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    portal: testchamber sixteen

    So I've been playing my way through Portal again this winter. I first played my way through Portal in 2009, on Dave's computer, but now that I can run it on my own device I figured I'd give it a second run-through, just for the pleasure of it.

    It's not exactly breaking news to say that Portal is a really well-designed game. According to Amazon, it won "over 40 awards, including 15 Game of the Year honors." It was also recently added to the curriculum at Wabash College (part of an all-college course called "Enduring Questions").

    But regardless. In my replay I'm up to Testchamber Sixteen, and I was struck by that level in particular as a piece of exemplary game design. Why?

    1. It's challenging in a way that adds on to the already-established challenges of the game. Portal is a puzzle game, and a lot of the levels feature some head-scratching over the question of how to get from Point A to Point B. But there is very little "action" element to the game up until this point, although a few levels require you to move and aim quickly to complete certain portions of the level. But Testchamber Sixteen introduces enemies—the Aperture Science Sentry Guns—which introduce some live fire into the gameplay. Suddenly things are shooting at you, in a game where things haven't shot at you before. Danger!

    2. It's funny. The Sentry Guns are in and of themselves little design masterpieces. They're sleek-looking and evil, but they're also granted incongruously perky personalities, and they have some of my favorite lines in the game.


    3. It's satisfying. Most of the level involves disabling the Sentry Guns, and although they're incredibly dangerous they also shut down as soon as they're tipped over. Figuring out various ways to knock them down is a delight.

    4. It provides narrative information about the game world without disrupting gameplay. Testchamber Sixteen is also the first one that contains a Rat-Man chamber, a side area that's outside of the "official" testing area. Exploring the chamber reveals graffiti that provides narrative information and suspense, without ever interrupting player control or disrupting the pleasure of exploring the game world.


    Related: Portal 2 arrives within the next few months: I look forward to it.

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    Monday, February 07, 2011
    5:45 PM


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