The Date: 27th July to August 3rd
The Place: Seattle
The Occasion: A meeting with the Puppetmasters
The Seattle Saga is a long and involved tale which requires a certain amount of introduction to it or else you won't have a clue of what I'm talking about. In fact, it requires two kinds of introduction - the normal 'what is this game' kind, and the secondary 'and you say you know who the PMs were?' kind.
So if you know what the game is and who the PMs are, you can skip the following bit but most probably you'll still have to read the bit about the PM contact.
To cut a long story short, it's a web-based marketing game for the new Spielberg film called A.I. Basically (and this is how I explain it to everyone), if you go and watch the trailer for the film, you'll see strange horizontal slashes in the words 'Summer 2001' at the end. Count the slashes and you have a phone number. Ring the phone number and you get a strange message telling you to email someone. Email that person and you get told to think about someone called Jeanine, who as it turns out is listed in the trailer and film credits as 'Jeanine Salla - Sentient Machine Therapist'.
As Sentient Machine Therapists aren't exactly the most common type of people working on films, this attracts your attention. Do a Google search on 'Jeanine Salla' and you find a vast network of websites which are all set in the year 2142 and all in some way or another concern themselves with a mystery involving the death of a man called Evan Chan. All of the websites 'believe' that they are in 2142 and they don't refer to the film or the 'present' at all, except for the latter when it's necessary.
Updates are made to the websites every Tuesday (or rather, they were - the game has ended now). I started playing the game a month or so after it started, so I really had no clue of what was going on. To help myself and others, I started writing up a walkthrough for the game called the Guide, which has now ballooned concomittantly with the game into a vast 400+ page tome.
During the game, we called the hidden game designers the 'Puppetmasters' or PMs. The main group of people playing the game were in a community called the Cloudmakers, named after poor Evan Chan's boat. I was one of the Cloudmakers moderators - the moderators (there were eight of them in total) were people who maintained the messageboards and ensured the smooth running of the community, as well as writing resources such as the Guide and Trail.
Eventually the game designers revealed themselves to be Microsoft, and there was remarkably little wailing and gnashing of teeth at this revelation; most people thought it was instead an uncharacteristically cool (but still good) thing of Microsoft to do.
Now this is the controversial bit all you Cloudmakers have been waiting for. The moderators have been variously accused of being in contact with the PMs or even that they were the PMs. I myself recall fondly an email from someone who asserted that I couldn't possibly write the Guide without being a PM and thus the whole game was a sham, etc etc.
As it turns out, we were in contact with the PMs. Before you explode in righteous indignation though, let me explain exactly what happened.
We had absolutely no contact with the PMs up until the Spherewatch Incident. This was in early to mid-game and Cloudmakers had maybe 1500 members. For those of you who don't remember that event, on one Tuesday Update the PMs made a prominent link on one of the game sites to a new group 'investigating Evan Chan's death' called Spherewatch. Intrigued, we followed the link to a fan-run community; a community just like Cloudmakers, but much younger and much smaller.
Many Cloudmakers were absolutely furious about this, thinking that Spherewatch must be in cahoots with the PMs and that they were at best ignoring Cloudmakers and at worst sidelining and directly insulting us. Okay, it seems like an overreaction now, and in hindsight I think it was, but we were extremely dedicated to the game at the time and that's what we felt.
It must have been a trying time for the PMs, as they watched their largest group of players go on a murderous jihad and curse the PMs and all of their works. To be honest, it would all have died down in a couple of days but it didn't look like it back then, and evidently the PMs agreed, because they made contact.
An email was sent to the moderators of the Cloudmakers on the day of this update asking to get in contact. Seeing as I'd received a few similar emails in the past, I thought it was a hoax and prepared to consign it to the dustbin. Luckily though, I changed my mind and replied sarcastically telling them that they should prove who they were before I gave them my phone number.
The reply came back swiftly, asking what I'd like to see changed. I was frankly taken aback, so I wrote up a long list of houses I'd like to see removed from the Metropolitan Living Homes debutante competition (the list was of rubbish houses). Again, another reply told me that the list was pretty long but he'd managed to remove a few. I checked the MLH list and to my amazement, some of the houses were gone. Either this was a universe-shattering coincidence or the guy was who he said he was. In any case, I thought it was good enough for me to give out my phone number.
And that's it really - the Spherewatch thing died down anyway, but contact had been made and using a pseudonym, Elan Lee kept in sporadic contact with the moderators. He did not tell us anything about the game. He didn't tell us about any of the puzzles, or the storyline, or the events, or anything. We didn't want him to either, considering that would have spoiled the game for us and believe me, I didn't want it spoiled since I'd be reminded of my duplicity every time I updated the Guide.
So, basically, the moderators knew no more of the game than anyone else, and we were in contact with Elan alone.
Seasons passed, the days went on, the game grew ever more complex, the Guide grew even longer and the numbers of the Cloudmakers swelled. The moderators found their time being taken up more and more with media interviewers and other game-related work, pulling their hair out in more than one instance. Towards the end of the game, Elan uttered the magic words that we might be able to visit the PMs in Seattle.
I was absolutely overjoyed - as would anyone else be. None of the moderators had expected this, and the first date we were given was that of movie premiere; we'd be watching the movie with the Puppetmasters! Of course, as many Cloudmakers know, several of the PMs were present at the Los Angeles premiere, and that is in fact the reason why our trip to Seattle for the premiere was delayed until the 27th of July.
To be honest, I did think that the simultaneous and complete disappearance of every single moderator from the messageboards and IRC chat room during the movie premiere would've been more than a little suspicious...
Eventually the dates were finalised and officially we'd be in Seattle from the 27th to the 29th, meeting with some of the Puppetmasters, visiting Microsoft and doing a spot of karaoke and Dance Dance Revolution. I have to admit that I didn't really believe that it was going to happen until I was holding the tickets in my hand...
The more observant of you will have noticed that I said that my trip from Seattle lasted until the 3rd of August. What happened was that I stayed on until the 3rd with some friends in Seattle seeing as I thought it was a bit silly to spend a total of 14 hours travelling each way from the UK to stay for a little over two days.
On to Day 1 >>