Stop Everything: Portal Alternate Reality Game

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To anyone just tuning in to this development, I would advise you to watch this excellent summary and theory by TymaxBeta on YouTube. I address most of what he says below, but this will help bring everything into perspective.

It started innocently enough. Valve Software released a small update for the three-year-old game Portal, which was included in the Orange Box. Upon looking at the update news, however, things got a bit odd:


  • Changed radio transmission frequency to comply with federal and state spectrum management regulations
It didn't sound like typical patch notes for a game. Obviously something was up with the radios. Sure enough, the Steam Forum community and other gaming sites loaded up their copies of Portal and uncovered the first bits of an extremely complicated puzzle. By finding a radio in each level and carrying it to a specific spot, strange static and noise could be heard. The same static and noise that sounds like Morse code and SSTV transmissions. Some forum-goers bypassed playing the game completely. Instead they opted to open up the new game files from the update. Using GCFScape they found the files which produced the new radio sounds under the naming convention dinosaur1 through dinosaur26. Four of those dinosaur files were Morse code and those that could translate it posted their findings:

  • dinosaur1 - interior transmission active external data line active message digest active
  • dinosaur5 - 9e107d9d372bb6821bd91d3542a419d6
  • dinosaur12 - system data dump active user backup active password backup active
  • dinosaur17 - LOL
Disregarding the last one, this new information brought up some more questions and speculation. Dinosaur1 looked to be starting some type of program or hardware of a system, dinosaur5 looked just like a mess of random digits, and dinosaur12 was also starting a system. Those with experience in MD5, however, immediately saw dinosaur5 as something of value. A quick trip to wikipedia or a MD5 program decoded dinosaur5 as the following:

  • MD5("The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.") 
    = 9e107d9d372bb6826bd81d3542a419d6
The MD5 came out to be a test phrase for computer systems or anything related to language as it contains all the letters of the alphabet. MD5 turned out to be important in the next step. So, already the community found the radio sounds from the game to be Morse code which in turn led to decoding the results with an MD5 program. Quite amazing stuff to be honest but it all pales in comparison to the next solution.

I mentioned SSTV above. That's Slow-Scan Television, which means there is some sort of picture via the transmissions. Again the Steam Forum community and others went to work. Someone took the remaining dinosaur files and ran them through a SSTV program getting these images. Most were broken down into four different sections and numbered xx/32. Each section also had either a letter or a number. Placing these images in order, another MD5 string was formed:

  • 9459C6CAC8C203B8128B7CC63068D4FD
  • Which translated is: (425) 822-5251
In one of the images from the SSTV program both a blurry image of a BBS number can be seen as well as blank phone numbers. Calling the number revealed nothing, but when connected to via a modem, brought the user to this screen.

So the hunt for the correct username and password began. Remember dinosasur12 from above?

  • dinosaur12 - system data dump active user backup active password backup active
Putting backup for both username and password gave the user access to this. Since then various users connecting to the Portal BBS have been finding new text based images. In addition, upon completing the game recently, a new ending to the actual Portal game was discovered. With over a million views and four hundred seven pages already in this Steam Forum thread, everyone is eagerly awaiting what Valve has planned and constantly digging for more info.

Here is another video by TymaxBeta giving a timeline of events from the Portal update as of March 3rd.

Other Interesting Stuff Discovered That May Or May Not Be Coincidences

If anything definite is found I will update this page with that information.

EDIT: Massive compilation (640 x 14704) of findings from the Portal BBS.
EDIT2: Valve updated Portal again. This time it has to do with "valuable asset retrieval"
EDIT3: Image from the BBS displaying a progress bar.
EDIT4: 2 new files were found in the new update about "valuable asset retrieval"
EDIT5: This Steam Forum thread has surpassed 500 pages and a million and a half views.

Big thanks to all the Valve fans who are helping solve this amazing mystery.

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