I usually watch Valve TF2 ARGs unraveling like this, but I’ve sworn off the game so I’m instead a bit sad. Over the weekend the developers famous for the Valve Complete Pack and Counter-Strike: Deleted Scenes began a TF2 ARG that they feared was so difficult that the community might struggle to untangle their ridiculous clues. Just to be cool and sexy, the community cracked it in 12 hours. This is extraordinary stuff.
Valve began their obscure game of internet tag by updating the TF2 homepage with two tiny blood splats on the logo. It lead to a letter that added a little bit of information to the TF2 lore: we already know that the Red and Blu teams fight on the sides of Redmond Mann and Blutarch Mann. This note added a third brother into the family gene pool: Gray Mann. It also noted that upon birth he was, er, stolen by an eagle. The other splat updated the will of daddy Zephaniah Mann, pointing out that Gray was alive and is now blackmailing his father for control of his special gravel. Look, I’m not making this up.
So far so not even remotely complicated. Well when the site updated, so did the game. The Capacitor, an item added during the Pyromania update, was made equipable and the High-Five taunt was updated. Players figured out that having the capacitor equipped while high-fiving spat out a joke listing in-game items: “Did you hear the story from 1306 where Enormous Haunted Eyeball, Dr. Whoa, Familiar Fez, Dispenser, Private Eye, Direct Hit, Googly Gazer, Kukri, and the Administrator walked into a bar?”
The joke spat out different years and different items, and people started collating them. The theory was put forward that the jokes represented a file. Now I can’t even begin to explain this bit with any degree of authority, but this Google Doc has all you need to know. TL;DR – the community: “figured out that one could attach an alphanumeric index value to each item (item aaa – 1, item aab – 2, etc.). By taking these values and plugging them into the separate columns (one for every class in TF2), these values began to take various shapes, like links, C++ code, and PNG files.”
Each class had a file, and almost all the files represented a word. Through QR codes, ASCII art, sound files and C++ this list was discovered:
Scout – “Adult”
Soldier – “Councilman”
Pyro – “Baboon”
Demo – “Apollo”
Heavy – “Goldfish”
Engi – “Resistor”
Medic – “Goggles”
Sniper – “Unicorn”
The Spy didn’t have a word. Instead his column lead to this zip file.
It was discovered the words were from the Pretty Good Privacy word list and produced this hexadecimal code: 053B140A6EC56DEC. It unlocked the Spy’s file, which led to this crafting recipe.
Crafting that recipe generated a link to the TF2 site, revealing a comic that introduced Gray Mann. You can read it here.
This leads to, well, nothing else. The comic is the culmination. It ties into the game’s ever-crazier lore. If Red and Blu are factions then there’s speculation that Gray will be added, potentially as the heavily hinted robots in the Mann Vs Machine update, the two teams possibly teaming up to save Saxton Hale from Gray’s robotic minions. But I’ve given up even trying to guess what the Alien Swarm developers are going to do next: that comic introduces eagles, the Alamo, male-pregenancy, and talking babies into the Manniverse. I’m just along for the ride.