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My weighted companion cube

Before I euthanized it, obviously.

Playing my way through Portal and Portal 2 for the first time this Christmas. I know, I know…they’re getting on for six and three years old, respectively. I was a huge fan of the HalfLife games, but I put off playing Portal — mostly because I knew it was a puzzle game, and puzzles enrage me. I’m bad at puzzles, but I think I should be good at them on account of I am a smarty pants.

It makes me sad when things demonstrate that I am stupid.

BUT, as it turns out, the puzzles in Portal are highly visual, so I’m really pretty good at them. Yay!

Two things I want to mention. First, computer graphics have developed to the point that a six year old game still looks spectacular. The three year old game looks better, but only just. So we don’t have to chase that technology so hard at the moment.

And second, I am blown away by the maturity of the story line. I don’t mean mature like PG-13 mature; I mean it’s funny, subtle, clever and unexpected. The dialogue is wonderful, the plot is complex. It is not by any means just a puzzle game — or a shoot-em-up, for that matter.

This is as engaging as any movie or novel.

I know, I know…a certain percent of my readership hates computer game posts, but I am loving this thing so much. And I am positively determined not to talk current events until the New Year.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: December 27, 2012, 11:53 pm

No spoilers, please. I’m a couple of chapters from the end of the second one.

I re-played a goodly portion of the first game with the developer’s commentary turned on and it was just fascinating how they worked to develop the game and the characters.

And they confirmed that they labored over the credits to ensure that you walk away with a big, stupid smile on your face. Which I did.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: December 27, 2012, 11:57 pm

I’ve looked up a lot of the making-of stuff, though carefully to avoid spoilers.

Funny trivia: Ellen McClain, the actress who is the voice of GLaDOS, is married to the voice actor who played the various civilians in HalfLife2. He loves to play the game, but everywhere he goes, it’s his own voice saying, “look! It’s Gordon Freeman!” He likes that he’s always pleased to see himself.

Comment from QuasiModo
Time: December 28, 2012, 12:34 am

Thanks for the recommendation…I might give it a whirl. If you’re looking for suggestions, try Defense Grid: The Awakening…I had a blast with that one.

Got a cold, so just watching through all the X-Men movies.

Comment from dissent555
Time: December 28, 2012, 1:06 am

Cool. I love puzzles.

Comment from Oceania
Time: December 28, 2012, 2:13 am

Take a look at this video.
I see a lot of highly unprofessional IDIOTS


Comment from Mono The Elderish
Time: December 28, 2012, 3:00 am

Always loved these games. Valve does seem to repeatedly push out gems. FUNFACT: the Portal series and the Half-life series occur in the same universe. And there’s quite a few references to Half-life in portal and vice-versa. I would hope they’re able to wrap up Half-life on, or above the par for the previous games.

Comment from Oceania
Time: December 28, 2012, 10:36 am

Come on Sweasel … you know that youtube video is REALLY GOOD!
Scube will want to see it also … apparently the USS Reagan didn’t even have basic radiation safety gear on board – and its a nuke boat? ๐Ÿ™‚

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: December 28, 2012, 11:12 am

You don’t think I actually click your links, do you, O? I was tucked up in my little weaselly bed, snoring my fat, weaselly head off.

I picked up on the Black Mesa references in Portal, Mono…but not the other way around. Of course, I haven’t played Half Life since I played Portal.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: December 28, 2012, 11:13 am

Aw, now, this one almost made it through a whole comment without going retarded.

You are doing an incredible job buddy. Regards from Hotel Charles de Gaulle. Keep together with the great do the job.

Comment from Argentium G. Tiger
Time: December 28, 2012, 2:02 pm

No complaints from me about gaming posts! ๐Ÿ™‚ I swear I collect the damned things.

I’d heard of Portal, but not its sequel, and now that you’ve described it, I might go looking for them – thank you!

Comment from Nina
Time: December 28, 2012, 2:32 pm

Stoats, it’s yer blog. You can do whatever you like. ๐Ÿ™‚

Sometimes I like puzzles. Sometimes I don’t, because once you’ve solved it what do you have? A solved puzzle and nothing!

This is why I never got into chess.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: December 28, 2012, 3:19 pm

I don’t play formal games, computer or otherwise, but I relish your games posts and the comments on them, which help me understand a phenomenon that would otherwise (forgive me!) puzzle the heck out of me. And, oddly enough, that insight actually came in handy in my law practice recently. So, thank you!

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: December 28, 2012, 4:30 pm

One hesitates to ask, Can’t hark.

Comment from Nina
Time: December 28, 2012, 5:01 pm

Not this one! I wanna know how!

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: December 28, 2012, 5:10 pm

I should love computer games. Before I cashed out, my whole work life was scenario analysis (if this: then a; if that: then b; if not this or that: start a fire and force events into a predictable path, and similar puzzle-solving kinds of work. It was stressful, but I lived on the adrenaline (and strong drink) for years.

However, somehow most computer games seem to mostly involve wandering around and clicking on shit. In Portal, I lost interest before wandering-clicking my way out of the first level. Half-Life was better till I found myself in a basement unable to figure out how to look up from the ground, while being attacked by giant radioactive rats, which would have been annoying enough without the repetitive horrible sound they made. Suddenly the game became annoying enough to make me wonder why I was annoying myself. Later I did get out into the wasteland and then into a city before drifting off to do something else… for months.

I still like Civ III and play it. For Christmas, Civ V Kings and Conquest was in my stocking so I’ve started fiddling with it. So far, I like it although I have to say I’m concerned it’s going to be like a Hollywood sequel (which Civ IV certainly was); that is to say: pouring on so many more bells and whistles that the original great flavor gets lost in the new, improved!ยฉ sugary toppings. For example where before you had ‘farming’ you now have hunting, pasture making, fishing, and banana and citrus plantations (and much , much more I have yet to discover I’m
sure). One has to ask at some point if enough is enough-would the Stone’s ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ be improved by
adding more verses?

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: December 28, 2012, 6:06 pm

“Iโ€™m bad at puzzles, but I think I should be good at them on account of I am a smarty pants.

It makes me sad when things demonstrate that I am stupid.”

And that’s how I feel. I cannot stand puzzles, because they make me feel stupid for not figuring them out as easily and swiftly as I think I ought to be able to.

And Some Veg, you’ve neatly compiled almost all my complaints about game sequels. They rarely are a better game, they’re usually either

1) the same game with more crap piled on it that makes it suck
2) a somewhat similar game based on the same concepts, but without all its charm.

The Heroes of Might @ Magic series fell prey to this eventually. 1-3 got better and better, then 4 was almost as if someone who had only heard of the game in passing put it out, and 5 put everything in 3d but sacrificed most of the fun and game play in the process.

Some games are good enough to begin with and need no sequels, unless its just to polish up some minor problems and the graphics. But its like movies… sequels have a built in audience and that means money.

Comment from Deborah
Time: December 28, 2012, 6:47 pm

I am relieved to learn that I am not the only one who dislikes or is bad at games and puzzles. My darling mother (R.I.P) loved them all. Her Dad taught her to play cribbage when she was three. She worked the newspaper cryptogram while waiting on her four-minute eggs to poach, and she could do complex equations in her head. That’s a gene set that I most definitely did not inherit. ๐Ÿ™

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: December 28, 2012, 6:55 pm

Sweas & Nina, I’d love to tell, but it’s amazingly difficult to scrub off the serial number sufficiently not to risk violating client confidentiality–particularly in a very, very public setting. About all I can say is that, when someone complains that they suffered significant monetary loss upon having their account terminated for violation of the terms of use, it helps a lot to know at least something about how computer games work, and about gamer culture. Not, I hasten to say, a LOT about either–I am definitely an outsider looking in; but knowing that you are talking about a different culture with different ways of structuring the world is really useful.

Comment from Mrs. Peel
Time: December 28, 2012, 7:35 pm

I spent like 4 hours on a monster logic puzzle while on vacation. For fun. You may all shun me forthwith ๐Ÿ™‚

(The premise was that Ranger Rick had lost his decoder ring. He needed to figure out which number 1-26 represented each letter of the alphabet in order to decode a message he’d received. So it was basically a 26-by-26 grid. The facts were stuff like “the value assigned to B added to the value assigned to J equals the value assigned to K” (so K must be 3 or greater) and “the value assigned to D is greater than the value assigned to at least one other letter” and “the value assigned to L multiplied by the value assigned to Q equals the value assigned to X” (so none of these letters can equal 1, and X cannot be prime) and so on. I find it a little implausible that Ranger Rick could remember all that and not remember that D was 17 or whatever, but ok. Very hard but very satisfying.)

Comment from bad cat robot
Time: December 28, 2012, 7:40 pm

I’m playing Portal 2 and love it. Not only is it all about Teh Physics, but the snarky comments about how this is all for research bring back happy memories. Of my days in research. I still have all my fingers and other appendages, though.

Comment from gebrauchshund
Time: December 28, 2012, 8:04 pm

I will forever think of the Farmer’s Insurance guy (J.K. Simmons) as Cave Johnson.

Comment from Gibby Haynes
Time: December 28, 2012, 10:00 pm

I played the shit out of Half-Life and its expansions back in the late nineties, and so was keenly anticipating Half-Life 2, but when it finally did come out, it just blew my mind.

You can tell the game (the first part at least) draws heavily from Orwell, and as a keen reader of dystopian literature, it is a delight. I especially love the Overwatch Voice. Perfect Received Pronunciation from an opera singer from Tennessee, Ellen McClain.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: December 28, 2012, 10:23 pm

And Ellen McClain of the Overwatch Voice is also GLaDOS, the computer in Portal. One of the most memorable characters in any game. One of the developers called her passive aggressive, which is perfect.

Funny, I could have sworn the Overwatch Voice was the lady who reads the train announcements into London. I thought Valve must have hired the actual voice talent. But no. They must have had McClain listen to it, though.

The way they did GLaDOS, she listened to her lines read by a computer voice, then imitated it. Then it was very lightly processed to make it slightly more machinelike.

Comment from RecklessProcess
Time: December 28, 2012, 11:43 pm

Try ‘The Secret World’ from FunCom. You will have fun.

Comment from haphazard1
Time: January 1, 2013, 11:15 pm

For those who are enjoying Portal 2 (or who enjoyed it when it first came out and have not checked back since), I highly recommend the community test chambers feature. Lots of great fan-made test chambers that you can get with just a few clicks, now that everything is integrated with Steam Workshop. There is even a “top rated of all time” list to help find the really good stuff without wading through tons of crummy junk.

I’l second QuasiModo’s recommendation of Defense Grid: The Awakening. Really fun tower defense game, and there is a DLC pack that is a crossover with Portal and has GLaDOS.

I also agree with Christopher Taylor that Heroes of Might & Magic 3 was the best in the series.

Sorry for the late response to the post, but I am a big gaming enthusiast and this topic drew me out of my lurker cave.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: January 2, 2013, 12:22 am

I’ve just bought a dozen titles. Steam is having its seasonal “75% off all this exciting shit” sale, and I bit. Hard.

Up now: Left 4 Dead. So that’s where Walking Dead came from…

Comment from Sigivald
Time: January 2, 2013, 11:52 pm

Even though you broke my heart.
And killed me.
And tore me to pieces.
And threw every piece into a fire.

Gets me every time.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: January 3, 2013, 12:07 am

I drive Uncle B crazy replaying that song, Sigi. The song in the second one was good, but the song in the first one was genius.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: January 3, 2013, 12:11 am

Very likely the hardest I’ve ever laughed at a video game, though, was “how are you? I’m a potato.”

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: January 3, 2013, 12:11 am

Oh, I should have labeled that SPOILER ALERT.

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