Part of the fun of Alternate Reality Games is that the game is constantly in motion. E-mails are constantly being sent out, and websites are always being updated. During the Beast, e-mails from Laia Salla were sent out on a regular basis every Tuesday. There was also a time period during the Beast when certain websites led almost immediately to the same animation, simulating a hack by a rogue AI. During Lockjaw, players were surprised when one of the websites, 10101-10010-110.org, disappeared!
Joining an ARG in progress is an extremely difficult thing to do by oneself. A prospective player would be confused as to the plotline, unable to “see” prior versions of sites or receive earlier e-mails. If a player were to post on a message board asking a question, they would end up being trouted. So, what is a prospective player to do?
Fortunately, there are two documents that become the best friends of ARG players. These documents are the Trail and the Guide. The Trail is a document, similar to an encyclopedia that is a list of every website and puzzle in the ARG. The Guide is a linear walkthrough, narrating how the group found every website and puzzle, and how they solved it. Both documents, when used in conjunction, are incredibly useful for both new players and veterans alike.
A trail is a document which contains a list of every website, e-mail, phone number, and puzzle discovered up until the last time it was updated. The format is designed to resemble an encyclopedia, with every individual item getting its own subsection. Most trails have a table of contents at the beginning, to allow a player to quickly arrive at the piece of information they need. One drawback of trails, however, is that it is very difficult to determine what the plot of the ARG is.
Due to their sometimes intimidating size, trails are primarily designed for the veteran player. Still, there is plenty of information that a new player can glean from a trail. Most trails designate whether or not puzzles are solved in their index section. From here, a new player could know what puzzles he or she should start to work on.
A guide is a document detailing the path that the group of players followed up until the last time it was updated. It is similar to a walkthrough in that it is written linearly so that players can follow along. Like trails, most guides have a table of contents that list the sequence of events in chronological order. One drawback of guides, however, is that it is extremely difficult to access key information quickly.
Guides are written for the sole purpose of getting new players caught up in the game. Therefore, it is my recommendation that any new players read this document first. Although it can be a long read, it is much easier to follow than a trail.
Copyright 2002 David Batchelder