Portalympic Games

Played almost to the end of Portal 2’s co-op levels with Gordon this afternoon. It was interesting to observe a kind of qualitative change in the way the game has felt from the early levels to the later ones. Specifically, while the early levels often felt like a decent mental challenge, the later levels have felt more in the realms of the physical. Specifically, they have felt athletic.

This was particularly noticeable with the speed gel right toward the end. There are a number of challenges that essentially require superhuman (literally, ha ha) feats of speed and coordination to get right. Leaping across a gap to catch a cube just as it falls, flying through the air through a portal then swapping portals before you land, and so on. In these cases, it’s not that the idea itself is complex, but that you must execute the plan well.

That feeling of athletic prowess is a very potent one. It’s not one I tended to feel much in the sports games I’ve played in my life (Skate 3 is probably an exception in the challenges that name specific moves to perform). In playing Madden, for instance, of NCAA Football, it tends to feel more removed, more as though the statistics of the player you’re controlling are having the final say in the outcome. Likewise, Mirror’s Edge, despite being very entertaining, never pushed me into a sense of true kinaesthetic joy and athletic performance. QWOP? Hmmm.

It seems such an obvious experience for games to channel, that it actually does surprise me I haven’t felt it more often. Perhaps Shadow of the Colossus has its moments, though it that case it can feel too scripted, if anything. And I do suspect there are high-performance situations, such as multiplayer FPS for talented players, that evoke similar experiences. If so, all to the better, but also, if so, then all the more amazing that Portal 2 can unlock such experiences for a lesser player such as myself.

Now we just need this athleticism in our sports games…

28 February 2012
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