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The Vienna Project 09
The Vanished Agent


Date & Time2009/08/22 09:00 - 17:00
Location Vienna, Austria
Infos www.theviennaproject.com / on facebook / on twitter
Photos Flickr Group / dChris on Flickr
Reports Video Report by Alexander Schroll / Videos at ATV / Route by Anja (Team Russia) / Iwona (Team Russia) /
Michaela (Team Vienna) / dChris (Photographer) / Vinzenz (System Developer) /
Several reports at mobileblogger.at / Viktor (Team Iran) / Johann Scholz



"Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?" Those words by Freddy Mercury probably best describe what the game was all about. At some points I wasn't really sure anymore what is real and what is not. Some part of me knew that all of this was "just a game", but the bigger part of me was totally immersed in my role as an agent with all the suspense, fear, excitement, stress that is part of the job. Below I will try to pass some of these feelings on to you even though it is really hard to put this amazing, unique experience into words.


A big thanks to dChris and Schrollum for putting their pictures under CC so I could use them in this report.



The Recruiting

From the moment I first heard about this project, I knew that I wanted to be one of the 16 agents. I gave everything I had on the recruiting missions and my efforts were rewarded. Even before the start of the final recruiting mission I received a direct message via twitter telling me that a letter has been left in my postbox. My first thoughts "What? How did they get my address..." soon cleared up as I realized they must have gotten it through my domain registration. This posed a bit of a problem because the domain is still registered with an old address of mine. Luckily I still have access to this address and so the next day I was up at 6 a.m. (after a restless night) to get all the way to the other side of Vienna to retrieve the mysterious letter. An envelope with only my name in big black letters was waiting for me, with a congratulation message and instructions to contact GIRS (Global Intelligence Recruiting Services) for further information.


The two weeks until the start of the project turned out to be very long. I was getting excited but wasn't allowed to tell anyone about it (except obviously my girlfriend because she had to know about me being away for the whole day). Information about what was going to happen was very limited. Some photos for identification to be send in, some rules to be followed, but no details.


Then on Friday, 21st of August, late evening an SMS arrived, directing me to be at a certain location near the city centre at 09:05 a.m. on Saturday. I arranged everything I needed for the next day and went for an early night, which was disturbed by weird dreams about what was going to happen.



A New Identity

I arrived at my location on Dr. Karl Lueger Platz a bit early and circled around the area a bit. Paranoia was already starting to creep in on me. "Are there always so many people sitting and waiting in cars?" "Is this old guy with the glasses following me?" "I'm sure the lady over there is watching me all the time."


Then I spotted a suspiciously dressed lady studying a city map, and while I passed her I knew that this was the person I'm supposed to meet and she was just looking for the right location. I didn't say a word though because it wasn't the appointed time or place and just quietly went back to where I was supposed to wait. Just a few moments later the same lady approached me, asked me if I were ready for the game, handed me an envelope, and left again wishing me good luck.

The letter informed me that I was to be Robert Shaw, member of US Intelligence, and told me to meet another US agent at a cafe nearby. It also supplied some information that didn't make much sense yet.


The other agent (Daniel, can't remember his last name...) was easily identified with the supplied photo and after a short introduction we were waiting for further instructions to come. Those instructions came when a guy on a moped honked at us, threw a crumpled piece of paper on the floor and drove away. The paper told us to wait for a limousine to arrive in 5 minutes.


The mysterious informant

The limousine arrived and we were told to get in. In the car we received our agent equipment: a backbag, bottles of water, a notepad plus pen, some money and a T-Mobile G1 cell phone with short explanations. We received a NOC-List with photos of 20 agents that might possibly be the Vanished Agent we were looking for. The main mission for the day was to step-by-step reduce the list of canditates by eliminating (on the list, not in real) agents we see and meet during the day. We also received our first mission, to observe and shadow two agents which were supposed to appear at a certain location and time. With those information and no idea what was going to happen next we left the car...


The Limousine


Hidden Observation

We soon realized that this was going to be a very stressful day. We already had a lot of different papers with bits and pieces of information which somehow needed to be kept in order. Our headquarters constantly contacted us via our cell phone, wanted updates. While answering those requests there hardly was any time to think of anything else, or to make plans how to fulfil our mission, and we were even supposed to think about the extra missions at the same time.


We quickly found the florist at Schottentor where we were supposed to find the two agents. While waiting we noticed a lot of other suspicious people which seemed to follow us with digicams and cameras. Was that real or were we just imagining it? Some of them were definitely there from the TVP-Team to monitor and document our movement. But were there some enemy agents as well? We couldn't be sure.

When we spotted the agents from the photos, we tried to follow them secretly, which turned out much harder than I would have thought. We were never sure if they had already seen us and if they recognised us as enemies when they have seen us. We followed them a bit on the subway, then onwards with a tram. It was then when headquarters informed us that we have been discovered and we were supposed to get back into the city centre and go into hiding. Mission failed... definitely not a good start.



Trying to figure out the next steps (Video from ATV.at)


Information Exchange

We then received the information to wait on a park bench near a sandbox in Volksgarten to meet an informant with very important information for us. This is where the GoogleMaps application terribly failed us. We entered the supplied GPS coordinates, but it only pointed us to a location on the ring and not to real location we needed inside the park. We found a sandbox, sat down on a bench and contacted headquarters that we were in position, but received the info we were waiting at the wrong sandbox. Time was running short and Volksgarten can become amazingly large when looking for a sandbox. While desperately running around the park we already spotted our contact person. By observing the direction he was taking we knew where we had to go and managed to get there before him, a little bit out of breath.

After a short conversation we received two very important pieces of information. For one thing we were able to remove a person from our NOC-List, and we got photos of two agents which we were supposed to meet at Cafe Central.


On the way to Cafe Central we tried to start with one of the extra missions, Mission Rainbow, which was to collect pieces of information from different locations. We reached the right location of Checkpoint Austria but weren't able to find any information related to Vienna Project. Always under stress we had to keep moving to be at Cafe Central at the right time and had to delay Mission Rainbow until later.


At the cafe we met the second half of the US Intelligence Team, Peter and Bill (sorry, no last names again...). Together we were able to make sense of the pieces of information we received at the very beginning.


Meet me at that time / 17:45 / 55 min / encryption by substraction


Putting those pieces together we knew that 16:50 was the time that the Vanished Agent will appear. But we had no idea about the where, how or who.



Together we are strong

Things got a lot easier and more relaxed, now that we were working together as a team of four. With two cell phones to contact headquarters, more eyes to watch-out and more brains to think we were able to work more organized. Also merging our NOC-Lists resulted in less people than we had before. At that point the charge status of the cell phones was already terribly low and headquarters decided to only contact us via one of the cell phones to preserve batteries.

We continued Mission Rainbow and were able to retrieve the information from Checkpoints Austria and Sweden. In return we received a name from headquarters to be removed from the NOC-List.

Before we could continue on our chest for more checkpoints we were already directed back to Cafe Central to retrieve some information from the bartender there. So it was all the way back for us (we had quite a bit of going back and forth through Vienna city that day...).


We received an envelope with an encrypted message. We quickly realized that it was a Vigenère cipher and after a few failed attempts we managed to decode the message rather fast.


Diplomatie ist gefragt. 12.30 / Sparkys, Goldschmiedgasse 8


After confirming this information with headquarters, we received the information that we will meet the Vienna Intelligence Team for lunch and should exchange some information with them, without giving away too much.

We arrived at the restaurant first and after a short conversation with Roman Mittermayr who was joining us for lunch we strategically chose our seats with view towards the street, rather than having our backs to the street. The mysterious message "4PAX" was left on the table and quickly was hidden before the other team arrived. As it turned out later this message was only there coincidentally and had nothing to do with the project, but we were eager enough to collect any information that crossed our way.


Meeting Roman for lunch

Shortly afterwards the Vienna Team arrived and after introductions we compared our NOC lists. Even though we got scolded by headquarters for giving away this information afterwards, it turned out good for us, because we received four new names while only giving away one.


Meeting the Vienna Intelligence Team

After lunch (I had a burger american style, of course) we continued with the information exchange. We received the Pin-Code 1127 in exchange for the time 16:50. We had no idea what the Pin-Code would be for but we were sure that it would be important.


Lunch and information exchange


Information, information, information...

With partly recharged cell phones and a refreshed water supply we were send on our way to a different restaurant to retrieve important information which turned out to be a CD supposedly with an audio recording of an enemy intelligence meeting. Great, a CD but nothing to play it with. We will need to find some help for this.


On the move again

After retrieving Mission Rainbow information at Checkpoint Britain and failing to find anything at Checkpoint Greece we already were ordered to a new location, a hotel where we were supposed to get in contact with the page Eddie.

A suspicious person was walking in front of the hotel and lost some cards when running away after seeing us. Two of us followed him but he didn't have any information when caught and didn't seem to understand us at all. Some bystanders were very worried about what was happening though when they saw us chasing the guy. The cards didn't have any important information hidden either.


Suspicious person

Inside the hotel we were informed by Eddie that some foreign intelligence team had left a lot of information inside a hotel room. There was still someone inside the room though taking a shower, so absolute silence was important while searching the room. We decided that only two of us would go up to check the room, because less people meant less noise. I stayed in the hotel lobby together with Peter and we were on look-out for suspicious persons and sent the newest information to headquarters while waiting. A lot of information was gathered from the hotel room and we were able to remove four agents from our NOC-list.


Suspicions

Before we were really able to sort our thoughts we were already directed towards Schwedenplatz and had to leave the hotel. Right outside suddenly a moped rider honked, passed us a cell phone and drove away.


Receiving a cell phone

Someone called and told us to come to Hoher Markt which contradicted our orders to go to Schwedenplatz. This made us suspicious and we tried to get some information out of the anonymous caller while contacting headquarters for further instructions. Headquarters stayed with their original orders, so we moved towards Schwedenplatz while keeping the suspicious caller on hold and trying to get more information.

On Schwedenplatz we were told to follow a certain person with a cell phone, but this person brought us right back to Hoher Markt. Has the enemy seized our headquarters already and was supplying us with wrong information? Only one way to find out. On Hoher Markt we split up into two teams to maybe encircle the enemy that might be waiting for us there. Together with Bill I took the direct way towards the "Hot Dog Stand" while Peter and Daniel were walking along the far-right side of the place. Suddenly *BANG* a car door opened and out jumped some agents. Because of the surprise I wasn't able to move and was inside of the car before I really knew what was happening. Bill managed to run away and off went the car with me inside...


The Enemy


My Kidnapping (Video from ATV.at)


The Kidnapping

In a car with four people I've never seen before my thoughts and feelings were running wild. A girl with a Uzi was sitting next to me, smiling dangerously. The other guys had guns as well. I "knew" that it was all a game, but at the same time I was afraid, tried to think what to do, adrenaline level was at its highest. I tried to get information out of them, was shouted at, shouted back at them. "Don't play games with us!" "We want the money!" "You have six hours." "We are watching you!" "He's a liar!" I tried to figure out what money they are talking about. "I know nothing about money!" "Noone has told me anything about money." At one point the car came to a sudden stop, I tried to make a desperate jump towards the door without thinking of the consequences. One guy lost his gun and I tried to grap it but failed, was pushed back. Suddenly I had three guns pointed at me. They shouted at each other and at me. A failed escape and I was in even more danger. After demanding the money once more and setting the six hour limit they "threw" me out of the car.


Released, or not?


Lost... Alone...

And there I was, left at some unknown location, without a way to contact headquarters because the agent cell phone was out of battery. Without a certain goal in mind I started walking in a direction. Luckily headquarters contacted me via my private cell phone, asked me if everything was alright and told me to wait at the Minoritenkirche which was actually right behind me and that my team members were already on their way to pick me up.


Trying to find my way to somewhere

Reunited after a short while and after telling my experiences to my team and sending the according information to headquarters, the first thing to do was to check the NOC-list for potential agents and I was able to eliminate two more. But we still had the task to gather the information from the CD to be done, so we went off on a search for a computer.


Eliminating agents


The Final Pieces

Time was running short, it would be 16:50 soon and we still had many people left on our NOC-list. While looking for an internet-cafe to check our CD we also finally managed to get the Mission Rainbow information from Checkpoint Greece. And near Schwedenplatz we also found our internet cafe and were finally able to listen to the information from the CD. It turned out to be the recording from the lunch meeting of the Russian and Iranian Intelligence Team, while they were exchanging information. We could extract the important information that the only safe-place for the exchange would be Stephansplatz, so now we knew the place and the time.


From headquarters we received the coordinates of two more places to check to get information about potential agents to exclude from the NOC-List. The bartenders at both of those places happened to have seen one of the persons from the NOC-List, but we still had some left. On the way we also managed to get the information from the final two checkpoints Egypt and Cuba for Mission Rainbow and got another name to be removed as reward.

With only four people left on the NOC-List we moved towards Stephansplatz for the final showdown. On the way we received a message in cyrillic which needed to be translated, but not even with the help of the Global Agents we were able to translate it in time. Headquarters was kind enough to give us the information where exactly on Stephansplatz to meet.


The Showdown

At the appointed place and time we met our contact from headquarters, who has been helping and instructing us the whole day. She made sure we had all the important information, the time, the place, the pin-code and handed us a piece of paper with a specific location on Stephansplatz which was easy enough to find. Suddenly a lot of people stormed towards this location, pointed at someone else and remained frozen in this position. The task was clear, we needed to find our informant from the NOC-List in this crowd of people. But easy it was not. All the people started to look the same and my memory of faces is very, very bad.


Flashmob on Stephansplatz

Desperately looking for the one

Then we noticed a team standing a bit outside of the rest talking to someone, and it was clear that they had found the informant first. We followed them and received directions to a certain address. Apparantely the first team (Russia) had received a cell phone where they needed the pin-code and then got called and directed towards the Vanished Agent. The address we received only directed us towards the headquarters where the whole organization team was already waiting for us. Shortly afterwards the winning team arrived together with the Vanished Agent and were greeted with a huge applause.


Team Russia with the Vanished Agent

While it is a bit sad that it wasn't my team that found the Vanished Agent, I don't think there are any losers in this game. We all had an amazing day with lots of new experiences to remember for the rest of our life.



The Party

After a short shower at home we were off to the party in Little Buddha. Being a bit early we were the first to try the Vanished Agent cocktail, which while being okay wasn't quite my taste. After a while all the people started to drop in until the room was quite filled. There was loads of conversation going on, exchanging experiences, getting to know the enemy and becoming their friend.

The nicest thing for me (next to free drinks and food until midnight) was the chance to talk with the organizers about the whole experience, seeing how the day was for them and what they had to go through so that we could go through what we went through during the day. Talking to my kidnappers was funny, because it seemed that my kidnapping was far worse for them than it was for me. I didn't know that I was the only one of the four teams that was kidnapped alone. All the other kidnappings involved two team members, and they didn't quite know how to handle the situation of just one kidnappee. I almost felt bad for giving them such a hard time, or maybe that's just a bit of Stockholm syndrome coming through...


After a long and incomparable day and night I somehow managed to get home around 6 in the morning and immediately fell into my bed.



Thanks, Thanks, Thanks!

What remains to be said is that the whole project was so amazing and I can't really find words to express my gratitude to all the organizers and the other agents for this day.



THANKS TO ALL OF YOU!!!





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