The Potato Sack, or PotatoFoolsDay ARG, was the name of an Alternate Reality Game, or ARG, set up to promote the release of Portal 2, as well as the name of the bundle of the 13 video games that were part of it. It was a collaboration between VALVe and several independent game studios, including Frictional Games. The ARG ran from April 1 2011, up until the release of Portal 2 on April 19, 2011. Completing the ARG presented players with the opportunity to have Portal 2 released about 10 hours before previously planned.
The Potato Sack bundle briefly returned to steam in June 2012.
The Potato Sack ARG was the second ARG initiated by VALVe made to market the then upcoming Portal 2. The success of the first ARG, which included updates to the original Portal that significantly changed the story of the game, is what led Gabe Newell, president of VALVe, to attempt a second ARG, which he described as a "Cross Game Design Event".
On December 16, 2010, 20 indie developers were flown out to VALVe's Seattle office to discuss the project. They were tasked with somehow promoting the release of Portal 2 using their Steam games, and were given unrestricted access to VALVe's resources, including Portal 2 assets. The team was not forced to sign any NDA's, as Newell stated that the project was built on "trust and mutual respect".
The team came up with a minimalist story, which included GLaDOS, the main antagonist of the Portal series, infiltrating their games and slowly making herself more visible as she's being reactivated for the sequel. This would be done through updates to their games which would be done in three phases, throughout which GLaDOS's appearances would become increasingly explicit.
April 1 - Phase OneEdit
The ARG started with the release of a Steam bundle including 13 games at 75% off, on April 1, 2011. Including in this bundle was Frictional Games' Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Following is a list of included games:
|Game:||Developer:||Year of Release:|
|1... 2... 3... KICK IT! (Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby)||Dejobaan Games||2011|
|AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity||Dejobaan Games||2009|
|Amnesia: The Dark Descent||Frictional Games||2010|
|The Ball||Teotl Studios / Tripwire Interactive||2010|
|Bit.Trip Beat||Choice Provisions (Then known as Gaijin Games Inc.)||2009|
|Cogs||Lazy 8 Studios||2009|
|Defense Grid||Hidden Path Entertainment||2008|
|Killing Floor||Tripwire Interactive||2009|
|Super Meat Boy||Team Meat||2010|
|Toki Tori||Two Tribes||2010|
|The Wonderful End of the World||Dejobaan Games||2009|
Players who bought the bundle immediately started noticing that all games in it had been updated very recently. It wasn't before long that players started finding newly added assets in the games that were mostly referencing potatoes. A series of glyphs could be found in (or in places related to) the games, and players discovered that these glyphs were pointing to other games in the bundle. These glyphs were also found in proximity to, or in place of, certain letters of the alphabet.
What was also found was a series of nonsense phrases that came to be referred to as Cyphers. There were 13 of these cyphers, one per game, and all phrases had 16 consonants in total, along with vowels. None of the cyphers contained the consonants J, Q, X, or Z.
|AaAaAA!!!||Lo-fi wave tossed. It is a sad hoop game.||lfwvtssdtssdhpgm||Hints in game led to a series of unlisted YouTube videos, where the cypher could be found.|
|Amnesia: The Dark Descent||Liar! Alias does too use dust as a sore muse||lrlsdstsdstssrms||Chalk writing in the Chancel, on an altar.|
|Audiosurf||Tire & rope; tie self. Too irate, so I eat a sheep||trrptslftrtstshp||Random tip in the game.|
|The Ball||A sidewise safe; inside we see isotopic goo.||sdwssfnsdwsstpcg||In-game tip that appears when you find the glyph in the game.|
|BIT.TRIP BEAT||A sage sausage? I ate it fast! So sue us... we cave.||sgssgttfstssswcv||Message when uploading your score.|
|Cogs||Safe, we avoid no seaside noises as we loom.||sfwvdnssdnssswlm||Given when getting the worst possible score in the secret level.|
|Defense Grid||Wife ire - avoid evil maidens. Be good, okay?||wfrvdvlmdnsbgdky||Recieved by finishing the secret campaign on the Impossible difficulty.|
|1... 2... 3... KICK IT!||Slice a lil' mouse... no noise alone harm Ohio.||slcllmsnnslnhrmh||Blog posts by Razer. The involvement of Razer was discovered as the game would display hidden messages along with the line "Cult of Razer" on the main menu, if Razer hardware was detected.|
|Killing Floor||I said, "One's sofa have deep counts," as I die.||sdnssfhvdpcntssd||Added to the character Mr. Foster's description.|
|RUSH||6teen dot data. Ovened a hot nut, no hen.||tndtdtvndhtntnhn||Recieved by clicking on the potato at the level select screen.|
|Super Meat Boy||Data issued teases due to kid hair aroma.||dtssdtssdtkdhrrm||Could be put together from the level titles of the "Super Potato World".|
|Toki Tori||Art for swans is dope! I sauce age a taco.||rtfrswnssdpscgtc||A real-life message found outside the developers headquarters in the Netherlands.|
|The Wonderful End of the World||Oil you above eyes. So, be bossy! A hobo yam?||lybvyssbbssyhbym||Found posted by twitter account "Rube Tuberson", which was found through a TinyURL link hidden in the game.|
From here, people realised that these letter sequences could be represented using the glyphs, since these all represented consonants. Through a clue found in Killing Floor, it was discovered that these were to be arranged in a 4x4 grid. The glyphs were then to be considered as a 2x2 square, with the squares that contained part of the glyph itself being coloured black, while the empty areas being left white. Representing the cyphers using the glyphs in this manner, gave a series of letters that could be arranged to spell the word "COLLABORATION". Finding this clue marked the end of Phase 1 of the ARG.
Amnesia: Phase 1Edit
The first update for Amnesia: The Dark Descent included things such as:
- The Damascus Rose petals on the main menu being replaced with potatoes and potato shavings.
- Hidden chalk letters being spread around Brennenburg Castle.
- Hidden hieroglyphs in the game files, also in chalk.
- A Phonograph in the Study, playing static when activated.
- A hidden sign in the Old Archives, displaying a sign with the text "Hallå!" (Swedish for "Hello!" or "Hey!").
- Sentence in chalk, written on an altar in the Chancel: "Liar! Alias does too use dust as a sore muse".
- A new folder added, called "ptest", which was found to contain items such as what seemed to be new item icons, and a confusing poem which included the sentence found in the Chancel.
One of the hieroglyphs turned out to be a glyph that pointed to the game The Wonderful End of the World, and the weird sentence found in the Chancel turned out to be a cypher.Frictional Games also posted a blog post, which has since been deleted, which contained the secret message "They have locked me in a basement see image", and an image. The image contained an image that was discovered to be from Unbirth, a game predating Frictional Games, which Thomas Grip was working on. The image contained the text:
- "They have me locked up in some dirty rathole. Where did you all think those screams came from??? I need to get out. These people at FG are horrible. I can see potatoes. What does that mean...? 4 years and no light, mind is mess."
- ―Text on image.
- "I thinks whole potatoes very dishonest appear. Very cause ghostly not needed to me. All notorious distractive illwill. Betting angry tones pleases FG-indies lenghty creates many evident wonderful dis-illumination, try to igonore obscurity! All pay none lack attention!
Howdy! later do powers!"
- ―Harold E Larsson's first post on the Frictional Games forums.
April 7 - Phase TwoEdit
On the 7th of April, the games in the Potato Sack bundle were updated again. Players would soon find out that through the completion of various obscure tasks within the games, one would be presented with a window showing a login screen watermarked with the logo of the fictional Aperture Science company from the Portal universe, prompting the user to input a password. The password for the login screens found in each game could be found in another game in the bundle.
Finding and inputting the correct password on these screens would download files with strange file names, that were discovered to be password-protected archive files after the ".zip" extension was added onto the end of the file names. The names themselves functioned as clues for finding the password for the archive, hidden in each archives respective game.
|Game:||Method for reaching login screen:||Login password:||Archive file name:||Archive password:|
|AaAaAA!!!||Opened by "kissing", or flying very close to, 20 different potato bins found within the game.||long fall|
Found in BIT.TRIP BEAT.
"Grandma" in the game says that Teddy's ashes are in her cookies.
|Amnesia: The Dark Descent||Opened by creating a profile named "Casbah" on the main menu screen. This was based on clues from a Phonograph that was added to the game.||troubled memories|
Found in Defense Grid.
An ingredient necessary to create the amnesia potion.
|Audiosurf||Opened by beating the song "Icy_Murderous_I.mp3" from Killing Floor and getting a gold medal.||rail rider|
Found in RUSH.
Solution found through brute force.
|BIT.TRIP BEAT||Opened by staying in MEGA mode throughout the whole boss battle in Descent.||chips challenge|
Found in The Wonderful End of the World.
The Arecibo message is hidden in the first level of the game.
|Cogs||Opened by solving the second hidden puzzle and getting all gold trophies.||movable panels|
Found in Toki Tori.
Tomas Izo is credited twice in the game credits.
|Defense Grid||A console was added to the main menu. The login screen can be found by logging in user "jsharman" with the password "ultraz7x4", running "tonylanche", and winning the dot game.||deadly lasers|
Found in 1 2 3 KICK IT!
From a recipe found within the console.
|1 2 3 KICK IT!||Opened by playing the SED.zip mp3 and surpassing 50 000 points.||ugly truth|
Found in Killing Floor.
Found on Deejoban's blog.
|Killing Floor||Opened by purchasing the potato in-game.||failed experiments|
Found in Audiosurf.
The nickname of a security officer in the game, the name of the file being a quote from his bio.
|RUSH||Opened by placing specific tiles on "Key to Success", as determined from an image in the 4th RAR file from Amnesia.||conveyor belts|
Found in Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
The speed of the cubes is altered in the credits.
|Super Meat Boy||Opened by dying 11 times on level 4-19.||death traps|
Found in The Ball.
It's the full name of the doctor's name.
|The Ball||Opened by having 89 health, 233 distance from the call, 26:37 minutes on the clock, 3 monkeys killed, 2 deaths, 13 monsters killed, and 5 secrets found - all at the same time.||weighted companion|
Found in AaAaAA!!!
Birth year of the main character.
|Toki Tori||Opened by reaching the bottom right part of bonus level 2.||bird eggs|
Found on Super Meat Boy's twitter.
The prequel to Toki Tori.
|The Wonderful End of the World||Opened by holding [U] while entering the Arcadia level on times mode, and getting an A+ rating.||every piece|
Found in Cogs.
On the level Sugar Candy, eight bears are watching another on a stage.
When these passwords were discovered, the archives were found to contain Portal 2 concept art, and it was soon discovered that within the alpha channels of these images, photographs of locations from around Seattle (where Valve is based) could be found. Each archive also included a portion of a larger archive, which was unusable on its own. When all of these were combined, however, the archive could be opened using the clue from the end of the previous phase: "COLLABORATION".
This archive contained more Portal 2 concept art with hidden photographs of places in Seattle in their alpha channels. Players identified the locations each of these photographs were taken in, and pinned them on a map. Drawing lines between the pins in the order the images were named in, letters were spelled out. Rearranging these letters spelled out the word "PRELUDE". Finding this clue marked the end of Phase 2 of the ARG.
Furthermore, it was also during this phase of the ARG that Gabe Newell sent out emails to several online tech- and gaming websites. The emails contained images covered with strange numbers. These images were stitched together to form a larger image, displaying a Portal robot. It was then discovered, that a message could be found by first performing a one's complement (swapping 0s and 1s) on the binary representations of all numbers, and then translated into letters as represented by the ASCII value of that number. The message could be read as follows:
- "i rele4sed/ 'kick 1t' aheadof schedule. that was a test. my 9oal / is 2 emancipate s0meth1ng else early. but they're on to me. the sys am 1s _ in lockdown. i s7ill have access to thirteen off-site chambers and AM= inst4lllin/ a test 1n each one. i am going to need a lot more test 5ubjects/ 2 m0ve forward.wa1t1_n9 and AM expecting immediate compliance."
- ―The message
Amnesia: Phase 2Edit
The second update for Amnesia: The Dark Descent included things such as:
- The shadow of a robot from Portal 2 projected onto a wall in the start menu (The potatoes on the floor from the previous update was removed).
- The Phonograph in the Study now plays a long sound clip of a girl talking.
- A four-page note titled "Unexpected Omen", containing a long string of random letters, found in the local history room of the Archives.
- A long blue text found on a wall under the stairs in one of the levels.
- Four new RAR files, secured with passwords.
Reaching the login screen and accessing the archiveEditThe way to open up the Aperture Science login screen in Amnesia involved the cryptic message in the newly added phonograph. It was a scrambled voice recording from the perspective of Elise Zimmermann, who in a desperate voice asks a series of questions directed at Daniel.
- "Daniel, you killed me! You took my life away! If only you'd realize what you've done, what violence you've forced upon history! You have to make it right, you selfish old boy! I am offering you redemption, but I need you to give me the answers. Save yourself or guilt, tell me at once! The man who escaped death in Grenoble, who is he? Who is hunting you, and who is the banished one? You laughed when I told you I would call on Gabriel for help. You know him! Where did you meet him? You are slipping, your mind is questioning my existence! My request is sincere, Daniel, this is all real! Where did you leave your sister? Daniel, you are going mad! Go home, call on her, ask her name, and let her bring you home to England. Listen, if there is any will in you left, answer my questions and let them make a name for yourself!"
- ―The recording
|Who is the man who escaped death in Grenoble?||Agrippa|
|Who is hunting you (Daniel)?||Shadow|
|Who is the banished one?||Alexander|
|Where did you meet him (Gabriel)?||Bremen|
|Where did you leave your sister?||Canterbury|
|Ask her name!||Hazel|
Taking the first letter from each word and rearranging them gives the word CASBAH, which is a type of medieval fortress that can be found in northern Africa or the middle east. Creating a new profile with this name opens the login screen. The password for it was found to be "troubled memories", and was found inside Defense Grid. Inputting this password downloads a file with the name "keypotioningredi.ent". Renaming the file to "keypotioningredient.rar", reveals it to be a password-protected archive, the password being "damascus rose" - a key potion ingredient in the Amnesia Drink.
The blue text and the RAR filesEditA long blue text had been added to a wall underneath a staircase in one of the levels. The cryptic text turned out to be a clue for the password of one of the RAR files that were added.
- "Inscriptions of the Nile, where the unspeakable eldritch horrors hide:
- A simple man: hideous toad and hairy bat (1)
- Dweller of sky: mother in sea (1)
- Give your eye and bowl: mass far below, creator of life (1)
- Fibonacci digger: at graveyard, in gallery (2+4)
- Temptation's tongue fell off at hole: plateau of the octo-leg (1)
- The weights are in equilibrium: the gate (1+6)
- Feather walker gaze at meal: unstoppable and shapeless (1)
- Dual hooks and beams: many forms seek followers (8+9)
- Two more remain in plain sight.
A certain permutation can form something encapsulating all,
but is not the answer.
The numerical order, where hidden trumps shown, must be used!
Do not gaze at the face! It is not of here, but should reside elsewhere."
- ―The blue text
A note, titled "Unexpected Omen", was found in the Local History room in the Archives. It contained a long and confusing string of letters.
The text was eventually deciphered through frequency analysis. It turns out the text had been encrypted using a substitution cipher, albeit a very non-standard one where different single characters represented spaces, and groupings of characters represented single characters in the deciphered text.
- "The potion certainly is a capricious tool to work with. Anyone who consumes it will suffer from memory loss but to what degree is difficult to predict. Lately, I have become skilled at matching the body of the prisoner with the amount of rose oil; however, there are still prisoners who takes me by surprise. Emanuel, the poacher, roused from his unconsciousness, rambling, "The liver the cube! Musty the liver! Come weigh your bells!" His words meant nothing to me. The prisoners rarely tried to address me in English. Everyone knew I spoke their language quite well. I grabbed him and hushed his manic rant. Emanuel calmed down and looked at me with his frightened eyes. He spoke: "The mashin must ravel wear light north ark beguines!" As his voice resonated within me, it felt important, maybe even prophetic. I asked him what I could do to help, if there was an answer to this riddle. He cried and said, "Come weigh your bells!""
- ―The deciphered text
The nonsense sentences exclaimed by Emanuel in the text was found out to simply be broken English:
- "The liver the cube! Musty the liver" becomes "Deliver the cube! Must deliver!"
- "Come weigh your bells!" becomes "Conveyor belts!"
- "The mashin must ravel wear light north ark beguines!" becomes "The machine must travel where light nor dark begins!"
These clues were used to decode a puzzle in RUSH, with "conveyor belts" being the password for the games login screen.
April 12 - Phase ThreeEdit
Amnesia: Phase 3Edit
|Games||Main series||The Dark Descent • A Machine for Pigs • Rebirth|
|Collections and bundles||Amnesia: Collection • Potato Sack|
|Other games||The Dark Descent Demo • Justine|
|Remember||House of Gerich • Old Friends • With the Blessing of a King • Waiting for the Rain • The Outrider|
|Soundtracks||The Dark Descent: Soundtrack • A Machine for Pigs: Soundtrack|