Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Combustible Lemon - This is That Post

This is my Portal 2 post. ;)  I'm going to put most of it behind a cut for the sake of avoiding spoilers, particularly of the single-player campaign.  I'm nice like that.  Orange wouldn't do that for you, and Blue and I both know it.

I honestly have to just make a big fat bullet list, because there are so many things we can all talk about.
  • Wheatley's comments on how "some guy" took down GLaDOS, right before you wake her up, fascinated me.  It's a throw-away line but it's a great example of how so many things default to male -- because you the player, you the character, and GLaDOS all know that Portal the first was an all-female cast.
  • Speaking of female casting, in Portal 2 you get to see Chell a lot because of where the rooms require portal placement.  You also have GLaDOS and Wheatley referring to "she" and "her" a lot.  In short, despite being a classic Valve mute first-person character (and self-referentially called out on it), the game does a good job of reminding you you're a girl. And even though there are now male sidekicks and antagonists -- in the form of Wheatley and Cave Johnson, mainly -- the voice that carries the game is still GLaDOS.
  • And lest we ever, ever forget -- it's good writing that sells a game.  Snappy dialogue is worth its weight in gold.
  • In writing -- I loved the way they told the history of Aperture Science.  The line from, "Welcome, Olympians!" to, "You may remember us from the missing astronaut hearings" through Cave Johnson's last recordings was just brilliant.
  • In that vein, my favorite room was the 1976 one, the deconstructed, abstract, essence-of-chamber room where the cube, button, and you were on three different platforms in space (not to mention a fourth platform and, finally, the exit).  That was the room that made the game for me, because it forced me to stop and think: "What problem is it that I need to solve?" and then to break down everything into its logical, component steps.  That was a vital piece of training, without which I would not have made it through the rest of the game.
  • Speaking of the rest of the game, I thought in general the learning curve was quite good.  I was grateful to avoid the reflex-action, shoot-while-moving-and-nausea-be-damned puzzles that the later test chambers of the first game were full of.  I'm actually good at speedy-thing-goes-in, speedy-thing-comes-out thinking (and had a lot of fun with it once the gels were involved) but not that good at avoiding motion sickness while hurtling through space at a 90 degree angle to reality.
  • I am good at orange and blue gel puzzles.  My brain deals well with that particular application of physics.
  • I am really, really bad at light bridge and excursion funnel puzzles.  My brain just doesn't deal well with that particular application of physics.
  • I loved the use of achievement / trophy names as non-spoiler spoilers, particularly: "The Part Where He Kills You -- This Is That Part" and "Lunacy -- That Just Happened..."
And then there are the turrets.
Oh, turrets.  I don't even know where to begin with you.  The ascent out of Aperture Science at the end (p.s. where the hell was my deer, I was expecting a deer, even the cake was real eventually, where is my deer in the grass) might just have been the creepiest part of the game.  What a ... serenade?

Except it's the second-creepiest, because when I switched the turret production quality scanner, the last turret I saw tossed into the bin called, "But I did everything riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight..."

Also speaking of turrets, I guess it's just not a video game if Nolan North isn't in it somewhere.

So, in short: I loved it and could quote Cave Johnson and GLaDOS lines all day.

And might.


  1. The craft put into the Portal games was incredible. The use of puzzle physics. The dialog. The inane banter that actually counts toward something. And now with Portal 2, you get the backstory as you're dropped into the past buried under the structure of Aperture Science. That part of the game, the maps through the old pre-Portal environs, with Cave Johnson nattering in the background (and PotatOS gleefully cheering Cave on), were the most fun.

  2. Since spoilers are okay here, I love the way they laid the groundwork for your final port, with the seemingly throwaway Cave Johnson line about the white gel being made with moon dust.

  3. I love the turrets. Guilt trips and all. Guess I have something to look forward to after the final battle (which at the rate I am going I may never get through, ever, and I am tired).

  4. I'll see your bullet points, and raise you... some more bullets. We're a Tarantino film up in this grill!

    -I, too, really appreciated the learning curve and the absence of the reflex-heavy puzzles. Even the finale had a resetting clock, which I liked.
    -However, I hated the "Where's Waldo" style "look a mile away for a tiny door/white spot" puzzles. Some of those were the most frustrating for the longest time simply because I couldn't figure out whether I was supposed to be focusing on what was available around me or what was far away.

    -I liked the new elements that were added to create new challenges [goos, bridges, beams, etc]. I never really found myself tired of a specific element.
    -However,the underground puzzles seemed to go on forever. I had no idea how much further I had to go or whether I would ever get out, and it got rather "existential trap" for me after awhile.

    -I'm still undecided about the Caroline=GLaDOS bit. I guess I don't really see enough of Caroline in GLaDOS to make that plot point useful. The addictive/punishing dynamics of being "the core" were also... interesting, but I felt like they were just failed attempts to make us feel sorry for/feel bad for GLaDOS that were unnecessary. Maybe it just didn't work for me, I dunno.

    -Definite favorite quotation: "I was just studying sharks in preparation for the next test. Do you know who else kills people who are only trying to help them? I bet you were going to say sharks, but you're wrong. Only you would pointlessly murder someone."
    -Runner-up: All areas minor serious brain damage.

    -Personal sidenote: GLaDOS's passive-aggressiveness was really racheted up after her death. The writers really leveraged the "You tried to kill me!" angle well, to the point where I thought "Hey, she really reminds me of my father."

    Overall, I'd give it a 9/10. Despite its flaws, it was quite engaging, humorous, and well-characterized. Would that other games were so well-crafted.

  5. chapter 9 is incredible, except for the anticlimactic boss fight. it felt like the beginning of the original half-life, where all of a sudden the whole place is falling to pieces around you and you need to crowbar (portal) your way to uncertain safety. i seriously kept looking around for head crabs to jump out at me.

    and cave johnson is priceless. i confess that i don't find glados to be as interesting this time around, but cave johnson is hilarious.

  6. Well, I dunno about 5 years of lag time. 2 or 3 seems to be my average...and I've got 3 games that were released last year, even! P2 probably won't be on the list until Christmas though.

  7. I'm still undecided about the Caroline=GLaDOS bit. I guess I don't really see enough of Caroline in GLaDOS to make that plot point useful. The addictive/punishing dynamics of being "the core" were also... interesting, but I felt like they were just failed attempts to make us feel sorry for/feel bad for GLaDOS that were unnecessary. Maybe it just didn't work for me, I dunno.

    I hope my spouse shows up in this thread, he could write a thesis on this point. (We had some... vocal disagreements... over Portal 2.)

    My impression by the end was that Caroline may have been the original GLaDOS core in the late 1980s or early 1990s, but that by the time Chell meets GLaDOS in the first game she's down to being one personality core at best -- and two hundred years later, she's at most an easily overridden and often misplaced personality core.

  8. And that's another example of perfect writing. It's a throw-away line, and yet suddenly, there you are, about to get killed, and you look out of the broken roof and hear, "moon rocks..." in your head and think, "...really?"

  9. I played Bioshock in 2010 and Mass Effect in 2011, so mostly I'm right there with you, haha.

  10. This makes me want to play whatever game you are talking about. It sounds absurd!

  11. I was still planning on playing HL2 someday...

  12. Alright, you asked for it.

    Overall I felt that Portal 2 was just as sharply written as the first game, but there is one major point where the game just started to feel all wrong to me.

    The overarching plot of Portal 1 is really Chell vs. GlaDOS. In Portal 2, GlaDOS is pretty bitter about it, and continues to try to kill Chell in myriad ways.

    But then GlaDOS is rendered helpless and stashed in a potato. When you find the potato in 70s Aperture Science, she asks you to take her with you to replace Wheatley before he destroys Aperture Science.

    My problem with it: Why in God's name would anyone want to do that?

    It makes no sense. Here's the malevolent AI who wants you dead, and she's asking you to help her. The only evidence that you have at that point that Wheatley might destroy Aperture are some distant rumbling sounds. GlaDOS has been a proven schemer and liar so there's not a whole lot of reason given to trust her. She's exceedingly likely to betray you given first opportunity. So why save her? Why bring her back to power? Why would Chell choose to trust her mortal enemy on her word alone?

    And even if she's right, what's the worst that happens? Aperture is destroyed, preventing anyone else from falling prey to its malevolent experiments. That doesn't sound so bad to me.

    All I wanted to do when I found the potato was destroy it. Hurl it into the abyss. Mash it into a side item and put gravy on it. But the game wouldn't let me. The game forced me as a player to act completely contrary to what I felt anyone would normally act. And I hated it for that.

    What really irked me about it was that I feel video games as an interactive medium are all about the player having a choice. In occasions where the player doesn't have one, then the game should at least put up the illusion of a choice, where anyone who doesn't choose it would be pretty stupid (Why wouldn't Guybrush save Elaine? Why wouldn't Shepard save the galaxy?). This scene broke that, because it made it appear to me that I would have a choice in the matter (Destroy GlaDOS or help her? Side with her or Wheatley?), but that I never really did and I was bound to go with a single option whether I like it or not.

    I nearly gave the game up entirely but K talked me into finishing. I can't say I like how it ended either.. I felt Wheatley was generally a "good" AI who was corrupted by the system, while GlaDOS was clearly evil with or without it, but the game forced me to dump Wheatley in favor of her.

    I get that Portal is a comedy at heart and that I'm probably taking it all a little too seriously, but I think there were a lot of different ways that Valve could've told the story without making me feel like I was being forced to do things that were contrary to the characters I had grown to appreciate. In an otherwise expertly designed game, it was a huge flaw in my mind.


  13. For me, the GLaDOS = Caroline bit worked because of how it ends - GLaDOS discovers she has a conscience, and as soon as she figures it out (and gets back in her body where she has the processing power to act) she *deletes* it. So you have this set-up for a cheesy redemption narrative (oh really, the psychopathic AI discovers a conscience?) and then GLaDOS simply says "Nah."

    Or at least that was my impression. (For this interpretation the ending credits song has to be situated before the very end events of the game, since GLaDOS refers to "little Caroline is in here too" and "when I delete you maybe I'll stop feeling so bad".)

  14. I was still planning on playing HL2 someday...