There's A Hole in the Sky

I guess we finally have Giant Bomb back up and running again. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and I think that’s certainly applied for the lack of Giant Bomb over the last few days, but Amazon’s technical difficulties did indicate how one little thing going wrong in the large web of technology we use can really mess a lot of things up. Slightly surprisingly for me, I was more distracted from my work over the past few days without Giant Bomb there than if it had been there. With Giant Bomb online I may have been checking the forums and my inbox now and then, but with it offline I often found myself repeatedly dashing back to the site to jab the F5 button to see if by some miracle the servers had all become sentient and repaired themselves. We’re back to business as usual now though (thanks to the Amazon and Whiskey Media engineers for that) so that seems as good an excuse as any for me to rattle out another blog.

Portal 2 ARG

 For those of you still wondering what potatoes had to do with Portal 2.
 For those of you still wondering what potatoes had to do with Portal 2.
I talked a little about how much I was enjoying the recent Portal 2 ARG last week but it wasn’t until sometime after I posted that blog that I discovered some truly remarkable events in the ARG that I feel compelled to share. The cryptic puzzles, the Portal updates to the indie games and the general community effort required towards the ARG were amazing but the truly unique and unexpected event I’m talking about occurred rather near the end of the game. We’d seen characters within the ARG behaving oddly, players acting out their own self-crafted personas and even Dejobaan claiming they were under some kind of attack, but on April 13th something even more curious happened.

Within the space of a very small number of minutes several of the most well-known contributors to the ARG (who were in the IRC channel being used by the ARG players) simply posted “There’s a hole in the sky... through which I can fly” before immediately disconnecting. After this the players disappeared entirely and started exhibiting behaviour such as editing in their wiki and Steam profiles in an unusual manner, making nonsensical edits to the wiki and posting cryptic messages. In the few instances where people attempted to contact them they simply spouted gibberish and quickly backed out of the conversation. To have one or two players disappear could be passed off as a hoax, but seeing a whole handful of the ARGs most prominent players go missing was downright bizarre. Two days later three more players went missing, two of them previously having been mentioned by GLaDOS herself. One of the supposedly infected players had remained in contact with us but he was frequently misleading and considered by many a troll.

Shortly before the launch of Portal 2 stated that there were currently nine active test subjects and a little later the official Portal 2 Facebook page posted an image of someone playing Portal 2. As the game reached its climax a few of the players came back into contact with the “infected” individuals and all was revealed. Some time ago Valve had identified the most active players of the ARG, contacted them, told them how they wanted the ARG to play out and instructed them all to disappear within 24 hours. Apart from our one slightly overactive individual, the rest obliged and so Valve started playing a few games with us using their accounts. When the ARG reached its end the prize of the nine who disappeared was to go to Valve, meet some of the devs behind Portal and the potato sack games, and be the first members of the public to play Portal 2. To some this may not sound like a particularly remarkable story but for me this was another mind-blowing move on the part of Valve.

Portal 2

 Don't be afraid to share the science.
 Don't be afraid to share the science.
I’ve yet to dive into Portal 2’s single-player mode which I strongly suspect to be the best part of the experience but I have spent this week playing through the co-operative section of the game. Through the combination of two person gameplay, the new mechanics, a different story and the new environments, the co-op experience didn’t really even feel like Portal, but I don’t mean that in a negative manner at all. It was a unique experience where the puzzles genuinely felt gauged at just the right difficulty to make you feel intelligent when you complete a puzzle, but not make the task of completing them feel too far out of reach. I must say I didn’t find GLaDOS quite as funny in the co-op for Portal 2 as I did in the original Portal, but this was somewhat understandable considering that the co-op story was less involved.

While Valve do a good job of providing you with a set of tools to organise your tactics with your partner, finding a good second player is essential to getting the most out of the experience. Whoever you do play with though, providing you are reasonably successful as a team, the game forges a great sense of friendship between you and your chosen secondary participant. At the end of the Portal 2 co-op I was once again refreshed with a sense of appreciation for the way games can bring people together. The large majority of entertainment mediums are story-based and so can often be very good at making you feel an attachment to the fictional characters within their worlds, but whether through solving puzzles, strategising against an enemy or creating new in-game content, games are an entertainment medium with a unique knack for bringing people together.

Duder, It’s Over

Thanks to you duders for reading and thanks to the people who have recently been giving me a whole lot more feedback on the How to Become a Game Designer blogs. Good luck, have editorial.