|A mysterious ARG which turned out to be a Half-Life 3 hoax|
On June 4th, 2016, Facepunch user Fleskhjerta posted on the forums about a mysterious discord user called Project 11 that had randomly joined Fleskhjerta's discord channel and messaged a link to the now down website https://projecteleven.comuf.com. The website was basic with minimal effort to html or css design. Others had noted that the website was being hosted off this free domain website. The website featured the title Project 11 in very bold print with a body of text just below reading:
This project involves the leak of a game which you shall know its release date only when the time comes. It is divided into three steps, ran two times to ensure effectiveness. Only to the worthy, the date and the game name shall be revealed. In the meantime, you can keep track of the progress below.
Below that were two columns, each with three steps in descending order. It was unknown at the time what these steps meant and how one might activate said steps. The background of the website was a simple background-color of #222, a dark grey color. The only thing that stood out to users was the websites favicon. A favicon being the websites icon used in the browser tab along with the title of the website. Project 11's favicon sported the Steam logo, the file used for this image was called icon.bmp.
Hidden within the source code of the page was the following commented code:
<link rel="icon" href="icon.bmp" /> <!- A picture is worth a thousand words. --> <!- /watch?v=3tNMHYD9IJY -->
The first Youtube video on the Project 11 Youtube channel was found and was titled "clue". The video was 11 seconds long, and it featured the following message:
IT HIDES IN THE LAST 2 BITS
Also in the video were images that were later discovered to be an image of the websites source code, more importantly the text icon.bmp. Users then took the icon and extracted the last two bits from each byte of the RGB values in the altered steam logo and combining every 4 into a series of bytes produced the hidden message:
Good things come to those who wait. https://bit.ly/1r4iQHE
The hidden text was found to be a link to this image:
The link within the image found appeared to be an image of a projector which is shown below.
Unknown to the investigators, this image of the projector would be more symbolic than they would ever know.
The Future is Glorious
It would be soon realized that the main form of communication between Project 11 and users was his Youtube channel, as he released another video called "It begins". Besides the usual static and white noise, the video featured the following text:
THE FUTURE IS GLORIOUS
The video also showed a mysterious image that was later to be discovered to be the level "Water Hazard" from the game Half-Life 2. The image was of a building and a crane.
Later that same day the Youtube video "aaaa" was published on the Project 11 channel featuring the text:
NATIONAL ALERT LOS ALAMOS County, NM Primary Entry Point System Issued An Emergency Action Notification
APPEND THE BYTES
Project 11 also later gave the hint that the 2 columns of steps actually represented 2 different people. This only left people asking more questions.
At this time, Youtube video "steps" was published and was at the time the longest Youtube video by Project 11 so far, coming in at 25 seconds long, containing less static that its previous videos, this video read:
THE NIGHT GIVES WISDOM I HAVE YET TO SOLVE IT AND SO DOES MY PARTNER YOU HAVE FOUND YOUR WAY INTO THE ICON THAT DOESN'T MAKE IT ANY LESS TRUE PATIENCE WILL REWARD YOU GREATLY
Discord users were puzzled by this went on to have a debate about what it could possibly mean. No progress was made an users eventually stopped and just waited for the next video.
A few days and a couple videos later, Project 11 held a AMA on the dedicated discord channel, allowing users to ask any question for 2 minutes only. Project 11 answered many questions, most being personal and somewhat unrelated to the actual video game in question, but he went on to tell users that hints still lied within the Youtube videos "wisdom", "plan" & "time" that were yet to be found. It was also confirmed by Project 11 that the game in question was a AAA title and not a indie game.
As time went on, with the release of another Youtube video titled "progress", Project 11 gave the discord chat a little hint to speed up progress. Project 11 messaged a link to 210 abbreviations of "AP", telling users that the meaning of "AP" was one of the 210 abbreviations on the website.
Many discord users went through the list combing the irrelevant abbreviations, knocking down their options to 5 or 10 usable abbreviations.
Eventually, Discord users came to the conclusion that "AP" must of meant Astral Plane. Project 11 joined the discord chat soon after to confirm that the users had figured out the correct abbreviation and then saying that Project 11 himself had achieved Astral Projection, but his partner had yet to enter the astral plane yet. He disclosed his plan to acquire the name of the game and its release date by having himself and his partner go into the astral plane and ask the "gods" of the astral plane for a date. His partner and him would then compare dates to see if they were the same.
A Canvas For A Revelation
Many deadend hints and videos "website" and "ap" released, and Project 11 gave users this small puzzles as practice. Project 11 stated that his website would be the holding ground for this puzzle. Users discovered that the background.png, the file being used as the websites background image, would contain a hidden message only readable by using Steganography. The hidden message in question would be revealed to be:
My partner is starting to do fairly good with AP. He might even get a date before I do. If all goes very well, the revealation may be before E3
As a little side "bonus round" as Project 11 called it, users once again tried to find the relation between the 6 items on the original list. Over the course of a few hours, users debated how the 6 items, BB Gun, World of Warcraft, Town of Salem, Infiltration, Xi, the projector all related to each other. Many users argued and about their meanings and others had ideas that the relations could mean only to be debunked by other users. All the while Project 11 was handing out hints left and right like Oprah Winfrey to anyone and everyone. After an hour of users just guessing the answer, one lucky user guessed the correct answer and Project 11 joined the channel to confirm that it was indeed correct. The answer being simply "Projection". Many users were upset that the relation between items on the list were something as stupid simple as Projection. Many users asked Project 11 how projection even related to games like World of Warcraft and Town of Salem, and in return Project 11 admitted that this puzzle was a bit far fetched and explained his reasoning on how Projection was used in all 6 cases.
After Project 11 explained himself and his answer, he went on to explaining the success rate for this whole ARG, going on to say that there was a "0.00000025%" chance of failure.
On June 19th, 2016, Project 11 joined the discord to announce to users that the whole Project 11 project had been successful, and that him and his partner had both successfully astral projected themselves and had received two dates that were both the same. Along with this announcement, he posted a link to his website that shown all 3 steps on either sides have been completed and the progress bar had reached 100%. Using the practice and knowledge gained by Project 11's earlier puzzles, users quickly viewed the websites source code to look for the background.png to see if it contained any information that would lead to the answer of this final puzzle. A discord user almost immediately discovered a long string hidden within the image. The string being:
After a hour or so of users trying different methods of decrypting, Project 11 chimed in to give users help by suggesting the website Infoencrypt.com to use to crack the string of text. Even though the means of decrypting this string was found, the password needed to decrypt it was still needed to be found. Project 11 gave another hint stating that the password is a 4 word sentence, with no special characters or spaces, with a total of 21 letters in all. A half hour went by of users trying to guess the password until finally a discord user guessed the passsword:
Using this password to decrypt the string would result in the website spitting out the following string of text:
Half-Life 3, 9th of December 2017.
The Project 11 discord erupted in anger and frustration, as many users took this has a sign that this entire ARG was a big prank, and that Project 11 must be a troll. Discord users started shamming Project 11, calling him names and making fun of him and his ARG. Many simply did not believe the game could possibly be Half-Life 3, even though many wished from the beginning that it would be Half-Life 3.
Immediately, Project 11 joins the chat to say the following:
My friends. You did it! You have found the release date of Half-Life 3. You are worthy. Mr partner told me about Astral Projection. They say that you can foresee the future in the Astral. I saw the potential it could hold and so did my partner. I had a random idea, get Half-Life 3's release date. But how could we prove that it is the true date? One simple project. We both entered Sleep Paralysis. We both entered the Astral Plane. We both asked to the higher universe "When?" We both got a date. We woke up. We compared the dates. They were the same. It has to be it. We believe in it. You should too. Though, we do not blame you for not believing us. Infact, we expect most people to not believe us and walk away.
Project 11 went on further to say:
This is Project 11. We are now no more. But the world now sees all. Farewell.
The name of the game and its release date that everyone has worked so hard to find was Half-Life 3, 9th of December 2017.
12/09/17. The day was here.
When the fated day had finally arrived, members of Game Detectives, old and new, collectively came together to welcome the release of Half-Life 3.
And they waited.
And nothing happened that day.