Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Science Gets Done and You Make A Neat Gun

Days like today, you realise how beautiful a place the Internet has the potential to be.

Yesterday, Valve released a Steam update for Portal, containing one new achievement and a couple dozen short audio files which play on peripheral radios throughout the game. The fact, I guess, that Valve would bother releasing an update with such minimal content got fans of the game thinking, "There has to be something else going on here."

Naturally, they got to digging, and it turns out their suspicions were right. Here's the quick rundown of what they found:

1. Hidden in the audio-file data were Morse code transmissions and SSTV (Slow Scan Television) encoded images;
1a. Some of the Morse code data were easily translated and contained a username and password;
1b. One in particular was Morse coded Morse code for 'LOL';
1c. Another was an MD5 checksum string.

2. The SSTV images looked like framegrabs from security cameras from inside Aperture Science, along with a handful of close-up shots of keyboard keys and black\whiteboards, emphasising certain digits, characters and equations.

So far so good. This is starting to look like an adventure, Encyclopedia Brown!

3. After applying the presumably Hogwarts-acquired spell Mathemagicus to this information, smarter people than I came up with a random string of characters, which itself turned out to be, wait for it...

3wtf. ...An encoded phone number for a BBS.

4. Dialing up this BBS and logging in with the given username and password provided access to the old Aperture Science board, and an impressive amount of oft-hilarious infodump, most of it written by witch-hatin' Aperture Science founder, Cave Johnson.

A short sample of one of Johnson's typical missives to his employees:

"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."

Anyway, here's the thing: amongst the witty little system responses like "ERROR: ERROR NOT UNDETECTED" and "WARNING: BIOS INSUFFICIENTLY BASIC", company memos from the 1970s detailing policy on "Low Risk" Human Resource Acquisitions (summary: Hobos good, Orphans even better, Psychiatric Patients and Seniors unencouraged,) and low-rez ASCII art renderings of various photos and diagrams...

There's a fair amount of teaser information for Portal 2 and, quite possibly, Half-Life 3.

To begin with, the above-mentioned memo seems to delve into the reasons for GlaDOS' fractured, passive-aggressive personality more than ever before. The founder of Aperture, "Cave Johnson", is introduced. And there's one ASCII image in particular, of two robots holding hands, that hints both at potential new enemies for Portal 2 and Half-Life 3, and suggests some kind of backstory for the Aperture Science\Black Mesa animosity.

Here are a handful of screengrabs for you to pore over and try to make sense of. Click through to embiggen.

Hey, Valve? Y'all are magnificent bastards. But I like your style.

[Original post on Kotaku right here.]

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