On March 1st and March 3, 2010, Portal was updated to feature parts of an eventually highly successful alternate reality game (or ARG) to promote its sequel, Portal 2, leading gamers and journalists to postulate that an announcement for Portal 2 or Half-Life 2: Episode Three might soon be made, until Portal 2 was announced on March 5, 2010 for release in Q4 2010.
The ARG was created solely by Portal 2’s development team; there was no marketing team behind it. While it mostly promotes their game, it was also seen as an effective way to extend the Portal universe, and make the Portal fans as part of the game. In 2011, it was followed by another Portal 2-themed ARG, the PotatoFoolsDay ARG.
March 1, 2010
At 2:33 pm PST on March 1st, 2010, the first update to Portal was made, with the description "Changed radio transmission frequency to comply with federal and state spectrum management regulations". It consisted of an additional Achievement, "Transmission Received". Playing Portal reveals the game now has a total of 26 radios (including the ones already present before the update) playing in the Test Chambers, always in an area more or less difficult to reach (but given to the player by the music playing), and with a red sprite added to the switch. The radio transmission frequency is also said to have been changed, "to comply with federal and state
spectrum management regulations", as said in the update. In-game, the radio must each time be moved in a particular spot of the Test Chamber. When doing so, the music will be scrambled by interferences, then Morse code or data transmission sounds will be heard, and the red sprite will turn green. To be made in each Test Chamber, finding all radios and jamming the transmission will unlock the new Achievement, "Transmission Received", although its description is simply "..?". The presence of these new radios seen through the Enrichment Center are likely non canonical, as they only serve the ARG. They may even be removed later.
The 26 Radio Sounds
The sounds added in the March 1st, 2010 update can be found in the folder "ambient" in the Portal sound files. They all bear the prefix "dinosaur". They include "dinosaur1" to "dinosaur26", used for each changed transmission, "dinosaur_noise.wav", for when the music is scrambled, and "dinosaur_fizzle.wav", as well as "dinosaur_fizzle2.wav" and "dinosaur_fizzle3.wav" (added in the March 3, 2010 update), when the radio goes through a Material Emancipation Grid. Most sounds from "dinosaur1" to "dinosaur26" contain a hidden image that can be viewed in an SSTV software (Judith Mossman also hid images in her Borealis transmission, but she did not use the same system) - somewhat similar to the images seen on GLaDOS's screens at the end of
Portal, the others contain Morse code (some of them also reveal voice chatter and music after clean up, possibly contained in a second layer). The name "dinosaur" may be a reference to the book Dinosaur Alphabet, by Harry S. Robins, notable voice actor for the Half-Life series, emphasized by the fact that there are 26 main sounds, which is also the total number of the alphabet letters, or a reference to the "dinosauric" (archaic) nature of the technology used (the Morse code and SSTV technologies) compared to today's standards.
When the update was applied, many players launched Portal to see what it was about, and slowly discovered how it consisted in-game, then soon began to investigate the radio sound files on the Steam forums, which led to many intriguing finds.
|Sound File||Type||Picture/Morse Code||Description/Translation|
|dinosaur1.wav||Morse Code||.. -. - . .-. .. --- .-. / - .-. .- -. ... -- .. ... ... .. --- -. / .- -.-. - .. ...- . --..-- / . -..- - . .-. -. .- .-.. / -.. .- - .- / .-.. .. -. . / .- -.-. - .. ...- . --..-- / -- . ... ... .- --. . / -.. .. --. . ... - / .- -.-. - .. ...- .||"interior transmission active, external data line active, message digest active"|
|dinosaur2.wav||Picture||Contains the alphanumerics "3068". The images are of a sheet of paper with "B.dA = 3" written on it, the three others are images of a black keyboard.|
|dinosaur3.wav||Picture||A sheet of paper with the Aperture Laboratories header above, and the crossed out BBS number, identified as "(425) 822-5251".|
|dinosaur4.wav||Picture||Contains the alphanumerics "C8C2". The first C is written on a yellow sheet of paper, 8 on a 8 ball, the second C on a white keyboard, and the 2 is apparently the half of a 24 on a cap.|
|dinosaur5.wav||Morse Code||----. . .---- ----- --... -.. ----. -.. ...-- --... ..--- -... -... -.... ---.. ..--- .---- -... -.. ----. .---- -.. ...-- ..... ....- ..--- .- ....- .---- ----. -.. -....||Translates as "9E107D9D372BB6821BD91D3542A419D6", the MD5 hash of "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog", the infamous pangram used to test typewriters and computer keyboards.|
|dinosaur6.wav||Picture||Portion of the ASCII image of GLaDOS.|
|dinosaur7.wav||Picture||Contains the alphanumerics "128B". Reuses the sheet of paper of "dinosaur2.wav". The other images are again keyboards.|
|dinosaur8.wav||Picture||The back of a computer case, with the fan location clearly visible.|
|dinosaur9.wav||Picture||A skull, possibly from a painting.|
|dinosaur10.wav||Picture||Another view of the sheet of paper with the BBS number.|
|dinosaur11.wav||Picture||Possibly bulbs and a ceramic rooster.|
|dinosaur12.wav||Morse Code||... -.-- ... - . -- / -.. .- - .- / -.. ..- -- .--. / .- -.-. - .. ...- . --..-- / ..- ... . .-. / -... .- -.-. -.- ..- .--. / .- -.-. - .. ...- . --..-- / .--. .- ... ... .-- --- .-. -.. / -... .- -.-. -.- ..- .--. / .- -.-. - .. ...- .||Translates as "system data dump active, user backup active, password backup active". It includes the username ("backup") and password ("backup" again) to login to the BBS number (425) 822-5251.|
|dinosaur13.wav||Picture||Contains the alphanumerics "D4FD". Features several sheets filled with math formulas. The red F is reversed.|
|dinosaur14.wav||Picture||Unknown subject seen through a telescope or a similar device.|
|dinosaur15.wav||Picture||A toy cow.|
|dinosaur16.wav||Picture||Contains the alphanumerics "7CC6". Reuses the two "dinosaur4.wav" Cs. The numbers are written on a blackboard with a chalk.|
|dinosaur17.wav||Morse Code||-... . . .--. / -... . . . .--. / -... . . .--. / -... . . .--. / -... . . . .--. / -... . . . .--. / -... . . . .--. / -... . . .--. / -... . . . .--. / -... . . .--. / -... . . .--.||Translates as "BEEP BEEEP BEEP BEEP BEEEP BEEEP BEEEP BEEP BEEEP BEEP BEEP", in turn translating as "LOL".|
|dinosaur18.wav||Picture||Contains the alphanumerics "9459". The 9 is on a white keyboard, the 4 is the same as in "dinosaur13.wav", the 5 is apparently on an old typewriter keyboard, and the 9 is written on a blackboard.|
|dinosaur19.wav||Picture||Encrypted phone numbers written in a way similar to the Portal credits.|
|dinosaur20.wav||Picture||Contains the alphanumerics "03B8". Reuses the 0 from "dinosaur2.wav". The 8 is likely on the same sheet featuring the 4 in "dinosaur13.wav" and "dinosaur18.wav". Each image contains the Aperture Science "aperture" logo on the bottom left.|
|dinosaur21.wav||Picture||Aperture Laboratories white lab coat, with the collar on the left.|
|dinosaur22.wav||Picture||Reversed image of the inertial navigation system for the Apollo Guidance Computer taken at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, found at Adam Foster's Flickr account.|
|dinosaur23.wav||Picture||The edge of a circuit board of Herbert, a robot built at MIT in 1987, also taken at the MIT Museum, and also found at Adam Foster's Flickr account. The robot head also found at Foster's Flickr account does not belong to Herbert but another MIT robot named Kismet.|
|dinosaur24.wav||Picture||A mouse trap.|
|dinosaur25.wav||Picture||Contains the alphanumerics "C6CA". Reuses the same C as "dinosaur4.wav" and "dinosaur16.wav", and the same 6 as "dinosaur2.wav".|
|dinosaur26.wav||Picture||Unknown subject seen through a telescope or a similar device, as in "dinosaur14.wav".|
The Circled Numbers
The "dinosaur" images 2, 4, 7, 13, 16, 18, 20 25 (or as easily seen here: (425) 822-5251) are each cut into four images, each containing an alphanumeric highlighted or circled, and each with a number from 1 to 32 in the bottom right. Put in the order given in the bottom right numbers, these images will give: "9459 C6CA C8C2
03B8 128B 7CC6 3068 D4FD". This string is the MD5 hash (the encrypted code) of a BBS number, "(425) 822-5251", registered to an unpublished landline in Kirkland, a Seattle suburb where Valve was founded. A BBS (bulletin board system) is some sort of predecessor to the Internet, popular from the late 1970s to the mid 1990s. When connecting to a particular number using a terminal program, users could download and upload software, send e-mails, chat, play games, etc. Upon calling the number using a BBS software and a 56k modem (calling the number with a standard telephone or with a broadband connection will not yield any results), the user is presented with a login prompt that reads "GLaDOS login:". Then, entering the username ("backup") and password ("backup" again) given in "dinosaur12.wav"’s Morse code will show the BBS identification, "APERTURE LABORATORIES GLaDOS v3.11", followed by "COPYRIGHT (c) 1973-1997 APERTURE - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED" (updating GLaDOS's
most known recent version, v1.09, dated 1982, found on ApertureScience.com). It has been speculated that "3.11" may be referring to March 11, 2010, when Gabe Newell was awarded the Pioneer Award during the Game Choice Awards, and that he would reveal more information on Portal 2 that day, which was more or less proven to be true. (see below)
What follows is what seems to be a random file dump, consisting of ASCII art images and memorandums seemingly written by Aperture Science CEO and founder Cave Johnson. (For more details, see the complete list below.) If left idle for 4 minutes, the user is presented with a warning that reads "Hey! Please login now. You have one minute left.". If left idle for another minute, the message "Your login time (5 minutes) ran out. Goodbye.", and it disconnects. The BBS appears to be the most important part of the puzzle, as almost everything stemmed from it.
The following disclaimer will also show upon connecting: "This computer system is for authorized use only. The use of this facility may be monitored for computer security purposes. Any unauthorized access to this system is prohibited and is subject to criminal and civil penalties under Federal Laws including but not limited to Public Laws 83-703 and 99-474." It appears to reuse and adapt the actual disclaimer "Information from this server resides on a computer funded by a U.S. Government agency. The use of this system may be monitored for computer security purposes. Any unauthorized access to this system is prohibited and is subject to criminal and civil penalties under Federal Laws including but not limited to Public Laws 83-703 and 99-474."
March 3, 2010
At 2:24 pm PST on March 3, 2010, Portal was updated a second time, with the description "Added valuable asset retrieval". making further changes to the game. The game's original ending was expanded,
having, instead of a direct fadeout, Chell being dragged back inside the facility by a Party Escort Bot, thanking her for assuming the party escort submission position, an event initially cut from the game's release, and bridging the gap between Portal and Portal 2, where Chell is again in the Enrichment Center. Two new "dinosaur_fizzle" sounds, "dinosaur_fizzle2.wav" and "dinosaur_fizzle3.wav", were also added. According to Valve's Jason Holtman, changing the Portal ending was not decided until a fews days before the start of the ARG, and the versatility of the PC platform greatly helped its inclusion.
Changes to: (425) 822-5251
March 3 also saw changes made to the file dump accessed with (425) 822-5251: at approximately 2:15 pm PST (thus around 10 minutes before the second Portal update) a new prompt appeared. It included a progress bar counting from 00 to 76, the words "VALUABLE ASSET RETRIEVAL INITIATED" (suggesting the BBS itself dispatched the Party Escort Bot), and an ETA changing seemingly randomly, displaying sometimes humorous ETAs such as "2797 millennia", "43 femtoseconds (or smaller)", "about seven", "96 fortnights", "Late Eocene", "91 weeks 46 days 95 hours (approximately)", "5321 millennia", "1946 geological eras", "66 femtoseconds (or
smaller)", "last Thursday (except on weekends)", "next Tuesday (unless otherwise redetermined)", "12:00 am February 30th, 15,354 BC", "Early December, Furongian Epoch", "39 cubic steradians", "after the heat-death of the universe", "89 inverse acers (unless otherwise redetermined)", "Y2K", "91 weeks", "2871 geological eras", "49 weeks", "Early Precambrian", "64 months 10 months 45 months (exactly)", "4781 millennia", "late evening, early Ordovician", "100 inverse acres (unless otherwise redetermined)", "Cave Johnson's birthday", "more like six days", "when the cows come home", "68 fortnights", "36 days before next Saturday", or "precisely", probably referencing the Valve Time. The progress bar was actually a countdown to Portal 2's official release announcement. It completed at 10:04 am PST on March 5, 20 minutes after the announcement on Steam.
March 5, 2010
The New BBS Pictures
At 9:44 am PST on March 5, 2010 (20 minutes before the completion of the progress bar), Portal 2 was officially announced on Steam, with several alphanumerics underlined in the text:
Valve, creators of best-selling game franchises (such as Left 4 Dead, Counter-Strike and Half-Life) and leading technologies (such as Steam and Source), today announced Portal 2 for shipment this coming holiday season.
Portal 2 is the sequel to 2007's Portal, which won 70 industry achievement awards.
For more information, please visit www.steamgames.com
When reorganized together, these letters give the words "drattmann" and "h0nee", which are a second set of username and password for the BBS number (425) 822-5251. Upon entering them, new ASCII art images were shown, along with code prefaced by the header "APERTURE IMAGE FORMAT (c) 1985".
After the completion of the progress bar, logging back to the "backup" account gave access to the source code of a QBasic program to decode the new code retrieved with the "drattmann" account, actually consisting of two new images. When running the program, the first image is shown (its name is unknown so far). It consists of a blue text on a grey background, headed by the Aperture Laboratories logo: "Thank you for participating in
the trial phase of the Aperture Science Cooperative Testing Initiative. Because of your success, we are moving forward with this project. You will be contacted when the live fire phase of the Cooperative Testing Initiative is ready to accept applicants." Pressing "9" will exit the program, "1" will launch the second image (its name is "SIGN"). This image consists of two stick figures with the thumbs up, one with its arm around the neck of the other, on a red background, with the text "Cooperative Trial Completed" under them. "9" is the only available key, and again will exit the program. To go back to the first image, one has to reboot the program.
These two images use the Aperture Image Format, an interactive graphics format created in 1985 and as recent as 1987 (as seen in the source code of the program, headed by "COPYRIGHT (c) APERTURE LABORATORIES 1985-1987"), and maintained by Doug Rattmann, owner of the "drattmann" account, again as seen in the source code of the program. The Aperture Image Format consists of two files types: "AMF", or "Aperture Menu Format", determining what buttons are displayed in each APF image file (they can range from 1 to 9), along with the data these buttons contain and what colors the image is given, and "APF", "Aperture Picture Format", containing image data. All AMF and APF files must be stored in a directory named "DATA". In the case of the two images revealed by the BBS, "Exit" and "Next" are the AMF files, and the images themselves are the APF files.
The "Aperture Science Cooperative Testing Initiative" is apparently part of the co-op gameplay that will be
featured in Portal 2, as Portal 2 itself is called "Cooperative Portal Testing Initiative" in the "Portal is Free" video promoting Portal being free from May 12 to May 24, 2010. "Aperture Science Cooperative Testing Initiative" and "Cooperative Portal Testing Initiative" are probably the same thing, and its trial phase ("Cooperative Trial", or the ARG itself) probably refers to the collective effort of the fanbase at solving the puzzles presented in the ARG, being itself a co-op game. The two APF images apparently represent the conclusion of a sequence, suggesting more images might exist (such as "APERTURE.APF", that should be the first file of the sequence) and be revealed in the future.
March 11, 2010
GLaDOS's 1997 version, "3.11" - or "March 11", revealed by the BBS number), until he announced he was going to answer some of the unanswered questions fans might have regarding the ARG. Then he launched a slideshow where those answers were supposedly to be found, only to have it "crash" to a Blue Screen of Death after he said "This isn't working". A normal one first showed up, then another came, sparking boos then applause in the assembly, as it revealed this crash was intended, and part of the ARG. Following the fake crash, he joked by saying "That's what I get for working at Microsoft", then simply thanked everybody and his wife, and finally added "Good luck figuring it out" before leaving.
The message in that second BSOD was headed by GlaDOS' name, followed by a seemingly standard "fatal exception" message. In that message were actually letters hidden behind their Hexadecimal counterparts, that, after being converted to EBCDIC, resulted in the series "SUSPENDUNTILEEE", thus "suspended until E3", suggesting that no further word about Portal 2 would come from Valve before E3 2010 in June 2010.
June 1, 2010
A cryptic e-mail was sent to members of the press claiming that the Portal 2 World Premiere, scheduled for June 14th at E3, was canceled for a "surprise":
Dear Subject Name Here,
Aperture Science is pleased to inform you that we have partnered with Valve to announce the gala CANCELLATION of the June 14 Portal 2 event at the Regal Theater. The event will be replaced by a surprise. And even though the cancellation of the event certainly counts as a surprise, we are pleased to further announce that the cancellation of the event is not THE surprise. However, per International treaties regarding the definition of the word "surprise", of which both Aperture Science and Valve are signatories, the time, date and content of the actual surprise will only become available as you experience the surprise.
If you'd like to ask fruitless questions about the E3 Portal 2 surprise or, more fruitfully, schedule an appointment to attend a Portal 2 screening at the Valve booth during E3, please contact Valve's Special Envoy to Surprises, Doug Lombardi.
Thank you for **RECORD SCRATCH!!!**
PS: The surprising record scratch is also not the surprise.
June 9, 2010
While unrelated to the ARG, June 9 saw the announcement of a delay in Portal 2's release, being moved from Autumn 2010 to 2011.
June 15, 2010
On June 15, 2010, the second day of E3 2010, Portal 2 was shown as originally planned, but only in Valve's booth, as suggested in the June 1 message. As for the cryptic surprise, it was revealed to be Portal 2 coming to PlayStation 3, (despite Gabe Newell's initial reluctance at developing their games for that console), announced by Newell himself during Sony's conference. This is likely why the game is delayed, to the disappointment of PC, Mac and Xbox 360 players.
While the ARG is probably over, it was revealed that several bits already released so far have not been discovered yet.
What follows is the list of each resource obtained in the BBS dump from March 1st to March 5, containing ASCII art images, memos, and Aperture Image Format resources, listed per their resource name
order (they were not obtained in that order, rather revealed randomly), and accompanied by their original version when available. Each resource is preceded by a line where can be found an error/warning message, then a line featuring the message "BEGIN RECORD", followed by the resource name in a path starting by "C:\" (the letter commonly use to identify the first active primary partition of a computer), and the resource size, in bytes. Each resource is then followed by the message "RECORD ENDS".
|ASCII Picture||Regular Picture||Resource Name||Pre-Display Error Message||Type||Description/Transcription|
The error/warning messages and resource names of a resource were always identical each time it was checked by someone. The same error/warning messages are also sometimes used for several resources, suggesting a possible relation between them. Some error/warning messages such as "CAUTION: NOT IN THE MOOD (ABEND 984)" or "ERROR: NO ERROR DETECTED" are sometimes rather peculiar, may they have a meaning or not.
During that part of the ARG, most images were modified by gamers in image editing programs to help identify them, with noise reduction or added colors. The only changes made to the images provided here are cropping and changes in orientation.
After E3, a new ARG, the PotatoFoolsDay ARG, succeeded to the original ARG. Instead of relying on the BBS and the original Portal, this new ARG relied on several indie games, found on Steam as the pack The Potato Sack and all getting an update for the occasion, and where potatoes were to be collected to reboot GLaDOS, among other things.
On April 19, 2011, Portal 2 was released, ending the second ARG, and answering many questions revealed in both ARGs, as text or images.