April 18, 2011 at 4:43 PM ET
UPDATE: The early launch is not a lie. "Portal 2" was released on Steam at about 9:30 p.m. Monday.
Depending on how you look at it, the makers of "Portal 2" are in the midst of pulling off a really nifty marketing campaign that delivers exposure to not only their highly anticipated game of teleportation but to a group of very deserving independent games as well ... or they're in the midst of pulling off a cheap publicity stunt that's doing nothing but irritating the f@#!ing hell out of a bunch of their loyal fans.
In case you haven't been following the ongoing "Portal 2" trickery, the deal is basically this: Valve Software — the highly respected development company behind games like "Half-Life" and "Counter-Strike" — has been preparing to launch the sequel to their beloved game "Portal" — a game that is officially scheduled to launch tomorrow, April 19 at 7 a.m. Pacific time.
But in a clever bit of marketing, Valve has filled the pre-launch weeks with an ongoing viral campaign/ARG (alternate reality game) in which they have challenged fans to play a group of independent games and unlock "Portal 2" items, puzzles and clues hidden within them. These indie games have been grouped into a package known as The Potato Sack and made available at a discounted price to gamers through Valve's Steam service.
As it turns out, all of this in-game treasure-hunting eventually lead to a "Portal 2"-related website with a count-down clock — a count-down that many believed would end in the early launch of "Portal 2" at 9 a.m. last Friday.
It did not.
Instead, last Friday's revelation was the website GLaDOS@Home — a site which promises gamers that if enough of them spend enough time playing the 13 indie games in the Potato Sack bundle they would thus reboot GLaDOS (the malevolent artificial intelligence from the first "Portal" game) who would then unleash "Portal 2" ahead of schedule.
The page includes a series of progress bars that show how many computers are playing each indie game and whether enough people have played each game to help fire up GLaDOS.
Needless to say, many "Portal 2" fans have been playing the living daylights out of these indie games, hoping that their united efforts would, indeed, deliver "Portal 2" to them ahead of schedule. Alas, it's now Monday and the official launch is almost here. And, if the GLaDOS page is to be believed, the indie-gaming efforts have made it so "Portal 2" will launch in 11 hours (as of this writing) — which is around midnight and a mere seven hours ahead of the official launch.
Of course, this stunt is getting mixed reactions from gamers — many of whom are champing at the bit to play "Portal 2" and are pretty peeved the game hasn't launched as early as they hoped/expected. (Dear Valve, It would've been swell if we could have played your space-bending sequel over the weekend.)
Over at Reddit a frustrated poster wrote: "Valve, you lost a lot of integrity in the eyes of your fans this weekend."
Another wrote, "I feel bad for the people who actually bought the potato sack to be part of the community experience only to ultimately feel as if they accomplished nothing."
Others have speculated that Valve has rigged the GLaDOS page's count-down numbers and that the early launch is not truly based on how many people are playing these indie games.
Still others are simply annoyed by the whole thing in general. As one poster on Valve's discussion forums points out, "Why would I buy a game, to get a game released early, that I already payed for? NOPE."
That said, many many players have been enjoying the heck out of this merry, mysterious chase, working together to uncover the ins-and-outs of the secrets hidden within the indie games and playing all the games in a concerted group effort to launch "Portal 2" as soon as possible. (To follow all the twists and turns of Valve's alternate reality game, check out this wiki.)
And while the complaints are certainly understandable, I tend to fall into the camp that thinks this ploy by Valve is actually pretty cool. That's because, ultimately, it is introducing a whole lot of people to some really great indie games that they might not have played otherwise. And "Portal 2" wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the indie game scene.
Serious "Portal" fans already know this — the game got its start as an independent student-made game known as "Narbacular Drop." The game won the Student Showcase award at the Independent Games Festival and the folks who worked on it were scooped up by Valve to help turn it into the game we know as "Portal."
Meanwhile, the indie games included in the Potato Sack are well worth everyone's time and money — "Super Meat Boy" is incredible gaming meyham, "Amnesia: The Dark Descent" is one of the scariest games I've ever played and "Bit. Trip Beat" is an awesome music game that will sink its addictive hooks right into you.
It's also important to keep in mind that GLaDOS herself is prone to making false and misleading statements and that Valve certainly has been known to revel in its own bit of trickery. So who knows what the company may really have up its sleeve in the end.
The official "Portal" Facebook page indicates that at least one person is already playing "Portal 2." And mounting evidence suggests the GLaDOS countdown may be speeding up this afternoon. Meanwhile, the "Portal 2" blog has mysteriously promised this: "There's also still time to collect all 36 potatoes (in the indie games). Anyone accomplishing this feat by the time Portal 2 launches will receive a very special, non-hat-based reward."
What might that non-hat-based reward be? Could "Half-Life 2: Episode 3" somehow be involved?
So, if you are among those getting all worked up by Valve's big tease ... take a deep breath ... here, enjoy this a capella rendition of "Still Alive" from the original "Portal."
Frustrations aside, it's important to remember that it's because of Valve's quirky and often unpredictable sense of humor that we're all so excited about "Portal 2" in the first place.
For more "Portal " news, check out: