Valve Software advertised their release of Portal 2 using an Alternate Reality Game, or ARG. A series of puzzles led to a game that encouraged players to play a set of indie games in order to release the game early. The players participated, and Portal 2 was released 10 hours early.
A lot of people are upset about this.
At first I was really confused about how angry people were acting, even accounting for the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. Valve had put together a cool set of puzzles, offered a bunch of indie games for cheap, and then actually gave players a real-world reward for playing. However, I’ve realized that the displeasure the ARG created is due to a classic problem in game design: miscommunication leading to false expectations.
GameSetWatch just posted my latest article. It’s called “Interplay in Left 4 Dead,” and it’s about how the various kinds of enemies in that game interact to become stronger than the sum of their individual strengths.
L4D is such an astonishingly complex game. So much more can be said about it, and I expect to get at least one more post out about how the weapons all work together. This is a game that, like Portal, has clearly been fine-tuned and adjusted to a glossy finish. But while Portal was cut down and simplified to make it a smooth, well-crafted ride, L4D was cut down to a tangled knot of gameplay interactions, making it this chaotic, complicated, minute-to-learn-and-lifetime-to-master enigma of a game.
I’ve been playing a lot of Left 4 Dead lately. I got it in the recent weekend sale, and I can say with confidence that it’s the best co-op experience I’ve ever had. It’s got the typical Valve polish, it’s fun and funny, and the experience of finding, playing, and reminiscing about a play session is a complete joy. There’s an incredible amount to talk about here, from the way the setting is introduced through wall scrawlings to the way the game teaches you how to play. I’d love to see Richard Terrell do an article about the tactics and interplay of L4D. But I’m primarily a story guy, so I’m going to talk about the story.
Left 4 Dead is George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead as told by Samuel Beckett.