Archive:Interview - TVG and Rutherford
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TVG Chats To The ILoveBees Operator
We talk to Kristen Rutherford, who played a few of the main characters in the ARG Halo 2 game, ILoveBees...
As the build-up to the release of Halo 2 continued in the Summer of 2004, Microsoft kick-started a marketing campaign that would go on to capture the imagination of Halo fans across the globe.
The Alternative-Reality-Game (ARG), I Love Bees, delved into storylines presented between Halo and Halo 2, introducing new characters and AI personalities to an ever evolving and complex “Haloverse”.
TVG recently had the opportunity to gain an insight into the world of I Love Bees, chatting with Kristen Rutherford who played several roles within the “game” and was tasked with making the live phone-calls during the second stage of the experience.
Born in Washington D.C, Kristen studied Shakespeare at Cambridge University in the UK and at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C, where she won Best Actress for two years running in the Emily Jordan Folger competition. Graduating from The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Kristen has performed in many Off Broadway plays and has been seen on many stages up and down the Isle of Manhattan.
Shunning the life of a “commercial” actor, Kristen’s love has always been for edgy and experimental theatre, which leads to one of her most enjoyable roles within I Love Bees.
For more information on Kristen, please check out her website - www.kristenrutherford.com/
I was the voice actor who played “Melissa/Durga/Operator/Sleeping Princess/Yasmine”. Not only did I do work in the studio, recording chapters of the story as Durga/Yasmine, but I also interacted with the players live on the phone as the Op and Sleeping Princess for months.
Well of course from my point of view the story was All About Melissa ;)
The characters in l love bees are all characters within the “Haloverse”. Melissa was the A.I. of the ship Apocalypso in the same way that Cortana was the A.I. for the Pillar of Autumn. The Apocalypso was destroyed when an *artefact* exploded – causing the ship’s A.I. to spit into 3 different personalities. One was “Durga” – who crashed onto a 17 year old boy’s server in the year 2552, one was the “Op” (the nickname the crew of the Apocalypso gave Melissa) who crashed here in our time (2004), and one was the “Sleeping Princess” who was the hyper intelligent persona of the 6 year old girl (Yasmine) who was the involuntary donor brain for the A.I.
Players worked as a team to gain Melissa’s trust in order to help her rebuild her operating systems and her memories. At first, since she was so badly damaged, the only way she could communicate was by leaving cryptic messages on a mild mannered beekeeper’s website. Eventually she managed to build a network by using primitive hardware – payphones, and initially the players (whom Melissa believed to be her crew) listened to recordings and unlocked secret transmissions from the future -presenting them with the characters in the story – one of which was another part of Melissa – “Durga”. Eventually, Melissa became strong enough to actually interact with and develop relationships with her new crew, issue commands and arrange field exercises – and sometimes during these communications she manifested the personality of “The Sleeping Princess” who played, sang and told stories.
Eventually through the work the players did in concurrence with the actions of the characters in 2552, the 3 personalities were reintegrated and sent back to their own time. However in doing this, the Covenant was alerted to the whereabouts of earth, and on November 9th, the covenant arrived in force – just in time for all of us to play Halo 2 and help fight them off again.
The release of Halo 2 was virtually unmatched in the videogames industry, equalling expectations to major Hollywood blockbusters; did you guys have any inside knowledge to the game (backstory/characters) and what was your relationship with Microsoft and Bungie, how much influence did they have over the proceedings?
I was familiar with Halo – I have played it of course, but as an actor I was kept in the dark about what we were working on. We all signed NDA’s [Non-Disclosure Agreements] and of course I noticed that Microsoft was on the document, so I knew it was something big and secret. When the casting director called me, he began to try and explain what the project was that he was calling me in for and being a Cloudmaker I said “Oh, it sounds like “Who killed Evan Chan – the Beast”. He was quiet for a moment and then said “you are the only person I have talked to who even has the slightest idea of what this project is”. As we started recording sessions, I noticed that the character of Durga seemed to be in the same vein as Cortana – and when the trailer hit theatres, I knew exactly what I was a part of. Once they decided that I would also play the part of the Sleeping Princess and deal with the players live as both her and the Op, I was more in the loop. Elan called me one afternoon and told me the story of ilovebees from start to “finish” – and I use the term “finish” loosely since part of the thrill of working in this new medium is that the story is alive and can change and go places that you never expect it to go. So because I had such a large part in the project and dealt with the players live – I found myself completely immersed in the characters and the Haloverse. I was privileged enough to be deep inside and far behind the curtain to witness many of the machinations of the project.
For a period it’s fair to say that ilovebees burst past the ARG community and caught the imagination of gamers across the globe. However it’s fair to say that interest began to dwindle towards the end as the rabbit-hole grew deeper and deeper. Many Halo fans have written to us, confused by what ilovebees actually had to do with the storylines offered by the Halo game’s and novel’s; perhaps you could elaborate on this and clear up a few things?
I am going to leave this to Elan and Sean to answer more thoroughly, but to me it seems like a natural progression a way to get from Halo to Halo 2 or even what happened in between – the way for instance you can read the Star Wars books and find characters that you have never seen in the movies – such as Jaden Skywalker, and Anakin Solo (son of Han and Leia) but they are all valid characters within the Star Wars universe.
It must be said that targeting the ARG community is a niche area at best, with many people still left confused as to exactly what this is. Was it always the decision to move ilovebees beyond this group (highlighted by the website appearance on the theatrical trailer) and is this the key behind its success?
I lurked in chat rooms and on the boards and I saw many a HALO fan drawn into the world of ILB – I don’t know if it was a “decision” to try and move beyond the ARG community but I do know that the number of people that were involved with ILB was a number much much bigger than that of the Beast and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that ILB had such a compelling story.
ARG’s are like any other new medium. My father used to be an executive at Mutual Broadcasting in the 1950’s and he talks about a time when nobody wanted anything to do with FM – AM was the dominant form of radio and you would be foolish not to think it would always be that way. There’s always someone there to say “Talking pictures??? It’ll never work!” ( you are welcome to borrow my image of the picture of the fat executive chomping a cigar in his mouth if you don’t have one in your head! LOL) but the truth is, nobody knows where entertainment is going to go.
Though I must admit, I had fun in the studio (they made us homemade soup for lunch!) I lived and breathed for Tuesdays when I would make the live calls. Every call was like jumping off a cliff and not knowing what was at the bottom. The players were absolutely amazing and I was always impressed with how intelligent warm and funny they were – and how they came together as a community to work on puzzles and theories and tasks. They were open to anything and they had the commitment level of the top actors in Hollywood to their roles within the ARG. My favourite days were days when I was the Sleeping Princess – I never knew what she was going to say or do!!
Do you envisage the synergy between the internet and other mediums to become increasingly important in the future, and how do you foresee this being able to break national borders as it has to be said that ilovebees was predominantly targeted towards the US?
I am very passionate about the idea that this is the way entertainment and media are going in the new millennium and frankly, must go. The concept of the story of ILB and the idea that the gamers are playing this as *real* required a level of commitment from me that went above and beyond anything I have ever experienced on stage, film or television both as an actress and as a viewer or fan. The internet, while making it possible for us to be in contact with people all over the world, and greatly expanding our horizons has also in some ways made us a solo culture – we have access to millions of people and yet we are alone in front of our computers and all of our entertainment is passive entertainment as opposed to an ARG which is active entertainment.
For instance - say I liked Tom Hanks in Castaway and I get the chance to meet him. The exchange is "I loved your work in Castaway" and the response is "Thank you!". When I my identity was revealed and I first met some of my "fans" at the first live event in San Francisco - I knew most of them from having dealt with them on the phone and via email and found that I was just as excited to meet them as they seemed to be to meet me. One of the players (who was profiled by the New York Times in an Article about the game) - her gamer tag is ******* summed it up brilliantly - she said to me "meeting you is like meeting my favorite movie star of all time - and having them recognize me and be just as excited to meet me".
One of the Op's recurring lines in the game was " I take care of my crew" and I find that it is resonating with me even now after the game is finished. When I travel I make it a point to try and meet up with my “beekeepers” in the city I am visiting. I have had dinner with Beekeepers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Washington D.C. Can you imagine Julia Roberts or fill in any other actor's name here taking a fan up on the offer to show them around when they are in town? But they are still and always will be my *crew* and if I could, I would meet all of them. We went through something together.
Now, arguably, you could say to me that there is no way that Julia Roberts can do this – she is too big a star and there are too many fans. This is absolutely true and I don’t mean to imply in any way that she is not grateful for her fans. I just wonder if maybe if the future contains a version of Andy Warhol’s theory of 15 minutes of fame – where we don’t have mega stars along the lines of Tom Cruise, but actors who are stars within a *village* - part of smaller communities?
Aside from theories and speculation of what the future might be for entertainment, this was an artistic experience unlike any other - as if the dream I had as a child of performing and touching people with theatre or art has finally come true. I did theatre in New York for 12 years and never felt like I touched an audience the way I feel I did in this project.
As far as I understand it, it was never the intent of the creators to make this americocentric (look at me I MADE UP A WORD!!). I think that since the genre is in a nascent state that there are naturally going to be limitations and hurdles that we can do our best to overcome now or on the next project – I believe we did try to ring payphones in England and Canada but weren’t able to for some reason! I know that I would have been happy to get up at 2am to make phone calls at 3am for different time zones. I actually offered to do this: I told them that if they wanted me to make calls at 3 in the morning so that players wouldn’t be able to ascertain the time zone we were in then that was okay with me. I was very committed to the “R” in “Reality”!
Could you please round up the conclusion of the story, as we were left completely baffled by the end?
If you remember from the beginning of ILB when Jersey talks about his father being in the military and what he does for them – he’s dropping radio signals off in the far reaches of space so that the covenant can’t triangulate the coordinates of earth and come destroy us. When Jan, Kamal, Jersey, Rani and Durga invaded Chawla base and set off the artifact, they saved mankind, but alerted the covenant to earth’s coordinates – hence why all the scenes end with the same line “They’re coming” – and now it’s time for all of us to play Halo 2 and STOP THEM!
Can we expect more in this area from yourself and those involved with ilovebees, particularly in regards to future Halo releases?
Oh sugarplum, I’d love to tell you that but you know, then I’d have to give Microsoft my first born child….
TVG (and Halo fans alike) would like to thank Kristen for taking the time to answer our questions and providing an insight into the world of I Love Bees; hopefully we’ll have more from Elan Lee Director/Lead Designer and Sean Stewart Lead Writer/Designer soon.