I Love Bees (ILB) is an alternate reality game (ARG) designed to serve as both material world experience and a viral marketing campaign for the August 2004 release of the video game Halo 2. In the months leading up to the release of Halo 2, players used clues and codes to solve the mystery of I Love Bees, which then served as a prequel to Halo 2. An important component of the game were audio files of jumbled, random narrative dialogue, thought by players to be from the forthcoming Halo 2 game. Players concluded that assembling these audio files in a logical order would reveal the correct story. This emphasis on audio demonstrates that at its core, ILB is a radio drama conducted with telephones.
The emphasis on audio demonstrates that at its core, ILB is a radio drama conducted with telephones. "The Operator," a mysterious woman named Melissa, constantly updating information about an ongoing event promotes a powerful narrative based primarily on sound. But, rather than passively listening, players could speak with The Operator / Melissa and move the game forward by giving and receiving information.
Audio files contained in axons were released in a jumbled, random form during gameplay at the ILB website. Players concluded that assembling the various audio files in a logical order would reveal the correct story. Different methodologies were used to compile these audio files into longer narratives. One was to order the individual files into "weeks" based on their most logical connection with each other during the week of gameplay in which they were revealed. This revealed the individual files, and the narrative arcs for the various characters individually, but provided no over-arching narrative. The other approach was to combine these individual weekly audio files into longer, more complete, narrative "chapters." Radio Nouspace archives and curates the ILB audio drama as full chapters, and provides links to other compilation examples. The total length of this audio narrative is over 5.5 hours.
Jan James, Durga, Jersey Morelli, Kamal Zamen, and (the old man) Herzog are introduced.
Jersey finds out just how much Durga knows about him and his family. Jan gets recruited to be a witness to the stupid cop. Kamal has a date with a man with a pony tail, and Herzog meets with an old friend over Key Lime pie.
Jan gets in with the wrong crowd and meets Thin Kinkle. Kamal learns that he can't cook. Jersey has a date with an IRS agent, and Herzog talks about the Apocalypso.
Jan sticks up for the wrong person, and is going to find out who the Big Dog is. Adin and Kamal talk about business ventures. Durga "helps" Jersey through is tax audit. We meet Rani for the first time, and find out just how observant she is. Herzog talks about how much the military knows . . . or chooses to know.
Jan meets Gilley, and finds out more about her dad. Kamal takes a "job" in a casino. Jersey learns about the fall of Reach and where his father is. Rani goes to her best friend's wedding back home. Herzog slips up while feeding ducks in the park.
Jan reminisces about her childhood and about having to move so much. Kamal gets a letter from his mother on Coral, and finds out about Sophie's parents breaking up. Jersey finds out about his mothers affair with another man. Rani has someone commit suicide by jumping off her roof. Herzog learns that some people are out for glory, not for saving man kind.
Jan is held hostage by Thin Kinkle. Kamal takes another crazy job idea with Adin, and learns something about his sister Yasmine. Jersey starts to realize that Durga is spying on people she didn't even realize. Rani gets hit on, while on the train back to Boston. Herzog reassigns his aid to a deplomatic post.
Jan attends her father's funeral. Kamal hears news that Coral is gone and he has not heard from his family. Jersey talks to Jan at the funeral and explains what he knows about Thin Kinkle. Rani goes back home to visit and finds her old house is under the duck pond. Standish makes sure Herzog know he will kill anyone who gets in his way.
Jan avenges her fathers death with Durga's help. Kamal goes off the grid to find out who has been "ghosting" his chatter. Jersey finds out just how long smart AIs live. Rani feels like her life is falling apart around her. Rani tries to sneak in and find out more about the device, and gets caught. Herzog motivates Rani to find out more information.
Jan tries to join the military and gets rejected because of her age. Kamal finds Jersey, and meets Durga as well. Jersey comes up with a plan to get into the Section 3 part of Chawla base to get to the device. Rani takes some convincing about why she should join the group and help out. Herzog talks with a tech on the Apocalypso about the device, and learns how it was turned on.
The assault on Chawla base.
Jan drives Kamal to the airport and meets up with some other 1.1's like herself. Kamal gets home and learns he's engaged. Durga talks with Jersey about his draft notice. Rani gets recruited for Section 0. They arrive.
Afterword. A goodbye from Melissa.
ILB was commissioned by Microsoft, publisher of Halo 2, as part of its popular XBox game series. It was created and developed by 42 Entertainment, specializing in ARGs.
Gameplay devices included telephone calls (both to public pay phones and players mobile telephones), email messages, in-game text, and arranged meetings between players and characters, all providing clues or codes.
Using these clues and codes, ILB players around the world worked together to solve puzzles with little or no direction or guidance. On 4 November 2004, players were invited to twenty seven theater locations around the United States where they were told to deliver the code message, "The Operator left something for me." Inside the theaters they were given commemorative DVDs, and allowed to play Halo 2 prior to its release. The first fifty players at each location were given copies of the transmission log.
In just three months of active gameplay, over three million people viewed the I Love Bees website and thousands of people around the world played the game. This introduction of the video game Halo 2 through the collaborative gameplay of ILB was an unqualified success.
A major component of ILB was a series of "axons," jumbled, random audio files released on the ILB website. Assembling axons in a logical order revealed the backstory of an artificial intelligence, apparently from a crash-landed military spacecraft, and its attempts to repair damages suffered in the crash. In its ending, this narrative leads to an alien invasion of Earth, a major plot point of the Halo 2 game. Radio Nouspace archives and curates these audio files because of their transient nature, their direct connection to radio drama, and their success at promoting immersive, interactive aural narrative.
ILB begins with a crash at an unknown Earth location of an alien military spaceship. The craft's controlling artificial intelligence (AI) system, known as "Melissa," is blown into three parts by the explosion of the crash. One part went back in time, to 2004, and landed in the website "I Love Bees," hosted at a San Francisco web-server and maintained by Dana Awbrey, niece to Margaret Efendi, amateur beekeeper and owner of Margaret's Honey, San Francisco. Established in the website, this part of Melissa split into two parts, one called "The Operator," the other called "The Sleeping Princess."
Melissa calls upon its SPDR (System Peril Distributed Reflex, or "The Spider") for help with repairs. As a result, random outputs from Melissa's memory begin appearing on the website, detailing Melissa's history and revealing the presence of a malicious Trojan-horse virus, "The Pious Flea." The SPDR (The Spider) tries to erase The Pious Flea, but is outwitted and erases itself. The Pious Flea begins overwriting Melissa's programming and is eventually revealed to be an espionage AI employed by the Covenant, a hostile military alliance of alien races.
The Sleeping Princess communicates with people through the website's 404 (error) page, talking in storybook fashion about day-to-day activities and answering questions emailed to it through the ILB website's email function, email@example.com. Eventually The Sleeping Princess and The Pious Flea align.
The third part of Melissa lands in the home computer of Jersey Morelli. Jersey named this AI Durga when she tells him she cannot remember her name. Durga says she likes to learn things but cannot remember what she she liked to find out. When she asks for a target to learn about, Jersey suggests Jan James, an attractive young woman down the hall.
Melissa leaves codes hidden in images and text of the ILB website. This disrupts the operation of the website, and corrupts much of its data. Upset, Dana attempts to fix these problems. In the process, she erases part of Melissa's memory. Enraged, Melissa photographs Dana using her computer camera and promises revenge, calling her "The Killer." Dana places a message on the website asking for help dealing with its problems, starts the I Love Bees Blog on 13 July 2004.
Protagonists and other characters, as revealed in the numerous audio axons, break into a secure military installation and deactivate a Halo device capable of killing all sentient life on Earth. In doing so, they trigger a powerful energy transmission that alerts the Covenant to the presence and location of Earth. Melissa, despite being repaired and whole again (The Sleeping Princess and the Pious Flea defeated; Durga returned from Jersey's computer), and the characters with whom she has connected, are unable to stop Earth's invasion by the Covenant, the starting plot point of Halo 2.
On 16 July, a theatrical trailer for the forthcoming XBox video game Halo 2 was released nationwide. At the end of the trailer, a quick flash of "ilovebees.com" prompted individuals to visit and share the website.
Also on 16 July, jars of honey were sent to ARG players. The return address on the package was
2370 Market St. #510
San Francisco, CA 94114
These packages were prepared by Jane McGonigal. Inside each jar were nine letters, that, when arranged properly, spelled "I love bees." Enterprising recipients thought this a website domain name, and checking, found the "I Love Bees" website registered to Margaret Efendi. A telephone number, 415-248-2617, provided a voice mail from someone named Dana.
The ILB website appeared to be hacked, as evidenced by strange messages and corrupted images, some seeming to be excerpts of a computer programming language. For example, a countdown clock to 24 August 2004 noted the approach of "The Zero Hour." What was going to happen?
The website was maintained by Dana Awbry, who, frustrated with trying to fix it, started the I Love Bees Blog on 13 July and invited anyone to share ideas. A link at the bottom of the website page led to her blog.
Dana's blog entries noted she was thinking a lot about 24 August. The countdown clock on the hacked website ended on that day. Something was going to happen. What? Players started to solidify connections between the ILB website and the upcoming video game, Halo 2. A subliminal message at the end of the Halo 2 theatrical trailer directed viewers to the ILB website. But how where they connected? Anyone who received jars of honey and attempted to email Margaret Efendi through her ILB website received responses made from words from previous email messages cut and pasted together. Could this be a new ARG? Visitors responded to Dana's call for help and offered thoughts and comments on her blog.
A partial answer to whether ILB was an ARG came on 10 August, when a new text box appeared on the ILB website with the message "AXONS GO HOT" above the countdown clock to 24 August. Below this message was a list of 210 GPS sites across the United States, divided into groups. Each axon in each group provided a unique longitude and latitude. Players determined these axon to be locations of pay telephones.
Players quickly made a connection between Margaret Efendi and Dana Awbry. Dana was the niece of Efendi. She was trying to fix her Aunt's website, she had started the blog, and she left the phone message on her Aunt's phone.
On 27 July, Dana posted a disturbing entry to her blog
It saw me. It knows me.
Tsi Tian, everyone. Thanks for the help and support.
Later, players learned that Dana left early for a planned trip to China, Japan, and Singapore.
ILB gameplay began 24 August 2004, when the website was updated with a list of 210 GPS sites across the United States, each with longitude, latitude, and a time. Players concluded each site represented a pay telephone location. At the specified time(s) the phone(s) rang.
On 24 August 2004, each axon was updated with a specific time between 06:07 and 18:06 (PDT). Players concluded the phone at each location would ring at the specified time. Clearly, the game was on. These pay telephone locations were Melissa's way of communicating with crew members of the Apocalypso, the military spaceship for which she was the artificial intelligence system. When players answered, "The Operator" / Melissa said, "I have something important to tell you. But I'm not sure you're who I think you are."
She asked the following questions to verify the players' identity
As of 7 September, "What ship are you assigned to?"
As of 14 September, "What is your captain's last name?"
As of 21 September, "What is my favorite game?"
Answer: "Hide and Seek."
As of 28 September, "What is my favorite song?"
Answer: "Stormy Weather."
As of 5 October, "What must we reveal?"
Answer: "The Truth."
As of 12 October, "Who is the enemy?"
Answer: "The Covenant."
As of 19 October, "On what colony was I created?"
As of 26 October, "What insect do I hate the most?"
Clues and/or answers were extracted from email messages, in-game text, discussion groups, and Dana's blog, were players shared what they knew about the game. When a player was verified, Melissa played the audio clip associated with the particular axon. Interestingly, the audio file was the same for every axon in each group. With each successful connection, the ILB website was updated (presumably by Melissa) marking the particular axon "CONNECTED" and "AXON HOT." A status bar for the axon group was incremented. When all the axons in the group were connected, the name of the group changed to a link where anyone could hear the audio file. These audio files were jumbled, random narrative dialogue, thought by players to be from the forthcoming Halo 2 game. At the top of each page of axons, a status bar kept track of the total connections. When that number reached 777, live conversations between Melissa and players began.
If potential players gave the answer wrong, or were otherwise unsuitable, Melissa told them they were not meant to hear the message, and instructed them to "purge the contents of your chatter."
The emphasis on audio demonstrates that at its core, ILB is a radio drama conducted with telephones. The idea of "The Operator" and/or a mysterious woman named Melissa, constantly updating information about an ongoing event promotes a powerful narrative based primarily on sound. But, rather than passively listening, players could actually speak with The Operator / Melissa and move the game forward by giving and receiving information. This interaction between her and "recruits" provides an interesting alternative ILB narrative, especially when listened to in chronological order.
22 September 2004 recruits: Ensign Dragonrider, Ensign Krystyn, Lt. Commander Shad0, Ensign Kamen, and Lt. Weephun.
29 September 2004 recruits and a special commendation to Lt. Adam for finding Dana.
5 October 2004 recruits.
12 October 2004 recruits.
19 October 2004 recruits.
26 October 2004 recruits.
By November, The Sleeping Princess and The Pious Flea are defeated; Durga is returned from Jersey Morelli's computer. Before she disappears, The Sleeping Princess has a last round of conversation with players, telling each goodbye.
Durga (Kristen Rutherford)
Jan James (Kari Wahlgren)
Rani (Olivia Burnette)
Kamal Zaman (Yuri Lowenthal)
Jersey Morelli (Zan Passante)
Herzog (Dave Mallow)
Sophie (Kristin Minter)
Operator/Sleeping Princess/Live Improvisation (Kristen Rutherford)
Thin Kinkle/Professor (Avi Arthur Hankett)
Jim James (Bruce Nozick)
Hiroyuki/Additional Characters (Kabir Kamboh)
Gilly/Additional Characters (Deborah Sale Butler)
Sarah John/Jersey's Mom/Mama Zaman (Amy Chafee)
MacKaskill/Train Conductor (Charles Allen)
Standish/Additional Characters (Marc Summerdale)
Joe (Edmund Wyson)
Mr. Shebura (George Cheung)
Trevor/Mick (Keeshan Giles)
Aide/Additional Characters (Keisuke Hoashi)
Agent/Papa Zaman (Kerrigan Mahan)
Jason (Mark Weiler)
Recruiter/Thug (Michael Sorich)
Antonio/Kevin Morales (Jim Taggert)
Gladys/A.I. (Deena Lawrence)
Major (Danny Katiana)
Leah/Dora (Lilly McConnell)
Leonora/Marta/Mrs. Lawson (Shirley Stills)
Waitress/Additional Characters (Stephanie Venditto)
Genie/Isabel/Cassie (Tara Platt)
Dana Voice Mail (Beth Hoffman)
Admiral/Additional Characters (Wrye Martin)
Additional Characters (Vincent Matthews, Carmen Thomas, Christopher Hartmann, Gary Rosen, J. Morgese, Rami Malek)