I finally picked up the Orange Box, and man, that’s good gamin’. 

Portal is a blast.  It’s a lesson in where to apply effort: in essence it’s a simple puzzle game— I think the kids call them platformers— which keeps gameplay elements at their simplest, and lavishes resources on environment.  The lush 3-D rendering, the huge impressive spaces, the dark humor of the AI gone bad, and the little hidden spaces (the cake is a lie!) all add to the intensity and immersion.  At the same time the mechanics are simple, focussing your attention on the wonderful toy, the portal gun.

You can have your plush companion cubes… I want my own turret.

I just finished Half-Life 2, and I’m even more impressed by Valve.  I’m not generally a FPS guy, so I didn’t expect it to be my thing, but I enjoyed it a lot— I want to play it again now that I know what I’m doing.  Though “enjoyed” is a strange term for an experience which included a whole lot of cursing and hitting F9. 

I admire the smoothness of HL2’s storytelling.  For instance, there’s a moment where some crows fly up in front of you— right into the mouth of a barnacle.  That alerts you very nicely to this new kind of monster.  Similarly, you get in-game tutorials for new weapons as you get them. 

The gravity gun is another great idea.  Of course, several times I wished I had a portal gun.  Freeman may be able to save the world from extraterrestrial scum, but he’s completely defeated by any step more than than two feet high. 

You can tell a game is immersive if you actually move around in your chair as you try to make precise jumps or swerves…

Naturally, I took the occasion to re-read my friend Chris’s HL2 comic, Concerned, now that I can get all the jokes.  Chief new reaction: Chris has insane patience.  Just finding the locations in the maps, some of which are huge, must have been a job.

Next up: episodes 1 and 2.  And Team Fortress 2 if I can figure out what servers tolerate utter noobs.  I’m surprised there’s not a single-player learning mode.

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