Cakes and Potatoes

About 3 months after everyone else, I’ve finally finished Portal 2.

Now, I’ve posted over on Ye Olde Gamers about my love for the first one and how much I regretted not playing it before. It contained huge amounts of spoilers and a very special video, but, I’m not going to do that again.

I went into the second one completely blind, kind of knowing what to expect (in as much as it was a sequel to Portal) but not wanting to know anything else.

This will be a short post to give anyone else that’s yet to play it and has managed to remain spoiler free the same experience. I will say this though: I played it, completed it, enjoyed it and had a face like this 😀 for most of the way through.

Actually, I’d also like to make mention of (and renege on my ‘short post’ comment with) the fantastic Augmented Reality Game (ARG) that Valve (Portal’s creators and purveyors of many a fine game) set up to prepare for its launch. I didn’t take part myself but I know of people who did and, by all accounts, it was quite something.

It’s a bit tricky to describe so I’ll let this excellent post by GRcade’s melatonin sum it up. Over to you, melly:


Okay. So a lot of people are sitting around and enjoying Portal 2 right now. Bloody good game from a bloody good developer. And while a few people on here were sort of, kind of, half-aware that a fairly nonsensical promotional campaign has been going on for the past couple of weeks, I feel like it’s only now we’re actually able to look back on what Valve have been doing since the beginning of the month and start to make some sense of it all. Why should we bother, you ask? Well, read on.

A lot of this is taken from my own experience with the ARG campaign, so there will inevitably be things that I’ll miss or forget, but I’ll try to summarise it as best as I can. Some people will probably be very familiar with all of this. Some people won’t. It’s more for the latter group, really.

On April 1st, a ‘Potato Sack’ bundle of games was released on Steam, containing 13 indie titles on offer at a heavily discounted price for the lot. For the record, the games included:

1…2…3… KICK IT! Drop That Beat Like an Angry Baby
AaAaAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Defense Grid: The Awakening
Killing Floor
Super Meat Boy
The Ball
The Wonderful End of the World
Toki Tori

On the same day, each and every one of these games was also updated with a fairly sizeable patch, with some games receiving an update of at least couple of hundred MB. Obviously, some people were curious enough to wonder what was contained within these patches, and set about looking for the changes.

What began was a hugely intricate two-week Alternate Reality Game, with a range of secrets being unearthed across all the games included in the Potato Sack bundle. These secrets ranged in complexity from hidden glyphs being found in menu screens, right the way through to a set of real world co-ordinates being discovered in Braille within Toki Tori. Upon visiting these co-ordinates (which actually lead to the development studio of the guys behind Toki Tori, Two Tribes Games), one follower of the ARG found actual bags of potatoes hidden around the grounds of the building, which in themselves contained more clues.

This went on and on, with more and more clues being found across all 13 games. At this point, speculation was rife as to what it would all lead up to, with a Half-Life-related announcement not seeming impossible. More updates across all thirteen games followed; more glyphs, more cryptic codes, more hidden images, timestamps, passwords and encrypted files; more Twitter and email updates from the developers themselves, adding to the obscure puzzle being created piece by piece.

Throughout all of this, Portal-related content also started appearing in all of the Potato Sack games. These ranged from a dedicated track using GLaDoS soundbites and companion cubes for Audiosurf…

…to a seven-stage series of ‘test’ chambers for The Ball, infusing the game’s own puzzle mechanics with the style and tone of the Portal universe…

…to a Portal-themed map available to play in Killing Floor.

The content differed in both quantity and quality (the ‘Justine’ campaign, an hour-long piece of DLC for Amnesia being a particular highlight), but one thing became clear – every single game had been ‘infected’ by GLaDoS, and finding one clue in one game usually resulted in uncovering something new in another.

And… potatoes. Players began ‘earning’ them by completing specific in-game tasks, such as dying a certain number of times on a certain level in Super Meat Boy, working through a newly-added command console in Defense Grid, or merely by completing some of the new DLC levels in the Dejobaan games. In total, 35 potatoes were up for grabs, with a 36th ‘golden’ potato being awarded right at the end.

In amidst all of the clues and cryptic messages, various discoveries pointed towards… something happening on the afternoon of last Friday at 5pm, and I’m sure most of you are aware of what that was – a ‘GLaDoS at Home’ page was unveiled, tracking the global hours being ploughed into each of the 13 potato sack games by players worldwide. The more people playing, the faster the CPU bars would fill, and crucially, the faster these bars filled, the quicker Portal 2 would be unlocked on Steam. Unfortunately, either due to lack of manpower or bad calculations on Valve’s part, even the concerted efforts of those playing the games would only result in Portal 2 unlocking a few hours before it was due to unlock originally, and with absolutely no Half-Life announcements anywhere to be found, some people began to voice their complaints directly at Valve.

Not over, though. As of about an hour ago, all the players who spent the time and effort required to unlock all 36 potatoes throughout the ARG were given two things to compliment their existing TF2 hats and pins – one, a copy of the Valve complete pack, containing a copy of each of the following games:

Condition Zero
Counter-Strike: Source
Day of Defeat
Day of Defeat Source
Deathmatch Classic
Half-Life 1
Half-Life 1: Source
Half-Life: Blue Shift
Half-Life 2
Half-Life 2: Episode 1
Half-Life 2: Episode 2
Left 4 Dead
Left 4 Dead 2
Opposing Force
Team Fortress 2
Team Fortress Classic

And two, a free copy of Portal 2. For those users who already owned some or all of these games (including those who pre-ordered copies of Portal 2), the duplicate copies can be gifted on to another Steam user.


So let’s just recap, shall we.

In the space of nearly three weeks, Valve have:

– Collaborated with the developers of thirteen indie games to update their titles with all the required log-ins, passwords, and other such cryptic material for the Portal 2 ARG, boosting the profile (and undoubtedly, the sales numbers) of these thirteen games substantially in the process.
– Essentially given away a whole host of free updates for these games, which for titles such as Amnesia and The Ball, could easily have held their own as fully-fledged, paid-for downloadable content.
– Set up a countdown clock through which people could essentially collaborate together in order to influence the precise moment Portal 2 would be released.
– Rewarded the most avid followers of all this nonsense with a free copy of every single game they have ever released, including a fully-giftable copy of their new £40 retail title, one which contains a substantial campaign designed to be played co-operatively with a friend.

Can we just take a moment here and appreciate how Valve haven’t just raised the bar when it comes to online marketing, inasmuch as they’ve taken the bar, decided that the bar wasn’t really good enough for what they were trying to do, and just given away their brand new fucking video game instead?

Can we do that?

Quoting either Bob the Builder or Barack Obama (depending on your interests): “Yes we can!”

I can’t resist it, here’s another lovely video and, it goes without saying, SPOILER ALERT:



24 Hour Gaming Marathon: The Schedule

I used to love making up mix tapes. I’d spend hours picking the right selection of tracks and the order they’d go in: would The Pixies sit well with Stevie Wonder? Does Henry Rollins sound ok next to Bob Dylan? I’d agonise over this sort of thing for ages, which is why I can see the schedule I’m making up for the Sick Kids Save Point gaming marathon being an event in itself.

I’ve picked out a few things to do so far although I can see them changing as the date gets closer. They range from finishing games that have got put to one side and never picked back up again (sorry, Crackdown), getting to a milestone level in World of Warcraft (an everyday task for some of its players) or finding a load of collectables hidden about a huge game world (except Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, that’d just be silly).

One suggestion that was made to me was picking some games that really would be a challenge in as much as no sane person would normally go out of their way to actually play them.  So, fool that I am, I’ve enlisted the help of the lovely guys and gals over on GRcade to come up with a list of truly awful abominations of game design that will test my gaming ability and sanity over the course of the 24 hours.

So far, they’ve come up with the following:

KISS Pinball
Kengo Zero
Garbage Truck Simulator 2011
ET (Atari 2600)
Superman 64
Barbie’s Horse Adventures
Desert Bus
Garden Simulator


I’m going to set up a poll on the site in the weeks leading up to the marathon and will let them pick the three worst titles from the list. I’ll then choose three slots during the day and spend an hour each playing them. Not enough you say? Believe me, I spent five minutes playing ET and that was just about enough to put me off gaming forever.

Any more suggestions (or donations) are welcome!

Sick Kids Save Point

I mentioned below that the hospital staff had been a great help while our son stayed there and I’d been looking at a way of giving something back via some form of fund raising. Imagine my surprise, delight and “You’ve gotta be kidding me!” style comments when I happened upon this after a quick google search:

Seeking Brave Gamers!

They’ve also got a blog going which has some more info on the Sick Kids Save Point as a whole.

Talk about right up my street! This is the second year running that these guys have organised this and they’re going to try and top their already impressive total of £7,000 with a staggering £10,000. All the funds go to the Sick Kids Friends Foundation, the charity linked to the Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital, and will help fund new equipment and facilities for other children and families using the hospital.

A 24 Hour Gaming Marathon is probably more suited to my physical abilities (let’s face it, can you really see me running one?) so, of course, I was only too happy to help.

I’ve set up my own JustGiving page for anyone who would like to sponsor me.

Coupling the lack of sleep with the fact that my, once impressive gaming skills are no more, this will be a test of endurance that surely only the most hardcore of gamers has undertaken before. Plus, it’s for a really good cause.

My JustGiving page

I’ll update this with the schedule in the following weeks. You can also follow me on twitter to catch up on any training that might take place.

I believe the saying is “It’s on like Donkey Kong”. How appropriate 🙂

Previously, on Neil’s Blog…..

So, yeah, it’s been a while since I last updated this and, truth be told, I kinda forgot that I’d even done it in the first place. I’d originally set this up as a way of recording the progress of the extension that we had done to our house. It was a life changing event and one that I felt should be documented.

Since then, we’ve had a fairly easy going couple of years; our son arrived and introduced us to the interesting world that is You Have Two Children Now and, after a couple of hiccups, I finally found a job that feels like it’s going somewhere.

Things recently took a turn for the rubbish when we had another life changer so I thought, why not, and kicked up the old blog, once again.

Our son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes a few weeks ago after we realised that he really wasn’t doing too well. We took him to the Doctor to get checked out and had our worries confirmed. He got rushed to hospital that evening and spent the next five nights there while he was stabilised to a point that he could come home and continue his treatment here.

I won’t go into any details as it was grim enough going through it the first time but we both had lots of support from family, friends and the staff at the hospital to allow us to get through it.

Things are certainly a lot more settled now with him being home but there’s going to be that constant worry for us all that something could go wrong. What does us make us feel better though is that the support we got from the hospital is still there and there is so much information out there on diabetes that it, hopefully, shouldn’t be the case that we feel like we’re stuck and we don’t know what to do.

I’ll still post stuff about the kind of nonsense I’m watching, reading, playing or listening to but with a smattering of medical stuff now too.

Hope you don’t mind and you enjoy reading.