The cassettes are not what we think they are. | x-post from /r/NoMansSkyTheGame


#1

Hello guys, I’m the sound engineer that tried to layer up the cassettes we have available.

Since that night I’ve been bashing my head on what to do or where to go from there. Working on the B-sides I had a strong feeling they were really almost the same thing with not many differences… they just sounded… different. which is something that I blamed on the bad recordings we got, the shitty quality these cassette players the mods got, the god-awful cassette players they played them on, their inability to provide us a crystal clear source audio, etc etc.

And I felt like this was everybody’s sentiment: "the mods have no experience in audio and they provided us with the worst of the worst of the audio files. if only we had the originals… "

One clue that really got my brain started is the StuartGT files. his tape looked like it was the most important one (more on this later) but also the one with the most fucked up audio digitalisation.
When I’ve opened his file for the first time and noticed it was a FLAC I thought “oh finally! somebody able to provide us some decent quality audio”, and when I started it up… THE HORROR ON MY FACE. it was the most hideous recording we’ve ever got. The Side-A wasn’t even there, it was all noise, you could barely recognise the robot voice at the beginning, while the Side-B left channel was completely distorted.

And this got me upset, because his tape was unique: it was the first tape and that must mean something, and it’s longer than the others since it has another “noise song” after the first one that’s shared with all the other cassettes, and it still has what I recognised being the Atlas Sound closing it. So I was really pissed and I actually muted the distorted channel and barely worked on that at all, because my audio-nerd attitude brought me to discard something this bad that couldn’t be worked on.

Then, something Emily said on the OrbitTV interview sparked my brain. They were talking about echoes, how an echo is a sound getting repeated and copied over itself a lot of times, what the Korvax Echoes are and how they got the same issue, and how the cassettes were already old by themselves… so!

I fired up my DAW and looked again at the StuartGT file, and I confirmed his rig had nothing to do with the noise! when you start his file you can hear the noise a broken cable, or a cable that’s not been fit properly makes, while at the end of the tape that sound is not there, so this indicates me the audio cable was fine and the noise we hear is much probably been recorded onto the tape. Also, something that really bugged me was how can anybody do such a bad job and not double check it… I mean you got something this unique and you don’t doublecheck the file you produced was actually the same you’ve been listening to? Also I looked for the original thread and he confirms there’s nothing wrong with his deck, it’s the cassette that’s fucked.

All the informations I’ve presented you are nothing new but, by putting them together, they bring us to two very important points that we need to include in our tapes-discussion for good:

  1. the digital files from the tapes are fine
  2. the tapes are NOT supposed to be overlaid.

What we’re hearing is the same recording, the same signal or the same message degrading over time once it gets copied on a new tape, and then that tape gets copied on another tape and so on for 16 times. This process brought errors with it (audio cables detached, channels missing, audio degraded, background noise, etc.) and that is what we all heard on the files.

Now, question time:

  • Why is this so?
  • Which one is the original tape (granted we received it yet)?
  • Why did the tapes got so degraded and with this amount of copy errors?
  • Why the fact they degrade should be important to us?
  • What is the audio from the tapes representing? (it’s clear now the tapes are not just random noises to hide a way to convey us the “portal” word)
  • Is the order number of the tape relevant to its contain?
  • What is that we can do to crack this mystery now?

What do you guys think? I’d like you all to stick with me and brainstorm in the comments, I really think the tapes are bigger than we think.


#2

The videos from Elizabeth were overlayed, you say they are not supposed to be overlaid… perhaps in an audio kind way but what if the (im no expert) its just about the audio waves and not the actual audio itself?


#3

I want to make sure I understand you. You are basically saying the tapes are the same, but were recorded one after the next using the previous as the source, so that the net effect is loss of quality. Is this correct?


#4

maybe the tape numbers, ordered from least to most degraded, form an important number sequence.


#5

Man, I really like your theory, but StuartGT said “The cassette and player are okay, it’s the lineout that’s fucked.” He bought a shitty tape deck from a second hand store and used an 1/8" to 1/8" cable into his line-in jack. There’s probably a short in the port on the deck(hence it ending up in a second hand store) or he bought a crappy shorted cable(from the same second hand store.)

My honest opinion is that some of the tape recipients really do have NO IDEA how to make a good transfer and aren’t willing to take the time and effort to do it over. I think the mob has decided there’s nothing more to the tapes, so there’s no pressure on them to try harder. The fidelity of tape 7 is perfectly acceptable and is a full-length recording. There are definitely interesting things that go through the whole tape, but it is the ONLY decent sample we have. The others have just said f’ it.

I’m still looking for a statement from StuartGT that matches your assertion. I apologize in advance if my tone is aggressive. I just feel a lot of frustration that we can’t put the layering theory to rest because we don’t have good recordings, and everything I’ve seen, heard, and read indicates that we really don’t have faithful transfers of the original audio from the tapes.


#6

Man, I really like your theory, but StuartGT said “The cassette and player are okay, it’s the lineout that’s fucked.”

AH! so he meant the LINE-OUT!! not the lineout of the audio… total misunderstanding on my side! so are we really sure his tape is like all the others? for sure it has more audio, and the distortion it has on the left-channel it seems too well done to be just a line-out problem.

I’m still looking for a statement from StuartGT that matches your assertion. I apologize in advance if my tone is aggressive. I just feel a lot of frustration that we can’t put the layering theory to rest because we don’t have good recordings, and everything I’ve seen, heard, and read indicates that we really don’t have faithful transfers of the original audio from the tapes.

maybe the whole point of the layering was to discard layering? tapes are too unreliable to be layered up correctly, unless something HUGE was going on just like in the elizabeth videos, but if that was the case we would have noticed, wouldn’t we?

anyway one question still stands: what is that extra audio from the StuartGT tapes?


#7

I do like your theory because it ties in with the “loop 16” error message that was found in the game, and with data corruption over successive generations of echoes. But because the tapes were handled so badly by the mods, we don’t have much in terms of rigorous evidence to support this theory. We don’t have tape 16 and that must hold some additional clue. Maybe the Waking Titan people will eventually give it to us through another live meetup.


#8

I’ve heard it said on Reddit many times that only 15 moderators received requests for addresses from Hello Games. If tape 16/16 is the original, HG may have kept it for the time being. Of course, many other moderators who gave their addresses haven’t received tapes yet, too many to blame on getting lost in the mail. So HG probably haven’t sent them all out still, but again, only 15 moderators were contacted, so likely they won’t send the original which is probably one of the 16.


#9

Let me be clear here, I think the aggregation of copy errors you bring up is a really good lead and actually explains why they might use cassettes, and we would definitely be able to put the tapes in a sequence, but we still would need at the very least full-length recordings. If StuartGT popped in the tape and just listened to it I can’t believe he wouldn’t mention how crappy it sounded, especially with it being tape 1. Instead he says “the cassette and player are okay.”

Have a look on spectrum at the high frequency ranges of tape 4(15kHz+) and tape 10(10kHz+). There is banding up there which isn’t present on any of the other tapes. Those frequencies may have been attenuated upon transfer, so they may be present in the originals, we just don’t know. They are different, however, between tapes 4 and 10, which means that unless these weren’t brand new blank tapes before HG recorded on them something different happened when each was recorded. Maybe different equipment? Tape 10 has a pattern which looks, to me, like a second overdub happened. This brings me to the “extra audio” on tape 1.

I think that each tape was recorded once all the way through with its individual content, then overdubbed with the “identical” chiptune on side A and “signal” on side B.


#10

Whoa, you just gave me a crazy thought. What if something was recorded on all the tapes before the current recording? (and by the way, yes, you can record over a cassette twice and still use it, unlike a CD which becomes fragmented).

What if every tape contains a small snippet of the old recording, which, when strung together, reveals a different message in the spectrogram? I only thought of this because of the Elizabeth Leighton recording which seems to have been recorded over with corrupted “noise”.

Obviously this brings up the great danger that we would never be able to read this secret message because the moderator’s recordings are so bad, and with many tapes missing, this is doubly improbable to work.

HOWEVER, this could be the VERY REASON Hello Games kept one of the tapes, because tape 16/16 hasn’t been recorded over and contains the original message. One mod even said that HG told him they would “fill in the blanks” if we couldn’t figure out the tapes. So the plan is most likely to get the uncorrupted tape to someone once the time is right.


#11

anyway one question still stands: what is that extra audio from the StuartGT tapes?

Well, you’d have to ask stuart, since all I hear on his recording is static. :slight_smile:
The real question, which I don’t see answered by him is "does this file actually even sound remotely like what’s on the tape, or is it all messed up due to some line-out issue.

What I am also wondering though, is where are all these missing tapes? I’d expect 1 or 2 to go missing, but so far only 6 out of 16 showed up, which really makes me wonder if the rest has even been sent yet (or is even intended to be sent?). After all, just because they’re labeled 1/16 doesn’t mean there actually were 16. And if they were sent to active mods/NMS fans/etc, most likely they would have shared, if nothing else, a note somewhere saying they got one.

As for the hidden contents of the tape, well, I’m not sure if/how many ways there are to actually hide something on a tape file other than fooling with the spectogram or reconstructing voices/etc by layering. After all, most digital ways of hiding data in sound would break on an analog medium such as tapes.
So all I can think of right now would be to maybe make a spectogram of the layered/combined tapes, or investigate the spectograms of the side they didn’t yet find any message in.

There is however something else that comes to mind, I can image that just like old VHS tapes that sometimes retain frames of previous data stored on it, these cassette tapes might also retain some old data? (not an audio tech here, so this is actually a question, not a suggestion)
But if they do, could there be a way to recover or identify parts that were (deliberately) left from previous recordings? Coz I do recall someone mentioning these tapes were not really mint quality. That is just random thought though.

Either way, I do really like the theory regarding the fading of tapes due to copies, as well as the fact that you (and some others), are really devoting time to turning these tapes inside out. (I know I couldn’t do it.)


#12

I remember a time before cd’s when you copied an album over an old cassette you could still hear the old audio underneath. I guess you would need to check the beginning and end of the recording, or during any breaks to hear if there is there’s older audio on there.


#13

Yeah, it would be easy to leave some of the previous recording in the middle as well; you just stop recording, fast forward a little bit, then record some more. If it’s a recording of speech or music it would be obvious where there is a break, but you wouldn’t be able to discern a change in a “noise” recording just by listening. It would show up as an irregularity in the spectrogram, but you might not notice it either if it was small enough.


#14

It seems like there’s no ghost audio, except on StuartGT’s side A, but that ghost audio is actually the songs that were present in all the tapes.


#15

Have you considered SSTV? Very much a part of the HAM radio world, there’s a program on Windows called RX-SSTV, you can set that up with your soundcard’s stereo mix, or a virtual soundcard failing that and pump audio into it to get a tv signal.
Obviously the audio files are too long to generate an image, but I wonder what might happen if they are sped up 16x (or another number of times) and fed into SSTV. Might be clutching at straws a bit here but if its not the solution to this puzzle it may be the solution to one in the future.


#16

okay, this was really an interesting idea.

I know nothing about SSTV so I spent a little researching and I’ve tested it. no luck. I tried various speeds but the thing is, I don’t think it’s ordinary SSTV. the sound for SSTV is very clear and modem-like, while the sped up side-b is very monotonous and it doesn’t show any frequent change of frequency except something popping out rhythmically sometimes. also SSTV has a sync code at the beginning of the message, which we don’t have. I’ve tried to force it but there’s many different protocols and many different length of the audio… it’s like a needle in a haystack.

I’d really like to have a hand from someone who’s more expert in this area than me.


#17

You are pretty much correct about the type of audio required for Slow Scan TeleVision (SSTV) to work. I had it in mind when the recordings from the cassettes were made available. I can assure you there is no hidden SSTV signal in the audio for any of the cassettes, which are all identical anyway. Even though the audio did not point in that direction at all, I did force it anyway with no results. I used MMSSTV for this, which I have as one of my many tools when listening on WebSDR for a hobby.
http://hamsoft.ca/pages/mmsstv.php
For more info on SSTV, check here:


#18

A few days ago I posted on reddit with some reasonable recording standards. https://redd.it/6g9yb0 Was ignored. We need a concrete argument that there’s more to the tapes in order to get the support needed to get better transfers.

EDIT: I noticed StuartGT wanted you to PM him. How did that go?


#19

did he? I read Tony wanted to talk with me, I just PM’d him, not Stuart…


#20

ah yes, sorry that’s right.