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The story behind gaming's greatest mystery, Frog Fractions 2

Trouble in frog paradise

But even without the stress of running the ARG, Frog Fractions 2 wasn't coming together quite the way Crawford had hoped. When Frog Fractions 2 actually launched, it did so 15 months later than originally expected. On the Kickstarter page, September 2015 had been listed as the expected delivery.

What I was trying to do with Frog Fractions 2 was basically have that same accident again but on purpose.

"I didn't know what I was doing," Crawford admits bluntly. "I made Frog Fractions when I had a day job. A day job, if you're a creator, is incredibly liberating because you have no concerns for getting paid you can just make whatever comes to mind and have any off-the-wall idea that you want. Frog Fractions was an accident. What I was trying to do with Frog Fractions 2 was basically have that same accident again but on purpose and this time on a deadline."

Making matters more complicated was that Frog Fractions 2 wasn't just one game. While the first wore the guise of being an educational game about fractions, it quickly shed that skin. But, in order to sell Frog Fractions 2 and convince people it was something else entirely, Crawford needed to fit it inside of a whole other complete game.

Crawford tells me that he began reaching out to other game developers to see if anyone would be willing to take their game and let him slip Frog Fractions 2 inside of it, essentially creating two separate games bundles as one. It just so happens that Craig Timpany, a friend, was working on one that would be the perfect fit. That game was Glittermitten Grove, a city-builder with cute little fairies in it. To even access Frog Fractions 2, players would need to sink some time in Glittermitten Grove, either building trees that reach to a doorway in the sky or using fireworks to expose one hidden in the ground. But once they cross that doorway, they're stepping into another game entirely.

Organizing all of that was a mess. Crawford and Timpany signed a deal to have Frog Fractions 2 and Glittermitten Grove published by Adult Swim Games to help handle the remaining development costs. That also slowed things even further. Fortunately, Crawford had a convenient alibi: "The way the Kickstarter was set up it gave me a lot of leeway to just keep my mouth shut and people would be like, well maybe it is out and we just don't know it." 

Launch sequence initiated 

With a camera in one hand, a man known online as Randomiser slid the key into the lock of the small box. Just below the large red button a sticky note read "Launch FF2." For Randomiser and the thousand of other Game Detectives, the end was in sight.

Unlike older members of the group, Randomiser entered the picture early in 2016 with the Sigil Eye ARG before switching over to the proper Frog Fractions one. The box that sat before him was mailed to him after he discovered a website that required a mailing address. "I wasn't sure what to expect when giving my address," he tells me. "I was expecting to get some clues like with some of the packages that were recovered earlier in the ARG, but a nuclear-style launch button was like the last thing I was expecting."

The key needed to turn on the box was recovered from a real-world escape room puzzle by another Game Detective known as Pumodi. When Randomiser slid that key into the ignition and turned it, the box roared to life with the sound of a diesel engine. Then, with some sense of urgency, he pushed the button. "Launch sequence initiated" is what a somewhat garbled voice from the box said. And then nothing. For a moment, Randomiser had a thought: What if all of this was Frog Fractions 2?

In a sense it was.

"I'm kind of two minds," Crawford explains. "One is that it's all one thing—it's all the Frog Fractions 2 experience and I made this [videogame] that's a part of that. The other way to think about it which is just as valid is that the Kickstarter and the ARG were Frog Fractions 2 and the game is Frog Fractions 3." To that end, Crawford refers to Frog Fractions 2 as Frog Fractions 3 in the credits of the game.

But to even see those credits, Randomiser and everyone else needed to know where Frog Fractions 2 was. "Immediately after pushing the button we were checking new releases on sites like Steam for anything suspicious," Randomiser says. But again, Crawford was one step ahead. Glittermitten Grove had launched on Steam weeks earlier and those who bought it were happily building their fairy villages without realizing it would soon become the vessel for Frog Fractions 2. Once Randomiser had uploaded the video of him pushing the button, someone noticed that Glittermitten Grove received a massive update through Steam. "I was still surprised when a new [Game Detective] user popped in to be like "uh, I think this is Frog Fractions 2."

Once the game was discovered and the jig was up, Crawford emailed Kickstarter backers their keys so they could begin playing Glittermitten Grove in hopes of finding their way into Frog Fractions 2. Randomiser tells me he couldn't believe that the hunt was finally over.

The world would be a better place if I got hit by a bus before I shipped this game because then it could always be a mystery.

"I'd been anticipating, looking forward to, and fearing that moment for a long time," Crawford says. "At the beginning it felt so impossibly far away that it was like a blue-sky project. But as it became more concrete, I definitely had the thought and expressed it to people that for everybody but me, the world would be a better place if I got hit by a bus before I shipped this game because then it could always be a mystery: What would Frog Fractions 2 have been?"

But Crawford didn't get hit by a bus, and people know what Frog Fractions 2 is. It's not the same descent into madness that the first game is. Depending on who you talk to, that's either a good or a bad thing. But Crawford knew that with expectations this bloated, he could never appease everyone. "I knew that I couldn't just make the same thing again, I wasn't willing to do that. I don't think that's what anybody actually wanted, even if they say they wanted Frog Fractions again."

Instead, Frog Fractions 2 still leaps from genre to genre but centers more firmly around a ASCII text world evocative of 1980's Rogue. The allusions to games of yesteryear are stronger than ever, but there's subtle nods to the likes of Dark Souls 3. Still, it's a distinctly different beast than Frog Fractions.

Even if the final product might not evoke the feeling of the first, Crawford's mission to inject a little mystery back into the world has, at least for one fan, worked. "[The Eye Sigil ARG] gave me probably the most real sense of wonder about video games I had felt since I was a kid," Randomiser says. "It's the type of well-hidden secret that I wish more games could pull off—the time we spent solving the puzzles, piecing together the clues, wondering what it could all mean... Every time you'd play a new game, you'd have to wonder if it had a sigil in it. And I think that's the thing about [Frog Fractions 2] being inside another game, too. It made things seem more full of possibility."

Steven enjoys nothing more than a long grind, which is precisely why his specialty is on investigative feature reporting on China's PC games scene, weird stories that upset his parents, and MMOs. He's Canadian but can't ice skate. Embarrassing.