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Monday, December 11, 2023

Hacking game’s ultimate Easter Egg decoded after eight years

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An optional puzzle included in Double Fine’s 2014 hacking game Hack ‘n’ Slash has, eight years on, finally been solved. The problem has been known as the SecretRoom.lua puzzle, named after an encrypted file among the game’s files that no-one could work out how to decrypt.

Someone finally has, and the news comes via the blog of software analyst Guillaume Fortin-Debigaré, who seems to have a real penchant for these kinds of mysteries. The problem with this one is that the puzzle was known about almost immediately, and plenty about it was solved apart from one key element: the decryption key. Try as the most hardened puzzle sleuths might, they couldn’t even find a clue as to what they should be looking for.

“As such, players hit a wall,” writes Fortin-Debigaré, “and despite brute-force attacks, despite inspecting in great detail the game’s original prototype, despite analyzing every piece of promotional material and merch released, and despite reverse-engineering major parts of the game, nothing obvious was found that could help.”

A reward was offered but, despite the best efforts of some, interest eventually waved. Until now. A player called Glenn “Netrix” Anderson cracked the password on 9 December, and was rewarded with an easter egg that gives additional information about the game’s development and some insight into the missing Act 1. 

The password was surprisingly simple, and here’s Fortin-Debigaré’s full explanation of how the puzzle was eventually solved. The jumping-off point was a hint from the game’s lead designer, Brandon Dillon, provided on request to someone who asked whether brute-forcing this would be practical.

I don’t think it’d be practical to brute-force it. The passphrase shows up in the game.December 2, 2022

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Near the end of the game there is a room containing a pedestal with a book on it. Books have unusual file-related properties and, usually in the game, a player “jacks” the pedestal, inputs a password, and if successful is able to access new elements of the game world. The book in question here can be decoded ‘normally’ but it can also be swapped for another book that points to the mystery file: SecretRoom.lua.

Spoiler ahead for how it’s solved, in case you’ve spent seven years on this thing already.

The player needs to switch the books on the pedestal, input the correct password, et voila. The password is hashed but turned out to be right in front of its players the whole time. The game’s loading screen message reads:

“It’s dangerous to hack ‘n’ slash. Be brave.”

The password is the last two words.

It was really cool to take part in this experience. The incredibly talented team that made Hack ‘n’ Slash a reality has been an inspiration to me as a programmer and game developer. https://t.co/bXV2H1GX7dDecember 13, 2022

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Well, that wasn’t as easy as you might have thought. The room contains new visuals, information on the game’s origins, and more tidbits. All credit to the player who eventually cracked it, Glenn “Netrix” Anderson, and Guillaume Fortin-Debigaré’s blog.

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