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Adobe's Photoshop Mystery 2016 will put your Photoshop skills to the test

Starting today, Adobe Photoshop is transforming from a photo editing application into an interactive video game. It’s the third annual Photoshop Mystery, which invites users of all stripes to unravel the secrets hidden away across 21 PSD files and over 1,000 layers, each meticulously designed by artist Matteo Bassini. The challenge will take place over the entire week and conclude on Halloween.

As a mystery, few details of the game have been revealed, but Digital Trends got the chance to hear the inside scoop from Adobe and Bassini. We still have no idea what it all means, how to solve any of the puzzles, or really even what those puzzles are — but we can say that participants are in for a treat.

For those not familiar with Photoshop Mystery, it may initially sound like it’s just a bunch of pointing and clicking to reveal different layers in a Photoshop file. In reality, it goes well beyond anything you’ve ever done in Photoshop before. There are characters and a story spread across five chapters. Over 330,000 lines of Action Script code allow users to execute “magic spells” in the game. This year, the mystery continues outside of Photoshop as well, through Facebook Live events and an interactive website.

For Bassini, a designer with experience in both comic books and 3D modeling, working on this project still managed to surprise him. “I didn’t know that you could create something like this with software like Photoshop,” he told Digital Trends. “It’s nice to see how you can use this program to create a complete game, including a story with plot twists!”

Bassini spent three to four days creating each scene. While he had to build various specific objects that were key to the storyline, he was otherwise given free rein over the art. A fan of video games, he took inspiration from old PC adventure titles like Myst, The Longest Journey, and Syberia. The experience was quite a bit different from his usual work.

“This was my first time working on a project like this in which I had to constantly keep in mind all the independent objects that were going to create a single final image in the end,” he said. “It challenged me to use a different approach, and bring in more photos and a lot of different textures.”

Related: Adobe Photoshop, Premiere Elements 15 bulks up with new facial recognition features

Adobe’s senior product manager of Digital Imaging, Lex van den Berghe, has overseen the Photoshop Mystery project since its inception in 2014. “We came up with this idea to explore the possibility of using Photoshop as a game platform,” he said. “We realized the sky was the limit.”

This year’s Photoshop Mystery promises to be the most complex yet, both in terms of how players will use the application, itself, as well as the other interactive elements that Adobe is connecting to it. For example, two separate Facebook Live broadcasts will allow users to interrogate the Dark King and the Ghost, two of the game’s pivotal characters, in order to discover new clues.

“Our ambitions with this game were to make it bigger and better in every way,” said van den Berghe. “The first year, we were worried that people might not be able to solve the mystery, but each year we have to up our game, make things more and more complicated.” Fans in previous years even reported taking time off work in order to play the game.

Van den Berghe went on to say he was a little dubious about whether people would actually be able to solve it this year, but noted that there will likely be more players than ever before. The trailer for this year’s mystery was viewed over a million times within two days of going live, a significant increase in activity compared to the 160,000 views last year’s trailer earned.

“We put so much time and passion into this particular annual project. It’s so wonderful to see so many people at the gate ready to get started,” said van den Berghe.

If those views translate into a larger player base, the resulting amount of collaboration will help users solve the puzzle. A big part of the game is getting the community to interact with one another and help each other out.

“Our audience is made up of creatives. They want to be entertained,” said van den Berghe. “I see our social channels as vehicles to inspire the people who use our tools.”

Related: How Myst co-creator Rand Miller puzzled players again in Obduction

In addition to inspiring its customers, the game is a way to let Adobe’s own employees spread their wings. As van den Berghe explained, “We’re all creatives and punks at heart. We like to color outside the lines.”

Despite the inherent complexities of the game, van den Berghe is confident that Photoshop users of all experience levels will be able to enjoy it. “Even the option to open up Matteo’s files alone will help people learn amazing things,” he said.

You can join the fun right now by heading over to the Adobe Photoshop Facebook page. The first PSD file is available to download and investigate. The game will unfold over this week, with the first Facebook Live question and answer session happening tomorrow.

Good luck!