On the 23rd of February this year TheSixthAxis exclusively posted the world’s first screenshot of Xi, the alternative reality game that would, over the forthcoming months, change the face of Home forever. Back then people had only just started to pick up on the strange graffiti around Home, which, coupled with some bizarre messages springing up on your in-Home PDAs got the whole internet talking. Truth is, we didn’t know just how big Xi would be back then and whilst it was with some relief to finally see the area in Home that the screenshot was taken from, by then the whole thing was already well into its stride and we’d got a little left behind with the speed at which the story was developing.
This blog isn’t one that will go over the exposition of Xi – if you were there then you’ll have your own memories and interpretations and I don’t want to attempt to convey anything that might interfere with your own feelings on the subject – but it is worth talking a little about how Xi got started and how nDreams, the team behind the whole thing, managed to turn Home into one of the hottest topics of the year, neatly sidestepping any of the otherwise major omissions the service still appears to be suffering from whilst providing a hugely sticky platform that spanned not only Home but the internet and print media worldwide.
“Xi started at the Edinburgh Interactive Festival a couple of years ago,” says Patrick O’Luanaigh, the founder of nDreams, speaking to Edge. Patrick had witnessed the Home talk from Pete Edwards (in charge of Home for Sony) and decided to pitch an idea to Phil Harrison – an original ARG (alternative reality game) that would “grab people’s attention and make them want to come in.” Whilst Sony’s only brief was to create something exciting, nDreams managed to create “an engaging tangle of both real and virtual spaces, linking websites, YouTube clips, purpose-built Home areas and minigames” and tied everything together into an ever-evolving mystery that required daily visits to Home from dedicated gamers hoping to solve the story’s riddles.
Over the course of Xi, which spanned three months, the team created 12 spaces, 24 minigames, 108 videos and four websites. nDreams had a chart that covered the 12 weeks, and every day from the first to the last was documented and planned precisely, ensuring there was always something new for visitors to discover and work on. “We were really able to push Home,” says O’Luanaigh. “We were given carte blanche to mess around.” Official visitor figures reflect the team’s success: 4 million visits to the central hub space, and over half a million unique players took part in Xi.
The problem now, of course, is that without Xi Home just feels empty. Without the need to head back each day to meet friends working towards a single cause, no matter how virtual and existential, no amount of publisher-sponsored spaces seem able to fill the boots left by nDreams’ temporary absence. Sure, some of the recent areas like the Buzz! space are clever enough, but do they get the whole internet talking? Fans of nDreams’ work needn’t worry too much though, although the team aren’t likely to jump into another large scale Home project right now theyvaren’t done with Home completely – TheSixthAxis expects two new spaces from them to appear this month, and the developers tell us that they’re currently “working on plenty of fun projects” which will include “new spaces and apartments and games.”
Whatever platform they work their magic on next, it’s only fair to say that no matter what you think of Home or even the whole Xi phenomenon, nDreams’ Home work was pioneering and must have made Sony’s competitors green with envy. You can read more about nDreams, Home and Xi in this month’s Edge magazine (issue 205) which is on shelves now, and you can follow nDreams via their official website and read more about Xi here.