17:45 – A couple drives down unfamiliar streets, looking for a place that they only believe is the right venue, based on an ability to throw GPS co-ordinates at Google Maps. [Yes, Google Maps, because I couldn't figure out how to do that with Live Maps - irony.]
17:50 – Arrival at a sign that, in the near-dark, appears to read “Gasworks Park – Park Closed”. The closing times are in such small print that we don’t see them until leaving the car park.
17:55 – With no great “throng” to follow, because the park is actively in use by joggers, dog-walkers and various people taking their children out to play, we settle on heading for the light – the bright light, illuminating the gasworks.
18:00 – Settled into the crowd of what looked to be over a hundred geeks, you see me shiver with antici—pation. Or is that the cold? Out on the lake, there’s a couple of barges, and police cruisers scuttling around. The elemental theme is correct, then – Las Vegas was “water”, with the Bellaggio fountains; Miami, Sydney, Phoenix, LA were “air”, with the sky-writing; London, Berlin, Toronto, San Francisco, Singapore were “earth”, with images projected onto buildings; Seattle is to be “fire” – the only reason (other than dredging) that I can imagine having a couple of barges that size in the middle of the lake, with police cruisers warning everyone away, is fireworks.
18:05 (or thereabouts) – The screen crackles into life, and Loki appears on screen, giving her usual combination of waffle and puzzle clues. Finally, she points stage-left, and a rocket shoots from her fingertips. [On the video, it doesn't look like that, but in real life, man, that rocket came right out of her finger]. Then the fireworks begin.
You want to see the fireworks? Oh, my word, those fireworks made it so worth going! Okay, the fireworks can be found at http://www.vanishingpointgame.com/ – login, or register if you haven’t (and let them know that firstname.lastname@example.org sent you!)
Then, after the fireworks end, a number of people waving flashlights direct us out to the car park, where a half-dozen buses are waiting. Apparently, there was a little over-estimating done of how many people would turn up! It wasn’t the weather’s fault – a beautiful day, followed by a cold, but dry, night should allow plenty to show up, but I guess the game is too geeky and not spread well enough through the wide world of blog. Even some of the geeks that I invited to come along didn’t think it was worth playing the game to show up.
Inside the buses, all is dark, all is warm, and all is geeky as three or four people have already opened their laptops – yes, there are people geeky enough to bring laptops to this event.
The windows on the bus are covered over with brown paper, so that we can’t see where we’re going – it turns out not to be too far, though. A couple a few rows behind us reveal that they have no idea what’s going on, they were just out walking in the park, and thought they’d come along – so much for the required invite!
The bus drops us off at our mystery location – which, the sign outside informs us, is the Fremont Studios (so much for the mystery). A strobe light welcomes us in, as we enter what looks vaguely like a hallowe’en party – black everywhere, iron gates, ribbons of black cloth draped over the doors as we walk through.
Inside the theme of deaths and disappearances continues – Elvis is here, in a Hawaiian shirt (and telling people to play checkers), and so is Amelia Earhart. There’s also a Dodge Aspen that crashed into a tree on Mulholland Drive, with a dark-haired woman in glasses and a hat standing outside the car telling everyone how awful it is that she has crashed. Apparently this is a reference to a movie I haven’t seen.
Over to the sides are ice sculptures, one of a Windows Vista logo, the other of AMD. Another ice sculpture serves as the bar, with the Vanishing Point title between two columns that support the counter. Ice sculptures … vanishing … yeah, I get the picture.
Aeroplane parts are strewn around the floor, along with a number of columns (how many? I’m not telling – maybe it’s part of the puzzle!), some distressed chandeliers and overturned candle holders.
Other items around the place – a number of hard-back books by Tom Clancy (did he die? Or is the message here that the book is dead?), some LP records (look it up on Wikipedia, kids!), cassette tapes of MC Hammer (which died first, the cassette tape or MC Hammer’s career?), reel-to-reel tapes, a Smith-Corona Coronet typewriter, a 15″ CRT monitor, a mouse (with balls – hence ‘dead’, but with USB cable, so not that dead) and a wired keyboard (again, a PS/2 connector – not that dead, they should have looked a little harder to find one with an AT connector!)
A number of laptops are set up (running Vista, of course) on one of the tables, clearly so that you can play the various puzzles that are now available. A number of people head straight for them.
I’m not sure that there’s any irony in associating a new version of Windows with plane and automobile crashes.
The weirdest thing is on the way to the rest-rooms, though. Some kind of tree-person – obviously a permanent fixture at the studio, and nothing to do with the competition – or is it?
If you think it’s part of the puzzle, maybe you’ll be interested to note that the troll has two orange frogs, one green frog, and a ladybird crawling on him. And a surfboard planted in the ground next to him.
It was a great evening, and the only thing I was hoping for that didn’t happen was some kind of presentation – even if it’s just a guy standing up at the front, telling us to enjoy the food, and that we’re here to celebrate the launch of Windows Vista. Especially if they could bring in Steve Ballmer, who my wife has been longing to meet for years. Maybe we didn’t stick around long enough, though.
So, have fun playing the game, and next time Microsoft invites you to a free event, try to make it there!
[I ran into people from as far afield as Indiana and Florida, so clearly there's no excuse!]