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May 2011



I’ve been playing virtual detective lately, piecing together small details in an unfolding adventure that has me hooked. I travel through beautifully rendered environments, scouring my screen for clues, cognizant that even the smallest detail may yield vital information. I’m searching for pieces of a jumbled puzzle, and the effort requires my full attention. Only a video game can engage me in this way.

Everyone in this game has hidden something, and it’s up to me to find it. Still, I can’t help stopping every now and then to admire the scenery. So much artistry in this game. So much careful attention to nuance and atmosphere. This is what skilled craftsmanship in game design looks like. I could live in this world.

L.A. Noire, right? Nope. I’m playing The Tiny Bang Story. HUH?!

Ignore the graphic diversion above. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Click me. No, really. Do it.

Nice, eh? You have no idea. Play this game, and you'll discover it's chock-full of such eye-popping goodness.

Tiny Bang Story is a point-and-click adventure game from a two-person Russian indie studio called Colibri Games, and it's simply stunning. Grab your child and put her on your lap, or grab your significant other and an extra chair, and play this beautiful, expertly-crafted game together.

If you once enjoyed point-and-click games, but left them behind after LucasArts faded - or if you're too young to have played Grim Fandango or the Monkey Island games - Tiny Bang Story illustrates why such games, at their best, can deliver such pure and simple delight. Some games exude love and care. This is one of them.

Tiny Bang Story is a labyrinth of pitch-perfect puzzles enveloped in a gallery of kinetic hand-drawn art. Its creators have cited classic Dutch paintings as an inspiration, as well as Machinarium, and it's easy to see how these inspirations coalesce in their work.

But this game has a visual tone and style of its own, and each screen is packed with detail for the player to ponder. My 3-year-old has become an expert puzzle-piece-locator, and Colibri has done a terrific job of hiding things in places that are fun to explore. Tedium could easily have crept into Tiny Bang Story, but its devs, to their credit, avoid that pitfall.

We're seeing a lovely renaissance of hand-drawn art in point-and-click style games. Windowsill, Machinarium, and Mateusz Skutnik's Daymare Town stories are among the best of these, and I'm sure I'm overlooking many others. Along with the continuing vitality of simple pixel-art-style games, these beautiful games illustrate that talented visual artists can find a venue for their expression in contemporary video games.

Hey, while you're here, why not check out a couple of other Tiny Bang Story screenshots in all their glory:

Click me

And me too

If you feel misled by my L.A. Noire tease at the top of this post, not to worry. I promise to return to that game soon...with a little help from a few friends. Oh, I'm such a tease. :-)

In the meantime, check out this wonderful making-of video for Tiny Bang Story. It beautifully illustrates the care that went into just one visual element of the game.

Clones war


Before departing for a trip last week, I decided to load a few new games onto my iPad. I was in the mood for some Diablo-style dungeon crawling, so I hit the app store and took a look around. Not surprisingly, mobile game devs have produced many titles in the Diablo vein, and the most popular is a game called Dungeon Hunter, released by Gameloft. I bought it, played it, and it was fine - a generic reproduction of Diablo with wonky, but manageable touchscreen controls. It scratched an itch.

Curious to peruse the Gameloft catalog, I paid a visit to their website, and...well, well, well. Gameloft makes clones. Lots of them. A certain perverse madness set in, and I began downloading one after another, eager to see just how far this studio has gone to mimic the most popular franchises and genres.

Here's a taste of what I found. Gameloft titles on left; originals on right










Dungeon Hunter



Order and chaos

Order & Chaos Online


World of Warcraft


Zombie Infection


Resident Evil

Eternal Legacy


Final Fantasy




Grand Theft Auto

BOF (3)

Blades of Fury


Soul Calibur

Shadow guardian

Shadow Guardian




Sacred Odyssey


Legend of Zelda

It doesn't stop with these. Gameloft has produced clones for God of War, Brain Age, Tony Hawk, Hot Shots Golf, Modern Warfare - and the list goes on.

On one hand, I'm not terribly troubled by Gameloft's strategy. My own situation is a prime example of why it works. I wanted to play Diablo on my iPad, and, lacking alternatives, I found something close enough to satisfy me (for an hour or two anyway), and with a cheap pricetag - no small factor. If I want a Zelda-like experience or a GTA-like experience, Gameloft has something to fit the bill. None of these clones have impressed me, but they're not shoddy knock-offs. To Gameloft's credit, they're professionally produced, and just good enough to deliver genre-specific facsimiles of the originals.

But there's more to the story. Gameloft doesn't just produce games inspired by popular franchises; they develop facsimiles that mimic - no, I'm going to use the proper term here, rip-off - the games they're based on in ways that extend beyond genre and mechanics.

As the images above illustrate, Gameloft's clones are whole cloth derivatives of aesthetic elements like character design, art style, user-interface, and even color palettes. No art is wholly original; we all create from the inspiration of others. But these copies aren't simply inspired by their originals. They appropriate the creative work of artists and designers and re-purpose them with mostly cosmetic changes.

What the images above don't convey are the uncanny similarities in music, dialogue presentation, and story. When you meet the hero of Zelda-clone Sacred Odyssey, you won't be surprised to learn he's asleep and must be awoken to embark on a great journey...after doing chores on a farm, retrieving a sword/shield, and locating his horse.

I don't know much about business and industry, where small alterations from an original can protect one against accusations of infringement. I've made my career in the arts, where we take such obvious thefts quite personally. It's one thing to borrow a staging idea or a plot device; it's quite another to reproduce an entire production concept, throw on an eerily similar title (Gameloft's knock-off of COD:MW is called Modern Combat; its God of War is called Hero of Sparta), and peddle it as your own.

I realize nothing is simple, and I don't begrudge the hard-working developers at Gameloft their right to make a living in a tough, competitive market. While their expanding catalog contains many clones, Gameloft also produces licensed games, like the mobile version of Tom Clancy's Rainbow 6.

Maybe gamers don't care about these things. Gameloft's profits are booming, so it would seem their strategy is working. Maybe I'm missing something here that I ought to consider more carefully. I don't know. Having purchased or demoed nearly a dozen Gameloft titles in recent days, I confess to feeling a little dirty. I just can't feel good about supporting such a parasitic strategy for developing games.

Rooting for Goliath


Everybody loves the underdog. As a critic, it's always fun to write about undiscovered or under-appreciated games, and it feels good to shine a light on small development studios producing quality work. Half the fun of the burgeoning indie game movement is watching a World of Goo, Braid, or Minecraft emerge to swim with the big fish and garner praise and attention.

Today I’m rooting for Goliath. On the eve of its latest and most risky release to date, I’m here to shine my little light on a studio that already produces enough by itself to illuminate a small planet: Rockstar Games. That’s right. I’m singing the praises of a giant studio with nine subsidiaries scattered across the world, wholly owned by one of the largest game publishers, developers, and distributors (Take-Two Interactive) in the world. Sort of like rooting for Exxon Oil, isn’t it?

No, actually, it’s not. Because Rockstar really isn’t like any other studio in the industry, big or small, and its colorful history suggests it’s hardwired - for better and worse - to behave like...well, a bunch of rock stars. Wildly creative, reckless, self-aware, and driven to disrupt, Rockstar’s games are iconic symbols of all that’s right and wrong about video games, depending on whom you ask. 

While it’s easy to focus on the pop culture impact or billions generated by the GTA and Red Dead games, I’m drawn to the in-between moments in Rockstar’s history: the times when the Housers greenlit projects like the original Manhunt, The Warriors, and Bully, each a departure from the studio’s GTA oeuvre, and each driven by a singular creative vision. 

Somebody probably needed to prove that a game could, by design, outrage and horrify by implicating the player as a killer holding a controller. Manhunt did that. I don't ever want to play it again (and Manhunt 2 illustrates Rockstar's penchant for judgment lapses), but I can't help admiring the potency of the game. For its part, Bully tells more truth than a dozen angsty-teen RPGs and remains one of the most underrated games of the PS2-era.

Big companies learn to be risk-averse, and Take-Two is no exception, but Rockstar has managed to carve out creative elbow room inside that corporate bubble, and its team of designers appear to enjoy throwing an elbow here and there to keep things interesting. 100 million GTAs sold buys a little freedom.

I mentioned earlier that Rockstar was about to release its riskiest game ever, and I'm sure some will smirk at that assertion. L.A. Noire will be seen as Rockstar being Rockstar: more guys with guns in stylish genre trappings. The slick new facial animation tech looks great, but it's still a game about driving around, triggering missions, and admiring the fidelity of a recreated urban setting. RDR was GTA as Western, and the new game is GTA as Film Noir.

We’ll all learn more when the game appears tomorrow, but I’ve taken a peek at L.A. Noire, and I can tell you it’s a significant and surprising departure. Rockstar is promoting the game (wisely, perhaps) as a gritty character-driven game set in a glamorous but unruly post-war L.A. Its familiar billboard ads and TV spots look a lot like their GTA IV cousins, but fans of GTA may not realize just how much of the GTA formula L.A. Noire jettisons.

Not really a rock star
For one thing, it’s not a Rockstar game. Certainly, Rockstar claims co-developer status, and game director Brendan McNamara credits the studio with enabling the game’s impressive animations and action sequences, but L.A. Noire was primarily developed by Team Bondi, a third-party studio unaffiliated with Rockstar. When the game appears tomorrow, Team Bondi will conclude seven years of work on the game.

Not a sandbox
The studio that refined and popularized open world design with GTA III has greatly de-emphasized it in L.A. Noire. While the player is free to roam the streets of 40s-era L.A., the game is far more directive than its GTA or RDR cousins, and its narrative relies on a sequence of events that feels less expansive than those games. There's plenty to do roaming around L.A., but the game glues you to its protagonist's primary narrative arc more powerfully than GTA IV's immigrant story. The city itself, at the risk of cliche-mongering, is a powerful character too, and its environments function as more than window dressing or mini-game offshoots. They communicate an ambiance that mostly lives up to noir's powerful connection to time and place.

Long live the author
L.A. Noir presents a tightly plotted story within which the player can probe and investigate, but not significantly impact by his or her choices. Each case functions like a mission, and the game ultimately assembles these into an overarching authored story that the player uncovers through experience. It’s hard to imagine film noir without the strong hand of an author - I’ll have more to say about this in another post - and L.A. Noire definitely communicates a carefully constructed authored narrative, albeit hyperextended over many hours.

Let’s talk
McNamara has described L.A. Noire as a “game about personal interactions and humanity.” While it’s clear that Rockstar hasn’t abandoned action elements (fast driving and gunplay still come in handy), this game can be seen as a far more sober contemplation on violence than previous Rockstar games. In a way, L.A. Noire is even more violent than previous games because the grisly effects of murder are omnipresent. The crimes presented to the player are startlingly vicious, but they require thoughtful investigation and interpersonal savvy to solve.

This approach makes sense. Film Noir is the antithesis of the Western. Dark psychological dramas in dank urban interiors would seem less conducive to gameplay than showdowns and horses on an open range - or carjacking, drug-running and flying helicopters. L.A. Noire isn't Out of the Past - and Aaron Staton is no Robert Mitchum - but the game reconfigures the RDR/GTA template surprisingly well. It may not be Noir in all its twisted complexity, but it's a respectable stab at it.

Reviewers will likely fixate on L.A. Noire’s dialogue system and its relationship to other dialogue-tree games like Mass Effect. It’s a useful comparison, but to my eye the game owes a greater debt to classic adventure games of the ‘90s. Players will spend most of their time carefully assessing their surroundings, looking for visual clues or behavioral markers to help unlock the puzzle each case presents. In this regard, L.A. Noire feels more like a LucasArts game than a Rockstar title, and the player’s ability to pay close attention pays more dividends than his or her ability to aim and shoot.

Out the window
L.A. Noire jettisons other contemporary de rigueur design elements. The player has no control over character creation. The game includes no multiplayer modes or features. Side missions are available via your police radio, but they’re likely to be less about gun-blazing action and more about preventing a suicide or resolving a hostage situation. Life feels more precious in this game because the protagonist, a WWII vet, has seen so much senseless death.

It’s not easy maintaining your transgressive cred when you’re beholden to shareholders and a corporate parent that may be shopping itself for acquisition. Rockstar occasionally comes off as the corporate dude with the ponytail, but we shouldn’t overlook its cheeky willingness to go where others won’t. The satirical fake television shows in GTA IV targeted Bush-era paranoia, militarism, and hyper-patriotism more viciously (and cleverly) than just about any other pop culture artifact of its time, and Rockstar’s take-down of American consumerism and self-absorbed exceptionalism has no parallel in other games. L.A. Noire has other things to say about America, and I’ll discuss those in another post.

L.A. Noire appears on shelves tomorrow. Feel free to share your thoughts on it here or on my posts to come later this week.

Valuable experience

Eugene  Critic2

Dan Cook has provoked a dust-up over at his Lost Garden blog with an opinion piece entitled "A Blunt Critique of Game Criticism." Ben Abraham responded on his blog, and Andrew Doull followed up on his. A flurry of Twitter posts took issue with Cook's assertions, and many commenters have responded directly on Cook's site.

I've enjoyed the conversation, partly because Cook seems more interested in discourse than diatribe, but mainly because it's created a wide open channel for discussion of game criticism: what it is, who should do it, and why it matters. I know some have grown tired of this topic (it re-emerges roughly every six months), but I continue to find it useful, and decidedly non-navel-gazy, when it encourages careful reflection on the role of critics and the function of criticism. 

Many journo/critic friends I admire have dismissed Cook's main argument, but I must say I find his thesis thought-provoking and worthy of consideration. In essence, Cook wants to see less experiential criticism of games and more writing that focuses analytically on the systems and formal design elements underlying games. In other words, he wants more writers with practical design chops producing criticism that advances the medium in "actionable" ways. I'll return to this thought in a moment.

Where Cook goes wrong, in my view, is devaluing criticism that fails to satisfy his criteria. While I agree there's a hole waiting to filled by the kind of writing Cook wants (though not as big as he suggests - plenty of critics have produced systems-focused games criticism), he fails to account for the useful functions and inevitable limitations of any single approach. He contends: 

The vast body of game criticism is written by people that I would consider partial game illiterates. They are dance judges who have watched Dancing with the Stars, but who have never danced.

I would suggest to Mr. Cook that we are all "partial game illiterates." None of us possesses the complete arsenal of skills or universal sensibilities to account for the full measure of a game, a painting, or a symphony. We bring the skills we own, and we do our best to hone them for the task at hand.

Even a critic/designer/scholar as respected as Ian Bogost - whom surely fulfills Mr. Cook's prerequisites - can produce deep systems-based analysis (see his Persuasive Games) that I personally find cold and detached from the powerful sensory and aesthetic dimensions of game design. Does this mean that Mr. Bogost failed to produce valuable analysis? Of course not. But it means his work has a limited value, appeal, and audience, just like all the work we produce...and, I daresay, all of the games Mr. Cook and his colleagues will produce too.

But what if there were a small group that wished to do more than talk about playing? Imagine holding your writing to the standard that asks you to ratchet forward the creative conversation.

Here again, Cook characterizes a vast body of writing (yes, much of it uneven and many games) as only "about playing." I could cite numerous critics whose reach extends far beyond experiential analysis (G. Christopher Williams, Simon Ferrari, Justin Keverne, Sparky Clarkson, and Mitu Khandaker come to mind), but let's say for the purposes of argument that most of us do write primarily "about playing." Isn't that precisely what we ought to be focusing on, from a variety of informed perspectives? From a strictly empirical standpoint, what outcome is more valuable than the player's hands-on experience with the game, with critical commentary on that outcome?

Writing clearly and insightfully (no easy task, I assure you) about the malleable, subjective reality of play should yield valuable (and, yes, actionable) information to the designers and developers who make the games we play. When I drive an automobile - and I'm not talking about test-driving here; I mean driving a vehicle over time and applying my rich experience as a driver attuned to the nuances of driving - my feedback on how that car performs should provide invaluable feedback to the engineers who made it.

I don't need an engineering degree to provide this feedback, nor should I be expected to diagnose the problems I discover. In fact, from the engineer's point of view, my lack of expertise as an engineer offers a welcome, distanced perspective. I hope you'll agree, Mr. Cook, that I can bring very different kinds of expertise - even some you may lack - and our various perspectives can complement each other in service of the evolution of this art form.

Sometimes a critic's most valuable function is saying a thing like nobody's ever said it. Saying it in a way that cuts to the bone. We need more of that kind of writing, and I'll gratefully devour it from anyone who wants to bring it, engineers and English majors included. We're all served by such writing. We needn't compartmentalize who benefits from what. I know many designers who regularly read my work. I suspect they're not looking for meat and potatoes design inspiration from me. I presume they find some other value in it.

We're all trying to 'ratchet forward the creative conversation.' You've suggested ways to do that, Mr. Cook, and I welcome your encouragement. But you should know that many of us have earnestly worked to improve our knowledge and understanding of the game development process. I and many of my colleagues attend GDC and other similar events each year, and the only real purpose (aside from fodder for a few posts) is to educate ourselves about the design process. We attend sessions, participate in workshops, and speak with developers out of a natural curiosity to understand. I know my own writing has been greatly informed by these interactions, and I'm always eager to learn more.

I would suggest to Mr. Cook and other developers that you consider your own responsibilities in cultivating an envrionment wherein critics can learn and grow. Game development, to a far greater degree than filmmaking, live theater, or other collaborative art forms, cloaks its work in secrecy in ways that are counterproductive to critical treatment. I understand there are reasons for such secrecy, and I'm repeatedly reminded of the economic imperatives developers and publishers face.

But if you want informed critics, then you must be willing to help inform us. Choosing one writer from one publication to go "behind the scenes" during development in exchange for exclusive coverage may serve a publisher's promotional goals, but it's antithetical to critical inquiry or dramaturgy. As long as the industry keeps us at arms length, it will continue to receive the fawning cursory coverage we lament. I long ago abandoned my hopes of meaningful conversation with designers during the pivotal stages of development. The list of off-limits topics and publishers' insistence on pre-approving interview texts made it not worth the effort. You have a stake in opening up the design process, but only you can open it.

I accept Dan Cook's encourgement to deepen my understanding of games from a designer's perspective, and I'm persuaded that I can benefit from doing so. I hope he and others will accept the value of experiential, comparative, theoretical and other forms of criticism as no less vital to the evolution of video games as an art form worthy of careful consideration from many points of view. I can tell you from first-hand experience that territorialism and boundaries of expertise have played pernicious roles in academia. We mimic those behaviors at our own risk.


Too much airplane, not enough peas


Didn't we have some fun, though? Remember when the platform was sliding into the fire pit and I said ‘Goodbye’ and you were like ‘NOO WAAYY,’ and then I was all ‘We pretended we were going to murder you.’ That was great. --GLaDOS, Portal (2007)

Set your wayback machine to 2005 and imagine yourself a Valve developer attending a DigiPen career fair in Redmond, Washington. Seven students present their collective senior project, a game called Narbacular Drop, in which a player navigates a dungeon using interconnected portals.

Intrigued, you invite the students to visit and demo the game at Valve HQ. Your colleagues love what they see, and boss Gabe Newell hires the whole team to build a new game for Valve. Two years later: Portal. Success. Acclaim. Huzzah.

It's a wonderful Cinderella story, but in this version Cinderella is no princess. She's a mechanic. Nobody at Valve fell in love with Narbacular Drop's looks. The charm was the portal gun, and it's easy to imagine the wave of inspiration that hit the folks at Valve when they first laid eyes on that device. This Cinderella also traded her glass slippers for heel springs.

Reasons to portal
When considered in this light, Portal's game design elements are brilliant, but hardly astonishing. If someone handed you a portal-making device and told you to design a game around it, what would you do? Chances are, you'd devise a bunch of environmental puzzles with a variety of challenges (moving platforms, sequential triggers, etc.); obstacles (turrets, deadly hazards, etc.); and constraints (countdown timers, no available weapons, etc.). In other words, you'd dream up as many playful reasons as possible to blast portals.

Portal was seen as startlingly original when it appeared, but it also treaded familiar territory. Silent hero enters dungeon room. Door locks behind him. Hero must "solve" room before moving on. But in Portal, Link is an acrobatic woman, and his grappling hook is a teleportation device. 

It doesn't diminish Portal's inspired mechanics or puzzles to suggest that they're predictably deployed. Like other well designed games, Portal's puzzles leverage the unique properties of the tools built to solve them. Portal is undeniably brilliant, but as a puzzle game it unfolds in familiar ways, with ramping difficulty and plenty of satisfying "I feel smart" fun.

Tricky levels and a novel gun make Portal fun, but they don't account for why the game soared so high. Valve's genius was situating the gun and the puzzles inside a world wherein they make perfect, maniacal sense. Setting Portal in a series of increasingly sadistic test chambers - overseen by a dispassionate computer AI bent on killing you - establishes a context that enables Valve to slowly reveal the true nature of the Aperture Science Research Facility. In the process, the narrative world of Portal uncoils - revealed and discovered by the player - and GLaDOS emerges as one of the great indelible characters in the history of video games. 

Natural flow
is an extraordinary game because its narrative, setting, and characters (turrets and Companion Cube included) flow naturally through its game design. The Enrichment Center's test chambers present diabolical puzzles, even as they gradually reveal a sordid history and an increasingly unreliable guide. Sharp writing, ironic humor, and a gleeful sense of computerized menace elevate the game even higher. Portal was a revelation when we first discovered it in '07, not simply because we didn't see it coming, but because it succeeded on its own terms even better than the acclaimed Half-Life 2 games that accompanied it in the Orange Box.

Narrative games have long struggled to forge a plausible bond between mechanics and storytelling. We shoot, drive, and fight in games because that's what games know how to do. We try our best to naturally fuse gameplay and storytelling...which works great if your game is about hunting down a Russian ultranationalist, but maybe not so great if your game is about finding a missing child.

The original Portal strikes this balance elegantly, and it does so by wisely limiting its ambitions. The only recurring criticism of the game was its length, with some reviewers bemoaning the fact that the game could be completed in four hours or so. Valve apparently heard this complaint and designed a sequel roughly twice the size of the original. Sadly, bigger isn’t always better.

Airplanes and peas
Portal 2
is a fun game, but it's burdened by a new array of mechanics that give the player more things to do, yet fail to add value to his experience. It’s a classic case of too much airplane and not enough peas. Let me explain.

Have you seen a parent entice a child to eat her peas by scooping them into a spoon and flying it around like an airplane? "Bzzzzzzzzzz! Open wide, here comes the airplane!" Enchanted by the flying spoon, the child opens her mouth and eats the peas. If all goes well, she discovers she likes them after all.

For many years games have employed a similar strategy delivering story to players. Run here, jump there, shoot that, cutscene! We entice the player with action, motion, and sensory stimuli...then sneak in a little storytelling while we've got his attention. Like the peas, we feed him story knowing he probably doesn't want it, but hoping he'll like it anyway. And sometimes he does. It helps if those peas are well prepared.

Portal 2 flies that spoon around with so many laborious mechanical gyrations that the savvy player begins to suspect something is wrong with its pea cargo. Stuffed in between all the new toys - hard light surfaces; excursion funnels, conversion gel, repulsion gel, propulsion gel, redirection cubes, etc. - is plenty of skillfully penned dialogue. GLaDOS turns berating into an art, and Wheatley yammers hilariously. 

But roughly a third of the way into Portal 2, one begins to sense that storytelling has been affixed, rather than fully integrated, to Portal 2's high-flying mechanics. To be sure, Portal 2's script is full of clever bits and inspired delivery, but it's mostly in service of the game’s shiny/bouncy/slick new materials. 

Integrated narrative
I'm not dismissing the importance of mechanics. It's not a question of which is more important. After all, without the portal gun, GLaDOS is irrelevant. It's a question of balance, and the original managed it better than the sequel. In Portal, testing had an integrated narrative function. In Portal 2 that function is hyper-extended through Cave Johnson's audio diaries and Wheatley's desperate ploys, all of which feel like excuses to protract and recombine Portal 2's new mechanical toys. 

Of course, storytelling needn’t be delivered via script and performance. In Portal, the player constructs a story by leveraging the game's mechanical elements and piecing together bits of evidence discovered along the way in hidden rooms with poems, graffiti, and desperate warnings scrawled on the walls.

Slipping between the cracks of GLaDOS’ carefully constructed artifice reveals ghastly events, and this process of investigation and, finally, evasion from GLaDOS’ control is enhanced by the player’s experience navigating a backstage she never wanted us to see. Her efforts to stop us - relying on the only method she knows: testing - become challenges we must overcome using the tools we were given in the game’s opening stages. We must use what she taught us against her, and there’s a certain poetry to that.

Contrast this with the 2nd act of Portal 2, essentially a travelogue through Cave Johnson’s career as a mad scientific industrialist. Again, the VO work is first-rate, and his remarks interspersed throughout are entertaining, but they don’t bear on our experience playing the game. His experiments with gels (and their convenient tendency to appear where we need them) feel less like organic storytelling than gameplay grafting.

Likewise, the most notable outcome of Wheatley’s descent to madness is an additional hour or so of puzzle solving. Even GLaDOS’ suffers as the game wears on. With each nugget of backstory delivery, she grows more human-like, which, ironically, makes her less interesting, funny, and distinctive.

Portal 2 has many virtues, and by no means am I suggesting it’s a failed game. If you enjoyed Portal, you should absolutely play its sequel. Even when it stumbles, Valve produces work of exceptional quality and craftsmanship. As a co-op game, it has no peer (excepting, perhaps, Valve’s Left 4 Dead) and I’ll try to explain why in a future post.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Portal 2. Thanks for reading...and eat your peas!

Back tomorrow

FINALEXAM Hey everyone. I apologize for not posting since early last week. It's final exam time here, so I'm swamped with grading. Students hate finals, but lemme tell ya, I'd rather write 'em than grade 'em.

I haven't stopped gaming, though. Confession: I play while proctoring my exams, which inspires my students to hate me even more! Hah!

I'll return tomorrow with a post about a cube, a potato, and a woman with a spring in her step. Big mystery, eh?

Thanks for your patience. Happy gaming!