Valve's Portal Puzzle So Far: The Files Recovered From Aperture Science

Yesterday, Valve issued an update to its 2007 first-person puzzle game Portal, adding exactly one new Steam achievement and 26 audio transmissions that players could listen to via in-game radios. So started an impressive puzzle.

Instead of listening to those transmissions in-game, members of various web forums, including the Steam and Something Awful forums—who we credit with the following discoveries—accessed them through more standard file system digging. Some were easily identifiable Morse Code recordings while the majority were SSTV (or slow-scan television) encoded transmissions.

The Morse code audio files included the following information.

1. interior transmission active external data line active message digest active

5. 9e107d9d372bb6821bd91d3542a419d6

12. system data dump active user backup active password backup active

17. beep beeeep beep beep beeeep beeeep beeeep beep beeeep beep beep

File 5 is a doubly encoded, the MD5 encrypted string "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." File 17 was Morse Code for Morse Code for "LOL." Good times.

The remaining sound files were translated from audio to a series of 22 images, which had the appearance of stills from security cameras installed at Aperture Science, the setting of the original Portal. Many of those images contained shots of numbers and letters from keyboards, chalkboards and whiteboards, as well as the odd equation or formula, requiring the mob of puzzle solvers to tap into their calculus and engineering backgrounds.

Click for super huge size The mob eventually put those characters together to form the string 9459C6CAC8C203B8128B7CC63068D4FD which itself was an encoded phone number for a Bulletin Board Service. That meant dusting off a few modems, dialing up Valve's BBS, logging in and letting a mix of ASCII art and text files stream.

That text dump may offer some of our first low-fidelity peeks at the next Portal and gives us a bit of insight into Aperture Science founder Cave Johnson. First, the artwork, which contains (here's the word again) encoded visuals that may be familiar to the Portal player.

In the above image, we get a peek at an ASCII version of GlaDOS, a few shots of the research facility and what appears to be two robots holding hands. There's also a confidential document detailing "Low Risk" Human Resource Acquisitions, including hobos, orphans, psychiatric patients and senior citizens.

The above features another peek at GlaDOS, a trio of diagrams and a heart shaped "anomalous emotional response" detection warning.

Finally, two recognisable Portal items, GlaDOS (again) and a pair of automated turrets, among other things, plus a few memorandums from Aperture Science founder Cave Johnson.

CJohnson writes:

"…remind you that APerture Science is built on three pillars. Pillar one: Science without results is just witchcraft. Pillar two: Get results or your fired. Pillar three: if you suspect a coworker of bin' a witch, report them immediately. I cannot stress that enough. Witchcraft will not be tolerated."

"A lot of you have been raising concerns about the so-called "dangers" of what we're all doing here. The beancounters told me to tell you that as of today, testing will no longer be as mandatory or as dangerous. That's not gonna happen and here's the reason."

"Science isn't about why, it's about why not. You ask: Why is so much of our science dangerous? I say: Why not marry safe science if you love it so much. In fact, why not invent a special safety door that won't hit you in the butt on the way out, because you are fired."

"Plus, in the event of your death, I personally guarantee that, thanks to the form you were required to sign this morning, your family will not suffer the indignities of a prolonged and costly legal battle against Aperture Science. Trust me, I am rich, and it is a burden I would not wish on anyone."

One theory being bandied about by forumgoers is the version of GlaDOS responding from the BBS, which is 3.11, is a reference to March 11, the date that Valve will supposedly reveal more about what this Portal puzzle is all about. It's also the date the Valve founder Gabe Newell will receive his Pioneer Award at this year's Game Developers Conference Awards.

There may be more, so let us know if we missed anything in this summary.


    The guys who promoted Dante's Inferno need to look at this and hang their heads in shame.

    If you remember the first half life game, it was about making portals/teleportation that all went wrong. Clearly, there were other companies, such as apeture science, attempting the same thing.

    There are references in Half Life 2 episode 2, about a lost ship which has apeture science logos on it.

    This is all in the lead up to HL2 E3 if you ask me, where we get to play with guns and portals.

      The ship (the Aurora or some such) is in portal too, i believe. Also, there are several times in Portal that they (Documents/GlaDOS/etc) reference Black Mesa and their attempts at the same thing that Aperture were. There is even a bit, something along the lines of "As if those fools at Black Mesa could help you, ha!"

      They are strongly tied together, but i think its in more of a 'general lore' way as opposed to a direct connection in a game sense

      Also, forget half life three, where is EPISODE 3?

    Man it must be nice to have all the required knowledge to be able to actually appreciate all this stuff. I on the other hand am clueless to half the mumbo jumbo that I just read :P It all looks and sounds impressive though. Valve really know how to have fun with what they do!

      While admittedly awesome, I wonder how much time this elaborate marketing has taken away from the development of HL3 lol?

        i would say not much its really only some screen caps ascii artwork and the connection thing

        sure it would have required work but then they couldve had a single person doing the legwork on this since the new year and thats all

        its awesome promotion and shows that vavle knows the way to intrigue the community

        after all they coulda just put a date on some website instead

    In the early hours of the thread, they pinpointed where they thought the number was, and someone actually drove out there to see if there was anything there.
    Quoted from the forum - "There were no people outside save one homeless man who looked at ME like I was weird for asking him if he knew anything about GLaDOS or cake."
    Now THAT is dedication

      Hahaha awesome. Speaks wonders for the dedication of Valve's fanbase. Creative / viral marketing can be so incredibly awesome when done right.

      Imagine the backlash though if all of this is a leadup to Left 4 Dead 3!

    that is amazing. the creative lengths that valve went to just to hint at something coming up. i know about most of the tech that was mentioned in this post, but no way would I have realised to put it all together to get the conclusion that the forum people have.

    Ah, This takes me back to Halo 2 days and the game. It was really fascinating to watch the puzzle slowly unfold over a period of weeks and months, as the clock ticked down to the relase of Halo 2.

    Hopefully Valve does something similar!

    While I appreciate the creativity, they could just finish Episode 3 already. That'd make us all a lot happier.

      I agree, but if this is a lead-up to the Episode 3 reveal, this is the most epic way to promote it.

      If this turns out to be a reveal, I'll forgive Valve for all transgressions about releasing it late.

      They wont make an episode 3, they will make HL3 instead.

    If it's portal 2. I hope they use an improved engine ahha. And I'd prefer HL3 not HL2:EP3...

    More ACII art came through the BBS if you wanna see.
    Linky -

    I'm keen for this, what ever it is. if it builds on the Half-Life universe I'm in.

    How the hell did they figure out to translate an audio file into an image.

    Those who have played Portal, remember that room that you look through the window and see a "Black Mesa" presentation? Interesting...

    Did i mention i fucking love valve ?

    Oh well ill say it again;

    I love valve

    This i why i love valve. such an awesome marketing campaign. cant wait to see some more

    Goodness, people have the time to figure all this out.

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