Cracking the Secret Code

There is an island in Abandon Ship with a solitary building on it. Sailing to its event marker will reveal entrances that require multiple codes to enter. By using clues hidden both in the game and our website the doors could be opened. Once inside, the final piece of a puzzle was revealed, allowing one person to win a special prize.
That prize has now been claimed.
This post is the first time Fireblade Software have publicly acknowledged the existence of this treasure hunt, and it will explain how and why we did this, along with quotes from two people – going by the handles of bytor_x86 and BeardedS0ul – that were racing to crack the code first.
If you wish to complete the puzzle yourself without assistance, it’ll be best to stop reading now, as below will contain lots of spoilers.
Back in 2016, approximately three months before we would officially reveal Abandon Ship with an Announcement Trailer, we started to create our website.
We knew that players are often interested in the people who make the games they play, so we started to write “Meet the Team” blog posts.
Collectively we weren’t enthusiastic about plastering our faces all over these posts, so we decided to show images of our working areas instead. When creating my post, an idea struck: what if we buried clues in the images for observant players to find?

 

 

Abandon Ship is a big game. There are over a hundred maps, each one with a unique island and event or quest. This was a very early goal of ours, and I was thinking about the sorts of things we could populate the world with. Having a treasure hunt seemed very appropriate.
With thoughts of the Goonies “One-Eyed Willy” treasure, along with the James Halliday quest from Ready Player One swirling round my head, a very approximate plan was sketched out:
– That each Meet the Team (henceforth known as ‘MTT’ post would contain a clue
– In order to read the clue, you’d have to maximise the image (the post just showed a thumbnail)
– Except the first one, they should be easy to miss, only observant people would notice them
– The clues should have some sort of nautical theme or association
– You could follow these clues to access something in the game
– This would then allow you to complete the puzzle and the first person to do so would win something unique
– We wouldn’t acknowledge the existence of the clues until the whole thing had been solved
The MTT blogs were posted between August 2016 and January 2018. Within the images, either on our PC screens or notepads on our desks we had hidden Morse code, flag symbols, map co-ordinates, code that could only be broken by enigma machines and phrases (written backwards and upside down, requiring the person to flip and mirror them).
The clues could be used both in-game in a special location, and combined with a secret website that would ultimately reveal an email address. The first person to message that address would win a prize.
We also had two messages in a bottle that we spawned randomly around certain regions to give cryptic clues and act as the initial breadcrumbs.

 

The bottles could appear in any one of 30 maps, spread across multiple regions

 

With everything set up, it was just a case of seeing if anyone started following the trail we’d scattered around. We had no idea whether this would happen or not, fully expecting to have to drop a more explicit hint several months further down the line.
How wrong we were.

 

Abandon Ship graduated from Early Access on 22nd October 2019, and a few comments would crop up in our Discord, asking about the meaning of the messages in the bottle, and whether anyone had success with the barriers in the island building. A thread developed on our Steam forum, titled “Password for Barrier”. This is where several people started to make good progress narrowing things down.

 

Talking with BeardedS0ul he explained how he took up the hunt: “After completing the story and the other modes of the game I still hadn’t found the password. So I checked the steam forums to see if I had missed something that others had found. Shout out to Bytor_x86 that pointed me in the right direction”.
Bytor_x86 was the first person to work out the messages in bottles referenced the MTT posts on the website: “No in-game event was about meeting a team, nor finding an assortment of pictures or images”, he said. “This made me think that I should be looking at developer profiles or something along those lines”. Once he’d discovered the correct posts on the website, the hunt was on.
The first barrier fell shortly after that, BeardedS0ul explaining “I was in the scouts as a child so noticed the Morse code right away, translated it and got an 8-letter result, just the fit for the first barrier”.
With breaking the second barrier, Bytor_x86 had this to say about using the co-ordinates on one of the posts: “Google maps placed me in a park, so I went to check the list of attractions in that park, and found a statue with the name I was looking for”.

 

At this point Bytor_x86 originally thought the treasure hunt was completed: “After unlocking both barriers and getting the remaining hidden achievement, I thought that was the end. Although the final event message was a bit open-ended, it still gave impression that victory had been achieved! Only when BeardedS0ul in Steam forums insisted that it seems to be deeper, I decided to check the images again”.
While the in-game portion had thus far been defeated, the second half of the puzzle was yet to be broken. BeardedS0ul details how he used the clues in Aaron’s post to uncover the secret website: “I’m Danish and we learn a couple of different languages, German being one of them, so I recognized the words and googled them, focusing on naval and combat as this seemed to be a theme. Saw that it was about an enigma machine, its model and the settings for it. Found an emulator online, tuned the settings in and decoded the code and got a URL”.

 

 

The next clue Bytor_x86 solved was the flag symbols: “The pattern of the flags immediately drew my attention, so tried to decode it starting with ICS flags. But those were missing some of the flags from the image, so I started looking at other sets. Eventually I found Popham’s flags and I recognized the pattern”. While the clue was solved, Bytor_x86 confirmed that nobody had yet worked out how it should be used: “Figuring what to do with that was another story…
Meanwhile, BeardedS0ul was solving the remaining clue: “This one sent me for a spin. The legacy of Hashimoto… I went with a naval theme search, submarine captains and dead ends.” This forced him to take another approach: “I went back to the website and inspected its code structure to find clues. I found a reference to a plugin, so the legacy referred to was Kazuhisa Hashimoto’s. I know the code by heart and typed it in and that sent me to a new page, one that asked for a login.
Only one clue had not been used thus far, and entering this as the password allowed progress to be made. But as BeardedS0ul discovered, it wasn’t over quite yet: “A new challenge, half of an email address, but could I find the rest?” That was when he recalled the final part of the in-game quest: “When you pop the achievement in game, you get an event flavour text, which contain another Morse code. Combining the two I sent the message. But did X mark the spot?

 

It did. On the 21st November 2019, the challenge was completed. Bytor_x86 emailed the secret address first, with BeardedS0ul doing so a mere hour later.
When I messaged BeardedS0ul to say he’d missed out on being the first by an hour, he didn’t mind: “The quest and challenge was its own reward!” he went on to explain that he and Bytor_x86 had even collaborated: “We talked and helped each other. We agreed to only help people on Steam in a slightly cryptic manner so as not to ruin it for others”.

 

But what of the prize? We wanted to commemorate this in the game, and name the island after the first person to solve the secret. After discussion with Bytor_x86 he wanted to use his handle, so next time you’re sailing through the Breeding Islets and navigate past “Bytor’s Rock”, you’ll know where the name came from.

 

 

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