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Talking to Sharks... - Blogs - Pen & Paper Games
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Talking to Sharks...

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Recently, I've had the pleasure of doing some game-creation work for Lone Shark Games, a fantastic collective of game-makers, event planners and all around fun-makers.
You may have encountered their work at Gen Con's Guardian 6 events or Puzzle Hunts.
Or, if you work for a cool enough company, it's possible they may have organized or invented games for one of your events.
You may have played "[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Playroom-Entertainment-Unspeakable-Words-Game/dp/B000UC8BPE"]Unspeakable Words[/ame]", or "CowPoker", or "Harrow" or "Key Largo", all which Lone Shark folk had a hand in creating.
You may have even read their work in Games Magazine (which I've been an avid reader of since my teen years) or in one of the publications they've done on poker, or in Hobby Games: The Best 100, which all three of the core Lone Sharks (Founder James Ernest, President Mike Selinker and Creative Director Teeuwynn Woodruff) contributed to.
Or maybe you've heard about the Wired magazine hunt for reporter Evan Ratliff - a "non-alternate reality game" where Evan hid himself among the 307 million other people in the US and dared the internet to find him. (The hunt showed up on CNN, ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NPR, the Miami Herald, the Seattle Times, Wired.com and a plethora of other mainstream media sources.) Evan was finally caught in New Orleans on September 8th, but during his 25 day "disappearance", Lone Shark coordinated the clues to find him, with Teeuwynn leading the hunt, editor Nick Thompson providing info and Mike making up puzzling clues in the background.
Chances are, if you're reading my blog, you have likely encountered Lone Shark in one way or another, whether you know it or not.
But, if you were present at Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) in Seattle this year, you had a chance to encounter Lone Shark at what might just be their best and brightest.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Mike Selinker about games, gaming and the amazing party/game/event that Lone Shark created for Wizards of the Coast at this year's PAX.

JH: Can you tell me a little about how you came into gaming as a profession?
MS: I was a punk kid who flipped open a Games magazine and said, "I can do that." So I sent in a puzzle, and they published it. So I flipped open a Dragon magazine and said, "I can do that." So I sent in a puzzle to them, and they published it. And then they published an adventure of mine, and it all steamrolled from there.

JH: Tell me about Lone Shark?
MS: Lone Shark Games is a company I formed with Cheapass Games designer James Ernest immediately after I left Wizards of the Coast, where I'd been a game inventor and creative director for eight years. I formed Lone Shark so that I could do all the projects I wanted to do, and with all the people I wanted to work with. Teeuwynn Woodruff came on as our creative director, and we now have a client base that includes Microsoft, Sony, Disney, and many others. We make card and board games, alternate reality games, large-scale game events, puzzles, advertising games, and lord knows what else. We're a one-stop shopping center for companies that need something fun for their fans.

JH: I've heard about an innovative game that Lone Shark created for PAX. Can you tell me about that?
MS: Yeah, we finally got to work with Wizards again, and it was a blast. Wizards marketer Mark Jessup and the event company Starfish theorized a two-day Magic: The Gathering puzzle event leading up to a blowout party, and came to us for help.
Teeuwynn, Magic rules manager Mark Gottlieb, and I created puzzles for all five mana colors, with heated lava stones for the red station, necromantic body-part assembly for the black station, and so on. You needed a full set of mana symbols to get into the party at Seattle's Trinity Nightclub.
When you got inside, you saw a "hedron," an 12-foot-tall floating octahedral obelisk covered with incomprehensible runes. You got a scavenger hunt form, and a UV handstamp. Then you went around collecting bits of Magic art in the scavenger hunt.
For the next stage, we had some wordplay games, where players texted in answers to make the final five explorers. So far, all pretty standard stuff for us.
But then it got crazy. We turned off the house lights, bathing the room in black light. Suddenly, your handstamps lit up like roman candles, revealing the code key to the hedron. The shocked house realized that for an hour and a half, they'd been wearing the answer to the puzzle all along.
One group finally cracked the code, commanding the hedron to open. The top elevated off the hedron, and the winner climbed up to retrieve $1,000 origamied into the shape of a black lotus. It was awesome.

JH: What was your primary goal for the PAX game?
MS: We wanted to blow everyone away. I think we created the biggest spectacle a PAX party had ever seen. (Well, not quite the same type of spectacle as the White Wolf party that immediately followed.)

JH: What was your biggest fear for the PAX game?
MS: We risked a lot on this one. There were at least five ways the thing could have gone horribly wrong. First, the requirement of doing five puzzle stations to get in could have stopped everyone who wanted to come from coming. Second, the live text-messaging of answers could have created a logjam of answers, or stalled completely. Third, the UV handstamps could have revealed themselves early, or been indistinct. Fourth, the coded message on the hedron could have been way too hard, or solved instantly by more than one person. Fifth, the hedron could have failed to open. But everything worked.

JH: What surprised you about reality of the game versus your plans?
MS: Actually, the only thing I was really worried about was that people wouldn't come, and there were lines around the block. Once Wil Wheaton walked in the door and said, "Oh my god, Mike, did you guys make this?" I was sure it all would work.

There you go, folks - Proof again that Wil Wheaton is the hub of the geek world. I'd like to thank Mike for taking the time to chat with me about this amazing event, and encourage anyone who enjoys games to seek out Lone Shark events and activities - they're amazing.

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Updated 09-15-2009 at 07:15 PM by JessHartley

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