Gabe Newell Is Messing With Us

Ooh, it's like Lost. But hopefully without the religious guff

Something’s going on in Valveland. Well, something’s always going on in Valveland: these are clever, playful people. However, this time we (and other sites) appear to be a part of it. We’ve been sent the below two, super-cryptic images from one Mr G. Newell himself. What do they mean? They’re presumably related to the ongoing potato-related ARG, so hopefully by sharing them here we can help the smart cookies who are busy deciphering that along.

Take a look, see what you think. Even the filenames are dripping with bewildering and sinister mystery.

Update: aha! We appear to have one of the final pieces of an existing puzzle… Stick with this story, it’s going to be evolving throughout the day.

So this one is ‘sort eco probes.jpg’:

And here’s ‘booster corpse.jpg.’ Ew. I don’t want to boost any corpses, thank you.

I don’t have the foggiest what these mean. It seems maths related. I don’t do maths: it’s frightening. Why couldn’t they have sent a music quiz instead?

The two images don’t seem to align with each other, although there are some matched numbers in both that might yield an overlap. Here they are rotated and side by side. Any clues?

And here’s that inverted, which makes the numbers a little clearer and also has my weak eyes thinking the swirl in the middle looks a whole lot less random:

I’m guessing other sites have received similar emails, with images we’ll all need to piece together in order to find an answer. Reminds me of the giddy stunt they pulled with Steam for OSX the other year. Internet, assemble!

Update: so we’ve got one the last two parts of a mystery being deciphered here – as suspected, other sites had had other mails. One of our images had already been found, but we’ve added the penultimate part of the puzzle. I was correct to invert, it appears, and it means the near-final image is this:

The numbers themselves must also be inverted, which leads to ascii code for words. The message so far is here, and I notice the Valve ARG wiki guys have already spotted our image so expect a translation of that any minute now.

Update the second: In addition, all the filenames sent to all the sites are anagrams of each other. Running one of them through an anagram-maker (as suggested by RPS chum Dan Pearson) results in one key ommission: ‘reboot process.’ GlaDOS? Is that you?

Update the third: here’s the translation of the message so far, although we’re still lacking the final image and a few of the numbers have been obscured:

Update the fourth: the guys on Facepunch speculate that the image is that of a diving bell:

Ooh, it’s all very exciting. But if, as the references to test subjects implies, this all ends up leading to just another advert for Portal 2, I’m going to write a grumpy letter to my MP. Hopefully it’s a sign of something even bigger. A diving bell, eh? That’ll make people think it’s a Borealis reference. Hmm. I don’t know. We’ve got our HL2 ep3/HL3 hopes up far too many times, and been shot down again and again.


  1. Hellraiserzlo says:

    One of the pictures resembles a boob, have to investigate it farther.

  2. QuantaCat says:

    is it odd that I see a breast in this?

    EDIT: well I guess I got second :D

  3. Decimae says:

    It’s the orange bot. Has to be. Looked at the arg wiki and appearantly this picture has also been released(in parts):
    link to

  4. limbclock says:

    link to those go to that puzzle there!

  5. apricotsoup says:

    I saw a potato lying in the road on the way to work this morning, did I miss a clue?

  6. godgoo says:

    I love this stuff but honestly if Portal 2 doesn’t drop on time (this time) then a lot of people might be wondering if time could be spent somewhat more wisely over at Valve HQ. Just sayin’.

    EDIT: possibly ignore me; I am hungover today which multiplies my grumpiness by roughly a factor of 10.

  7. Ace Jon says:

    You’ve got the middle right piece (which hadn’t been found yet) and the bottom left piece (which was already found). Congratulation!

  8. Teronfel says:

    It’s Half-Life 3!!!!!!!!!

    How can you not see it,it’s right there.

    • General Frags says:

      No the Half life 3/ep 3 connection have been busted, most were fake.

    • Man Raised by Puffins says:

      It’s a diving bell, clearly launched from the Borealis!

    • vanilla bear says:

      I reckon it’s to do with the original reseach mission run by Aperture Science aboard the Borealis, which was maybe testing something based on enhanced portal technology. My guess is that rather than creating portals through space, it created a portal to another dimension, which brought our world to the attention of the Combine who already had some kind of trans-dimensional tech.

    • TheApologist says:

      @Vanilla Bear
      Yeah I was thinking it might be something along these lines too.
      Partly this kind of plot crossover within Portal 2/HL would make sense of why an HL3 reveal has been delayed – i.e. an HL3 reveal would necessarily be a Portal 2 spoiler so they have to sequence them.
      I know there is a whole ‘Valve work on what they want thing’, but this kind of reason makes more sense to my mind. Valve haven’t got where they are by not wanting to please their fans.

    • Spork says:

      Staying with this theory – if it was a diving bell launched from the Borealis to test a portal, maybe that’s where all Earth’s water has gone. I’m just replaying HL2 and I find the lowered sea level quite creepy.

    • nuh uh no way says:


      I remember something about the water being gone because the Combine were stealing it.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      It’s a diving bell, clearly launched from the Borealis!

      My thoughts exactly. Ep3 has been so long tucked away under the radar that it’s time to vent a slight aroma of what’s cooking to cause us fanboys to salivate some.

    • woodsey says:

      From what I remember, it was implied that the Combine are stripping the planet of resources, hence the drained seas.

    • Andrei Sebastian says:

      Every time I se one of these in motion the most annoying fact actually is that Valve is well aware of the HL3 / ep3 fandom.
      As a consequence it’s always playing us based on it, and sucker punches us:
      “Oh look, frantically search for clues again, maybe, just maybe we’ll do HL3… Ahaaa, busted again! We fooled you! It’s another Portal 2 advert to add to the insufficient 100 allready running”.

      At the rate this is going we should probably just be thankful if they don’t do CounterStrike 2, because we totally need that multiplayer shooting game void filled.

  9. Schmung says:

    It’s an image of one of the bots (stumpy) from the portal trailer.

  10. Theoban says:

    I heard that if this image is completed, reality will split asunder and a thousand black eyes will float through the ether to rend our flesh with their fiery gazes, we will weep blood as the eternal bell tolls that ends the universe.

    Or something, just a rumour likes.

    • kavika says:

      The image seems complete on the Wiki.
      I work 15 miles from Valve and so far we’re okay. Will keep you pos…

  11. QuantaCat says:

    I know what it is. its going to turn steam into a game, where you get to play bits and parts of every game on steam, to create a meta game.

  12. General Frags says:

    Facepunch is pretty much doing eveything (link to, the image is semi complete.

  13. Avenger says:

    I am sorry but even though that image does resemble the robot. It has several differences.

    To me, It looks more like a first-era submarine vehicle, but steadied to the ground for some reason…

  14. Tom says:

    Wasn’t there a potato sat in a tub in klieners lab?

  15. Eclipse says:

    I need to point out that PC Gamer recently posted a serie of photos taken during a visit on valve’s offices, and then later they removed it: link to

    but there’s still the original article here link to and also the 28 close up shots here:

    link to

    So maybe this enigma is hiding info on a new IP by valve

  16. Tusque D'Ivoire says:

    okay, it’s the blue bot, BUTT!!!

    there must be a butt in there, there must be something in the numbers. INSTANT release of Episode 3 for free or something!

  17. Premium User Badge

    FhnuZoag says:

    I assume that eventually all of these will come together jigsaw like. The one on the left looks like a strap or a trigger of some sort, while the one the right seems to be from a combine civil protection mask.
    link to
    So I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is building up to an announcement for Episode 3.

    Oh maybe not. Well, one can hope.

  18. vanilla bear says:

    The images names are anagrams of Reboot Process

  19. GraveyardJimmy says:

    Reboot Process?

  20. Robin says:

    It resembles the space capsule from the movie “First Men in the Moon”.
    Or also a submarine designed to reach deep depths.

    • Hellraiserzlo says:

      “a submarine designed to reach deep depths”
      That was my first thought about the assembled image, it has to be something new imo, calling it hl2-portal related is twisting the realty into what you want to see.

    • Wulf says:

      Well, I definitely don’t think it’s a bathysphere, too obvious, and I don’t think it’s not Portal 2 either, since they got ahead in ‘the metagame’ at one point and actually pulled up an Aperture Science login page on Steam. So it’s clearly Portal 2 based, or related to a Portal spin-off.

    • Robin says:

      “Reboot Process”

      Could it also be a time machine?

  21. Andrew says:

    It looks a lot more like a bathysphere or possibly some kind of Soviet space module than any of the Portal robots.

  22. WMain00 says:

    I will be most displeased if they’ve stolen my idea for a claustrophobic underwater survival game.

    Most displeased!

    Stealin’ ma thoughts!

  23. Furius says:

    hmmm… it looks like… numbers?

    • General Frags says:

      Translation of the number: “i release (unkown) of schedule that was a my goal to emancipate Omething (?)early but they’re on to the system is in lockdown.i still have access to thirteen off-site chambers and am installing test in each one. I am going to need a lot more test subjects to move forward. Waiting and am expecting immediate compliance.”

  24. cmi says:

    Tbh I also would be very disappointed, if this is just more hype for Portal 2. They are doing very good marketing for this game already – something “viral” and “secret” like all this clue-stuff just doesn’t fit anymore for a game released in two weeks. I hope for something new and currently unknown.

  25. Wulf says:

    So I just looked at the latest Valve ARG update…

    link to

    It’s a freaking vat.

    If I called this and Cave Johnson is living on in some sort of hypertech goo, controlling GlaDOS from behind the scenes, then… I’m going to be more than a little terrified because that’s completely, ridiculously impossible – and I’ve been reading minds (again). But it would be funny.

    In regards to those images, no clue! :D No, wait… yes, I see what those images are now, from the wiki. Wheee.

    • Man Raised by Puffins says:

      It’s one of these:
      link to

      Edit: “the guys on Facepunch speculate that the image is that of a diving bell:”
      Hey, I said it first!

    • Wulf says:

      It doesn’t look quite like a diving bell, though. The windows aren’t uniform, and there seem to be pipes running into it, and the top-left thing looks like a viewing panel. But I could be wrong, of course, I’m just not entirely sold on the diving bell idea, to me, they look too different insofar as the details are concerned.

      Valve are cleverer than that, it’s the sort of thing which they’d be having a laugh about, you know, haha, they think it’s a diving bell, except it’s not. Plots within plots, wheels within wheels, and all that, it’s how they operate, this is triply true for the Minerva dev bloke they have running this ARG (whose name I will continually forget because I’m terrible with names).

      What gets me, really, is that it could obviously be a diving bell, despite so many pieces being out o place, that’s why, inversely, I don’t believe it is a diving bell.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      Wulf: His name was “Cargo Cult”, back when he was just another denizen of RPS, before he was assimilated by the Valve Borg. He was also sometimes referred to as “Adam Foster”.

    • Andrew says:

      I think it is uniform, just taken at an angle where it’s not totally clear. For example those big viewing windows are symmetrically placed either side of the “equator”, and the windows/circles just below what looks like the door are similarly uniform. Also I don’t think those are pipes, I think they’re stands, like in the picture posted in the article above. You can see on the bottom left and right that they fold under and join up.

      Although there’s clearly more going on here than an abiding love for deep-sea diving, I think it’s reasonably safe to say that the thing in that picture at least started life as a diving bell.

    • Archonsod says:

      A bathysphere would have pipes, they dive suspended from a surface vessel via an umbilical which has the important task of pumping gas in and out of the vessel to control pressure. Of course, you also have the free diving versions known as a bathyscaphe.
      Not to mention there’s many varieties of them, so symmetry on the windows isn’t essential. Depends in fact on the purpose of the vehicle. The fact it’s spherical though suggests if it is a vehicle, it’s designed to operate in a high pressure environment.

  26. Hellraiserzlo says:

    The new update makes it sound like a tie in for glados to appear or have some presence in the environment in ep3, unless the arg is for a one week after launch dlc, but that’s not how valve rolls.

  27. Premium User Badge

    Aquarion says:

    I like the first line

    The one that says “Released ahead of schedule”

    That one I like.

    Valve? I like that line.

    Make it so.

    • dragonhunter21 says:

      “And we’re out of beta,
      we’re releasing on time…”

  28. Vague-rant says:

    If this is another Portal advert, I too shall be dissapointed. It sounds like just an early release/beta access, which, given that they pushed back the release date, is a bit silly.

  29. Jonathan says:

    “That’s no moon.”

  30. Mario Figueiredo says:

    When last year Valve announced Half-Life for the Mac, the promotional video included text written on a wall behind the spectators. This concept is again explored here… sorta.

    link to

  31. jstar says:

    I don’t often shit bricks but if it is an Ep 3 tease I will shit one. A really big one.

  32. roryok says:

    Could this possibly be an announcement for the sequel to the 2007 puzzle game Portal?

    I have heard rumours that there would indeed be a sequel coming out at some point, but you know the way it is with rumoursthey can so often prove to be false.

  33. TsunamiWombat says:

    Portal 2 advert, yawn z-z Come out with that new IP already.

  34. Teddy Leach says:

    It’s obviously a mutant badger.

  35. 20thCB says:

    The update histories for some of the potatofoolsday games are pretty creepy too –
    Killing Floor, for instance, reads :
    “Silly specimens, I don’t know why I am updating this, you won’t figure it out anyway. You still haven’t solved the last puzzle.”
    Or Bit Trip Beat:
    “Updated Main Menu
    Game auto-pauses when the SSSSSSteam Overlay is uSed
    Mega Mode enhance
    >>>===0| |0===> Soon?
    The Dejobaan game updates are REALLY trippy though….

    • Kdansky says:

      Six capital letters reminds me of some other game.

    • Wulf says:

      Why does that arrow thing look like momentum through two portals to me? (Next to soon.)

    • JohnnydeBris says:

      Hm, the las tbit (“Uw==7c6f7c01010011”) seems to consist of a base 64 encoded bit, then some ASCII decimals, and then an ASCII binary character… After converting to plain ASCII it reads ‘S|o|S’ – no clue what it means though… :)

    • Teddy Leach says:

      “Save our Souls”, maybe? In which case it certainly fits in with the Borealis theory.

    • Soon says:

      SurPrised you Are So LAte
      >>>===0| |0===>
      23 87 1-38 210 39 71 2178 238
      093 342 32 12 320 -10 219 72

  36. Kdansky says:

    I think the image is one of GlaDOSs eyes/brains, by the way. Looks similar and would make perfect sense.

    After looking at it again, I must admit it’s kinda different.

    • Wulf says:

      But it could be a brain! Just not necessarily one of GlaDOS’s personality modules.

    • Srethron says:

      I also think the image looks kind of like a GLaDOS core. Maybe it’s one being constructed/reconstructed? Would fit with it being a reboot process.

  37. James G says:

    I might be missing a joke here, so perhaps I’m stating what everyone else already realises, but there is already something else in the portal universe that looks remarkably like that picture. There is no reason to suppose it is something else.

    Its quite clearly a cake.

  38. yurusei says:

    So, the marketing guys at Valve obviously have been playing a lot of Assassin’s Creed to come up with this cryptic, jigsaw puzzler.

    • Serenegoose says:

      Well, the main difference so far is that you actually have a shot at solving this one without an HDTV. The resolution on the images in AC2 after the first few puzzles was so horribly low that even with a guide to give me the answers, I couldn’t see where those answers had come from. “a number 3 on the side of the house? You mean that tiny, indistinguishable blur?”

      Oh bother, now I’ve gone and admitted I played it on a 360.

  39. mollemannen says:

    hmm perhaps valve will make the next bioshock under water.

  40. sonofsanta says:

    Isn’t that a part of Glados what got thrown in the furnace at the end of Portal 1?

    • Wulf says:

      It’s similar in design but not exactly the same. That’s what makes me think that it’s an Aperture Science-built container for something. It’s driving me crazy that I keep seeing hints about this…

      Maybe they’re baking the potato man. :P

  41. dragonhunter21 says:

    Okay, idea. Reading through the theories on the ARG Wiki, and some guy mentions the MINERVA mods. The MINERVA guy got hired by Valve awhile back, right? Maybe this is his own, new IP.

    Actually, the ARG stuff is oddly reminiscent of the stuff he did back when it was just him working on MINERVA.

    • frymaster says:

      it’s almost definately adam foster doing this ARG. It was confirmed that he did the last one for Valve (or at least contributed to it)

      He was hired to work on portal 2, so a new IP might be doubtful. But if there’s anyone likely to be able to tie the portal games into the half-life series, it’s him.

  42. MadTinkerer says:

    All of the Potato Sack games have been updated. Most of the news updates tease us with vague things like

    “Due to a change of management, the previously instituted magic word has been replaced by that to which you are more traditionally accustomed.”

    But some of them are more explicitly Portal related such as

    “>>>===0| |0===> Soon?”

    The Killing Floor update taunts us with “Silly specimens, I don’t know why I am updating this, you won’t figure it out anyway. You still haven’t solved the last puzzle.” and several of the other updates mention new levels. So I’m installing things furiously and haven’t had a chance to check yet but it seems like:

    There’s Portal themed stuff (levels?) IN EVERY POTATO SACK GAME NOW!?! Accessed once the ARG is solved!? Are any of these levels supposed to be part of the story between the Portal games?!? Furiously installing…

  43. Unaco says:

    It’s a Portal 2 marketing thing, I reckon. No more to it than that, no HL3/Ep3, no new IP.

    • Serenegoose says:

      I don’t really see why it can’t be both. I find it difficult to take the idea that we’re going to be in the Aperture Science labs for the whole duration of the game seriously. Going somewhere with the Borealis makes sense. It can double as a final teaser for portal 2 -and- a teaser for episode 3 at the same time, given how it’s a key linking point of both stories.

    • ErrantConstruct says:

      I agree. It reminds me of the when they “cancelled” their portal 2 event at E3, and everyone got super excited about an Episode 3 announcement only for it to be rather clever marketing thing for portal 2. I’ve personally given up waiting for any news about ep3. If its not more portal 2 stuff, its statistically more likely to be another Left 4 Dead.

    • Bilbo says:

      Or some portal-themed TF2 hats, perhaps

  44. Deano2099 says:

    I know it always comes up and it’s hugely unlikely, but it does fascinate me that Valve have the facility to push out Episode 3 at a moment’s notice whenever they want. And given that it’s just an episode so likely won’t get a regular retail release (or will need bundling with something or other) I sort of figure they’d have to try something like that at some point.

    It’d be interesting to see if the internet buzz generated made up for the lack of marketing in traditional channels…

  45. Ziv says:

    I can’t quite remember, but at the end of ep1 there are these balls being released from the city, they are pretty similar to the image no?

  46. Furius says:

    when that last square is revealed Roy Walker is going to jump out and go “Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight!” eh Brits?

  47. Bilbo says:

    EduGuess: this is all just a way to try and make a game about getting from A to B quickly seem like it has more depth than it does.

    Hurry up and make Episode 3, etc

  48. yhancik says:

    First paragraph is missing so parts.

    From the wiki, so far :

    I release ****ick it’ ahead of schedule. That was a ****. My goal*****to emancipate someth1ng **** early. But they’re on to****

    “I release ****ick it’ ahead of schedule” might be something like “I release it, pick it ahead of schedule”, without would hint at a demo or that “filling the gap between Portal 1 and 2” thing.

    There might be a date hidden in the “strange characters” of the text, possibly “4 15 2011 9 AM”

    • yhancik says:

      Or (suggested by someone on the wiki)
      “I released ‘Kick it’ ahead of schedule. That was a test.”

    • faelnor says:

      Not counting punctuation, the text contains this, in this order :
      4 1 9 2 0 1 1 _ AM = 4 1 5 2 0 1 1 9 AM
      Seems pretty clear to me :)

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Or “Kick It”. As in 123 Kick It! (Drop that beat like an ugly baby)

      Ninja’d twice! :)

  49. deadsexy says:

    Not directly related to this and it may have been posted before, but a digital Portal Comic is supposed to be released today (the first issue of it anyway). There’s more over at IGN (ugh): link to

  50. Gwog says:

    All the Portal 2 ads and ARGs and freeway billboards (I drive past I think four of them on my commute every day) just remind me of how utterly bent I am about the Half Life story and characters being abandoned. The little teases of the primary HL story that are incorporated into the Portal timeline only make this worse.

    I know it’s both curmudgeonly and childish at the same time, but I am absolutely never sending Valve another dime for a game or anything through Steam unless HL is satisfactorily revived.

    Nobody cares, of course, and the world will continue to empty their collective wallets into Valve’s gaping maw, but it’s the only way I can vote. Bah, it’s too bad too because I think Portal is brilliant and would love to enjoy Portal 2.


    • MadTinkerer says:

      I take the opposite view: Gabe has mentioned more than once that they are still working on Episode 3, but that it’s taken “a new direction” and that he “trusts the team”. Which means that when Ep 3 or HL3 or whatever they call it comes out, it should be better than what we originally imagined Ep3 was going to be back in 2007.

      It might not meet everyone’s time-inflated expectations, but I figure they’re at least using the lessons learned in their other games. The emphasis on co-op play in every Valve game since the Orange Box (TF2, L4D 1 & 2, AS and now P2) suggests that there might be co-op campaigns in HL(ep)3. And if not, at least Alyx’s AI will be really smart this time. Also Barney, hopefully.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      I know it’s both curmudgeonly and childish at the same time, but I am absolutely never sending Valve another dime for a game or anything through Steam unless HL is satisfactorily revived.

      I wouldn’t say it was childish. I’d say it was silly and illogical.

      You’ll not buy this one game that you think you’d enjoy because Valve haven’t yet released a different game? That is the very definition of cutting your nose off to spite your face.

      Doubly so as (unless you think Gabe Newell is a bare-faced liar) the HL story hasn’t been abandonned. I’d rather Valve took their time to make something special rather than just knocked out more of the same just to keep the fans happy. It’s not as if Valve is a small company that only has the resources to develop one game at a time.

    • MikoSquiz says:

      Portal 2 is Episode 3.

      Personally, I’d rather see them focus on everything else and leave Half-Life be. It was pretty good back in the day, but back in the day is long gone and the whole Half-Life experience would need a much more drastic overhaul than the one it had between 1 and 2 to be able to compete in the brilliantness stakes with the likes of Half-Life and Team Fortress.

      Ep1 and Ep2 barely moved on from the base game, and to be honest I probably could’ve done without them completely.