Clouding Judgement with trends and fads

I know the last time I posted I promised a week of Guitar Hero goodness, but I have to break the promise to rant about something else.

As you might have noticed, Portal has become something of the darling of the games industry right now. Everyone seems to be in love with it, which I am glad to see, as it truly is a remarkable game.

At the same time, I’m not glad to see it. I look at the videos of people’s best speed runs through Portal’s challenge levels, and I am amazed at how much power the simple portal concept has given gamers. The solutions you can find are incredible mixes of speed and creativity, and it fills my mind with a flurry of ideas for fast, visceral platforming levels using the portal gun.

But it is difficult to find much discussion along these lines. The only thing anyone seems to get out of Portal is the Weighted Companion Cube.

Time for me to be the bully – I think the Cube is retarded. The joke was slightly charming in the game, but in the end of the day it is a lifeless cube that some insane computer tricks you into believing is your pal. If you’re decent at the game the Cube is with you for a tiny fraction of it. It is one of the most minor and least important aspects of the game. Now it is the star.

I can understand that people love their Internet Memes. I can also see how easy the cube is as a target for a meme. With any luck, after everyone is done participating in the latest fad they’ll all go away and the real gamers can discuss Portal in depth. But it still bugs me about how shallow our hobby can be.

I am reminded once again of Katmari Damacy. I was so impressed with how fun its simple concept was, and how elegantly its graphics engine dealt with scale. It was a lonely, depressing game as you rolled everyone up until there was nothing left. I only know of a few places where people feel the same way about the game. To far more, Katamai is all about the wacky King of Cosmos and the wacky Japanese style. As more sequels came out, more and more we saw the King and attempts to be crazy and Japanese.

Guess who won out there? Namco has tried to beat all the artistic merit out of the original because we gave them the greenlight. I sincerely hope to see the Portal concept expanded on by Valve or someone else. I don’t want to see a game where the goal is to escort the Cube from start to end.

We can do better folks. We can do more than put passive silliness on a pedestal. To put it in a Portal perspective, you can have your cake, but there is much more to the gaming cuisine.

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16 years ago

The Weighted Companion Cube was given more “weight” in the game when GLaDOS mentions it at the end. She talks about how they were planning to have a party with all your friends, including Weighted Companion Cube, but he wasn’t going to make it, as you killed him (in record time, i might add). And then she taunts you in saying you have no friends. That you’re unlikable.

Although I see where you’re going with this, Valve did a good job in conveying the companion cube as a real person. Which is extremely weird, seeing as how it’s a cube with a heart on it. So it’s not really the gamers faults. Valve is just a superb story teller. And I’m sure that Valve is not as stupid as Namco. They are very consumer/fan-centric, yes, but their hearts are in the right places. Just listen to the developer commentary and you’ll see what I mean.

16 years ago

rather than the cube being a focus of the game (ie the star of the game over the game itself), more than that i think fans are using it as a link to the game. even if the weighted companion cube was the same or even more personified and more lovable, if portal sucked i dont think the cube would have been remembered. the weighted companion cube is only vaulted into its current position because of how good the game was.

16 years ago

I think you’re simply being too idealistic, Christian. Fans of any medium mostly discuss shallow things, and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that. Film guys discuss who was in what and what they wore and music buffs discuss what amps were used as frequently as the deeper implications of any given film or song. We may be interested in discovering the deeper meaning in a game but then I’ve seen forums that specialize in intellectual masturbation (not ironically at all, you pointed them out to me) and I’m not sure I want to hang out with those guys, either.

16 years ago

As you said, it is a lifeless cube that some insane computer tricks you into believing is your pal.

Most games I play can’t even trick you into caring about the living objects – people and pets – in their world. As far as I’m concerned, making gamers care for an inanimate cube is a _huge_ accomplishment, and deserves discussion.