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Book Excerpt: How data miners shed light on  P.T. 's ghost story

Book Excerpt: How data miners shed light on P.T.'s ghost story

April 27, 2018 | By Joel Couture

April 27, 2018 | By Joel Couture
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More: Console/PC, Design



What follows is a brief excerpt from P.T. - A Video Game Ghost Story, a new ebook written by Gamasutra contributor Joel Couture that's being sold exclusively as part of the current StoryBundle (curated by UBM EVP and expert Gamasutra blogger Simon Carless).

In this excerpt, Couture chats with P.T. data miner luxox18 about some of the secrets hidden in the game, and luxox18's process for working with other fans to ferret them out.

Secrets have given P.T. an incredible power to frighten, but did we discover them all, yet? What else lies buried in the game’s code, waiting to frighten unsuspecting players?

Luxox18, a data miner who uncovered what may be the last of P.T.’s secrets back in December 2016, just wanted to know what was still lying there that hadn’t been seen.

Silent Hill is a very important franchise to me. I've played the games for years, and just like a lot of players, I want a new Silent Hill too. This new game, P.T./Silent Hills, promised a change in the franchise under the direction of people with a long career and great prestige. Unfortunately, none of this happened, converting the game into a kind of internet legend that was almost buried, generating a special interest in many people,” says luxox18.

“Personally, I love the ambient and mystery that we can see and feel in Silent Hill games, where everything, in the end, is paranormal and there are not answers for everything, contrary to games like Resident Evil where everything has a human origin in its creation (Resident Evil is a good game too [laughs]).”

“Now, based on my experience in game data during these years, it's very common that developers add content to the final game (intentionally or not) that will not be used. This happens due to multiple factors like time, sudden changes, future plans, lots of people working in the project, large amounts of data, etc. Maybe you know that developers need more storage to create a game than players will need in the final game. For example, Killzone Shadow Fall, a game developed by Guerrilla Games released during 2013, had a size of 45GB approx, but developers needed about 12TB of storage during its creation. That is lot of data discarded that we will never see. Imagine that in famous titles like Metal Gear, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, etc.”

Data for unused objects, creatures, and music is often left inside the game, whether by developers forgetting about it, meaning to use it later, or for any number of reasons that busy professionals might not remove it over. This possibility was tantalizing for luxox18, especially given the already mysterious nature of P.T.

“Obviously, we don't know if a game has removed content that is still included until we can research the data. This increases the desire to find out their secrets. I would have loved to know the development and have the end of the story told,” says luxox18.

Luxox18 found a few interesting tidbits inside of the game, doing so with the help of many other users and dedicated fans across the world, all of whom played a part in the multiple steps required to crack their way into the game’s code. “The security added by Sony in the PS4 console and in the game packages is very strict, so to data mine the game, it was necessary to obtain a decrypted version. This was finally possible thanks to the members of the PS4 scene that were able to obtain data, bypassing the security measures added by the developers. Otherwise we would have to wait more months or years.”

A level designer's view of P.T.'s memorable hallway, extracted from the game's code by fans

“With the first part solved the next task was figure out the Fox Engine formats,” luxox18 continues, trying not to get too technical. “Fortunately, this was resolved too, because a lot of people developed tools some months before for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain that basically used the same engine with some minimum changes. Then, the most difficult task was converting models and textures, but some people from the Xentax forum (a forum for deep game research) made great discoveries that helped us to find more things and to automate the process.”

This process, while different every time, has allowed luxox18 to make some interesting discoveries in multiple games, some interesting and some silly. “In part, I feel good for find things the devs invested time and effort into, but we will never see due to unknown decisions. Some of the hidden models have amazing details, and I feel that basically means that the time invested was important. Also, there are other models that are used as placeholders, at times. These models have zero relation with the game or ambience, but are sometimes very funny.”

Luxox18 feels that many of these discoveries are important, archiving things that developers put a ton of work into and that deserve to be seen, whether they made it into the full game or not.  He often wonders whet these games would have been like with this kind of content included. “I feel bad sometimes, because some of the content is amazing! Imagine what kind of game would have resulted if that content was added (music, models, images, story, dialogues, etc)!”

This attitude led them to work on seeing what they could discover within P.T., hopefully to find even more interesting secrets that still lay buried outside the game. And indeed, they found some, revealing creatures and details that could hint at more of the game’s stories and secrets.

“In mining P.T., it was very interesting to find the monster with the big hand that we can see during the trailer (the one from Tokyo Game Show 2014), or see some extra details in characters.  The main character, for example (Norman Reedus), had a phone in his pocket.”

The "gray, humanoid creature" model implemented in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

The monster with the large hand, a gray, humanoid creature, and some other details became known through luxox18’s efforts. It was revealed that the inside of the paper bag – the one that talks to the player – is empty, although this may not be for any deep reason. The character models for Lisa and the protagonist were even made available for some people online to make silly videos with. The strange creature, the one we would see in the later trailer, hints that perhaps more was slated to be added to the demo at a later date, or perhaps some features had been cut for various reasons. 

Still, many have developed complex theories on the game based on these unveiled secrets, which pleased luxox18, but he remains humble about it. “The questions based on the content that I found and in the content of other people are infinite, basically as far as the human mind can imagine, without receiving official feedback from Kojima. My finds have helped some people develop elaborate theories that are wonderful, but it is not just my own merit. Lots of people have found amazing things in the games and in P.T. I just was the first guy to check the game files – sooner or later, another person would have found the same things.”

Are these all that remain in P.T., though? Do we know everything about it, and can lay our fears of its mysteries to bed? Judging from Lisa’s still-mysterious behavior and some words from luxox18, perhaps not.

When asked what he was looking for, he answers: “I was hoping to find ‘something’. Nothing specific. Maybe a discarded character, some unreleased sounds and/or textures, or an image with a message that we cannot see in game because we are not able to correctly trigger the action. And, yes, basically all that I expected has been found. Except the actions, because I've not checked the scripts to find other triggers in-game, so maybe there are more secrets still there.” 

There are still some things that luxox18 hasn’t looked into – still some final mysteries that the game holds in store for those who play it. While knowing everything might have eroded some of those fears players get while exploring P.T., even four years later, there are still some questions on how our monstrous ghost behaves, as well as what other behaviors the game has hidden and done. There is still much we may not know about the game, as while we can see all that it holds, we still may not know all of what it chooses to do to us.



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