A strange request for help.

  • I'm a journalist who works at the Philadelphia Inquirer and also does freelance work for National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, etc.

    I am working on a story about a hiker who died in a tent in Florida in July of 2018. It's a very strange story. When police released a sketch, many people recognized it and sent in pictures. He has not been identified, however. He had no wallet, no phone, no ID on him. He used the alias Ben Bilemy and the trail name Mostly Harmless. He told people he worked in IT in Brooklyn,

    The reason I'm contacting you is because I recently received notebooks police in Florida found on him which appear to be filled with numbers and computer code possibly Java. They released the notebooks to me via a FOIA request. He also appeared to be designing a game and the language he uses is very similar what I found searching around on Screeps and Overmind (I don't know much about gaming or code, forgive me). He mentioned room planners, room managers, creeps, spawns, miners, exits, haulers, towers, warriors etc. He mentioned two worlds, including an Algae Pond and Roach Motel. He also mentioned the "nanites guild." I have no idea what any of it is.

    I have attached three photos I snipped from the notebook PDF. If you can look them and give me your thoughts, I would really appreciate it. Perhaps you could set me on the right path. If you want to see the whole notebook, that would be even better. I can be reached at jasonnark77@gmail.com

    this is not a scam. I've been obsessed with the case for a year. you can google my name-Jason Nark--to find my bio and google Ben Bilemy Mostly harmlee hiker--if you'd like to ! know more about the case. Thanks Jason Nark. 0_1585153007892_MH_nOTE1.JPG 0_1585153014566_MH_Note2.JPG 0_1585153020511_MH_Note3.JPG


  • So I checked the information given and it seems to be legit.
    This is definitely screeps talk, so yes your suspicion that "ben2" maybe the person in question is possible, his activity stopped around 3 years ago.

    https://steamcommunity.com/profiles/76561198004426967/friends/ this is his steam friendslist maybe they know more.
    Just keep it polite.

    But instead of obsessing over someone who is dead, either out of paranoia or the unbelievable tiny chance that he actually had "dangerous knowledge", can't be healthy.
    So try to actually play screeps for a change πŸ˜‰

    Rant incoming:
    Man this is ridicules, USA and their non-existent ID-Card.
    Here in the EU and many other countries they are mandatory and a good thing.
    (It is also mandatory to show it to the police ← to be clear nobody else can force you, they need to call them if they want your ID)
    You have no proper way of identification, this is really embarrassing for a country of this size.
    You even deport your own countrymen as "illegal immigrants" because of that, its such a shame πŸ˜‘

  • Thanks, I don't think he was dangerous. Also, I think the vast majority of American do carry ID on them. That's why it's so unusual.

  • Hi @JNark Best of luck on your investigations, it would be great to bring some closure to his family instead of leaving him as a nameless John Doe. Not sure what @MrFaul is ranting about dangerous knowledge, please don't take him as representative of the community here.

    However, I have to inform you that the "Ben2" that MrFaul is talking about is very unlikely your victim, as his steam profile shows he unlocked a number of badges in the last year. https://steamcommunity.com/profiles/76561198004426967/badges/ This makes it very likely that that user has had activity recently (the last one unlocked, "power player", was 3 days ago and I think it represents owning 100+ games).

    The notes are most certainly screeps related though. Let me know if there is anything else we can do to help. I should call out that these are the new forums here. IIRC there was some old screeps forums that had content prior to 2017 that could potentially have information, but I'm unsure as to what happened to them.

  • Everyone can check out the notebook and let me know what they think. Again, I’m looking for anything that might help identify him. I uploaded to Dropbox.

    here is the link. Thanks.

  • Someone relayed this info to me:

    Pages 1-10 and 19-33 of the notebook are all about Screeps. He's planning out the code he wants to write: what creeps roles he's going to have, what his rooms are going to do at different levels. I've got a notebook exactly like this myself from when I first started playing. This is all very normal stuff for anyone playing Screeps. He's even planning to automate the layout of his rooms, which is pretty advanced (maybe only 5-10% of Screeps players have code to do this). He definitely knows how to program and is pretty good at it. All his notes about his plans in the game are very coherent and lucid--nothing at all unusual that I see.

  • Hey, I scanned through the notes, and see some variable names, like "energy_cost_total" and "energy_surplus_per_tick". I tried searching these in github (publicly available code), but didn't come up with anything. Maybe the game developers have a mechanism to search through all of the player code on the site?

    Other observation: On the 3rd sheet of page 2, "ben" has an RCL8 room layout drawn up, with a V of 6 towers on the top (3 on the left and 3 on the right) with spawns, terminal, and storage right behind. He then has all the extensions down below, with a lane of road going North/South starting under the storage and dividing the extensions. There are a few road diagonals cutting through the extensions as well. Are there any room history snapshots from that time? (3+ years ago) This also may be a question for the game devs. That room layout is very specific and unless it is copied it's likely to be unique, assuming he used it.

  • Following up on this, it's reasonably likely the code is stored in github (owned by Microsoft) privately if not publicly, in which case I would ask them to search for the class names on page 19: HaulerManager, RoadManager, TripPlanner, WallManager, LabManager, BuildManager, Diplomacy, RoomLayoutStaticManager, RoomReservedManager ...

  • I don't have a ton more information than you but I wanted to do a brandump while I'm thinking about it. It may even help you to understand the structure, even if parts of it are opaque to me.

    The information you uploaded is on a variety of subjects, some screeps and some not. Keeping these types of notebooks is a habit common to engineering professions.


    You seem to have 2 notebooks here. PDF pages 1-10 are of a small, top-bound notebook, whereas 11-40 are from a larger, side-bound notebook. I will use the PDF numbering below:

    small notebook

    • 1 These 4 pages, with the possible exception of the lower left, seem screeps-related.
    • 2 Seems screeps-related, although a bit opaque. The bottom-right seems to be a room layout. Perhaps someone here would have more to say about it.
    • 3 & 4 - This is non-screeps information. It appears to be some other RPG game, terminology is generic
    • 5 The top, upsidedown page is definitely screeps-related. I can't positively identify the purpose of the code on the bottom page.
    • 6 The top, upsidedown page is a continuation of the listing from 5. The bottom page has to do with some other RPG game, possibly the one on page 3&4.
    • 7-10 Seems screeps-related

    large notebook

    • 11 - This appears to be a table of contents for the large notebook. Each number in the listing is a section, which then appears on the pages themselves in section - pagenumber format.
    • 12-15 This is the section on p2p.bak. Although not screeps-related, I can characterize it pretty confidently as some kind of design for a network protocol. As best as I can make out, you would use this to back up data to a variety of other computers in some kind of distributed peer-to-peer fashion. One interpretation is that this is supposed to be a blockchain protocol. The design for this seems to be very preliminary and I doubt it is referencing any actual implemented protocol, it may be more recreational or more of a fun excercise.
    • 16 This is the section on BLL. I am not sure what to make of this section other than it groups computer science topics under two very vague headings. I might see something like this as course notes for a very introductory class.
    • 17-18 This is the "Balanced Nutrion Foods" section. This appears to be a comparison of different waffles and their nutritional profile, mixed in with some notes about how they came out. I have made things like this section before when I was trying to evaluate which brand of food to buy as a dietary staple. I'm not totally sure I understand all the variations though, I don't know of any food that comes in "High Protein", "Super High Protein" and "Extreme Protein" variations for example.
    • 19-33 Screeps section, screeps related. More info below
    • 34-40 - This is the "nanites guild" section. This is not screeps related, and appears to describe some other multiplayer game or RPG. I'm not aware of any game like this, it may be an original design.

    Note that the "Algae Pool", "Roach Motel" and "Player Stock Market" sections appear to be missing.


    There are a couple of things that stand out to me here. As others mentioned, room planning is unusual and typically associated with high levels of play.

    PDF page 19 appears to have a list of classes. I searched the public internet and was not able to turn up any code that corresponds well with this list. In a game like this, some people people will inevitably name their things alike so you will find a few matches for most names, but nothing more similar than that. That said, people don't necessarily publish their code, so an admin might be able to work from this and identify your person. I believe that's your best bet.

    However, the overall impression I get – and this may be controversial – is that this person may not have played much. Room planning is a very advanced strategy, that you would normally do after you have an AI that is working well already (I do not, lol). But there is planning for early game mixed in here too, it reads a little like a person who hasn't figured out where to start and is picking topics at random. There is also a popular open-source AI that does roomplanning so a new player may just be copying that approach.

    Something else very strange to me is how many details are written out into the notebook. It is my habit to draw little diagrams and such when I'm working on code, but they are sparse – the notebook next to me has 4 circles on the open page. Programmers usually complain about coding on whiteboards without a compiler to check their work but there are pages and pages of code handwritten in here, corrections, lines inserted between each other, etc. Plus, pages and pages of specification, without linebreaks and not even written in a way that would be easy to implement in an organized way later on.

    These notebooks seem to have been used as a primary, not accessory tool. The only reason I can think of is to work on the problem when computers are not easily accessible – perhaps hiking is that situation, I don't know. Even then, it seems like this person was not working in a format that would be efficient to take their work online again.

  • @root-kontot Thanks, you put a lot of effort into this. Most of it goes over my head, and I'm simply looking for the "will any of this help identify him" angle, but this may help toward a greater good. You mentioned the sheer amount of notes and that's what struck me. This was a guy who was obviously skilled and interested in this subject, but was seemingly free from technology (from what we can tell) for over a year.

  • Hey all, you may or may not have seen the article on this man in Wired. That wasn't the one I wrote but it was very well done. Anyone have any intel on a user named TicTac? He was very active in the fall of 16 and early spring of 2017

  • Wow. Wired is so much worse than I remember! πŸ˜‚

    Which article in particular is it? Can you provide a link?

  • @jnark Can find his profile with that username here: https://screeps.com/a/#!/profile/TicTac. Also links to his Steam profile but that's private.

    Looks like he was only active on the main game world October/November 2016.