Dateline Nov. 1, 2002: EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Search4E PM, Alex Beck

May 1st, 2009

I had the privilege to spend some time online with Alex Beck. He is the man responsible for putting together search4e and took a little time to fill in some background and give us a peek behind the scenes.

Search4e is a non-linear, interactive story played online. It involves the search for Ed Sobian and is filled with intrigue, puzzles and potentially prizes. It started around April 2002 as a test and is officially going live this evening.

We have about 120 players following the story already and it’s already proven itself to be a compelling story.

wb: Hi Alex!
wb: Thanks for taking the time to chat. I really appreciate it, especially on such an important day.
wb: Why don’t we start with some brief background information.
Can you give me a little background on who you are and how you became involved with the search for Ed Sobian?
Alex Beck:: Sure. Hold on.
Alex Beck:: I’m a former producer with a number of small ad agencies in Boston and NYC. I spent some time in London and Berlin. I’ve done a number of meetings and events and it was through this work that I came to know Steve [Massarsky] and Waldemar [Korzeniowsky] — and it was through them that I was introduced to search4e.
wb: What was it about Search4e that caught your interest?
Alex Beck:: I have a lot of friends involved in traditional forms of entertainment and there’s an aspect of it that feels like the same thing over and over. This felt entirely different and new. I mean a whole new form of entertainment that we were inventing as we go. It’s not that often in life that you can feel like you’re actually on the cutting edge… and there I was. So here I am. With lots of big plans for the future.
wb: How would you describe this new form of entertainment?
Alex Beck:: Highly interactive. In many ways, the players actually influence the direction of the story. It’s also a combination, and in some ways a culmination, of the capabilities of multiple media. The fact that this simply couldn’t have happened or taken off even two, three years ago is something I find very exciting: that this is uniquely native to and suited to the Web.
Alex Beck:: Let me add this. When I say “highly interactive,” I mean that if players show a lot of interest in a certain character or part of the story line, theyr’e bound to get it. We’re flexible and that feels right.
wb: That cutting edge is often called the “bleeding edge.” It’s tough treading new ground. What kind of things have you run into that were unexpected?
Alex Beck:: Yes, we’re all a bit scarred and battle weary, but the wounds are already healing nicely. We’re dealing with a melding of technology and information and content and navigation and it doesn’t always blend seamlessly, especially first time around. Things take longer than we’d like or expect. But we have a great team and we’re on target for launch tonight.
wb: If I understand correctly, Second State is a joint venture between BPictures and Bizincu. How does that all fit together?
Alex Beck:: Second State is not a joint venture. It’s a standalone and it’s a partnership between Steve and Waldemar. But you’re correct that these business entities fit into their past and to some extent present existences.
wb: Who’s brainchild was Second State and the Search4e? How did you identify the opportunity and get it all started?
Alex Beck:: It wasn’t me who identified the opportunity, although I was quick to jump on it when it was offered. It was originally Waldemar’s idea, and he and Steve have been working together to modify it and shape it into what you’ll be seeing tonight.
wb: The beta period has been running since April making Search4E the longest running venture of it’s kind (even though it hasn’t officially started). Is all the information and research that’s been done still important or are we starting with a clean slate?
Alex Beck:: Definitely don’t wipe the slate. Search4e is continuing and ongoing. The launch signals a reorganization of material and information as well as the introduction of new material that we’re pretty excited about.
Alex Beck:: For example, wait until you see the opening trailer.
wb: Cool. We’re all very excited about the launch as well.
wb: The press release mentioned a lot of exciting possibilities and a tie-in with Lycos. It seems this genre is pretty boundless. What kind of things can investigators expect to see?
Alex Beck:: There are lots of plans for other deals as well. With Lycos we’re waiting for word about doing a Jeremy Denauer chat next week. I think part of the newness of this effort and this form of entertainment is that people (i.e. big companies) are open to talking and the prospect of various kinds of partnership, but the specifics are not yet set in stone. We have an educational burden to show these companies that there’s really an audience for this kind of entertainment, and that people will be attracted to it.
Alex Beck:: In fact, that’s where players come in. Because on some level we count on you guys to get out there and preach the gospel.
wb: Who is Jeremy Denauer?
Alex Beck:: Who is Jeremy… hold on.
Alex Beck:: Check Collective Detective today or this evening. Jeremy is a former cop and FBI agent who’s been engaged by TCP to serve as lead investigator and add a measure of professionalism to the archiving of material around here.
wb: Are you also responsible for search4e.org?
wb: Everyone is anxious to have access to the notebook and other features.
Alex Beck:: To the extent of my own capabilities. I have certain responsibilities, but there’s a team. Everyone reports to me and I report to Steve and Waldemar. But this is an open-door operation, so it’s safe to say that everyone reports to everyone.
Alex Beck:: That’s great to hear — that people are anxious to see what’s new about the launch. We worked hard on the notebook and are anxious to get feedback.
wb: Can we expect all of the features on search4e.org to be live with the official launch?
Alex Beck:: Well, as you know this is a dynamic project. It will always be a work in progress. So it’s not like we launch and that’s it. So you can expect many, but certainly not all of the features that we have planned for the coming months. What fun would it be if we gave you everything at once?
wb: Which features will be available tonight?
Alex Beck:: Certainly the notebook. The trailer. A new intro page. An option in terms of ways to navigate the site and acquire information. New boards. And more.
Alex Beck:: What did you take away from beta period that you think might be helpful for us to know?
wb: Are you familiar with other similar games like The Beast?
Alex Beck:: I am familiar but it’s the creatives who have to be and are much more familiar than I am. I’m more product manager than game designer, but from a personal point of view I’ve noted a see saw effect of early games trying to establish the right balance between story, game and interactivity. So far I don’t think any have hit it and I think we’rve addressed many of the problems and are moving in the right direction.
wb: To answer your question, the more real you can make the players, websites, and events, the more immersive the entire story becomes. You guys have done a great job expanding the characters for us. The players have to have a pretty clear understanding of what we mean when we talk about the curtain or it blows the suspension of disbelief that goes along with this type of adventure.
Alex Beck:: That’s great to hear. We’re working hard to ensure that this kind of verisimiltude continues.
wb: For those that are new to the search, what do you suggest they do to get up to speed?
Alex Beck:: I think getting up to speed is going to be a lot easier with the new user interface and Jeremy. We’re also all incredibly grateful to the players for the sites they’ve put together, like sobiak.com and and beth’s files. We’re also launching a board exclusively for newbies, and we hope that some of you will be there to guide them.
wb: We certainly will. I’m sure you guys are considering what’s next. Do you have any plans to use the Search4e story in any other media?
Alex Beck:: Definitely. Already working on film deals, for one.
wb: Are you going to wait to see how this plays out before you start on any other projects?
Alex Beck:: We’re certainly not opposed to concurrent — in fact, ideally there would be crossover elements. Oh — Steve just walked by and said to say hi to you and that I should get back to work because we’re launching tonight and the moments are clicking. One more question, if you like?
wb: One last question I promised I would ask, Have you ever met Ed Sobian? :D
Alex Beck:: =P~ Not that I’m aware of.
wb: Alex, thanks very much for your time. If you think of anything else you would like me to include, let me know and I’ll post it as a followup. I really appreciate everything all of you have done and we all look forward to a great experience!
Alex Beck:: Thanks so much, WB.

Dateline Oct. 31, 2002: Chat Transcript with Alias Technical Consultant Rick Orci

May 1st, 2009

Rick Orci, technical consultand and writer for ABC’s hit show Alias joined about 65 or so fans to chat last night at aliasfour.com. There were some great spoilers about the show and a few hints dropped about the online game. Click the Read More link for transcripts related to the game and a link to the full transcript.

Abridged Chat Transcript: 10/30/02
Chat with Bob Orci, Alias Technical Consultant
Hosted At: The Alias Four
Note: Full transcript can be found here

[rmsilver7]: ok heres a pre-asked question:
[rmsilver7]: Do the highlighted letters (location names) have a purpose other than the visual affect?
[RickOrci]: Last year, they were an encryption key for the webpuzzle at the end of the year.
[RickOrci]: This year…
[RickOrci]: They may serve a purpose… and should PROBABLY be kept track of.
[RickOrci]: I’m sure Mandaking wrote them down already.
[RickOrci]: I recognize half the names in here.
[RickOrci]: Clearly I spend too much time online.

[Kerlo]: Hello! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us tonight! I was wondering if there will be any more plot lines with Ana Espionsa? I noticed that the actress has a lead role in another tv show. Also i just wanted to say that I really like the show and you can actually tell that alot of effort was put into the writing!
[RickOrci]: Hey Kerlo.
[RickOrci]: Thanks Kerlo!
[RickOrci]: We actually wanted to get Ana back… but sadly, she’s on firefly now. However, she may serve a role in an Alias video game we’re developing.
[RickOrci]: Hopefully we’ll get her back at some point.

[rmsilver7]: Ohh also, since Weiss is the one talking in the diolaouge does that mean he isnt killed off at all??
[rmsilver7]: this season?
[RickOrci]: I heard rumors that he’s recovering nicely and may be ready for duty soon.

[rmsilver7]: OK, heres another pre asked one: Is there a mythos behind the number 47 peculiar to alias which differs from the “star trek” lore?
[RickOrci]: The recurrance of the number 47 is purely a coincidence.
[RickOrci]: If you believe in coincidences.

[RickOrci]: Hey Manda!
[Mandaking2000]: Hi Rick My question is of course web puzzle related… Last year did the puzzle progress as you all had planned it or did we miss the boat on somethings… and also is the game this year going to be structured the whole time!!
[RickOrci]: Last year it was originally budgeted as merely a “web presence”, a few sites by Eric Scott. However,
[RickOrci]: by mid-season we’d run out of money… So Jesse Alexander and I pulled together all the free resources of the net and improvised a new chapter every few weeks.
[RickOrci]: It progressed very unexpectedly.
[RickOrci]: Especially when you guys started creating private forums

[AliasJunkie]: Now is www.conspiracychick.com start of new webgame?
[RickOrci]: We couldn’t track player progress… so we had to create aliases as players and ifiltrate them
[RickOrci]: I could go on forever about that… It was a blast.
[RickOrci]: conspiracychick was a way to shout out to last season’s best players.
[RickOrci]: And to notify them about their “sleeper status”…
[RickOrci]: More to come…

[Transcript by: Riika Magnus of Secret Life of Alias]
[Edited for deaddrop.us by Bill Shaw]

© 2002 The Alias Four and their respected owners. All Rights Reserved. Absolutely no posting of this transcript without proper credit is allowed. Please email the web masters with any questions regarding this transcript. *Special Thanks to Wag of Team Alias for making this all happen, thank you Wag!!*

Dateline Oct. 30, 2002: Alias Operation KnockKnock Walk-through Available

May 1st, 2009

The Weissbot is ready to go with Codeword: Northridge and we have a detailed walk-through ready to go!

Help Agent Weiss find the IP Address for a monitoring site setup by rogue hacker JohnnyReb.

Dateline Oct. 30, 2002: Push, Nevada Ends

May 1st, 2009

The show is over, the money is about to be awarded, and Enoch has thrown in the towel. We had a good run and I’m sure the rumor mill will abound with stories, conjecture, and mystery. If we have learned nothing else, “Everyone has a secret in Push, Nevada.” Even the producers.

Now that Push is off the air to make room for a sweeps friendly lineup on ABC, it seems that LivePlanet is leaving the door open to redux the intriguing series.

It’s odd enough that the closing 30 seconds of the final episode had the main character, Derek Cecil, address the audience directly, but he strongly hinted that it wasn’t quite over.

In fact, the hacker site, enochonline.com which provided clarification of important clues during the show, reinforces this message by offering a free download of the 160 page book, The Push, Nevada Experiment and the following quote:

10.29.02
F&O: They are close, they are very close! I can’t believe the resources these people have. I never thought I would be even close to vulnerable with my connections and abilities. I don’t think I am going to make it. Please, please keep up the fight.

Use the book, the information I have given you, and whatever resources you can to keep fighting. Good Luck.

Enoch Out

It seems this chapter is over, but the story may not be. After all, the mystery of Push is, as Mary Sloman said, “like all the best secrets, not quick in the telling.”

The book does a fantastic job of wrapping up the story of Push. Although I initiallly enjoyed the show, I had much more appreciation for the story after reading the book and watching the episodes with my newfound understanding of the plot.

Within a day of the cancellation, it was already rumored that LivePlanet had begun making the rounds looking for another home for their fledgling concept. The audience garnered by Push, NV is easily sufficient for cable. Add that to the 10,000 plus registrations on the message group LivePlanet established on Yahoo and at least two other large groups communicating elsewhere and you have a substantial potential audience for a sequel or spin-off. The book and the on-air wrapup both leave the door open.

My only hope is that if Push, Nevada is reincarnated, LivePlanet realizes that dumbing down the puzzles was, well, dumb. The level of cooperation demonstrated by every player group I witnessed was phenomenal. The audience clearly deserves more and I, for one, hope they get it.

Dateline Oct. 28, 2002: Remember Atari’s Adventure?

May 1st, 2009

One of the original games of exploration, Atari’s Adventure is now available online as a Flash Program.

Adventure defined a genre as the first graphic adventure game. It set the expectations and guided the development of everything that came after from Zelda to UT2002.

This game was one of the first loaded with hidden passages and easter eggs (hidden commands or game elements that are cool but have nothing to do with the storyline).

You’ll find it here: simmphonic.com. The reproduction is 99% faithful although Pehnke did move a couple of items around.

Dateline Oct. 26, 2002: Operation Roundup Walk-through Available

May 1st, 2009

The entire Operation is now documented here at deaddrop.us. We even had a little crypto puzzle to solve.

There’s also a nice little bonus when you finish!

Watch out for trolls and minor bugs!

Codeword: Crow

Codeword: Patriot (both parts).

Have fun!

Dateline Oct. 25, 2002: New Encryption Method Allows Reversible Image Alterations

May 1st, 2009

Current steganographic techniques introduce permanent changes to images when information is stuffed into them. A new watermarking technique developed by researchers at the U. of Rochester restores the original image 100% when extracting the encrypted data.

This new technology, ostensibly for certifying authenticity and accuracy of images for law enforcement and copyright protection can also be applied to data hiding. ARG developers should soon have a new tool allowing more diverse puzzles centered around image manipulation.

For example, two images might be merged in such a way that renders both images unviewable. Given the right software and key, both images would be revealed. Because the technology is lossless and reversible, no quality is lost in the original images.

The article on C|Net can be found here.

Dateline Oct. 24, 2002: 13 Clues and a Book for Push, Nevada

April 29th, 2009

We have the 13 clues and the information for the Final Clue.

The book is The Push Nevada Experiment. Enoch posted it this evening.

OK, pay attention:

  1. $1,045,000
  2. Television
  3. Orange
  4. Peter Pan
  5. G
  6. Morse Code
  7. www.toyota18.com
  8. Five
  9. Longitude
  10. Underwear
  11. Southeast
  12. Bodnick
  13. Eliot

Click on the clue that is a link and you’ll know where to look for the final clue.

For the Final Clue WatchABC’s Monday Night Football
October 28th 9 PM ET
Don’t Be Late

Final Clue repeated during The Toyota Halftime Show

Dateline Oct. 24, 2002: Alias Mission Codeword: Crow is live

April 29th, 2009

he Weissbot is ready to go with Codeword: Crow.

Step 1: Find Pol Woleski.

Good luck agents!

Dateline Oct. 24, 2002: Search4e.org Combines Real World Interaction and web-based Fiction

April 29th, 2009

deaddrop is pleased to bring you this breaking press release.

NEW YORK “A unique new entertainment vehicle ‘Search4e.org’– will go live on the Internet on November 1, 2002, it was announced today by noted entrepreneur Steve Massarsky, now president of S E C O N D S T A T E, which owns the property. The launch of the game will be supported by an extensive cross-promotion with Lycos, the online media company.

Search4e.org is an interactive, real-time, parallel reality that breaks down the barriers between the ‘real’ world and the constructed world. The constructed world is built around the mysterious disappearance of the plot’s main character, Ed Sobian, which the audience/participants actively investigate, uncovering clues and prizes along the way.

Transcending traditional entertainment genre categories such as gaming or television shows, Search4e.org moves beyond these traditional definitions in several notable ways:

1. Main characters are played by real actors, who then play out their roles in scenes scripted for the ‘real’ world. These scenes are then filmed and incorporated into the story line on the Search4e.org site. For example, a participant might win tickets to a ‘real’ Broadway show, and find that they are seated next to one of the characters from the Search4e.org storyline.

2 The main characters are active in the real world. For example, several of the characters have opened accounts and are actively selling items on E-Bay, and one character has a profile posted on Matchmaker.com.

3 The entertainment experience has a truly unique prize and promotions structure. As the audience/participants investigate, they periodically uncover objects in the course of investigating that are woven into the storyline, such as rare coins, collectible antiques, and other consumer products such as an automobile. The individual who comes across these objects actually wins that item in the real world, and when they claim it, they encounter a ‘real world’ merchant who has been scripted to interact with the prize winner in accordance with the storyline.

4 Audience/participants are actively involved in creating and influencing future plot twists and turns. Numerous official and unofficial supporting web sites and discussion boards exist where back-stories, side stories, and new story elements are ‘discovered’ and posted. See, for example, dotconnectors.com/forum and oysterlassjunkyard.com/forum.

5 Multiple entertainment mediums are incorporated, including Internet gaming, video, publishing, and live ’street theater’.

6 The highly cognitive Search4e.org has strong appeal to both genders, with the beta group showing strong participation by both men and women.

“I’ve searched for the past five years for an entertainment property as compelling as Search4e.org, which is absolutely unique in today’s entertainment marketplace,” commented Massarsky. “It’s like falling into a John Grisham novel. Participants are simultaneously investigating the mystery, and influencing the future direction of the storyline. In an added twist, the fictional and real worlds intersect through our unique prize and promotions structure, our staged ’street theater’ events, and by making the characters appear to have lives in the real world.”

The Lycos cross promotion, slated to launch in conjunction with the Search4e.org November 1 kick-off, will include banners, live chats with characters from the storyline, dedicated discussion boards and key word referrals. Additionally, Lycos will be incorporated into the storyline as a location where various clues might be found, and actual clues and prizes will be planted throughout the Lycos site for Search4e.org participants to uncover.

Steve Massarsky is a successful entrepreneur who has received extensive press coverage. In 1989, he helped found and then built the third largest comic book company in the U.S. at the time, Valiant Comics, which he sold in 1994 for $65 million dollars. Massarsky got his start in politics, as director of entertainment in the McGovern presidential campaign. Massarsky then segued into the rock and roll arena, were he gained prominence as manager of the Allman Brothers Band, and discovered rock artist/actress Cyndi Lauper. Massarsky earned a law degree in 1975, and practiced entertainment law for several years, representing Nintendo, Aerosmith, Leonard Cohen, Psychedelic Furs, Cabbage Patch and Willie Mays, before launching Valiant Comics.

About S E C O N D S T A T E

Headquartered in New York, privately held S E C O N D S T A T E is a multi-media company creating web-based entertainment products. The company was founded in early 2002 by Massarsky in association with other partners, including filmmaker Waldemar Korzeniowsky.

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