RPS Advent Game-o-Calendar: December 24th

By RPS on December 24th, 2007 at 3:23 pm.

But one door remains on our RPS-approved fairtrade advent calendar. Behind it lurks the truth, the wonderful, chocolately truth. Our game of the year. And, thank heavens, the end of about half a dozen increasingly laboured running gags. Oh, lawks. We’re going to have to think up new jokes next year, aren’t we? Aaargh.

It’s okay. Let’s not think about tomorrow just yet. Let’s think about right now, and the game behind this final, inviting flap of coloured tree-pulp:

Would you kindly open this calendar?

Whatever could it be? Last chance to guess. The clues are all there. It’s a door, after all. Or, to put it another way…

..it’s a Portal! And a game so delightful we could just eat it right up. Om nom nom nom. Sorry, Fairtrade. We don’t want your chocolate today. We want cake.

John:

That a sub-three hour game, a re-make of a student project, something that was almost bonus content in a game release of two long-anticipated games, should be the best game of 2007 is… well it’s just great, really.

It has so much to say about our expectations and needs from a game. It’s a piece of gargantuan proof that we’re not a bunch of graphics suckers, slathering after the latest shader effects and realistic sub machine guns. We’re gamers, and our love is playing games. Really, really good games.

Often times a game will get a little bit more attention than it deserves thanks to a particular gimmick, that with the passing of time will fade, the game losing its edge in our memory. But I believe Portal completely transcends this. Portal will be remembered for its song. It will be remembered for its cube with a heart on it. It will be remembered for its voice acting. It will be remembered for its exemplary script. It will be remembered for GLaDOS. It will be remembered for a brand new game dynamic. It will be remembered for exquisite level design. It will be remembered for a near-perfect difficulty curve. It will be remembered for a fabulous twist. It will be remembered for an elegant and minimalist design. It will be remembered.

In under three hours, it has all this. Peculiarly, since it’s developed by a new, fledgling team and is mostly a new license, Portal stands out as the pinnacle of what it is that Valve does right. It’s a game that couldn’t possibly have worked, perhaps even have existed, without having been constantly play-tested during development. It’s surely something that could never have received the budget, and most of all time, for a short-length game anywhere else. And it could never have received the public attention it deserved without being smuggled to us between the most anticipated online shooter in a decade, and the latest instalment in the best first-person shooter series of all time.

My big hope is that by this smuggling, Portal will have torn an opening that will allow other short-length, high-concept games to receive the support they require to reach gamers.

Portal makes me feel proud of gamers. It has been loved exactly as much as it deserves to be. It has had the fuss made of it that something so joyful and superb absolutely should have. That a cube with a heart on it captured the imaginations of my fellow gamers makes me feel safer in their company. It’s a single-player game that’s made me feel much more a part of a community than any multiplayer game ever has. We came together in a group hug of delight, all realising that we were all loving it as much as each other, and then just revelling in silly pleasure in response to this. Hell, I painted my freezer in response to this game, but only because so many others were doing so many silly things too. Big, big love to Portal.

Jim:

With its fairytale “Making Of” story, fearless delivery, and astoundingly funny script, Portal might just be the greatest game of 2007. If it hadn’t been for Stalker’s esoteric messiness, Portal would be my game of the year.

The Orange Box was a bit like Valve showing off anyway – another brilliant Half-Life episode, and the best PC multiplayer game this year, all topped off with a first-person puzzle game the likes of which we have never seen before. Come on, Valve. Stop hogging all the toys! Let someone else have a go at being the best PC games developer… Or don’t, actually. It’s fine: keeping on knocking out the masterpieces, we need something to totally validate gaming as a fresh new medium, don’t we?

Between Portal, Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2 and the entire Steam system, Valve have quietly crowned themselves as the most important developer in PC gaming. They’re making sure our gaming format has a future, while at the same time consolidating the all-important past. The PC, more than any other retro-digging format, has a continuum of gaming evolution that is being promoted and preserved by Steam’s digital library. While everyone has been banging on about Blizzard’s gigantic financial and social success with World Of Warcraft, it might just be Valve that makes the PC the most interesting gaming platform in the world. Keep it up, guys. The entire gaming world is watching.

Kieron:

Well, there’s not much relevant to say except “me too”. Between John and Jim, the key things about Portal have been covered. That it was innovative, except in a way which no-one was quite expecting (Having one of the most novel gaming mechanics of recent years is a great red-herring). That it’s indie-kids get snapped up by world’s best developer, put in a cage with two of the most anticipated things of the year and come out the winner is a run-away success story worthy of cinematic immortalisation – Cool RUNings or something. That it may have even invented a new paradigm for gaming – it’s the first three hour game no-one with a heart cared about being three hours, because it was perfectly formed and sold at an appropriate value (We used to have a lot of novel art games back in the day of the Spectrum, with a limited mechanic, but no-one cared as they were three bob or something). That Valve reaffirming themselves as the current heavyweight game development champs. And GlaDOS and the song and the black comedy and Companion Cube and all the rest, obviously.

But even me sharing opinions with Walker and Jim makes me realise why it had to be our game of the year. It’s the only thing we agreed on, pretty much 100%. Jim would have gone for STALKER. Alec for TF2. But we could all crowd around Portal, and nod approvingly. That’s a computer game. That something so novel, so unique and unprecedented (in any meaningful way, pedant) managed to bring us all together, is something of a Christmas miracle.

Oh yeah – one final note. In my other life as a music writer, I do an end-of-year track round-up, where I blather on in an increasingly masturbatory fashion about my favourite stuff of the year. Still Alive will be the first time anything touched by videogames will find its way in, and that it was able to leap elegantly across my media-discourse is a sign of its supreme cultural literacy.

Portal’s really neat. And Valve can stick that on the box, if they like.

Oh yeah – THIS WAS A TRIUMPH, etc, etc.

Alec:

Before Portal, the closest gaming really had to cool – in an omnimedia, zeitgeisty, scenesterish kinda way – was Vice City-era Rockstar, and even that always carried the hallmarks of odious self-satisfaction. Before this, much as PC gamers adored Valve, they just weren’t cool. They made games about machine guns and space aliens and soldiers versus terrorists – for all their polish, the Half-Lives were made to exactly the formula that keeps so much of the world erroneously convinced that gaming’s a nerdy pursuit for passive-aggressive misanthropes.

Three hours of puzzles, wit and non-violence transformed a ten-year-old company formed by multi-millionaires who wanted to make shooting games into something that now’s discussed with the same sort of awe and envy as Factory Records or Rolling Stone magazine was in its heydey – or, again, Rockstar. Everything they do, even a 30-second Christmas video, is greeted as a gift from the gods of Cool itself. So many people briefly defined themselves by Portal and its trappings, but in a self-aware, let’s-all-laugh-together way the guys who define themselves by Final Fantasy VII or Halo really don’t. And for all that, there’s something refreshingly human about Valve, these surprise trendsetters. Their intermittent, ominous facelessness aside, there’s a sense they’re just like us gamers, only infinitely more talented. They’re enjoying themselves, and they’re enjoying entertaining us.

And never is that more obvious than in Portal. It’s a game that could so very easily have felt austere or one-trick or over-serious or heavy with smugness. Instead, we got a trained opera singer voicing a homicidal AI prone to speaking like a mallrat.

I don’t have enough faith in the big publishers that govern the gaming industry on its widest level to honestly believe Portal will change anything, but I can break through my cynicism enough to say Portal could change everything. Say what you want about Bioshock increasing the odds of a smarter gaming future (and it does), but it still adheres to to an ancient formula underneath all its fancy clothes and cleverthinks. This is the triumph – one of intelligence, humour and experimentation, and even of the oft-maligned episodic structure. It’s proven conclusively, spectacularly that there is an audience for games that go to places we haven’t already visited a hundred thousand times over. It’s not quite my favourite game of the year, but it’s the one I’m most glad exists.

One more time, now:

Thanks, Valve. Thalve.

, .

66 Comments »

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  1. zaptrack says:

    I’m making a note here: HUGE SUCESS.

  2. The Unsung Hero says:

    It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction with this game!

    I was expecting half life 2 ep2 to steal the show when I finally got around to downloading the orange box, but this was awesome. Pretty much everyone in the house likes it (except my dad, but he’s a technophobic misanthrope).

    It was a bit easy though. More please valve!

  3. Antonius says:

    It’s Hard to Overstate My Satisfaction.

  4. GB says:

    Fantastic game in every respect. Bless you, Valve.

    Blalve.

  5. endorphine says:

    Now, these points of data
    make a beautiful line.

  6. danny says:

    Aperture Science
    we do what we must because we can
    for the good of all of us
    except the ones who are dead

  7. Ben Hazell says:

    It’s a beautiful neat thing.

    (Jim’s still right about stalker though)

  8. SuperMatt says:

    While reading this, I suddenly thought ‘why hasn’t the mainstream press noticed this game?’

    This is the best game of the year, it’s relatively inexpensive, but it doesn’t involve shooting anyone! It’s all about using your brain for getting from point a to point b. It’s the argument for gaming to counteract the GTAs and the Manhunts of the world.

    But what can gamers do to make the daily mail pull their fingers out of their ears and listen?

  9. Bozzley says:

    And a Look Around You reference at the end. Cheers! :D

  10. dhex says:

    as for being relatively inexpensive, i thought you only get it by buying the orange box? (i.e. there’s no retail package of just portal)

    you can get it solo via steam. $19.95 isn’t bad, though it might be a tad high for really cute story.

  11. Monkfish says:

    This is the game that really made 2007 the best year for games (PC or otherwise) I’ve witnessed in a very, very long time.

    It’s the game that has something for everyone (and I do mean everyone) – there’s hardly a bad word said or written about this game anywhere. Everyone loves Portal.

    It’s been a long time since a game had so much personality and so much passion given to it. It’s definitely Valve’s finest hour, and their most rounded game to date. And you know what? They won’t sit back and let smugness consume them, oh no. Valve will most definitely take all the ingredients that worked in Portal, and make them work that bit harder. Without raising my expectations too much, I know I can’t wait for whatever Valve follow this up with.

    So, thanks, Valve. Thanks, Ellen McLain. Thanks, Weighted Companion Cube. Thanks, RPS (and all of my fellow commenters).

    Merry Christmas to each and every one of you…

  12. Kieron Gillen says:

    dhex: Same price as a DVD? With a similar amount of extras. Sounds about right…

    KG

  13. Briosafreak says:

    Arghh, I hate to agree with everyone.

    Oh well

  14. Andrew Mayer says:

    I think it’s going to take a long time to recognize the full impact that this game is having on the industry.

  15. Kieron Gillen says:

    I think that’s fine – it took at least 2 years for the original HL to have any impact in terms of FPS design.

    (For obvious reasons)

    KG

  16. Kieron Gillen says:

    (Idea just as I’m leaving the house for Xmas, offered unexamined: Everyone spends time wondering where our Citizen Kane is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if our Wizard of Oz turned up instead…

    KG

  17. SuperMatt says:

    I was just wondering if this was our Citizen Kane (a film sitting in my dvd collection but remains unwatched). I don’t think it is, but it’s certainly not far off. It’s been a good year for gaming, but we’ve only just made the transition to talkies.

  18. dhex says:

    dhex: Same price as a DVD? With a similar amount of extras. Sounds about right…

    i think as a steam purchase it’s just about the right price point, but i was kind of annoyed that i had to buy the orange box to get episode 2, rather than buying things on their own. i still would have bought portal, despite not being good at puzzle games (i.e. it was fun, i loved the voice acting, but the actual mechanics were a bit beyond me).

    still, a retail package that sold for 19.95 or better yet 14.95 i think would destroy, rather than only reaching people who would buy the orange box for tf2 or ep2 or whatever.

  19. dartt says:

    Great work with the Game-o-Calendar, it’s been great fun turning up to read some insightful and fun writing about this years top games. I for one look forward to next years.

    OM NOM NOM NOM!

  20. Masked Dave says:

    “But what can gamers do to make the daily mail pull their fingers out of their ears and listen?”

    You’re crediting the Daily Mail with an editorial position that can be challenged and a desire to inform. Unfortunately they couldn’t give two shits about anything except selling papers, and sensationalist scaremongering does that. ‘BAN THIS SICK FILTH’ sells, ‘FINALLY, A NICE GAME’ doesn’t.

  21. Xagarath says:

    Portal is by far the finest expression of games as an artistic medium we’ve yet had. I maybe wouldn’t call it a Citizen Kane, but the comparison is a valid one, in that both showed a realisation of how their respective media should be used for narrative that went beyond anything done before.
    Best pc game since Half-Life 2. Fair candidate for best game on any format since then.

  22. Masked Dave says:

    I thought the Orange Box was amazing value for money. For the price of one retail game you get five. Of the best games ever made. How the hell do you complain about that?

  23. Qjuad says:

    This was a triumph.

  24. Chris R says:

    Don’t forget the VGcats video of Still Alive, funny stuff:

    http://www.vgcats.com/comics/extras/stillalive.php

  25. Matt says:

    It is a fun large scale puzzle game, with some good humour and nice touches. Comparisons to Citizen Kane (in the context it is being used here) or great works of art, are a little extreme, as is the use of Citizen Kane as a benchmark really, it is a great movie but there are lots of great movies. As is calling it the finest expression of games as an artistic medium, a statement that is hard to truly qualify when you try to.

    It is a good game and one of the best of the year but lets not get too carried away.

  26. Kast says:

    I’m sorry, could anyone explain the Citizen Kane comparison? I’m not familiar with the film, nor it’s effect/influence upon the film industry.

  27. Matt says:

    In the simplest terms it is a 1941 Film directed by and starring Orson Welles, in which he used many innovative camera techniques and special effects to create a film about a media mogul’s life. Even more amazing that he was only 25 when he made it.

    It has over the years regularly been credited as being the greatest movie of all time in lists of the top 100 films and similar things. This is not an axiom however, you can no more name the greatest movie of all time than you can the greatest piece of music or the greatest painting. But it is certainly a brilliant film.

  28. Chis says:

    Stop saying Om Nom Nom, please. You all sound very childish.

    Still Alive has one of the most irritatingly memorable melodies ever. I’m still in two minds whether I should have muted my hi-fi whilst watching the Portal ending…

  29. Bozzley says:

    Apologies for drunken ranting, but you know this is true: Portal is the best thing to happen to games this year. It’s the best thing to happen to anyone who finished it this year, in a games-related sense.

    Anyone who disagrees can fuck off right now.

    Merry Xmas :D

  30. Pidesco says:

    One day people will wake up and realize that Half Life is the most overrated game thing ever.

    Also, Portal is great fun. It is not a great work of art, however.

  31. Garth says:

    Given your description of Citizen Kane, that actually made me think Portal is like it.

    I’m not a fan of the shorter games thing, but if it creates more games like Portal, I will be happy.

  32. SwiftRanger says:

    Portal is very good and one of the most remarkable experiences of the year but I would be careful with jumping on the love/hype train and calling it the pinnacle of everything we’ve seen up until now. It’s too short and too linear for that if you ask me. With all these positive responses and originality awards though I can only hope Valve will make a big game out of this, not another “short”.

    Off-topic: no SupCom love at all in this 24 games list (or on the site in general)? Well, hopefully you lads make a New Year Game-O-Calendar article series then for the remaining days of this year. :)

  33. Xagarath says:

    Citizen Kane’s biggest influence was probably a technical one- namely just how a camera could be used.
    Compare a film made before it with one made in, say, the early 50s, and there is a gigantic difference in the sophistication of the cinematography.

    As for my earlier statement being hard to qualify- frankly, I’d disagree. See, just as Citizen Kane showed how a film could be used for narrative in a way other media couldn’t, so does Portal- by telling the narrative as much through the gameplay as any overbearing story forced upon the player. By not trying to replicate the narrative structure of a film, and instead realising something that would not work, as a story, quite as well in any other form I am entirely confident in calling it gaming’s greatest artistic achievement so far.
    It’s not the story, but how it’s told. That was Citizen Kane’s achievement, and it’s Portal’s.

  34. Xagarath says:

    On another note, I’d say that shorter is exactly what games need to be. While those of with time to pay them may appreciate 15 or 30-hour epics (and I count myself among this number), it does the medium no good at all from an artistic standpoint. If a film, novel, play, painting or piece of music can achieve subtle and layered meaning in a quantity of content equivalent to an hour or two, why shouldn’t games? All the additional “gameplay” gives us more to do, true, but if the game is trying to achieve anything other than pure escapism I feel it actually often gets in the way.

  35. Dracko says:

    Pidesco: Now tell us how you really feel!

  36. Matt says:

    But what about Murnau, D. W. Griffith, Fritz Lang, Luis Buñuel, Howard Hawks, Jean Renoir, Ernst Lubitsch? All these directors were making films that demonstrated how film could be used to tell stories in new ways before Citizen Kane and many techniques these directors used, were used in citizen Kane. It just isn’t possible to make such absolute statements about any single film.

    I cannot see how Portal is as great as you seem to be claiming myself at least not in the way you seem to suggest, or how it really compares to Citizen Kane. Lets be clear I am not saying portal is bad by any means, I just think people are perhaps being a little hyberbolic.

    And I just can’t see Portal as a great work of art myself.

  37. Martin Coxall says:

    hooray!

    RPS don’t smell of wee or pop and can have gifts from Santa for making the correct GotY ’07.

  38. Alec Meer says:

    A pox on Gillen for raising the ever-exasperating spectre of Where Is The Citizen Kane Of Gaming, then splitting for Chrimbo. Careless talk costs lives…

  39. Matt says:

    Yes what I meant to say was, yeah Portal was quite fun. Merry Christmas!

  40. LinK says:

    Portal was the first game I played from the orange box – my thought process being I should savour ep2 and play at a later date.

    It made me feel like I was clever; like I could master any puzzle (or energy ball) thrown at me, and could master any throwing about of myself that happened on the way.

    I realise from the commentary that this was of course Valve toying with me. This was how I was meant to feel, the difficulty curve as you say was perfect. My companion cube was perfect too! (until it was destroyed by some idiot)

    Portal isn’t my game of the year (tf2), but I’m really glad you could all agree it was yours!

  41. Xagarath says:

    Murnau, Lang and Bunuel developed the concept of narrative in film in ways Kane built on, yes, but Kane combined a great many disparate elements to a level that had not been seen before. The same is true of Portal. None of its narrative ideas are new, but it brings them together with a confidence and sophistication that has not before been done.

  42. Matt says:

    Really that is quite an unqualified statement, this isn’t going to be resolved on here. It is a much longer debate that would require going in to some depth to discuss, and I doubt most of the people here would be interested in two people discussing a film on a gaming blog and further.

    If Portal combines complex techniques in a way no other game has done before, they must be going over my head because I see it as a fairly simple but solid game, with some well written humour I can’t think of any specific elements that support your argument.

    Now I think I’ll go enjoy Christmas instead of boring people further.

  43. Mickiscoole says:

    “the Half-Lives were made to exactly the formula that keeps so much of the world erroneously convinced that gaming’s a nerdy pursuit for passive-aggressive misanthropes.”
    Incorrect. They practically made the formula.

  44. Stew says:

    And when you are dying I’ll be still alive.

  45. Dr Snofeld says:

    And when you’re dead I will be
    Still Alive

    Still Alive

    Still Alive

  46. roBurky says:

    Kieron: I think I get what Citizen Kane was for film, but what was Wizard of Oz?

  47. dhex says:

    I thought the Orange Box was amazing value for money. For the price of one retail game you get five. Of the best games ever made. How the hell do you complain about that?

    since i did the complaining i’ll field this – i already owned half life 2 and episode one and had no real urge to play team fortress 2. so i overpaid at least five bucks (and maybe ten, if one thinks of episode 2 as selling at 19.95 rather than 24.95 USD) to basically play episode 2, with portal thrown in there because i gotta support my indie-tizzles.

    \oOo/

    ahem.

    a minor complaint, mind you, but still. for all the neat things steam does with pricing and availability (aka keeping old games alive), this was kinda lame.

    a random christmas thought:
    instead of waiting for the citizen kane of gaming, shouldn’t we be waiting for the world series of poker of gaming, i.e. a game that gets so many people involved who never had been before that it becomes a cultural phenomenon?

    on that note, from the land of pizza and once-reasonable handgun laws (outside of vermont and alaska), god bless all of you in the land of tiny tim and beyond.

  48. Dracko says:

    dhex: We already have that. It’s online poker!

    Who says a game needs to be plot-based anyway?

  49. Nobby says:

    a random christmas thought:
    instead of waiting for the citizen kane of gaming, shouldn’t we be waiting for the world series of poker of gaming, i.e. a game that gets so many people involved who never had been before that it becomes a cultural phenomenon?”

    The Sims?

  50. Monkfish says:

    Portal’s now only $17.95 in the newly announced Steam Christmas Sale (and Peggle Deluxe cut to $9.95 from $19.95!). There be bargains aplenty.

    This will be a really merry Christmas thanks to our friends at Valve! :)