Welcome back everyone! Today is our first Kotaku Game Club meeting of 2012, and the opening discussion of our series on Kotaku Game of the Year Portal 2.
Since this month's game was released last May, we've changed the traditional Game Club formula a little bit. Instead of basing discussions around chronological portions of the game, this month we'll be looking at different design components of the game each week. Today we'll be discussing puzzle & level design.
With that in mind, a reminder that every meeting this month may include critical spoilers. If you're playing Portal 2 for the first time, I'd say you should get through the game and come back.
If you're one of the many Kotaku readers whose New Year's resolution was to join the Game Club before, here's a quick crash course: Our goal is to play games together so that we can share our experiences and discover (or rediscover) the game as a community. We meet each week in the Game Club's comments section to discuss our experiences with the chosen game, including its narrative and mechanical themes and our own responses to them.
Our meetings start at 4pm Eastern every Thursday, and last an hour or so after the post is published. The goal of the Game Club to get everybody talking, so don't be shy about putting out your ideas - That's what we're here for.
So here our puzzle-centric jump off question for the week: Is there any single learned skill that you think should have been more reinforced or explicitly taught?
Every puzzle in Portal 2 has a purpose: Each room either teaches a new technique or asks you to combine some of the ones you've learned until that point. As a result, our progression is very transparent. While there is something magical about the way Valve combines those learned ideas into complex puzzles, that intricate progression is built around the idea that, once you've finished a puzzle, you fully understand all the moving pieces.
That's not necessarily true, though. You can get stuck, get confused, and then suddenly solve a puzzle without fully understanding how you did it. If that happens, the lesson is lost: If a similar concept is introduced in later puzzles, you approach it as if you never even tried that earlier, which can cause more confusion. Can we identify those instances and see if there's a way that they could have been prevented?
Next week we'll be discussing the mechanical elements of Portal 2 (how gels work, etc). Let's meet here on Kotaku next Thursday, January 19th, at 4pm Eastern.
Make sure to be on Kotaku at 4pm Eastern tomorrow to help us kick off the Game Club's Portal 2 retrospective!
Over at Kill Screen, they've done their yearly "High Scores" poll in which each of their contributors send in a ballot of games, assigning points to any game from 2011. The results of the vote are in, and Portal 2 is the clear winner.
Bastion, Dark Souls, El Shaddai, The Binding of Isaac, and Jetpack Joyride are also honored, among others. Also worth looking through are the critics' ballots, in which each writer lays out the case for the games on his or her list.
It's also worth visiting the page just to check out the great illustrations by Michael Rapa, a small segment of which is featured above. Can you spot all the games?
High Scores: The End of 2011 [Kill Screen]
The 12th annual Game Developers Choice Awards nominees were announced today, providing nods to some of last year's greatest games. Three studios shared a tie for the most nominations: Bethesda for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Valve for Portal 2, and newcomer Supergiant Games for Bastion. Skyrim and Portal 2 received five nominations each, while Bastion received four and the studio itself was nominated for Best Debut.
Sharing Game of the Year nominations with Portal 2 and Skyrim were Batman: Arkham City, Dark Souls, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Winners will be chosen by a group of 500 industry professionals and announced at the 2012 Game Developers Conference on March 7.
Check out the full list of nominees below.
Best Game Design
Best Handheld/Mobile Game
Best Downloadable Game
Best Visual Arts
Game of the Year
Welcome back, Game Club! It's a brand new year, and we should make sure to start it on the right foot, right? There's no better way to do that, I think, then to play a game we know is going to be great. Since we just gave Portal 2 our Game of the Year Award, I'm pretty sure it's a good choice.
I know we normally try to play new games that we haven't tried before, but we've never played Portal 2 together, and there are so many things to so see, do and experience that we'll find another play-through rewarding, especially when we get to see it from so many perspectives.
In case you've never participated in a Game Club before, here's the deal: Our goal is to play games together so that we can share our experiences and discover the game as a community. We meet each week to discuss our experiences with the chosen game, including its narrative and mechanical themes and our own responses to them.
Our meetings start at 4pm Eastern every Thursday, and last an hour or so after the post is published. (Not that you can't keep it going.) The goal of the Game Club to get everybody talking, so don't be shy about putting out your ideas - That's what we're here for.
Since many of us may have already finished the game, I think we should take a different approach to our meetings this week. Instead of discussing the game chronologically, we'll be tackling a different aspect the game: Story, Mechanics, Puzzle Design, and Co-Op. That doesn't mean you shouldn't all play the game again, but this will hopefully will allow everyone to speak freely without worrying about spoilers. There will still be a suggested pace for our play-through, but every discussion will be about the whole game, rather than where we've played to.
Here's our schedule:
January 12th: Puzzle Design (Chapters 1-3)
January 19th: Mechanics (Chapters 4-6)
January 26th: Story (7-9)
February 2nd: Co-Op (Co-Op Campaign)
As usual, we will remind of each meeting with a blip on Kotaku the day before, and we will also post to alert you of any scheduling changes or other complications should they arise. See you next week!
We voted for Wheatley, the delightfully ditzy but well-meaning artificial intelligence that unwittingly guided us to our potential doom. We voted for GLaDOS, the power-hungry robot with a heart of solid gold spite, with whom our relationship grew closer and stranger than ever before. We voted for Cave Johnson, founder and CEO of Aperture Science, whose words of wisdom will guide us til the end of our days. We voted for Atlas and P-Body, a mechanical consciousness built for two. We voted for Chell, history's most resilient guinea pig.
We voted for the team at Valve that delivered such a solid and entertaining experience, building an extremely clever puzzle game into something far greater. We voted for Erik Wolpaw, Jay Pinkerton and Chet Faliszek, the writers that kept us in stiches at every turn.
We voted for Portal 2.
Not all of us, mind you, but enough that it would take the assassination of at least two of our editors to make the voting a tie.
The outcome came as a surprise to many of our editors, especially with a powerhouse like Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim hitting hard and deep so late in the year. Indeed Skyrim was my original pick for Game of the Year (Luke Plunkett's as well), but then it took an arrow in the knee (I am so sorry).
That arrow was Evan Narcisse's impassioned argument for Valve's Portal 2. Game's released towards the front end of the year (Portal 2 hit in April) are often at a disadvantage when it comes time for Game of the Year arguments, but Evan's nomination and subsequent explanation reminded many of us how nearly perfect Portal 2 was.
Of course this doesn't mean that the other three games (nothing doesn't count) we nominated this year are failures. They still represent the very best titles we played this year. Portal 2 was just better than that.
Be sure to check out the stories below to experience the process we went through to get to where we did today, and if you see anyone from Valve's Portal 2 team today, be sure to give them a vigorous face licking for us.
What was the best game of the year, according to those of us here at Kotaku?
We don't know.
We don't know... yet.
Throughout the week of December 26, we will present five Game of the Year arguments. More »
Oh look. Somebody is voting for Skyrim as Game of the Year. How shocking.
Truth be told, I very nearly voted for something else. Total War: Shogun 2 had me hooked for most of the year, and its near perfection of the series' blend of strategic planning and real-time tactics seemed to make it, for... More »
I played a ton of games in 2011. More, probably, than any other year of my life. So when it came time to choose the best from among them, I spent a lot of time thinking back, sifting through the triumphs and the frustrations, the unexpected joys and the unfortunate disappointments.
Arkham City and... More »
This may sound off-key coming from the guy who nominated the 12th edition of annual sports franchise for overall GOTY last year. But I'm inclined to say "None of the above," this year. More »
What Valve did this year seemed impossible: they improved on the perfection that was the first Portal. That feat was accomplished, surprisingly, by making everything about players' return to Aperture Science less perfect. More »
The hardest thing at the end of the year is to parse yourself from the hype you're experiencing and think back to the games you played during the summer, the spring, and yes, 2011's early months. More »
Once again, Volpin Props knocks it out of the park. Though in this case, they've knocked themselves out of the park. And fallen a great height, only to land safely, thanks to these Portal Long Fall Boots.
Master prop builder Harrison Krix's efforts continue to amaze, these boots looking like they jumped straight out of the game and landed squarely amongst the rest of us in the real world.
Which, since these are real boots, I guess they have.
What Valve did this year seemed impossible: they improved on the perfection that was the first Portal. That feat was accomplished, surprisingly, by making everything about players' return to Aperture Science less perfect. We got a scuffed-up, messier experience that resonated more deeply than any other game this year. Can Portal 2 open a rift to the top of this year's GOTY contenders? Let's see.
WHAT I LOVED:
Heart-ificial Intelligence: Portal 2 pulled off an amazing role reversal: it made the humans playing it feel like computers and the dueling AIs vying for control feel human. The character arcs traveled by Wheatley and GLaDOS didn't seem robotic at all, and each AI felt, at turns, poignantly insecure and needy. And, at the end of the single-player portion, I felt like a problem-solving machine, electric and sharp, able to coolly think my way out of the game's inscrutable puzzle rooms.
Broken Beauty: Portal 2 fractured the clean minimalism of its predecessor and created a different kind of splendor by peeling back Aperture Science's gleaming white layers. Playing through the grimy, rusted-over past of the research firm didn't just introduce cool new mechanics. It showed us the aching soul of a beautiful loser named Cave Johnson, and generated an unexpected empathy for GLaDOS.
WHAT I HATED:
Invisible Woman: I wanted Portal 2 to create more of a connection to the series' mute heroine Chell. It's great that other, newer characters get fleshed-out backstories, but that just makes it harder to care the character I'm controlling when she remains a near-total cipher.
Slightly Off-Key: A game's theme song usually doesn't count for much in overall scheme of things. But, c'mon, this is Portal, the series that gave us "Still Alive." After firing that last teleportation blast, I expected a tune that lived up Jonathan Coulton's previous classic. Sadly, "Want You Gone" did nothing for me, even after repeated listens.
Kirk Hamilton responds:
I loved the crap out of Portal 2. It was a triumph, a huge success; I'm making a note here, etc. It is an entirely worthy candidate for GOTY, even though in the end I didn't choose it for my own nomination. Here's what I think:
WHAT I LOVED
High-larious - Portal 2 was the funniest game of 2011. The excellent one-off gags, the winning animation work on all of the robots, and Stephen Merchant's show-stealing voice-over performance… I spent 90% of my time with a huge grin plastered on my face. Why can't all games be this funny? I don't know. Writers Erik Wolpaw, Jay Pinkerton and Chet Faliszek, my hat is off to you.
Brainy Gamer - Portal 2 was a real brain-tickler. Solving a tricky puzzle before sending yourself careening through the air to the finish line was one of 2011's great gaming pleasures.
Musical Heart - The way that Valve integrated Mike Morasky's super-cool music into the gameworld was creative, unexpected, and my favorite addition to the Portal formula.
The Ending - Best grand finale of the year, hands down.
WHAT I HATED
Thick in the Middle - The single player campaign's middle act felt largely unnecessary. Too many of the puzzles were, basically, "Find the White Wall To Continue."
Unnecessary Answers - A pervading sense of ominous mystery was part of what made Portal (and for that matter, Half-Life) so cool. I can't say that the sequel benefitted from adding GLaDOS' and Aperture's backstories.
PC Loading Screens - Come on, Valve. Seriously?
Luke Plunkett responds:
With Valve terrified of games including the number "3" in them, this is probably the last we'll ever see of Portal. Unless they do a Portal 2.5. Or Portal: The Portal Chronicles: An Origin Story: Chronicles. Good thing it was a great game, then.
WHAT I LOVED
Funny Bones: Good Lord, this game was funny. Consistently, massively funny. Great writing, top-shelf voice acting. That should be the norm in blockbuster video gaming, but it's not, so Portal 2 gets a big thumbs up for this.
Meat On Them Bones: The first Portal was a puzzle game. Room after room of puzzles and little else. Portal 2, with its bottomless chasms and walkways and transitions, felt more like a flowing game, which really helped matters as far as pacing and story-telling were concerned.
WHAT I HATED
Too Much: On the one hand, I appreciated the variety of challenges and tools at your disposal in Portal 2. On the other, the game often felt like there was too much going on, and it lost a little of the first game's watertight focus as a result.
Stephen Totilo responds:
What have we here? Oh! It's the best game I played in 2011.
WHAT I LOVED
Playing it - Yeah, yeah, looking at it was lovely. Listening to it was cool. It is a video game, so I am happy to confirm that actually playing Portal 2 was a wonderful experience, too—a delightful experience of thinking, trying, experimenting, leaping, rushing, panicking, hoping and also just having a grand time.
Playing it with another person - Of course, the single player of Portal 2 was good. It was an iterative improvement on the ingenious design of Portal the first. Co-op was better. I played it online. I played it on the couch. I played it with a regular friend. I played it with my wife. We were dropping four portals in the labs to solve crazy puzzles, one of which had us taking off from face-to-face ski jumps of sorts, making us smack into each other in mid-air. If another game wins our GOTY vote, I will not be convinced its players had more fun than I had with Portal 2.
WHAT I HATED
Nada. It made me laugh too much. This game's a gem.
Mike Fahey responds:
Everything about this game fills me with pure, unabashed joy. Going into these discussions I was 100 percent certain my pick would be Skyrim. Now I only want it gone.
WHAT I LOVED
Did I Mention Joy?: There hasn't been a moment during my multiple play-throughs of Portal 2 that I've felt anything less than completely pleased with my time investment. From the moment I woke up in the simulated motel room to the final lines of Jonathan Coulton's "Want You Gone" my smile never faltered. Even during the game's most maddeningly frustrating puzzles, I was happy to be challenged by such a well-crafted experience.
Sharing is Caring: The addition of cooperative multiplayer in Portal 2 was handled brilliantly. By introducing two new robot test subjects to the mix Valve was able to craft a complex and completely satisfying game mode without compromising the integrity of the single player experience. And this is real co-op, not just two or more players shooting at the same enemies. Whether you're playing with a close friend or a total stranger, by the end of Portal 2's cooperative campaign you're two parts of one well-oiled testing machine.
WHAT I HATED
Do I Have to Have a Hated?: I suppose I could be cute here and say I hated that the game had to end, but in truth I felt the game ended exactly when it should have. I've got nothing.
There you have 'em, our arguments for and against Portal 2 as Kotaku's 2011 Game of the Year. We'll have one more argument this week, and then we'll vote and announce the winner on Monday, January 2.