Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Making Games is Fun

Inspired by all of these indie games I've been playing lately, I've decided to pull out a programming language and take a stab at making a game myself here.

Starting a new game is a bit like digging into a hollow rock. It starts out really boring, just chipping away at it, not knowing how far you have to go, nothing really interesting to look at. But then you have that breakthrough, and suddenly everything opens up.

I had my breakthrough moment this morning, the second day of the project. I've been building the moving parts and testing them individually, and now that I've put them together, it's already really playable. It's really exciting to already have something I can use and poke at and play around with; I've been adding to it compulsively, and it's growing very nicely. Some difficulties loom ahead, but it's really encouraging to see how far I've already come.

And what is this project? Maybe I'll write about it sometime.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Now I Only Want You Gone

I've been as interested in Portal 2 as I can be about a video game that I'm never going to get to play. But I watched a playthrough so that I could understand the Internet for the next few months. And the ending left me feeling vaguely unsettled.

I played the first Portal, at least until it was updated to a point where it no longer supported my laptop. Great game -- clever puzzles, sharp dialogue, ended on a song. Portal 2 seems pretty great too. It's fun to see the interplay between Chell and GLaDOS -- they awake and pick up their rivalry where it left off, events conspire to bring them together, and they put aside their differences to work together for mutual benefit. This is nothing new -- it's the old Bigger Jaws story -- but they do it well.

In the end sequence, Chell defeats the corrupted AI that's taken over the Enrichment Center, and in the biggest surprise of all, GLaDOS saves her life. GLaDOS tells Chell that she is her greatest friend. It looks like the start of a new relationship between them. Then GLaDOS deletes the personality that was giving her feelings for Chell. It looks like there's going to be trouble.

And then GLaDOS tells Chell to get out.

Next thing you know, a lift is taking Chell to the surface. She's dumped in the middle of a field, and a charred Weighted Companion Cube is chucked out behind her.

It's less an escape and more an eviction.

It's arguably a happier ending than the first game. GLaDOS and Chell manage to part ways without trying to kill each other. And yet, it doesn't sit well with me.

The relationship between Chell and GLaDOS from the first game is pretty typical: the player overcomes adversity to meet and defeat the end boss to win the game, the end boss wants to kill the player before that can happen. But in most games, the player is an infiltrator. Mario in Bowser's castle, Link in a dungeon. In Portal, Chell is a captive trying to escape. GLaDOS, as master of the Enrichment Center, has the option to end the conflict by giving her what she wants. When she exercises that option, there's a feeling of anticlimax. The player has no agency in her escape; the other side simply concedes.

And it's not just that Chell's dismissed -- it's that she's unwanted. GLaDOS doesn't want to kill you or befriend you. Your relationship is neither positive nor negative. It's over. This isn't a resolution that you see a lot of in video games, and in some ways, it feels worse than departing on hostile terms would be. Especially when you reach the surface and you see you're in the middle of nowhere. How long were you gone? Is there a civilization to return to? What if all that's left is you and the AI that just dumped you?

I'm not sure if the Portal series needs another entry, but I'd welcome one just the same. The next logical step would be for Chell to return to Aperture Science because she needs something from GLaDOS, and perhaps to find the immortality that GLaDOS has always teased her with. But for now, we'll just have to live with this.


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