Yesterday, Valve issued an update to its 2007 first-person puzzle game Portal, adding exactly one new Steam achievement and 26 audio transmissions that players could listen to via in-game radios. So started an impressive puzzle.
Instead of listening to those transmissions in-game, members of various web forums, including the Steam, Facepunch and Something Awful forums—who we credit with the following discoveries—accessed them through more standard file system digging. Some were easily identifiable Morse Code recordings while the majority were SSTV (or slow-scan television) encoded transmissions.
The Morse code audio files included the following information.
1. interior transmission active external data line active message digest active
12. system data dump active user backup active password backup active
17. beep beeeep beep beep beeeep beeeep beeeep beep beeeep beep beep
File 5 is a doubly encoded, the MD5 encrypted string "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." File 17 was Morse Code for Morse Code for "LOL." Good times.
The remaining sound files were translated from audio to a series of 22 images, which had the appearance of stills from security cameras installed at Aperture Science, the setting of the original Portal. Many of those images contained shots of numbers and letters from keyboards, chalkboards and whiteboards, as well as the odd equation or formula, requiring the mob of puzzle solvers to tap into their calculus and engineering backgrounds.
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The mob eventually put those characters together to form the string 9459C6CAC8C203B8128B7CC63068D4FD which itself was an encoded phone number for a Bulletin Board Service. That meant dusting off a few modems, dialing up Valve's BBS, logging in and letting a mix of ASCII art and text files stream.
That text dump may offer some of our first low-fidelity peeks at the next Portal and gives us a bit of insight into Aperture Science founder Cave Johnson. First, the artwork, which contains (here's the word again) encoded visuals that may be familiar to the Portal player.
In the above image, we get a peek at an ASCII version of GlaDOS, a few shots of the research facility and what appears to be two robots holding hands. There's also a confidential document detailing "Low Risk" Human Resource Acquisitions, including hobos, orphans, psychiatric patients and senior citizens.
The above features another peek at GlaDOS, a trio of diagrams and a heart shaped "anomalous emotional response" detection warning.
Finally, two recognizable Portal items, GlaDOS (again) and a pair of automated turrets, among other things, plus a few memorandums from Aperture Science founder Cave Johnson.
"…remind you that APerture Science is built on three pillars. Pillar one: Science without results is just witchcraft. Pillar two: Get results or you're fired. Pillar three: if you suspect a coworker of bin' a witch, report them immediately. I cannot stress that enough. Witchcraft will not be tolerated."
"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."
One theory being bandied about by forumgoers is the version of GlaDOS responding from the BBS, which is 3.11, is a reference to March 11, the date that Valve will supposedly reveal more about what this Portal puzzle is all about. It's also the date the Valve founder Gabe Newell will receive his Pioneer Award at this year's Game Developers Conference Awards.
There may be more, so let us know if we missed anything in this summary.
Update: Reader Biomanware dropped this image from HL2.net in the comments, making some degree of sense of the visually nonsensical ASCII art.