The Mysterious No Man's Sky ARG: 16 Cassette Tapes, Hidden Codes, and Creepy Voices

By Matt Wales on at

Over the last few weeks, No Man's Sky fans have been communally scratching heads over the existence of some very peculiar cassette tapes. 16 such tapes have been dispatched by No Man's Sky developer Hello Games, and the newest to surface is the weirdest yet.

Before we get to that though, some history: it all started around June 1st when mods from various No Man's Sky communities began receiving goody bags containing, among other random bits of promotional bumpf, a poster and a single cassette tape numbered as one of 16. This caused an immediate problem: what the hell's a cassette tape? I'm just kidding folks. Once the obstacle of finding something to play them had been overcome, things started to get weird.

While most Side-As primarily consisted of music, the community eventually discovered that each Side-B featured ambient sounds which, when converted to a spectrogram (OBVIOUSLY), revealed the string "706s7274616p". When this is run through the letter-substitution cipher ROT13 (OBVIOUSLY) it returns a hex string that could be translated to "portal." Over and over again, tape after tape, the same message appeared. And suddenly, the phrase on the poster that participants had received didn't seem so innocuous: "The giant gateway calls out to me, filling my mind with whispered secrets of a far-flung world."

Portals, of course, are one of the many features promised during No Man's Sky's pre-release period that eventually failed to materialise in the final game — or rather, failed to appear in a functional capacity. You can still spot the ominous bulk of portals from time to time as you explore the universe but, despite the community's best (and weirdest) efforts to get them started, they've remained deader than a Young Conservative houseparty. Which is a shame, because the portal trailer made them look pretty badass.

While all this mystery was getting No Man's Sky fans in a flap, something seemingly unrelated was happening elsewhere. On May 27th, internet sleuths uncovered a new worldwide ARG known as Waking Titan. So far this has spilled out a bunch of brain-busting conundrums, building on map locations, radio stations, and even real-world information drops. What makes things particularly interesting, though, are the repeated references to No Man's Sky.

As well as symbols similar to those in Hello Games' universe sim, Waking Titan has consistently spewed out references to Atlas (the mysterious entity in one of No Man's Sky's core narrative paths). The crucial link however, came when a Waking Titan dead-drop in New York City revealed the code "(MDEzRDowMDc4OjA3MjQ6MDA1Ng==)".

That code, when converted from base64 to ASCII, returned the string "013D:0078:0724:0056" — which the brilliantly-named Reddit user aggressive-cat correctly surmised to be galactic co-ordinates within No Man's Sky. On arrival at that location, aggressive-cat discovered that a player named "instance16status" had left the message "LOOP16 UNEXPECTED ERROR: 97C-303N-5884-P." This string of letters and numbers ultimately turned out to be a critical password for the Waking Titan ARG, thus confirming their connection.

Since then, attempts to uncover the purpose of all this internet malarkey have floundered, with the trail seeming to grow colder each day for participants on the No Man's Sky side. Last night, however, yet another cassette tape surfaced. Number nine of 16 was received by YouTuber CobraTV, and is perhaps the weirdest yet. Instead of music, this new tape's Side A features eerie narrative from a child-like female. You can hear it at the start of CobraTV's video below.

As tends to be the way with those old-fangled cassette tapes, the sound quality isn't exactly stellar, but sharp-eared Redditor YourBasicMaths approximated the narration as follows:

I am alone in this space between worlds.
I am alone, but for my thoughts, my words.
I am alone, but for you.
I see you, you must have known I could.
You must have known what this was.
Through these travels we come to know ourselves, just as the universe comes to know us, in turn.

I cannot step through. I know now that if I do, all of this will be over. Lives come back to me. I’ve seen horrors and wonders. I have been cruel, I have become good and evil. I have grown beyond all such things, by a fractured life.

And now I am become you. One day, your voice will speak to you, telling you of something, some signal that needs answering. It will tell you of some secret of the heart of reality, some puzzle that needs to be solved, lest all life falls into decay and oblivion. Do not listen to it.

If all the world is a lie, then nothing is true, not even an explanation. Abandon it. Abandon me. It is inevitable.

So where does this all leave us? Well, nobody is quite sure. The latest tape seems to once again point to portals ("this space between worlds", "I cannot step through"). Redditors have also noted that parts of the narration — spoiler alert! — reflect the conclusion of No Man Sky's Abandoned Building lore, where you receive a troubling message from your distant future self. "One day, your voice will speak to you, telling you of something, some signal that needs answering [...] Do not listen to it."

There's no way of knowing exactly where any of this is heading, but presumably another big No Man's Sky update is incoming. Hello Games has continued to significantly improve and expand the game since release, and finally bringing in portals would be of a piece with their approach thus far. One caveat: this seems like an awful lot of palaver to announce an already-seen feature. Given what happened the last time people got too hyped about this game, perhaps it's best to temper our expectations: but you can follow developments on the dedicated No Man's Sky tape thread.

And remember: keep watching the stars.