May. 29th, 2011

thehefner: (Default)
As I await my final show tonight in this year's frustrating and lonely experience at Orlando Fringe Festival, it feels somewhat bittersweet that perhaps the utter highlight of my fourteen days here is that my host with let me play Portal 2. I could only do it a couple hours at a time, and I would spend the rest of the day OBSESSED with the game, dying to finish it.

Now, I'm not a gamer, and that's purely out of necessity. The internet alone is a huuuuuge distraction that keeps me from getting any work done, but you give me a video game and it's like giving a case of Jack to a recovering alcoholic. But as anybody who's played Portal and/or Portal 2 know, these games are different from your average games. Frankly, these are games which I wish could be experienced by many of my non-gamer friends, people like [livejournal.com profile] tompurdue, [livejournal.com profile] fiveseconddelay, and [livejournal.com profile] box_in_the_box. It plays on

It's not only because the portal puzzles are great fun (to the point that some people find themselves still thinking in portals long after they play the game), but--far more importantly for me--these games are exceedingly well-written. This may sound like a basic virtue until you realize that the writing on almost all video games is fucking ABYSMAL. Because writing isn't the point. Writing isn't what designers focus upon, nor is it what gamers care about. Graphics and playability rule all, it seems. That's probably why, when it comes to stupid obnoxiousness, many gamers actually beat out the worst of comics fandom.

But the Portal games are exceptional in the neglected gaming areas of great writing and acting. As I lacked any console or PC, when the original Portal came out, I just watched the entire game on YouTube walkthrough videos. It actually held up as incredibly fun and funny viewing experience:



Of course, just watching gameplay is probably considered blasphemy by gamers. And in truth, it's not the same as actually playing Portal, as it lacks the immense satisfaction you get from FINALLY figuring out a particularly tricky puzzle. Henchgirl is still battle-scarred from the first game, and is known to shudder at the mere mention of Portal and curse, "FUCKING MOMENTUM." I am bloody dying to watch her play Portal 2, in the event that we're actually stupid enough to get a console.

But again, fun and adrenalicious as the puzzles are, the real joy for me in this game was the writing and vocal performances of the characters. There's something about Portal 2 which puts it comfortably around the similar realms of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the more "Science!" aspects of The Venture Bros. But then, that all could just be the pre-recorded messages of J.K. Simmons as Cave Johnson, who's sort of like if J. Jonah Jameson voiced Stan Lee becoming Rusty Venture:



And then, of course, there's GLaDOS, the dryly passive-aggressive HAL 9000 guide/antagonist from the first game, about whom much has been said. Here, she actually gets a surprisingly great deal of character development, as does your affable new sidekick Wheatley, a bumbling British robot who saves your life at the game's start and proves to be INCREDIBLY helpful and informative throughout the game:



One of the finest moments between the two characters happens when he helps you finally confront GLaDOS, in this SERIOUSLY SPOILERY sequence which is plenty entertaining to watch for those of you who don't mind being spoiled. That's several minutes where you can't do anything, where there's no gameplay, and yet it's entertaining and riveting as hell!

Problem with falling in love with Portal 2 halfway into the game was that there was no one with whom I talk about the game. People who played the game were incapable of keeping spoilers from me, in that even "Oh, I can't talk about that yet!" is kind of a spoiler itself. Shit, the fact that I'm posting all this means I'm probably going to alter the gaming (or viewing) experience for anyone who hasn't played the games! I'm no better. At the same time, I've spent the past couple days trying and failing to explain the game and quote lines to people whom I KNOW would love Portal 2, but it means nothing out of context. You can't quote Simpsons or Monty Python's Flying Circus to anyone who hasn't seen the episodes in question.

Portal 2's the same damn way. And yet, it still under my skin, still playing in my head, and those characters now already feel like old friends to me to the point that... welp, here I am. Just can't help myself. Maybe I'm just throwing myself into this post because I don't want to think about IRL things, like what the hell kind of turnout I'm going to have in tonight's last show, or going to the Fringe after-party, or how it'll still be two and a half more days of work and driving before I can see Henchgirl again. Besides [livejournal.com profile] about_faces, that game has given this non-gamer a welcome relief in these past two weeks (what feels like two months) of blahness.

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