• Far Beyond My Capacity
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Saturday, December 22, 2012

The End of The End of Days - How the latest ARG for The Secret World played out

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So, the latest ARG (Alternate Reality Game) based on The Secret World has finally finished. Thousands of players have been actively involved on the forums trying to figure out where all the clues lead, with some incredible ideas and discussions along the way. Even as someone who didn't receive the ARG calls or initial emails I found it a really interesting exercise and got involved in a few of the discussions.

Here's how it all played out as far as I could see... (beware, this is a very long post, but hopefully a fascinating read). If the Situation Room remains up after the ARG is finished then note that this run through will contain spoilers. I offer my thoughts on the whole event at the end.

I've tried to give credit for discoveries where I can, but if anyone feels I've missed someone out please contact me and I'll be only too happy to add in the details.


December 3rd

The ARG was announced with a creepy website that contained a recording of an exorcism prayer in Spanish.

"Oración en contra de los maleficios".

Dios, nuestro Señor, Rey de todos los tiempos, Grande y Todopoderoso, tú que lo creaste todo y que lo transformas todo simplemente por tu voluntad; tú que cambiaste en rocío las llamas del horno que había sido calentado siete veces más y protegiste y salvaste a tus tres santos hijos:

Tú eres el doctor y médico de nuestras almas. Tú eres la salvación de los que se vuelven a ti. Te suplico que anules, destruyas y apartes de mí todo poder, presencia y maquinaciones diabólicas; cada influencia del mal, maleficio o mal de ojo, y todas las malas acciones dirigidas hacia mí.

Donde haya envidia y malicia, dame abundancia de bondad, paciencia, victoria y caridad. Oh Señor, tu que amas al hombre, te ruego que extiendas tus poderosas manos y tu grandísimo y poderoso brazo y vengas en mi ayuda.

Envía tu ángel de paz sobre mí, para proteger mi cuerpo y mi alma. Que él pueda mantener alejado y vencido a todo el poder del maligno y cada palabra venenosa o maliciosa invocada en mi contra por personas corruptas y envidiosas.

Entonces, bajo la protección de tu autoridad, podré con gratitud cantar: “El Señor es mi salvación; ¿a quién temeré?”. No temeré mal alguno porque tú estás conmigo, mi Dios, mi fortaleza, mi poderoso Señor, Señor de la Paz, Padre de todos los tiempos. Amén.


English translation:

God, our Lord, King of ages, All-powerful and Almighty, you who made everything and who transform everything simply by your will; you who changed into dew the flames of the seven-times hotter furnace and protected and saved your three holy children:
You are the doctor and physician of my soul. You are the salvation of those who turn to you. I beseech you to make powerless, banish, and drive out every diabolic power, presence and machination; every evil influence, malefice or evil eye and all evil actions aimed against me.
Where there is envy and malice, give me an abundance of goodness, endurance, victory and charity. O Lord, you who love man, I beg you to reach out your powerful hands and your most high and mighty arms and come to my aid.
Send your angel of peace over me, to protect my body and soul. May he keep at bay and vanquish every evil power, every poison or malice invoked against me by corrupt and envious people.
Then under the protection of your authority may I sing with gratitude, “The Lord is my salvation; whom should I fear?” I will not fear evil because you are with me, my God, my strength, my powerful Lord, Lord of peace, Father of all ages. Amen.


Kudos to Fenya for the information.


December 4th

The ARG started for real, with several people in the US receiving a strange phone call in the middle of the night. The embedded video below was a recording someone made.


The call was been traced to New York, to "a number registered to Sprint Sepulcrum LP. It was first activated on 04/10/2007. The phone is registered to an address between w 15th street, w 16th street, 7th and 8th avenues in NYC".

The call appears to say something along the lines of "After the darkest time, come to break the spell".


December 5th and 6th

Several players received a new cell phone message from an unlisted number (347-482-2012) based in Brooklyn. The call sounded like part of a speech, and said something along the lines of "Great men aren't born in greatness. They are grown great or greater."

Someone managed to upload a copy of the call which I have embedded below.



Later a second call was received by some folks. This one was much shorter, and very hard to make out, though it sounded like another recording of a speech. It appears to say something along the lines of "<something>... to fight, and even to die for. Remember this." Have a listen below.


All of the calls originated from New York.

Another call received said, "It will take you a great deal of courage to face our fate."



A final call was then received by several community members:

"Information is the key to our success, and thus survival. That is how we knew they were coming. And that is how I know we will overcome."




December 7th and 8th

Many people received emails titled "WARNING" from one Agent Msika. The email read:

Agent ,

We have located the latest communication from Target 29.

http://bit.ly/2012-12-07

Regards,

- Msika

Agent Msika is apparently a member of the Black Watchmen who helped during the pre-launch ARG.

Clicking the link in her email takes you to a Craiglist event site, with an event ad that reads:

Date:
Reply to: see below














We can offer you a test, that will tell you exactly what is missing in your life.
A test that may very well save you and your family.
The end may be near, but the end is only a new beginning.

Reach us at: iuDpLWm6

  • it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

PostingID:3461163385

The iuDpLWm6 link appeared to be a pastebin url. The full link was http://pastebin.com/iuDpLWm6, and the lyrics quoted were from a song called The End of the World, recorded in 1962 by Skeeter Davies.

Why do the morning birds go on singing?
Why do the light glow above?
Don't they know it's the end of the world?
It ended when I lost your love.

Pattern: www.#.org


Some of the words in the song had been changed however. The original version reads:

Why do the birds go on singing
Why do the stars glow above
Don't they know it's the end of the world
It ended when I lost your love


The newly changed words were "morning" and "light", and as anyone who has played TSW knows, The Morninglight is a strange cult from the game.

So, the Pattern: www.#.org became www.themorninglight.org, which lead to a new website called The Situation Room.

The Situation Room website had a countdown on it and a bank of 36 television screens. It also had a nice little chat room function that allowed you to chat with everyone else who was viewing the site, so you could help each other to solve the problem.

The Situation Room

(At this point I turned to the community for help as it got pretty confusing and involved website hacking, something I'm pleased to say I know little about!)

Pressing the tilde key (¬) whilst looking at the website brought up a log-in console. It asked for a username and password, and it was unsecured so any combination worked.

That gave a prompt that read:

Welcome to the situation room. Type "man -param" for a help.

Typing that command in gave the following response:

No manual entry for -param.
Did you mean ghosthack?

So, then typing in "man ghosthack" seemed to do the trick.

This brought up the following message:

Warning: Safe Mode activated.
services - List all of system services
start service_name - Start a service
stop service_name - Stop a service
reset - Reset all services to default state
resources - Output current resource usage
broadcast - Activate situation room

The community set to figuring out this latest puzzle. It appeared that the correct processes had to be running in order for their to be enough resources for the broadcast to be made. Services had to be stopped to free up resources, otherwise an error message appeared saying "Not enough resources to start...". However, stopping the wrong services would not allow broadcast.

A community member called Ugly figured out that in order for the broadcast to start all services had to be stopped except for telnet, routing, remote, netlogon, database, cluster, and lsa.

Once the broadcast message had been sent the room lit up and all of the television screens turned on. Most showed static.

Over time various images and logos appeared on some of the screens. The first appeared on screen 3 and seemed to be the logo of midnightsquadron, a gaming guild. Then the ARG lightbulb logo appeared on screen 21. On screen 15 the logo for The Secret World appeared a short while later.

Other images that reportedly appeared at various times include Stephen Colbert wearing 3D glasses and eating popcorn, a tornado in Tuscaloosa, AL,a B2 stealth bomber dropping a nuclear bomb,

Additionally several strange people popped up in the chat room from time to time, including Msika from the original email. They discussed things like the world tree and one even chatted in Hindi. The transcript of their chat can be found here.

Google searching during random investigations by the community found a new Morninglight leaflet (different to the one in game). You can see it below.




December 9th

Agent Msika showed up again in the Situation Room chat. Below is a transcript of what she said.

Msika: Hello Agents, I acknowledge the progression you have all made to find the situation room and that you have managed to start it up.
Msika: Right now we are monitoring the Morning Light who are operating this room, to find further information about this division.
Msika: One thing I have found is that 12.12.12 is an important date, I am not sure why yet but its on my radar.
Msika: I urge you all to further recruit more agents into the situation room, this is a very grave situation and we need all hands on deck.
Msika: That is all I have for you right now, I will be monitoring the situation. Thank you agents

Later that day a new image appeared on monitor 17, a meteor hitting a planet. Then a new image was seen on monitor 29. It was the face of an unknown man in dark glasses, superimposed with the image of a skull.

Other images appeared - soldiers jumping from a plane on monitor 31, Jeffrey Dahmer appeared briefly on screen 1, and someone in front of their PC watching the Situation Room on another (almost as if it had been taken from a webcam). According to the name of the gif it was Agent Msika.

By messing with the cookies on the website, user Ariensky Crowley managed to discover the following video.


'Great men aren't born in greatness. They rather grow great, and greater. As you strive to survive a life that is here again to defend, to fight, and even to die for, remember this. Those who leave shall survive through those who live on. So enjoy each moment as it might be your last. It is now up to you. I don't know who you are yet, but the real question is do you?'

The Morninglight responded angrily to this intrusion. The following appeared on one of the monitors shortly afterwards.



Lots of new images then appeared. The tsunami in Japan. Riots. Military mobilisation. Then they all disappeared. Then all the screens returned to static, apart from the one with The Secret World logo.


December 10th

Another new video was discovered in the website code:



'It would take you a great deal of courage to face our fate.
Here is your last and only chance to do so;
as our world and life itself is today on the brink of oblivion,
threatened on all sides by our devil-may-care enemies.'

Finally all of the screens went static apart from one, which simply displayed a test card signal.

Shortly afterwards the following tweet was sent out to several participants in the ARG:

12-12-12


December 12th

Well, the strange tweet was probably referencing the Buy-to-Play announcement, but despite all the chaos over that there were a few ARG related events today. The images began to appear again on the monitor screens, and the video that Ariensky Crowley had discovered started showing up in the Situation Room.

One of the new images that appeared was taken apart by the community and found to contain a red number on a single frame. That number was qXJR264s. The number appeared in a flashing video of Caesar's face, and that lead people to wonder if the sequence was part of a Caesar cypher.

After playing round with things wahoozerman and TheDrunkPoster discovered that it was in fact a Caesar cypher that translated to DKWE264F (the shift number was 12, which made sense due to the 12-12-12 monitor screen in the Situation Room). This lead to the pastebin site http://pastebin.com/DKWE264F, which contained the text "U93VK.gif", and this lead to the following gif being found on imgur.com:


The poster of the pastebin link was called ironridgewater. Shortly after this was discovered the website ironridgewater.com was discovered. This website discussed genetically modified camels and weird water in Siberia.


December 13th

I received the following email from Agent Msika. The ARG had now properly begun!

Agent , The situation room is now ready for you! You can take your first test here: http://www.thesecretworld.com/thesituationroom/situationroom.php Use the following PIN if you wish to play using this email. <pin number here>
WARNING: This PIN can be use to restore your session on any browser, including your rewards. Keep this PIN confidential! Regards,
- Msika

So I headed to the link in the email (different to the original link to the Situation Room) and saw that the profile, missions and score buttons were now active.

Logging in and starting the first mission started a new video. You can see it embedded below.


Note the flashed image of a striking viper halfway through. The mission then started.

I was required to download a security report from Iron Ridge Water, then follow the instructions to hack their network and download the data from their backup server. There was a time limit of 1 hour (though this first mission was easy, it took just a few minutes).

After completing the mission I saw the following screen, and then a video congratulating me.


I was awarded a code for an in-game monk outfit, along with 50 points and my chances of surviving the End of Days were raised to 2%!

There was a link to the remaining missions (6 in total), and the second one was listed as due to start on December 15th.

The community found a few new things during the first mission phase. The security report contained quite a few bits of information (ip addresses and the like). Kuttner discovered a new image when entering his login details as rrecchi (the name of the head of security given in the security report):


The image was found by a community member called Jacksonpembrandt to be a google maps satellite image of a town called Ogallala, in Nebraska. A wikipedia search turned up information on the Ogallala Aquifier, a vast and shallow underground water table. Why would a water company (potentially a front for some evil conspiracy) be interested in a water table? Worrying stuff! Anyway, finding this seems to have been a hidden mission in the ARG.

Amusingly, after all this hacking the ironridgewater.com website showed that they were experiencing "technical difficulties". A nice touch :)

Later in the day Agent Msika was seen in-game, in Agartha. She was encouraging agents to help by visiting the Situation Room. She also dropped hints that a clue may have been missed somewhere along the line.


December 14th

Community member Yeeshak found the following website: http://www.joinmorninglight.com/. Signing up on the website leads to a page that tells you about the personality tests available at the Morninglight booths (now in-game) along with a system error.

I also received an email from them that read as follows:

Thank you for submitting.
If you've signed up for this letter, it means you're someone who cares. Someone on a mission. You're eager to change your life – and the lives of others. The path won't be easy. The tools have to be earned. But once they are, you'll wonder how you ever lived without them.
These are the tools you'll need to make a real difference in the world. But first, you need to discover who you are as a person. The journey starts with a simple personality test at one of our kiosks. Once you know who you are, the real challenge can begin.
Are you ready for the light? We sure hope so, because there's a lot to be done.
So start the journey today!
[Oops... the system was unable to finish your operation (error code 0x0000019Cx3)]


December 15th

Prior to Mission 2 opening up in the Situation Room Msika appeared in chat once more. She dropped a hint that this RRecchi character may warrant further investigation.

Later in the day a new video was seen in the Situation Room, just before the second mission opened up. There is a subliminal image of a screaming female face in the video.

You always wanted to do something more with yourself, with your life.
Truth is, you're not a beautiful and unique snowflake, you're the same decaying organic matter as everything else.
Till then, you must explore, and assess your limits, in order to push them farther
You have two hours to complete this test.


Mission 2 gave different options. There was a maths missions, a communications mission, a reflex test, a morse code mission and an investigation mission. I ended up doing four of them, though you only needed to do one to succeed.

I did the investigation which involved researching Russian general secretaries along with the events surrounding Jim Jones' People's Temple Cult. I was really happy to see that the answers to the morse code test and the communication test involved lines from "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath", a short novel by H.P. Lovecraft. The novel concerns the plots of Nyarlathotep, so I found it particularly interesting that it came up whilst I'm running the Masks of Nyarlathotep pen 'n' paper campaign.

The reward for completing the mission was an in-game experience potion, and there was a message stating that Mission 3 was due to begin on 17th December. My survival chances had increased to 10%.


December 16th

A few of the community members found some odd things in the source code for mission 2. In the source code for the Morse Code Test the following was found:

-.. . .- .-. / .- .-. .. . -. ... -.- -.-- / -.-. .-. --- .-- .-.. . -.-- / -.-. .- -. / -.-- --- ..- / .--. .-.. . .- ... . / .-- .-. .. - . / .- / ... -.-. .-. .. .--. - / - --- / ... --- .-.. ...- . / - .... .. ... / - . ... -

Translated:

DEAR ARIENSKY CROWLEY CAN YOU PLEASE WRITE A SCRIPT TO SOLVE THIS TEST 

This was an amusing message to one of the community members, Ariensky Crowley, who had earlier written a script to auto solve mission 1. He had posted the script on the forums, but it had since been taken down. Nice to see the ARG developers playing with us!

A new image of Agent Msika appeared on monitor 6 of the Situation Room. Eagle-eyed community members found two subliminal messages on frames of the video.


The following figures appeared in the first image:

5.7
294.3
736.2
835.1

On another frame, the second image above, a bit.ly URL flashed up at the bottom, along with an odd code:

http://bit.ly/ZwIW6b  21.1 = o

The url took us to a vimeo video that was password protected.

The numbers were found to represent words and letters in "The Dream quest of Unknown Kadath" by H.P. Lovecraft (referenced during the mission). So, 5.7 meant the fifth word, seventh letter. Translated the numbers gave the code dszm, which turned out to be the password for the video! This stuff was really tough (kudos to player jtraub for figuring this out)! The key was that "o" is the first character in the 21st word (given by the 21.1=o code).

There was an absolute ton of stuff in the video to try and figure out, and I liked how Agent Msika referenced real players of the ARG during her telephone call. Items of interest in the video included:
  • "I just got the following communication from Target 18: 13191"
  • The video name: Vagreprcg 001 (this turned out to be a ROT13 Caesar cypher for "Intercept")
  • The uploader was RRecchi - seems the head of security might be leaking things!

The full translation of the video was:

Yes.
Since I joined the Black Watchmen, I tried to infiltrate his group.
[garbled] not [garbled] Mr. Whitechapel ... but my initial bet was to join the Black Watchmen to find him.
[garbled] ... yes, but that's another story.
They are. They call themselves The Morning Light. They've created those.... testing room where you prepare yourself to the end of the world.
Yeah, mostly creepy stuff. But nothing harmful so far.
Yes we are. I know the Survivor of Dies Irae and Midnight Squadron are, too. There's also that guy... ummm.... BudTheSlug. We were watching him already for another project but... he's in.
I'm afraid we're going to need much more than that.
I just got the following communication from Target 18: 13191 ... oh. Tell me when you're ready. 


Here is an embed:



December 17th

Late on December 17th Mission 3 became available. There was another introduction video:

"Whether you're Dick or Dante, David, Danielle or whatever your real name is, you are an imperfect being created by an imperfect being. Perfection can only be achieved through the collective. From this very moment all around the world, many men and women like yourself, are about to make the same, most crucial decision of their life. Some challenges shall not be faced alone. You have 6 hours to complete this test."

Mission 3 comprised three investigations, the last of which would require the whole community to work together to solve.

Investigation 1 began with a photo of a young man and the word "Melinda". The young man was Bill Gates, and the answer was "Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation". The second part to this mission was a map of New York near Bryant Park and a date: 1913. The answer was "Rockefeller Foundation" which was chartered in 1913 and is based at the center of the map.

Investigation 2 began with a single phrase, "MON" and a New York Stock Exchange shares graph. The graph turned out to be the share profile for the answer, "Monsanto Company" (MON is the NYSE abbreviation for Monsanto). The second part was a US Patent, number PP23,252 issued on December 11 2012. The answer was "Syngenta Crop", the company who placed the patent.

After solving the second investigation a code appeared on one of the monitors in the Situation Room: p67Bp. Everyone who completed the test got a code, but they all appeared to be different.

Investigation 3 began with an encrypted file and the word "code wall". The file was a spreadsheet of codes, some of which were red. When the red letters were taken from all the codes and rearranged the word "seedbank" was revealed. This was likely a reference to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a project to build up a bank of crop and vegetation seeds in case they are required following a global crisis. This ties in with the other clues.

It's interesting to note that one of the largest contributors to the seedbank is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Do they know something we don't!?

The community organised a spreadsheet on which all the different codes received after mission 2 were placed. The first digits of the codes defined where the codes went. When the spreadsheet was sorted the code locations in the sheet spelled out another code! The image below explains how this worked.


u83Di was the answer to the final part of the mission.

The reward was an in-game experience potion and my survival chances going up to 30%.


December 18th

Community member ademands found the following pastbin whilst searching the web for clues.

http://pastebin.com/zFvNkvh8

    Z 130001Z DEC 12
    SECRET//PRJMLPL//75X5
    MSGID/A16041_131212_1//
    SUBJ/STATUS//
    /FORMAT/OBJ/00001/ASCII//
    /OBJ/00001/
    GOOD SEASON, LIMITED LOSSES
    BUT COMPONENTS FAILED TO
    REACH SVALBARD. MAY BE
    EXPERIENCING COMPONENT LOSS
    AT DROP SITES. SUSPECT
    ROGUE AGENT OR COUNTER
    OPERATION. MISSION CANNOT
    CONTINUE UNLESS RECOVERED.
    TWO AGENTS ASSIGNED TO
    DETERMINE THREAT.
    MAY NEED ASSISTANCE IN
    RECOVERY.
    OTP AUTH CODE 30004A
    ASSIGNED UNTIL FURTHER
    NOTICE. SIGNAL EMERG IF
    OTP COMPROMISED OR ADDTNL
    SPACE REQUIRED.//
Despite completion of the mission the community wanted to earn the gold star for extra points, and put their collective brain to work on figuring out the secret missions for Mission 1 and Mission 3.

The gold star for Mission 1 was figured out by community member TheTick, and required you to input the following after the second vpn:

> rrecchi Ogallala

This sent an email to Agent Msika with the following image attached:



In reply Agent Msika sent me the following email:
Water reserve? That is interesting. Thank you, I will look into it!

- Msika


Finally the gold start for mission 3 was discovered. After entering the 3rd answer you had to open up the console and type the following (kudos to Agteor for the discovery):

> rrecchi Seed Bank

This sent another email to Agent Msika, with the following letter attached:

http://l3cdn.funcom.com/tsw/arg/Letter-Nathan.pdf

Transcription of the letter:

December 17, 2012 Natalia Box 41 SE-230 53 Alnarp, Sweden
Dear Natalia,

Please note that, as planned, the package has duly arrived, safe and sound, at Fort Carroll. Rest assure it is now securely stored in its unusual sanctuary. Hopefully, forever.

If we are to survive this... plague, it will be on account of such timely delivery, and of course, because of our steadfast efforts. Yet make no mistake.

Despite all my faith in our cause, I have no more illusion. We sure did our best, but is it enough? Let me doubt, sternly, for once. Time will tell.

Surely enough, this world will rise again, as always, from the same ashes it might be turned to, just as the phoenix, which is more than a mere metaphor, as you know, eh?

But believe me: Until then, and even beyond, we will bear the burden. I just hope, and know, that we shall meet again, somehow, sooner, or later, once this fight is over; once our fate is finally brought back home, so to speak, i.e., in our own hands.

I truly thank you for your faithful dedication, and wish you all the best, in this world, or the next.

Truly yours, always,

Nathan French
MSBP, West Sussex  


Msika responded with the following email:

So the MSBP works with Svalbard Global Seed Vault? I need to put my hand on this package before them. Thank you very much!

- Msika


You can get an idea of how the community worked together to solve these clues by looking at the collective google docs spreadsheet that was used here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AmG9Ad7fg4UCdEN0TnZjS0JPWjB4Q1o1Z0g3TF8zQmc#gid=0

Which begs the question, what's in the package referred to in the letter, and what is this sanctuary it will be stored in? Google searches suggest it may be going to a bird sanctuary at Fort Carroll. Is it a real phoenix? What does the reference to a coming plague mean? The plot thickens!


December 19th

Agent Msika appeared in Agartha once more. She confirmed that she was still with the Black Watchmen, and asked us to keep our eyes on RRecchi, as she felt he may have infiltrated the Situation Room. She also said that she had tried to get hold of the package in Fort Carroll, but that it had gone.

A little later Mission 4 was opened up for play. Different people were seeing different things for this mission. Some saw three gauges (orange, green and purple) with the words "generator 1", "generator 2" and "generator 3" beneath them, thus:


The first gauge was starting to fill up. Different people had different gauges active.

Other saw a screen showing three pumps that were filling with liquid. Pressing the buttons below them released the liquids from the tubes, and they then began to fill up again.


The community had to collaborate in order to figure out what to do. It was figured out that people clicking the buttons on the primary coloured tubes caused the secondary colour gauges to change for other people.

It seemed that the mysterious forces behind the test were checking on the community's ability to coordinate. Things were incredibly chaotic to begin with, but eventually things got sorted out.

Video streams of each of the coloured gauges were set up by community members so that coordination could begin. Once all the gauges had been filled correctly by balancing out the colour output from the tubes the second part of the mission opened up and I received the following image on the console, along with the hint "CW":
 Other people received the same hint but a different image, a map:


Again the community was required to work together. Overlaying the map image onto the codes gave the following:


Reading through the letters that were drawn through by the red circle, clockwise (from the CW hint) gave:

626F6B6F72

Converting this string from hexadecimal to text gave the word "bokor" which was the answer required to complete the mission.

User PFV was the first to spot that the map was actually from this image, which showed the location of the (unfinished) Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) in Texas:



To achieve the star (hidden) part of mission 4 it was necessary to open the java console and type:

> rrecchi SSC

This triggered another email to send the info to Agent Msika:

Hey Msika!

I just found out that the Morning Lights are interested in the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas. Do you know if it's still inactive, as told to the public?


Bests,


http://bit.ly/URspEp

She replied with an email stating:

From: agent.msika@gmail.com
Subject: RE: Hey msika, take a look at this...


Thanks... I.. To be honest, I didn't even know this thing existed. Shit.

- Msika


So far no-one is sure why RRecchi would lead us to this clue...

Completing the mission awarded me another in-game experience potion plus my survival chances rose to 50%. The next mission was due to take place the following day.


December 20th

Mission 5 started. The clue to all three stages for mission 5 was simply "TSW". Each test had a black picture with coloured dots and some binary code at the bottom.

TEST 1: 010101000110000101100010010011110100110101110101

TEST 2: 010110010111000001001101010001010100111101000010
TEST 3: 010101100101001101111010001110010011001101100110

When each binary code was converted to hexadecimal, and then into ASCII characters the resultant strings could be used as bit.ly links to show the following images:

Test 1
Test 2
Test 3
These images all appeared to be screenshots taken from somewhere in-game (which the TSW clue also pointed towards).

The community visited these locations in game and in each location a code was written on the wall. These codes were the answers to the three mission tests:

TEST 1: Polaris, last dungeon boss - " 13.0.0.0.0" (a Mayan calender reference?)
TEST 2: Fusang central facility -  "End of the World"
TEST 3: Hell Raised, succubus fight - "King's Return"

It was noted that the third image also had some more binary code. When translated in the same way this lead to the following image:


More binary code!


00110001001100100011000000110100001101100011011100 110001001
11000001100000011011000101110010001110101001101010 010001000
00010011100100111100101110001000000011010100110001 001000000
11001000111001000101110001000000011010000101101001 100100010
11010011000100111001001110010011010100101110001101 100011001
10010000000110010001101110010000000110011001110010 010000001
00111000100000001100010011010000110010001000000011 010000110
111001000000011000000111001001000000100010100101110 00110100
00110011001100010011000100110100001100000010110101 101111011
10110011001010111001001110110011010010110010101110 111001000
11011000010111011100110010011000010110000101100010 001101100
110001000110101


Which translated to:

1204671806.GSR NO. 51 dr. 4-2-1995.63 27 39 N 142 47 09 E.431140-overview#aw2aab6b5
The above code seemed to contain coordinates, thus:
63°27′39″N 142°47′09″E - https://www.google.no/url?sa=t&rct=j...Pp2v-_hnV68-1A

The coordinates pointed to a place called Oymyakon in Russia. It is known as the "cold pole" as it is the coldest point in the world.

Entering the following into the Situation Room console completed the secret mission:

> rrecchi Oymyakon

 This resulted in the following email being sent to Agent Msika:


"Hey Msika!
Does this make any sense?
Bests,

This is the reply I received:

"Water, Kool-Aid, Seeds, SSC, now Human Organs? http://bit.ly/UTEXLw

- Msika"


Seems like Agent Msika is a trekkie and likes memes!

The ARG now seemed to be leading us to information about organ donors and transplants. The final code contained a reference to GSR No51 DR, a reference to some organ transplantation legal document... amended in 1995:

"Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994, rules 1995, amended 1998. (GSR NO. 51(E), dr. 4-2-1995), [As amended vide GSR 571(E), dt.31-7-2008]." 

Interesting stuff!

Once the mission was complete I was shown another video telling me that the testing was over. I was awarded another experience potion and my survival chance rose to 70%.

The next mission was detailed as starting on December 21st. It would be a nightmare difficulty mission with a mystery prize!


December 21st - The End of Days

Mission 6 opened up with an briefing video telling us that it was time to move out of the Situation Room and prepare for war! The only mission hint given was "...---...", i.e. SOS in morse code.

Starting the mission gave a message on one of the Situation Room screens that said "UPLOADING MISSION - PLEASE WAIT", and on another screen was the message "SOULS SAVED 6804". The number on the "Souls Saved" screen appeared to be a counter as it kept rising slowly.

Clicking on the "Souls Saved" screen opened up a screen that allowed you to tweet or email messages out warning about the end of the world. The counter rose with each message sent out.

Perhaps it had to reach a certain level before the next stage of the mission began, but by sending out these messages we appeared to be helping the Morninglight to recruit more members. I'm not sure that's a good thing!

On a side note, this turned my twitter feed for #TSW into something resembling a cult recruitment drive. Very amusing!

Eventually Mission 6 opened up. The mission comprised a clue "ONJ" and a video still showing a highlighted park bench. The ONJ clue linked through to the following video:


Physical by Olivia Newton John (ONJ) seemed to suggest that someone had to physically visit the place in the video still to see if there was a clue.

Before long the video still was identified as being taken from the following webcam. It seemed that someone would have to go to the bench highlighted and investigate. Several community members set off for the bench, which was located in Place de Jacques-Cartier in Montreal.

http://www.earthcam.com/canada/montreal/?cam=montreal

Some rogue reports came in that some community members had been to the bench and found a reference to an old book there. However Agent Msika informed us that these reports were fake.

Msika appeared in Agartha in-game and informed people there that she wanted people in Montreal and that she would let us know when someone was there. Msika also said she left the Situation Room as she was scared for her life.

Those of us watching the webcam feed saw some activity. Three people walked by the bench, then a car seemed to pull up next to the bench and next to another car. Shortly afterwards it was confirmed by Agent Msika that the package had been picked up.

Community member Vismal had gone to the park bench in Montreal and been met by a mysterious woman there (possibly Agent Msika?). She had given him a package, and he scanned the contents and posted them up for the community to review. You can read Vismal's tale of what went down here.

Vismal posted the following images.




The blacked out word in the second image was discovered to be "holding": http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/...A1&version=ESV

At the bottom of the second image are the number 3 2 6 4 2 6. If these numbers were linked to the letters in the word "holding", we got the following:


Holding
123456

Therefore 326426 translates to:

London

This was the answer to the first part of the mission 6 test.

The second test clue was a redacted document with a QR code on it.

The QR code gave a set of numbers:

672 3180 3219

The community discovered that these were KLM flights from Montreal to a place called Chelyabinsk in Russia.

KLM flights:
672 - Montreal -> Amsterdam
3180 - Amsterdam ->Moscow
3219 - Moscow -> Chelyabinsk

This was borne out by the fact that the first image found by Vismal at the park bench in Montreal was a satellite photo of the Chelyabinsk area:

https://maps.google.com/maps?q=Chelyabinsk&hl=en&ll=55.725467,60.813103&spn=0.086425,0.199986&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=61.153041,102.392578&t=h&hnear=Chelyabinsk,+gorod+Chelyabinsk,+Chelyabinsk+Oblast,+Russia&z=13

"Chelyabinsk" was the answer to the second part of the mission.

Additionally it was found that the secret mission could be accessed by typing the following into the java console in the Situation Room:

> rrecchi Chelyabinsk

On trying to email the findings to Msika the following message was observed:


So we are helping the traitors aren't we?
Tracking ip....
<CONNECTION INTERRUPTED>

It seems we had been caught out, and this was the reason Agent Msika had fled.

After finishing the mission some community members received the following email:

Subject: The Morning Light welcomes you
From: rrecchi.211212@gmail.com

You have proven yourself worthy of The Morning Light. This is your code to enter the secret facility. You may have a hard time finding it at first, but in time, I am sure we will meet again.


Code: 303131323335383133323133343535383931343432333333373736313039383731353937323538343431383136373635 


Community member Haron revealed that he had found the code was actually the Fibonacci sequence with the number 3 between each digit.

Unfortunately I did not receive the email myself, and many other members of the community were in the same situation. This was probably because the popularity of the ARG was causing the Situation Room website to be extremely unstable during mission 6.

In any case, the ARG was over. My survival chances had risen to 99% and some extra in-game rewards were promised for when Issue#6 arrives.



In Summary

So what was it all about? What was really going on? Well, like much of the story in The Secret World things are not explained fully and much is left open to interpretation. The following is therefore only my theory, and could be way off!

The Morninglight cult were using the impending apocalypse to recruit new members. The Situation Room was the method they used for testing potential members. Agent Msika of The Black Watchmen had infiltrated the room and asked us to help try and find out what the Morninglight were up to. We were apparently aided in this by Randall Recchi, head of security, who appeared to be leaking things to us.

Except that it now kind of appears that he may have been laying a trap for Msika, who has fled in fear for her life. Certainly the final email to Msika was intercepted just before she had to flee. It also appears that by completing the various tests we have been accepted into the Morninglight (we just need to find the secret facility).

There are some on the ARG forums who question whether the ARG is really over and whether there is some further hidden mission, either saving Msika or finding the secret Morninglight facility. My own thoughts are that the ARG probably is over, but that those story threads will be followed up in some future ARG event. In any case, if more is discovered I'll updated this article.

Overall I found playing in the ARG to be an incredible experience. Always fascinating, sometimes frustrating. I've never taken part in anything like it before, certainly not in an MMO. It really pushed the boundaries of what an MMO community can do when it works together. The sense of the community all working to solve the clues and discuss what they might mean was tangible.

If I had one major issue with the ARG it was that being in Europe meant I missed a lot of the community-based puzzles. I attempted the solo puzzles myself, and was successful for the most part, but those parts that required the community as whole to solve (such as the pipes and gauges in mission 4) had already been solved by the time I managed to get to my PC.

Another slight issue was that those who have done ARGs before were often really quick with what to try. I guess as this was my first ARG it took me longer. Next time I shall be better prepared and able to make more of a contribution. My first instinct now on seeing a binary code is to convert it to hexadecimal and then ASCII (and possibly throw in a ROT-13 Caesar cypher shift for the fun)!

Playing through the ARG also helped to deepen the in-game story and ramp up the feeling of an impending apocalypse. Tying into meteor strikes, evil corporations, poisoned water supplies, organ transplants, genetic crop manipulation and seed banks really gave the feeling of some over-arching conspiracy of which we are just picking at the edges.

I know this has been a long read, but it still only scratches the surface of what has been discussed and discovered. If you want the full picture it's worth reading the sticky threads in the ARG forum, where weird and wonderful discussions on things like bird sanctuaries and Russian links to Guyana are discussed in detail. I know of no other MMO or game that would use such a novel and deep way of disseminating lore.

Finally I should thank all the community members that helped to make this such a great experience for myself and all othe other ARG newbies!

For further reading you may like to look at the links below:

Another excellent write-up of the ARG, along with links can be found here: http://wiki.crygaia.com/view/End_Of_Days

ARG mural: http://beta.mural.ly/!/#/shezbeth/1355354591815

The company that created the ARG for Funcom: http://www.humanequation.co/

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