Crazy Valve ARG Teases ... Portal 2? *Update*

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Crazy Valve ARG Teases ... Portal 2? *Update*

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The seemingly-massive Valve ARG that started with a mystery update to Portal could be teasing either Portal 2 or Half-Life 2: Episode 3 - or both.

On Monday, a surprise patch to the three-year-old fan favorite Portal spawned a massive Alternate Reality Game that had internet communities from Steam to Something Awful racing to figure out the puzzles. Two days later, we may not have the puzzle solved, but we have a lot of very interesting new information - frustratingly, there's very little that's concrete; everything that the intrepid puzzle-solvers have uncovered seems to be just designed to tantalize and tease.

The original post in its entirety is below, and while I'll attempt to recap the new information, it really does help to go to the Steam forums themselves.

Most of the new stuff seems to have come from the ASCII images - a cleaned-up version can be found here, and a colorized version can be seen here. There are plenty of fan theories bouncing around the forums: For instance, some fans are speculating that what I called "Vortigaunts holding hands" in the original post (second column, at the bottom) are possibly Combine super-soldiers as seen in the Half-Life 2 games.

More interesting, though, is this image, which appears to show what could very well be an ASCII-ized screenshot from a hypothetical Portal 2. And then there's this, which is unmistakably a human female holding what could be the iconic Portal Gun - perhaps the game's protagonist, Chell?

The mysterious ASCII images aren't the only things fans have uncovered, though. There are also some "confidential" Aperture Science documents that offer some insight into the workings of the secretive laboratory - ideal "Low Risk" candidates for testing include "hoboes [sic] and tramps, orphans and foundlings, psychiatric patients and seniors" - as well as its founder, Cave Johnson.

"A lot of you have been raising concerns about the so-called "dangers" of what we're all doing here. The beancounters told me to tell you that as of today, testing will no longer be as mandatory or as dangerous. That's not gonna happen and here's the reason.

Science isn't about why, it's about why not. You ask: Why is so much of our science dangerous? I say: Why not marry safe science if you love it so much. In fact, why not invent a special safety door that won't hit you in the butt on the way out, because you are fired.

Plus, in the event of your death, I personally guarantee that, thanks to the form you were required to sign this morning, your family will not suffer the indignities of a prolonged and costly legal battle against Aperture Science. Trust me, I am rich, and it is a burden I would not wish on anyone."

It's clear that much of this is white noise, designed to mislead as much as it is to inform - but how much of it is made up of red herrings, and what does it all mean?

The immediately obvious answer is that this would all seem to be pointing towards a reveal for Portal 2, but the presence of main-series Half-Life imagery leads some to believe that there could be an Episode 3 unveiling in the works as well. Perhaps Portal 2 will bridge the two series together, leading to an epic conclusion?

We'll probably find out on March 11th.

Update: The game now has a new ending. Shock!

The original post is below in its entirety:

A surprise content patch to the three-year-old Portal yesterday has spawned a feverish race on the internet to decode an ARG that seems to be teasing... something big.

There's something lurking behind the scenes in Valve-land.

It all started yesterday when owners of the beloved physics-puzzle FPS Portal discovered that the game had a new content patch - which was odd, given its age. That innocuous little patch has since spurred a massive race on the internet between communities like Steam and Something Awful, as they scramble to unravel an ARG that appears to be teasing a new Valve game. (An ARG, by the way, is an Alternate Reality Game - something that asks gamers to figure out real-life puzzles; arguably the most famous example of which is Halo 2's ilovebees. It could also stand for the noise you make when you can't figure out the puzzle).

There's a ton of dizzying information about the game so far, and we're still learning more, but I'll attempt a recap: The Portal update included a new mystery achievement, and people who loaded the game up again found that the radio in the starting chamber now had a green light. If players stood in certain areas of the Aperture Science test chamber while carrying the radio, it would start to emit strange static interference.

While they could have done things the hard way, it was much easier to just rip the .wav files from the game itself. The static turned out to be a code when fed through a steganography program (*I have been corrected on this - more below*), a code that resulted in numbered images which - when fed through another program - led to a land line in Kirkland, WA (near Valve's HQ). Only it wasn't a land line at all, but a data line for an encrypted BBS. On said BBS, people found strange data which turned out to be interesting ASCII pictures.

Some of the pictures are unmistakable: Vortigaunts holding hands, an Aperture Science door, the defense turrets (turn your head to the right), and of course nefarious AI, GLaDOS herself. This is where everything stands right now, because the internet is still trying to figure it out.

One interesting little tidbit of information: The ASCII information identifies the crazy AI antagonist as GLaDOS v3.11 - and as it happens, 3/11 (that is, March 11th) is the day on which Valve head honcho Gabe Newell will be receiving the Game Developers Choice Pioneer Award at GDC. Could the man be planning on making some sort of surprise announcement or reveal?

And if he is, just what would he be revealing? We've already been told that Half-Life 2: Episode 3 won't be coming this year, but there's always Portal 2.

Curiouser and curiouser, indeed. Between this, the ApocalyPS3, and the Infinity Ward lockdown, yesterday was a really weird day for gaming.

ARG!

Update: 7r3nd has written in to inform me exactly what happened regarding the .wav files and the information encoded therein - and how no steganography was involved. I'm going to be honest and say that this is a bit beyond me, so rather than try to offer another explanation that'd only end up muddying the information, I'm going to just copy/paste it below.

There's some information noted in the "Crazy Valve ARG Teases ... Portal 2?" posting which is incorrect.

Several of the dinosaur wav files that were extracted from the new portal gcf that were not morse code sound files, were actually SSTV transmissions, and not steganography as reported in the posting.

SSTV is just an audible way to transmit an image.

Essentially what is required is to play the audio back and pipe it to SSTV software which reads the data from the audio stream and in turn displays the actual image is is contained in the data.

More about SSTV can be read here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow-scan_television

There was not steganography involved.

It sounds very much like listening to the audio noise generated when you listen in on a modem.

The resulting images were analyzed and noticed that certain characters where cricled.

The circled characters where collected and ended up making a 32 character string which turned out to be an MD5 hash.

More on MD5 here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Md5

The MD5 hash ended up being a hash for the phone number for the BBS.

The BBS itself was not encrypted. It was just necessary to use the correct terminal settings to display the content properly.

Once the content displayed correctly, a username and password was required.

The username and password was provided trough the transposed morse code that was extracted from the dinosaur wav files.

It still sounds like techno-voodoo to me, but glad to know that the people working on this know what they're doing!

Permalink

Hot damn, if it is a new portal i would be so happy though i seriously wont be looking forward to all the memes and references i dont think i could handle another 2 years of "the cake is a lie"-esque jokes.

I'm really getting curious about this now... Let's see what happens in 9 days...

Also, your image seems to not be working. (edit: never mind, it's fixed)

Well this is definately exciting, good luck to all those people who are still decoding the puzzle and trying to find out more much needed information. I loved the first game, even though it was criminally short and look forward to the latest installment.

And they aren't doing HL2:Ep3 this year?!!! NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Even Portal 2 can't distract me from my desire to find out how Half Life ends and the identity of the elusive G Man.

Nothing terribly interesting about it, though. We knew it was coming. Now, GIVE US DETAILS!

Teasers don't cut it with me. They never give you anything to do but speculate.

Yes. Yes it does.

I'm just gonna wait and see how it all turns out.

w-Jinksy:
Hot damn, if it is a new portal i would be so happy though i seriously wont be looking forward to all the memes and references i dont think i could handle another 2 years of "the cake is a lie"-esque jokes.

yeah me either, cause we all know the cake is a pie, also SNEAKY Valve! Very sneaky!

Portal 2 would be awesome.

Well it should be anyway.

Theres also reports that ep.2 has been updated too... the plot thickens...

And Alternate reality game?, real life puzzles? why are my Natal sensors going off?

I'm calling it RIGHT NOW! Portal 2 (if there is one) is a Natal Title, I'm calling it

~Blanks

Episode 3 or GTFO. Stuff their "Oh aren't we so clever" bullshit headgames.

So Valve has been spending their time coming up with what appears to be an over-elaborate internet scavenger hunt rather than working on Episode 3?

I think I'll just keep holding my breath.

Thats some Dan Brown shit right there! I love stuff liek this, its like the Lost ARG they done durign the first series of the show.

I hope there is a new Portal <3

Quiet Stranger:

w-Jinksy:
Hot damn, if it is a new portal i would be so happy though i seriously wont be looking forward to all the memes and references i dont think i could handle another 2 years of "the cake is a lie"-esque jokes.

yeah me either, cause we all know the cake is a pie, also SNEAKY Valve! Very sneaky!

Its happening already, DAMN YOU VALVE DAMN YOU TO HECK!

Also i have high hopes for this being outdoors and you having to use portals for practical use, putting a massive portal beneath a strider and watching it getting catapulted out of another would be rather funny indeed.

Interesting... I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this..

There's something about the Portal mind-set that kinda scares me... But man do I looooove it.

Say... I wonder if the PS3 and infinite ward issues were related...
I'm gonna just go ahead and assume they are.

It's hard to overstate my satisfaction.

My eternal gratitude to the people with enough time to work this shit out.

Portalt 2 or Ep 3. Either way I'm going to play something Valve-orientated when I get home to get rid of the boner.

Well, shit. Considering the amount of tracking down this took, this looks like an impressive publicity stunt by Valve. Apparently some of the sound files include Barney?

Isn't it funny how we don't even expect Valve to ever show HL2 ep3?

w-Jinksy:

Quiet Stranger:

w-Jinksy:
Hot damn, if it is a new portal i would be so happy though i seriously wont be looking forward to all the memes and references i dont think i could handle another 2 years of "the cake is a lie"-esque jokes.

yeah me either, cause we all know the cake is a pie, also SNEAKY Valve! Very sneaky!

Its happening already, DAMN YOU VALVE DAMN YOU TO HECK!

Also i have high hopes for this being outdoors and you having to use portals for practical use, putting a massive portal beneath a strider and watching it getting catapulted out of another would be rather funny indeed.

yes it would be, I would actually like to find out more about the origins of Aperture

Proteus214:
So Valve has been spending their time coming up with what appears to be an over-elaborate internet scavenger hunt rather than working on Episode 3?

I think I'll just keep holding my breath.

Pretty sure that the sort of people involved in creating (marketing et al) this have nothing to do with actually making games.

Ok...woohoo? Another game that is over in 20 minutes? Dont get me wrong portal was quite good but it wasnt the end all be all like some people are making it out to be. It was too short and everyone milked the gimmicky nuances for far too long.

Try playing Still Alive backwards, that might work.

What is it with this stuff, who uses there time working this out?

*Plays Still Alive backwards*

Would rather just have some news on Episode Three...Then again, the two stories do cross over at some point, so you never know..

Eleuthera:
I'm really getting curious about this now... Let's see what happens in 9 days...

I think you are in for a disappointment if you are counting 9 days regular time.

If you are already counting in Valve Time, you are getting curious way too soon. It's a good idea to not get exited unless it's less then 20 hours of VT left.

Interesting! I hope it actually comes in normal time, not VALVe Time.

This was con-fu-sing
I'm making a point here: What-The-Fuck
It's hard to understand the complex stuff you did here
Seriously Va-alve
You guys real-ly need
To make Ep-Three
For the good of all of us.
Except the haters and trolls.
But there's no sense crying over every de-lay.
You just keep on waiting till you die of old age.
And the series gets done.
And you have a lotta fun.
And we finally see Gordon speak!

My god, did I just make that up?

I WIN!

MUST HAVE PORTAL 2!!

Seriously, please? At least give us Half-Life 2: Episode 3!

Ohhhh! ARG! Fun! Wonder what it will turn out to be...

Despite my apparent distaste for the Halo franchise, I have to admit that ilovebees is probably the greatest example of storytelling I have ever come across. Everything about the story was simply amazing, and every single character was well developed.

Major kudos to 42 Entertainment for making such a brilliant script.

Onyx Oblivion:
Teasers don't cut it with me. They never give you anything to do but speculate.

Apart from giving people a huge puzzle, a lot of people have been up all night sorting through everything, what did you want that would give the community more to do?

GrinningManiac:
This was con-fu-sing
I'm making a point here: What-The-Fuck
It's hard to understand the complex stuff you did here
Seriously Va-alve
You guys real-ly need
To make Ep-Three
For the good of all of us.
Except the haters and trolls.
But there's no sense crying over every de-lay.
You just keep on waiting till you die of old age.
And the series gets done.
And you have a lotta fun.
And we finally see Gordon speak!

My god, did I just make that up?

I WIN!

You are a fucking genius.
OT: Develop for the PS3 Valve then we'll talk.

It wasn't simply stenography that Valve used for this puzzle. Saying as much actually takes away from the awesomeness of what Valve has done here.

Amateur radio (sometimes called ham or short wave) operators have various ways of communicating with one another. One obvious method of course is voice. Another is morse code, which in fact is present in the updated Portal radios. Check the Steam forums for more info on what this was decoded into.

But another method of communication is called SSTV, for Slow-Scan Television. It basically means sending images over the air waves using basically the same kind of tones which you'd hear from a modem over a phone line. Those with even novice experience at amateur radio would probably recognize the distinctive sound of an SSTV transmission, which is probably what Valve was counting on.

So yes, someone at Valve had the very clever idea of including SSTV broadcast signals INSIDE of the game, via the radios you can carry around. People immediately extracted the individual audio files from Portal's data files so that they could work with it, then ran it all through software which people normally would use for demodulating SSTV broadcasts from a real radio. Each audio stream produced an image.

Since SSTV is transmitted through audible sounds, any interference/noise introduced can cause a corrupted image. You'll notice in all the SSTV images retrieved so far that they contain static. This was apparently introduced by Valve on purpose. Whether this was simply supposed to emulate the realism of SSTV, or whether it's actually more information encoded into the stream as well, nobody seems to know as of yet. My bet is just on the realism, but who knows.

So, between using the morse code, SSTV, a real functioning BBS, ASCII artwork, etc, Valve has gone all out this time on this puzzle. They get massive geek love.

Its hard to UNDERstate my satisfaction.

Sorry, dont get me wrong, Portal was great and all, but for the love of god, fucks sake, EPISODE 3!!!!!

I wouldnt be so pissed if they hadnt delayed it 3 times already, along with all the other delays for episodes 1 and 2, and then, after that, they come to the public and say "well yeah we have no idea wtf were gonna do in episode 3 so be happy if it comes out before two thousand and fucking twenty".

Im starting to think its gonna be the next duke nukem forever. The funny thing is, IF it comes out, it will probably be like 4 hours long and have no closure to the story what so ever.

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