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:



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