Male Pregnancy And Talking Babies: A New TF2 ARG

Damn eagles.

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.

The blood splats also spell out "Tobor"

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.


  1. AmateurScience says:

    As someone who has both played and enjoyed TF2. It strikes me that anyone tempted to play the game now will be absolutely baffled. I am baffled. And vexed.

  2. pakoito says:

    Can this be the tie-in with the HL universe? Gray Mann looks a lot like G-Man: same age-ish, same suit, same poses, similar hair and the intelligence can explain the origins of the Black Mesa/Aperture Science scientific capabilities.

    • ReV_VAdAUL says:

      In a universe as silly as TF2’s I think the intent is a joke or a troll refernce rather than a serious crossover.

      • Smion says:

        Will you still laugh when Episode 3 is released next week, now that the final piece of the puzzle is in place?

        • ReV_VAdAUL says:

          Well I’ll probably laugh with joy because that would be a happy good thing.

          Would that count?

        • diamondmx says:

          This is now fact.
          Someone tell Kotaku!

          • Khymus says:

            Hurry, so they can post about it in a few weeks!

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      phuzz says:

      No, because clearly that mesa is red, not black.

    • JBantha says:

      No , because the comic clearly states some time in the Future, while the Black Mesa/Portal issues occurred decades ago.

  3. Retroflex says:

    I still can’t get over the fact that Valve has somehow managed to create this fantastically weird in-game universe with hilarious background lore and original characters for a multiplayer shooter.

  4. abandonhope says:

    Wow. What?

  5. airtekh says:

    Shameless plug for RPS’s newly-formed TF2 group.

    Event tonight at 9.00pm!

    • Skeletor68 says:

      I second this! (But won’t be there this evening unfortunately…)

  6. The First Door says:

    Might I just say how pleased I am that the Boris Dance from last night is already a thing? Well played, good sir!

  7. Kdansky says:

    That recipe is expensive.

  8. Kollega says:

    Somehow, i… don’t like it. Maybe it’s because i just awoke from a nap, but i don’t like it. The characters are all jerks, and it’s not even all that funny. And most importantly, it somehow feels… “off”. Nominally it’s still spy fiction, like in the beginning, but it’s just too odd, even for a James Bond-style story.

    Well, at least the ARG actually leads to something this time, revealing it when players uncover it and not when Valve decides.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      I think if it had just stayed spy fiction it might have grown stale. Instead, it has grown into something different, something more unique and its own thing.

  9. KindredPhantom says:

    This may be the thing that tempts me back into playing TF2 a lot more than the hour or so every couple of weeks.

  10. Unaco says:

    I’m quite impressed by Valve. From that Mann v Machine video, it looks like this has been hinted at and teased out over the course of 2 years or so, only culminating now with the ‘G Mann’ stuff. Makes me think what other plans and threads Valve might have going on… what other things might be out there that we might have missed.

    Bravo to Valve on this, and the people who worked out the ARG.

    • Cooper says:

      Make that teased over 5 years. 3 years since the will first appeared…

  11. Latenius says:

    Valve is the best. Period. Non-arguable.

  12. Cooper says:

    You might want ot note that the will as it appeared referrig to Gray Mann fills in an area covered by gravel from the pumpkinpatch update:
    link to
    Which is from 2009.

    There are also hints of robot heads and parts in the meet-the-engineer video.
    Which is from 2007…

  13. RogB says:

    Havent played TF2 since the store got added, but I do enjoy the ARG stuff that Valve seem to do so well.

    Im always impressed at the level the community go to and work together to solve these, but i’ll only ever be a spectator (its limited to a subset of far, far cleverer folk than I)

    Imagine if you could use this kind of ‘crowdsolving’ for some practical real world use. I have no idea what that might be, but it would be cool.

  14. LionsPhil says:

    Well, if Red and Blu are now dead, I guess that means they’re shutting down the game and de-authenticating it from everyone’s Steam accounts, because the endless feud is over.


    • diamondmx says:

      No, they’re just going to make the bodies into hats. Then the hats will fight.

      Edit: Now I’ve imagined it, I actually want one.

    • BluElement says:

      Except Red and Blu are not dead yet. You must’ve missed the little caption in the comic saying “…in the future”.

  15. S Jay says:

    Devs on acid.

  16. Ultra Superior says:


  17. caddyB says:

    I’d like to play this game, but everyone is lightyears ahead of me so there isn’t much point, is there?

    • Skabooga says:

      I’d say you could still give it a shot if you wanted to. Especially with it being free, you have nothing to lose but your time. I’ve found most people in the game are quite forgiving of skill level, especially in servers with established communities, and I just learned in a comment above that RPS has a TF2 group again and they are having an event tonight, and that would be as good a place as any to give it a shot. Most of the basic skills and mechanics of other first person shooters are transferable. A lot of TF2 is simply seeing which class is needed for the situation at hand, and that is pretty easy to pick up after a few hours.

      I’d say start off with playing the medic or heavy, both of them are pretty straight-forward classes. As you grow more comfortable, branch out and see what the other classes are like.

    • ata says:

      Playing as a medic until you learn the ropes is solid advice, you will be helping your side alot more as a medic than any other class, it won’t take long to learn how the other classes play as you’re healing them and don’t worry about your K/D ratio!

      I can also heartily recommend the RPS TF2 group, it’s a friendly mix of new & experienced players.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      One of the great things about TF2 is that is doesn’t matter how good you are, or if you end up high on the scoreboard or not (people only see the first three briefly at the end of the round). I often play late at night after work, sleepy and tired, meaning I’m completely crap. No one cares.

    • JBantha says:

      I’ve played for two years and thrust me: time means nothing in this game. Specially without levels.

  18. somnolentsurfer says:

    Impressed that you managed to get Boris Johnson dancing into that story.

  19. Roshin says:

    Pure brilliance. No other dev even comes close.

  20. LionsPhil says:

    Only a single page of comments for a new TF2 comic.

    That sexism post sure took its toll.