Monday, July 04, 2011

Major portalling

Major's birthday and I got him The Orange Box which includes Portal. As I've mentioned before he has an XBox360 and it's difficult to get him off it; as such he is very au fait with games and their mechanics; as such I found it interesting to watch him playing this game.

The first rooms he whipped through - put a cube on the button; watch the changing portals and step through them at the right time; fire a portal above the receiver so the emitter ball passes through them. No problems! However once he acquired the second half of the gun and could fire two portals he started to slow down. The multiple step rooms caused him frustration.

He had problems with the double button, double door, emitter room. I'd already hinted that it was worth paying attention to any icons he saw but he couldn't connect the one dot, two dot buttons with the one dot, two dot doors. He'd press the button and ask "What did that do?". He managed to complete it without knowing how? He knew that there was a timer and that he had to press both buttons at the same time (or close enough) and he already knew the mechanic for changing the direction of the emitter ball. So upon pressing both buttons he automatically fired the ball at the receiver without ever working out that it had lowered the doors.

Likewise I'd already hinted that he should note that his active portals are closed when he steps through the glittery blue field as well as destroying any carried objects. As such he was aware of the problem when he reached the split room.

One large room split on half then one side split again like a letter E in a square. Covering both rooms a field. From one an emitter ball being bounced horizontally; in the other the receiver mounted on the floor. Without the fields an easy task - fire one portal at the wall the ball hits and another on the ceiling above the receiver. But you can't fire portals through the field and if you put one on the first wall it deactivates once you step through into the receiver's room to put one on the ceiling.

Despite all knowing this I watched him try this, then try to fire one through the fields; then try from the other side and all the while listened to him complain that this was impossible. After some time and with him getting more and more frustrated I asked -

"What do you need to do?"
"I need to get a portal into there [receiver room]!"
"No you don't, what do you need to be in that room?"
"A portal!"
"To get the ball to the receiver"
"So what is the thing that you need to be in that room?"
[Pause] "The ball"
"So can you get the ball into that room from where you are?"
[Pause] "But I can't get a portal into that room"
"If the fields weren't there want would you do?"

He fired one at the wall the ball hits and watched it rebound.
"So what happens if you fire another portal somewhere else?" I ask

He stopped and thought about this then let our an aggravated groan and fired his second portal at the wall opposite the receiver room. The ball is emitted, passes through the first room's field, through the first portal, out the second, through the second room's field into the second room.

After that it was a matter of timing so he entered the second room at the same time as the ball then positioned his portals inside that room.

So why did I find this interesting? Well all the initial puzzles were laid out linearly  - there's a button, there's a cube; once the cube is on the button then the platform moves; there's the platform, there's the door. Once this was method removed he became very frustrated; he was no longer being moved in simple step-by-step process, but had to work out how to progress by himself.

I hope this game is good for him; but I noted that after leaving him alone with one; he switched over to playing Half-Life 2. Which incidentally he also found frustrating because a) you start with no weapons and b) "No-one was telling me what [he] had to do; I just ran away". I tried to leave him with one tip "Just because there are five enemies in front of you doesn't mean you need to kill them all". Again I'll find it interesting to see if he's still trying to play this game by killing everything in sight; or if he's willing to just run like hell.