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l'enfer du North Island

  zap zap pow Thursday 28 April 2011 link

A year or so ago, Valve software gave away the game Portal to celebrate the first Mac release of their Steam software client (basically, iTunes for games). I thought, "free's a good price", and downloaded it. Portal is ridiculously good. It's a fucking brilliant game. Tetris meets Lemmings, as a first person shooter, with a dark sense of humour and touches of Brazil, Paranoia, and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. As Charlie Brooker commented in the Guardian, it's "part abstract brainteaser, part sci-fi thriller, part black comedy.... Something that simply couldn't be replicated in any other medium." If you have not yet played Portal, I strongly recommend it.

And then, last week, Portal 2 came out.

I am, as many people are, mildly obsessive. Once I get my teeth into something, I tend to go at it quite hard. This is one reason why I avoid gambling, hard drugs, and online roleplaying games; I fear that I would disappear down the rabbit hole and emerge indebted, addicted, or poorly washed. However. I had Portal 2 on preorder, and I downloaded it as soon as possible and started playing. Now, the stories of people taking sickies to play Portal 2 on release day aside, I knew that I would not be playing Portal 2 obsessively for hours at a time.

When I was a child, I was excessively prone to motion sickness. The drive up Tinakori Hill and through Wadestown to Crofton Downs - about 4k as the crow flies - would pretty reliably have me bright green by the time we reached the supermarket. Family holidays were punctuated the car stopping so I could get out and vomit. Every half hour. With metronomic regularity. As I got older, it got a bit better; I discovered that staying slightly cold helped, as did the taste of peppermint. To this day, we keep a packet of Oddfellows mints in the car just in case. Thankfully, I have mainly grown out the motion sickness. I still can't read in a moving car, but I'm mostly OK otherwise. I know to avoid things that trigger it - it'll be a cold day in hell before you see me back on one of those spinning teacup rides, I'll tell you that. But I have problems with any visual media that has an unsteady picture. Excessive use of hand-held cameras in film are a particular hatred of mine, as these can make me feel sick. Similarly, when playing computer games with a first-person perspective, I can get very nauseous. Just for a laugh, I tried playing Half-Life once; I lasted ten minutes before I had to lie down in a darkened room.

Portal was based on the Half-Life 2 game engine. It is, technically, a first-person shooter. I'd expect it to make me sick. But I found that the pace of the game was such - with lots of careful considering the environment, moving reasonably slowly, and very little running like hell away from stuff - that I could play for reasonably long periods of time before feeling dodgy. And Portal 2 is the same, mostly. I'm usually able to play for about 45 minutes at a time before my stomach starts churning and the nausea kicks in. So this is a useful governer: inbuilt nausea prevents me from going compeletely nuts and playing eight hours at a stretch. On the other hand, all the obsessive nutcases have already finished the game, so I'm having to be very cagey about my web usage to avoid spoilers for a few days.

The game itself is great. The little touches are brilliant - a section of the facility built in the 1950s has freestanding ashtrays everywhere, for example. I'm glad that Valve stuck with a female protagonist. Great voices, and good puzzles. The humour is still light, but disquieting. Very much worth the time, I'd say.

Basic summary: Portal good, Portal 2 also good.

  bolts a go-go Tuesday 26 April 2011 link

Apologies for the service interruption there. A minor glitch in our hosting meant that the CSS file went walkies for a while; but now everything should be up and working again. It's been a bit frantic around here, what with school holidays, visits from friends from the UK, Easter, etc, so it all took slightly longer to resolve than you'd expect. But rest assured that we've been having a good time while it was broken, eh? Astoundingly, none of the children managed to significantly damage themselves during the holiday, which is some sort of miracle.

Someone working on the Hobbit has a fully Mad Max-ed out Mitsubishi Mirage (the 1992 model). Complete with rusted metal exterior, giant bolts everywhere, and a faux turbocharger intake. It's genius.

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