Before DeviantArt Eclipse would be revealed to the world (or even officially named!), the Marketing team was already contemplating how to publicize it. What could we do that was exciting, fun, and community-oriented...while not being able to reveal anything about what we were promoting?
The answer came from our bucket list: an ARG! “When we were initially brainstorming, we threw around a ton of crazy ideas, but we kept coming back to an idea of having something mysterious and fun for the community to solve that would reveal DeviantArt Eclipse,” said @danlev. “We've done puzzles and scavenger hunts in the past and they've always been pretty popular. We kept playing around with ideas and our ideas became more and more elaborate until we realized that we should develop a whole storyline, characters, and a bunch of puzzles.”
“I love puzzles and stories and adventure and secrets, so an ARG was right up my alley,’ said @mattbmattb, our Puzzle Master. “I was OBSESSED with watching people solve the Sombra ARG for Overwatch, but those were all way above my head. I liked the idea of being able to share something fun like an ARG puzzle with people that wanted to participate. It wasn’t a mandatory event, so those who didn't like it could still enjoy DeviantArt however they wished without being too affected (sorry 'bout that llama).”
SETTING THE SCENE
Now that we knew what we were doing, the next part was perhaps the most challenging. Every ARG needs a story, and you can’t have a story without heroes. The creation of Ari Banks and Bunny the Red Panda didn’t just happen overnight. “Ari and Bunny were the result of a collaborative process that involved most of the marketing team,” @bironicheroine revealed. “Each of us came up with several character duos and narrative frameworks for the ARG, and then we voted to settle on archetypes we liked, filling in the details from there. I'm proud that we named her after Artemisia Gentileschi, the baroque painter, and Bunny as a reference to the fact that almost all of us had a rabbit in our initial set of ideas! It was tough to choose just one duo, and we spent several meetings honing these ideas to make sure we had a dynamic we all liked.”
After Ari and Bunny were created, we got to work creating the story and puzzles, developing them together. @bironicheroine, @mattbmattb, and I were the driving forces behind the content with @danlev and @ekud serving as Creative Directors. Breaking the story was a pretty fluid process. We wanted the puzzle solving to actually be integrated into the story, not just something that happens outside of it, so that’s how we landed on escaped Djinn as the villains. The lore behind them is very interesting, so they’re easy to create characters around, have a lot of potential for cool designs, and are scary enough to easily imagine they’re a legitimate threat.
“One of the really fun parts of working on the Eclipse ARG was finding ways to gamify the DeviantArt platform, without relying too much on the engineering department,” @mattbmattb said. “I had a couple of goals with the puzzles, the first was to try to make them all unique, while still tying them in with the Djinn they represent. For instance, the Hinn is associated with time, so I created a puzzle that was an animated GIF that you had to wait out (or cheat by downloading); the Jaan was green, so it tied into the Hex code for DeviantArt Green; stuff like that. Additionally, I wanted them to be of varying difficulties so that all different levels of players could participate. I didn't want to get into the really intense waters that ARG tend to fall into (I can't turn binary into sound waves!).”
THE LOOK OF ADVENTURE
Story development is cool, but how did Ari and Bunny get their distinctive looks? And who drew that awesome comic??? Meet comic book artist and fantasy illustrator @iamjustino! “It was a deceptively easy and difficult process,” he revealed. “We wanted to base her outfit in reality, so it became a combination of trying to find an outfit that was both functional and looked appealing. The design process became trying to find different combinations of outfits and colors that were bright and poppy but would also stand out against the background. We also had to be aware of the time crunch that the whole project was under, so a lot of elements in earlier designs had to be cut in order to streamline the drawing process. Which ended up being super useful down the line and created a much cleaner character design for all the artists that worked on it, letting us focus more on making something cool instead of trying to match a bunch of tiny details.
“As for Bunny, it was really what can make us go ‘Aww’ the most. We had to make you want to save that poor little guy! We went through a bunch of different accessories and at one point we played with the idea of him missing a leg! It was ultimately dropped since it has hard to read and he was given his trademark crescent moon marking instead. I’m honestly really happy with the designs of both Ari and Bunny; it was definitely the work of the team coming together to really nail down her look from a loose idea into the character she is now.”
Now that Ari and Bunny had their looks, the story was locked down while the Djinn and the overall look of @iblis were created. “We wanted all aspects of the ARG to be both extremely visually pleasing and utterly immersive,” said @ekud. “When looking at the temple and the Djinn, we wanted viewers to feel like there was a rich world to discover; when viewing the comics we wanted people to feel like they were right there with Ari and Bunny on their adventure! Achieving this sensation through our visuals was the most important consideration in working with our artists.” We called on @lyno3ghe for the (very large!) Central Chamber piece, which was the source of the individual Djinn close-ups used as puzzle status markers, while @dominuself was entrusted to create the exterior of the temple.
TELLING THE STORY
With all the pieces set, we quietly launched the ARG. After we revealed we were behind Ari Banks and neared the finish line, the pressure increased for me. I loved building all the mythology, character bios (that I’ll hopefully share one day!), story journals, and this whole process, but I was most nervous about writing the endings. I really wanted to deliver something that was satisfying to read regardless of how invested the reader was in solving the puzzles. Hopefully I was able to do that!
In the end, @MattBMattB had the same hopes. “I wanted the community to have some fun,” he said. “This was a very different community activation than I had seen at DeviantArt, and I was excited to be a part of providing that. I thought it was really cool that DeviantArt was willing to give a sneak peek to those of inquisitive mind before sharing Eclipse with everyone. While (selfishly) I hope people go away from this loving Ari and Bunny, and wanting to create ALL THE FAN ART of them, the biggest thing I hope that users learn from the ARG is that DeviantArt loves its community.”
A special thanks goes out to the artists we commissioned for fan art and helped us (covertly) spread the joy of Ari and Bunny (check out the gallery for all their pieces):
@wandakun, @valentina-remenar, @monorirogue, @vashperado, @zeronis, @ysvyri, @fisher903, @mangamie. @ciorane, @deviant-garde, @dyemelikeasunset, @eirwen980, @razurichan, @humanmgn