Thursday, January 10, 2008

Valve's Portal - Best Game of the Holiday - and THAT song...

I was going to post a review of Valve's Portal, part of The Orange Box, but I'm not a good review writer so I'll link to a couple of good reviews instead:

All I'll say is I played it all day in one go (it isn't very long) and I was comepletely blown away, the most fun I've ever had in a game. I'd like to try and explain that to non-game players, if you are a gamer and haven't played it yet please don't read this blog, it really will spoil the surprise... (also, what the hell are you waiting for? Buy and download Portal from Steam!)

Portal is not a simple 3D puzzle game as it is billed, and how it starts, but something far more sinister. The puzzles are really a test being performed on you in some kind of millitary weapons reasearch test centre and failure is fatal. The game gradually tansitions from a linear set of 18 puzzles into to creepy sci-fi survival horror, with a large dose of black comedy. From the start you are instructed by a recorded female voice (you later learn this is not a recording but an A.I. monitoring your progress called "GlaDOS"), then as the levels progress you start to see evidence that the test centre, and the A.I., are not well maintained: broken equipment, dirt, gaps in walls. A real eye opener is when you actually find some loose blocks and you can step outside the test area into a small area of dirty scafolding, locked metal doors, empty paint pots and coffee cups, a transistor radio (left on by fleeing workers?) and some disturbing graffitti. By the time you get to the last test you are seeking ways to escape! Sure enough GlaDOS's promises of cake and a big party on completion of the tests turn out to be lies, and "she" tries to kill you!

What follows is probably some of the best one-sided, passive-agressive, psychotic, black comedy dialogs I have ever heard. Never has a game given me goosebumps, creeped me out and made me laugh out loud at the same time. While you try to escape through a massive, dark, industrial, and dangerous "back stage" maze of pipes, wires, scafolding, machines, and deserted offices, GlaDOS is monitoring your moves, taunting you with bad advice, trying (hilariously) to persuade you to kill yourself. GlaDOS's constant chatter is both disturbing and hilarious, at one point she says "what you are doing is wrong, unlike you, I can feel pain". She also claims, "if you were a good person you wouldn't be here" (having weapons testing on you?). It is all rather like the scene in 2001 a Space Odesy where HAL9000 tries to persuade the very mute Dave not to switch him off. Finally when you defeat GlaDOS, you escape the testing centre, and the game ends.

Then you hear that song, by now the most famous video game music ever, for the end credits.

The song was so good I watched the end credits in rapt awe and want back to the last save point before I defeated GlaDOS, and fought through, just so I could listen to the song one more time.

"Still Alive" was written by Jonathan Coulton a "nerk folk" singer of growing repute, and sung in the game by voice actress Ellen McLain who is the voice of GlaDOS throughout the game. So bear in mind the song is sung from the villian's point of view. Now that you know the context, I encourage you to listen to the words carefully. This is GlaDOS, announcing she is "Still Alive", psychotic as ever and not even slightly penitent about her actions! It is equally creepy and funny, while on one hand you deplore her machivellian attitude ("for the people who are still alive"?!) on the other hand you can't help but feel some empathy for an obviously lonely, isolated and essentially empathy-free intelligence.

(You need Flash for this to work, if the Video still doesn't work, try this link instead: or search for Portal on YouTube)

If you liked that, you can find a bit more of the story of the song and how it came about in this interview with Jonathon Coulton in CVG. You should also check out his webpage, I particularly like the song Code Monkey, which you can listen to here, probably the saddest and funniest song of unrequited nerd love ever sung.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hehe, that end song is pretty cool. There is some great Portal stuff out their, I'm liking Values Portal shirts and also these [url=]Portal Shirts[/url]

6:09 p.m., April 07, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you means these Portal Shirts

Yep, cool shirts.

6:11 p.m., April 07, 2008  

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