Three platforms were planned in the storyworld – the tentpole feature film, a videogame developed by Microsoft, and an alternate reality game titled “The AI Webgame” that later became to be known as “The Beast”. Each of the three project were separate with separate teams working on them without a central role of a transmedia storyteller overseeing the storyworld in place. Playing the game (or the planned but ditched video game) was not going to be necessary to watching, enjoying, and understanding the film but would give additional information about the storyworld and other characters living within that world and give additional food of thought about the philosophical questions raised in the film.
Only the feature film and the alternate reality game became a reality. The video game was never released even though “Steven Spielberg [had] assigned video game developers at Microsoft the task of developing a series of games based on the film for the Xbox game system”, however box office figures were low and Microsoft “canceled the AI video game while it was still in development” (Rose, 2011), meaning the game eventually never made it to the market.
The alternate reality game, created by another team from Microsoft, game developers Sean Stewart, Evan Lee, Jordan Weisman, was conceived as an elaborate marketing project that would be separate from the movie but take place in the same storyworld and help people understand the same philosophical issues humanity would in the future with the rise of the human-like robotic society the game would create “awareness about the film’s future world” (Eggert, 2011) and helps us think about how would we treat robots.
“[C]onceived and directed by lead writer Sean Stewart, it eventually evolved into three core mysteries and a dozen rich subplots about nearly 150 characters — and for navigating the game’s vast Web presence, nearly 4000 digital texts, images, flash files and QuickTime videos in total” (McGonigal, 2003). The game was to be held to a set of rules, the most of important of which, was the aesthetic of not revealing it was game at all. This was so important that “[i]n some trailers for the movie, the words, “THIS IS NOT A GAME” were printed in glowing red letters at the bottom of the screen” (IMDB).
Spielberg’s idea of the film was for an adult audience and being a Kubrick project, it contained some deeply philosophical questions posed at the audience about how society would respond to human-like artificial life and would we treat it as such and even “[p]romotional materials were kept to a minimum to ensure a mature demographic” (Eggert, 2011). There was very little franchising or merchandising development involved in the project with the only “toy [that was] released was a talking, gleefully grumpy Supertoy Teddy from Hasbro” (Eggert, 2011). There were no webisodes, mocumentaries, video games of other types of transmediation – but only he alternate reality game. The Beast had no interface as it was played over websites and was only limited by what player someone identified as belonging to the storyworld.
The beast was deployed on a series of websites that were so many that the producers found it difficult to keep track of everything. One of biggest problems was exactly the breath and depth of the undertaking as sometimes mistakes like posting the same picture under the name of two distinct characters would happen. Such mistakes were fixed as soon as they were discovered to keep with the TINAG aesthetic.
The game is set in the year 2142, 16 years after the end of the movie’s storyline. “[C]omputers have been successfully integrated into our daily lives. AI (Artificial Intelligence) has been born and accepted into the world. There are two main forms that the AIs take, the first of these is the robot which look essentially human (sometimes known as passers if they actually try to pretend to be human)” (Rick).
The central world of AI is a fictional world that is an elaboration of the developments in the contemporary real world. It is a fictional huge storyworld with extensive geography that is explored and gives a true sense of a world. The world looks futuristic and vast, with large parts of the geography under water. The game is the only extension to the AI storyworld, a narrative expansion through various media not an adaption (an intersemiotic translation from system to another). The extension is canonical and enriches the story, maintaining the original characteristics of the world but not answering questions previously left unanswered in the feature film. Rather, it asks a new question and lets players find and answer to that question. It also gives glimpses into the world of the movie trough new characters. The extension raises new questions and opens up possibilities for additional expansion.
The major challenges in the game were puzzles fed to the gamers community by a team of writers. Sean Stewart and Puppetmasters team “created and categorized the puzzles according to the length of time they thought it would take players to solve them, specifically so they could place them accordingly and help control the pace of the of the game. Unfortunately, for even the most experienced puzzle creator, estimating how long it can take a player or a community of players solve a specific puzzle is almost harder than making the puzzle itself” (Szulborski, 2005).
The project was structured around weeks of gameplay and altogether there were 16 weeks throughout the summer of 2011 played. New hints would be released every Tuesday and the game “maintained a strict schedule of all in-game changes” (Szulborski, 2005). The player navigated the game through links and web search, and it was crucial to make sure clues are identifiable such and are optimized for web search in a way that they could be found.
The Beast narrative rules, structure and limits of the world were revealed to players through gameplay without any formalization but four rules where set as guidelines by the people behind the game, as described by Stewart:
One: “The narrative would be broken into fragments, which the players would be required to reassemble. That is, the players, like the advanced robots at the end of the movie, would be doing something essentially archaeological, combing through the welter of life in the 22nd century, to piece a story together out of fragments”.
Two: “The game would–of necessity–be fundamentally cooperative and collective, because of the nature of the internet. His belief, which we all shared, was that if we put a clue in a Turkish newspaper at dawn, it would be under discussion in a high school kids basement in Iowa by dinner time”.
Three: “The game would be cooler if nobody knew who was doing it, or why. Therefore, secrecy was very tight. Almost nobody at Microsoft would know what the hell we were doing. Jordan had brought in old pal Pete Fenlon to subcontract writers, artists, and web designers, for the sake of speed and staying under MS’s own internal radar”.
Four: “The game would be cooler if it came at you, through as many different conduits as possible. Websites. E-mails. Phone calls. Newspaper clippings. Faxes. SMS messaging. TV spots. Smoke signals. Whalesong”
– (Stewart, 2002)
Once hooked in the game, the player took the point of view of an investigator, trying to find out the story behind Eva Chan’s death through a series of in-game channels, including the Anti-Robot Militia, the Coalition for Robot Freedom as well as an architectural magazine, a sleep clinic, a coroner’s office, and a hat store. There was no concept of winning or losing in the game – the closest concept was the cheers of the community after solving a puzzle. “As the game progressed, the players came across additional mysteries, such as who is killing AI-enhanced houses, the location of the sexbot with whom Evan had an affair, and malfunctions in the weather-control system” (Wikipedia, 2011). People received emails, text messages, phone calls during 3 summer months. “After end of game people were asking for more” (42 Entertainment).
The AI strategy for narrative expansion was straightforward. The feature film did not include any migratory cues in the main narrative. The movie credits, the trailers, and the posters instead served as entry points to the game. It was as if there existed a world behind the movie and one could go exploring if he followed through the rabbit hole. For period before the release, all actors’ names were removed from the posters and only Puppetmasters names were printed on the posters.
The first entry point was found at the film credits “[where] a “Sentient Machine Therapist” named Jeanine Salla was listed” (Sebastian, 2006). Credits at the end of the feature film included the following lines:
“Sentient Machine Therapist … JEANINE SALLA
Assistant to Mr. Chan … LAIA SALLA
Toe-Bell Ringer … KATE NEI
Cybertronics – Room 93056 … CLAUDE GILBERT
Sentient Machine Security … DIANE FLETCHER
Covert Information Retrieval … RED KING” (IMDB)
The second entry point was found in the trailers that “encoded a telephone number in markings on the promotional text” (Wikipedia, 2011). The number, when called would trigger instructions on an automated messaging machine, that if the player could follow through, would lead to the next cue to the story – an email stating “Jeanine is the key [...] you’ve seen her name before” (Wikipedia, 2011).
The third entry point was on a promotional poster with the cue “Evan Chan was murdered. Jeanine is the key” (Wikipedia, 2011).
The Beast was a proactive transmedia project, however as there was little interaction with Spielberg and no interaction with Kubrick; the Puppetmasters were left to their own devices to create a story in the storyworld in any way they wanted. The transmediation began as a marketing project and as this was the first alternate reality game developed, it was not possible to predict the consequences for the project and much was developed as the game progressed. The AI feature film did not include negative capability in terms of time, however the vast space of the storyworld gives space for story extensions.
One can identify external references and intertextural connections in the main movie, with thematic references to Metropolis (1927) and the Pinocchio story (Kubrick would always refer to the movie as Pinocchio, before he died) and Spielberg’s own E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), for example the “breakfast scene mirrors shot of E.T.” (IMDB). The movie is based on the Brian Aldiss short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” and another literary references is the Philip K. Dick short story “Second Variety” (IMDB).
The aesthetics of the film are relevant in detail. For example, David does not once blink and neither do the other androids throughout the film. David is often shown “with a ‘halo’ of circular light; the kitchen light, the dinner table lights, the lights in his bed, the shot from the rear-view mirror, the full moon” (IMDB) and “patterns of doubling [as] faces become superimposed on top of one another” (Sampson) for example, when David looks at the picture of the Swinton’s son Martin. “[R]epetitions of shot choice and composition suggest multiple readings and underlying themes, including an interconnection between humans and machines that spans both desire and destiny” (Sampson).
The aesthetics of sound on AI are ambient and transparent, and “elegant yet characterful scoring” (Bertke, 2011). Much of the world is silent because by the 22nd century noisy machines have stopped working. It is a technological world where people dedicate their time to family and friends instead of factories and cars move without sound; the soundtrack is instrumental in creating the uncanny feeling one associates with David and his reunion with his ‘mother’ in the final scene. Appropriately, the movie’s final 10 minutes were recut to fit with the music created by John Williams (Schickel, 2007).
The aesthetics of the game are more adult – with murder, sex, and relationships thematically ingrained in the story; this is perhaps because the audience is assumed to be adult-only and these are the topics to get people engaged. The graphics artist Chris Baker Fangorn was instrumental in creating the story’s look; for example the City of Sin – Rouge City – was fully conceptualized thanks to his drawings.
While AI did not inspire many remixes, the one’s it id were by artists of considerable status, such as Nick Bertke also known as Pogo, the movie remix artist, who commented how “[t]he film salutes the tale of Pinocchio without compromising originality, and unfolds with uncanny realism in a frighteningly plausible future. It challenges our distinction between man and machine, and hints carefully at the conflicts of interest people can have in raising children” (Bertke, 2011).
Continue reading the conclusions.