Portal: There’s Something Going On…

By Alec Meer on March 2nd, 2010 at 12:57 am.

$100 that's Adrian Shepard's skull. No, I'm kidding, I'm kidding!

You might have noticed Steam downloading an update for Portal and HL2 Episode 2 earlier. Just a routine patch, you probably thought. You’re wrong, stupid! Learn to be more paranoid, why don’t you? Important secrets are being revealed…

The update details said, simply, “Changed radio transmission frequency to comply with federal and state spectrum management regulations”, which sounded like some obscure audio fix to kowtow to some obscure health and safety law. It’s not. In fact, it’s a series of secret messages, which are activated by carrying an in-game radio to several in-game locations. Which is in itself a compelling and playful mystery, especially as the sounds played at those locations wibbled on about transmissions and data dumps – y’know, computery talk. Like, say, from a murderous AI that’s awakening again. Maybe. That’s only the half of it, though.

Terrifyingly industrious members of the Steam forum have ascertained that some of the sound files contain hidden images, visible when run through a Slow Scan Television (SSTV) application. There’s a growing list of links to the revealed images here – but all they serve to do is further the mystery. Equations, skulls, keyboard buttons – and, most tellingly, the Aperture Science logo. Expect further developments as this ingenious ARG continues to run its strange course, which is being documented in realtime here. Oh, that Valve lot really are clever bastards.

I’m quite sure Ie’ll wake up to yet more revelations tomorrow – but to what ultimate end? The smart money’s on a Portal sequel, of course, but it could be something else – or something more. For instance, this extra radio transmission:

Is that GLADOS saying ‘get out’? And is that gunfire in the background? Combine gunfire, perhaps?

Your field day. Go have it.

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138 Comments »

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  1. Blah says:

    Me say, those Valve guys are a niiice bunch o’ crazy peop

  2. Lacobus says:

    Oooooh! Exciting! Though what was the HL2E2 patch all about? Are there sectrets there too, I wonder?

    • Optimaximal says:

      The games share a lot of core engine bits and pieces and a load of assets – any update to one will often update the other. Was also the case with TF2 on release until that was forked a while back.

  3. Bowlby says:

    Glad I’m not the only one asking wtf “Changed radio transmission frequency to comply with federal and state spectrum management regulations” means. Pretty cool.

  4. Obdicut says:

    I, being lazy, rely on the rest of you to figure this shit out.

  5. Max says:

    Urghhh Valve messing with my head AGAIN……

  6. Meat Circus says:

    Orange Box would be nice, with Ep 3, Portal 2 and, oh, Black Mesa Source or something. That, please.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Meat Circus

      Something MP, like Counterstrike 2, is the most likely third component. It would be awfully nice if Black Mesa would hurry up and come out, though.

  7. Meat Circus says:

    Dino 11 = gnome chompsky

    wat

  8. Breakfast says:

    Is it combine gunfire… or is it Gordan Freeman in his usual role?

  9. Taillefer says:

    The sound sounds like it’s being played backwards to me, but somebody has done that, right?
    Tried reversing it, I mean.

    • RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

      @Taillefer Which sound? If you’re talking about the noise, then, maybe, I haven’t tried, but as you can see, some people on the Steam Forums have figured out that its SSTV, and you can use converter tools to get images out of them.

    • Taillefer says:

      In the clip. I don’t think it’s “get out”, but a voice in reverse.

    • RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

      @Taillefer “YOU ARE NEXT!”
      got goosebumps all over when I heard that !

    • RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

      @taillefer someone did it for you: youtube watch?v=2f7Iw3YMslc

    • Taillefer says:

      *smug*

      Edit: Although, it’s not clear if it really is reversed. It’s hard not to hear what you’re told is there.

      Another edit: I’m sure I can hear a second, weaker “voice” before the main “voice”. Just before it reaches 2 seconds, only two syllables, but it could be anything. Like when people claim to have recorded ghosts.

    • RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

      I’m pretty sure it is “You are next”. After that it sounds like they added a sound from the pinball game from windows XP.

    • qrter says:

      I would have never heard “you are next” in that, if I hadn’t read the suggestion before. Now I can only barely imagine hearing it.

      Backward sounds are notorious for being easily impressed upon.

    • Joseph says:

      RE: watch?v=2f7Iw3YMslc

      The sound backwards is definitely “find that cat”.

  10. Koozer says:

    Episode 3/Portal 2 crossover/bundle? Please god let it be so.

    • Koozer says:

      Fake edit: I think it’s the gnome from Half Life, not Chompski from Left 4 Dead.

    • Meat Circus says:

      Clearly Gnome Chompski the one you send in space is the same Gnome Chompski you save from the zombies in Dark Carnival.

      There’s only one Gnome Chompski, he just has the ability to tunnel between game realities at will. A porcelain metagod.

      Also, there’s this:

      http://babel-research.eu/

      I like the black cat what pops up at the bottom left every once in a while.

    • postmanX3 says:

      Is that “Babel Research” thing confirmed to be Valve’s doing?

      At the bottom, there’s Black Mesa’s logo, Aperture Science’s logo, and… Hanso’s logo? The Hanso that was in the LOST ARG?

  11. LewieP says:

    Two things:

    1. This is exactly like the kind of thing Adam Foster (The guy who single handily made the HL2 MEGAMOD Minerva) used to do. Before Valve hired him.

    2. GCD and PAX East are looming.

    • Bret says:

      What I’ve been saying all day.

      Seriously, this is Marathon Infinity secret level style stuff.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      I really hope this is the triumphant return of Mr Foster, and the announcement of Episode 3. I’ve heard people say the Steam forums have found references to the Borealis and Mossman, but I’ve not checked yet.

    • Thants says:

      That’s it, they’ve struggled the Marathon license away from the shambling zombie of Bungie and are making Marathon Infinity+1… What? I can dream.

    • KP says:

      Following those news updates was great. I think I need to play Minerva, again.

  12. RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

    For the first game they said: Name something everyone likes….. ehm, cake?
    This time they might have said: Name something everyone thinks is cool…. ehm dinosaurs?
    Which would explain why the files are all called dinosaur…

    At least, that would be cool :P.

  13. Dr Snofeld says:

    Someone linked me to this: http://babel-research.eu/

    The plot thickens.

    • Dr Snofeld says:

      Wait nevermind apparently it’s a fan-made thing and is old. Woops.

  14. Drexer says:

    Found 20, time to sleep. Gonna have to finish it tomorrow.

    Only Valve.

  15. CaptainHairy says:

    Damnit, Valve! If you’re trolling me I swear I will cry SO HARD.

    This can’t be anything other than the announcement of a game, but I really don’t want it to be Portal 2. As far as I’m concerned, the game was perfect as it was, and I doubt any new game will reach its heights. I really need some more Half Life 2.

  16. Eschatos says:

    Totally Episode 3.

  17. MadTinkerer says:

    Never mind the meta-game of figuring out the secret messages, there’s a NEW ACHIEVEMENT to be had! It’s called “Transmission received” and it’s quite simple… so far (I’ve only gotten through chamber 4 so far).

    There’s now a radio in every test chamber. Grab ‘em and move around the chamber until you pick up static. When you stand in the right spot in the static, the radio light will go green, you’ll get a Mysterious Transmission and progress towards getting the achievement.

    As good an excuse as any to play through Portal again, I think!

  18. SirKicksalot says:

    I wonder if they’ll show it at GDC.

  19. Kbohls says:

    awwwwwwwww yeahhhh Day of Defeat: Source 2 for sure!

  20. Dain says:

    I always personally reckoned that the combine pinched a lot of stuff from Aperture like their zappy energy balls (Combine machine gun secondary fire) , turrets and something of their AI (The overwatch AI voice being verra similar to GlaDos can’t be just a coincidence)

    But whatever :)

    THIS is brilliant though

    http://i47.tinypic.com/2qnzhax.png

  21. Tom Camfield says:

    Babybird, and I claim my five pounds.

  22. Vinraith says:

    I’m too engrossed in Fallout 3 Wanderer’s Edition to go chasing this at the moment, but do let me know how it turns out. HL2 Ep 3 or Portal 2 would both be welcome announcements.

    • Severian says:

      @ Vinraith

      How is that Wanderer’s Edition mod? I’ve been tempted to jump back into Fallout3 if there were mods out there to improve the experience.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Severian

      It’s digital crack, at least IMO. I liked FO3 to begin with, but running Wanderer’s Edition, Mart’s Mutant Mod, and DC Interiors I’m finding it much more immersive. Having to worry about food and drink (and consequently having to very actively manage radiation), dealing with constant shortfalls of ammo and decent gear, it’s a real wasteland survival experience under this mod. It’s also extremely customizable, you can make it harsher or less harsh, start under completely different conditions than the default (want to be a raider? It can do that), etc etc. I also quite enjoy the motorcycle fast travel system (another option it comes with) which allows fast travel via a motorcycle that requires fuel (concocted from a variety of found components) and maintenance (via salvaged parts).

      Anyway, if you’re interested I’d strongly recommend it. The installation was quite easy with the Fallout mod manager, and the amount of customization available with FWE and its complementary mods is outstanding. We’ll put it this way: I’m about 50 hours into my current game and am still completely addicted. I suspect I’ll want to replay the game several times with different characters/starting conditions/options, and I absolutely would not go back to vanilla after this experience.

    • MWoody says:

      I’ve been wanting to try FWE, but I want to combine it with the OTHER major overhaul mod, Fook 2. They have a 1.1 coming out “soon,” but it’s been coming out “soon” for months now.

      Ah well. It’s not like I’m hurting for games to play.

    • Vinraith says:

      @MWoody

      There’s a compatibility patch for FWE and FOOK2 to work together, so that shouldn’t be any trouble. When I was setting up this build I looked at FOOK, but couldn’t really figure out what it did in any depth or detail, so I decided to keep it relatively simple.

  23. Premium User Badge

    HermitUK says:

    I have sacrificed a decent night’s sleep to find 26 radios and use them to listen to some bitmap images.

    So totally worth it. Even aside from the tiny “OMG PORTAL2″ voice at the back of my mind, it was nice to have an excuse to replay Portal for the umpteenth time.

  24. TCM says:

    VAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALVE

  25. DXN says:

    From the look of that forum they may have translated the sounds into images, placed the numbers and letters shown into the correct order as an MD5 string, decoded that into a BBS phone-number, dialled into it and (possibly) been presented with a GladOS login screen… ! Not sure how much of that is true but if so, it seems like it points to something big.. like a game announcement! I am excited, like puppy.

  26. PixelCody says:

    I don’t care what the news is, it’ll be good news.

    I wont be playing any sort of ARG or reading many more updates on this one for fear of getting my hopes up. Let me know when they announce 3 free maps for Portal and I’ll cheer with the rest of ya.

  27. Saul says:

    Portal/HL cross-over. I knew it :)

  28. Flyspeck :. says:

    http://babel-research.eu/ – Black Mesa and Aperture logo on the bottom, reference to august 6th incident.

    August the 6th 2018 incident:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrFXiUNbiSY

    Holy fuck.

    • Wulf says:

      Computer Brain Interface?

      Waitwaitwaitwaitwaitwaitwait…

      Waitwaitwait…

      Wait…

      THIS Computer Brain Interface?!?

      *watches.*

      Yes, yes it is!

      The logo’s the same!!

      They’ve been planning this for HOW long?!?!??!?

      *explodes!*

  29. jsutcliffe says:

    @Wulf
    Seriously? It’s related to What’s In The Box? How fricken awesome is that? Man, I am slack-jawed in admiration.
    I always wanted for WITB to turn out to be some kind of Valve viral video, but after months went by with no further information I figured I was wrong.

    • Wulf says:

      Yep, I noticed on the BABEL site that they had a product called ‘Computer Brain Interface’, this immediately clicked in my mind, as I knew I’d seen that somewhere before. Then when it occurred to me where I’d seen it… *boom!* …and that’s really all that can be said. The two are related, the box, BABEL, it’s all part of this vile computer-scheme*!

      The planning behind this… my mind is officially blown, and I’m impressed. Damn it, Valve, I’m impressed. I’m rarely impressed. You’ve impressed me. Good job.

      * Spot the reference!

  30. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    its a quarter past 4 am people, you better find out what this is by the time i’m back!

  31. Flyspeck :. says:

    Turns out that all is fan made… still cool though!

    • Wulf says:

      It’s hard to tell what’s real any more~!

      AAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAaaa—oh wait, someone beat me to that.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      “Turns out that all is fan made‚Ķ”

      Well I’m not sure if What’s In The Box / Computer Brain Interface is retroactively being acknowledged by Valve or not, but the fact that I’m getting radio transmissions INSIDE THE GAME RIGHT NOW by definition means Valve is somehow directly involved.

      See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5bdTlryKes for an example if you can’t/won’t play it right now.

  32. halfthought says:

    http://www.whatsinthebox.nl/

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHhhhhHHHHaaaAAaaaaaaahhhhHHaaaaaaa

    • jarvoll says:

      So far I’ve found this commented in the source of the main frame of that page:

      That presumably is a clue to the password you need if you click on the lower portion of the circle. Beats me what it means though.

    • jarvoll says:

      lol… and I left the

      Unmask the URL –>

    • jarvoll says:

      Argh!

      some things will only be revealed through mirrors and light

      Unmask the URL

      …is what is commented out.

  33. Premium User Badge

    tikey says:

    I’m just posting so I know frow where to read when I come back later. I’ll wait for you guys on the internet figure ir out for me, thanks.

  34. Frosty says:

    HOLY HOLY HOLY HOLY.

    I’m confused by all the comments here. Can I have a strong confirm or deny; is this related to What’s in the box? Does the common theory seem to be that What’s in the Box is Valve made (secretly?)

    • jsutcliffe says:

      @Frosty

      From what I can tell, WITB is a genuine amateur film (e.g. there’s a non-staged looking interview with its creator on YouTube from Dutch TV). However, Valve might have enjoyed it, seen a way to merge it with the HL universe, and said “yoink!”

    • mcnostril says:

      Looking through the steam forums, most people seem to agree that is unrelated because the what’sinthebox thing also seems to heavily cross reference Lost, and that just seems like too much of a stretch to have the half life universe, portal and lost pointing to the same thing.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Or the WITB connection is accidental. It’s hard to tell until some more is decoded. In any case, both WITB and this Valve stunt are both made of win.

      Meanwhile I’m stuck on the Chamber 13 radio.

    • Frosty says:

      About now is when I wish my Portal was working. Come on Valve tech support….

      Thanks for the replies guys, my want for information grows but you have done what you can.

    • jsutcliffe says:

      @McNostril

      Portal is known to be set in the Half Life universe.

  35. jsutcliffe says:

    Man, first Infinity Ward get attacked by Activision heavies, then Valve drops this shizball. This is the worst day to be in an information vacuum due to overworking. I wish I could have been following all this nonsense through the day.

  36. Sp4rkR4t says:

    At the GLADOS login via the dialup number it states that the OS version is 3.11, and not the old 1.05a I’m going to take a wild guess and say that number corresponds to the full announcement of whatever the hell this is leading to at GDC on March 11th.

  37. wyrmsine says:

    Man, some of those radios are hard to find.

  38. Fumarole says:

    This obviously means Valve are going to buy the Primal Carnage team and redevelop their game.

    Orange Box 2 = Primal Carnage, Episode 3, Portal 2

  39. EaterOfCheese says:

    Steam forums are going crazy.

  40. Hat Galleon says:

    Huh, I just realized. In that Babel Research site, that black cat that pops up in the bottom left in a box. Call me crazy, but that sure seems like a reference to Schr√∂dinger’s Cat.

  41. Junior says:

    Bugger all your conspiracies, I just love the name of that video.

    It’s nice to know there’s someone else who likes taking radios for a walk.

  42. Fumarole says:

    The initials from here:

    http://babel-research.eu/?about=about

    form the anagram The Fall. Omitting the K, that is.

    • kikito says:

      Ok I’ve been dicking around on the babel-research website and found this:

      http://babel-research.eu/snd/hidden.mp3

      There’s a woman’s voice there.

      I downloaded, reversed it (with Audacity – Effect/Reverse) and found out that the voice is saying something like “thank november”. I can’t say for sure that the first word is “thank”, but the second one is surely “november”. Maybe a release date?

    • kikito says:

      woops, somebody else had already found out about this on another comment. Apologies

  43. Hat Galleon says:

    Oh hey I was right, in the page source, . I have a feeling the cat has no importance though, since the page source closes with .

    • Hat Galleon says:

      Ok, so HTML code doesn’t paste into the comment boxes. Makes sense. Still, take my word on it or look at the page source. Schrodinger’s Cat. I swear! I’m not crazy!

  44. Cynic says:

    My skull came out clearer than that, so I might upload all the images once they’re done. There’s a lot of interference even in the source sound files though, so it won’t be perfect.

    This is a bit fun then, eh? Portal 2/Ep:3 yes please.

    • Cynic says:

      Actually, bugger alle this forre ay larke. Just realised that my images were getting named randomly rather than sequentially so I’ve no idea which wav produces which image. I’ll do it tomorrow.

  45. def says:

    The page code on this Babel Research page has a link commented out: http://www.babel-research.eu/snd/hidden.mp3

    If you reverse this MP3 with something like Audacity, it says “xxx November”. The “xxx” is the part I fail to understand.

    • Jayt says:

      November is pretty clear, but agreed I can’t make out the other bit. Tried a few things but was unsuccessful.

  46. jarvoll says:

    Alright, so the story so far:

    Babel Research and What’s in the Box? are unrelated.

    The images from the sound files, when arranged in order, give a 32-character sequence. This can be decrypted as an MD5 sequence, which yields a telephone number in Washington state. Dialling this number with a modem (or emulation software) gives you a login screen. This screen says that GlaDOS is at version 3.11, leading many to speculate that Gabe will make an announcement on March 11th, on which day he is speaking at GDC. Entering the username and password “backup” (derived from morse code heard on the in-game radios), a number of ASCII-art images are streamed to your screen before closing the connection. So far, images seem to be of 1) Gabe 2)Dog, vortigaunts, or some other androids 3) Turrets from Aperture 4)Hearts and companion cubes. Apart from obviously being references to HL and Portal, nothing of significance has otherwise come from these images.

    • jarvoll says:

      An example of the output (note Glados 3.11): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpzV7Hy_zVE

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Radio Report:

      There is at least one radio in every test chamber from 1 to 18. There are three in nineteen. There are at least three more during the escape sequence (possibly one per map but I wasn’t keeping track).

      I know of the location of 24 radios + their hotspots, but I’m still missing 2. I suspect there may be an additional radio in 17 and 18 or that I missed one or two during the escape.

      Interesting facts:

      Once you get the transmission for a radio, and therefore that part of the achievement, the light permanently changes green. This is nice because you can instantly see whether you’ve already used a radio or not.

      All of the “original” radios in the game are where they were before but now are part of this giant easter egg hunt and have their own hotspots. The two exceptions I noticed are the two radios you can’t get to: the radio you pass during the epilogue fly-though (I checked with noclip and it’s not there until the epilogue proper) and the radio on the alternate menu screen (no light, so it’s not part of the hunt). So every accessible radio is part of this.

      The hotspots are always relatively nearby and often in some kind of “significant” location such as one of the hidey-holes or right outside the companion cube incinerator room. While several of the radios are tricky to grab, none of the hotspots are particularly difficult to get to except for the Giant Turret Ambush Room. It’s easy to figure out because it’s the route you would normally take to keep going, but flinging while holding onto a radio is tricky.

      Occasionally if you carry a radio far away from the hotspot after you’ve already got it’s transmission, it plays static, but this may be a bug. (most chambers are too small or too difficult to try this in, so I only noticed it once)

      All of the transmissions seem to be from the new sound files that are morse code or those encoded pictures (in case anyone needed confirmation on that).

      It is possible to kill yourself with one of the new radios (botched fling attempt + radio traveling at terminal velocity = deadly missile headed right at you.)

      Like the Portal Gun, radios are perfectly fine when tossed in fire. Good thing they didn’t make GLaDOs out of spare radio parts.

  47. ShadowNate says:

    @jarvoll: This is VERY exciting stuff. Maybe not spelling out news for Portal 2 or Ep3 but that’s exactly the vibe they give out!

    I wouldn’t have the patience or the intelligence to figure that puzzle out, though.

  48. Radiant says:

    CARGO CULT!
    MY BRAIN IS TOO SMALL DAMN YOU.

  49. DanPryce says:

    Valve, like most developers, have got a little bit of evil in them. For every wonderful thing they do, they have to do something nasty to maintain balance. The Steam UI beta, for whatever reason, forces me to download at around 50k/s.

    And Portal is currently uninstalled. I blame Valve, because it sure as shit ain’t my fault I didn’t install it.

  50. MrBRAD! says:

    On the really long vid, the one with the “scientist” that is running from the “(metro police wut?)” and hides on a bus, messes around with phones etc- if you read the news ticker one of the objects says “Largest collapse since Black Mesa”

    Valve is behind it. (if they aren’t my mind will explode in dismay)

    • DMcCool says:

      Its old and fanmade. That said, people seem too have found references inside portal now so..there is every chance Valve have bought the people that made it and now it is retroactively Valve. Horray for Valve!