Perplex City was a long-term alternate reality game (ARG) presented by Mind Candy, a London-based development team. The first "season" of the game had players looking for "The Receda Cube" (referred to simply as "The Cube"), a priceless scientific and spiritual artifact to the people of a fictional metropolis known as "Perplex City", that had been stolen and buried somewhere on Earth. The game offered a real-life £100,000 reward (approx. $200,000 or €150,000) to whoever found it. Like most alternate reality games, the story of Perplex City is told through blogs, puzzles, and other various media.
According to Mind Candy, the first wave of cards for the new game season, called Perplex City Stories, would be released on March 1, 2007. However, in June 2007, they released an announcement which declared that the second season was on indefinite hold.
Perplex City is a massive fictitious metropolis that has an unknown number of connections to Earth. It has a near-future feel to it, with advanced mobile technology, neuro-enhancing pharmaceuticals and kilometer-high skyscrapers. There is also a slightly more Utopian element to city life than we commonly find on Earth. The most important characteristic of the city's culture is the importance they place on puzzles and other mental pursuits. Their leading competitive event, the Academy Games, is primarily a competition of intellectual skill rather than physical strength. In fact, nearly every part of their culture touches upon the cryptic and mind.
Their religions fall loosely around a mythology of building, construction and technology, none of which are explicitly theistic. The Cube is, in all cases, a sacred and holy object, and rightfully so. It possesses a range of unusual properties which many believe to be of a supernatural origin.
Citizens of Perplex City
Key figures in city life include Sente Kiteway, Master of The Academy (The academy being an advanced learning institution in the city) and former custodian of the Cube. His two daughters, Scarlett and Violet, communicate regularly with the people of Earth through their blogs. Pietro Salk, an investigative reporter for leading newspaper The Sentinel, produced many leads before he was unceremoniously killed off for getting too close to the truth. The team at the Academy tasked with returning the Cube (and ostensibly authors of the puzzle cards) are also frequently in touch, and Kurt McAllister is an important ally to players on Earth.
An artifact called the Receda Cube (pronounced /Reh-kay-duh/) is stolen from the Perplex City Academy, and somehow makes its way to Earth. A Cube Retrieval Team (CRT) is formed to search for the Cube. Because citizens of Perplex City are unable to travel to Earth, the Master of Perplex City Academy, Sente Kiteway, asks for help in finding the Cube from the citizens of Earth, offering to share any leads or clues that he or the CRT may get.
Clues to the location of the Cube are periodically left by the person who stole it, known only as Combed Thunderclap. Soon it is discovered that an organization called the Third Power and a Cube-worshipping cult called the Reconstructionists are also looking for the Cube. While the people of Earth are left to search for the Cube on Earth, various citizens of Perplex City, particularly Kurt McAllister and Sente’s two daughters, Scarlett and Violet, attempt to find additional clues in Perplex City and to discover the identity of Combed Thunderclap. The former three discover the lab in which the Cube was made. They find that the Cube can be used as a weapon and a teleporter, and was built by Sente. The Cube is finally found by the people of Earth in Northamptonshire, England; they also determine that it was Violet who stole the Cube and hid it on Earth, in an effort to keep it out of the hands of the Third Power.
Mind Candy sells a series of collectible puzzle cards. These share familiar characteristics with other collectible card games (CCGs). They are sold in booster packs, with each pack containing six random cards from the total possible 256 cards. Cards are divided into sets and subsets of varying rarity and difficulty. The most common cards are red, then orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black, and the rarest are silver.
Unlike CCGs such as Magic: The Gathering or Pokémon, though, the cards are not designed for competitive player-versus-player "combat". Instead, each card depicts a different puzzle, with the rarer cards also featuring more complex riddles. Cards are marked with unique identifiers which can then be entered onto the Perplex City website, earning points and a place on a leaderboard. Many cards contain hidden features, such as ultraviolet or heat-sensitive inks, and they cover a broad range of themes from pop-culture trivia to cryptography and logic brainteasers. They are also larger and less homogeneous than cards from other CCGs, and the back of some cards contains a different piece to a huge map of the city.
Once players solve a card, they should go to the Perplex City website and enter the answer in. If they are correct, they receive points for the card, as well as a position on the chronological solves board for that card. In addition, each card is a member of a four-card set. If all four cards are solved by a player, they receive double points for each card in the set.
Cards may be purchased online at retailers such as Firebox in the UK, ThinkGeek in the US, often on eBay, or at one of thousands of other on-line and in-store locations. A few web-stores have become available which only sell puzzle cards, including MyPerplex.com, and PerplexMe.co.uk.
As of February 2010, two cards from the first season are yet to be solved:
- Riemann (S1, Card #238) apparently asks players to prove the Riemann hypothesis.
- Billion to One (S1, Card #256) features the face of a man, with a caption in Japanese that reads 私を見つけなさい, which roughly translates to "Please Find Me." His image has been spread to social networking sites, in attempts to locate and make contact with this person.
Out of print cards
Currently, Mind Candy no longer prints two cards. The cards were excluded from wave-three print runs for fairly rudimentary printing reasons (two cards did not fit on the print layout). While these problems have been rectified, Mind Candy has no plans to replace or reprint these cards in the future. They are:
- Card #238 (Riemann) - chosen to be excluded due to the complete inability of the card to be solved for the foreseeable future.
- Card #245 (Relativity) - chosen to be excluded more or less at random, but the decision was no doubt influenced by the fact that the problem and solution are quite complex.
The puzzle cards are intended as an introduction to the characters and story of Perplex City itself, and the deeper mysteries of the Cube theft. Clues found on the cards direct players to various websites, blogs, emails, phone calls, and SMS messages, originating from Perplex City. These often feature puzzles of their own, whose solutions lead to further puzzles. Frequently these puzzles require players to co-operate in reaching various goals.
Perplex City has been running since late 2004, much longer than the traditional ARG. Its longevity has allowed for a number of events that simply would not be possible within a two-month traditional lifespan of an ARG. Some examples of this include:
- Players wrote a book to enable a character to become a "published author" and gain access to relevant archives.
- A full length CD of cryptic techno music was released by a Perplexian musician.
- A banner plane flew across Manchester with a keyword that enabled access to a new area of the game.
- Sixty players attended an in-game event in search for clues, only for one of their own to be revealed as a mole and escape in a black helicopter.
- 220 people participated in the first Perplex City Academy Games in London, a high-tech scavenger hunt across the capital. A month later, a similar event was held in New York.
Perplex City is notable within the ARG field for charting new water with a unique business model. Typically, ARGs tend to either be exercises in viral marketing for new products, or grassroots projects developed by amateur groups. (One exception was Majestic, a subscription-based ARG run by Electronic Arts, which had a poor commercial reception.) Perplex City aims to become a truly self-supporting venture by selling the collectible puzzle cards that tie into the "alternate reality" aspects of the game.
This initially attracted a degree of controversy from players accustomed to playing ARGs for free. However, Mind Candy has assured the player base that purchase of the cards is not required to play the game, nor collect the reward. The cards and the ARG are related loosely enough to enable anyone to follow the game free of charge if they so wish, and the concept has since been embraced by many.
In other words, from a commercial standpoint, buying the cards is encouraged; However the game is built using enough online story elements and engaging character interaction as to make buying the cards optional to playing the game. Where some players might choose to only buy the cards, some other players might opt to only follow the story online and buy no cards. By majority, most players seem to buy roughly 20 or 30 cards and engage in occasionally reading the web elements.
The cards were first released in select outlets arounds the world, but are increasingly readily available from retailers both on- and offline. On September 7, 2006, Mind Candy announced that GameStop was to begin carrying Perplex City cards in 700 stores in the United States. As of September 26, 2006, some 682,425 cards have been marked as solved on the Perplex City leaderboard, with 45,215 players registered.
In June 2007 Mind Candy announced that it would be putting season 2 of its ARG on hold indefinitely.
- Alternate reality game
- Masquerade (book)
- Eric Harshbarger, Perplex City puzzle designer
- Andrea Phillips, Perplex City writer & designer
- Naomi Alderman, Perplex City writer
- Russell Tate, Perplex City Illustrator
- Digital Treasure Hunt gets Winner, a BBC story.
- Andy Darley's Story - Part 4
- Andy Darley's Story - Part 5
- Violet Underground
- Billion To One website
- Find Satoshi project on Facebook
- Seaside Press, in-game website with a real-life link to purchase the book online.
- Hesh Records
- PXC Live Event: A Mole Amongst Thee ARGN, October 30, 2005
- London Live Event from Perplex City official site.
- New York PCAG Tournament The Scarlett Kite, March 8, 2006
- Perplex City News accessed September 26, 2006
- VCs invest in alternate reality ZDNet News: December 6, 2005