Category Archives: portal

The Ghost of Portal

I hate Q. You know, Q from “Star Trek The Next Generation.” Or more accurately I hate John de Lancie, who provides the voice that annoys in the game Quantum Conundrum.

More than a year ago, maybe two, when I discovered what a great place for customer service the Marlton Game Stop was (sadly, it’s gone now), I asked for a gift recommendation for The Bride, who at the time was well immersed in Portal. I wanted something like Portal for when she finally finished Portal. A game that was not yet out was suggested – Quantum Conundrum.

The game never came out. At least that I know of. I looked and asked and asked and looked, but for the most part no one else had heard of it. Imagine my surprise when it showed up as a download from the PlayStation Store. It was quickly purchased and brought to the attention of The Bride. Happy way late Christmas/Birthday/whatever present. She took to it, like, well, like The Bride to Portal.

In the game John de Lancie voices Professor Fitz Quadwrangle, who much like like GLaDOS in Portal, never shuts up. It’s to the point of madness, and it’s not even about cake this time. The professor’s house has become a maze of alternate dimensions, and you the player, his nephew, have to navigate your way through the house, with the help of his clueless disembodied voice, until the house and the professor are all back in the same right dimension.

Quantum Conundrum is a puzzle game, so it infuriates me almost as much as de Lancie’s voice annoys me. I can’t play it, but The Bride loves it, so I can’t complain.

That’s Really Trippin’, Man

Thinking outside the box. That’s where some of the cooler videogames of our age are coming from I think. Not so much fighting or blowing stuff up, or even trying to do puzzles, but more like dig the visuals, man. Much like coming down off a alcohol or drug-induced party high and watching “Teletubbies” on PBS at four in the morning, that’s what some of these games are like.

One such game is called Flower, created by Thatgamecompany, not as a game per se, but more as a work of art. It shows. You are a flower petal floating in the wind, controlled by the movement of the game controller. Set to beautiful calming music, the petal floats across gorgeous landscapes through your direction. This is a fantastically visual game, what little game there is to it. I could watch for hours, as it is relaxing.

And then there’s Eufloria from Valve Corporation, also known as Steam, the folks that brought you Portal. They call it a ‘real-time strategy videogame,’ whatever that means. With backing music that sounds like it was lifted from WXPN’s “Star’s End,” you are a space seed in the future, and you have to make your way to another asteroid to grow into a tree, from which more seeds will come, just like nature, ya know? It’s even more frustrating than Flower.

My days of post-party diversion are long over, so I guess these are not the games for me. But they sure are pretty, or at least Flower is, but I’m sure will put most folks to sleep…

Random Tater Pic of the Day #54

The Value of Good Customer Service

When I heard about the free play offer on DC Universe Online for October, I decided it was time to buy the game I wanted the most, but never bought because of that pesky monthly subscription fee thing. So I went to the usual two places I have gotten my PS3 games from, Play N Trade, and then Walmart, and both let me down.

I was about to turn to the wonderful online worlds of Amazon and eBay when I remembered that there was a Game Stop right in town, mere moments from my home. I have been hesitant to shop at Game Stop as a company for one reason. My sister is a librarian, and some years back, there was someone filching videotapes and DVDs from the library, and selling them en masse to the local Game Stop. Considering that all of the items were marked with ‘property of said library,’ there’s no way the GS folks couldn’t have known what was up. It had to be a partner job. I had a hard time trusting Game Stop after that.

Proximity, and a crazed need for the DC Universe Online game prevailed and I called the Marlton Game Stop, not the one in the incident described above, it should be noted. Yes, they had a copy of the game, and sure, they’d hold it for me. Woohoo. I went right over.

When I went in, they knew exactly who I was and what I wanted. They tried to sell me on other games, but in a friendly, conversational manner – not like it was their job to do so, but because they wanted to. They hipped me to a game The Bride would definitely be interested in, a pseudo-sequel to the Portal games called Quantum Conundrum. And we also talked for a bit about comics and tabletop role-playing games.

Suffice it to say, the next time I’m looking to buy new games, they will be my first stop. That’s the value of good customer service. And for more info about playing DC Universe Online for free, check out this link.

Hulk Smash, Sorta

Infuriated by not being able to figure out Portal, let alone any of the games on The Orange Box, I wanted something simple. I wanted to shoot something, or smash something. Smash something… hmmm… the lightbulb over my head went off as I knew I had Sega’s The Incredible Hulk in that stack of videogames Ray had lent me. That’s simple, that’s all about smashing. Yeah, baby, Hulk smash!

From viewing the intro, the game is very much based on the 2008 film of the same name. There’s Tim Roth as the Abomination, and other lookalike actors in their roles. It’s all in place, but at its roots, it is still a Hulk smash game. Or at least it should be.

I got to playing and started smashing and smashing and smashing. But it seemed to be the same old army guys I was smashing and ditto with the walls and vehicles and other various smashables. I soon found that I, as the Hulk, was essentially trapped inside one building. There was some smarts involved in getting out. After a while of trying to jump out, jumping being the Hulk’s default flying power, I started getting frustrated.

I mean, this is the Hulk we’re talking about, right? Come on, Sega, the Hulk, like Winnie the Pooh, is a monster of very little brain. He should not be forced to puzzle his way out of situations, especially in videogames. His battle cry is “Hulk Smash!” not “Hulk put on thinking cap and figure this thing out.”

I was kinda disappointed in Sega’s The Incredible Hulk. I may go back to it, but not for a while. In the meantime I will quench my thirst for destruction with Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars and turn the PS3 off for now.

Grand Theft Auto in Miniature

As I mentioned before, in the infamous pile o’ games that my friend Ray lent me was one of the Grand Theft Auto games, I think it’s GTA IV. I sucked at it when I tried it the first time. I even let the game sit for a bit until it became daytime in the game world so I could see better. I’m still not any better at the PS3 game but, I discovered something I like a lot more searching the App Store on iTunes – Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Lite.

Now this is the free version of Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars and is designed for the iPhone. Much like The Bride with Portal, I became, and remain, obsessed. I eventually moved up to the full version for $9.99, which I have to say, is totally worth it. I love playing this almost mindless game. All that said, I still have no idea what the hell I’m doing.

After the frustration of trying to work that ever-annoying PS3 controller in the GTA IV game, I was relieved to have so much more control in the touch screen format of the iPhone. As a matter of fact, I got so skilled on the Lite version that’s why I moved up. It was worth the money when I was able to actually do things.

Another reason I like this game is that it sort of has a story. Heck, it might have more of a story if I were to get farther in the game, but at the moment, I am happy where I am – causing chaos, stealing police cars and eating hot dogs. It has an obviously Chinese theme to it whereas GTA IV involved the Russian mob, not that the ethnicity of the characters or the world really matter.

You can just drive around smashing cars, running over people, and my favorite – blowing up hot dog carts, or you can go on missions like retrieving ancient family swords, shooting rival gang members, picking up taxi fares, or even delivering Chinese food. I love it. Hours of mindless and/or purposeful fun, this is the best videogame I’ve played so far for the PS3, um, I mean the iPhone…

I Enter the Portal

I told you earlier about The Bride’s obsession with Portal and Portal 2. Well, I keep hearing, and not just from her, how fun the game was, so, with the thought in mind that I could always mute the sound and not have to deal with GLaDOS or her cake rantings, I thought I would give it a shot. God help me. I popped the Orange Box disc in. (Yes, I have finally learned how to turn the darn PS3 on by now.)

Unlike the The Bride, I wanted to try all the games on the disc, before trying Portal. I tried Team Fortress 2, and quickly learned that this was a multiplayer game. Hmmm… as much I do want to try that someday, I pass that one up for later, and move on. Keep it simple, stupid should be my mantra, after all, I can barely work the controller on this thing yet.

Then there’s Half-Life 2, divided up between regular Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2 Episode One and Episode Two. I really don’t get it. I was under the impression that Half-Life was some sort of zombie shooting game. In the first version on this disc I was greeted by a creepy Christopher Lee wannabe with multi-colored eyes talking gibberish at me and then dropping me off at a train station. Wow. How about some background, some instructions or something, huh? Anything?

At this point, I just think the videogame companies are just mocking me. I’m old, I wouldn’t understand. I retreat to the instruction manual. It says I am Freeman, and I’m here to shoot the alien Combine who have taken over the Earth. Okay, I’m down with that, but what’s with the subway station and the vague overhead marching orders. Give me something to shoot, goddamnit! Give me a gun to shoot with, and I’m not talking about the aliens, but that guy who keeps ‘welcoming me to City 17.’

Next. In Episode One, I’m the same guy, only this time I have a gun, but I can’t make it work. When I try it makes a whimpering sound. I’m really getting frustrated here. The intro to Episode Two is at least exciting, lots of shooting alien creatures. And then it starts… and I’m trapped in a crashed train car with no gun. Remember the old Atari days when the game started when you turned it on. To hell with this crap, I move on to Portal.

Immediately the voice of GLaDOS makes me regret trying this. At least I have a gun, but I can’t kill anything with it. But it does make a noise and show a blast when it’s not making portals. But it’s a puzzle game, and much like the cryptic crosswords that give The Bride so much joy, it gives me a headache. Five games, and all of them a total wash for me. I’m glad The Bride enjoyed this. I don’t however.

Yes, I entered the Portal, and then I jumped right back out again…

Jumping Around with My Tongue Hanging Out

One of the things that has bothered me since getting the PS3 is the serious lack of games for more than one player. After watching The Bride become mindlessly addicted to Portal and listening to that machine voice taunt her about cake repeatedly for four to five hours at a time, I became even more bothered by this fact.

My friend Crystal, trying lighten the tension of the Portal-divided household, mentioned that Little BIG Planet 2 was a game we could all play. I jumped up and immediately said (as loudly as I could over more electronic cake teasing), “Let’s play that!”

I’m really not sure what the point of the game is. You get to play a creepy little crochet/canvas doll that looks like it escaped from a Jan Svankmajer movie and then you run around. Yeah, at first glance, that’s about it. There’s also the peculiar factor of dressing up your canvas doll. Then you run around these various worlds and play various games within the game, like racing mice or shooting cakes for instance. You are accompanied on these treks by bad disco music most of the time.

Little BIG Planet 2 should have all the charm of other no-rules-just-play games like the Grand Theft Auto games, and it does to a point, but it feels more like an acid trip than anything else. Trying to hold on to what sanity I had left, I made the most bizarre outfit for myself, and stuck my tongue out as far as it would go – mostly so I could differentiate myself from The Bride and Crystal.

In a group, you have to have first multiple controllers, and second you have to catch up with each other. No stragglers, or you’ll die when the others leave you behind. You kinda all have to either be at the same skill level, or have a pro like Crystal telling you what you need to know and do. But then again, that’s what all PS3 games need apparently. Perhaps there’s a PS3 mentoring program?

So I spent an afternoon and a night of running around with my tongue hanging out. What it means, I still don’t know. What I accomplished, I still don’t know. If I can get them to eject this disc though, I want to shoot something, preferably zombies – because isn’t that what videogames are all about anyway?

The Power of Portal

This should answer any questions you have about the difference between my gaming experience and The Bride’s. About a week after we got the PS3 we hit a place right here in Marlton called Play N Trade. It was local and less expensive than a Gamefly subscription, and the staff was friendly and helpful – even to me.

The Bride picked up The Orange Box, featuring Portal and Half-Life among a few other games. I got two older PS1 games (still compatible with the PS3) of old Atari 2600 game compilations. Specifically, I got Arcade’s Greatest Hits: The Midway Collection 2 and A Collection of Activision Classic Games for the Atari 2600. Yep, that’s about my speed. I feel so old. Even the guys behind the counter felt bad for me.

When we got home, The Bride put her disc right into the PS3. As of this date, I still haven’t even tried my two purchases. But from that moment on, until she actually finished Portal 2, I couldn’t even use the TV. She was addicted. Thus is the power of Portal.

I don’t think she even ever looked at the Half-Life portions of the disc. The Bride is not a first person shooter type person, but more of a puzzle person. And apparently, while looking like the first type of game, Portal is really the second.

In the game, you play a young girl named Chell who runs around on preposterous leg stilts to make jumping easier, and a handheld teleportation device. With this ‘portal gun’ you make holes in this maze complex to travel toward your objective. Your opponent in this quest is an annoying artificial intelligence named GLaDOS who keeps promising you cake. Over and over and over again.

The Bride wanted this cake bad apparently because she played day and night, she played every waking moment, she played all the time it seemed. Even in my insomnia-rattled state, she was playing when I went to bed, and she was playing when I got up. And all the time, GLaDOS never shut up about that goddamn cake.

The Bride finally beat GLaDOS and was greeted with an amusing song by Jonathan Coulton, but not surprisingly, no cake. I had noticed The Bride having symptoms of withdrawl at that point so I bought her as a gift… Portal 2

And thus the cycle began anew… I hope there’s not a Portal 3

Still Old, and Still Not a Gamer

I launched this blog a couple weeks back and my good friend Terry helped promote it in various places, and I thank him for that, he’s a good guy.  He also brought up that I might be delusional in that I’m not the only forty-something who’s not a hardcore gamer.  I’m sure that’s absolutely true, but I’ll tell you, it doesn’t feel like it. 
I am a nerd, and a geek.  I have serious nerd/geek cred.  You’re not going to trip me up on any kind of comic book trivia – I challenge you.  As a matter of fact, I think I could give Mark Waid or Kurt Busiek or Bob Rozakis a run for their money.  Yeah, I am that damn good.  I know my geek pop culture too, the movies, the television, the books, the role-playing games.  I am as at home at a Doctor Who convention, a Star Trek convention, Gen Con or even San Diego as I am on my sofa.  I know my stuff.  But. 
When the conversation turns to gaming, electronic gaming, I am lost.  I might as well be your mother-in-law, you know what I mean?  I want to watch “Attack of the Show” and get all the references, ya know?  I don’t know thing one about World of Warcraft, I have never gotten through even the first Super Mario Bros., and, I confess, although it’s been in my home for weeks now – I still don’t know how to turn the PlayStation 3 on yet. 
It’s not cool to be left out of the conversation like that, especially if the previous topic was comics and I was ruling.  I don’t want to look confused while y’all talk about Portal and Lego Batman and why the DS is better than the Xbox (or vice versa).  I want to be in the conversation, I want to learn, I want to live.  I am prepared to become a gamer, I’m ready for this. 
Now can someone tell me how to turn this thing on please?