Pizza and Video Games March 2018: Portal

The first entry in my Pizza and Video Game series was pretty much a no-brainer. I wanted a relatively short game that was iconic and not brutally hard. The best representation of all of my parameters is the game Portal.

Portal was released just over a decade ago. It is a fairly short puzzle game where you wake up in a laboratory and run through several experiments testing a new device that creates “portals” within the laboratory. You eventually control the entry and the ending point of these portals in an attempt to navigate through the levels of this experiment. Some surfaces are portal-able while others are not. Sometimes you need to utilize momentum and physics to fling yourself further.

There are a few common design elements for all of the puzzles in the game:

  • Moving blocks from one room/inaccessible space to another
  • Using physics to fling yourself by going through multiple portals or jumping off cliffs
  • Utilizing fireballs to hit inaccessible targets

These start easy, but then build on one another to create increasingly complex puzzles. The game is very well designed. There is no point during the game where you feel that things are unfair or require knowledge you have not accessed. You can figure out what you’re supposed to do without feeling like the designers were smoking The Crack.

One issue I personally had with Portal is that there was a point at which I could not continue with the game. I could only get through level 17 when the puzzles became too difficult. They weren’t difficult in regards to the logic required to figure out what the solution was. They were difficult because they required a degree of fine motor skills and coordination that I simply don’t possess.

I have tried getting through Portal several times, but I always got stuck at a certain point because I couldn’t do things fast enough to pass certain levels. The Boyfriend noticed that I tend to not use the controls properly. He noticed that I would work the camera and the movement controls independently rather than synchronously.

We are going to start working through the Halo because that is one of the first games to utilize the camera and movement controls together so that I can get more used to this design pattern in games.

Even beyond my lack of experience and comfort with the controls, the game becomes significantly more difficult in the later levels. I had spend several years hearing people tell me that Portal was a very quick and easy game. I went in with the expectation that it would be so, only to run into a brick wall towards the end of the game. I wound up having The Boyfriend complete the last two levels of the game for me. Otherwise I may not have finished. Or if I had it would have taken all weekend. There are a few incredibly fidgety puzzles that required an incredible amount of timing and precision. I know a lot of gamers really want a challenge, but it would really be nice to have something that would be accessible to people with physical impairments who can figure out the puzzle but can’t react as quickly.

It was interesting to see a lot of patterns in Portal that are “borrowed” by other games. The secret rooms with the warnings about the AI and the cute song at the end of the game feel kind of like the post-credit sequences in Marvel movies. They were a completely new thing a decade ago but have been used by so many people in the intervening years that it’s hard to remember how innovative it was at the time.

I did also appreciate that the two characters in the game were both female. The AI being female I understand. Between Siri and Alexa it’s just kind of a default for computers to have female voices, but the choice to make the protagonist female was really cool. I always appreciate it when creators don’t just default to male protagonists, even though in this case you only see Chell in passing if you see yourself before you go through the portal.

Conclusions

I feel our first Pizza and Video Game day was a success. I feel like Portal was the perfect kind of game to do for something like this. I am a little sad that so many gamers feel like games have to be a hundred hours long to be worth the money. I worry about the number of games that I can actually get done in a day, but I will worry about that another time. For now, I am glad I finally got to see all of Portal, even though I didn’t complete it myself. Until next time!

Monthly Pizza and Video Games

Back when I was a kid we didn’t have any video game consoles. My parents thought they rot your brain and were expensive, so we didn’t have a Nintendo.

My brother and I had a home daycare woman who had four kids and I swear bought every video game system ever. Every time a new system came out within a few weeks one would magically appear at their house. I was never allowed to play with it because it was “their” system, but I was allowed to watch them play from the couch.

One day that we had off from school the older kids went out and bought a bunch of junk food to eat in the basement. They had a bunch of friends over to play games and eat junk. They actually let the younger kids hang out with them and shared junk food. This was the only time in my childhood where I felt like I was part of a group of people doing normal things having fun. I told myself that when I was in high school I was going to have a gang of friends who would come to my house and play video games and eat junk food. I didn’t process that I lived in a rural town where I already knew all my future high school classmates and that I didn’t get along with any of them and that this would never come to pass.

It’s been a thing I revisit sometimes. My ex-husband decided he was over video games by the time we got together and wouldn’t play with me. I bought a few systems after the divorce and really got into the Persona series, but I didn’t have people to play games with. Luckily, my new boyfriend likes video games and I finally have someone to play games with.

So we decided to institute “Pizza and Video Games” days. The first Saturday of every month, we are ordering a pizza and playing a video game. We’re limiting the amount of junk food we do in a day because, frankly, my digestive system can’t handle it as well as it used to. We want to try all the various pizza places around us so we’re not just ordering from the same place every month.

We have a few parameters we’re looking for when considering a game for Pizza and Video Games day:

  • Console Game: Primarily looking for a game that would be played on the TV through either a PS3/PS4/Xbox 1/Steam. I have a vast multitude of 3DS/Vita games that I play in the bath or while I am traveling and these are not candidates for Pizza and Video Game days. Not sure about Switch games yet as they’re in a gray area.
  • Short: I’m looking for games that can mostly be played in a day. I’m sure the Assassin’s Creed games are awesome, but I wanted to focus on trying to find a game that could mostly be completed within a day.
  • Relatively Easy: I didn’t grow up playing video games, so I am not looking for the most brutally hard games I can find. So no Super Meat Boy or Celeste. These are probably awesome games, but I would die like two seconds in and that would not be fun.
  • Variety of Genres: I have mostly played adventure games in my time as a gamer. These are games that don’t really require a lot of coordination or motor skills. They just involve walking around solving puzzles. These are great games, but I am trying to expand outside my comfort zone and try different things I am less familiar with. We are not going to just do first person shooters, but I would like some experience with these as they’re a large chunk of the video game landscape.
  • Important Historically: There’s like 40 years of video game history that I need to work through to become familiar with current game design patterns. I’m basically trying to find someone’s top ten list of the most important video games and focus on those as a jumping off point so I can see how these games influenced the landscape.

We may not be able to satisfy all of these requirements. These are more like suggestions or guidance questions as opposed to set in stone rules. We’re also going to try to do more games together after work on a regular basis. There are longer games like Mass Effect that I would very much like to work through that I will be writing about in the future, but not as part of this series of articles.

These do not need to be new/recent games. I would like to go back and play through the Super Mario Brothers games on the original NES. Since I have an NES emulator, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Games were designed to be a social thing to bring people together. You can play on your own, but having a community of people to share your experiences with is a vital part of the gaming experience. I didn’t get to have fun game days in high school, but it’s never too late to find a community of people to have fun with. I’m glad I finally found one.