From One End to the Other – Within the Same Game

There are two ways to play portal: 1. Shoot portals and solves puzzles 2. Analyze the game from a critical perspective, questioning all facets of the game. I had previously played Portal before, but had never really “played” it. On the first day of class Professor Sample stated that many people play video games, but … Continue reading “From One End to the Other – Within the Same Game”

There are two ways to play portal: 1. Shoot portals and solves puzzles 2. Analyze the game from a critical perspective, questioning all facets of the game. I had previously played Portal before, but had never really “played” it. On the first day of class Professor Sample stated that many people play video games, but very few understand them. Taking that message into account, I approached the game from an analytical viewpoint hoping to get something more than entertainment out of it. I succeeded.

I initially realized that playing the game on a Mac was horrendous. I am not sure if the specs of my MacBook Air were not good enough, but the game was at times hard to control and lag.  While this did not deter me from playing the game, I began to ask “Why are games like these most commonly better developed for game stations (Playstation, Xbox, PC) than portable devices? As someone who had only played it on the PS3 it never occurred to me that there were other versions of the game that were not as easy to play, or looked as good. This could perhaps speak to the capitalistic behavior that has infiltrated the video game industry: “console games are higher priced and should be prioritized”.

business-insider

A surprising finding within Portal was the “low-key” cruelty experienced in the game. Usually when playing a game I always observe events from my perspective, yet never take into account the character’s perspective. With Portal, I was able to realize that positioning yourself in the character’s seat unlock hidden meanings. Chell , the main character, is often told that there are consequences for failing and that she should not do so. This torture accompanied with the constant warning signs/depictions of possible dangers that one may encounter in a chamber (as seen below) demonstrate the darkness found in the rated “E for everyone” game.

original

The shocking realization further leads me to question every single other game I have ever played. Were there many signs/hints/hidden meanings that I did not pick up on simply because I just played the game instead of trying to understand it? Would I enjoy Black Ops 1  less if I was placed into the shoes of the consistently tortured Mason?

Through keen observation and change of perspective, I was able to see two different sides of Portal. The greatest satisfaction came from seeing two different sides of the same narrative, physical space, without having to jump from one portal to another.

#Portal #FirstPerson #futuristic #GLaDOS #POV

Platform and Gameplay

Through my initial play with Portal, one thing that stuck out to me is how the platform the game is played on can affect gameplay.  I played Portal on my laptop using a track pad and the ASWD keys.  I’ve rarely played games on the laptop and I struggled using these conventions because they differ from joystick … Continue reading Platform and Gameplay

Through my initial play with Portal, one thing that stuck out to me is how the platform the game is played on can affect gameplay.  I played Portal on my laptop using a track pad and the ASWD keys.  I’ve rarely played games on the laptop and I struggled using these conventions because they differ from joystick or game-console conventions on a controller.  Quick movements and precision aiming are more difficult with a trackpad.  It’s interesting to think about how these gameplay affordances of each platform may effect a player’s experience.  Although the plot, game-levels and story typically do not change by platform, the difficulty may change based on how well one can use the controls afforded by the platform. While using a trackpad, aiming the portal gun while the player is in motion which requires precision within a short period of time.  Multiple attempts of the same action may discourage the player, or interrupt the natural progression of the game.  While multiple attempts should be a part of gameplay and challenges can be what make a game fun, sometimes discontinuity in play may interrupt and take away from a gamer’s experience.

Different computer game controllers available.
Different computer game controllers available.

Another topic related to the affordances of the platform has to do with the layout of keys and buttons on a computer versus a hand-held, game console controller.   The convention for shooting a gun on a hand-held controller is typically the right trigger button which can be easily pressed with the right index finger.  Pressing this button is similar to pulling a real trigger (minus the end result) and makes sense from a conventional standpoint.  When moving to computer keys, this convention is not physically possible.  Pressing the space bar is equivalent to pulling the trigger in Portal.  Imagine if hand-held controllers had the same convention where clicking a button with your thumb was equivalent to ‘pulling the trigger.’  The layout of the keys and buttons alters the game play experience.  Now, it’s interesting to think how engrained the trigger button is on hand-held controllers and how the design of the controller probably adapted to the popularity of first person shooters over-time.  At some point, game console developers realized the importance of the conventions and adapted the controls to compliment the game-play actions.  As we continue through the course, it will be interesting to consider how other conventions on different platforms may work to afford different gameplay experiences.

Image link: https://www.chinawholesalegift.com/Electric-Gifts/Games/keyboard-game/Keyboard-game-161915540.htm

Retcon Artists

PC-gaming purists love to argue that the computer is the superior system for playing first-person games, which benefit from the laser like precision of a mouse and keyboard. Meanwhile, console fan-boys and -girls will themselves insist that an ergonomic controller offers a more comfortable experience, or that the vibrating “rumble” feature adds to a game’s immersion. Tactile differences … Continue reading Retcon Artists

PC-gaming purists love to argue that the computer is the superior system for playing first-person games, which benefit from the laser like precision of a mouse and keyboard. Meanwhile, console fan-boys and -girls will themselves insist that an ergonomic controller offers a more comfortable experience, or that the vibrating “rumble” feature adds to a game’s immersion. Tactile differences aside, playing Portal on a PlayStation 3 console is an objectively different experience from playing the PC version, for reasons embedded not in the hardware but in the game’s actual coded content. Granted, to even notice these differences one needs comprehensive knowledge of both versions of the game; indeed, on my own playthrough of the PS3 port, I had no idea that my game disc featured different content from the original, updated PC version.

I almost miss my blissful ignorance. Now that I’m aware of how the versions diverge, I’m left pondering a dizzying number of questions regarding digital authorship, the impossibility of locating (spatially or otherwise) the “original” Portal, and the point at which two branched works become their own entities. I’ll tackle of a few of these questions here. Full disclosure, though: if I said I could provide the answers, too, I’d be about as dishonest as GlaDOS promising cake to Chell.

Some of the differences between the two versions are truly minute and, I would argue, trivial. For one, the graphics and performance of the PC version are scalable according to the power of your machine. This means that a high-end “rig” can make this nearly decade-old game look pretty darn good by today’s standards, and will keep the game running smooth as butter start to finish. Meanwhile, the PS3 version is locked at a resolution and framerate suitable for the console’s relatively weak horsepower. I personally don’t think that the difference in graphical fidelity is anything to write home about, since most players would need to see both versions side-by-side to even notice a difference. Likewise, the difference between 30 and 60 frames-per-second is significant, but not enough to significantly impact gameplay (largely because Portal rarely demands time-precise inputs from the player).

So, Portal PC and Portal PS3 look and play similar enough at first glance. But PS3 players need not play for long before encountering technical issues and glitches that the PC version, which has received a number of online “patches” or updates over the years, is now largely immune from. During my first playthrough of Portal on PS3 (the only version I’ve played), I noticed a faint crackling sound in one of the early test chambers. It began as a soft white noise that I barely paid any mind to, thinking it was an ambient effect or else was coming from something besides my TV’s speakers. But as I triggered other in-game sounds, like firing my Portal gun or inciting new dialogue from GlaDOS, the static grew louder and sharper, until it matched the volume of the un-glitched audio. I stubbornly gave Valve (the game studio behind Portal) the benefit of the doubt and figured there was some deeper, narrative meaning to the static – maybe Chell was slowly losing her mind, or GlaDOS overflowing the chambers with noise to make her lose her mind. Well, within a few minutes I was starting to go a bit crazy myself, so I turned to the Internet and Googled “Portal PS3 audio static.”

It turns out that Valve’s port of The Orange Box (a collection of games containing PortalHalf-Life 2, and more) from the PC to the PS3 is ridden with issues; audiovisual glitches, framerate slowdowns, and long loading times are present in every game on the disc. What’s more, while Valve has released a handful updates for the Xbox 360 Orange Box and many more for the individual release on PC, they’ve left Playstation in the dust. Apart from one small patch in 2008 (which had unknown impacts on the games) the PS3 version plays exactly as it did on release.

This lack of support from Valve also explains the largest and most fascinating point of divergence between Portal on PC and Portal on PS3. I was suspicious when I overheard a classmate declare during our second game lab that their own game ends with Chell being dragged away, back toward the Aperture building. My own lab group had just cleared the game’s last chapter ourselves, and my PS3 definitely left Chell’s body motionless until the screen fades to black. Still, the alternate ending made sense with consideration to the game’s sequel, which has Chell still trapped inside Aperture. So, I turned again to the oracular Web and discovered that, sure enough, Valve slightly altered Portal‘s ending on PC in the months leading up to Portal 2‘s announcement. Of course, the PS3 never received the update, and thus still boasts the original (and somewhat more optimistic) closing scene.

Valve’s decision to “retcon”, or retroactively alter, Portal‘s ending points to, among other things, the studio’s conception of the fluidity of their game’s narrative and their own authority to mold it. That Valve opted to change the ending not through a tweet or blog post but with a full-on patch is particularly illuminating. I would argue that delivering the new ending with the same mechanism used to administer gameplay adjustments and bug fixes renders narrative in the same light as those elements. In digital games, narrative and gameplay elements alike are mutable, moldable, and never immune from being revised or removed entirely by their creators. Furthermore, Valve’s decision to overwrite the game’s closing moments (rather than offer the new scene as an alternate or supplemental option) is a serious assertion of their claimed authority to determine what is and is not “canon” for Portal‘s game-world. I have no doubt that many, if not most players have only seen one version of the game’s ending and are oblivious to the other’s existence. If not for the PS3 port’s functionality as an effective time capsule for the game’s original release, preservation of the “old” ending would rely on early players having backed up or otherwise documented their version of the game.

For a medium that so frequently emphasizes player autonomy, the modern, always-online video game places a great deal of power in the hands of the author.

Game Log #1 (Portal) – The Game About Games

As my group played through Portal during our game lab last week, it dawned on us that Portal is a game about games. Each level takes the form of a miniature puzzle game that the player must solve in order to progress. Furthermore, as GLaDOS chides the player and narratives the gameplay, it soon becomes apparent that … Continue reading Game Log #1 (Portal) – The Game About Games

As my group played through Portal during our game lab last week, it dawned on us that Portal is a game about games. Each level takes the form of a miniature puzzle game that the player must solve in order to progress. Furthermore, as GLaDOS chides the player and narratives the gameplay, it soon becomes apparent that your tests are a game to her as well. Despite GLaDOS’ monotone voice, her commentary indicates that she takes a sort of sick joy in watching the player struggle to solve her puzzles against their will. Therefore, the player spends much of Portal acutely aware that they are playing a game. GLaDOS’ comments like “this next test is impossible” solidify this fact, as the player knows in the back of their mind that the test cannot be impossible. Eventually, the game must be able to be completed because Portal is a winnable game. The player can spend most of Portal in this mindset, progressing forward with full knowledge of their role as the player of a game and without a true sense of immersion within the game’s world.

In this way, Portal lulls the player into a false sense of comfort. While the tests do increase in difficulty as the game progresses, the player still develops a set of expectations for the elements each level will contain (switches, turrets, cubes etc.). This, too, contributes to the player’s awareness of their role as the player of a game. However, GLaDOS’ attempt to murder Chell breaks apart Portal’s typical routine, and marks a major turning point in the player’s perception of their role within the game. At least in my experience, breaking out of the test chambers and progressing through Aperture Science’s abandoned back rooms marked the first moment in the game where I forgot I was a player. Instead, the shock of GLaDOS’ sudden betrayal rocketed me out of my comfort zone, and caused me to enter Chell’s shoes. Without the rules and GLaDOS’ commentary that had been so clearly and constantly present before, I found after completing Portal that the game’s final section engrossed me in a way that the earlier sections had not. For a little while, I felt like I was a test subject in the Enrichment Center that was no longer trying to progress through tests in some grander game. Instead, I was trying to survive.

Time is of the essence

The first critique I will make about the exercise is the conditioning that we received. I would have preferred that the activity be done in a way that we would have not known about the second step (rewriting) during the transcription phase. While doing the exercise, I found myself very conscious of my word selection […]

The first critique I will make about the exercise is the conditioning that we received. I would have preferred that the activity be done in a way that we would have not known about the second step (rewriting) during the transcription phase. While doing the exercise, I found myself very conscious of my word selection and sentence structure, which is not a bad nor good thing. During the speaking process,  I did not do much verbal “editing” but instead I would clarify a thought by continuing the story. Unlike speaking, writing gives us the ability to edit our thoughts by erasing and modifying until we are satisfied with what is written. We impose more filters on our written work than we do our oral presentations because editing is seen as an opportunity to refine our thoughts. As a writer, I find myself in high pressure situations whenever I have to write an essay or written piece because although editing is an opportunity, it can also be draining to know that I should take advantage of it to produce a work of high quality. The same pressure exists in an oral presentation, because the audience expects the presenter to come having already rehearsed the presentation until it has been mastered. Plato’s conversation with Phaedrus is a great complement to Walter J. Ong’s chapter in his book because it focuses more on the spontanaiety of the moment. How do we judge a presentation that is simultaneously being created at the same time? How does our judgement differ from reading a draft to reading the 5th draft from the same author? Does the ability to edit create a new meaning of text engagement?

Time is a very important concept that provides the underlying framework for oral and written work. In my AntConc results, my word count in the written piece was 20% higher than in the transcribed one. A written piece does not have a time constraint, and that allows us more time to use a wider range of vocabulary. I was not surprised to see that both I had the top 15 recurring words from both texts were almost the exact same: many pronouns and conjunctions were used. This was partly due to the fact that I was trying to rewrite the transcription word by word. The written part of the exercise was much more difficult because I did not want to be redundant nor could I remember well what I had said previously. Any repeated thought in the same written work is be considered taboo, because it doesn’t show progress in intellectual thought. Both Ong and Plato explored the concept of reputation in oral rhetoric and how that is an accepted form of communication. While looking at my data results, I was shocked to see how many more times the pronoun “I” apppeared written piece [Figure 1]. Using that pronoun in writing can give the piece an informal tone yet encourage more participatotion and not agonistic, which does not align with the Ong’s five qualities of a written text.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Although he wrote Orality and Literacy in 1982, I would add the transition from text to visuals as a new part of the chapter. Ong compared the art of oral rhetoric to the change of literary text. All of these forms requires a medium as its vehicle (oral: human voice :: text : paper or electronic text :: visual : paper or pixels). I think that orality is making a comeback by accompanying the growing dominance of visual communication. We see this trend in the remaking of books into movies, in which it is considered easier to transmit a message visually than textually. How does this change the demand for text? Does the word “multimedia” encompass this new transition? But most importantly, what is lost in translation?

 

 

References:

Walter J. Ong, “Writing Restructures Consciousness” in Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, New Accents (London ; New York: Methuen, 1982)

Plato Phaedrus, Oxford World’s Classics

GLaDOS’ Unstoppable Surveillance

After 2 game labs, and at home sessions, this gaming session was the first time that I really enjoyed playing Portal. In just one sitting I played double the amount of total time I had previously played. I definitely become more immersed and invested in a video game after I have become familiarized with its…

After 2 game labs, and at home sessions, this gaming session was the first time that I really enjoyed playing Portal. In just one sitting I played double the amount of total time I had previously played. I definitely become more immersed and invested in a video game after I have become familiarized with its modes of play. I struggle with being thrown into new worlds on a whim and adopting the set of rules and goals specific to that place. I think this is part of why I don’t play many video games. However, I am glad that the required playing time for Portal has fostered a greater interest and appreciation in me.

This time around I did something I had never done before (nor seen anyone in class do.) I shot my portal gun at the video cameras in the test chamber. GLaDOS did not appreciate this. Each time I dislodged a video camera, she had something to say. Some examples are phrases like:

“For your own safety, do not destroy testing equipment.”

“Facility equipment may be vital to your success, please do not destroy it.”

She says these things very matter of factly, and they sound true (this is of course before she turns on the player.) This kind of programmed in response of the game increases the reality of it, allowing the player to move deeper into the space. It also reinforced this idea of surveillance.  Even when I destroyed the cameras in a testing chamber, GLaDOS could still watch my every move and comment on it. GLaDOS is watching you, but it’s for your own good. This (GLaDOS’ unstoppable surveillance) is something that maybe could clue a player in to the ending of the game. It seems that the farther one digs in Portal, the more obvious and inevitable the truth of the ending becomes.

After dislodging the cameras from the wall, I attempted to pick them up and place them on a button to open up a corridor passageway. I was able to pick up the camera and drop them on the buttons, but one camera would not hold it down. I tried adding a second one, but that did not work either. In that particular test chamber (I can’t recall the number) I was unable to locate a third camera, but I’m wondering if a third, fourth, or fifth additional camera would’ve made a difference or if the game just doesn’t work that way. I was surprised that GLaDOS had no comment on my attempts to activate the button with the cameras as well.