This is the last part in our round up of the ARG that we ran throughout April. Just in case you’ve had your head buried in a hole this last week, it was a month-long series of puzzles that lead up to the announcement of the frankly awesome Hackaday Prize. During the week we’ve covered Transmissions 1, 2 and 3 detailing how we put the puzzles together and the things that went wrong. For the final stage we wanted something a bit different. Throughout the ARG we had been inspired by the book Ready Player One, so in this stage we wanted a high score table that people could compete over.
Since we’d managed to get reasonably far ahead of ourselves during Transmission 3 we had just over a week to plan this round. We pitched some ideas around the office for video games we could make with high score tables. None of these really stuck and we soon realized we didn’t have the resources to get the graphic design work done for most games. Someone suggested that we try making a MUD themed around a space port with rescue for Major Tom being the last stage. This seemed like a great idea at first and I began work on it using the RanvierMUD framework. It soon became clear however that writing all the text for a full featured MUD is actually a massive endeavor and I frankly am not that great of a writer.
Learn the secrets and watch a video tour of the Minecraft world below.
So 5 days before the next transmission was due we still had no idea what we were going to put out. Thankfully [Steve] has kids who are obsessed with Minecraft, and he immediately suggested that we build a Minecraft world. Now there are several Hackaday writers (myself included) who love Minecraft, and to me its the ultimate hacker friendly game. The redstone, the building, and the creativity all resonate strongly with the hacker mindset so this seemed like a perfect fit. There was some concern that all our readers don’t necessarily have copies, but we figured that it was a pretty good bet that most would.
We quickly fleshed out some ideas for what we should build, and started thinking about how we could include a puzzle element and a scoreboard into the game. We tested using the rather cool looking Galacticraft mod, but this required client-side modifications that weren’t very simple to install so we had to abandon that. We also thought about doing some kind of meteor chasing, but this seemed a little contrived. In the end we settled on extending the theme from the ARG into the game.
We decided to build models of each of the 5 telescopes we referred to in Transmission 3, along with a rocket and spaceport from which you could launch a ‘rescue’ mission to go find Major Tom who would be housed in The End within a space station of some sort. We found a copy of the awesome Earth 2.0 map created by Lets Lente and decided that we would place all the real world space things we could find into the map. Thankfully [Brian] and [Mike] are mad for Minecraft, so they took over building some of the really big structures. [Brian] did a stellar job on 4 of the big telescopes. [Tom], one of our colleagues at SupplyFrame, and his daughter built the LOFAR array (they also put together a replica of the SupplyFrame office which is really amazingly accurate!).
[Mike] built a spectacular rocket and gantry, and then put together the space station that housed Major Tom. During all this I configured the server, figured out how to protect areas and built a teleporter at the main spawn point. The teleporter could be used to dial in longitude and latitude coordinates from the real world to magically transport you to the locations within the game. This then tied everything nicely back into the clues from the earlier transmissions.
So, that took care of the world (he says…like it was a five-minute job to build all these massive structures). Next up was how do we include a puzzle element into this? Thankfully [Sarah], another SupplyFrame colleague, had that in hand. She took on building out the rest of the space port which housed [Mike's] rocket, and served as the jumping off point to go find Major Tom. Within this spaceport she hid a series of puzzles which would allow you to gain access to the rocket. It started in one of the hangers, with there being a large number of pressure plates on which you could stand. Each pressure plate was labelled with a resistor ranged number. When you stepped on a pressure plate it would teleport you to the next room, or an ‘incorrect’ room, or out to the exit. In order to progress through the rooms you had to know which sequence of pads to step on in each room. We then hid clues for these at each site around the Minecraft world in the form of resistor color coded blocks at each telescope site. In each room you will find only one pad that corresponds to any of the codes from the blocks in the world so its pretty easy to figure out when you know how.
This worked great, it meant that you had to go look through the coordinates of the telescopes from Transmission 3 and 1, go visit them using the main teleporter at the spawn, read the resistor color code and then head out to the launch site (from Transmission 3) and figure out which code mapped to which room. The puzzles were well designed and they worked, though of course this being Minecraft it seemed that some people simply glitched the world to gain access to the rocket.
Once you were inside the rocket you could drop down a huge hole to fly through a portal and magically end up at the space station in The End where Major Tom was roaming around spouting pithy comments. At the space station there were a number of things you could find and look at but I’ll leave those for the more interested to explore. We’ll be leaving the server up so check the details at the end of the post if you want to check out the world.
Hacking the Scoreboard
So to complete our goals with this transmission we wanted to have a public scoreboard by which everyone could track their progress through the world and so that we could award a prize at the end to the winner. This seemed quite tricky to accomplish at first, Minecraft has a scoreboard system but it doesn’t really have a ‘game’ so has no natural points to be gained, so you have to setup your own. In the end we decided to award points for locations found within the world. By the time we launched we had 10 areas, the 5 telescopes and 5 additional places you could find by luck or persistence. Each location had a stash of points which it would award to each player as they entered the area, the number of points would diminish each time the area was found so this gave us a nice little bit of competition. You can checkout the scoreboard at http://space.hackaday.io.
We then wrote a quick bit of code to pull down the scoreboard.dat file from the Minecraft server via FTP every 5 minutes, which was then parsed using the JNBT library. This then spat the data out on an API which our scoreboard page pulls down when it renders. A little bit long winded, but we tried using the JSON API plugin and that didn’t actually provide access to the output of the scoreboard within Minecraft so this was the fastest way to get this working.
The Final Transmission
We announced the Minecraft server with a little obvious puzzle. We posted the following image on Hackaday:
The numbers encoded on the dials in the image make up the IP address of the server, 184.108.40.206:25565. Once this clue was decoded people started hopping on the server. I think at peak we ended up with 20 or so concurrent users, but overall we had a couple of hundred people visit the server.
Our main concern with running a Minecraft server was the possibility of griefing. We’ve got our pet trolls on Hackaday, but they’re nothing compared to Minecraft griefers! Thankfully we managed to go almost 5 days before any major incident, everyone played nice and explored the world. The puzzle was eventually solved, despite it being possible to glitch around it. Eventually it was clear people would start to run out of things to do, so we decided an exercise in creativity was called for. We setup a big creative area behind the main spawn where people could build what they want, this became the PixelArt contest which we announced the winners of yesterday (our beloved [Caleb Kraft] was the judge). We’ve updated that post with a video of the pixel art entries.
This contest went fantastically well, we had loads of entries and they were nearly all stunning. Eventually however the griefers arrived and decided to wash out the creative zone, fill it full of boats, and destroy as much artwork as they could. This was a real shame and some unique pieces were lost. Thankfully however we did manage to save or rebuild most of it. Our sys admins also learnt a valuable lesson: an untested backup process is not a backup!
It’s All Over, Time to Build Stuff IRL
Well that was a very crazy month, and it’s now drawn to a close. Tomorrow we will announce the winners of the ARG and award them their prizes. We’re also going to keep the Minecraft server up for the time being or until it is no longer used, so please feel free to hang out there and build crazy stuff. There will be Hackaday staff popping in every now and then.
If you want to hop onto the server its available at:
There’s some lovely little prizes we’re giving away here, but they’re not a trip to space! For that you need to build something real, and rightly so after spending so much time in the virtual world with these puzzles. Get hacking!
Here’s link to the Hackaday Minecraft world file filled with all the goodies. The archive is about 3GB.