This year's Google I/O was an exciting time for Firebase. In addition to sharing the many innovations in our platform, we also hatched a time-traveling digital fish named Firebass.

Firebass is an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) that lives across a variety of static web pages. If you haven’t played it yet, you might want to stop reading now and go fishing. After you’ve caught the Firebass and passed the challenge, come back -- we’re going to talk about how we built Firebass.

How we began

We partnered with Instrument, a Portland-based digital creative agency, to help us to create an ARG. We chose ARG because this allowed us to utilize developers’ own software tools and ingenuity for game functionality.

Our primary objective behind Firebass was to make you laugh, while teaching you a little bit about the new version of Firebase. The payoff for us? We had a blast building it. The payoff for you? A chance to win a free ticket to I/O 2017.

To begin, we needed to establish a central character and theme. Through brainstorming and a bit of serendipity, Firebass was born. Firebass is the main character who has an instinctive desire to time-travel back through prior eras of the web. Through developing the story, we had the chance to revisit the old designs and technologies from the past that we all find memorable -- as you can imagine, this was really fun.

Getting started

We put together a functional prototype of the first puzzle to test with our own developers here at Google. This helped us gauge both the enjoyment level of the puzzle and their difficulty. Puzzle clues were created by thinking of various ways to obfuscate information that developers would be able to recognize and manipulate. Ideas included encoding information in binary, base64, hex, inside images, and other assets such as audio files.

The core goal with each of the puzzles was to make them both logical but not too difficult -- we wanted to make sure players stayed engaged. A bulk of the game’s content was stored in Firebase, which allowed us to prevent players from accessing certain game details too early via inspecting the source code. As an added bonus, this also allowed us to demonstrate a use-case for Firebase remote data storage.

Driving the game forward

One of our first challenges was to find a way to communicate a story through static web pages. Our solution was to create a fake command line interface that acted as an outlet for Firebass to interact with players.

In order to ground our time travel story further, we kept the location of Firebass consistent at https://probassfinders.foo/ but changed the design with each puzzle era.

Continuing the journey

After establishing the Pro Bass Finders site and fake terminal as the centerpieces of the game, we focused on flushing out the rest of the puzzle mechanics. Each puzzle began with the era-specific design of the Pro Bass Finders home page. We then concepted new puzzle pieces and designed additional pages to support them. An example of this was creating a fake email archive to hide additional clues.

Another clue was the QR code pieces in puzzle 2.

The QR codes demonstrate Firebase time-based read permissions and provide a way to keep players revisiting the site prior to reaching the end of puzzle 2. There were a total of three pieces of a QR code that each displayed at different times during the day. It was really fun and impressive to see all of the different ways players were able to come up with the correct answer. The full image translates to 'Locating', making the answer the letter 'L', but many players managed to solve this without needing to read the QR code. You're all smart cookies.

Final part of the Puzzle

Puzzle 3 encompassed our deep nostalgia for the early web, and we did our best to authentically represent the anti-design look and feel of the 90s.

In one of the clues, we demonstrated Firebase Storage by storing an audio file remotely. Solving this required players to reference Firebase documentation to finish writing the code to retrieve the file.

<!-- connect to Firebase Storage below -->
<script>
    console.log('TODO: Complete connection to Firebase Storage');
    var storageRef = firebase.app().storage().ref();
    var file = storageRef.child('spectrogram.wav');

    // TODO: Get download URL for file (https://developers.google.com/firebase/docs/storage/web/download-files)
</script>

The finale

While the contest was still active, players who completed the game were given a URL to submit their information for a chance to win a ticket to Google I/O 2017. After the contest was closed, we simply changed the final success message to provide a URL directly to the Firebass Gift Shop, a treasure in and of itself. :)

Until next time

This was an unforgettable experience with a fervently positive reaction. When puzzle 3 unlocked, server traffic increased 30x! The community response in sharing photos, Slack channels, music, jokes, posts, etc. was incredible. And all because of one fish. We can’t wait to see all the swimmer winners next year at I/O 2017. Until then, try playing the game yourself at firebase.foo. Thank you, Firebass. Long may you swim.

><(((°<