Chaos Theory  Player projects enhance The Secret World experience
One of The Secret World's most unique elements makes it ripe for producing immersive experiences, even outside of the game. Set in the modern real world (as opposed to the fantasy or even sci-fi themes prevalent in our MMOverse), a game can more easily blur the line between logged in and logged out. Players can, and do, generate ways to be a part of the game while still out and about in the real world. Today, I'm going to shine a spotlight on two of these projects that use very different methods to continue immersion beyond actual gameplay.

In January, one TSW fan ran an Alternate-Reality Game (ARG) for fellow players. Using Twitter, the forums, email, and even in-game characters, this player orchestrated a full-on investigation for participants to work through. And just recently, a new site offering to immerse players more deeply into the game through imagery was beta-launched. Both projects further player involvement in the world of the game -- the stories, the conspiracies, the histories, and the surroundings -- beyond the actual game. Both received support from Funcom in their efforts to expand the fans' experiences. And both are definitely worth checking out, so I sat down with the creators to get the scoop on the why, the how, and the what's next.

TSW screenshot
Bringing immersion to you
Previously, we delved into the official ARG hosted during The Secret World's End of Days events. But Funcom isn't the only one running ARGs for players to enjoy. Fellow player TheChosenOne (TCO) created and hosted his own. From January 1st of this year to February 7th, TCO wove a story and proffered puzzles for solving, all the while watching where the game took the community. Why take on such a huge task? He stated, "Before launch I saw how these ARGs brought people together, how they build a strong community." And for TCO, "the best thing about this game overall is the community."

Interestingly, this ARG was not even his first; TheChosenOne also did one back in 2011 along with a few smaller incarnations before producing the Keepers ARG in January. For those who didn't have a chance to participate in the actual game, TCO described it thus:
"The Keepers ARG was an Alternate Reality Game about a secret society known as the Keepers that the players needed to gather information about for their factions. Eventually the players joined the Keepers and worked on several missions which involved the corrupt leader of the Keepers, James Zimbardo."
How long does it take to create an ARG? For this one, TCO said he began planning in December, then launched on New Year's Day. Although the number of those who participated from beginning to end was smaller, plenty more followed along with the story as it developed, reading about it on the forums. Unfortunately, TCO also noted that because a large part of the ARG took place outside of the forums, folks had trouble keeping up with what was going on.

Image from Keepers ARGTheChosenOne wasn't completely alone in this production; while he created the event, Funcom stepped in and provided support. As community manager, Morteia (whom we are all glad to see back in the role!) secured prizes for the winners of the ARG from the studio, promoted it on personal Twitter and Facebook accounts (as did Yarruka, the community coordinator), and even became a character in the ARG.

After all the work is said and done, TCO emphasized that having fun with an ARG is the main point. "That is what it is all about," he said. "You have to have fun whether you are playing or hosting an ARG; you have to enjoy yourself and have a good time." And yes, he assured me, he had fun. The most rewarding part? "Seeing what the players do with the information you give them. Seeing them speculate, trying to solve the puzzles you've set up for them is just amazing."

After this latest game, will there be more? TCO mentioned that he might start up another for The Secret World after he finishes his current project. If so, he does have a few things he'd like to change the next time around, such as making the ARG more accessible and making a backup of all files. He concludes, "I definitely love the community and I plan to stick around for a long time. Because you know... dark days are coming, and I want to be here where I am needed the most."

A thousand words
The second project moves away from using the mind to solve mysteries to experiencing life beyond the confines of the gameplay visually. From panoramic views at angles unattainable by players to visual stories played out between various NPCs, a new website TSWPano aims to bring more depth to the game world by offering views of both the landscape and the lives of The Secret World characters beyond what players can actually experience in game. For instance, how does London look from he vantage point of the rooftops? And what lives do the NPCs have beyond what they share with players?

Basically, the site allows players to see their favorite game in a new light. What inspired the creators Makawa (who sat for the interview), Aerynia, and Lyrhea from TSW's Community Moderation to develop such a unique angle for heightening immersion? Makawa said,
"Quite often we find ourselves running between contact to contact and story to story, and we fail to actually stop and check out our surroundings that our characters live and experience within. This project is inspired by that: We hope to document the world of The Secret World in an entirely different light for our readers."
He reminded me that because of the ever-evolving nature of TSW, there may be locations and/or NPCs that disappear after a time, and TSWPano will preserve those areas and characters. By documenting them visually, he ensures the places can be revisited in the future by veteran and new players alike. For a taste, check out the official launch trailer:


How long does such a project take? Makawa noted that he's been working on the project since October 2012. Months were spent just trying to write up and solidify ideas for the site. He spoke of being conflicted on how to convey the essence of the project to the community, a community that he feels is valuable to the ongoing development and direction of the endeavor. In the end, he reasoned folks would come to understand the concept over time as the project developed.

TSW screenshotThe entire point behind TSWPano could not have been realized without support from Funcom. Beyond just allowing the site access to the game to capture the panoramas from various vantage points, the dev team helped pose NPCs in various places to foster the creation of mini-stories that will be told via screenshots. Players will be able to see the illustrious Kirsten Geary giving orders to Charles Zurn in his lab and Richard Sonnac trying to collaborate with Dame Tyburn. Will players get to see these NPCs moving around in the game, living life beyond the scripted stories they share with players? No. But thanks to TSWPano, they can experience a much deeper Secret World through the stories.

In discussing the goals for the site, Makawa told me that "the ultimate goal for this site is to encourage others to be creative, to stop and look around the world that we play in and see it for what it really is." He believes "the goal of [his] team is to create an experience for the community that will grow and expand in time as the community impacts the project." Of course, he also noted that there are more long-term goals as well as new projects planned.

In the end, it is the community that will help shape TSWPano as well as enjoy it. "Community involvement is a big thing for this team," Makawa emphasized, "let alone for The Secret World in general." What will the site look like in a few months? We'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, players can visit TSWPano.com and see the several shots that have already been captured. If players broaden their Secret World experience, all the better. Makawa concluded, "That is what makes everything worth it -- knowing that someone out there is having the best experience possible."

Conspiracies, paranoia, secrets, and chaos -- the breakfast of champions! Feast on a bowlful with MJ every Monday as she infiltrates The Secret World to bring you the latest word on the streets of Gaia in Chaos Theory. Heard some juicy whispers or have a few leads you want followed? Send them to mj@massively.com and she'll jump on the case!

This article was originally published on Massively.