soulstorm

A Personal Take on Soulstorm’s Alternate Reality Game

The Magog on the March! News to cure your ARG blues!

Today our special guest, Sliglet, s’got a few words to say about this Alternate—whats-a-yer-call-it—Reality Game? The one being churned out by those chumps at Oddworld Inhabitants. Y’all know the one I mean.

Remember, neither Magog on the March or Rumor Kontrol endorse or really care too much one way or the other about Sliglet’s informed viewpoint. If you don’t like it, GET OVER IT!

Sliglet?

— N.C. Slig


DISCLAIMER: While this critique is built on facts, it portrays my own subjective opinion.

When I first heard about Soulstorm and joined the related communities, the ARG’s first phase had already started, so I only joined later, if I remember correctly, at the Message box[1] puzzle or maybe a bit later. For a long time, namely until the third phase, I had no big problems with the ARG, sure it was a bit slow sometimes, but one can bear with that. It was compensated by being dark, mysterious, vague, but not too vague and its puzzles were challenging but fair. And let’s be honest, an ARG, done by OWI? It was very exciting to see what kind of dark secrets will surface while we play this game.

I have to commend OWI for starting this project because a proper ARG takes tons of preparation and extra work from the developers and yet they decided to do it. However, sadly, there is hardly anything I can praise except these efforts.

 

spirit1
In an attempt to fill the gap between New ‘n’ Tasty and the upcoming Soulstorm, Oddworld Inhabitants has been tinkering with an ARG, which depicts the struggle of a renegade terrorist organisation fighting back against the evil Magog Cartel.

 

In my opinion, the ARG took a huge nosedive starting with its third phase and I’d like to explain the details of why I’m saying this:

– Ed, and nearly every other of OWI’s in-universe characters, are all very one-dimensional. Most of them are based on one “emotion” or goal only, which leads to them to become very repetitive and boring. There is no “character development”, as such. Ed was a cowardly whistleblower at the very beginning and he still is. If one compares his first few tweets[2] and his newest ones, there is hardly any difference between them. I can forgive that he doesn’t have much personality because that’s the point of his character, a nobody who does a lot. But there is nothing that connects us to Ed, that makes us care for him. He has episodes of anxiety and depression, but that’s about it. Another character, the revolutionary group Spirit of 1029 has stated many times how they are against propaganda, yet their tweets[3] are almost solely composed of these kinds of messages. “We will rise”, “A storm is brewing”, “Join us”, just to name a few. The only exception to this is ironically the Magog Cartel Twitter[4]. Their tweets are full of snarky and dark humor, reminiscent of the tone of the original two Oddworld games. If the aforementioned two characters were this well-executed, then while the ARG still wouldn’t be perfect, it would be much more fun to play.

– The newer puzzle rewards are abysmal compared to the work one has to do to solve them. Many of these contain vague, filler sentences that just frustrate the solver rather than provide enjoyment. As an example, it has been established early that the new SoulStorm Brew is not only flammable, but after ingestion the consumer develops a very strong addiction to it. Two days without the brew causes the addict to suffer lethal cardiac arrest. This information has been hinted at since March of 2017 and it has been confirmed in September. Yet puzzles following this revelation still tried to sell us this as new and shocking information[5]. But this is not even the most irritating example. Throughout the whole ARG we have seen the “We will rise” and “A storm is brewing” messages so many times, that the community became desensitized to them. They were no longer hype-inducing, instead they just made people sigh and immediately disregard them.

– OWI seemingly haphazardly/randomly/arbitrarily changes the ARG before our very eyes. I would have no problems with them modifying things up in the background, those puzzles and information which we haven’t discovered yet, but if something has already been revealed, then it should be left untouched or at the very least the change should be explained in-universe. A very prominent example is the second phase of the ARG. Over the course of months, we were supposed to uncover five pictures[6], which – as we later found out – were part of the game’s teaser trailer. However, one day the placeholder for the fifth picture just disappeared without any reason. To the community’s inquiries, OWI replied with “the initial phase of the ARG ended when [they] wanted to”[7]. Not only is this dishonest practice, it shows that the company was not prepared properly for this occasion.

– There have been multiple long pauses in the ARG. These were the following:

* July – December 2016 (with some minor activity in September)
* May – August 2017
* September 2017 – May 2018

 

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The Soulstorm ARG started very strong and had a lot of support from the community. The exhaustive length of the experience, however, has created a lulling effect, and many players have since abandoned the hunt for more clues.

 

While it is indisputable that an ARG has to pause at times so development and real-life events can catch up, but in this case, neither of these pauses were communicated properly to the community. The characters just stopped posting as if they had dropped dead in their places. The lack of communication caused confusion multiple times, especially at the time of the third and longest pause. This could have been mitigated by simply having an in-universe event that causes the characters to go into hiding. For example, before the almost ten-month pause, Magog could have announced that it found the current hiding place of the Spirit of 1029, who could have released a frantic tweet explaining that they had to escape and erect a new base of operations, which will probably take a very long time. To add insult to injury, OWI had multiple times purposefully dodged questions related to the ARG’s status and one time even openly mocked a concerned ARG solver[8]. While this was done from the MagogCartel Twitter account, it still feels unnecessarily rude and unprofessional.

However, the problem that I think drove the last nail into the ARG’s coffin is the lack of direction. There is no official source from where one could comfortably start their solving career. It took the valiant efforts of multiple members of the community to make summaries, trying to give a helping hand to anyone who would like to participate. And, of course, total documentation isn’t and shouldn’t be expected to be provided, but a pointer, a nudge in the right direction or a quick recap would help the community greatly. At the time this article is written, we received “the ARG is still going on and there are older clues left unsolved” as a status report from OWI. This simply doesn’t work. The first part of the sentence is almost useless without any kind of extra information and the second part falls apart because of the previous problem. Even if people took the time to solve them, they would probably get some vague message about the oncoming revolution which equals to a laugh in their faces. This kind of vagueness is especially appalling, because in the older phases of the ARG OWI did create a recap[9]. It wasn’t perfect per se, but it was magnitudes better than the one-liner answers we get in the Official Discord.

 

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Will Ed and the Spirit of 1029 achieve victory over the malicious Magog Cartel? Unless the most dedicated ARG players can find something to help motivate them forward, it looks unlikely!

 

All in all, the ARG had a lot of potential, but most of it went to waste because of completely avoidable problems. The continuous mismanagement and miscommunication made the majority of the ARG solving communities pull out their forces and because of this, only the most loyal fans remained. However, this is not the point of an ARG. An ARG should bring new people into the series, incite hype, and provide new information to the fans. In its current state, it provides neither of these. It is not exciting enough to pull in new people, it provides disappointingly few details to the loyal solvers and it lacks the distinct “Oddworld-feel”. If we would remove Brew and the Oddworldian creatures from this ARG, the remaining skeleton could fit almost any dark themed game.


References

[1] http://oddworldlibrary.net/wiki/Soulstorm_ARG_Summary#20160323
[2] https://twitter.com/edmudokon
[3] https://twitter.com/SPIRITOF1029
[4] https://twitter.com/MagogCartel
[5] http://oddworldlibrary.net/wiki/Soulstorm_ARG_Summary#20180530 - "This thing is lethal"
[6] http://web.archive.org/web/20170222211607/http://www.oddworld.com/soulstorm/
[7] https://imgur.com/fJbaXPc
[8] https://twitter.com/MagogCartel/status/968903190010847237
[9] https://us3.campaign-archive.com/?u=2b6dca21053bc375cbdad7077&id=b08e7b2d60&e=6a2b5665ee