Creators of ARGs and other forms of transmedia fiction have a whole world of valuable tools at their disposal, and many of them are even free. There are hundreds of pieces of software, tutorials, materials, and platforms out there that a PM could utilize in their ARG creation, some obvious and others not so much. I’ll outline a few of them here, but expect plenty of installations of this sort in the future.
Now, email is, of course, a valuable tool in the ARG creator’s toolbox, but why choose Mail.comover any other email provider? What makes it superior to more well-known providers like Gmail and Yahoo? The answer to that is twofold. First, Mail.com offers a huge variety of domain names to choose from that you just can’t get anywhere else. Whatever the theme of your ARG or transmedia story is, you can find an email domain at Mail.com that fits into your universe. Here’s a small selection just of ones that I have personally used in the past:
The second reason I advocate for Mail.com over other providers is because of the amazing utility of what they call “alias addresses.” The basic idea is that you have one account under a single primary email address with only one password to remember, but you can send and receive mail from up to TEN addresses which all route to the same inbox. You can set up folders and automatic sorting of incoming mail to make it easier to keep track of which address is getting what mail, but the simplicity of only having to remember one password for ten emails is amazing, not to mention being able to access all those emails without having to log in and out ten separate times. This website is a blessing, I’m telling you.
There is one downside to Mail.com, though. If you’re planning on Discord interaction being a key part of your ARG you should know in advance that Discord’s IP verification system does NOT like mail.com addresses. (It also won’t even let you sign up with some of Mail.com‘s domains, such as @null.net.) You have about a two minute window once Discord has sent an IP verification email to you to click on the link in it, but for whatever godforsaken reason, sometimes Mail.com addresses can take 10 minutes to an hour to get the email. If that happens, you just have to wait it out and not send another verification until you’ve gotten the first one. Eventually it will come through in a timely manner and you’ll be able to do it, but I recommend getting this step out of the way well before you actually need to do any interacting, or you’re just asking for trouble.
That segues nicely into my next item…
The first ARG I ever ran, The Crucible (which ran from September 2011 until February 2012), was primarily run out of an IRC chatroom through the Mibbit IRC client. It worked great for what I needed it for, but there were several large frustrations I ran into along the way. In comparison to IRC, Discord is an absolute godsend. If you don’t use it at all – start. The interface is lovely and simple, as a server owner or admin you have so many options available to you that I wish I had had back in my Crucible days.
The biggest advantage of Discord over IRC, in my opinion, is that it doesn’t announce every single login and logout. If you set yourself to invisible, you can monitor the chat without anyone else needing to know that you’re there. Second to that is the ability to separate the chat into channels for different purposes and, in addition, the ability to change permissions on a per-channel basis. You can assign roles that give or take away various permissions, and you can even grant permissions on a per-member basis. It’s extremely clever, and a great way to modulate what information is available to which players.
I’ve espoused the virtues of Wix as a free webhost before, and I likely will again because it’s my favorite little tool. You can make absolutely stunning, professional-looking websites completely for free, and you don’t need to know any code to do so. It includes integrations for letting/requiring people to sign up as members, which you can then use to give them access to exclusive areas of the site. It also lets you compile a mailing list and you can send out mass emails straight from your Wix dashboard. There’s blog integrations as well, if that’s a feature you want your ARG to have. Really, it’s just an all-around fantastic tool that I can’t recommend more.
If you need to edit audio and don’t want to spend money on a program to do it with, you really can’t go wrong with Audacity. It’s free, it’s easy to use, it can do just about anything you need it to, and there are tons of tutorials online to help you figure out the particulars of whatever little trick you’re trying to pull off. You can’t compose music in it, but you sure can glitch the hell out of some audio files if you’re a fan of audio-based puzzles or need to make an antagonist seem otherworldly.
5. Paint Dot Net
As far as free image editing programs go, PDN is definitely my go-to. I am, unfortunately, cursed with an ancient laptop that just can’t handle more robust tools like Photoshop and GIMP, but I need something that lets me work with layers so plain ol’ MS Paint won’t cut it. Paint Dot Net is a great, free, middle ground tool. It’s made even better by the fact that there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of community-made plugins that you can download and install for free that give the program even more utility than the vanilla version already has. All the art I’ve made for our projects thus far has been done with PDN. It has its fair share of annoying quirks, but by and large it is a great tool that I get an immense amount of use out of.
I’ll be back with more great ARG creation tools sometime in the near future, but in the meantime what are some of the tools that you get the most use out of?