I don’t remember exactly how it began. On one hand it was inspired by the hype around cryptocurrency, on the other it is a bit how I felt after suffering a breakdown.

It was a way to keep my mind focused and busy. And I took it serious.

The photos you see in the story are hand picked from unsplash.com and I make sure to give them all the same look and feel, to make the story more coherent. The initial inspiration on how I wanted the photos to look came from Death to Stock Photo, it was a photo pack called “Into the light”.

And it doesn’t stop there. Some photos just couldn’t be found and some places that I describe in the story actually exist. Those are the photos you see in chapter 3, chapter 6, and some other places.

The content for this project is actually the simple part. The complicated stuff happens in the code and in my head. I am not a programmer, my university training was in social sciences. This is one of the reasons why the chapters take so long to publish. I have to code the puzzle and test it.

This is possible because of a fantastic group of friends that help by guiding me and even correcting some of the code, and of course field testing the new chapters.

So, a big Thank You to The Lobsters!

And there is more research involved. One example is the story of the building in Chapter 6. It’s a derelict hospital along my commute and some digging around the Internet told the story of how it used to be college of the Jesuits until the expulsion of the Jesuits by Marquis of Pombal, who established a convent in the building. The convent was eventually turned into a hospital. The hospital had a crematorium, and that is the chimney that can be seen in the photo.

The coordinates in that chapter are also real.

And there are more, subtle hints of popular culture. In chapter 7 you see that Crypto is logging in to a server called Hack the Planet. It’s a reference to the movie Hackers. It’s one of the few films where hacking is actually more or less described in a realistic way. With the required special effects and gimmicks to make it entertaining, of course.

Some descriptions of what Crypto does to get around or to access networks are at least a bit plausible. These descriptions are only impaired by my superficial knowledge on hacking and intrusion. This means trying to double check the details as much as I can.

And I haven’t even begun to describe how hard it is to build a good story arch. The ending is already decided, and some of the details are clear in my head. The stuff in the middle still needs work.

This is not meant to be an excuse for my poor writing, it’s an explanation of its cause. Writing Crypto is at the same time my own learning exercise.

Getting the word out

The work that goes into building this story, and the experience around it got some interest from friends and a few acquaintances. It still felt like it was done to serve a very small and specific crowd.

This last Monday I took a chance and shared the work I had so far on reddit. It blew up! Over 600 people played the game, with many of them sending emails and direct messages with feedback and saying they were stuck. It got to the point that I couldn’t reply to everyone. Some people went as far as using programming to run all possibilities to crack chapter 2 and chapter 3.

It also helped uncover some shortcomings of the story’s writing and the puzzles. One of which is that some puzzles may need tiny adjustments. At least one needs another clue. I’m trying to work out how to make it better without ruining what is already in place.

The post was also shared on Facebook a few times, when the story had just a few chapters. I shared it again today, in a group devoted to digital marketing and to showcasing what’s cool around the web.

On Reddit, crypto got over 50 upvotes. On Facebook, it got 4 likes.

It’s not a surprise, at least to me. It’s not just because of that particular group, it’s also how Facebook makes people feel and act. Maybe if I had posted about “the gamification of storytelling as growth hacking” it would have got more attention.

Such is life.

What to do if you enjoy the game

The bright side is that this week I found a crowd that enjoys the game as much as I am enjoying writing it. The next few chapters are already drafted, I just can’t be sure when I will be able to publish them.

In the meantime I will keep making improvements and keep Crypto as alive and interesting as possible. If you want to keep track of the chapters, use this link in your RSS Feed Reader: https://brunoamaral.eu/story/crypto/index.xml

As an alternative, you can subscribe to the blog’s weekly email in the subscribe page.

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Bruno Amaral

I am a Digital Strategist, divided between tech and creativity, working for the Lisbon Collective and teaching Public Relations at the …