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Preview: 'Majestic' online game blurs reality

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In 'Majestic,' clandestine recordings of characters' telephone and Webcam conversations will reveal valuable clues -- if you can pick up on them  

(IDG) -- Picture this: You're hanging out with friends when your phone rings. You pick up and there's a stern voice on the other end of the line threatening you and your loved ones -- by name. The menacing caller triggers your memory of a Webcam recording you were e-mailed three days ago, which in turn ties into a hasty instant-message conversation you had with a stranger the week before. What's going on? You're just a pawn in "Majestic," EA's episodic online adventure that spills over from the Internet and actually invades your privacy.

The truth is out there

Named after the alleged government group that covered up the Roswell alien incident, EA's "interactive suspense thriller" borrows from The X-Files, WarGames, and Michael Douglas' The Game as it entwines players in a dark conspiracy on the Web, then tracks them down in real life, outside of the anonymous safety of a Web browser. E-mail, telephone calls, online chats, surreptitiously recorded conversations, and fax transmissions are all fair game, and they can arrive at any time. No fax? No fear -- all communication will also be sent to your "Majestic Alliance" client program, so you can examine the complete evidence next time you log into your account (ditto if you miss a call). Depending on how fast you put the clues together (and how fast they're released -- the game plays out in real-time), a typical episode of "Majestic" will unfold over at least two weeks. Also, the game will take into account real-world events and player feedback to further tailor the evolving experience.

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The truth is everywhere

Obviously, if you thought The Blair Witch Project was real, you should stay far away from a real-time online game that you can't turn off. The goal of "Majestic" is to completely blur the lines between fantasy and reality. When a character tells you in a chat that they'll call you on Friday, they mean it -- stay by the phone. As you scour the Web for information, you'll find the game's crackpot Web sites are indistinguishable from real crackpot Web sites, right down to shadow companies on the domain registration info. Instant messages from the game's A.I. characters unfold just like those with live chatters, capable of intelligent Q&A. Was that part of the game? You may never know -- and the paranoia is the point.

The truth is no fair

"Majestic" is set to launch on EA.com in February; the bold and potentially brilliant Mature-rated adventure will require a Windows-based computer and an as-yet-unspecified subscription fee (visit EA.com for details), not to mention a level of player commitment and cooperation never before demanded by an online game. Is the world ready for Internet games that leave the Internet? More importantly ... are you?




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