Um. Well, have you been to helpmeveronica.com, the very first Veronica Mars alternate-reality game (ARG), which about five people cared about?
Yeah. It was my idea. Hi. I'm not the CW marketing department, contrary to popular speculation. I'm sorry for playing dumb the last five weeks, but that's the nature of the beast. You can't be the Man Behind the Curtain if you have no curtain. And when the curtain looks like the CW, people are more interested. More importantly, people outside the fandom find you more credible, and they were the target audience from the beginning.
What I don't think people realize, however, is what an incredible achievement this was. Which is why I am telling our story. It's a story about a story, and it's full of harrowing drama, thrilling heroics, rollercoaster emotions, and Nazis.
It all started on Sunday, August 20, on the WatchVeronicaMars.net forum. It was a little after 6:00 PM PST. I was reading through a thread about utilizing YouTube to reach a larger audience of potential viewers. There was a discussion of what sort of videos fans could make that would appeal to non-viewers and get them interested in the show. And I thought of the Session 416 videos Joss made for Serenity, and it just hit me.
Messages to Veronica. We could get people to record a bunch of messages to Veronica, asking her for help on various cases. All sorts of crazy cases.
spadada responded, "This is an interesting idea, P-C. I WANT YOU TO DO IT."
To which I responded, "I can't do them all! I am only one person! Although if I were really industrious, I could try to write a bunch. But only if people will actually film them."
I lay on the bed and began to think. I wanted to come up with some sort of example of what I was talking about. If I could get the basic idea across, then maybe others would be inspired. It only took about ten minutes, and the following script poured out of me:
The typical guy-setting-himself-up-in-front-of-the-c
STEVEN: Veronica, you've got to help me. I don't have much time. I asked around, and they all said Veronica Mars can help me. I hope you're as good as they say you are.
STEVEN: Look, those Kappa Episilon Epsilon guys. I don't know how they found out, but...I was just testing out my new digital camera, see. This one, actually. And, and...I think I saw something I shouldn't have. I saw that one guy, the big one that punched Dick Casablancas in the face at lunch on Wednesday, I saw him go into the girls' dorm the night before. The night before...you know. I know no one's talking about it, but you know, right? You were here before. Frosh Weekend.
STEVEN: I think he's the guy, Veronica. And somehow, I think he knows I know. You've got to help me. Meet me in the library tonight at 11. Fourth floor, by the books about Elizabethan literature. I don't know what else to do.
It was really that "I don't know what else to do" that killed me about this scene, even though it didn't make it into the final script. That utter helplessness that draws him to Veronica. In my head, this guy was frantic, desperate, afraid for what might happen to him just because he happened to catch something incriminating on tape. It's a classic for a reason.
The next morning, no one had said anything, so I figured no one cared and scrapped the idea.
But a few hours later, raelee (Rae) jumped in with her support and the idea for a webpage to host the videos. At this point, the idea was still to let everyone and their dog make these videos. Having written the Steven vid, though, I realized that rather than a random hodgepodge of messages to Veronica, it would be cool to have some sort of overarching mystery. We needed a reason for a new viewer to get interested in these people, and, by extension, Veronica and her world. It wouldn't be too hard to brainstorm something if we got a few good writers together. I posted on cloud_watchers to gauge interest, and people seemed to think it was a really cool idea, and they were interested in participating, so I kept thinking.
That afternoon, I got the basic idea for the Villain video and the site hack, which pretty much cemented my desire to do this project.
The following afternoon, Tuesday, August 22, I e-mailed Rae with my idea for the Villain/Victim one-two punch. At this point, I would really love to just post the entirety of our e-mail conversation, but that would make this whole thing needlessly long. Suffice it to say that within twenty-four hours, we had mapped out the entire project of six episodes. Rae came up with great ideas I hadn't even thought of ("The Informant"), and I came up with great ideas as I was writing the e-mail (the "Help us" ending montage). Really, it's kind of funny how much of our story basically just appeared out of nowhere. And more than that, I began to understand some of the constrictions of storytelling: for instance, Steven can't make it to that meeting with Veronica, or the mystery ends. Or at least, it takes it in a direction we weren't planning to go. The idea here was to be vague enough to be interesting but not specific enough to conflict with canon. And why doesn't Steven make it? Thus, "Steven Recants" was born.
Rae and I felt like real TV people. Like real showrunners!
Meanwhile, I was e-mailing like crazy. I tried to coordinate the use of some of the actors, but that never panned out because of copyright reasons or some such thing. Sienna Sanders, head of online marketing, was nice enough to pass our request on to CW marketing and legal, but they never responded. I pumped Rick Pickett for any details about Hearst like names of buildings and Greek organizations in order to give our dialogue accurate flavor. At the same time, I was frantically confirming actors so that we could order Hearst clothing from the Cloud Watchers store, which spadada was nice enough to give us at cost.
On Wednesday, August 23, I created a community for people to work on the videos. And, again: suffice it to say that within twenty-four hours, we had scripts for the first four videos. It only took a couple more hours for people to step up with the remaining episodes. dark_roast and ladydisdain225 fleshed out my original concept, and the script underwent a lot of tinkering since we were frontloading it with exposition. mycenae delivered episode 2, and silentsiren47 managed to knock the Victim/Villain one-two punch out of the fucking park. Just reading her Villain script gave me chills, and she took my one note for the Victim video, which was to use Veronica's virginity line from the pilot, and, rather than follow my instructions, put her own spin on it, and it worked so much better. It was so exciting to see how fruitful collaborative writing could be.
See, this wasn't just some marketing thing to me. I hadn't written a short story since I graduated from Rice, and I had found it really hard to get back on the wagon. Because I don't like to just dabble. I throw myself headlong into things. I wanted to start writing again, but to do so, I really needed to start writing again. To really do it. To come up with a story and make it happen. But nothing was compelling me the way a story is supposed to compel you. I forget who said it, maybe Stephen King, but he said, "Writing is easy. Not writing is hard." And I keep pretending to be a writer, but if I'm not preternaturally compelled to put stories into words, does that mean I'm not? This story, however, had taken over my brain, and I was determined to tell it, and tell it well. I had a Vision.
That's all this was supposed to be, in the beginning. Six videos. One simple story.
The first priority, then, was the first video, which soundingsea had volunteered to film using an unsuspecting sweetpetey, neither of whom realized that our timelines were such that we needed them NOW. As in, sweetpetey had his first read-through Thursday afternoon and filmed the final takes on Friday afternoon. The read-through made me uneasy, but I tried not to judge because it was basically his first exposure to the script. He had the right look for Steven, at least. soundingsea went above and beyond the call of duty by actually sending me pictures of the set for me to approve. As I said before, the first script went through a lot of tinkering, and I was making changes until the very last minute, trying to shorten and streamline and remove references to Troy that were awkward and made no sense.
Luckily, I was able to see an early take before I left work Friday, and I called soundingsea and gave her extensive notes on what I liked and didn't like. She was very receptive and easy to work with. When I got back home, the Internet was still frelled, so I called her, and she played some takes for me over the phone.
Actually, that's pretty much how I approved the entire first video. Over the phone. I managed to download a few of the takes, but not all of them. Rae patiently played me the takes she thought were the best and the insertion of the dog barking, and I told her which lines I wanted looped in from other takes, but I was never able to see the final cut until it actually went live. Other people were, as we sent it out for beta feedback even though we weren't going to make them reshoot. It was a crazy weekend, especially since that was the weekend I moved.
Meanwhile, our minions began setting up Hearst student sockpuppets to comment on the story and provide more background and flavor. The more "real" this seemed, the better. It's the way of the ARG. You can find them all by looking at the friends of hearst_shadow, who was obviously me.
On Monday morning, Rae released the video into the land of YouTube. I decreed that no one mention it, as an experiment to see whether anyone would notice it on their own. Like most experiments, it failed.
Tuesday, August 29, we began the media blitz. This was the moment of truth. Only nine days had passed since the idea had even come to me.
I e-mailed a huge list of TV bloggers as The Shadow, imploring them to help Steven. Keith McDuffee of TV Squad immediately discovered who was behind the site by going to whois.net, which D'OH. His response rather bugged me:
If the domain "helpmeveronica.com" were owned by a television network, I might believe this was a neat way to get people excited about VM season three. But alas, I think you may just be looking for us to link to a fan site (and props to "TV Whore"). Prove to me I'm wrong. :)
Why would this have to be run by the television network to be "a neat way to get people excited about VM season three"? This is why I wanted to keep the fact that it was fan-run secret. Because people don't give a fuck about silly fans and the silly things they do.
A couple other bloggers played along, most notably Dan from duckyxdale.com, who engaged The Shadow in conversation. And made a big deal about how gay Steven was, which would be a common theme in the responses.
I posted in veronica_mars, and no one cared. Until the next day, when someone asked about it. The responses either made me very happy or sent me into a murderous rage. This, too, would be a common theme in the responses. When I wasn't raging, I was crying. Thank goodness the folks at the CW Lounge were playing right into our hands, very convinced that the CW was behind it and marveling at the detail of the site and the scope of the sockpuppets.
I never did find out the extent of Sienna's message to me:
Were you the people behind "The Shadow" email yesterday? I had so many people asking about that.
Very few people were reacting the way I had intended. Some thought the entire thing was the work of whoever was playing Steven. And no one seemed to give a flying fuck about what he was actually saying. No one seemed to give a motherfucking damn about the story we were setting up. All they cared about was how bad his acting was and how gay he sounded. Of course, they didn't know sweetpetey wasn't an actor and that he'd memorized his whole monologue in a day. But we did the best we could under our time constraints. We didn't have time to search out a better actor if we wanted to stick to our schedule. We had already ordered a shirt for his second video because it needed to get there in time for filming.
And I suddenly understood so much about television. Because sometimes you watch a show and just wonder, "Did no one notice what was bad?" Yes, I noticed what was bad. The parts that irked me a lot continued to irk me a lot, but I couldn't do anything about it. I was happier with it than I thought I would be, but it wasn't close to perfect. And that was just too bad. We had to move on. We had to start working on the next video. This isn't a story you have total control over. There are so many different people involved and so many different variables that when things come together perfectly, it's magic, not the norm.
I realized that since no one cared about the damn videos that were the basis for this project in the first place, we needed some more content to keep them interested until the next video they wouldn't care about. So I asked for Veronica to have Case Notes. And anything. We needed more cool content! rowanceleste and alliterator delivered.
It was at this point that I realized we had major timeline issues because it didn't make sense for Steven to wait a WHOLE WEEK to explain to Veronica why he had missed the meeting. Rae came up with the great idea that our extra content would involve Veronica trying to find Steven after he missed the meeting, and thus Steven's vid would actually be a response to that, telling her to stop looking for him because that's why he had been beaten up. RETCONS ARE AWESOME. This would be a common theme for us, given that we were filling in the gaps between story snippets for which gaps had not been intended to be filled in.
MEANWHILE, athenacqd (Anna) came up with the nifty idea of using newspaper articles to give backstory on the fraternities and sororities, casting suspicion on their sordid history. As I was having enough trouble trying to keep my own story together, I told her to go wild with that idea, and she whipped out the first set pretty quickly. wastedfairy was able to magically make them look like real Hearst Free Press articles. I wasn't sure what to do with them yet, and I'm getting ahead of myself anyway.
MEANWHILE PART TWO, etherealclarity (Amy) was IMed by jujubee, our #1 fan, who attempted to engage her character, Linda. The funniest part is the end:
rubrdukki (3:01:56 PM): so how many of you are there in on this?
LinditaGrl (3:02:33 PM): all of hearst, of course
LinditaGrl (3:02:36 PM): its a big school
By Thursday, August 31, I was feeling a little better about things. For instance, I'd come across these two links. I had no earthly idea who the people were or even what the messageboards were, but they found out about the site SOMEHOW. We were slightly viral! Hell, we were going international! It was funny how people thought the vid contained "spoilers that don't make sense right now." We were getting some nice YouTube honors. The video had been viewed thousands of times, and that couldn't all be us!
I also really enjoyed the comments in this Rack of Lamb post. They thought we were INTRIGUING and CREEPY, which was so wonderful to hear. Of course, we had issues because I couldn't tell half the time whether someone was being honest or just playing along because they were in cloud_watchers and knew what we were doing.
The Case Notes went live on Thursday too, a day after we decided to do them. I am telling you guys, that we managed to get all this done in such short time is pretty phenomenal.
The filming of "Steven Recants" went a little smoother. soundingsea once again was awesome and sent me pictures of both the makeup and the set to approve beforehand, and the first take was closer to what I wanted. I gave some notes, and, once again, I didn't get exactly what I wanted, but that's life. We did get a bit of creative serendipity, however, when soundingsea gave us the "I killed my dog" line separately but didn't actually give us enough video in the vid proper to let us loop it over Steven turning off the camera. And, see, if I hadn't been forced to do it, I probably never would have thought of it, but it was perfect to instead loop that line over the URL! These are the sort of happy accidents that just make you appreciate the creative process.
Friday morning, I had the idea to do a voicemail. Or maybe Rae had the idea. Since she'd had the idea for Veronica to put up a flyer asking for people to call her with information about Steven's whereabouts. But in any case, I didn't want to wait for someone else to write the voicemail, so I went ahead and wrote it myself. And half an hour later, alliterator had recorded pretty much exactly what I had envisioned (en...heard?) in my head! Then we all had fun making up fake voicemail messages, and that whole thing went live that very day. This is the sort of seat-of-the-pants storytelling you can expect from our crack team! I deliberately had the anonymous caller note that Steven didn't "look good" as foreshadowing for his appearance in the second video. Since we were filling in the gaps, we could not only make reference to what came before but also set up what was to come, so that the result would be a coherent story! It was pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. Even though no one appreciated the subtleties of my genius. Or rowanceleste's genius, which used Veronica's cell phone number in the fake memo designed to smoke Steven out. We were being pretty detailed and creative here, but no one cared.
Well, someone cared. Someone cared more than I expected. On Friday, September 1, all the Hearst sockpuppets (including The Shadow) got an e-mail:
Hi, I'm a Junior interested in attending Hearst, and I was wondering if you could point me to somewhere I could find information on it? I couldn't find a website.
This. Freaked. ME. Out. That's not the way this worked! We freak you out! Not the other way around! Everyone did pretty well and stayed in-character, directing her to hearst_college. Where...she began to post, as karathephantom. I freaked out and told everyone to be very vague because she was getting dangerously close, and I wasn't sure what she was doing. We had set up some specific rules because of our target audience. We weren't going to mention Veronica's full name initially, and we weren't going to mention the rapes because we wanted that to be a surprise for any new viewers following our story. There probably never were any, but karathephantom, if she started saying things, could fuck with the story.
She came from unfiction.com, a forum specifically for ARGs, so she did know her stuff. She was being very good at walking the line and interacting with the characters, but I wasn't sure how far she had stepped into our world, and I was afraid. Because at this point, we were really only an ARG-lite, as the audience was just supposed to follow the story and come along for the ride. It was our first week, after all.
Sunday, September 3, was a pretty good day. I went down to see a fantastic production of M. Butterfly and saw beeker121 for the first time in months. On the drive home, however, I noticed I had a text message from beppergirl (Gaby):
Sorry to bug while you are out, but there is a matter of great importance in the thing, you know the thing. Check it out AS[AP.]
(I was amused that she was discreet even in her text messages, in case someone happened to read it instead of me, or something.)
I called Gaby, and she told me that someone had posted their own "Help Me Veronica" video. I spewed out so many profanities I think I scarred her for life. Because I immediately knew who it was: AkewsticRockR, who was apparently an ACTING GOD, such that he not only found sweetpetey's acting offensive but somehow took a dislike to alliterator's TWENTY-SECOND VOICEMAIL, which I thought was damn near perfect. He was suddenly obsessed with becoming a part of our effort despite trashing our methods. Apparently, he loved the idea behind it and the layout of the site, but he thought we were a bunch of fans trying to get noticed by the CW and seeing how many fans we could dupe. Then he became convinced that the site was actually from the CW, and that they should let him make a video because he's such a better actor. Again: WHY DO YOU PEOPLE NOT UNDERSTAND THAT WE ARE TELLING A STORY? I thought the added content would let people know that there was a continuing thing going on, that this wasn't just fun and games with random videos, but no.
So in a deliberate attempt to smoke out who's behind the site, he let "Dean Allen" out into the ether, while at the same time posting it under his own YouTube name as well, with a more detailed explanation that he is trying to get the CW's attention (which, um, he was so disdainful about before!). I instructed all the socks to disavow any knowledge of his existence because that would only get him credibility. Yes, thank God he was only asking for a date with Veronica and not saying anything that involved our story, but talking to him or about him would only encourage him. So the socks were NOT to engage "Dean Allen."
karathephantom didn't get the memo.
Instead, she hilariously strived to protect our honor. She recognized that he wasn't part of the game, and she militantly asked him to prove that he was really a Hearst student. It was the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen: two people who wanted to be part of our world fighting over which one was more real. Of course, this only made her seem more like she was one of ours, which she wasn't! This was getting to be a big mess.
The second video went up with little fanfare. No bloggers responded to the e-mail, but Dan made another post in his blog after a while. Other than that, there were pretty much no new links in response to the new video.
But who cares about videos when AkewsticRockR is actively trying to get himself banned from TWoP! I would link you to the relevant posts, but they were deleted. Oops, spoiler warning. So it went like this: he calls Kara a moron, and then I call him a moron. In a roundabout way. And so he responds thusly:
And I completely disagree with what you said about hers being less blatant than mine. Outright saying ON the guy's page video that you want to be involved? You're just trying to make me look bad and feel dumb, as is the custom for most other haters on YouTube and the internet in general. At least you're not as explicitly rude as many of them though. I guess I can say thanks for that.
It was the first time I, of all people, the person haters hate, had been called a hater! And I really wanted to report him, but since I had sort of provoked him myself, I didn't think that would work. Someone else had my back, though. I did report him later on for a completely unnecessary mocking of Jason Dohring fangirls wherein he outright stated that he was making fun of them and then proceeded to complain about gender bias. In the website thread.
MEANWHILE (man, it's hard trying to give you guys a sense of chronology here because so many different things were happening all at once), The Shadow told Kara to back away, and she broke character and made me cry:
Now, the part about 'hindering Veronica's investigation' confused me. Do you want people to play, or not? Do you want people involved, or not? All you've done so far is to show us videos meant for Veronica. We, the viewers, can't do anything yet. Frankly, that's a terrible way to start a game.
I went all emo showrunner on all the lovely people helping me bring this to life:
This was never meant to be a game. All it was supposed to be was a series of videos, telling a story. That's all I wanted to do. That's all I could do. And if that's not enough to please people or hold their interest, I'm fucking sorry. I'm sorry I didn't create the Veronica Mars ARG the whole world was waiting for.
I'm tired of trying to make people like this. Who the hell was I kidding, thinking anyone outside the fandom would be interested? That I could actually get new people to watch the show because they saw some silly videos on the Internet? This isn't viral. We're the ones telling everyone about it! They're supposed to care enough to tell their non-VM-watching friends about it. But they don't. Because we have nothing for them to do. They just have to watch.
In retrospect, her comment was probably a good kick in the pants because although we did already have a small bit of interactivity planned in the future anyway, I was determined to do more. The problem was I didn't think anyone cared enough anyway, so why bother putting in the time and effort? I was getting some scattered good feedback, but it was hard to focus on with all the paper cuts. And it felt like it was a tidal wave of paper cuts with a little bit of love mixed in.
Thankfully, we still had AkewsticRockR to entertain us. Because he posted a "documentary" about getting banned from TWoP. It's long and boring and in a bad British accent, and, unfortunately, you can't even see it for yourself, but trust me when it sounds like the prototypical Banned TWoP Poster. Yes, he even calls the mods Nazis. But, most importantly, he refers to me as Almighty Polter-Cow because I clearly have legions of fans on TWoP who will rush to my defense when someone unjustly calls me a hater. And the delivery is priceless, like "How can one man have so much power?!"
The Almighty Polter-Cow was busy Wednesday night, however. It was finally time to film the Villain/Victim videos at gymble's place. We had intended to film on Sunday, but there was a slight mix-up with the ordering of gymble's shirt. Thankfully, I had chosen Sunday out of convenience and not timeliness.
So, some trivia on Episode 3: The Villain! I had been practicing for about a week, and the line "Consider this a Public Service Announcement" kept coming to my mind as something V.E. would say, so I consulted with silentsiren47 to make sure it was okay if I stuck it in her script. gymble and I had to fake the size of her bed, which was too big for a dorm room, so I just had to make sure that you could never tell how big the bed actually was. We spent about ten minutes trying to cover the windows because light kept falling on the covers, which was sort of bad when this scene was supposed to be taking place late at night after a party. Writing on a married woman's stomach is weird. The cat managed not to fuck up any of the takes; we left that to my shoes and the phone. We did about nine takes, and it took a few before I got the hang of it.
Even when I was rehearsing, I had suddenly found it increasingly difficult to deliver my lines properly when I was filming. I don't understand how actor/directors do it! How do you make sure everything's framed right while at the same time acting in the way you want to? Hell, doing my own filming was supposed to help me be in character, and it was still throwing me off! Plus, I finally had a human body to film, so I had to figure out how exactly to map the contours of her curves so that the visual didn't become static. I had some problems early on because the script has me getting to certain places at certain times, but there were too many words and not enough surface area! gymble pointed out a good path to follow, which helped keep the camera moving. I want to point out two camera movements I'm proud of: the "Forget whatever you think you know" as her foot comes into frame and the "You think what we did to your friend Steven was bad?" as the Pi Sig symbols come into frame.
Rae had reminded me the Hearst rapist shaves the heads of his victims, and I thought it would be awesome to actually have the creepy clipper sounds over the URL. Now, my problem was that I had clippers...that made a sort of buzzing, not-at-all-menacing sound. My electric razor sounded scary, though! So we could show the clippers in the video but use the razor for the sound. Now, it took us seven or eight takes until gymble pointed out that the razor sound was over black and thus could be looped in and it wasn't necessary for me to continue fucking up the end by fumbling with the razor. I'm a moron.
But I will say this: everything they say about playing the villain is true. It's so. Much. Fun.
Then we filmed episode 4, which again took about nine takes as I tried to be a director and make gymble give me what I wanted. Directing is hard! You have to find the little things the actor does and figure out what they mean and make sure they do it again and again and not do the things that suck. For her, the former was the forlorn dip at "They know what he did to me," and the latter was showing her entire face before the end. There was a lot of noise outside, too, which was annoying since we didn't have a fancy boom mic or anything. And the best take ended up having the book the camera was propped on in the frame, so Rae had to letterbox it out.
As if this week needed more drama, I finally got to the bottom of a niggling mystery: Who was scarlettwinch? No one had taken credit for her, and requests for her to identify herself in the community went unheard. But the sock had clearly chosen a specific fandom to target, which was in line with what many of our other socks were doing, so I didn't think she was someone like karathephantom. I e-mailed her as The Shadow and freaked her out until I recognized who it was. It was someone from cloud_watchers who had wanted to help but didn't realize that we were, like, organized in secret and stuff. She was deeply embarrassed and requested that I not reveal her identity. So I won't.
This was the week I introduced the Codemaster into the story because, well, CODES ARE FUN. That was pretty much my entire rationale. We needed some way for Veronica to get Anna's nifty articles, and I thought the Codemaster would be a good conduit. So now we got to make up fun codes. gymble took point on that idea, although I made sure we used an atomic number code as an homage to The Beast.
Then etherealclarity jumped in with notpron.com and, in a matter of days, had created totally awesome noir-themed puzzles for us! And while it made no sense for the Codemaster, it was perfect for the Villain to leave on Veronica's desktop after the upcoming site hack. It was all falling into place! And that place was actually somewhat near this place!
I just want to once again point out how many times this project moves forward by someone having an idea and then immediately making that idea happen. This entire endeavor exists through sheer force of will.
Since we were ahead of the game on videos, the next few days were spent almost entirely on test-solving puzzles, which was very fun. I am in total awe of etherealclarity and gymble.
On Monday, September 11, the Villain video went live. Rae had distorted my voice so that it was even creepier than before. The site was suitably hacked.
Now, since we hadn't had any major media mentions, I decided to come clean with the bloggers I had been e-mailing, so I explained things to them from my personal e-mail address in the hopes that once they knew we were doing this for the good of the show, they would help us out by giving us some exposure and helping it reach outside the fandom.
No one cared. Except Craig from NeptuneSite, who called me an asshole for "spamming" him with three whole e-mails in as many weeks.
Personally, I thought the Villain video was just destined to be a hit because of its inherent creepiness. I thought it would get the best response, and I had wished we could have started with it. But veronica_mars thought otherwise. Sure, we got several people very confused and calling it creepy, but we got as many people who called it lame and funny, of all things.
But the sort of comment that really, really, really got under my skin was this. I wanted to rip the head off of people who called it an RPG, who thought we were just some weird role-players who just felt like posting in a general VM community?? Did they not understand ARGs and viral marketing? Several people even said we were ripping off the Lost Experience, and while I'd never actually played, at least they got the point, unlike some people. Oh, I'm sorry, it's confusing that we're not saying it's "not real"? THAT'S THE GODDAMN POINT. IT IS AN ALTERNATE-REALITY GAMING EXPERIENCE. Which does not mean you, the audience, pretend to be magical characters from Neptune. That is what an RPG is. It means you interact with the world of Neptune as if it were real. As if you are you and they are they.
Sorry. It was a very sore point.
This video, however, garnered MY VERY FAVORITE COMMENT [bolding mine]:
I heard about this but didn't watch it. Is it from a fan, or some viral thing like Serenity with the River Tam interviews from the parent company doing some sneaky promoting? Either way, it's freaky as shit! And fucking brilliant! www.helpmeveronica. (Sorta contains spoilers as it alludes to the first mystery in S3.)
Honestly, if this WAS done by a fan, the CW needs to hire this person pronto because that got me interested in the S3 mystery and the noir/dark aspects of the show like nobody's business. I already feel more interested in what's going to happen non-Logan/Veronica and non-character development in S3 than I did at ANY POINT during S2 all because of this thing.
I mean, seriously, freaky shit.
The shit was so freaky, in fact, that YouTube pulled it. For breaking the TOS or something because I guess they couldn't tell it was fictional? We never were able to get it back up, although we knew that vid had propelled the site to numbers not seen since our initial launch.
Meanwhile, the few people interested played with the proto-notpron site. Now, there were puzzles, and people like solving puzzles, right?
When Mac restored Veronica's desktop on Wednesday, we had a little reboot of sorts in order to set up the Codemaster's series of puzzles that would lead to new articles with a special storyline of their own. We wrapped up the previous series of articles, if anyone had been paying attention.
The most interesting thing, however, is that my posting on veronica_mars created full-scale wank. There's not only Craig from NeptuneSite being an asshole but requests for idiotic disclaimers, proclamations of mass apathy, continuing disdain for RPGs (OMFG ARG != RPG), and...whatever the hell this person is talking about. Thankfully, the vitriol seemed to bring our fans out of the woodwork, so it was really nice to see some actual support for the fucking thing. There is more in the two posts in response to the response. I could not understand why people were in such uproar over it. Have they ever looked at veronica_mars? Only about ten percent of the posts are worth reading at all, and everyone has a fit over posts that are always by the same person with the same icon and if you didn't like it the first time...SCROLL ON BY. I think tiggz said it best: "fandom is supposed to be fun? remember fun?"
But I seriously could not take their fucking shit anymore, so I started hearst_helpers, which would have been necessary to do anyway because the upcoming puzzles were going to require teamwork. The puzzle-solvers were having a pretty good time.
Hilariously, I got an e-mail from someone who I would later know as dreamtyger. And when I say I, I mean I. She e-mailed me through LJ because she had solved a bunch of puzzles and wanted me to let the TWoPers know how to do them! And then, wait, it gets better: she e-mailed The Shadow the same thing! I'm not sure how I became the TWoP emissary, but it was really, really amusing that she would come to me. Needless to say, I was "too busy" to follow her instructions until her information became unnecessary. She even registered on the Unfiction.com forums so she could finally tell people how to get through the puzzles. People like her made me happy.
What made me happier was this post. Because it garnered this comment:
Wow I haven't even seen the show and this is good.
SUCCESS MOTHERFUCKERS. If that guy actually tunes into the premiere with two million Nielsen boxes.
So now we move into a new phase of the game, which involves lots and lots of puzzles and watching hearst_helpers fly through Amy's notpron site faster than we had expected. Unfortunately, they had so much fun solving the puzzles they were pretty deflated to discover it was basically all for nothing, that it led to a taunting message from V.E. (i.e., me!)
Once again, then, I decided to add new content on the fly and quickly devised a coded message to accompany the first article that they would receive for solving the first puzzle. This meant that all subsequent articles would also need coded message, which meant that we sort of needed to know about the articles in order to know what to encode, which meant I was harassing Anna a lot.
I have more to say regarding the non-puzzle portions of the site, but let me basically summarize the next two weeks as far as the puzzles go: I wait to hear what the next article is about. Anna tells me what's important about it in the context of the story. I decide what needs to be clued in the message. gymble and I frantically come up with a good code, sometimes in a matter of hours. We wait for Sarah (wastedfairy) to get Internet access and Photoshop the article. The next Codemaster puzzles goes live. gymble and I obsessively monitor hearst_helpers and tear our hair out at everything they think is important that has no relevance at all and everything they notice but do not realize is actually important. If they get stuck for too long, we come up with some sort of hint to post anonymously, except they start to believe that all anonymous comments are from us and start attaching undue importance to erroneous ideas. They, like most people, miss the point of the articles in their larger context of a story, not a puzzle game. To any of the hearst_helpers, if it's any consolation: we were just as frustrated with you as you were with us! But I hope we both had enough fun to make up for it. The number of people actively participating dwindled considerably as the puzzles went on, which made solving them much harder but also helped support my popular "No one cares" theory.
In the land of extra content, I had lindita_grl make a VoicePost from the rally that was called in response to the Victim video. Once again, I approved it over the phone...in my car! This project was so bloody haphazard. You guys don't even understand. Which is why I'm writing this, of course.
Meanwhile, socialscientist had volunteered to do the Informant vid weeks ago, but she was M.I.A. and I was FREAKING THE FUCK OUT. She had a wedding...actually, the wedding was yesterday! Happy wedding, socialscientist! Anyway, she was very busy and incommunicado, but I finally got a hold of her and was able to talk to her on Saturday night and get an idea of what she was going to do. I didn't like not being able to have as much control over it as soundingsea had given me but by this point I didn't even know why I cared since no one else seemed to care about the vids. They were happy enough with their puzzles. At this point, the vids were just to satisfy me. They were there to continue the story I had set out to tell. A story no one cared about but me. I even took pains to set up the Informant in Linda's VoicePost, but I doubt anyone noticed. We even had a whole e-mail conversation to make her all mysterious. If anyone was paying attention.
Anyway, I gave socialscientist some notes, and they filmed on Sunday, and then there were technical difficulties that kept us from actually getting the final vid with the proper voice distortion for a couple days, but it's not like anyone knew our timeline but us. Or how many different rewrites the script had gone through.
The Informant vid finally went up on Wednesday, and veronica_mars didn't really care except for one ass-y comment, one strange thanks, and one continued request for a disclaimer that we were role-playing, and I just wanted to beat people in the head with a D&D manual. socialscientist and her fiancé had given us a really awesome-looking video, and no one cared.
In the homestretch, we were working on all the extras that would be available to the five people who bothered to solve all the Codemaster's puzzles and figure out how to get to the extras. Also, episode 6. We had picked up roniabirk, whose vidding expertise proved very useful (and allowed Rae a little less of a workload).
jadelynx had been very enthusiastic about being Episode 6 Girl, so enthusiastic that she offered to shave her head for the role, and, well, you don't say no to that. Of course, she ended up filming the scene without my even knowing so I basically had zero input, but she also filmed like three thousand takes so I would be able to find something I liked. She, too, however, had major technical difficulties, and there was all sorts of nonsense with DV tapes and DVDs and things I did not understand, and I couldn't even see her uploaded takes for days, but I just wanted the damn thing to be over because it had consumed my life and I hardly felt like I had accomplished what I had set out to do, which was to hook new viewers.
Meanwhile, roniabirk was hard at work on the final "Help us" montage. Early on, etherealclarity had sent us a reel of her friends saying, "Help us," to the camera. And I did not realize it was possible to ruin two words. The two best takes were from girls who were actors but not VM fans, whereas the VM fans tried their best...okay, some didn't even try. We had gotten a bunch of takes from various people, and I selected the ones I liked best. My original vision had them accelerating into some sort of echo effect, but apparently, it only worked in my head, because roniabirk couldn't replicate whatever it was I was talking about. Instead, however, she tried something else using Amy's melodramatic porn breathing, and that worked really well! So, again, score one for other people having better ideas than you.
We also had some extra Hearst content on the site, and Anna so expertly tied the story in the articles into the story we were telling that I wished we could go back and make reference to it in the first Steven vid, but, hey: RETCONNING IS AWESOME.
On Monday, September 25, we released the final vid. No one cared. But it was over. Finally.
Well, almost. First, we had to wait for the hearst_helpers to solve everything, and since there were only about three people working on the last puzzles, we had to give them a little bit more help because, frankly, we were tired of waiting. But they broke through to the extras, and, par for the course, no one cared.
Now that our story had come to end, Kristin Veitch decided it was the perfect time to link us. And our traffic went through the roof! But mostly, no one cared.
"No one cares" has been my mantra for the past month, but I do hope this wasn't all for nothing. If anything, I am amazed that we pulled this off so well. I am astounded that people made my vision a reality. I am baffled that we managed to improvise a coherent storyline out of the skeleton I provided. We created something pretty fucking awesome, and we should be proud of it. And I write this because you all should appreciate the amount of work that went into it. Everyone I've had to name in this story did a significant amount of work on this project, and that's not even counting the various others who controlled the sockpuppets and just contributed ideas and test-solved puzzles in general. This was my baby, but they made it happen.
The whole experience can be summarized in the following scene from porpentine's surprise birthday party yesterday.
Rey (silverkun) notices my 09er code shirt (designed by Rae!). He then asks, out of nowhere and completely unprovoked, "Have you been to helpmeveronica.com?"
I laugh. And laugh. And laugh some more. Rey is unsure how to interpret my reaction.
I laugh some more. He is still befuddled.
"I started helpmeveronica.com," I say.
"Oh," he responds. "Rock on!"
And he gives me a fist-bump.