Wednesday, April 20, 2011

We want cake! Where's our cake?

By this time, I would presume that everybody that had preordered “Portal 2” has had a chance to start digging into it. I really liked the original “Portal”, but I'm not sure what to do about the sequel.

“Portal” places you in a testing facility under the supervision of the Aperture Science Corporation. They are trying out a new handheld device that allows instant teleportation between two surfaces. The device shoots two different colored portals, and only one portal of each color can exist at a time. Your entrance velocity into one portal is your exit velocity out of the other portal, although the relative direction of gravity will sometimes change on the transition between portals. For example, you see a deep chasm below you that you can't jump across. Shoot one portal on the floor of the chasm, and another on the wall above you, and jump down into the chasm. The acceleration due to gravity increases your velocity, and your exit out of the other portal flings you across the chasm that you wouldn't be able to jump across. Granted, this may not be the only way to proceed, but it's nice to have those kinds of options.

As it stands, I could just get the PC version of “Portal 2” at some point over the summer if I think that I will have time to really dig into it, and it wouldn't matter so much when I play it. I'm not that worried about spoilers. I can hold my ears, or not – it won't matter so much since I heard the internet meme of “The cake is a lie” for so long before I actually played “Portal” that I wasn't even sure what it really meant by the time I played the game. It's like when you look at a familiar word too long and start to break it down into letters, or like when Vizzini starts second-guessing himself endlessly (to his peril, I might add) in “The Princess Bride”. Was there really a cake, or did they want me to think that there was a cake? But if that's what they thought I was going to think, then was there any need for an actual cake? Or perhaps there was a cake but also a specific reason for making me think that there wasn't a cake, making me want the cake more knowing I couldn't have it?

Needless to say, I played “Portal” unencumbered by the thought of cake – trying to think in portals was challenging enough. I had even played the predecessor to “Portal” - “Narbacular Drop”, but that game while sharing the basic mechanic of a portal gun, doesn't play that much like “Portal” due to a less interesting set of physical rules. I am looking forward to returning to the world of “Portal”, even though GlaDOS, the computer that runs the testing facility in the game scares the crap out of me.

(Side note: I answered the phone at work one afternoon about a month ago, only to find that I was being robocalled. Not just a crappy recorded message to tell me to refinance my mortgage – but high quality voice synthesis, and an adult female voice just a little too close to Ellen McLain's, the voice actress who played GlaDOS in “Portal”. I hung up the phone and had to get up and walk around to shake off the feeling of dread.)

The real problem for me is that of the expanded game this time. No, I'm not talking about all the new game elements, because any series of games will always add or subtract elements as it progresses. I expect that. I'm talking about the cooperative mode. It would be one thing to just wait for the right moment to play the single player game and immerse myself in the experience, but now I fear that if I wait too long to play it, I may rob myself of the opportunity to play the co-op part of the game. I hear that the console versions have split screen local co-op. Maybe I'll have to teach my older son to think in portals.

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