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Words by Hamish Todd.>
Portal has the best-designed first-person puzzles I’ve ever seen. They’re surprising, focused, and concise. They are also designed very perceptively, and we can learn a lot from looking at this perceptiveness. Read on for an analysis of Portal’s level design, and some lessons about what learning from it can do to improve game design.
BE WARNED: This article uses multiple animated .gif images on the same page, and might be tough to load on slower connections. (more…)
I’m off in the strange, far-away land of Las Vegas right now, and I just got done watching Gabe Newell and JJ “Warring Trek of the Stars” Abrams chat each other up on stage. I’ll have more from the talk for you soon, but here’s the big take-away: Valve and Abrams are officially collaborating. “What we’re actually doing here,” Newell said at the talk’s conclusion, “is recapitulating a series of conversations that have been going on [between Abrams and I]. This is what happens when game and movie people get together. And we sort of reached the point where we decided that we needed to do more than talk. So we’re gonna try and figure out if we can make a Portal movie or a Half-Life movie together.” Meanwhile, Abrams added: “And we have a game idea we’d like to work with Valve on.” Finally, Gabe wrapped it up: “It’s time for our industries to stop talking about potential and really execute on it.”
Interrupted while coiling his precious cables, the sound guy glowers at me. “Scarface? What?” Now, the way you can tell games journalists aren’t like other journalists is our shame. We’re shy, we lack the killer instinct, mostly, that enables tabloid hacks to doorstep grieving families and hack murdered children’s phones. I’m a case in point – 6′ 1″, 13 stone – and I’m being intimidated by a diminutive roadie. “His assistant is called Scarface,” I repeat. The roadie shrugs. As he shuffles away, he’s obviously assigned me to the same aberrant category as everyone else still hanging around at the Jonathan Coulton gig – No 1 Fans, all of them.
After the gig, from the gallery of Union Chapel, I look down on the accretion disc of fandom. They’re loitering but not mingling, in the hope of catching another sight of their hero. With its non-conformist heritage, this old Gothic church is a strangely perfect venue for Jonathan Coulton, whose music is packed full of liberality, anti-authoritarianism, irony and inclusiveness – and for his reverential fans. While he’s best known in gaming circles for endlessly singable Portal ditty Still Alive, Coulton is the high priest of geek music. This former programmer’s songs about geek culture are so well known he was made ‘Contributing Troubador’ at Popular Science magazine. (more…)
The Sourceruns team have completed a 8:31.93 run of Portal, which is absolutely ridiculous, brilliantly devious and laudably investigative. The latter descriptor is appropriate because of the level of understanding required to complete the run. These glitch-hunters have an in depth knowledge of each chamber, of the Source engine and of the strange ways in which portals work. You can watch the run below, and read about the techniques used and the analysis of each chamber in an extensive document. Oddly, the closest I think I’ve ever come to exploring a game in this way was when I played deathmatch Doom for an entire year without stopping. I knew every layout and every trick, and I was still> rubbish.
Does P-Body sound at all like ‘oddity’? I don’t think it does, does it? That’s why I’m torturously explaining my lame gag here. That’s why they pay me the almost adequate bucks. Not to mention that the gag, if it can indeed be called a gag, is entirely redundant as this story doesn’t involve Portal 2′s co-op robo-chum P-Body in the slightest. Rather, it’s solely to do with the Space Core, who’s found himself – or at least his image – on a trip to the International Space Station courtesy of an anonymous fan at NASA. (more…)
Welcome to RPS’ first (and probably only) edition of Box News, an attempt at providing fair and balanced coverage of that most marginalized of objects in this digital age – the box – on the first day to conveniently feature more than one box-based news item in 437 years. On today’s show, we’ll be bringing you up-to-the-minute analysis of the developing Portal Lego set situation and having Limbo’s lavish new Special Edition box set live in the studio. So then, let’s dive right in.
The first time I ever played Portal was damn near magical. Each room I walked into held promise of some diabolical new assault on both my brain and the laws of physics, but I made them look like child’s play. At the time, I was certain it proved I was a genius with an IQ so huge that even my bulging genius brain couldn’t count that high. Of course, I soon came to find out that everyone> experienced Portal that way. So I wasn’t a genius. But the puzzle designers at Valve were.
To this day, Portal stands as the most masterful example of invisibly intuitive teaching I’ve ever discovered. It slowly builds upon itself – sneaking new techniques into your repertoire until you’re snoozing through puzzles that would’ve short-circuited your synapses maybe 20 minutes earlier. Is it a fit for classrooms, though? My first inclination would be to think not. I mean, it’s not exactly a hyper-accurate physics simulation – even with science jokes making up the bulk of both Portal 1 and 2′s brilliantly witty dialogue. That, however, is precisely the point, according to Valve director of education Leslie Redd and designer Yasser Malaika. It’s how> Valve games teach – not what they’re teaching – that could help save a rusty, way-behind-the-times education system.
Year after year, many schools struggle to teach kids basic math and reading skills. Portal, on the other hand, taught my childlike, directionally-crippled brain a slew of hyper-complex spatial reasoning abilities. In about 30 minutes. So I guess maybe> it could be a good fit for the classroom. And hey, what do you know (aside from a Portal-imbued slew of hyper-complex spatial reasoning abilities)? Valve seems to think so too. The resulting program’s been dubbed Teach With Portals, and it’s just the beginning of Valve’s new Steam For Schools initiative.