Fez is the JFK Assassination of Video Games
On November 22, 1963, President John F Kennedy was assassinated by the lone gunner Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald was quickly found and arrested within a theater, later paraded in front of the cameras, then himself assassinated by Jack Ruby. This was the story that was given to the public after the Warren Commission released it’s 800 page document after a 10 month investigation into the assassination. The cover of which is stamped with a single seal of the President of the United States.
The logo of which reads “E pluribus unum” or “Out of Many, One”. This is the very first clue that we are given that there was not a single gunman who performed this assassination. It suggests that of many gunmen, they are constructing a narrative that it was simply one man. A man named Lee Harvey Oswald.
I’m just kidding, ha ha, but that is the kind of mindset that hit the public’s psyche immediately after this assassination. Dozens of conspiracy theories started around what the means, motive, and number of shooters involved in the assassination were. Oswald never had time to be properly questioned or his motive to be properly assessed. It was suggested it could have even been an international plot from the Iron Curtain itself, given Oswald’s connections to Russia.
There was a ton of blind speculation, with no real substance or answers. Endless, pointless discussion over beer at the pub with friends thinking if they could get to the bottom of their drinks, they could surely get to the bottom of the mystery. Just four years after the event, In 1967, a book was released titled, “Six Seconds in Dallas: A Micro-Study of the Kennedy Assassination” by Josiah Thompson.
The book detailed the inconsistency with the original Warren Commission. It highlighted the conspiracies and offered what proof they had that there wasn’t a single shooter. Over the next 60 years we have had people combing every bit of information they could find. We’ve had people doing audio testing and recreating the event. We’ve had folks going through the video footage and interviewing everyone who was there decades later. We still have people who want to find the answer to this mystery, people who think there isn’t a mystery, and people who have long since concluded they know the truth. One documentary covers the evolution of this mystery, the testing, and answers we’ve come to so far — JFK Unsolved: The Real Conspiracies.
Making things worse is the United States Government’s general refusal to be transparent about the events or their knowledge. It wasn’t until just last year that documents related to this case were made available to the public, with plans to release further documents at the end of 2022. These documents have been heavily scrubbed clean and redacted from any real useful information or new revelation. The mystery, effectively still continuing nearly sixty years later. Gaming’s JFK moment is in much more recent memory, happening just one decade ago when the game Fez was released.
Before I go on, I’m obviously not attempting in any seriousness to compare the tragedy of a real life assassination of a president to the video game Fez. The connection I’m making is comparing the nature of unsolved mysteries and how they compel a certain behavior into folks to try to find answers. It is endlessly fascinating to look at how certain mysteries can bury themselves deep within our cultural zeitgeist and fill us with some indescribable yearning to find answers. There are thousands of things in this world we don’t know or don’t understand, but most don’t keep us up at night. Most don’t have us looking back at them years later, wanting to find some answer.
Life is full of unsolved mysteries. There are whole TV shows about them. Some woman dying mysteriously can be presented both as a mystery and a tragedy, but we can assume someone did it for the mundane reasons humans engage in awful acts. However, why a person chose to murder a beloved president is another matter. How they went about it, what motive they had for it, and how it played out evoked something much more. And this evocation on the grandest stage is something we see mirrored in gaming culture surrounding the video game Fez. Not just because of the game, but also because of the culture involved within gaming creating something altogether unique and tragic.
So, before I go on, what is Fez?
Fez is arguably a cute little game, where you control a guy named Gomez and traverse a 2d landscape to pick up cubes. The gimmick is you can change the perspective of this landscape and rotate the 2d landscape within a three dimensional plane. At the heart of this game (heh) is a mystery nobody has solved in over ten years. If you’re curious about this game or if you want to try your hand at solving it blind, I recommend stop reading and go download it. It’s only about a ten hour game, have fun!
If you’ve played the game already, but want a very comprehensive recap, then I recommend this video below. It also goes into detail about the puzzles and mystery that I will touch on in this article. Regardless, if you’ve experienced fez already, this is a fantastic recap.
The Greatest Mystery of Video Gaming
Fez was released April 13, 2012. We can track community progress into the puzzles of this game by looking at posts on www.gamefaqs.com or Fez’s Subreddit. There were other forums tracking it, but those two will be the main ones for reasons I will talk about later. What you need to know is that Fez is a puzzle game, full of mysteries to be slowly unsolved by inferring the rules of the world yourself, transcribing the language, and understanding the hidden codes required to progress. A sort of spiritual sequel to Myst.
Sometimes you’re just jumping and rotating your camera to get a collectible in a way that isn’t very different from a Mario game. Sometimes you find knowledge gates requiring specific input codes. Other times you have to have a mastery of the in-game language that you have translated yourself, a QR code reader, or the ability to translate binary when looking at the stars. When I first played this game in 2013, I didn’t even know what QR codes were.
Two hundred thousand people entered the puzzle arena of Fez during that first year. About twenty thousand entered on day one. Less than 24 hours into its release the community had solved all but two puzzles. The second to last puzzle to be solved was an imposing piece of work referred to as the Security Question. However, regardless of the might of this puzzle, it was cracked on April 14th, at 6:43 PM, when a GameFAQ’s user submitted a post to the board titled, “I present to you the SECURITY QUESTION SOLUTION!!!”
Others may have solved it sooner, but that was when it was officially public information. With this mystery solved, the only observable mystery within the game became the Black Monolith puzzle. On the Evening of April 14th, barely rounding out the second day of the games release — the whole community was dedicated to finding the solution. Post after post detailed theories about how one could solve it. A picture below shows what a typical notebook looked like for the community on this mission:
If you’re not familiar with Fez at all, to explain the Black Monolith puzzle, I will explain the very basic nature of puzzles within this game. You have inputs related to controller buttons that amount to: UP, DOWN, RIGHT, LEFT, LEFT TRIGGER, RIGHT TRIGGER, and JUMP. Most advanced puzzles require you to press 8 inputs on a controller that can be a sequence of any of those button presses. These puzzles are often coded in a specific way, where you need to learn how to read and input that code. An example of this can be found below:
This poster shows the way these puzzles are oriented and the correct way to input the codes based on them. To solve this puzzle, you would input: UP, LEFT, RIGHT TRIGGER, JUMP, LEFT TRIGGER, RIGHT, JUMP, DOWN. They correlate to the symbols in a fairly intuitive way. Knowing this alone will allow you to solve 75% or more of the puzzle within the game. Below, I will give you all of the direct information and clues related to the Black Monolith puzzle.
You have a map to a location and you can confirm that location by looking at the floor. You gain the ability to look at your environment in true 3D perspective once you beat the game the first time. The burnt map that you can see in that picture offers a sequence of buttons to press, when standing on a very specific part of the map. Doing this will cause the Black Monolith to spawn in the room. This next part is very important. Take note. Nothing else has ever been found that directly ties into this room or this puzzle.
Don’t get me wrong, a thousand different arrows have been fired into the darkness in hopes of making purchase, but we don’t know if a single arrow has landed close to the target. That means that we have ideas, we have guesses, we’ve constructed arguments and theories, but nothing is concrete. Nothing ties directly back to this room in any way that isn’t an extreme jump of logic.
On April 15th, at 11:21 AM, Polytron (the developers) tweeted out a message, “Black Monolith? What Black Monolith?” This clearly indicates they didn’t even put this into the game. Rather, the game has become sentient. Self programming. Trying to communicate with us, the player. Or they were just being cheeky. Who is to say?
On April 15th, at 4:46 PM, Yggdrasil posted to the NeoGAF message threads about solving everything except the Black Monolith puzzle. Three hours and twenty minutes later he claimed to be the first person to solve it outside of the development team of Fez:
The message thread has this user clarifying he got the answer from someone within the development team and that he was sworn to secrecy. We don’t know what dark rituals he committed to be entered into such a secret society, but one’s imagination can certainly fill in these blanks. He was also allegedly told the answer to finding out the solution to the Black Monolith puzzle was not found in the game. This original communication, towards the very beginning of this mystery would strongly tie players down into notions of searching the world itself for answers.
But this mysterious user…who could it have been? Was it the game’s designer, Phil Fish, in disguise? Was it one of the original lizard people? Was it the second shooter himself, fresh off the grassy knoll, ready to ignite something more mysterious and even darker into our very souls? Hell, was it even a real person? The answer may shock you. Brace yourself.
The Truth Giver’s real name was supposedly Trey Reyher and he was a video game developer who had a Linkedin and everything. We even have a real life picture of him and all of the other stuff you’d expect of a real boy. However, we can all agree no real person even uses Linkedin anymore. Curiously, he seemed to exist both before and after Fez. So, needless to say, we were looking at one advanced PSYOP here. Phil Fish has truly thought of everything. Maybe even this article itself is just the ripples of a butterfly Fish released all those years ago.
Anyways, Reyher started to give clues to the community about the answer to the puzzle in an attempt to reverse engineer the logic to solve it. On April 16th, at 6:53 PM, he posted to GameFAQs:
On April 17th, at 11:37 PM, he posted to Xbox achievement form expressing his stress over being the answer keeper to the greatest mystery gaming had found.
We can track a couple dozen posts or replies from Reyher across a few different platforms in the week after Fez was released. It is during times like this we can really appreciate how forever the internet truly is. Chasing this story ten years later is no different than it would’ve been ten days after these events. And if nothing else, maybe this article should give some caution to what is posted and shared — because it to will be there forever. (Wait a minute…that includes this article I’m writing about Fez. Uh oh.)
Anyways, what we don’t know is how many people privately messaged him and demanded answers. We don’t know how much harassment he got and knowing this will be important for what I talk about later. He talks about people offering to pay him high sums of money to just find out. Keep in mind that at this time in history some people are under the impression he knows everything about the puzzle from A to Z. But the reality is he just knows the answer, not the logic to find the answer — that’s the mystery nobody has ever figured out. What he offers is that brute forcing a solution is suggested as the fastest way to discovering it. This implies that brute forcing an answer to this puzzle by trying every button combination possible would take less time than figuring out the in-game logic to arrive at the correct solution. So…brute forcing became the answer to pursue.
On April 17th, at 9:06 PM, a user by the name of LandSealion posted this:
This effort would last approximately 18 hours and generate tens of thousands of attempts both from legitimate users and those intentionally trying to sabotage the project for any number of reasons, but this effort was ultimately a few hours short of taking glory. The curious thing is most articles looking at the story of brute forcing Fez credit this massive effort as what cracked the code, but it wasn’t. It was just one guy doing his own thing.
Specifically, it was a user on Giant Bomb who would ultimately…long sigh… drop the bombshell. The answer to the Black Monolith.
While to my knowledge Giant Bomb doesn’t have more accurate time stamps, the user also cross-posted on Xbox Achievements, suggesting the answer finally came into public knowledge around or slightly before, April 18th at 4:53 PM:
All the puzzles that Fez had to solve were solved five days after the release of the game at what could only be described as blistering speed. Everyone playing worked together, shared notes, and tried to find the answer that eluded us all. And at the end of the day, the answer was the friends we made along the way! What a great way to end such a compelling mystery!
Except. What…what did we just solve? What did we earn? What point was any of it? It was an intricate puzzle box that was smashed to pieces simply to see what was inside. And ultimately there wasn’t anything there. The tangible reward was that the player earned one piece of a heart (picture below), gained some more completion percentage on the game file, and may have completed the heart floating above a vestige of a candle in a room requiring you get every cube within the game to enter. This picture below, to anyone’s knowledge, is the ultimate reward for all the effort. (Screenshot by this user.)
Keep in mind, the puzzle wasn’t solved, it was destroyed. The reward has no meaning or value that we truly understand beyond the very surface level of what our eyes see. Naturally, the next puzzle presented itself:
A post simply titled “Now What?” features a quote from Polytron’s twitter that says, “Reminder, the Fez soundtrack is coming out in 2 days!” Allegedly existing person Reyher had also said on April 17th that he regretted being so forthcoming, because he felt the answer would be solved before the original soundtrack was going to be released. In this quote below, he also suggests that he likes the cut of Steve the Titan’s Jib.
Earlier in the same thread, you can see a number of folks talking about harassing the user with the Xbox gamer tag Steve the Titan over the assumption he knew the answer to the black monolith puzzle. Apparently, users were looking at the high score feature of Xbox to continually monitor if anyone had solved the puzzle and he was identified as one such person.
An interesting aside is that if you searched that name “Steve the Titan” in google you’d get lore about the videogame Eve. In this game, Steve is the name of the first Titan Class space cruiser developed within the universe and was subsequently also the first one to be destroyed. A message thread about that ship, including lore about the Black Monolith, is seen in a post in 2008. This was all an entire coincidence (probably), but to people in April of 2012, it felt big and meaningful. Ultimately, it is implied that Reyher spoke to the gamer named Steve the Titan or understood how he had solved the puzzle given the quote above.
Not much of the information I’ve presented here is new. However, the sources that are quoted within reports don’t often mention the different handles and names that people go by, where posts happen, or an accurate micro timeline of the events. It was interesting to make the connection that the user named Landsealion posting on a GameFAQ’s board must be Michael Billard. It was fun to discover that Yggdrasil on NeoGAF was in fact Trey Reyher. And this isn’t some level of clever investigative reporting, both users talk about their various handles in posts they’ve made. They are both very public in making these comments and statements for interviews they did at the time. But without knowing this information it becomes hard to actually verify the details presented when discussing the history of events surrounding week one of Black Monolith.
Given how easily accessible this information is and how they are publicly quoted, I’m also comfortable giving their names. While I doubt this will ever be a concern, I’m sure all parties I talk about in this article have long since moved on. I don’t recommend trying to reach out to any person mentioned to seek new insight. They’ve long since given everything they know.
Mysteries within Mysteries
On April 20th, 2012, at 8:39 AM, a user on GameFAQs submitted a post titled, “another secret i found ! (read more)”. This was the same morning the Original Sound Track (OST) to the game Fez was released. The post detailed images that were found within the soundtrack by viewing the music within a spectrogram. After more sophisticated attempts were made, the community had a collection of 16 images that can be seen below.
The thread of this post is lively for the rest of the day as they identify what each picture could be. It loses steam once every picture is identified, but doesn’t lead to any further obvious clues. Two days after this, Kotaku wrote an article about the new secret that was uncovered, citing this thread. There are 84 comments on this article, but most of them talk about a promotion going on, offering Fez on sale for a price of “pay what you want”, except the minimum is 7 dollars and people weren’t amused. The rest of the comments talk about how pretentious Phil Fish is. We’ll be shelving that conversation for later in this article, but it will be an important one to visit.
Keep in mind that by solving the Black Monolith puzzle, every displayable number and achievement was maxed out within Fez. There was no material reward for continuing to solve the lingering mysteries beyond self satisfaction. The game or the gamerscore do not care if you understood how to solve the Black Monolith, simply that you did. All of that community effort that went into brute forcing the puzzle was done for the tangible reward it offered. Now, without some candy at the end of the stick to keep people motivated, the community participation very quickly dropped down. The message thread revealing 16 photos hidden with the music barely made a dent. When asked what the folks over at Xbox Achievements thought, a comment said the board was completely dead. Everyone left after the Black Monolith had been solved. Remember Reyner’s tweet? Only six people engaged with it.
There isn’t much excitement or development on the boards after this. The remaining posts amount to people coming to the game new and asking for basic tips. Every few weeks another post asks about the Black Monolith or soundtrack images, but each post is often met with only a handful of replies. Then, five months after the games release, on September 24th, 2012 — the game is ripped and posted to the GameFAQs boards by the user Meckzqz. Every game asset is explored for some more clues or some hidden answers. A second layer of brute forcing tapping into the very soul of the game to break it apart for meaning.
The thread carries on for a few days and features a post dump of every button input in the game, including a direct answer to the Black Monolith input. If it wasn’t solved before, it would have been now. There is excitement here. People join this effort to happily break the soul of the game apart, but it only leads to the same disappointment of clues leading nowhere. The lead programmer of the game Renaud Bédard expresses dismay about the source code being linked. He doesn’t appear to be upset about the source code itself, but how people could use that to download all of the music and not pay their musician the money they deserve. The original poster deletes most of the files associated in attempts not to upset the creator. He cites that he only did so in hopes of finding more answers. After all, what won’t we do for answers? Who won’t we harass?
And so, Meckzqz worked far into the night, when the watchful eyes of Bédard’s robots weren’t upon him and came to the conclusion no meaningful answer could easily be ripped from the source code. That if an answer existed it has to be inferred from the information within the game contextually. There was no secret file or code that explained everything. There was no hidden cipher to contextualize the rest of the game. And so the community exhausted and quickly tired of their new toy. Meaningful posts about the mystery fell back down to occasional ponderings and lone heroes that rose passionately with hopes to be the one to find answers, ultimately gave up just as quickly as dead ends led to more dead ends.
On March 18th, 2013, game developer of Fez, Phil Fish did an AMA on Reddit. He answers a question about secrets left in Fez and confirms nobody is close to figuring out the sound puzzles. He also talks about being happy and relaxed and able to play video games. He talks about believing hair product is a scam, which I didn’t know I would know about Phil Fish. Maybe this game is a critique of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the perpetual need to further innovation and technology. That we’ve gone too far and hair product is just the sum mistake of all of humanity. This wasn’t a puzzle, the Black Monolith never was. It was a visual poem. It’s so obvious now.
Anyways, he also expresses an enthusiastic joy for VR, that he will realize four years later with the game Superhypercube. He even talks about his favorite Japanese games and what he thinks spreadsheets are for — more on why that’s relevant later. Building my own mystery here.
On April 22nd, a massive Fez Guide was released featuring quotes from the person who created music for the game, Disasterpeace, saying, “Yes, I know how to solve [the Black Monolith Puzzle]. There are other puzzles though that I do not know how to solve, and I’m pretty sure no one else besides Phil and Renaud know, either. — Yes, the spectrogram stuff was my idea. The nature of the puzzle though was completely Phil’s work. I don’t actually know how to solve the spectrogram puzzle, I just did the work of implementing the images into the music.” This quote largely directed the collective internet to believe there was an answer to the Black Monolith Puzzle and that the spectrogram stuff was not tied to it.
On May 1st, 2013, more than a year after the original release of Fez, it was released to Steam. A whole new audience now had access to explore the world and mystery of Fez. A community playing the game with fresh eyes and a year worth of accumulated knowledge to build on. And oh boy, what these brave young adventures would build.
It was only two days later, on May 3rd, a post hits the GameFAQs message boards saying they had found a new secret. The heart effigy that was completed by the Black Monolith puzzle (picture earlier in article) had one more hidden secret. A specific set of actions and inputs would cause the heart to dissipate, the game to (fake) crash and reset, and the heart to disappear forever from the world. No other, intended, observable effect occurs.
Apparently, this secret was missed during the Xbox decompiling of the game, due to the secret being embedded into the menu itself, rather than existing within specific levels. Regardless, on May 5th, 2013, the folks working on the complete and full analysis of all game data concluded no further answer could be found. Further analysis also proved that the images revealed in the soundtrack could only be found within the official soundtrack and were not within the game.
Ideas bounce like any ball, with a ton of engagement that becomes rapidly less with each bounce. Dozens of comments for the first day, turned to just a few the day after, then turned to one each day, then to one each week. Every clue could mean a million different things and dozens of hours of research. Does the Black Monolith represent the movie or the director or the concept of what the Black Monolith represented within the movie? There is a picture in the soundtrack of John Locke from the show Lost and if you have any familiarity with that show you know how much of an absolute troll that clue is.
Desperate for any purchase that feels like a real lead, you start grasping for straws. You start trying increasingly obtuse and complex ideas. You start to think about how to plot the game out in four dimensions or even worse you consider playing Myst. The question we have to ask ourselves is if Fez is just Phil Fish’s Ready Player One?
The worst part about these puzzles wasn’t necessarily that they were obtuse and complicated, it was that it was incredibly difficult to completely disprove any theory either. Every effort felt like an exponentially further dive into the information may reveal more clues. You watch Lost for five hours and think that, yeah, maybe there are answers here…let me just watch all six fucking seasons of it. And you remember how a lot of the show was super great, but the ending was this huge letdown and you start to really question your life and wonder if the Black Monolith is just this shit all over again. It’s like Evangelion 3.0 at this point. It’s all within fucking parameter AND Keikaku (Keikaku means plan.)
Some suggested that the answer to the Security Question being “Metatron” cast the entire game within a Jewish Mythos and the answer to the Black Monolith could be ascertained by interpreting Jewish mythology and numerology. Just figure out Metatron's Cube and Sacred Geometry and apply that all to Fez. Simple. I hope you’re starting to see how every single clue is just this door leading to its own enormous mythos that has both practical, narrative, and allegorical meaning — often from authors who are themselves complex and enigmatic.
One picture in the sound track is a painting from Salvador Dalí. We have to immediately wonder if the painting is the clue, if the meaning of the painting is the clue, or if the painting is just a clue to get us to think about Salvador Dalí. That or are we supposed to think about this style of painting? Are we supposed to think about the year that painting was drawn? How about the year it was renamed? We have absolutely no real cipher from which to understand how to draw meaning from the various photos hidden in the sound track.
On June 14th, 2013, the GameFAQs largest thread on figuring out in-game secrets had its final comment with 210 total entries and spanning about 45 days.
Then on July 9th, 2013, the Release Date Theory was suggested. It was discovered that the Black Monolith Code could be derived from the release date of the game. Many players took this as the long awaited answer to beating their heads against this game for over a year. It was simple and poetic and used many elements in the game that seemed promising, but had not been tied to any puzzle. It felt right.
The really interesting and compelling feature of this mystery is so much of it is plainly online to see, as I mentioned before. When we compare it to the JFK assassination, all of those conspiracy theorists had conversations or exchanged private letters. It’s very hard to track what people believed at any given time. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when new ideas were introduced, tested, or dismissed. Eventually rumors around the assassination developed into lore, and that lore developed into myth where some prevalent ideas couldn’t be traced back to any one person anymore.
While the Release Date theory was accepted by some people, who put their hats up and went home, many people flat out refused to believe it. However, with nothing really tangible beyond this theory, it became the Six Seconds in Dallas of the Fez Mystery. It had become the de facto alternative truth, because there was no real compelling competition.
On July 23rd, 2013, the second largest thread, discussing the decompiling of the game code had its final comment with 183 total entries, which spanned approximately three months. With these colossal threads losing steam, with a proposed solution existing, you only find posts here and there trying to present some new theory. Usually 5 to 10 people saying “that is certainly exciting, but please do much more work and prove something and then come back to us!”
On July 27th, 2013, Phil Fish announced Fez II was canceled due to what is later revealed to be repeated abuse, harassment, and doxing that he had experienced occupying the video gaming culture sphere. At this point, no concrete piece of evidence, new puzzle, or solution has been entered into this discussion around Fez since May 3rd, 2013. At this point the Black Monolith had an answer that felt right. The developer is walking away from future projects or involvement. The conversations around the puzzle are nearly entirely dried up. What point could there be in continuing this conversation?
On November 13, 2013, a member of the Fez Reddit attempted to start a long effort to figure out the secrets with promise of monthly updates. It included references to many of the posts I have mentioned throughout this article. While not a unique effort or post, I do want to highlight this as I believe most subsequent efforts on this game would continue on reddit rather than GameFAQs. Which is a bit harder to search and catalog unfortunately.
Fortunately, a Redditor has put all of this information together in the most comprehensive post possible just last year. Every tangible mystery, every source of information and reference all gathered together to a single focal point. But, before that, let’s finish our journey.
In August of 2015, KillScreen wrote an article encapsulating the mystery of fez. In April of 2017, Kotaku wrote an article looking back on that same mystery still lingering. In May of 2018, it was discovered that some numbers you could find within Fez were actually map coordinates to a giant fucking triangle on an abandoned air base. People have been there looking for answers.
The biggest event of recent history for the game of Fez came during Jan 15th of 2019, when Fez programmer Renaud Bédard publicly debunked the Release Date Theory. Leading to a likely unneeded public apology from the person who originally proposed it and maybe a needed apology from one of its major defenders. Interestingly, there isn’t anything obvious that set this off. It wasn’t like a new game was coming out and there wasn’t, to my knowledge, any recent post explaining how the Release Date Theory was definitely the answer — I checked. Renaud chose to publicly debunk this theory five and a half years after it was made. The biggest question being why now? Interestingly, the post was on 01/15/2019. If you rearrange these numbers…oh my god. This is it. This is the answer…it was all so clear.
Anyways, a few months later, on July 5th, 2019 there was the release of another possible way to solve the Black Monolith puzzle. An attempt so complete and compelling that the creator tried to get it verified by Phil Fish. They were so convinced, they just wanted that final piece of proof that they had actually found the solution. Phil reportedly said, ‘This is amazing, but completely wrong!” It is, however, a complete solution. One could have in theory come to this conclusion based on the pieces of puzzles they were given, attempted the steps here, and produced a correct answer and went about their day after solving the puzzle with no knowledge of the frustration so many people online suffered. Easy stuff, really.
It is worth noting that this unique way to solve for the Black Monolith Puzzle only has…thanks to me right now, 69 upvotes! Nice.
For comparison, the comprehensive post I mentioned earlier with pretty much all the gathered evidence of the last decade? only has 93 upvotes (at time of writing). People get this impression that the best minds from around the world have taken to solving the puzzles in Fez and concluded if they couldn’t, then obviously Fez is not something that can be solved. And honestly, I think some brilliant people have looked over this game, people way smarter than I am, but one sense you get looking over all of this data is not many people have really seriously dedicated much time since 2013. It has been an effort of a few dozen people at most, tackling it for maybe a solid week once or twice a year.
The most popular posts on Reddit aren’t solving puzzles. They’re making cute art.
The last meaningful thing related to Fez happened on April 14th, 2022. Phil Fish gave an interview commemorating the 10th anniversary of the game. When asked about secrets left in the game, Phil had this to say:
“I’m not sure. I don’t often keep tabs on that. But last time I checked, there were still a couple of things that had yet to be truly elucidated. And that’s very satisfying to me. I hope it stays that way a long time. Some of the theories people come up with are amazing, though. People have stumbled upon some truly unbelievable coincidences that sure seem like they are a thing, and I’m not about to confirm or deny any of them.”
And that is the end of the meaningful events that have surrounded Fez so far. Polytron, the company who released the game, has never given any real direct hint or information on if the final puzzles even have a logical conclusion. Every comment made from anyone who worked on the game was treated as just another clue to be accounted for — another puzzle to logic out.
It has by this point been ten years since the release of Fez and a puzzle discovered on day one, has yet to be explained in any meaningful way. However, year after year, people keep coming back to it. People are not satisfied, because it is a fight they feel they’ve lost. People wanted to give up, they wanted to walk away like it didn’t matter or they didn’t care, but every few months or every few years they come back and check the various boards across the internet. They see what new theory has cracked. They hope one day, the answer will be there. That they can find peace. But until then, they only find disaster.
Similarly, there aren’t many people around to really explore the mystery of the JFK assassination. There are presidential scholars and people who acknowledge the entire thing is potentially unexplained, but the actual folks spending time and effort right now to elucidate this mystery is likely very few. However, if you ask someone in their late sixties about this, they probably have an opinion and maybe they have an idea. Fez is the same thing to gamers today. That video about the mysteries of Fez I shared towards the beginning of this article was made in 2020. We keep coming back to this game. There is even an article just this year titled, “Fez is the JFK Assassination of Video Games”.
This entire sequence reminds me of another game. This one was released in 2013 and updated just four months ago — I’m talking about Stanley’s Parable. Skip the rest of this paragraph and that video if you don’t want spoilers to the game. But, there is a point in this game where you activate a countdown timer for bombs to go off. The reason this happens is the narrator is upset with you and this is your punishment. The entire time this clock ticks down, the narrator berates you for believing you have any real control of the situation. There are a ton of devices that seem like they could possibly spot the countdown if you enter just the right code. But the narrative explains that nothing you do matters, there is no way out, and everything in that room is simply another thing to toy with your hopes and emotions. The sequence calls you arrogant for thinking there is any way out of it. Calls you a fool to believe one of the dozen of different machines or patterns will save you. It gives you just enough time and rope for you to hopelessly hang yourself. It is an incredibly powerful sequence, especially to experience within the run of the game organically. Data miners have confirmed that there is no solution, you are meant to die. This also reminds me of the same message we find with Undertale about punishing the player for trying to explore every option in the game just because. This meta challenge directly to the player and their behavior with real consequences attached.
When I think about the events above, I think about how every answer we have about the end game of Fez was brute forced without understanding its logic. After we brute forced what we could see (the Black Monolith puzzle), we broke apart the very soul of the game (the code) looking for clues regardless of the consequence. And we found ourselves left with a ton of answers and no meaning. Left with our victory and no prize. A puzzle you’re given an answer to isn’t a puzzle, it’s a chore.
The article up to now has primarily been a reflection on the history of this game only really accounting for the facts. With my usual twist or silly joke thrown in that should be fairly obvious. But there is much more to this game and this story than just these facts. You again have the answer, but what meaning have we found in this journey?
(Side note: this article is written for people who have no understanding or a casual understanding of Fez and the puzzles of Fez. Whenever I critique puzzle solvers in this essay, I’m doing so with wide brush strokes covering everyone who has played the game. If you’ve been a dedicated puzzle solver on this game for a year or years or contributed to attempting to solve it, I’m not talking about you. I have a high respect for folks who continue to attempt to solve this and I don’t want anyone in those communities to get the impression I know better or have better answers.)
The Jack Ruby of Video Games
There may be another timeline in which Jack Ruby did not assassinate Lee Harvey Oswald. A timeline in which we discovered the truth of the assassination and no lingering mystery captured the minds of millions. We don’t know what that world would be like, unless I wrote a book on it. Something like, ‘The Man in the High Bookstore.”
In the same way that Jack Ruby killed Oswald before any meaningful investigation could happen, Phil Fish was metaphorically killed online. I think it’s time to remember the immortal quote “E pluribus unum”. Jack Ruby was not one person in this case, but rather an amalgamation of online gamer hate, harassment, and abuse. Effectively, Jack Ruby was everything that Gamergate would go on to represent. If you have no real knowledge on gaming or gaming culture, I highly recommend watching the video below to gain some contextual understanding of what went down.
It is interesting looking at these events as a researcher a decade later and from an eagle eye lens. At the time Phil Fish was branded as this elitist asshole, but to look at him, his quotes, and his behavior you would see something more complex. Phil Fish is almost exactly what he appears to be; someone who cares about games, who likes talking about them, who talks shit online, and has opinions. He was a guy who went to the Games Done Quick event, this huge community event of gamers, and hung out and talked with other people. He was a guy who was thrilled to learn that Riven’s developer knew what Fez was.
The reason people didn’t get this impression of Phil is because of the d20 that was his identity, you only ever heard about the rolls that came up 1. Every Quote Unquote Controversy that I remember hearing about back in the day, I found was extremely taken out of context. And I’m not here to say this person is an angel or doesn’t have some baggage, but rather that he is just a dude.
And you can look at every account of everything he said online back in the early 2000s to early 2010s. You can find some edgy comments or shock value posts or memes. You can do exactly what proto-Gamergate did a decade ago and frame him within the worst light to make some case that he is as bad as you feel about him. I just don’t see him as different from the general male gaming culture of 2012. That isn’t to defend that behavior, but to highlight the contrast and make clear the focus that was intentionally put on him, instead of his peers. And there were definitely much worse people out there during that time.
A big part of this negative portrayal happened in part due to the 2012’s Indie Game: The Movie. This movie forever tied Super Meatboy, Braid, and Fez together as what Indie games and game developers were. Originally, this movie was supposed to feature a couple dozen developers, but eventually stopped to focus on just the three for whatever reason. This meant a lens of focus was put onto the developers of each of these games. And a documentary is a hell of a thing.
It is very easy for people making documentaries to tell whatever story they want. When you have dozens or hundreds of hours of footage of a person going through their life, you will get enough footage to make that person into a saint, a loser, someone who freaks out, a quiet, caring, loud, boorish, annoying asshole, who is friendly and carefree or literally whatever you want. And they had a lot of entertaining ways they could frame Phil. They captured some very real moments for him, where he was reaching breaking points and being insanely stressed. They laid probably some of the most tense moments of his life into full focus. And it can be really easy for an audience to look at these moments out of a greater context and contextualize and assume his entire identity from it.
This documentary of indie video games wasn’t what created the Phil Fish persona by itself. There was a lot that went into that and game development and gaming culture for years. But when you started to dislike him for any number of reasons, it became easy to use any material you could to justify to others why you should hate him. And this was still not far into the development of the internet as we know it today. This was before people really cared that much about YouTube or Reddit. It was a bunch of little pockets of the internet and cliques, who independently felt the need to harass him. Who found others who hated him too and found real friendship over that hate. And each individual actor didn’t think their action matters that much; saying some mean comment, doing some little harassment, or trolling him. What do you matter anyways? You’re not famous? You’re just a nobody, so why would anyone care? But times that by a thousand people. To understand this ContraPoints has a 2 hour video that dives into exactly what this looks like. This is the escalating abuse and hatred Phil would see.
One difficult thing about this is that there is no right way to act when you’re experiencing targeted online harassment like this. In the movie “Gone Girl” the plot involves a husband who is accused of murder. People think he doesn’t look guilty enough or act sad enough and because of this justify that he must be guilty. The lawyer defending him does a big press release that there is no right way to act when your spouse dies. The way we process trauma is different, there isn’t a script for these moments, and we will all react differently to them. I think that is worth understanding here.
When you are getting traumatized and abused and you try to throw punches back at the attackers, that is only used against you. You get upset or sad you’re wrong. When you respond you’re wrong. When you don’t respond you’re wrong. Nothing you do can ever be right and you get more and more desperate to say or do something that will make it stop.
Earlier I shared an Ask Me Anything Reddit thread with Phil. I was really surprised to know this happened just three months before Phil was assassinated. Also, safe word moment for a second, Phil is alive today. He was not actually killed. This is just an elaborate extended allegory between the JFK’s assassination as a mystery and logical extension of that into Phil Fish and Fez.
I could show the saved screenshots that Phil posted, but I won’t. He deleted them, he locked his twitter, and he obviously does not want to revisit all of that. It is pretty obvious looking back at the level of abuse he got from pre, golden-era, and post Gamergate trolling. These weren’t just mean words. This was hacking, doxing, and violence.
I will just say that in July he was done with games and he canceled Fez II. I think during the times of these events, I was vaguely aware of them. I believe I had a neutral-negative impression of Phil, just because the conversations surrounding him always steered that way. Also, much like other people back then, I didn’t know or understand the full scope of what abuse could mean online. Being a 20-something intellectual in 2010, meant you felt taking anything personal online was a moral weakness of character. Big letters, just get over it man. And I think that is because so few of us knew or saw what large targeted hate campaigns could do. Hell, most people still don’t get it.
And the reason I’m talking about all of this is because it is important to the mysteries of Fez. If gaming wasn’t so hostile to him, if Gamergate didn’t weaponize discontent young men with a victimization complex and a lot of rage, and if things went a bit differently — what would we know today? What would those conversations have been like? Would Phil have been at the table to discuss or give hints to Fez. Would he have been taking help for Fez II’s development? Would there have been a bigger community into the puzzle games that Phil loved to design and some big title we won’t see anymore?
I set out to write this essay, because a few months ago I played Tunic. And the DNA of that is Fez. Tunic is Fez II in every single way you can imagine. And that made me want to revisit Fez. It made me want to try my mind at the Black Monolith again. It made me want to see if I could be the one to solve it this time. Maybe all of my research skills I learned could piece together all of the evidence so far and come to something meaningful. I may not be the smartest person, especially when it comes to puzzles, but I’m damn gifted at listening to smart people.
And all of this is important to understand, as we move into my next section. I’m going to talk about something that is widely debated within Fez in general. Can you even solve the Black Monolith puzzle in a logical way? Was there ever an answer to find or was it intended to be brute forced? Was the puzzle itself meant to be this elaborate community project or just a fuck you to the fans from Phil Fish.
I think understanding who Phil Fish is and why he left games is essential to understanding if the Black Monolith is solvable. If you believe all of the negative press that he got, then you’re more inclined to believe his end game puzzles are nothing but trolls. If you respect him as an artist, it becomes far more difficult to dismiss them out of hand.
Can These Puzzles Actually Be Solved?
Many people in 2012 used “Indie Game: The Movie” to justify feeling that Phil Fish was an asshole or pretentious. And watching that movie two days ago, I can’t help but see that interpretation as small. We get a scene where Phil shows us an old computer where his dad made games out of his drawings. We see him get a epileptic buzz with an early programmed game to just flash lights super fast while he stared into the screen. You are telling me this guy is pretentious? Are you kidding me? This guy is legit goofy as shit.
He talks about how much games mean to him, how much he loves games, and when he is at the PAX expo he tells people that when they play Fez he wants them to get this feeling that is “kind of pleasant, blue sky, green grass, fresh air.” He talks about how the game is an intimate part of himself that he has been developing for years. In the interview he gave just this year, he talks about how he wanted people to get the same feeling he had exploring Riven — another extremely challenging puzzle game designed in part by Robyn Miller.
And when you take all of this together, the idea that the Black Monolith puzzle is just a “fuck you” really doesn’t make sense. And when you consider not just the Black Monolith puzzle, but the soundtrack images, and the secret heart puzzle — why would they be these pointless red herrings? Do people seriously believe the person who got excited Robyn Miller knew about his game, would want to create a game that has no meaningful end to the puzzles? That doesn’t meaningfully tie things together?
There is always the chance there was no meaningful answer to the Black Monolith puzzle. There is a chance what Phil Fish wanted was similar to the Countdown ending of Stanley’s Parable that I talk about above. Where he wanted people to bang their heads against a ton of ideas and no real solution. He may have wanted to just give people a journey to explore with no real destination or a choose your own ending narrative — where the journey is the point. I just don’t see it. But if answers existed, how come we haven’t found them yet? How is it possible 10 years hasn’t produced an answer? There are a few things to explore here.
Short Game, Redundant Work, and Disbelief
I looked through most meaningful threads on as many boards as I could find theorizing about the Black Monolith. While we know every asset that exists within the game, I’d also venture that every conceivable piece of knowledge and idea is also out there. The main problem is that this game takes approximately 8 hours to beat. I looked it up on https://howlongtobeat.com/, but sadly I had to correct the post there which insisted 100% could be achieved in 11 and a half hours. Bitch, please. We have never beat this game.
What ends up happening for most people playing this game is they try to solve everything on their own. When they get stuck, they will sometimes ask for a hint or just look up the answer. In many ways, nobody develops much more than a surface level understanding of the game. Very few people even delve into the deeper secrets of the images within the sound track. What happens at best is someone solves everything, spends a few hours trying to solve the Black Monolith puzzle, then gives up. During this time, they typically try the most obvious and basic answers that have been tried a thousand other times, by a hundred thousand players, getting nobody any further.
And many of them end the day thinking the problem is probably unsolvable. They think the problem was intended to be brute forced, because that’s the conclusion everyone else came to and it’s easy. They think the solution actually was related to the release date, because they heard that six years ago, and never followed the Reddit thread correcting it that was liked by less than a hundred people.
The point is that even though we have hundreds of thousands of players to this game, the amount of unique and truly informed work on the puzzle is very few. The amount of players who are both working on solving this mystery and have all of the knowledge that has been amassed for over ten years is probably less than 20 and maybe it’s five people right now? The Reddit board, the most active place I could find, has less than 20 people active at any given time. A new post about the Black Monolith comes up maybe every few weeks or months. The last big attempt was in 2019.
And it isn’t that these folks that are still doing this work, still trying to unwind this mystery, aren’t making developments or slowly discovering a picture within a massive paint by numbers — it is that within the cryptography puzzle that is this game…it probably won’t be brilliance that solves it as much as luck. It will take a person seeing the puzzle presented with just the right mindset. And in some cases, this may require less information, not more.
The Equivocative History of the Black Monolith
(The first thing I’d like to say is that I feel equivocative is the appropriate word to use here. Not equivocate. “The Equivocated History” sounds extremely silly. My grammar check suggests “Equivocate History” which is just wrong. Faye, I don’t believe you for a second, I’ve read you stuff, you definitely don’t use a grammar check. Look, okay, I just needed it to be an adjective! I hope you understand and forgive me. Pleading Emoji and all that.)
The thing is every player that is serious about solving the puzzle has at their disposal every single thing said by the development team about the game ever and also Reyher. These statements have been taken as word of god and a common understanding is that the Black Monolith puzzle has nothing to do with the sound track, because the music guy Disasterpeace said he didn’t know what the sound track puzzle was, but he did know how to solve the black monolith A through Z.
When a player emailed him to get confirmation on a possible Black Monolith solution, he was told the music guy had no idea what the solution was and would hand it over to Phil Fish. So, what is the truth? Disasterpeace said he knew how to solve the puzzle. That could be correct, while not understanding the logic to solve it. He could consider the sequence of the map, where to go, where to stand, and what inputs to put in to get a solved state. This question about solving the puzzle from A to Z is not necessarily the same question of do you understand the logic one needs to solve the puzzle. When designing research questions, how we ask the question is incredibly important.
Reyher is quoted by saying that solving the Black Monolith puzzle by brute force would be the fastest way. This implies that the mystery to solving the Black Monolith puzzle is so complex that it’s just faster to try every input. However, it could also imply that it is faster because it is impossible to do before the soundtrack comes out. Reyher does go on to say he wishes he didn’t jump the gun so much and should’ve waited until the sound track. Reyher’s motivation for sharing the answer to the Black Monolith puzzle was a hope that he could get people to reverse engineer it by giving them clues. The sad fact is that by just having that answer, people were satisfied. The community driven lust to solve this unknowable problem had climax and went to sleep quickly after — typical male gamers amirite? It is very possible if Reyher did not give clues as soon as he did, if he had waited just one more week, this article I’m writing wouldn’t exist. And he also doesn’t contribute anything else after all of this. Maybe once the solution was finally out there, his friend told him the actual logic behind the puzzle — because he certainly stopped trying to find it publicly.
It is interesting to me, revisiting these quotes years later with more context, because I think it is very easy to read different answers from them. The original JFK conspiracy folks kept on exploring things just like this. The grassy knoll, the footprints in the mud, the sounds of the shooting, the direction JFK bobbed when hit. The facts are the same, but we can shift the perspective we have when looking at them and what they can mean.
The Solution Drive Cart
Nearly the entire endgame of Fez is not built out of logic, but out of answers. Below is one of the last official mysteries that was solved within the game. It is the contents of the Tome. 8 pages featuring 51 letters that are originally within the game’s secret Zuish language. The picture below has been translated for your benefit.
The way this was solved was by a player figuring that the word hexahedron would probably be in there somewhere. They isolated an “x” and then shook it down until it spilled its lunch money. This revealed the intended way to read this book was by reading one letter on the top right of each page and going through the pages by reading down, then to the left, with the page order going: 1, 5, 2, 6, 3, 7, 4, 8. The big symbols on the right are, as far as anyone knows, just random letters. It’s hard to explain, but if you’ve accurately followed those instructions then the first sentence will read, “From ovt of nowhere”.
The community understands two possible things about this. The correct ordering of the big letters spell P E A B E U A B. So, naturally players are curious what does that sequence of letters mean and what does the order “1, 5, 2, 6, 3, 7, 4, 8” mean? When you read the text, you get 8 Haikus and they all presumably point to crop circles (squares) within the game. (Or they don’t.)
So, this tome has led into three different possible tools. The letters, the haikus, and the number order. However, since the puzzle was brute forced, we don’t know what the intended logic was supposed to be to solve the puzzle. Maybe the big letters were supposed to be the cipher, instead of themselves a cipher to another puzzle? And these aren’t new questions, people have explored all of these avenues and are still scratching their heads — but that base question of what was the logic to solve the letters…nobody is working on figuring that out because we’re already in a solved state. We already have. And people suggest it’s the same order of the circle of fifths we find in music, but even if that is true there is nothing that would indicate we should’ve explored and found that connection.
Most theories around the Black Monolith proper have involved knowing the answer and trying to work backwards. And while that’s a valid start, most people are just looking for that checkpoint before the end. They look for the pattern of inputs for the Black Monolith puzzle which amounts to: 1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5. They find any possible thing that could either be that pattern or fit that pattern. The original Release Date Solution was the perfect example of this. One could find or beat up almost anything until it fits that shape. The real dilemma isn’t finding a match to that pattern. It is finding something that links the Black Monolith and original location and input code INTO the solution. It has to connect dots on both end of the chain or the horse is just going to take off anywhere. One of the reasons the solution in 2019 was so promising was because it was the first solution that secured the answer to the premise in a convincing way.
The next part could be my fault, but I didn’t seem to get much information around the soundtrack puzzle. It felt like not nearly as much work went into that. And honestly, it is the Black Monolith puzzle that is ingrained into everyone’s mind. It was the Black Monolith puzzle that the first 200,000 players couldn’t come to a satisfying conclusion to. The sound track or the heart puzzle never had the same level of community investment. Further, the heart puzzle requires you have completed the Black Monolith, so point of order makes sense to focus on the Black Monolith. The point of disorder is to believe the sound puzzle has nothing to do with the monolith. And, I’m going to make a case for why it actually has to.
The Logic of a Creator
I’m clever a good deal of the time, but I’m not taking any medals or prizes for being especially big brained. I honestly just like playing around with information and writing. More times than not, I’m listening to people who are truly amazing and combining all of those ideas in my unique little way. But if I were to write about a character who was mad, wicked smart and also from Boston, there are a few ways I can do that.
The one thing I do have as a creator is complete control over the narrative. I don’t just predict the future, I can create it. I know every answer there is to know. I can then work back from that answer and twist it like a Rubik's cube. (Also, I spent ten minutes seeing if there was some answer about the Black Monolith in Rubik’s cubes, I’m pretty sure there isn’t.) But here is an important question. How was anyone supposed to know about the soundtrack?
Every puzzle in the game can be found and approached, with the only real mystery being the Black Monolith. Many people believe the Black Monolith must be solvable with in-game logic, just like the other two red heart puzzles. A lot of people believe the answer to the puzzle can be found solely within the Black Monolith room, in the same way the blinking star or Security Question can be (the other two heart puzzles). But, let’s say that’s true. Let’s say you can analyze the candles that are found in the Black Monolith room and by comparing their size and direction you solve the Black Monolith puzzle. How would you actually even begin to understand that a soundtrack puzzle even exists?
It is believed that the soundtrack puzzle leads to a solution to the heart puzzle, but why would anyone suspect there even was a heart puzzle. One feature in the game is that there is a map of the world. Every room is tied to a tile on the map and once you’ve discovered every secret in that room, the tile becomes gold plated. The heart room is gold plated when you have solved every puzzle in the game, meaning that the logic of the game itself suggests no additional puzzle can be found. Also, solving the puzzle doesn’t meaningfully change anything to anyone’s knowledge, so there isn’t some weird Easter Egg or meta thing like your game file becomes gold afterwards.
When you solve the heart puzzle the only thing that happens is the heart dissolves and disappears forever. A common understanding is that this symbolizes the heartbreak of the game developers for you datamining answers, instead of actually understanding and solving the puzzle. It was in there just to punish you. And that may be a valid understanding of the puzzle, but if that were true, it would inherently mean the sound track puzzle was intended to be used to solve the black monolith instead. And the heart puzzle didn’t actually exist and there wasn’t a puzzle there, just a punishment in the same way Undertale just punishes you for trying to go against the heart and meaning of the game itself.
I will offer, I think there is a narrative reason for breaking the heart as a good ending. That reason is you unlock this heart by communicating with the stars, by answering something called the Security Question, and by invoking the word of god to break the Black Monolith. The heart itself could represent the forces controlling the world in Fez. Loosely implied to be a simulated computer universe about a society that discovered great technology and then ultimately destroyed itself with warp gates. It is implied that Fez is a 4d compression of past, present, and future — with all of time being experienced at once. It could be that breaking the heart is breaking this simulation that maintains this time break. It could mean breaking out of this endless cycle of advancement to destruction. It could mean gaining new hope by understanding the true nature of consequence. This could all be completely wrong. In fact, it probably is.
However, nobody even knew the heart could be broken until the game was datamined…twice. If we’re assuming the Heart Puzzle was actually a puzzle, then the answer that makes the most sense is that the Black Monolith must be solved using part of the sound puzzle. Because the Black Monolith HAS to teach you the tools necessary to begin to solve the final puzzle in the game. Every puzzle to a point is teaching you something about the other puzzles in the game. If there isn’t a sound track logic check on the Black Monolith puzzle, you would never have any reason to suspect or even know how to approach that final puzzle.
The Black Monolith puzzle is designed itself to be locked behind a logic gate. Solving the puzzle is not simply beating the puzzle, it is proving you understand something important about the game. In the same way the Security Question asked you to understand the letters and the blinking puzzle asking you to understand binary. Suggesting the soundtrack should be used to solve this puzzle is not new. Suggesting the Black Monolith is the logic gate to solving the Heart Puzzle is less explored. Probably not new, but I haven’t seen it in all of my research. I don’t have a work cited, but I do have this picture.
What is the Story of Fez?
One interesting thing to me about all of this is how mechanical the puzzles have been in the minds of those looking to solve it. People have not super looked into the story as a meaningful element to help elucidate the messages and meanings of the puzzles. One thing we know from the data mining effort is that there is no special piece of code that will reveal some new insight. We have, as I have said, every piece of a jigsaw puzzle. We just have to arrange them in the right way.
And it isn’t that people have discounted the story in any regard, it isn’t that the story isn’t talked about. It isn’t that people haven’t watched 2001: A Space Odyssey. The story of Fez is itself very interesting, but rarely do I see a significant amount of time on the story itself. There are just off hand comments about how the story might involve time travel, but nothing like what I already suggested around the reason breaking the heart could be narratively a good thing.
The story of Fez is one where one-eyed beings live in two dimensional space until the owls bestow them the gift of seeing in three dimensions. And maybe they always could see in 3 dimensions, but they saw the owl turning their head and they were like, holy shit…what happens if I just turn my head slightly!? Oh fuck, an entire other dimension was just right over there this whole time!?
Over time, these people grew a second eye and started to develop and advance as a society. They industrialized the world, until finding communications in space, and learning how to create warp drives to other dimensions. Where they encounter the strange alien race with three eyes that could likely see into the fourth dimension. There is a skull artifact that you find which has three eye holes horizontally across the face and looks more like a Zu person (The race of people in Fez). But it has 3 tentacle holes on the base of the skull. And while no in game use has been found for this skull, it seems to me to suggest that the aliens are not aliens. They are Gomez’s people evolved far into the future.
When we think of Space Odyssey as a hint to a puzzle, we can think about how the Black Monolith evolved humans into being capable of space flight. We can think about how going through a gate transformed Hal into a Star Child. We can also think of the iconic scene where a bone is thrown into the air and becomes a spacecraft. We can think about the radio waves and burst of signal that happens when the Black Monolith is hit with light and we can go into the game and mess with our lighting effects and take pictures in hopes something would react. It doesn’t. I tried. Big sad face.
And as I wrote this essay, every idea I started to get to, I would try to answer. I would have some new insight and try to explore it. Someone suggested that the answer to the security question could be a math identity matrix and it made me think of how you found the skull article in the game in the first place. Imagine a big square pillar with four sides. Each side has four rows and on each row you get four doors. Each door is either open or closed. So what you get is a series of doors that can be transcribed into binary and looks like a math matrix.
But that didn’t seem to answer any questions. I tried reading the binary by reading the 0’s and 1s from left to right, from right to left, and from top to bottom. I tried starting on different sides of the pillar or starting in the middle of one pillar and finishing on the other side. I tried reading the pillar like you read that tome that was translated. I tried seeing if the binary on the pillar matched Pi as a binary number or Phi as a binary number and couldn’t find any observable results. This is the kind of thinking and work that goes into these Fez mysteries. And the answer could have been there, but maybe I just miscalculated or made a mistake on one variable.
So, at the end of the day, why can’t we simply prove there isn’t an answer after thousands of hours of collective intelligence hasn’t found it? It feels insane to suggest at this point a real answer could be found.
So, What if there is No Answer?
One interesting thing about the Black Monolith puzzle is that over 10 years, Phil Fish has never talked about this. Even as he blew up, even as he was hacked, and wanted video games to burn to the ground — he never gave up the secret. And I can’t imagine how hard that must have been. He hit rock bottom and still in that moment didn’t just say fuck it and destroy the mystery of the game he put 5 years of himself into making.
Even though he was trying to sell his company, canceling the sequel to the game, and everything else that happened he never said anything about it. And it would have been easy to say there isn’t an answer (even if there was one) out of spite. It would have been easy to reach that point and give the answer up, so nobody would have any reason to continue posting about the game years later. It would have been easy to tell the programmer not to disprove the Release Game Theory and just say fuck it.
I’d like to think if there truly was no answer, he would’ve said that. He really doesn’t have anything to prove to video gaming at this point. The reason he hasn’t revealed anything yet goes back to everything I said about him as a game designer. Fez wasn’t just a game to him. It wasn’t just something to put together and put out there to make money. It was something he deeply cared about and as he said put so much of himself into.
I think the entire harassment campaign and vilification resulted in a lot of people not understanding Phil and by extension not understanding the game. And I’m not suggesting I understand him from a few clips and interviews. I however, feel equipped to suggest he is far from the villain people treated him as. I’m suggesting that people wouldn’t have been able to engage with what the Black Monolith or sound puzzle was in any real way, because they would both require honestly engaging with who Phil Fish is.
And when he said he was done with video games, when he said Fez II was canceled, he could have easily said there is no solution to the Black Monolith — but he didn’t. And this is all just a blind read into a situation I really don’t have the right to talk about with any real justice, but it just feels like if there wasn’t an answer, that would have been made clear. He would’ve just tweeted a long sequence about how shitty everyone was and that they were right, that Black Monolith Puzzle was always intended as a fuck you. Good job, everyone. Good Night. Fez III is canceled too. Emoji of middle fingers.
I feel like if I was in his shoes, especially as someone in my twenties, that’s what I would have done. I would have wanted to burn everything to the ground, my game included. Fuck the mystery, fuck the appeal, fuck my puzzles that nobody appreciated. Fuck my audience, fuck art, and fuck gaming. You win, I’m out. Something kept him back from doing this. And I have to believe it comes from taking what he said about Fez at face value. Fez was first and foremost a reflection of himself. He would give up gaming, he would give up his company, but he would not give up himself. And while this could be totally wrong in every way, I relate to that. I’ve given up so many important things in my life, but I have never crossed the line of giving up myself.
I’m glad in his 2022 interview he is able to find joy in how people did engage with the game. That they did put in all of this work. And I don’t think that indicates the game was about the journey and not the answers. I think he could be proud that his game made people want to figure out the language. That his game made people want to find the solutions on their own. That people were able to figure out so many of the esoteric puzzles and come to so many interesting theories was something he could find joy in as a developer all those years later.
Why Fez and Not Any Other Puzzle Game?
I think it’s worth looking at Jonathan Blow’s games, because Indie Game: The Movie seemed to deliberately give this impression of three different kinds of developers with Blow on the pretentious art end, Phil towards the middle, and Team Meat being your college friends making a game for fun. These are broad brush strokes, obviously every individual has nuance, but these three were chosen for the reason of the contrast in intentional ways for the documentary. This is how I believe they were setting up that contrast.
Jonathan Blow’s game Braid is infamous for being an allegory for the development of the atomic bomb. Though he later went on to say in an interview the game is much more than that. I will caution, that interview is like almost a thousand words long and I have no idea who would possibly read an article that long…foolish really to write something so painfully long as a thousand words. Ha ha.
Anyways, Blow went on to make the game “The Witness”, released in 2016, which was a high art piece that Joseph Anderson rated as, “A Great Game That You Shouldn’t Play”. The video I linked within the quote is worth the watch and offers a number of very interesting critiques of the game. Anderson calls the game one of perspective in a post-modern sense — where perspective is the point. It doesn’t actually have anything to say, except to get you to think of different perspectives both within the environment and through the dialogue you can find.
But the question around if it does have something to say is open to debate. The picture above is from the original ending of the game and features a Willy Wonka style glass elevator exploring the island while various non-sequitur quotes appear like ‘A Bubble in the Stream.”
Anderson wonders if this game is really just Blow fucking with us. He suggests that all the dialogue around Braid has made Blow want to design something so outlandish and ungrounded that nobody could reasonably be fixed to one point or interpretation of the events. The game’s real ending features a man walking up in the real world after having spent possible weeks within the game. This man fumbles around the office as he tries to understand the real world and attempts to apply the logic and puzzles of the game to it. Anderson describes the experience as an, “Infection of Perception”. (Red Letter Media has an insanely hilarious take on all of this.)
Nearly every puzzle in the game involves a circle and drawing lines through a maze of different logic gates. Several environmental puzzles in the game can be solved by finding these circles within the landscape when you look at it in just the right way.
And so when you see anything in real life that is a monochrome circle with a line connecting away from it, your brain starts to solve a puzzle that isn’t there. A red stop sign connected to a red pole feels like something you can take on.
There are several reasons I want to talk about all of this and the first is that this game has a narrative puzzle to try to understand what the game means. But nobody is really coming back years later to figure it out. The Witness isn’t something that, despite all of its grand ideas, made it into our collective psyche. It was kind of just popcorn at the end of the day. Fun to play, creative, enjoyable, and highbrow — but you play it once and you’re done. I think that’s true for most people, maybe I’m wrong.
In 2021, there was an article “5 Video Game Mysteries That Remain Unsolved” that talked about Super Mario Galaxy 2 and its weird shadow figures in one of the levels. They also featured the Aliens in Grand Theft Auto 5, some static heard in Far Cry, and an Easter Egg in Resident Evil 4. Looking at other lists reveal the same kind of results and the real mystery here is how the fuck these lists were made? As they don’t contain mysteries in the truest sense of the word. It is like going up to a fallen tree and playing the mystery music and putting on your clue cap, because you’re on the fucking case! What mystery befell this tree?! What dire plot of some unseen architect? What machinations of divine or demonic forces brought this event into our life? What about…termites? Or lightning? Or age or wind? Just because we don’t know exactly how something happened at first glance, doesn’t really make it a mystery. Mysteries involve a degree of intention, they’re not the consequence of random acts.
These lists I’m talking about just include oddities, Easter Eggs, or any incomplete lore or history within the world. There is no puzzle in Grand Theft Auto Five about Aliens, there is no mystery there, it is just flavor in the world to explore. And while many of these lists feel and act like click bait. They happen to be featuring games millions or tens of millions of people have played. However, it is important to look at them too, because they showcase how these so called mysteries haven’t lasted. I don’t think anyone is seriously figuring out the capital T truth of Super Mario Galaxy 2. I think some people are curious, some find it interesting or odd, some put more effort into exploring the game files, but I don’t think there is any advance ARG leading us to some new religion here.
The reason we have Fez as the contender of the JFK moment of gaming is because there is something to be solved. There is something left unfinished here, in a way that no other game or mystery really has left us with. And like how The Witness would change the way you look at the world — looking through Fez also augments your experience and perception in the same way. You start to look for patterns everywhere. Everything starts to feel like it can mean anything. Below is the skull artifact that I’ve talked about before viewed from every side. Nobody knows what this does.
And if it is letters or inputs how do you figure out how to turn it in 3d space? Remember we’re trying to solve the Black Monolith puzzle. The first part of the puzzle requires you put in a sequence that is Up, Right Trigger, Up, Jump, Down, Left Trigger, Up, Down. Maybe if I move the skull in that way the answer will come to me? Nope. Fucking big nope on that. What if you move the letter box, that’s that red cube above with those commands? Also nope.
So, instead of writing it all out like that, I’ll change those button inputs into just one letter each: U, R, U, J, D, L, U, D. Then I number each unique letter so I get this: 1, 2, 1, 3, 4, 5, 1, 4. And once you do this, there really is no going back. It’s time to buy a house on the Grassy Knoll and start firing your time gun in hopes of hitting the president sixty years ago. Why?
Because you will start to try to find that pattern in absolutely anything. You’ll search every prime number, the total sequence of pi, the total sequence of phi. What’s Phi? It’s the number representation of the golden radio, often shortened to just 1.618. But you can also get it in binary. Also Phi looks like P and the Black Monolith Puzzle location looks like two P’s forming a spiraling infinity symbol. I spent more than five hours trying to find a connection here and just could not make anything work. However, it could be there. It just fits so many of the clues.
The unique pattern for the actual answer of the Black Monolith is the sequence represented here: 1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5. The reason we had the Game Release Theory was because a person realized the game release could fit that pattern. Then you just had to do enough movie magic to make the numbers pop. And keep this in mind. We’re not looking for a sequence of inputs that is 1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5. We are looking for any possible combination that involves 5 unique symbols with two repeats. So long as we can find that condition, we can get excited and start working out the answer to the puzzle!
I actually just started searching Black Monolith into google to find some results, because I was so at the end of my rope to find any meaningful clue and I found this poem below from Frederick Turner.
Who is that? I have no idea. But I looked at that final sentence and I started to look at the first letter of each word. Without even realizing what I was really doing, I was applying this puzzling solving metric to fucking anything. And after doing this for a few seconds, I thought…wait…what the fuck am I doing? The answer to the Black Monolith is not solvable from an obscure poem you can find online by searching those words. And even, if through a miracle I could divine or manifest a solution this way, it won’t logically track. The word Odyssey has five unique letters with two repeats — is that meaningful? Don’t know and can’t prove it.
The problem with the puzzle is we don’t see a logical way forward, so we take motivated logical leaps off a cliff in hopes our hands will find some invisible wall that will trail back to the beginning and serve as the answer.
And this to a point can be kind of fun. You can look at every block of the game and wonder which ones have meaning, which ones can elucidate a stronger understanding of the world or the puzzle. But I know that through this effort, I wasn’t different than the JFK assassination scholars who also made these leaps to find answers.
When I was talking to a roommate about this story and going over the JFK assassination, I talked to her about multiple shooters theory presented in the conspiracy. She, much like me before this article, didn’t really know much about it beyond the trivia card level facts of the event. I was fresh from a 90 minute documentary with nothing but perspective on why the mainstream version of the events was wrong. Everyone is apparently sheeple. That chestnut. She told me about an old game that was more or less Pokemon Snap: The JFK Assassination. Please sit with that sentence I just wrote for a few seconds. This is an absolutely bonkers game featuring a scenario where you’re supposed to assassinate JFK in a way that confirms the Warren Commission report. Worth noting a 100% score isn’t possible in this physics engine, so checkmate atheists on that one.
My entire story here is effective leaps of logic both inside the game and through the behavior of the major players and events found. I’m making connections to people, because honestly I can’t get anything more from the game at this point. Just like folks who look at the Grassy Knoll could never get more evidence. There was no theory about a man in a jetpack to add to the equation. Very quickly every possible possibility was on the table and all you had to do is run with the pieces or start to question the players.
It honestly felt really satisfying to explore when major events in Fez happened, because I could at least start to find concrete answers again. I could at least come to some new theory by shifting perspective. I no longer had to solve the Black Monolith, I just had to solve if it was solvable. And I can’t do that, without an actual solution, no matter how convincing my words above may have been. No matter how convincing conspiracy theories are about JFK or other events, they often are not in the position to solve or explain the events if the information they’re operating out of is closed to new evidence. This is all just fan fiction at the end of the day.
I also didn’t expect this piece to be so long or complicated. I didn’t think my Fez story would end up being the longest article I’d ever write to the point I started coping with it by making memes.
So, Is There Hope?
A few days or weeks before I started writing this article, a time when the seeds were being watered but nothing had sprouted, I heard a curious bit of information. There was a secret uncovered in a game 28 years after its release. When you hear stories like that, what they often mean is that Summoning Salt will be making a video soon about how a game has been broken.
This wasn’t one of those times. It actually featured an intended 2-player mode in the 1994 game Super Punch Out. It just required holding some buttons down with the second player controller and appears to work on all releases of the game. It isn’t a rom or a hack or an exploit, but something intentionally within the game.
A 24 year standing puzzle on how to 100% a certain doom II level was solved by a legendary doom player Zero Master and he was even congratulated by the creator! These two events weren’t exactly mysteries people were keen on solving. The Doom II level was suspected to just be glitched in the first place. If it wasn’t for Zero Master having incredible insight into the game and a dedication to effectively solve a mystery he understood to exist — it would be something nobody really cares about.
In the 2022 Interview with Phil Fish, he describes how the pixel art nature of the game makes it seem timeless, because new pixel art games are coming out. Fez could have just as easily been released this year and received all the acclaim it has. It’s honestly great to see he’s doing relatively okay and comfortable enough to do something public facing.
But in the grand scheme of things ten years isn’t that long. The JFK mystery is 60 years in the making and we’re not really that much further than we were a few years after that fateful day. I think just like with Doom II, it’ll probably be one player who happens to vibe with the game in just the right way. I think Fez is also intriguing enough that it’s a game a Twitch Chat would want their host to play. It isn’t dead or close to dead, as the mystery continues to eat at people. New people will play this game. New ideas will be suggested and explored. If there is an answer, we will find it.
And doing dozens of hours of research for both trying to solve this mystery myself and writing about it to others, I can confidently say we don’t have enough evidence to convincingly say it isn’t solvable. I think we could get there. We would need to point and click adventure every item, piece of lore, and theory to the point literally nothing else could be logically derived and only then we could say with confidence an answer doesn’t exist. We can’t do that today though, we are not close to being there yet.
Personally, I have to move on now. Part of me wants to be like Phil and spend two years soloing Riven until I figure it out. Part of me feels like I could be the one to solve it and it’d be insane that being an award winning activist is line two on my resume for why people know me. You’re that person who solved the Black Monolith!? Holy shit! And you do human rights work? Whatever, so when was the moment you knew you could solve it? How do you feel knowing you’ve finally meaningfully contributed something to the world?
Regardless, I know every few years I’ll look again. I’ll see if new information has come up. I’ll love reading the new promising theories that people explored. Exciting connections about space and the space beyond that.
Phil, if you’re reading this, you can tots tell me! I promise not to tell anyone else. I also want to say that I did my best with this piece. These puzzles are very difficult to explain without simply playing the game. Even when talking about Fez as a game, it’s something that is hard to explain with words, but something you can immediately understand if you just play it for a few minutes. I tried to make this piece accessible to any audience, but I know it’s still probably obtuse to some. I also don’t want to devote another dozen hours to refining this article. I don’t believe it’d get much better with that time investment either.
This puzzle has legitimately always interested me. I’m a person who keeps revisiting it and hoping some real answer would reveal itself. I’m a person who tried my best to find that answer too and devoted dozens of hours to exploring possibilities. I want to make it clear I’m not just some outsider writing about these events, but someone who has been invested in them since the PC release. Below is the last massive Ms. Paint document I had as I played around with ideas and theories.
I honestly hope this ends up getting people interested in trying their hand at solving this puzzle. I want to inspire folks to be interested in this unsolved mystery and get more folks back into the game. Even if you don’t solve it, I think it’s really fun to try. Every new idea or insight I had to explore felt exciting. Thanks for taking this journey with me.