It has been hinted at as far back as December, 2011. It’s possible that Valve was thinking about it in 2010. Cryptic codes on the walls and blurry pictures hanging in hidden rooms. References to sound files for a new boss.
They all point to what the TF2 community has come to refer to as The Mann vs Machine Update.
Act I: cp_foundry
Foundry, a new control point map, was released during the Australian Christmas event in December, 2011. It took almost no time for curious players to find a hidden room behind the Red spawn room. A door labeled “Top Secret” guarded by a Red soldier could (and still can) be seen from the playable area of the map. If you noclip (a setting that, when turned on, allows you to pass through solid objects) through the wall and further past the soldier through the door you come to Foundry’s secret room. Inside the room, a scout and a heavy look worriedly at a set of four pictures hanging on a drying line. These picture four different TF2-style characters with what appear to be robot heads. Three of them are quite obviously a heavy, pyro and demoman. The fourth, you can’t really see a head, so it is hard to tell. The heads look quite similar if not exactly like some robot heads submitted to the TF2 Workshop by user Hunter-Killer, but astute readers will notice the submission dates show two to three months after Foundry was released. Behind the worried heavy and scout there are some numbers painted on the wall; 1961, and below that, 13 22 13. 1961 could be referring to the year that General Motors installed the first ever industrial robot. 13 22 13, when converted to letters, we get M V M, very possibly short for Mann vs Machine.
Another secret room exists. This one, you can only get to by using noclip to pass through the fence outside the battlements at the Blu final point. Behind two doors labeled 39 and 40 there is a small room with a couple of seemingly random posters on the wall. One rather large poster is an advertisement for Dr Wilson’s Auto-Borax, a self scrubbing mechanical soap. Auto-Borax takes up most of the poster. There are two wood planks leaning against the same wall as the ad. They cut the poster so when looking head on to-bor shows between them. In reverse, that spells robot.
Act II: March 1, 2012 Patch
A rather uneventful update was released on March 1st, 2012. On the surface it seemed to simply add a community made item, the Teufort Tooth Kicker. Under its skin though, there was an update to the map cp_mountainlab. Deep in the sound cache manifest for the map some lines were added that referenced sounds that were not present in the game. In a directory labeled NPC, commonly Non-Player Character, the following files were referenced;
Robot Boss Nuke Attack. Take it in, I’ll give you a moment. /Smooth Jazz/ Ok, that is enough of that.
One could assume these sounds are to be used by a boss similar to the Horseless Headless Horsemann, 2010′s Scream Fortress boss, and Monoculous, 2011′s Very Scary Halloween boss.
Act III: Pyromania
Now we have the Damaged Capacitors. These started randomly dropping for players during the ARG lead up to Pyromania in June. They have since turned into Barely-Melted Capacitors and stopped dropping when the ARG items faded away into dust. The capacitors have some numbers on them when viewed in-game; 6.22V1 500 and much smaller below that 02A80125. The first number corresponds with June, 22 15:00 which is when the Pyro blogged that his update was coming Monday (in not so many words). The second number still seems to be unknown. It could possibly be pointless. The only thing I could find is that 02A80125 is an Adler32 hash for many different four digit codes. If you have any ideas what that could be, make sure to let us know in the comments.
The new map sd_doomsday was released in the Pyromania update to go with the new Special Delivery game mode. Those noclip-loving players quickly found a familiar sight behind each of the spawns; a soldier guarding a “Top Secret” door. Similar to the Foundry secret room, this time a Spy looking rather disappointed in front of the same four blurry pictures. Maybe Valve thought that the secret room in Foundry didn’t get enough attention? Maybe this instance was just to resupply the rumor mill.
Like the capacitors, there was another offshoot during the Pyromania update that has yet to come to a conclusion—Robot Chicken. While the ARG was going on, a small page on Adultswim.com showed that they were teaming up with Valve for something, and that visitors to the page should sign up for the Adult Swim newsletter. When Valve indicates you should do something, you should indeed do it, and those who signed up were not disappointed. On June 27th and then again on July 5th, emails were sent out that contained codes redeemable in Steam for Genuine Robot Chicken Hats. TF2 hats are great and all but what part could Adult Swim and Robot Chick have in this?
Epilogue: Engineer Update Teaser
2010 eh? It’s a stretch but it is worth a mention. May 7th, 2010 the Team Fortress 2 Engineer Update Teaser was uploaded to YouTube. At seven seconds in, what looks to be a robot head goes by in the foreground. At eleven seconds, another appears in the background, and at thirteen seconds two very obvious heads are visible in the background. Valve has stated in the past that they let their hired brilliant minds run wild when it comes to development. These could simply be models that an artist came up with for background fodder, but it could have been the seed that grew into all of the above Easter eggs.
It is pretty obvious that Valve has robots on their mind and has for a while. Why these things were put out in the TF2niverse or what they mean have no official explanation yet. Will all this lead up to 2012′s Halloween boss being a nuke-wielding, grenade-launching robot chicken? I sure the heck hope so!