At its core, the Game is a pretty simple concept. Over the course of a weekend, teams drive around (typically in vans) from location to location, solving puzzles to tell them where to go next. And yet, those who have played in a number of Games will tell you that every Game is different. Puzzles, locations, storyline all change ... but perhaps more importantly, each group that runs Game Control has its own vision and brings its own perspective to the basic formula.
Though it's run by the same group every year, the Microsoft Intern Game is no different. Because the Intern Game is run every year, though, it has another source of change. In order to keep things fresh, and in order to try and improve the experience from year to year, Game Control takes a few things that we learn from each summer's Game and attempts focuses them on the next one.
For the Fire Lake Game, we focused primarily on two things learned from last summer's Illumine Game. First off, it seems that no matter what else is happening during a Game, puzzle quality and cleanliness is always the most important factor in overall enjoyment. And, though past experience has always made it clear that lots of playtesting of puzzles with actual solvers is the key to ensuring the quality of puzzles, this was taken to a new level for an Intern Game with Fire Lake, both through an extensive series of playtests (most puzzles went through at least three) and through the first beta run-through ever run for an Intern Game.
Secondly, the feedback that we receive from year to year has made it clear that our most popular and well-received puzzles have always been the larger scale, constructed puzzles. Because of this, we wanted to design more of these than in the past. These puzzles, however, have a downside. Because they do involve a large construction element rather than a smaller per-team clue, they also have a limit as to how many teams can solve them at the same time. We call these "serialized" puzzles, and they generally form a bottleneck in the Game where teams can be forced to wait if they are too bunched together. As much as teams enjoy these types of puzzles, having to wait for a long time can certainly detract from a team's experience. The challenge was to find a way to run more serialized puzzles without turning the entire weekend into one long waiting room for the teams.
Our solution to this was to design the route in a brand new way, one that we don't believe has ever been done before. Traditionally, the route for a Game will generally be linear, moving from start point to end point without any repeated locations. From time to time, the route will be a loop (ending where it begins) or repeat a location once (as we did in Illumine), but generally that's the most overlap there ever will be. Fire Lake's route, however, was designed as a "clover leaf," with four small loops branching out from a central point.
That central point, known as the hub to staff, became known to teams as the Showroom. The showroom contained four large-scale serialized puzzles. The trick was, teams did not do these puzles in the same order. Instead, they were sent off to whichever puzzle they had not done yet that had an opening. By thinking of the puzzles as unified hub puzzles, it allowed for much better serialization. By keeping teams balanced between the puzles, the hub was capable of serving four times as many teams at once as any individual puzzle would have been able to, which allowed us to run several more serialized puzzles without having to expand the amount of waiting.
We think, overall, that both of these things really added to Fire Lake and to the experience of the teams. Though there's certainly no way to recreate the full experience on the web, we hope this site will help give you a taste and possibly whet your appetite for future years.