Oh Yes: Valve’s Mysterious Meta Game

By Alec Meer on April 5th, 2011 at 8:44 pm.

'16' denotes the number of years we must wait for a new Half-Life game

We sort of sat on this one despite all the rumours about it, due to a combination of thinking it was an April Fool’s thing, our usual elderly-style bewilderment and being distracted by my cat chasing a bit of… Oh! Look at her! It’s adorable! She’s rolled over now! And she’s purring! And..

Oops, I did it again. Oh yes, the Valve ARG. This is elaborate and packed with delectable mysteries – but what does it mean?

Assorted clues and hints were stuffed into the recent Potato Sack sale shenanigans – specifically, hidden messages (and potatoes!) in some of the games featured in the pack.

There were strange crossovers too, such as glyphs found when playing Super Meat Boy music in Audiosurf. Later still, Clever Internet Men discovered clues in real-life locations too. The glyphs are still being collected, and hopefully Important Truths will be revealed once they’re all located. Here’s a chap discovering one of the glyphs outside the Dutch offices of Toki Tori devs Two Tribes:

Which is, I admit, sort of useless if you’ve not followed the tale to date, but hey: ducks! Potatoes! Tacos!

So I can give you no answers for. The story’s still evolving, with little sense of where it may ultimately be going, but it appears the most recent Portal 2 video may be in on the act too. For full (frighteningly extensive) details of the story so far, get thee to the Valve ARG Wiki. Those chaps have found a whole lot of things. Too much. They should probably be killed; it’s the only way to be sure. Alternatively, see if you can help them out. MOBILISE.

Oh, and apparently the number 16 may be important. THEORISE.

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77 Comments »

  1. Flobulon says:

    You accidentally the link!
    Intriguing stuff.


    You fixed the link!
    Intriguing stuff.

  2. Matzerath says:

    I’ve quite enjoyed the Defense Grid update, complete with hidden text adventure and a brand new level (the layout of which is a code!). But mostly for the fact that they recorded new dialogue for the personable A.I., whom I have missed terribly.

  3. MrEvilGuy says:

    I know what Valve’s secret project is ;)

  4. Soon says:

    There appear to be lots of homophones(ish) in the phrases. But I’m sure that’s been picked up by the smart men of the internet.

    Uhm, well, I say lots… but, still.

    Edit: Ah, that explains the anagram theory. ‘course.

    And again: So, surely the anagram theory was almost there. But combined with the theory you’ll be left over with specific letters once you match each phrase. Why did they end up with a cypher?

  5. Cyber Rat says:

    I really admire the people trying to solve this. It’s not a matter of having too much time on your hands like building megastructures in Minecraft, but rather how resourceful you have to be to even notice all these things. Some real hardcore stuff.

    • Mike says:

      Never really been clear why this is a good way to market a game though. I always thought ARGs made more sense as things to run alongside games, or complement them. This is the equivalent of putting a gigantic poster up saying “THERE WILL PROBABLY BE AN ANNOUNCEMENT OF SOMETHING SOON”.

    • dr.castle says:

      Well, except RPS probably wouldn’t be blogging about a poster. It’s all about the publicity–anything to get people talking about your game, even if you haven’t told them what it is yet,

    • Mike says:

      Mmm. After all, Valve would never make big news with an announcement normally.

      Nor would they have any way of reaching gamers through a platform they own.

      cough

    • el_Chi says:

      Prick-teasing nerds is just about the easiest thing in the world. A poster saying “Yes, no, maybe so” would cause a stir but wouldn’t be interesting.

      But prick-teasing nerds with a puzzle for them to beat not only builds hype around an announcement, it gives aforementioned nerds cause to feel very clever indeed, and more involved with the exciting announcement that’s about to take place. Phwoar.

      It also shows Valve understand their ravenous, salivating community very well indeed.

  6. ru_disa says:

    According to “La Smorfia”, an Italian book dealing with numbers and their meaning or somesuch, the number 16 is “il culo” (“the arse”).
    Make of that what you will.

  7. Anthile says:

    Argh.

  8. Sleepymatt says:

    Whee.. obviously some anagrams there for someone to solve, but more importantly – what the hell is he doing looking for clues outside their office TWENTY FEET ABOVE THE GROUND?

  9. Vague-rant says:

    I wonder what would happen if no one found the clues. Or if the internet collectively went on the wrong track. I imagine Valve might intervene to red faces all round.

    In any case, I have no idea what this is(other than episode 3 which I strongly doubt it is), so I’m left with a sense of curiosity rather than actual eagerness.

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      That happened a bit during their last ARG for the Portal 2 announcement. One of the Valve people (I think it might’ve been Walker but I’m not sure) gave a couple of hints when it was clear the community was stumped. It went pretty smoothly despite several of the steps being complete crapshoots.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Well the harder clues can only be found by examining the easier / more obvious clues, and it’s all designed to lead somewhere. The fact that it’s something of a race to see who can figure out what first, but it requires co-operation (no one is going to notice everything) gives incentive for everyone to pool their resources.

      As long as everything in the ARG is based on solvable methods, it should only be a matter of time before everything is solved. The fact that the clues are scattered across over a dozen games as well as other media and real-life locations (and probably all the clues haven’t quite been revealed yet) is what’s holding back finding the solution.

    • FRIENDLYUNIT says:

      Crapshoots? Hmmm. That would appear to further back up (see what I did there?) the Fartcops theory…

  10. edit says:

    First thing I did after watching that vid was go back and pause those suspicious frames, and hold alt and punch those numbers into notepad.. Voila! Then I discover I’m late to the party. Looks like there’s still a part of the puzzle left to crack though..

  11. man-eater chimp says:

    After reading that Wiki… my brain hurts.

  12. Man Raised by Puffins says:

    Hmmm… I wonder if Adam ‘Cargo Cult’ Foster, formerly of this parish, is involved? As I recall he used to enjoy doing this kind of thing.

  13. Moni says:

    Hmm, Razer are involved.

    Valve-Razer Face Tracking hardware release date announcement imminent!

    • Vandelay says:

      Could it be relating to the new motion controller that was supposed to be coming out the same day as Portal 2 and feature special bonus material? The wiki states that the alliteration of H in a Razer facebook message could be important (“Huh? Hardly Helpful Handy Hardware…. Hypothesis?”) and the device is called Hydra.

      Strangely didn’t see any mention of the Hydra on the wiki though.

  14. fallingmagpie says:

    You know what would be nice? If it was about an entirely new game. I’d love Episode 3, obviously, but somehow I think when they announce that they’re just going to go ‘oh yeah, and we finished Ep 3 and it’s out next week’.

    What could it be?

    Hmm. Maybe it’s an MMO.

  15. SuperNashwanPower says:

    I’m not clevar enuf to figure these things out usually, so I find myself feeling bitter and resentful and just wait for someone else to tell me what it all means. Hopefully when translated it will say “Episode 3 this year, free Gordon Freeman plushie dolls to everyone who’s been waiting for fricken aaaages”

  16. Monchberter says:

    “I’m too old for this shit”

    Someone wake me up when the answer’s clear.

    Damn kids!

  17. applecup says:

    I wonder if this supposedly incoming TF2 update will contain anything related. Apart from the potato hat.

  18. Berzee says:

    Mind telling me what an ARG is?

  19. Synchrony says:

    this is an arg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternate_reality_game
    I’m imagining this one either has a message at the end saying “April Fools”, or, since for some reason portal 2′s release date on steam is just listed as April rather than an exact date, that portal 2 is released once its completed.

    failed reply and beaten to it :(

  20. Navagon says:

    Post kitty pictures!

  21. Shadram says:

    I helped! I think I found the cypher for AaAAaa(snip).
    First time I’ve ever done anything useful in an ARG. Maybe. I’m usually far too late to the party.

  22. Daryl says:

    Not Ep 3 = Don’t care

  23. Leelad says:

    These things blow my fucking mind. It’s awesome fun watching them unravel, Can’t imagine how mega it must be to have a brain and contrubute.

    *watches*

  24. Ultra Superior says:

    Civilized people have too damn much free time to bother with this.

    No wonder Europe is dying.

  25. JayeRandom says:

    It would be hilarious if Portal 2 is also HL2 Ep3 in disguise.

    • Shih Tzu says:

      I’ve thought the same, and had been idly curious if that’s what the first Portal 2-announcement ARG was going to lead up to.

      At this point, purely from a marketing perspective, it’d be absolutely ridiculous to pull a surprise “This is also Episode 3″ maneuver and leave yourself with a mere week or two to work the Half-Life brand angle, when Half-Life is still probably your most recognizable franchise. But then, Valve seems to have made it its mission over the past five years to regularly kick all your “rules” in the nuts, so who knows.

  26. primalchaos says:

    Could be entirely unrelated but TF2 just updated with this
    Team Fortress 2 Update Released
    Product Update – Valve
    Team Fortress 2
    - [ restricted ]
    3.7mb update

    *edit*
    just realised this will be the potato hat but could have something else in there too

  27. terry says:

    Let the record show that I disapprove of this sort of thing! Boo!

  28. Pijama says:

    SO

    A crate of Newcastle Brown that this crap isn’t Episode III. Who is with me?

    • Wulf says:

      I’d say so. So yeah, I agree with you and I’m with you. I just get this strong vibe that it’s going to be something about building or crafting – strategy based, perhaps. Like a sim game, maybe, or maybe not. I get that sort of vibe from it. I can’t be arsed to collate anything, but read around the wiki enough and maybe you’ll pick up on it too. There’s a lot about making things, or taking one thing and making it into another.

      So I’m distinctly not getting an Episode 3 vibe from any of this. I could be hilariously wrong, but… I don’t know, call it a hunch, but I think that this either means that Portal 2 is going to have some radically new sort of gameplay that we haven’t seen yet, or that this is all not related to Portal 2 at all, but an entirely new IP, and the closeness to the release of Portal 2 is just a massive red herring.

    • el_Chi says:

      I’d throw a case of Jameson’s on top that and join you in your bet, sir.
      Info about anything Half-Life-related around the same time as the release of Portal 2 would dampen if not outright overshadow people’s excitement about Portal 2, which would a completely retarded move on Valve’s part.
      Valve are not retarded, thus we are getting no Half-Life, you big sillies.

      Unless the ARG reveals that Black Mesa Source is bundled with Portal 2; that wouldn’t overshadow Portal 2′s release, because nobody really cares about BMS anymore.
      ohsnap

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      Good lord I’ve been following BMS for what seems like .. no wait … IS about 5 years. Christ. I’d still like to play it, and their wiki suggests something is still happening behind the scenes. I’d be happy just to play one level. ONE level. As long as its not Xen.

  29. 20thCB says:

    Been reading the Crying of Lot 49 lately….
    It’s been affecting me strangely…..

    This doesn’t help….

  30. Daikaze says:

    The numbers all seem to correspond to ASCII characters.

  31. JuJuCam says:

    I love ARGs. I remember reading up on the AI ARG way back when – probably the first large-scale one, maybe the first one ever. I followed the trail after the fact, of course, no way I was clever enough to solve any puzzle on my own, but I was fascinated by the mechanics of it. Here was a game that could never be solved by any one person, was never designed to be solved by any one person, with a compelling story at its core and fascinating tidbits released on a weekly schedule. I envied those who had been a part of it – it was a social game long before social networking sites even existed, and social in a way that nothing zynga produces comes anywhere near.

    I also loved reading interviews and articles by the developers, how in the first week they released enough puzzles that they thought would keep people occupied for maybe a month, but the hivemind devoured the whole lot in a couple of days. And how they carefully monitored the forums and realised that nobody was interested in the character they had considered the lead and so they changed the story to focus on what the hivemind was interested in. Like a massive viral D&D campaign, ever evolving.

  32. Daniel Klein says:

    O, internet.

    You deliver.

  33. Ba5 says:

    ARG’s are shit, they seem to take the JJ Abrams route to story telling: not having a good story, but keeping all the details vague so your mind fills in the blanks. Afterwards, your reward is usually an equally vague screenshot that shows a hint of something.

    Boring.

    Just put a big countdown timer up, which is easier to track than any ARG.

    • Nighthood says:

      Ever heard of that thing called “fun”? A countdown timer is dull, this at least gets people thinking, and makes you feel like a proper detective. Shit’s infinitely better than the alternatives, and has also got a load of people to buy indie games. Surely that’s a good thing.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      Me no has the funz. Things like this make me feel stupid because I can’t translate ASCII and hex, which seems to be a core requirement for playing ARG’s. Or knowing how to hack things, or how to decompile a flash video of someone’s bottom. I was mostly asleep in the part of my engineering degree that taught us programming.

  34. akemichan88 says:

    Its a dream within a dream within a dream!
    Soon we will all wake up!
    Unless one of us dies in the dream, then he is screwed.

  35. Ian says:

    It was Professor Plum!

  36. Hoaxfish says:

    obligatory hat comment

  37. Ricc says:

    Holy shit. According to the ARG wiki, the face in the picture found in the Portal 2 trailer (on top of this article) belongs to none other than Geoff Keighley, host of GTTV.

    Okay, Valve. This is now officially clever/scary.

  38. Wulf says:

    I think I might have just spotted another piece of the ARG puzzle, but I’m not sure what to do with this information. It came from the following video, which I found a link to on the ARG wiki.

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

    There’s an advertisement board I don’t recall seeing before in the video, and even if it has been, the black text on it is still rather suspicious. ‘DejankKO Elefant’ sounds like it might be more of Valve’s anagram shenanigans. So I’m just going to drop this here in case my hunch is right and this is actually useful to someone.

  39. Wulf says:

    *twitches visibly.*

    CAVEJOHNSONISGLADOS!

    Okay, okay… so, they’ve both used the same joke, there’s a video of what’s clearly a man in a bubbling vat, the video is referred to as ‘the potato eye.’ I’m not sure how the potato ties into it, but… I’m almost entirely convinced of this, now. Which is bizarre since GlaDOS’ voice is female. B-bu-but… there are so many correlations between Cave Johnson and GlaDOS.

    Could they truly be one and the same?

    /crazytheoryrantover

    …no, that’s too insane to possibly even be true. Don’t mind me.

    *coughs.*

    Still.

    (At the very least, I think that Mr. Johnson is tied into GlaDOS in some way. If he really is ‘the potato man’ and that video, the ‘potato eye’ is Cave Johnson, then that seems to imply Cave Johnson in a vat. Why else would he be in a vat? Linking procedure? Preparation for brain transferral?)

    (I’m going to update that to: Something happened to Cave Johnson, a terminal illness or whatever else, and he had to undergo some sort of procedure to prolong his life. He continued to oversee his company through GlaDOS, being her puppetmaster. But watching his company and possibly the world around him fall apart drove him insane. And that’s why we see GlaDOS being so batty, since she’s just an extension of him. I think that a human element being part of GlaDOS is hinted at in the form of GlaDOS. And if I’m right and this is a massive bunch of spoilers… don’t maul me?)

  40. Araxiel says:

    Let me explain it to you. Let me show you what the game industry is afraid of. A discovery that would shake the entire gaming world when it’s being revealed!

    The Potato is clearly a symbol. Look at the history of the potato: It was brought to Europe in the 16th century by the Spanish conquistadores. Who had it initially? The Incan Empire. Let’s keep that bit of clue for later. On the other hand, the word “potato” comes from the Nahuatl word potatl. Now one has to send that word through a decimal decoder and we’ve got 112 111 116 97 116 108. What might this be? We now have to ‘flip’ the numbers, take the string vertices and then add them together. Then multiply them by 96, the year Valve was founded but then divide by the cube root of 2003, the year Steam came out, which would be 12.605507. We get the following result: 70.491286,-68.759422

    This is clearly a coordinate. But what lies at that position? This…structure…seems clearly not made by Mother Nature!
    We have to find out later, because more clues wait:

    What is a duck normally fed with? That is right, bread! On the other hand we’ve got Valve with all those followers which interpret their sporadic secret and ambiguous messages. As one can read in Acts 2:42 ~ When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. In our case, the bread is not literal but rather a metaphor for information. Valve is breaking the information in smaller bits and giving it to its followers. At the same time bread is seen as the most basic aliment one needs to survive. Can you see the connection?! It is clearly there!

    And there’s more to it!
    Now let’s look at the pictures. Our eye only sees what we want it to see. According to newest studies (sponsored by Aparture Science) humans cannot be trusted. I thus wrote a special GUI interface to track the image IP with the help of Visual Basics. I formatted these two pictures [1] [2] and sent them through my program. It encoded and processed them and gave me the following picture: [3]

    First I tried to translate the binary code one can see in the picture. It gave me the following:
    &#f4g!170;FC$æ2½*ª17butt0cks0;©
    I was not able to decipher it yet, but there must be some hidden meaning behind it.

    For an inexperienced and uneducated eye, this might seem like nothing. But let’s flip it, increase the zoom highlight it, shrink it, enhance it and draw some markings on it. And what can one clearly see on this picture? [4]
    Isn’t it obvious? It’s the Incan god Pariacaca! Yes! Pariacaca, the god of water! What is the companies’ name? That’s right, Valve! A valve is used for a lot of things, one of them relocating…guess what…water! We are close to what might be discovery of the last century!

    Then we have the duck. The duck is obviously a reference to the story “the ugly duckling”. How did the duckling found out it was indeed ugly? By looking into his reflection on the…that’s right! On the water’s surface! Again, the symbol of water! But water is not the only reflecting surface. Another common place for reflections are mirrors. Mirrors. In many cultures, including Wicca, mirrors are seen as a portal to another world. Portal to another world.

    Let’s wrap it up:
    A Valve is controlling water. Pariacaca is the Incan god of water. There is a strange construct in the middle of nowhere. Portals to other worlds are involved.
    Now through the use of my perfect deduction skills I came to a very important conclusion that could not only change the face of the world but indeed endanger the very fabric of space and time! Are you ready for the discovery humankind is not allowed to find? Are you ready to see what gods are made of? If you answer is yes, so be prepared, because I have the following to say:

    It’s all just some stupid PR and people are reading out far too much.
    God damn it. Instead of spending so much time on those stupid clues, Valve should finish the game!

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