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Abandoned: What Lies Inside Schrödinger's Blue Box

By 11:46 AM


Splash screen for the game Abandoned

Every week I told myself: this week is the week I get back to blogging. Every week I stared at the computer and had no idea what to say. I wasn't sure what to do with my corner of the Internet anymore, now that people are actually letting me say what I want to say in a lot more places (fools), but I finally got there. So expect weekly updates once again where I rant about storytelling in the places I'm not paid or qualified to talk about it.

So what got my jimmies rustled enough to break a six-month silence and overcome severe bloggers' block? Only this whole Blue Box Game Studios thing.

There's no time. I'll explain in the car.

A brick wall and trees, from the "Abandoned" trailer

So there's a game coming out in Q4 called Abandoned, from a little company called Blue Box Game Studios. Blue Box has very little to its name, and what it does have is by and large failure. A Kickstarter for a game called Rewind was refunded after raising only $207 of its $12k goal. After saying it would be backed by a private investor, Blue Box instead released The Haunting: Blood Water Curse... a game that was apparently bad, and which was going to get an upgrade this year. And instead, we are getting Abandoned.

Blue Box apparently has many people working there, but only one visible: Hasan Kahraman, whose Internet footprint exists, but is minimal. And yet this indie company with zero wins "caught the eye" of Sony, and big hitters like Nuare Studio and Dekogon Studios are on board for the project. The blog post announcing the game promises lots but reveals little, and the front-facing communication is about how Kahraman just can't tell us things right now.

Also — and most importantly — all their projects look kinda like Silent Hill. And then when games journalist Geoff Keighley announced that he would be part of the Abandoned reveal, it all kicked off.

"Joakim Mogren"

For those who don't recall — and boy, you're in for a fun rabbit hole if this is new to you — a new studio made its appearance at the Spike VGAs in 2012. Led by Joakim Mogren, Moby Dick Studio was set to release a game called The Phantom Pain. Fans picked up that something was odd. The Phantom Pain looked awfully Metal Gear-ish, and the studio had only been founded two weeks prior to their announcement.

Long story short, Moby Dick Studio was an invention of Hideo Kojima to build hype for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Kojima's just a mad lad like that.

So what happens when we have every reason to believe a new Silent Hill game is on the horizon, yet another indie studio from Europe pops up out of nowhere with suspiciously good contacts, and the head of it is a secretive dude with the initials HK, and whose surname translates to "Hideo" in Japanese? Come on, you are way ahead of me already.

Hideo Kojima left, Hasan Kahraman right

The thinking is this: Hasan Kahraman is a character created by Hideo Kojima, and Abandoned is another Phantom Pain scenario. Lots of people believe it. Bloomberg video games reporter Jason Schreier was confident enough about the theory to go full red-string on main. Videos, articles, and entire Reddit communities have popped up to discuss whether this is true, and the evidence is compelling. Hidden messages, numbers hidden in Kahraman's PSN profile, just the fact that the whole thing feels like such a Kojima move.

And yet Kahraman insists he is a real person, and all his coworkers are real people. He just can't tell us who they are, or what's going on. And he's also bumped the gameplay reveal to August (Kojima's birth month!), while posting Twitter vids insisting he and his unnamed coworkers are real. 

So what's going on? I think I may have a theory. A wild one, but a theory.

See, Kojima has pulled this kind of thing before. He's played this literal card. He's set up a fake European studio with a seemingly unskilled programmer, claimed to have nothing to do with them, then sent the exact same video games journalist to do the launch interview. There's no way in hell he could make it fly again as an ARG... unless he had already accounted for us being wise to him.

Think about the clues we get. They're too easy. The initials HK? The names meaning the same thing? A series of Silent Hill-esque games? The letters "P" and "T" being notably blocked out of a certain shot in the announcement trailer? The game moving to August? It's all so easy. It's like we were meant to follow this trail.

And where does the trail lead us? A blue box.

The "Blue Box" from Mulholland Dr.

Kojima has made no secret of his love of David Lynch. Where do we see a "blue box" in Lynch's work? Mulholland Dr. What is it? The link between reality and illusions — the link between fictional and fictionalized versions of people in an industry fraught with corruption.

Here we have a game designer who's gotten a straight-up fairy godmother deal, who doesn't want us to ask why his situation seems so suspicious, who can't explain to us why his story seems so blotchy, who keeps putting off his explanation. And we have red strings that lead back so perfectly to him and his company and his whole scene being a Kojima creation.

This is the theory: Hasan Kahraman is, in the fiction of this ARG, a character who doesn't know he's a Kojima creation. He believes he is an original creator releasing an original game, but he's being confronted on all sides by fans who see the clues. We're all a part of the fiction: we're playing his antagonists. We're doing exactly as we've trained ourselves to do, following leads that can't be coincidence because they're just too perfect. All while a fictional character, trying to create his dream project and just thinking he got super lucky, slowly comes to terms with the fact that he is living in an illusion on the other side of his own blue box.

... at least, that's what I'd say if Blue Box had not actually made profit off The Haunting.

See, it's one thing to play a long game. And I think Kojima would be willing to play very long games. But six or seven years long, in an industry where deals are made and broken so quickly that one was announced while I wrote this? Running a Kickstarter and banking on it to fail? Deliberately releasing a bad and buggy game and taking people's money for it?

If this is an ARG, it's a bad ARG. And I don't think Kojima would do something like release a buggy game under a fake name, take money, and then go "haha just kidding it was all for Silent Hill, you're not mad right?" He's eccentric as hell, but there's a line.

Figure in, too, just how much of what's been getting around isn't actually true. "Hideo" and "Kahraman" do translate to each other, according to Google Translate; but it's a tenuous link relying on alternate kanji readings, and is still flimsy at best. And his games looking Silent Hill-ish confirm only one thing: he likes and is inspired by Silent Hill.

A lot of the influence behind the spread of the rumor came from two places: a YouTube channel later proven to be unconnected to Blue Box, and Schreier's own confidence in the conspiracy. Which he recanted on the same day.

So Kara, are you saying that this guy Hasan Kahraman really is just a guy who's made years' worth of flubs, somehow got surprisingly major deals for undisclosed reasons, and all the clues and similarities are coincidences? Yep. That's what I'm saying.

The final nail in the coffin for me was his June 25 Twitter update. Many people have argued that this is a convincing actor, or even a highly-advanced CG render. But what I see when I look at this video is a dude who is legitimately stressed and scared. This is a guy in over his head.

I don't know much about Kahraman. But operating on the most basic assumption that he's real, I can assume — and I apologize, I'm sure he's a lovely dude — that marketing is not his strong suit. An absence of information could be a sign of a company being fake, but it can also be a sign of just not knowing what you're doing. Awkwardly refusing to divulge more of your game could be a red flag that you are secretly a fictional character created by Hideo Kojima, or it could mean you're very awkward at self-promotion.

"But big studios!" For assets? It's quite possible. Now, it does to me seem wild that Rewind would have caught Sony's eye. But I have seen weirder deals be struck in many industries.

As far as I'm concerned, this is the real story:

Hasan Kahraman is real. Blue Box Game Studios is real. He might be the totality of Blue Box Game Studios, and wanted to give the impression that he wasn't, and that's why he names no co-workers. That, I can't say. After multiple failures, he's gotten the deal of a lifetime: someone's going to fund a game for him. Perhaps he's created something that will use a new peripheral or a new technology; perhaps not. But he is making something.

He's also clearly a Silent Hill fan. It's influenced his work for years. So when mild buzz started that he was actually a Kojima invention, maybe he rode it, in hopes that when all eyes were on him, he could flip it and reverse it. (Perhaps that's the real reason for the swiftly deleted "We're making something that starts with S and ends with L" tweet, which he's been apologizing for ever since.) Or maybe not, maybe he didn't encourage it at all.

Either way, he is now staring down the barrel of the Abandoned gameplay release: the moment everyone cracks it open and realizes that, no, it's not the game of their dreams, it's exactly what was advertised. This is an indie dev who bit off more than he could chew, one way or another, and he's watched it spiral out of control, and realized he can never deliver on the hype he's generated, because that hype isn't for him or his game.

I could be wrong, of course. Maybe Kahraman's work has been faked and backdated. Maybe Kojima is working with a real person with a real history, in order to add verisimilitude to his story. But the more you poke, the less of a slam dunk the story is.

Someone on Twitter said something along the lines of — when the Abandoned gameplay trailer drops, everyone's going to get either a detective badge or a clown nose. I have no idea which one I'm getting. But I will say, if you're on this roller coaster, enjoy it while you can. I don't think any gameplay trailer is going to cash this check.

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