Valve Announce Potato Sack Reunion: Oh Boy

By John Walker on June 13th, 2012 at 9:11 am.

I don't think this ends well.

The Potato Sack Reunion? The last time Valve had a bunch of indie games at reduced prices on Steam, linked together by a potato-themed sack, it led to the clusterfuck that was the Portal 2 ARG. Despite the last deal perhaps having left a somewhat sour memory in some people’s minds, they’re repeating it with a collection of 13 indie games for £14.99. But, why?

So you’ve got 1…2…3.. KICK IT!, AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!, Amnesia, AudioSurf, BIT.TRIP BEAT, Cogs, Defense Grid: The Awakening, Killing Floor, RUSH, Super Meat Boy, The Ball, The Wonderful End Of The World, and Toki Tori in there, worth £54.37 individually. So it’s a pretty decent deal, and each game can be gifted if it’s already in your collection. Which is pretty likely, since this is a rather dated collection of games, really. But there’s the big question: why?

Last time we saw all the involved games adding potato-themed extras into their games, with the peculiar involvement of GLaDOS, all with the idea that successfully completing each game would lead to Portal 2 coming out early. However, many speculated that this didn’t lead to any meaningfully earlier release, the difference coming down to hours rather than the days people had believed it would be. There was much anger, some perhaps even deserved.

So it’s repeating. Last time it went: Potato Sack launches, countdown timer appears, at the end of the timer there’s a challenge to play all the games enough to release Portal 2 early, Portal 2 then comes out about five minutes early, everyone gets incredibly angry until they play Portal 2 and realise it’s brilliant.

Which asks a few questions:

1) Are they about to release a new game? If so, which? The use of a potato seems to suggest it’s Portal related, but then that would be attributing logic to Valve – a mistake.

2) Are they about to try another ARG? If so, oh God, please, no. You’re no good at it Valve – you involve about 17 hardcore people, and everyone else stares on, alienated, and then gets annoyed by the inevitably anticlimactic denouement.

3) Will the games be changing their content again? They’re mostly pretty old games, and they’re mostly developers who previously added Portal-themed content to their games as part of the last promotion – picking that lot again makes it seem possible they’re hoping to do something similar. Then again, perhaps they’re just doing a favour for those developers who put all the effort in a year back.

4) Will the internet explode into a rage-guff of epic proportions?

5) Is this just a bunch of cheap indie games, since the offer ends at 4pm tomorrow?

I command you to speculate.

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133 Comments »

  1. Wolfman says:

    Warface?

  2. jph330 says:

    “but then that would be attributing logic to Valve – a mistake.”

    Excuse me, what?

    • Cameron says:

      I think they were going for “Trying to predict Valve’s logic is a mistake” rather than accusing Valve of lacking any logic whatsoever. Though I could be mistaken, as don’t make any claims to be able to understand journalist logic.

    • Dana says:

      Decision making in Valve looks something like this:

  3. samsharp99 says:

    I thought the ARG was really interesting! I didn’t take part, and you’re right that a small few number of people can actually contribute to solving the puzzles but it was really interesting to follow.

    • hellboy says:

      Yep, ARG seemed alright to me. And the developers probably made a bundle too!

      • Niche93 says:

        Chiming in to agree! I loved watching the ARG and I even joined the IRC at one point (and didn’t contribute anything, but that’s besides the point). It was actually really really well made – anyone remember the part where that guy climbed that pole? Amazing.

        • MadTinkerer says:

          Indeed, I had fun just watching the proceedings.

          • EhsanKia says:

            While the puzzles themselves might’ve been too hard for most to solve, there was still activities for everyone to participate in. All the game content were available to everyone owning the pack, and they were like free DLCs ranging from 10 minutes to 2 hour of gameplay and portal related fun, in 13 fairly unique and different game.

            So it wasn’t just watching other people solve super hard ciphers, there was fun in there for everyone. But even the hard puzzles, of course not everyone will know the answer to all of it, but that’s what the power of the community is. Each person might be able to contribute in one specific place. I for example had the idea to use the numbers found somewhere in Google Maps and found TwoTribes studio, where the guy went and visited to find a clue. I also helped with a couple photoshops. Each person has his own set of skills, and while you might not solve all of it, there was still things to do for anyone dedicated enough.

        • Jake_R says:

          ‘The guy who climbed the pole’ would be me – thanks for remembering me, you just made my day. =)

          I just registered for RPS to say that the ARG was completely open to anybody who was willing to participate, and that the wiki that people set up had a to-do list, a short introduction as to what was going on, a history of what had happened until then and more so that everybody willing to put some time and effort into it could join. “Time and effort” at times being as much as 15-30 minutes of playing a game. For fun, you know.

          If 15-30 minutes of spare time spent in a fun way (on a cheap indie game) is “hardcore” nowadays, I don’t dare thinking about what “casual” might be.

          • RvLeshrac says:

            The problem is that many of the puzzles involved advanced cryptanalysis, or were regional. When you have fans all over the world, the vast majority of us are pretty clearly going to feel left out when we don’t have degrees from MIT or happen to have been born in the right city.

          • Jake_R says:

            Hardly any of the puzzles were regional – in fact, far less so than many other ARGs out there. This ARG did not contain geocaching, answering random phones all over the US (note how Europe and other places are usually skipped entirely), etc.

            And while a lot of the solutions of puzzles were through cryptography, they had to be found first. Finding the puzzles (or clues), organising them, confirming them, and generally having a good time communicating with all the ARG players was at least as important as finding the answers. And all this took more than just 18 or so players – far more, in fact, once Defense Grid had a puzzle that required dozens of people to get through a selection based on Steam ID. This didn’t require any cryptography, it just required us to work together.

            I can understand it may have looked like heavy and complicated mathemagics by just a few, I advise you to keep an eye out for the next ARG. They’re not nearly as complicated to join as you might expect.

    • Guhndahb says:

      I agree. I do see John’s point, in that only the really hardcore could make significant contributions. But there was little barrier keeping anyone from going that extra mile should they choose. It was the sheer difficulty and complexity involved that made it so great. And as for me, I just enjoyed watching the fun and marveling at the ingenuity of Value, the cooperating devs, and the ARG contributors. Personally I think their ARGs are pretty great.

      • RvLeshrac says:

        There was a barrier. The barrier was having the tools and training necessary to, say, determine that an audio transmission was actually a really old form of data transmission, convert it to data, determine what kind of file it is, then decipher the message hidden in the image. Most people give up at the first step and don’t come back for later, easier steps because they figure it isn’t going to get any easier than the beginning.

    • skalpadda says:

      I think John may have read too many comment threads at the time. Or perhaps he’s secretly a boring poo-poo face.

  4. Crimsoneer says:

    I think it’s just a pre-summer reunion.

  5. Cameron says:

    “All I know is that my gut says maybe!”

  6. qrter says:

    I’m sort of surprised by your negative stance towards last year’s Potato Sack shenanigans, John – I thought it was good fun, myself.

    I didn’t really care about whether the game was released any earlier, but the whole meta-game was quite nice, especially when special bits were added to games.

    • Yachmenev says:

      John has seemed quite annoyed and angry in a lot of articles lately. I think it´s his way of saying that he wants hugs from all of us.

      • Niche93 says:

        HUUUUUUUUUUGSSSS and kisses to John! <3

        • neonordnance says:

          Can’t give hugs without confirming british stereotype of touchy-feely americans.

          No hugs for you :-P

      • SketchyGalore says:

        I’m glad I’m not the only person to notice this. Sorry to say it, but John has been my primary supplier of eye-rolling reactions this year. While most of RPS is “Yay, computer games!”, his articles are almost invariably “Boo, computer games!”. In a world that doesn’t let me play a first person shooter without listening to two idiots have a 10-page debate about what’s truly the suckiest part of the game I’m playing AT THAT MOMENT, I’m kinda sick of the unnecessary negative angles and how trendy it’s becoming to not like stuff.

        That said, I think it was silly to be mad about the Portal 2 thing in the first place. I think it takes a really special person to STILL be mad about the Portal 2 thing.

        • Sinomatic says:

          Except for the part where John is mostly angry about things that totally deserve being angry about, like unnecessary DRM and the always-online nonsense that screws over customers, examining/debunking the various claims that gaming is turning us all into killers/psychopaths/idiots and the incessant sexist etc. bullshit that has no place in games or gaming culture.

          I don’t actually agree with him on this for the record, but I appreciate that RPS bothers to say something on those matters, rather than ignoring them.

          • RvLeshrac says:

            I imagine John as the guy shouting that we’re about to crash into a massive iceberg while everyone else is having a party in the ballroom and telling him to be more positive since the ship is unsinkable.

        • friccish says:

          this ^

          • GH Moose says:

            What you guys said – plus I personally found the Portal 2 launch ARG to be annoying way to attempt to get more money out of me for a new release. It annoyed me enough I didn’t buy Portal 2 until it was Sub-$10. I do, however, acknowledge that I am easily annoyed and a minority on this one especially.

            That being said, anything that gets more people to play Amnesia isn’t all bad :P

        • RvLeshrac says:

          On behalf of those of us who can’t simply blow rainbows up your ass about everything, I’d like to apologise.

          We’ll try harder to come up with more nonsensical fluffy-kittens-and-unicorns bullshit to justify all of the miserable decisions the industry makes, that way no one will need to ever deal with reality.

    • Acorino says:

      The ending was very disappointing, and that’s pretty much the most important part of any kind of narrative. Just consider the ME3 ending controversy.
      But everything before was indeed excellent, the ARG that spread throughout all these unrelated indie games and the free extra content you got.

  7. Yachmenev says:

    Oh, come on, the ARG was fun despite that it didn´t launch more than a couple of hours earlier. And I have the impression of Valve that they are a company that learns of their mistakes.

    • Cameron says:

      Their method of fixing past mistakes can be fun to watch but not always something that makes fans happy.

      Exhibit A.
      Issue: Valve miss release dates on popular hype filled titles
      Fix: Stop telling people what we are working on and when to expect things.

      • caddyB says:

        These things take time.

        • Cameron says:

          I wasn’t complaining. I’m not one to hop about in anticipation. I’m, what I understand to be called, a ‘boring sod’. I quietly look forward to stuff and play it when it comes out.

          • blind_boy_grunt says:

            mmh yeah… i don’t think you’re doing internet right

        • The white guar says:

          Signs I say! Look at the signs! There are signs everywhere!

    • Carr0t says:

      I don’t think the rage was direct at the ARG per se. I know a number of people (I might term them ‘idiots’, but i’m not that harsh) who paid for the potato sack and endlessly played the games in it, even though they claimed not to enjoy them, simply to try and get Portal 2 to release early. When they found out said early release was a case of hours (if anything) not days or even weeks they were decidedly annoyed. Quite why you’d pay extra cash on top of preordering the game and then spend your free time doing stuff you don’t enjoy just for the chance to get said game even a few weeks early I don’t know, but there you go.

      I looked upon it as a nice way to try and get some more recognition and sales for various Indie games. I looked at the list, looked at my free time, and decided I didn’t want most of the games and didn’t have the time to play the remaining ones before the Portal 2 planned release *anyway*, so I didn’t bother getting the bundle.

      • Dominic White says:

        Yeah, seconding this. It takes a special kind of miserable git to buy a whole pile of games, and play them for countless hours, only to angrily announce afterwards that they weren’t playing because they WANTED to, and actually Valve had a gun to their heads and the games HAD to be played.

        They’re generally great games, and very cheap. That alone is reason to be happy. Unfortunately, Valve seem to make people angry (apparently even John Walker now, which is depressing) by doing anything these days, no matter how good.

        • briktal says:

          You just described (many) people with jobs. Doing something you don’t necessarily enjoy doing to get something you do want happens all the time. Obviously Portal 2 not getting released as early as they seemed to suggest it could is not as serious as not getting paid for the last two weeks, but a couple of angry posts on the internet isn’t much of a serious response either.

  8. RaveTurned says:

    1) No. 2) No. 3) No. 4) Probably. 5) Yes.

    Though I’d be happy to stand corrected.

    • zeroskill says:

      ^ This. There is nothing to it. They are just offering a indie games deal, propably because the indie devs asked them to re-release the pack. Nothing more. Stop trying to interpret every little step Valve does as: “will they release a new game?” because NO, they are not releasing a new game anytime soon other then CS:GO and DOTA2.

  9. DanPryce says:

    Maybe this is just another outing for that bundle? I think if Valve were gearing up for a big *thing*, they’d have at least gone for a different set of games. That and the potato is so entwined in the Portal 2 fiction that it made sense, and unless Half Life 3 is especially spud related I don’t think much if anything’s going to come from this.

  10. Vexing Vision says:

    Good thing I own the titles in this one I’m already interested in.

    It’ll be a good excuse to launch AudioSurf again and play a few songs for the Greater Good.

  11. phlebas says:

    Coming back, you say? Like a ricochet?

  12. pyjamarama says:

    I had fun with the Portal 2 ARG, to me it was like a launch party I played some games that I owned and never got around to playing them, I t was interesting to read what people had to do to solve the ARG puzzles. I ended up only playing portal 2 about a week or two after release so the fact that the game didn’t release early by much didn’t bother me at all.

  13. RobF says:

    To coincide with Indie Game:The Movie?

    • Sarigs says:

      This I think, Indie Bundle re-release the day after Indie Movie is put out. ++Sense.

      • Koshinator says:

        Exactly my thoughts on the situation as well – plus the fact that as yet there hasn’t been any updates to any of the included games.

  14. LimEJET says:

    They’re the same games as last time. I played the shit out of all of them for the ARG, and actually managed to win.

    That didn’t remove my immense hatred for Dejobaan Games, though.

    • RobinOttens says:

      ^ This. They’re old games because they’re the same games as the original potato sack, hence the ‘reunion’ part of the title. I don’t think there’s anything more to it than that. I wonder though, are they bringing back all the extra potato content for this promotion or is it just the normal versions of these games? I don’t have the games installed anymore to check for myself.

  15. nasenbluten says:

    No thanks, got most of them already.

    Today last 24 hours of Humbl eIndie Bunde, way superior IMO. Valve is getting lazy.

  16. The First Door says:

    I agree with lots of the people in the comments, the Portal 2 ARG was pretty fun! Well… except being forced to play Amnesia (because it terrifies me) and Cogs (because the required challenges were stupidly hard).

    Plus, I got all of Valve’s back catalogue for free, which rather validated the time I put into it as I could gift some friends copies of Portal 2 and get Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 for the PC.

    EDIT: It also scared the crap out of me when GLaDOS suddenly starting insulting me in RUSH, too.

  17. Dominic White says:

    I’d just like to add an ‘in before the Dejobaan rage’ – 1, 2, 3, Kick It isn’t a complete game. It’s an early alpha build, and an abandoned one at that. They’ve actually scrapped it and begun work from scratch again using a new engine, a larger team, and a different core concept for the gameplay. It’ll be a while until the new game is in a publicly playable state. Just consider the entry in this bundle a stub/extra that might grow into something later.

    • LimEJET says:

      Kick It isn’t the problem. It’s the horrible, buggy, unplayable mess that is The Wonderful End of The World that is.

      • lhzr says:

        That’s not the problem either. The problem is their sense of “humour”.

        (hnnnnng)

      • InternetBatman says:

        I love Wonderful End of the World. The collision is very off, but it’s really, really fun.

  18. Sinomatic says:

    Should they run another ARG (the last one was fun and I’d be interested to take part in another), they’d need to make it clear from the outset what the outcome for success would be. Not managing the (completely unrealistic) expectations of some people last time really didn’t work out too well.

    Personally I had a great time (I took part, but wasn’t one of the hardcore). The GlaDOS crossovers in the potato sack games were great fun (and well done, in the ones I saw), and hanging out in IRC ‘at the coalface’ was riveting.

  19. sharkh20 says:

    If you play 10 million hours of these games you will get to play CS:GO 36 minutes early.

  20. Joshua says:

    Wasn’t the main problem with the Potato ARG that Valve simply didn’t expect that so few people figured everything out, thus having the effect that the game was not released as early as they intended?

    • Deano2099 says:

      Yep, there’s a bizarre dissonance going on.

      “I’m playing all these games for ages, even though I don’t really want to, as I want Portal early.”

      “But if Portal 2 is coming out early, why do you have to play them?”

      “Because it’ll only come out early if enough people do!”

      …time passes…

      “Not enough people did it and they didn’t release it very early at all! That’s unfair.”

      It’s just weird. They were playing the games because they were aware people had to do that to get it out early, so why the surprise when too few people do it and that doesn’t happen?

    • ReV_VAdAUL says:

      I was under the impression the takeup for the ARG was pretty good? Have Valve explicitly stated they expected more people to take part than did?

  21. HermitUK says:

    Last ARG got me playing a bunch of indie games I may have otherwise missed, a golden potato for my steam profile, and a gift copy of Portal 2 for a friend on release day. Hardly a failure, I would argue. As I recall the people calling it such only jumped in at the last minute for the countdown and missed all the fun of discovering and completing the hidden challenges in the games.

  22. RegisteredUser says:

    Maybe they are doing another summer camp thing or something. And there will be things involving sacks, potatoes.

    How come nobody has speculated about Half-Life 3 yet?

  23. DickSocrates says:

    Seems like a cynical move to steal publicity and sales from the Humble Bundle.

    I didn’t participate in the Potato nonsense at all, but watched with incredulity as people broke themselves for no reason because Valve said ‘Go and do this pointless stupid thing, you plebs!’

    • The First Door says:

      That wasn’t really the point of it though, people just got weirdly obsessed. The point of the ARG was the brilliant Portal themed levels that many of the games included in the bundle got. The Ball, RUSH, BIT.TRIP BEAT, Defence Grid, Cogs, Amnesia and Toki Tori all got new, mostly excellent content which they likely would never have gotten without the Potato Sack.

      • Dominic White says:

        Yeah, it was a huge pile of already-good games getting professionally produced addons for free, with the aid of Valve. And it still made people angry, because nobody is happy with anything these days.

        • The First Door says:

          That is a depressingly accurate thought for the day!

          I really don’t get the backlash against it, I had a blast with The Ball and RUSH, games I would have never thought of playing before. So what if I didn’t like some of them ones in the bundle in the end? I paid so little that I got my moneys worth easily.

        • ReV_VAdAUL says:

          Lets not get too depressed about it. Lots of people, myself included really enjoyed it. A few people were very disappointed (I was a little annoyed Portal 2 didn’t unlock early but the cool stuff in the ARG and free addons more than made up for that.) and keep going on about it. People who enjoyed it don’t have motivation to keep going on about it like the bitter people do so they seem to be most representative.

          I mean heck, in this comments thread it is has been pretty much totally people saying they did enjoy it and questioning why John has been so down on it.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Not really. If they really wanted to stop the Humble Bundle, they would stop giving them steam keys.

  24. Faaa says:

    New big Tf2 update Mann vs Machine , they added a MvM Badge completion reward to the schema description only to remove it a few minutes later and yesterday they added this TF_Matchmaking_TOBOR_CRSK$
    TF_Matchmaking_TOBOR_CRSK_GLaDOS%
    !TF_Matchmaking_TOBOR_CRSK_Wheatly#
    TF_Matchmaking_TOBOR_CRSK_ATLAS#
    TF_Matchmaking_TOBOR_CRSK_PBody#
    TF_Matchmaking_TOBOR_CRSK_CCube!
    TF_Matchmaking_TOBOR_CRSK_DOG#
    TF_Matchmaking_TOBOR_CRSK_RZOEY*

  25. Angel Dust says:

    You know for some people in the world Portal 2 being released 8(?) hours early meant, due to time differences and where the release would fall on a working day, they got the game a whole day early. Not that that means that anyone else’s disappointment is invalid but it was nice break for us New Zealanders for a change!

  26. Naturality says:

    Gabe grows a beard → Possible crunch time?
    Potato Sack Reunion → Possible new ARG?

    LET’S ALL GET EXCITED AND JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      It’s like when Frits Philips came to work with a beard you’d know they were working on a new razor.

  27. Kynrael says:

    Steam must really hate my wallet to want to see it empty that badly.

  28. trjp says:

    I for one enjoyed the Potato Sack stuff for what it was, which was a bit of audience participation.

    The only people who’d not have enjoyed it are the sort of hardcode sad-cases who simply must have everything now – must be max level – need the game NOW NOW NOW

    and we just given them their dummy back and continue as if nothing happened eh?

  29. marcusfell says:

    When does this end?

  30. ecbremner says:

    Im gonna say it. The Potato pack ARG was the most fun i have ever had playing video games. People who complained about how it had very little “outcome” are hilarious to me. We got to match wits alongside thousands of other folks around the world with talented game developers in deeply challenging puzzles and an immersive plotline…. and people complained about what we won?!

    • briktal says:

      But that’s the part very few people have problems with. All the issues with the ARG come from the “hey play these games a lot to maybe speed up the release” weekend.

  31. Jamesworkshop says:

    I think they just like the name potato sack, i don’t think it has any greater significance

  32. Ridnarhtim says:

    Clusterfuck? I got a Valve Complete Pack out of that ARG, and I’d only just signed up to Steam, so I didn’t own a single one of those games! I signed on to Steam and randomly had 20-ish new games in there!

  33. Alexandros says:

    The first game listed is “1…2…3…KICK IT”.

    So basically Half-Life 3 confirmed!

  34. Big Murray says:

    “2) Are they about to try another ARG? If so, oh God, please, no. You’re no good at it Valve – you involve about 17 hardcore people, and everyone else stares on, alienated, and then gets annoyed by the inevitably anticlimactic denouement.”

    Thank god somebody else feels that way.

    • smacky says:

      A thousand times, yes. While I enjoyed the additional content for Amnesia and Defense Grid, I felt the ARG was more spectator sport than audience participation. In total agreement with John here.

  35. mrwonko says:

    I doubt this has any more meaning than “hey, here’s another chance of grabbing these great games!”

    And I liked the ARG. (Might be related to me getting the Valve Complete Pack including Portal 2 thanks to it though? No, I don’t think that’s all there was to it…)

  36. field_studies says:

    Did anyone notice that the sale’s description text changed not long after it was posted? It originally referred to an ARG… something (very roughly) along the lines of, ‘Join the ARG of the season’.

    But maybe that was accidentally leftover text from last year’s sale.

  37. Malibu Stacey says:

    I like the part where John completely missed that this is nothing more than one of VALVe’s “Midweek Madness” discounts. It’s not like it’s on the front page of Steam or anything (click the little “Next” button if it comes up with F3AR first for you, seems to randomly pick which deal it shows first).

  38. Yosharian says:

    Please be HL3 Please be HL3 Please be HL3 Please be HL3 Please be HL3 Please be HL3

  39. RagingLion says:

    I thought the last Potato sack was a fun success. Also I think Valve are good at ARGs. Not just that one but the one that first teased Portal 2. I had lots of fun checking up on what others were doing with that.

  40. MythArcana says:

    vALVE: The Leader of Lame.

    Never supported them, never will.

    • aethereal says:

      Yeah! Not like they have any excellent games, or have an excellent game download service! They’re all such tools, selling a bunch of games for 80% off the price!

  41. Phantoon says:

    So I was playing Bastion on Steam, and got a new item in the Armory. It’s a gel grenade that spawns a turret.