Solving the Portal Mystery

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Kumba

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I don't know how many here have played the popular game "Portal" before, but Valve, the game's maker, just dropped a clever one on everyone. I'm still getting the pieces together, but they basically released an update today with some kind of "message" in it.

From what I'm reading (Haven't re-installed/updated the game yet to try it myself), they added small radios in the game that, when taken to certain spots, play a unique set of sounds. Everything from morse code to other strange noises.

Turns out, the sounds actually have image data encoded into them, ala slow-scan television. I'm not sure what some of the images mean, but one of them has a telephone number in it that's tied to an old-school BBS system that a few people are trying to log into to with little luck. Some think there are other old radio tricks being used to masquerade some of the information, including a possible FM broadcast near Valve HQ in the Bellvue/Seattle area, so I thought I'd open a thread here and see if anyone wants to take some cracks at unlocking the mystery.

Information is available in the two threads below:
Mystery Achievement added to Portal, patch notes updated to include "Changed radio transmission frequency to comply with federal and state spectrum management regulations" : gaming
Radio Sounds - Images processed! - Steam Users' Forums
 

kb2vxa

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"I'm not sure what some of the images mean, but one of them has a telephone number in it that's tied to an old-school BBS system that a few people are trying to log into to with little luck."
Not surprising since dial up modems went the way of the dinosaurs and the Hayes manual long forgotten. One needs a terminal program and the knowledge of how to write command strings just to dial in and log on, something ISP software writers were doing since AOL was in diapers in order to make the internet "user friendly" and users no longer needed to learn these things. On the other hand as far as I know the last BBS bit the dust more than 20 years ago so this could be a dead end, just a prank intended to frustrate.

It seems to me this game is loaded with Easter eggs, far more than the one or few usually stuck in just for giggles. You might find this site useful since eggs seem to be an interest.
Easter Eggs - Eeggs.com
 

Kumba

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"I'm not sure what some of the images mean, but one of them has a telephone number in it that's tied to an old-school BBS system that a few people are trying to log into to with little luck."
Not surprising since dial up modems went the way of the dinosaurs and the Hayes manual long forgotten. One needs a terminal program and the knowledge of how to write command strings just to dial in and log on, something ISP software writers were doing since AOL was in diapers in order to make the internet "user friendly" and users no longer needed to learn these things. On the other hand as far as I know the last BBS bit the dust more than 20 years ago so this could be a dead end, just a prank intended to frustrate.

It seems to me this game is loaded with Easter eggs, far more than the one or few usually stuck in just for giggles. You might find this site useful since eggs seem to be an interest.
Easter Eggs - Eeggs.com
"loaded with easter eggs" is an understatement...The game is an absolute gem to play, albeit short (one can beat it in ~4-5 hours). It's picked up a cult-like following now, due to the quirky, off-beat humour used in it. But it came out in ~2007, and people have been clamouring for a sequel ever since.

It's the latest update that Valve put out that's been bugging people. The patch on Steam (the online service used to download the game) stated that the update "Changed radio transmission frequency to comply with federal and state spectrum management regulations". Leading many to believe that somewhere at the end of this "puzzle", Valve may have set something up dealing with radio tech. Supposedly, one of the Valve employees is an old school HAM radio guy or something (lots of speculation here -- not a lot of concrete info).

Since this dealt possibly with radio, and people already found SSTV-encoded images, I figured a few folks here might have thoughts to lend into solving the mystery (it's taken the Net by storm). Whether it really does rely on anything radio beyond the morse code and SSTV-encoded images, is anyone's guess.

As for the BBS, it actually dumps out ASCII art related to the game, but no one knows what the art really means:
http://img63.imageshack.us/img63/9306/portalasciilarge2.png

A much smaller article covering the backstory of this mystery is here on ArsTechnica (it beats reading 50+ pages of mindless forum threads:
Valve mystifies gamers with Portal update

Project Wiki to track updates/ideas on solving this mystery. RR members are probably more interested in the audio parts, so visit the link "Possible second layer of sounds" -- the bit about the second data/audio layer is really interesting. I just switched one of the waveforms over to spectral view in an old copy of Cool Edit 2000, and it definitely highlights out a bright band of something. Anyone got thoughts on how one might isolate such a waveform or such to determine what it could be?
http://pugsoft.info/radio/
 
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MrJimmo

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Love it. Maybe it turns out to be a really complex "Drink your Ovaltine", but I like seeing the resourcefulness of group-think....it's not always a bad thing :)

I did grab that sound from y-tube. Nothing obvious on spectrum analysis, but band EQ reveals a few spoken words buried in the audio. Phonetically, it sounded like "power of 61" but then again, some folks hear ghost voices in white noise if they listen hard enough :lol:
 

kb2vxa

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That could explain EVP. (;->) Here's a thought, since one of the developers is a ham and SSTV images have already been discovered how about a few common digital modes? Just looking at waveforms and audio spectrum doesn't say much, some of those sounds may be narrow band digital modes and I mean narrow, for example 50bd PSK occupies only a few hertz making it nearly transparent to the human ear.

Drink your Ovaltine? I may be cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs but I'll bet when all is said and done the answer is 42.
 

Kumba

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