So you might be aware that Double Fine recently announced a puzzle action game called Hack ‘n’ Slash. Hacking as a major mechanic, where a “young elf uses her computer hacking skills to cheat her way through a classic action/adventure game.” Very meta. Double Fine’s press releases are generally the stuff of legends, so I’d really be doing a disservice writing anything else: you can read the full release here.

Very well, hacking as a mechanic. Way to rip off Watch Dogs, Double Fine*. Curiously, however, the press releases ends with a garbled mess of computer jargon, as well as a website where the only thing you can do is download a 12mb image file. Well, this obviously tweaked the noses of Internet super-sleuths who immediately started digging with command lines and hex editors and whatnot – and it turns out there’s a treasure trove of information hidden away for those with the will and skill to see it. Wizards, mainly; potent code sorcerers who clearly form the crux of Double Fine’s fanbase given the insane levels of analysis they’ve been able to apply.

You can read their arcane writings below, so this is a fair warning for spoilers if you want to try and work it out yourself. IF YOU DARE.

Firstly, the image is an archive, but renaming it to a zip file gets you no where. 7zip can unpack it with a .rar extension though, which results in a folder with a text file, a video and an mp3 file of the Main Theme. That much I gathered, but that’s it; my frail, withered intellect stumped.

Double Fine forum user pretz opened the jpg in a hex editor to reveal the following message contained within:


So that pretty much laid it out bare, but just how deep does the rabbit hole go? As it turns out, pretty deep. Phort99 decided to try the same trick with the mp3 file, and found the following message within: “passwords read like incantations when spoken in all capital letters”, and the genre listed as AES-256-cbc. AES is the standard form of encryption used by many government agencies, while the number 256 represents the number of bits in the encryption key – enough to be virtually impossible to brute-force.

Moving along, the text file contains a rambling list of repeated phrases, apparently from the Acting Regent. However, Phort99 also realised that by adjusting the width of the text box, you get two identical columns of text that are actually a 3d stereographic image. Crossing your eyes to make the two columns merge results in the following message standing out: “The embedded application is enciphered with the incantation presented by the first observed glyphs”.


The 3D image in question

Lokno instead focused on the video images contained within the zip file, and noticed the string of runes that were playing through the video – runes that appeared very similar to the ones on the main page for Hack ‘n’ Slash. It helped users quickly decipher the alphabet, which resulted in a translation of the message in the video:

“most of the time we only see the things that we expect to
often secrets are in plain sight but remain invisible to us
size up the medium you are observing and you may find it supports modes of expression you do not expect
images can contain words
words can produce images
something that appears to be a recording of life may actually be a container filled with the sequences of images and channels of audio that you expect but that container can hold”

In addition, the glyphs inscribed on the alter of the main site read:


Putting it all together, the above turned out to be the password required to decrypt the file, generating an EXE which, when run, requested an incantation to continue. This is where it gets a bit murky for me, so please forgive any misinterpretations on my part, but according to Nasarius you need to run the EXE through a debugger/disassembler to obtain the incantation. There’s some speculation as to where users are supposed to find their incantation, but it appears to be different for each user. Successful entry results in the following message:


Anyway, the Council of Sages soon put together the message, which results in this rather awe-inspiring message:


Pretty bad-ass, if you ask me.

While I’m not sure how much of this is “hacking” per se, it definitely sets the tone for Hack ‘n’ Slash‘s  unique premise. Kudos to all the mages over at Double Fine forums, infinitely wise and magnificent.

* I’m kidding. I’m kidding.