In Memoriam – a stunning (until the terrible last third) puzzle game that, for the first time in at least my experience (with some possible exceptions such as Spycraft) had you task-switch out of the game and involve the real world to solve it. It meant visiting websites both genuine and those faked by the developers (and never being quite sure which were which) to uncover clues from a serial killer to rescue some hostages, and its mixture of media was absolutely compelling. It then, for inexplicable reasons, descended into a bunch of crappy board puzzles, but forget that. These guys really knew what they were doing. While the games they’ve made since have been interesting, none has matched In Memoriam for its genre-rattling outstanding nature. I’d love to see them doing something like that again. However, with Orange heavily involved, I doubt it will be this, which I can’t imagine won’t be trying to sell those portable telephones, and “web TV”, whatever that is.

I realise I’ve not explained the game itself, and that’s because I don’t have a clue. This trailer will ensure you don’t have one either:


  1. Malawi Frontier Guard says:

    I thought the entire point of ARGs was for game designers to get sponsorship money from companies, John.

    ARGs, sheesh. That’s so 2004.

  2. ZamFear says:

    “an exciting new approach to interactive fiction”

    Yeah, about eleven years too late for that.

    • Mctittles says:

      Yea Majestic was the first thing I thought of too. It was a complete failure as well.

      • Duoae says:

        I think these sorts of things can be traced back even further to things like Masquerade…

  3. Big Murray says:

    The trouble with ARGs as actual games is that when you have this co-operative, social networked based puzzle solving, the vast majority of “players” feel completely disconnected from the experience. A small number of people actually making progress on the game will actually feel fantastic … but I’ve never solved anything on one of those big ARGs, as I assume the majority of people here have either.

    It’ll be interesting whether they understand this, considering this seems to be making an effort to be an actual commercial game.

    • Donjo says:

      I was pretty happy to follow the Portal 2 ARG even though I didn’t create any input. But what do I know? I was one of the dupes hoodwinked into following it.

  4. Jamesworkshop says:

    It feels like i’m missing some background to really understand this piece

  5. Pharezon says:

    ” Alt Minds plans to be a “transmedia” game (basically, an ARG in high heels)”

    Please don’t make transphobic jokes. It’s insulting.

    • 898 says:

      I hope I was correct in reading the article as saying “transmedia” is a sexy buzz word for nerdy pc-based ARG

      • Pharezon says:

        Maybe, but the word struck me as a bit off.

        • UrQuan says:

          The word wasn’t meant as a jab at transsexual people, nor comparison to them. As far as I’ve heard, when you use *something* in high heels, you mean that it’s prancing around, acting all uppity and popular and stuff.

          P.S. I’d prefer it if none of the RPS staff edited it out. Artistic integrity and all that. The phrase isn’t and shouldn’t be insulting, unless being forcibly put there by people who see insults in everything.

        • John Walker says:

          Making a friendly joke and being phobic are not the same thing. If someone can explain how the joke is offensive, I will be intrigued.

          • John Walker says:

            Ongoing Twitter discussion has convinced me that, as obviously silly as the intention behind the joke was, wider bigotry means it’s simply not funny for those it – without intended malice – targets. So I’ve removed it.

          • dsch says:

            So reassuring to know that these lovely people are there to watch over your writing to catch anything not PC enough.

          • Harlander says:

            Apologising to people you offend, even if it was unintentional, isn’t “political correctness”.

            It’s part of the subtle toolkit behavioural scientists tend to refer to as “not being a dick”.

            You did the classy thing here, Mr. Walker.

          • Richard Beer says:

            Oh for goodness’ sake. Why is this anything to do with transsexuals? Surely, if anything, it’s a riff on transvestites? I can’t imagine any transvestite would find this offensive, seeing as how they wear women’s clothing for FUN. There may be some miserable, humourless transvestites around, just like there are plenty of miserable, humourless people in every walk of life, but Eddie Izzard would totally approve. Anyone offended by it should probably examine their sense of humour for signs of imminent failure.

            On top of that, any game that uses the words “multiple ramifications” in a trailer is taking itself way too seriously and definitely requires a few comic digs to bring it down to earth.

          • DXN says:

            It’s cool to be understanding. Thanks, John.

    • kastanok says:

      I’m trans, I laughed. Maybe because I’ve read John’s writing for years and know he’s the last person to say anything mean. Maybe because I tried making a similar joke when I say the Extra Credits video on Transgaming.

      It was a throw-away pun, more about the English language than trans-anything.

    • Nic Clapper says:

      If I make a joke about about planes, does that mean I have a phobia of flying (or planes themselves)?

      People seem to throw around ____phobic all the time now…its ridiculous.

      • Jamesworkshop says:

        Like a Transatlantic flight

        Trans is a Latin noun or prefix, meaning “across”, “beyond” or “on the opposite side”.

        I have had it with these motherf heels on this motherf plane!!!

    • dsch says:

      I had no idea high heels = transgender. Is that actually a thing, or did anyone else assume it just meant ‘classy/self-important/slightly-elitist’?

      • Splynter says:

        I also thought he just meant classy or upscale.

      • jrodman says:

        Me too, despite having several trans friends. Maybe I’m insensitive, or just dumb.
        But really I was just confused.

      • Milky1985 says:

        I think it might be the classic PC thing, when basically other people who arn’t actually being refered to are being insulted in behalf of the people of the people who are being refered to (not saying that no-one is being insulted, and if you are yes voice your opinion but saying that 9/10 times this happens its other people saying you can’t say that about them and pointing at them)

      • UncleLou says:

        I had read it as “transvestite”, not transgender, which I guess would be not or less offensive. But then I am not a native speaker, maybe the term “trans” is less ambiguous in English than it is in German.

  6. Emeraude says:

    Hmmm… would be interested, I thoroughly enjoyed In Memoriam – in spite of its faults it managed to do enough things right to be captivating at times.

    Hopefully this won’t be a cell phone game only… (by which I mean I’m one of those irremediable no-cellphone sociopaths, not that there is anything wrong with gaming on the medium per see).

  7. hypercrisis says:

    I just take it as a disconnect between PR and the actual team on board the project.

  8. Risingson says:

    I’m intrigued. I share your opinions on In Memoriam, a fascinating game that sent you emails and made you visit geocities-like websites, and, as you said, featured boring board and professor layton type puzzles.

    About the joke: I think it was funny, as its context shows that it had nothing to do with phobic behaviour. There’s a big problem in the LGTB world with stereotypes, which are at the same time embraced (as they are part of a whole) and dreaded. You just stumbled into that complicated relationship.

  9. Bhazor says:

    Hmm, I actually have In Memoriam on disk somewhere but I’ve never played. Anyone know if its still actually playable? Or has all the ARG stuff been shut down now?

  10. Rane2k says:

    Damn, I skimmed throught the text and at first I thougt this was going to be an ARPG (as in Action-RPG) sponsored by Orange Amps.

    I would have looked forward to that. :-)

  11. The First Door says:

    ARGs are a bit of a guilty pleasure for me and I usually love this type of video… but the phrase ‘multiple ramifications’ sort of annoyed me. Aren’t ramifications normally multiple? Maybe I’m just in a Friday pedant grump!

  12. wodin says:

    Maybe you have to phone people on orange mobiles…call me a cynic.

  13. James Lyon says:

    I used to love these types of games. Got a bit obsessed over them – especially Perplex City. Until I realised that I wasn’t clever enough to solve anything while everybody else was rushing off and decoding hex and plotting algorithms or whatever when I was trying to solve an anagram. Which is kind of the point, I suppose, that everybody participates and shares, but not when you feel like you’re tagging along like a gooseberry and the story’s already solved.

    It’s good being there, though. We need another I Love Bees, etc. They’re great fun.