Alex Hall (BEN Drowned) – 2020 interview

The BEN Drowned, Creepypasta legend is a mainstay at Arcade Attack. Adrian chatted to his buddy Alex Hall one more time to see what he’s getting up to including the eagerly anticipated follow-up to BEN Drowned. Interview conducted July 2020.
Have a listen to Adrian’s podcast with Alex Hall that went with this text interview.

Hi Alex, great to have you back on Arcade Attack. We last spoke to you 3 years ago, what have you been up to since?

Great to be back Adrian!

I suppose I’ve been doing what any other millennial has been since then – trying to find my place in the world. I ran a podcast called The Digital Fireside with my co-host Luke Cureton. In it, we talked about a wide range of issues and had interviews with people from many different walks of life. As you can probably guess, I love the kind of off-the-wall stories that you can’t find on your traditional news outlets. The Digital Fireside took us all over the United States interviewing investigative journalists, cancer survivors, alcoholics, people who have transitioned, etc. If I had to pick one of my favorite episodes it would be the one where I flew out to Beverly Hills to follow a molecular biophysicist for several days while he explained his theories on how DMT could cure cancer and mental illness. That trip culminated with experimenting with the effects of DMT with several professional actresses in the adult entertainment industry and then interviewing them about their careers, if you can believe it or not (it’s on video! Check out episode #09)! As someone who has no background whatsoever in illicit substances, doing DMT was a crazy experience for me and I’d love to go into further detail about it and the visions that I saw – which subsequently helped influence my writing.

 

As you know, we are huge fans of BEN Drowned. You have some big news regarding your Creepypasta creation. Can you share with our readers the latest developments?

I’d love to – over the past few months BEN Drowned has returned to tell the conclusion of the story and tie up some loose ends that fans have been theorizing about for almost a decade. This time, the story is updated once a week and has direct input from the fans – players can go on and vote on what choices and decisions the player makes and the story will play out like a virtual ‘choose your own adventure’ novel. As with a lot of horror stories, the original BEN Drowned story has a strong air of mystery and unanswered questions that surrounds it – and I believe that is what has made it so effective in captivating the curiosity of the audience. Over the years however, I’ve begun to realize just how involved and immersed into the lore fans can get and actually wishing that there were answers to some of these burning questions. With the pandemic locking everyone in their homes and with a lot of peoples’ futures being uncertain – and especially since 99% of entertainment production has shut down – now seemed like the ideal time to bring it back to try and give people something positive in 2020 to look forward to each week.


The conclusion for BEN Drowned sounds so interesting. Did you always feel your original story felt a little unfinished or was this an idea that evolved over time?

Yes, I always had a general idea in mind for the conclusion of the story as fans of the Within Hubris forum (circa 2011-2012) might be starting to piece together, but I have to be honest – one of my greatest pitfalls in making the original story was my age and inexperience. I was a sophomore college kid who was suddenly thrust into this unexpected amount of success and attention, and I think I needed to be humbled by reality a little bit before I could come back and deliver a conclusion that I was proud of.

You mentioned to me before that we are now at a point technology wise where your story can really push forward into new directions. Can you explain a little more with what you mean by this and BEN Drowned?

So, there are several things that exist now that didn’t back in 2010 when I was making the original videos. In the original videos I was limited to Windows Movie Maker and using whatever Gameshark codes that were available at the time – I relied a lot on clever editing to achieve the desired outcome. In this case, that consisted of a lot of buggy glitches and bizarre encounters – which was effective for the time period but would be seen as a cliche today. This time around, thanks to my background in software development and the advancements of modding tools (which is a fascinating niche fandom that I encourage you to check out – they’re called HylianModding and they’ve done some wild stuff), there are utilities and hex editors that allow me to basically tweak almost anything about the Majora’s Mask cartridge. This has allowed me to create those custom cutscenes/actor placements that you’ve been seeing in The Last Hero.wmvThe Moon Children.wmv, and The Prisoner.wmv that really help flesh out the lore of the story. This kind of stuff simply wasn’t possible in 2010.
Even further beyond that, and something that I’m super excited to talk about, is that thanks to philanthropists like Elon Musk and projects like OpenAI and DeepAI, independent artists can utilize deep learning AI to generate custom content for free based on a parent image/music file. This was how I designed The Father and how BEN’s theme was created – by taking the Song of Healing and combining it with Chopin to produce a melodic pattern derivative.

I find the concept of deep learning AI and different neural networks both fascination and a little scary! When did you first get the idea to play around with this technology and can you explain how you put this in place?

It’s fascinating, and the technology is only going to become more advanced as this decade goes on. Right now we’re in the fun stage of what’s possible with AI and neural networks, but at the rate this technology is progressing I imagine in a decade or so we’re going to be in the dystopic nightmare stage, so we might as well enjoy it while we can! At the core of the story, BEN Drowned is about artificial intelligence and what it means to be “real”, and ultimately the choice to fight or join it. I thought thematically what better way to represent that than have the primary antagonist be something that has been completely constructed by a computer – without any human interaction. Utilizing neural networks to generate this content for authenticity seemed like the next logical step. As mentioned earlier, DeepAI and OpenAI are great resources to start with (and are completely free). No one really realizes this yet, but we are on the cusp of opening up an enormous pandora’s box with artificial intelligence and neural networks and it won’t just be for automation and assembly lines – it’ll be for independent artists all around the world

Your completed BEN Drowned story could have different story arcs and endings. How many different directions could your story go into and have you calculated how many different stories can be created?

There is a gigantic flow chart in my office with different branching paths that the story could have gone since around April depending on player voting. Over the weeks, big fat X marks have slowly taken over most of the board – as of now the players are firmly locked into exploring the haunted cartridge until we reach the end – one way or the other. If I had to venture a guess, I would say there were about ten potential endings. Not every plot point will be resolved – as players from back in March have realized that the post-apocalypse timeline with Jadus was shelved because the real world weirdly started to mirror what he was writing about with the Black Lives Matter protests/COVID-19. That will have to be picked up later in a future date.

 

Can you briefly explain how your new story will continue on from the original BEN Drowned?

A mysterious man wakes up in an unknown year in the future in an almost limbo-like hotel room – with a voice calling himself Abel on the phone wanting them to stay locked in their hotel room. After listening to people across the hall from him, it seems that other people are appearing in various hotel rooms with no recollection of how they got there. Due to player choice, the protagonist decides to venture out and begin exploring the hotel and ultimately gets caught by an entity known only as The Jailer. The protagonist is killed (digitized) by The Jailer, and after some time a new protagonist – Sarah – wakes up. The players decide to have her wait in her room, and Abel brings her the original Haunted Majora’s Mask cartridge that Jadusable used to play. She begins playing it but after decades of corruption by The Father the game is almost completely unrecognizable. There is a last safe haven hidden in between the code, held by Ben and the elegy of emptiness statue. The players vote on playing The Song of Healing to Ben and it ultimately frees him. Lamenting that The Father’s influence is too strong, Ben gives Sarah a new mask and tells him to go back in time to stop The Father before he completely corrupts the world and to save the denizens of the game.
Sarah then plays the Song of Time and travels back to the game before the events of 2010 in attempt to make things right, picking up with The Last Hero.wmv.

 

Sarah is the new protagonist in the story. What is her background and how did she get hold of the infamous haunted Majora’s Mask cart?

There were several things that the players could have found by exploring the hotel that would have shed light onto the background of Sarah, what the mysterious hotel was, and why the Haunted Majora’s Mask cartridge is there, but unfortunately the players made a miscalculation on the previous character and voted for the wrong day to explore and were killed by the Jailer. They then opted to play it safe and just wait in the hotel room for further development like they were told to.

The Father sounds like a fascinating villain. Can you again briefly explain his motives and what helped inspire this particular character?

Without going into too many spoilers, think of The Father as a cancerous cell – starting off as a mutation but slowly spreading and accumulating power the more it’s allowed to grow. One of the inspirations behind the character was that I didn’t want to create a generic tropey villain with “I’m a bad guy” stamped on his forehead. I think the concept of a being that can’t be reasoned with but just acts on its baser nature to grow and consume is somehow more frightening. You can’t reason with it, you can’t try to align with it, it doesn’t have complex motivations, it’s a primal force of nature and it just is.
 

How exactly will BEN Drowned be available to people? Is it purely YouTube, text, music or a combination of media? And will there be a way of enjoying the complete Ben Drowned experience from start to finish?

BEN Drowned is told in a variety ways – but considering this time the protagonist is actively playing the game in ‘real time’ and not writing diary entries of it after the fact like Jadusable was, the primary method of story telling is through YouTube Videos. As with all my transmedia projects, I do involve the website http://www.methodsofrevolution.com that will have subtle changes when certain milestones are hit in the story, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.
If you have an afternoon to kill, Ryan Geever has done an incredible job at summarizing everything that has happened in these past three story arcs, you can find that playlist here.
However, due to shelving the Jadus plotline and for some who just want the pure BEN Drowned story – once this is all said and done I plan on collaborating with a few people to get a concise version out there for simplicity’s sake – containing the videos in 2010 to the one’s where Sarah starts playing.

Do you feel your new Ben Drowned story will be the end of this particular tale, or do you have any other ideas of how Ben could come back?

This depends on a story choice coming up, but no matter what BEN Drowned will be finished. As for Ben himself, it remains to be seen.
 

Any updates on a potential Ben Drowned film? I still feel this story could work so well as a dark animation movie.

Yes, I have been in talks with several studios over the past few years – although COVID has put a pin in all of those for now. One of the major pushbacks that comes up in conversation is how Slenderman, another famous creepypasta film adaptation, performed at the box office. I think for the past ten years Hollywood has been figuring out the best way to adapt creepypasta as a medium into the big screen, and they’re getting close to figuring it out. But I think they’ve also learned that it doesn’t just translate 1:1 into a slasher film – that’s not why these stories get the millions of fans and gigantic followings that they do in the first place. I don’t expect it to be an issue forever, there’s a lot of tech savvy people that have their pulse on internet culture, have had time to climb the corporate ladder, and are able to start making these decisions. You’ll probably hear something this decade.

 

What are your views on BOTW2, and what new concepts and ideas would you love to see in a new Zelda game?

I think I speak for a lot of other people that I would love for Zelda to try out some experimental things again like they did with Majora’s Mask. I know it’s a divisive game for some people, but I loved the game because it wasn’t just the traditional “go save the princess”. In order to win at the game, you have to lose several times. I remember feeling somber every time I played The Song of Time as a kid, knowing that I’m leaving behind these NPCs to essentially die – but in the hopes that eventually I’d be able to save some version of these people in the future.

 

And finally, if you were stuck inside an video game cartridge, and you had to live there for a week, which game would you choose and why?

Why, Majora’s Mask of course 😉
Adrian

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