Portal Christmas tree is absolutely geniusHere's further proof that basically everything goes better with Portal. Check out Ryan Kelly and his coworkers' Portal-fied Christmas tree, which certainly beats the hell out of the 20 years' worth of musty tinsel I festooned all over my folks' Tannenbaum this very evening. Also, learn how to make this Aperture Science-infused arbor for next year.

Kelly broke down the construction process for io9 as such:

Basically, it's our artificial tree which comes apart in three sections. The top section is suspended from the ceiling by an adhesive hook so it simply hangs downwards. The other two sections are connected and placed upside down on the floor - the tricky part is that the branches are meant to be kept extended out by gravity, so there is fishing line attached between each branch and what is usually the base of the tree, pulling the branches up towards the ceiling.

We then got two sets of rope lights (blue and red as we couldn't find orange). We laid the red out in a tight circle around the tree on the floor. The blue was wrapped in a circle, scotch taped to hold together, and then hung on to more adhesive hooks on the ceiling. Then we cut two circles of black poster board and placed these beneath the rope light rings to give them the feeling of holes. You barely see the black with all the branches and the portals lit up so it plays fairly well.

Finally, the hanging top piece didn't have branches that extended all the way up to the ceiling, so to cover the obvious gap we bought some artificial garland and wrapped that around it to match up with the ceiling. That way it looks like the tree continues up into the surface.

With a little bit of finessing, you can hide any of the obvious gaps and have one seamless tree.

Rad! You can see some more photos of the tree below, including a photo of Kelly's friend Jason entering the portal. For more Portal-inspired sculpture, see New York City's giant Companion Cube.

Portal Christmas tree is absolutely genius
Portal Christmas tree is absolutely genius
Portal Christmas tree is absolutely genius
Portal Christmas tree is absolutely genius
Portal Christmas tree is absolutely genius

[Tymykal via Reddit/hat tip to Precious Roy]


Portal 2's Wheatley did not win an award at the Spike VGAs. Mildly disappointing, but then, given the Spike's themselves are mildly disappointing, I'm not losing much sleep over it.

Eeexxcccceeepppptttt for this. Being a virtual character, Valve had to make his acceptance speech in advance. Just in case he actually won. He didn't, but the speech exists, and here it is.

If Wheatley Had Won [Rock, Paper, Shotgun]


Aperture Science and the Caribbean OrangePortal isn't just about science. It can also be about art, depending on how you look at it. And that's exactly how Nathan Altice looked at it in this piece on Valve's first-person puzzlers, drawing parallels between Portal and the work of artist Gordon Matta-Clark.

I recently visited Chicago for the DHCS conference held at Loyola University College. During the second day of the conference, I was able to sneak away for a few hours and visit the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). Their featured exhibition was a dual retrospective/contemporary take on minimalism, but I was more fascinated by a small room devoted to a single piece by Gordon Matta-Clark.

The room was filled with photographic documentation, sketches, and preparatory ephemera for ‘Circus' (or ‘The Caribbean Orange'), a work closely tied to the museum's history. (In 1978, the museum contacted Matta-Clark about executing a work in the three-story townhouse they were set to first renovate, then assimilate into the museum's existing structure.) The glass case in the center of the room had a number of hand-written exchanges between museum and artist, from mundane considerations like food and lodging to precise work-related details like the budget for power tool rentals.

Matta-Clark was known for his building cuts. He used saws, chisels, and other tools to carve away sections of existing architecture, allowing inner and outer spaces to interpenetrate. For 1974′s ‘Splitting: Four Corners,' for example, he made a straight cut through the center of a (vacant) suburban home, removing part of the foundational support from one end so the house appeared to have a missing wedge.

Splitting: Four Corners, 1974 (Detail)

Matta-Clark variously called his process and work ‘non-uments' or ‘anarchitecture,' alluding to the disruptive and destructive act of architectural subtraction. Art historian Irving Sandler calls the excavations ‘a countercultural critique of dehumanized urban renewal and international style architecture' (Sandler 1996: 69). There was certainly an anarchic spirit to Matta-Clark's methods – most of his sites were abandoned or forgotten structures that he illegally defaced. And he continually strove to ‘open up' architecture, in both a literal and figurative sense. Cutting holes in museum walls to join the inner sanctum of ‘art space' with the outside world is more than mere architectural critique.

Sandler ultimately labels Matta-Clark's work ‘negative,' exercises in entropy and futility that trade abandoned buildings for demolished artworks, both equally destined for the rubble heap. I think that's more Sandler's yearning for a lasting object than Matta-Clark's greater project. The materials that have survived in the form of sketches, photo collage, and clever wordplay point to a more positive, even playful, exploration of spatial boundaries than Sandler allows.

And they look a hell of a lot like Portal screenshots.

‘Circus' was conceived and executed as a series of three equal-diameter circular cuts along the diagonal axis of the MCA building. There were also three corresponding circular cuts along the roof's plane. Their alignment was such that they implied three spherical volumes, a detail punned by the work's dual titles (i.e., a ‘three ring circus,' or spherical shapes ‘peeled away' from the architecture, like oranges).

Circus drawing, 1978 (Ink, pencil, and transfer letters on paper)

The anarchitectural result is vertiginous and disorienting. (Literally so. Since this was Matta-Clark's first museum-sanctioned piece, tours were conducted during its brief exhibition. One of Matta-Clark's artist friends fell through the floor.) It must have been exhilarating to walk through these treacherous spaces. The careful alignment of cuts created strange windows through rooms and floors. Sunlight and winter cold alike streamed through the architectural displacements. Chicago permeated the buildings interior, and vice-versa.

Unfortunately, we can only relive this disorientation through photos. Thankfully, Matta-Clark was a careful documentarian of his own works. This certainly stemmed from the impermanence of his medium, but he also chose to use photography as more than mere supplemental residue. His documentation was an extrapolation of his experiments in real, lived space onto the two-dimensional plane of a photograph.

Matta-Clark cut and arranged his photographic documentation to mimic a viewer's disorienting experience. In the photo detail of ‘Circus' below, you can see a body standing on an exposed support beam that crosses part of a circular cut. The left edge of that beam merges into the exposed negative border of another photograph. A third photograph, in turn, is cut to ambiguously overlap the photographic spaces underneath it. They merge and interleave in spatial relationships impossible in physical space, like a fractured cubist castle. Yet Matta-Clark is careful to leave the spokes of the film visible, acknowledging his violation of ‘traditional space.' It feels like Matta-Clark is having a conversation with his viewer, letting them behind the scenes, as it were, to question how we typically take for granted the ‘three-dimensional' spaces we experience through photography.

Circus or The Caribbean Orange, 1978 (Ink, pencil, and transfer letters on paper)

One of the most enthralling aspects of videogames is their ability to play with and submerge players in fantastic spaces. From the non-Euclidean geometries of Atari classic Adventure to the improbable vectors of pipe travel in Super Mario Bros., from the vacant pastoral vistas of Shadows of the Colossus to the verdant natural habitats of Metroid Prime, players are consistently thrust into weird and wonderful spaces.

Much has been written about Valve's first-person spatial puzzler Portal since its release a few years ago. Its immersive approach to storytelling has rightfully led to the canonization of its characters, dialogues, and – yes – cake jokes. Portal's protagonist is an (unwilling) test subject for Aperture Science, outfitted with a hand-mounted portal gun that can apparently shoot wormholes through space. Fire your first shot and you see a shimmering oval on your target surface; shoot a second shimmering portal and you create a spatial connection between the two ovals. This mechanically simple system yields absolutely mind-bending spatial situations: shoot portals on the ceiling and floor and you can fall infinitely between them; shoot portals beside one another and you can see yourself emerge from the right portal as you pass through the left. It's mesmerizing, disorienting, and fun.

Portal, Catching your avatar

When I look at the perplexing open spaces of ‘Circus,' the sliver of light illuminating the wall in 1975′s ‘Day's End,' or the vertiginous door/floor cuts of ‘Doors Through and Through,' I can't help but think of Portal's eponymous space-benders.

Doors Through and Through, 1976 (Three color photographs)

Matta-Clark's works were physical and laborious – he had to rent or borrow heavy-duty tools to extract materials that were never meant to be extracted. The photographs were easier. Cut and paste, manipulate space. But videogames have an interesting advantage. They combine the promise of both of Matta-Clark's projects: the spatial improbabilities of flattened two-dimensional space with the traversal, exploration, and disorientation of three-dimensional architecture.

Day's End, 1975 (Color photograph)

But there's a key distinction between Matta-Clark's spaces and those in Portal – while the former allows inside and out to bleed together, the latter's spaces are all interior.

Consider the limitations of the portal gun, beyond its inability to ‘adhere' to non-prescribed surfaces. Part of Portal's premise is that you are trapped in a laboratory. The Aperture building (at least what we see) lacks windows, so you are enclosed within a solid cube. You can only ever paste your portals to the interior walls, meaning that you can only ever move within a confined volume. In order for the gun to work properly, you must have a line of sight on both your entryway and your exit route. Without open windows or doors, you can never reach an exterior. In fact, the only time you're able to escape to the outside is when Glados is destroyed and you're sucked out through the roof.

But even that ‘exterior' is a false promise.

If you've ever watched a Portal speedrun, you may have noticed some of the clever and confounding tricks players use to escape the confines of Aperture – in fact, violating the basic geometries of the game space itself. Placing portals at surface corners allows you to ‘bump' outside the map. Travelling outside reveals interesting new vantages. You see the geometry of the map as seen by the developers: thin 3D volumes hung in an empty void.

The artful navigation of this void allows skillful players to sequence break large segments of gameplay, perform faster speedruns, and even access areas previously available only in cutscenes. After you destroy Glados, for instance, you awaken on the outside of Aperture. However, you are no longer in control of your character. You watch through her eyes. The lush blue sky and clouds in the background imply that you've finally escaped the confines of the laboratory space. But arriving here out of sequence reveals that the ‘outside' is merely another ‘non-space.' The sky is a flat texture – a skybox – like the backdrop at the edge of the ‘world' at the end of The Truman Show. And even that texture has no exterior relationship to the interiors of previous levels. Each is an independent geometry devoid of any interior/exterior connection beyond its own walls.

When we compare similar photographs/screenshots from Matta-Clark and Portal, it's clear that they describe different experiences of space. In the former, architectural cuts below the viewer extend downward to an ultimate bottom, as we see in ‘Office Baroque':

Office Baroque, 1977 (Cibachrome)

The same vantage from Portal, in contrast, is only ever staring at the inside, an infinite visual loop between ceiling and floor:

Portal, ceiling/floor loop

The catch, of course, is that Matta-Clark's photographs are also a trick. We're not actually staring into space at all. The photo is as flat as Aperture's skybox.

Nathan Altice is a fourth-year graduate student in the Media, Art, and Text (MATX) doctoral program at Virginia Commonwealth University. He studies videogames, digital media, philosophy, and sound, and writes on metopal.com.

Republished with permission.

Portal 2 is Games Radar's Most Favorite 2011 Video GameTheir readers thought the best video game of 2011 was Skyrim, but the editors of Games Radar have picked Portal 2. It's their top game of the year.

The readers' second favorite game was Batman: Arkham City. But the editors? They didn't pick a second-favorite. The don't do silver medals at Games Radar.

GAME OF THE YEAR 2011 (FOR REAL): Portal 2 [Games Radar]


The Week in Unbelievably Gorgeous ScreenshotsLast week, I was so happy to publish a feature about the incredible screenshots of DeadEndThrills, a.k.a. Duncan Harris. Duncan is regularly cranking out so many terrific shots over on his site that I thought it would be fun to share some highlights from each week, as well as a few classics from his many collections.

This week, he's been posting some crazy-pants screens from up-res'd versions of Wii games like Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Super Mario Galaxy, and appears to have just gotten his hands on S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, god help us all.

The gallery can be clicked through above (I recommend expanding the images or viewing them in a separate window to get the full, HD effect). As always, you're encouraged to go peruse his site, which contains many more great shots.

At top, we've got "Starman," which is the first of several shots from Super Mario Galaxy. Duncan is using a technique that Luke detailed for you last week to rip the (already owned) game onto a PC and run it in HD. The results are ridiculous looking, and have shattered my notions of how the great art direction of Nintendo's Wii games makes up for the system's lack of hardware prowess. Yes, Super Mario Galaxy and Skyward Sword still look lovely, but goddam would they look better in HD.

Duncan's notes:

Tools and tricks: Dolphin emulator (OpenGL), 2160p rendering, antialiasing (4xMSAA), textures patched (HUD, pause screen), free camera, bilinear downsampling.

The Week in Unbelievably Gorgeous Screenshots

Portal 2 Collection Shot

This shot is one of 50 included in a "DeadEndThrills Presents" collection of shots from Portal 2. They're all outstanding, given that that game and its engine are (in my opinion) utterly beautiful. And even better in motion, I think. This one might be my favorite, in that it captures the arachnoid grace of GlaDOS's character design.

Duncan's Notes:

About the screenshots. They weren't really possible until Valve finally patched in custom FOV to coincide with its release of the Portal 2 SDK. I'd tried this thing with combining timescale modification with the game's zoom function (an FOV slide, effectively) but it was a pain in the butt. There's also a quirk in recent versions of Source that makes 2160p unavailable when using triple buffering, and let me tell you it took ages to figure that one out. Finally, there are the extraordinary gymnastics required to get Chell in shot through the thirdperson camera.

The Week in Unbelievably Gorgeous Screenshots


A great shot from one of Modern Warfare 2's most memorable bits—this is a great example of how a free camera can give a perspective on a scene that was unattainable while playing. I was personally way too concerned with not falling off the mountain to notice how gorgeous everything was.

Duncan's Notes:

Tools and tricks: game client 1.0 (boxed version), MW2 Unleashed command console patch, high quality ambient occlusion, custom LOD bias, 2160p rendering, antialiasing (FXAA), no-HUD, timestop, free camera, custom FOV.

The Week in Unbelievably Gorgeous Screenshots

"Ms. Platonic"

Another outstanding shot from Super Mario Galaxy. Some of these are almost unsettling, given how unused I am to seeing Nintendo's characters rendered with such clarity.

Duncan's notes:

Tools and tricks: Dolphin emulator (OpenGL), 2160p rendering, antialiasing (4xMSAA), textures patched (HUD, pause screen), free camera, bilinear downsampling.

The Week in Unbelievably Gorgeous Screenshots

Portal 2 Collection Shot

Another amazing one, of one of Portal 2's most striking bits of level design. Same notes apply as the last one.

The Week in Unbelievably Gorgeous Screenshots

"Beyond the Moon"

The last of the Super Mario Galaxy shots, and my favorite. Lookit that junk! Could you imagine if this game was playable in HD? I am much more excited about the WiiU than I have been previously.

Duncan's Notes:

Tools and tricks: Dolphin emulator (OpenGL), 2160p rendering, antialiasing (4xMSAA), textures patched (HUD, pause screen), free camera, bilinear downsampling.

The Week in Unbelievably Gorgeous Screenshots

"The Burning Season"

The first of what I hope will be many shots from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. (God, do I really have to do the periods thing every time I write that game title?) This shot manages to evoke what makes that game so great—the openness, the bleak beauty, etc. I hope he tackles Far Cry 2 at some point.

Duncan's notes:

Tools and tricks: 2160 rendering, antialiasing (SMAA), free camera, time demo recorder, no-HUD, STALKER Complete 2009 mod, STALKER FOV Switcher 1.7.

The Week in Unbelievably Gorgeous Screenshots

"By A Nose"

Terrific shot from Super Smash Bros Brawl - it almost doesn't look like a game. In fact, I'll say that this image is a touch disconcerting… which I like.

Duncan's notes:

Tools and tricks: Dolphin emulator (OpenGL), 2160p rendering, antialiasing (4xMSAA), in-game Photo Mode, free camera, bilinear downsampling.

The Week in Unbelievably Gorgeous Screenshots

"Smoke on the Water"

It woudn't be DeadEndThrills without an epic Skyrim shot, so here is one of the most epic he's done. Fuck yeah. In Duncan's words: "Like much in Skyrim, this falls somewhere between being a massive anticlimax and the best thing ever." Notes on how he accomplished the look are here.


The Best Game Music of 2011: Portal 2Kotaku's "Best Game Music of 2011" is a multi-part series in which we'll be discussing the best video game soundtracks of the year. Today, we'll be looking at and listening to the interactive robo-crunch beats of Portal 2.

Portal 2 comes in near the top of a lot of critics' "Best of 2011" lists—it was a joyously brainy, well-written and brilliantly designed puzzle game. I have a soft spot for it partly because it inspired me to break out my dominoes and write the most fun game review I've ever written. But I also love how musical Portal 2 is—beats, tones, and rhythms run through its very core. In fact, I think that the game's rich musicality is one of the things that sets it apart from its hard-to-follow predecessor.

The score, composed by guitarist and electronic musician Mike Morasky, directly challenges the idea of a "score" when it comes to a video game. There are plenty of great musical tracks, all of which can be downloaded for free from Valve's site. But the magic of the game is how the designers at Valve incorporated the same musical elements from the soundtrack into their gameworld. There is a lovely and rare revolving-door relationship between the tones on the Songs to Test By album and the actual game Portal 2.

Rather than pick three favorite "Songs," I thought I'd just break it down by three great musical experiences found in the game.

"Laser Music"

Thanks to YouTube user llSoulfirell for posting this clip—this segment, taken from one of Portal 2's early testchambers, was the moment that I truly fell in love with the game. It's a tricky three-part laser activation puzzle, requiring careful placement of the reflector boxes to proceed.

Once a laser touches its designated receptacle, something very cool starts to happen—music starts to play. The first receiver triggers a rough, shifting synth that moves between a low E, F#, G# and D. Trigger a second receiver and you'll hear an A#, a G# and an F#, which combine with the first four notes to imply a tonality known as Lydian (technically lydian dominant, but we'll get into that in a second). Lydian is what's called a mode, a way of dividing up a scale to get a certain sound. It's the brightest sound you can derive from the major scale (better known as the scale sung in "Do Re Mi" from The Sound of Music). Its most distinctive aspect is that raised fourth note, which is what makes it sound like a major chord with a little window opened right in the middle, the better to let in some more light.

…Erm, okay, music nerdiness has gotten away from me. It happens. Anyhow, hitting the third and final laser receptacle triggers more variations of the notes we already are hearing— a second D combined with that lower D brings out a dominant tonality, making the whole thing a loose lydian dominant chord (or an E7#4).

Theory aside, the upshot is that one moment you're solving a puzzle, the next you're listening to a bright, mystical lydian soundscape. And of course, as soon as you hear it, that means you've solved the puzzle and will be moving on. The story continues, GlaDOS goes back to taunting you…but if you're anything like me, you're also just a little bit more in love with this game.

"Faith Plate"

Portal 2's "Faith Plates" (which are really just ironically named catapults) are another splendid use of dynamic music, made cooler by how they interact with and riff on the harpsichord music that plays in the background. This video gives a great example of that, with the two faith plates doing a harmonic and then rhythmic variation on the harmonies set forth in the canned classical music. (I can't for the life of me figure out what the piece is; hey man, classical music ain't my forté (see what I did there)).

(But of course, it is Bach. Thanks to the esteemed Matt Burns for the heads-up.)

I really enjoyed this video as well, which uses a user-generated level to make the faith plates interact more directly with the harpsichord. Music! Games! Science!

"The Entire Ending"

So obviously this video is of the ending of the game, so if you haven't finished it, don't watch it. Also, if you haven't finished it… go finish it! What are you doing?

I was gobsmacked by Portal 2's entire ending sequence—it was entirely unexpected and truly inspired, easily one of my top gaming moments of 2011. The whole sequence is paced so effectively—players are in shock after the whole mind-blowing "Shoot the Moon" bit, and suddenly find themselves on an elevator being serenaded by four turret-bots. It's charming and funny, but soon fades… until we are carried up to a cavernous chamber that is filled with bots of all shapes and sizes (even the animal king!), who proceed to let loose an auto-tuned aria that still gives me goosebumps.

Kick through that and up to Jonathan Coulton's funny closing song (which I must admit I didn't dig nearly as much as "Still Alive" from Portal), and you've got my favorite finale sequence of 2011. I sense I am not alone in this.

Hit that video and watch it again; it never gets old.

So there it is, one of the most adventurous mainstream gaming soundtracks of 2011. You'll notice I said "One Of," because… hmm… could it be that there were soundtracks that were even more adventurous? Only one way to find out. Our series will continue tomorrow with yet another of the best video game soundtracks of 2011.


California Pulls Portal Prank on New York In Manhattan's Greenwich Village neighborhood sits Alamo, a giant cube sculpture by Tony Rosenthal which dates back to 1967. The artwork, a.ka. the Cube, lives not far from New York University, The New School, and few other landmarks. It's been in music videos by Cypress Hill and other groups and has been the subject of a few pranks, including one that turned it into a giant Rubik's Cube.

This morning, the latest stunt involving Alamo turned it into the Weighted Companion Cube from Valve's popular Portal games. Oversized swaths of fabric covered one of the city's most famous sculptures in the beloved inanimate object's signature hearts-and-squares. A note from the Caltech Prank Club claims responsibility in the distinctive language of Portal's Aperture Science corporation. Sadly, there wasn't any cake to celebrate the occasion.

The Cube has a sweater been turned into a Weighted Companion Cube* this morning [Welcome to the Funhouse]

California Pulls Portal Prank on New York
California Pulls Portal Prank on New York
California Pulls Portal Prank on New York


This one's a bit of a stretch… but then, what am I talking about? It's never a stretch when it comes to Valve.

People are already parsing the video that the company showed at last weekend's Spike Video Game Awards show, in which the Portal 2 character Wheatley put in a humorous, short plea to the audience to A) give him the "Character of the Year" award and B) help him get home.

This being a Valve video, viewers are convinced that the video also contains clues to the studios inevitable (but maddeningly mysterious, eternally unannounced) follow-up to Half-Life 2. Found via Rock, Paper Shotgun, this 1/2-speed video helps to parse whatever clues there were in the 30-second video.

For starters, Wheatley ends his speech by saying "one, one, one," which of course adds up to… three. Also, the text in the video reads "Observation Satellite "Lanthanum," which (apparently) is Greek for "To lie hidden." It is also a medication for use helping those with kidney disorders, and is a chemical with the atomic number 57.

It could be a reference to just about anything, including Wheatley himself ("lying hidden"), but as RPS points out, the first letter of "Lanthanum" in Greek is indeed a Lambda, otherwise known as the symbol for Half-Life.

Hmm. Seems like a stretch to me, but then again, why the heck else would they choose to include a greek word beginning with "L" in their video? Oh, Valve. How you taunt us.

Source: Rock, Paper Shotgun


What happens when one of the world's best tower defense games meets one of gaming's most beloved power-mad robotic villains? Fans line up to pay $4.99 or 400 Microsoft points for the Defense Grid: You Monster expansion, that's what.

Coming December 7 to Xbox Live Arcade and Steam, Defense Grid: You Monster is the first full story expansion for the award winning futuristic tower defense game, featuring eight new maps, 35 challenge missions, and one hell of a crazy cameo.

Warping her way over from Valve's Portal franchise, GLaDOS is extremely curious about what the player and his more civilized artificially intelligent computer are doing with all of these towers, and when the all-powerful machine scientist gets curious, it's time for some tests. Players will be responsible for managing their defenses across a series of Portal-themed levels. That, and dying. Lots of dying. Don't worry; it's all for science.

On December 7th Portal's GLaDOS comes to Defense Grid [Hidden Path Entertainment]


Rock Some Portal Shower Curtains Like it was 1953Portal's Aperture Science got its start in 1953 producing shower curtains for the US Army. So it's poignant that in 2011 the company goes back to its roots, and produces shower curtains for...your bathroom.

These curtains don't talk, don't sing and don't flash lights. They're just curtains. Good, honest curtains. The kind of curtains Cave Johnson would sell to the Army. Only without all the mercury*.

They cost $20, and you can grab one from the link below.

*WARNING: They may contain less than 1% mercury.

Portal 2 Aperture Laboratories Shower Curtain [ThinkGeek]

You can contact Luke Plunkett, the author of this post, at plunkett@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.

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