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Creating a Time Travel Café ARG

A big part of the Time Travel Café was world-building. We didn't want to labour our audiences with the lore or logic of The Time Travel Café but we knew there would be people who would want to dig a little deeper into who we are at SpaceFold Technology.

So I created an ARG (alternate reality game) to help market and promote The Time Travel Café. It ended up securing 112 signups via the online form. Yet only a few followed its path to the end. Here is what I did and how I did it.

1. Point of Entry

There were two entry points to begin the ARG

  1. By reading our FAQ section on the website you could discover a subtle hyperlink.

2. Around the inner city suburbs of Brisbane we hung these posters. Each poster had tabs on it leading to the url

Fun fact #1: This website ended up garnering 727 visits throughout the 6 week period that the posters were live.

Fun fact #2: This poster was seen by a popular Brisbane radio presenter. He was so enamoured by the mysterious approach that he ended up doing a 10 minute interview with us live on air, about the Time Travel Café.

2. SpaceFold Technology

The above link led players to a SpaceFold Technology website outlining a little bit about the organisation as well as a dire warning about being trapped in a loop.

This is the first signpost in the metapuzzle and the first introduction into the world.

When telling a story through a puzzle experience one must be careful to breadcrumb story elements. Or else the puzzle becomes boring, or the audience miss crucial information.

At the bottom of the page was an email submission form promising the delivery of a "time travel safety guide PDF" upon submission.

3. The Time Travel Safety Guide

If players chose to submit their email address to the form they would be emailed a "Time Travel Safety Guide.PDF". It contained four simple guidelines about avoiding fractals and to always look for the emergency failsafe when operating a time machine. This was more signposting for when players eventually found themselves in the café.

On this PDF is a message hidden in capital letters. The nongrammatical capital letters spell out the phrase "click the fractal".

The image of the fractal in this PDF is hyperlinked to another webpage.

NB. I love hyperlinking documents. This kind of simple puzzle is very effective as it creates a "hidden in plain sight" element to the game.

4. Finding the Code

By clicking the fractal in the Time Travel Safety Guide players were led to an image pointing to another hidden hyperlink. This one being on the SpaceFold Technology webpage.

By clicking the coded symbols players would be taken to another web page. This one contained a coded phrase and links to the Instagram account, as well as a gallery view of the IG page.

5. Instragram Cipher

Players would need to watch the story highlight outlining information about the time machine. The last highlight in the reel revealed the key to the cipher:

The cipher revealed the following phrase: "what three words dot com" "lower rooms hang"

6. What Three Words

What three words is a website that randomly generates three words for every 3m x 3m geo coordinate on the planet. The words are always the same and help to accurately locate specific places. I used this website as a way to bring players back into the real world.

The coordinates led to a location not far from the café itself. A street sign on the corner of an intersection. Players were to head here and discover a Time Travel Café poster secured to the sign. Beneath it were more coordinates: ///lied.stared.wicked

6. The Locked Box

The ///lied.stared.wicked coordinate led players to a large tree only 20 seconds walk from the intersection. On that tree was secured a key safe.

The front of the key safe had four symbols from the above code that decoded to "CEBD". A savvy puzzler could decipher this into the four-digit numerical code: 3524.

7. The Final Stage

Inside the locked box was a final instruction: "head into the store Absolutely Fabulous and tell them you're there to repair the time machine."

In case players were solving this outside of the store's opening hours and unable to return in time, or did not feel like being involved in a face-to-face interaction, there was also a QR code and discount to come and visit the Time Travel Café for 50% off.

The closest store to the location of the locked box was an eclectic gift store called Absolutely Fabulous. The owners there were more than happy to be involved in this little transaction. They were instructed that if anyone came in to repair the time machine then to hand them a small orange envelope.

Inside the envelope was a free holofoil ticket to the Time Travel Café.

This is where the ARG ended and the Time Travel Café experience began. For players who visited the café and played the Time Machine game, they would have background information about the dangers of being caught in a loop.

My hope was that for these players the world of SpaceFold Technology would be more exciting.

I will write about the Time Machine in a future blog post but for now, that is how I wrote an ARG for The Time Travel Café. Thanks for reading!

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