It started almost two months ago when Valve suddenly patched their nearly three-year-old game Portal. Which in itself wasn’t that strange parhaps, but the description for the patch was particularly cryptic:
“Changed radio transmission frequency to comply with federal and state spectrum management regulations”
Chasing after a new achievement the people playing Portal soon found that there were radios placed in all the levels that you could carry around and if you carried it to a certain spot then the radio would start transmitting these strange sounds. Some of them sounding like morse code, but others sounding more like modem sounds. Here’s a video of the radio in the first level:
This spawned a huge buzz where both the Steam Community and the Something Awful communities raced to be the first to crack the clues.
Not content to try and find all 26 radio signals first people started digging for the sound files in the game’s data. The morse code sound files were quickly translated (the first one apparently translating to “interior transmission active external data line active message digest active”, the second one to “System Data DUMP Active User Back Up Active Password Back Up Active” and the third to “BEEP BEEEP BEEP BEEP BEEEP BEEEP BEEEP BEEP BEEEP BEEP BEEP” which in turn translates to “LOL”), but the other sounds where more of a problem.
Until someone found out that they were Slow-scan television transmissions. Piping the sound files through SSTV software produced a number of images (here put together into one image):
Speculation was now completely throguh the roof. What could this mean? Many people thought that it hinted at Portal 2, but a lot of people thought that it might be a hint to Episode 3 instead (and some thought that it meant both).
But that wasn’t the end of it yet. People found that the numbers circled in the pictures turned out to be an MD5 hash, which translated into phone number for a BBS. People tried to call the number, some people living in the area even tried to go to where they thought the BBS was located, but without success. After all, you need the correct hardware/software and the correct settings to connect to an old-style BBS. Once successfully connected the BBS asked for a username and password, which was provided by the morse code sound files.
When logging in the BBS started spewing a lot of ASCII images (as I understand different people got different portions). These too have been put together into an image, but since it’s rather big I wan’t embed it here and just point you to the link.
People immediately started speculating what that all meant, the thoughts that it must refer to Portal 2 mounting (considering that the ASCII seemed to show images of GLaDOS and various other Portal-related things). Then there was this image:
Which seemed to be an image of Chell (Portal’s protagonist).
There was another patch though, with the description:
“Added valuable asset retrieval”
People playing the game soon found that the ending has changed ever so slightly. To contrast, here is the original ending:
And here is the new ending (I assume that everything after the first fade is stillt he same, just not included in this video):
Then the reveal came as people noticed the cover of the next GameInformer magazine:
That very clearly says “Portal 2”. And indeed, once people got their hands on the magazine it listed a lot of details about the game. You can read a transcription of the article and see scans from the magazine at Portal Wiki. There’s a lot of details in there (which I won’t repeat here), so I highly recommend reading it if you’re interested in Portal 2.
Here’s the short version from IGN:
March 9, 2010 - Recently we learned that the massively popular game Portal would be receiving a sequel this year. Now, in the latest issue of Game Informer magazine we've been given some solid details about the release.
Doug Lombardi the Vice President of Marketing at Valve says of the first game: "Portal was so short because it was a trial…" Now they are working on the sequel which is reported to be a full length, full price release that will be available this fall.
A recent update to the first game made a subtle change to the ending that leads into the sequel. After the main character Chell was ejected from the Aperture lab where she was held captive, her unconscious body was dragged away by unseen antagonists. Portal 2 takes place hundreds of years after this incident, with Chell mysteriously intact.
Along with the return of her nemesis, the artificial intelligence named GLaDOS the main character will run into other personality cores throughout the decaying wreckage of the Aperture Science facility. These are small AI personalities in a box that will guide and accompany players as they face off against GLaDOS once again.
According to Game Informer, physics will play heavily into the new puzzles. There are Vital Apparatus Vents that create whirlwinds that can suck up objects and there are tractor beams that can transport objects through the air. Other new elements include lasers, catapults, and pneumatic tubes. There is also a way for players to coat surfaces with colors that imbue a surface with special properties. For example, if players cover a surface in orange paint it will give anyone who walks over it a speed boost. A blue coating causes normal surfaces to become bouncy. Other colors and effects are likely.
The sequel will also feature a full-length co-op campaign. It is part of the main game's narrative but don't expect to see another human join Chell. There are two new bots featured in Portal 2 that a second player can choose from as they join the game using either a split-screen display or an online match. The co-op is made to be more challenging and both players will have to work together to solve the puzzles. Valve, is reported to be working on a way for players to tag their environment with visual cues so that they can help guide their co-op partners actions with something more than their voice.
Finally, Valve has confirmed that Jonathan Coulton, the man responsible for the tune "Still Alive" has returned to work on the sequel. So not only will we have a new set of mind bending puzzles, but it's likely that we'll have a new song stuck in our heads as well.
That wasn’t quite all yet though. When GDC came along Valve had a few more things left. First of all, Gabe Newell noted that Portal 2 will take the concept “big”:
Valve boss Gabe Newell’s told 1UP that a Portal sequel will allow the studio to take the entire concept and explore it on a much grander scale.
“One of the nice things about The Orange Box was it allowed us to try out a couple of different things, and Portal really seemed to resonate,” Newell said, speaking at GDC.
“We got the signals that we wanted – this is what people liked; this is what people didn’t like. And to us, it was like, ‘OK, now we know how to take this big,’ so that’s what we’re going to do with Portal 2.”
The original Portal lasted only 3-4 hours.
The sequel was teased and finally announced last week, and will release as a full-price product towards the end of the year. Newell reckons it’ll be a new benchmark for the company.
“It’s the best game we’ve ever done,” he added.
It’s a PC, Mac and 360 release.
You can read the entire (short) interview at 1UP.
But the last thing was that during Gabe Newell’s presentation at GDC he suddenly got a blue screen of death. And not just any one, but a GLaDOS one:
The hex numbers on the screen were then in turn translated to:
“SUSPENDUNTILEEE” (Suspend Until E3)
In other words, there won’t be more until E3.
GameInformer did have a little bit more left, though not for the ARG. First they have an article on Chell’s redesign where Valve’s artist explains their choices. Here’s an excerpt:
We sort of agreed that as a character Chell was really successful in the first Portal. She fit into the world really well and complemented it without the distractions that a more flashy character would bring. She served a utilitarian purpose for that game, but at the same time when we started out on Portal 2 we weren't sure if we wanted to bring her back. So we explored a few other characters before returning to Chell.
GameInformer also has a history on Aperture Science. The article lists the (fictional) history of the company. Here’s the introduction:
Given the state of the Aperture Science Laboratories in Portal 2, it’s easy to say that the facility has seen better days. Valve has promised that players will have significant opportunities to poke around behind the scenes of the dilapidated testing facility and gain a better glimpse at the organization's eccentric origins, but you don’t need to wait till Portal 2 hits retail to learn more about Aperture Science. Valve crafted a fictional history for Aperture while working on Portal 1 – a history filled with shower curtains, a foundation that steals wishes from terminally ill children, and the birth of the Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System. Read on for the complete history of Aperture Science.
And finally they have a bunch of new concept art.
And that’s it. So now that I’ve got you excited about Portal 2 (perhaps) I’ll leave you with this educational video (from YouTube) showing why a portal gun is dangerous:
[link] to first Portal patch description at Steam.
[link] to “Transmission Received” Portal achievement at Steam.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 1 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 2 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 3 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 4 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 5 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 6 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 7 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 8 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 9 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 10 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 11 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 12 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 13 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 14 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 15 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 16 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 17 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 18 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 19 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 20 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 21 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 22 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 23 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 24 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 25 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to Portal Radio Location video 26 of 26 at IGN.
[link] to discussion forum thread at Steam.
[link] to SSTV images at Wikimedia.
[link] to BBS ASCII images at Imageshack.
[link] to ASCII image of Chell at The Escapist.
[link] to second Portal patch description at Steam.
[link] to original Portal ending at YouTube.
[link] to new Portal ending at YouTube.
[link] to GameInformer cover at GameInformer.
[link] to GameInformer article transcript and scans at PortalWiki.
[link] to Portal 2 details at IGN.
[link] to taking concept big comment at VG247.
[link] to interview with Gabe Newell at 1UP.
[link] to GDC blue screen of death at Kotaku.
[link] to Chell redesign article at GameInformer.
[link] to Aperture Science History at GameInformer.
[link] to concept art at GameInformer.
[link] to Real Life Portal Gun video at YouTube.