Portal Gets a Mysterious Update

Also in the surprise-to-me-release category, Valve released a rather strange update to their 2007 hit Portal today. Though not much in terms of gameplay was added, the ever-present radios placed throughout the game now seem to have some sort of significance. Carrying the radios to various points within the level unlock a new game achievement. What’s more, the radios begin to broadcast various signals such as Morse code, data transmissions, etc. Some very crafty gamers have found that this is actually a rabbit hole leading to a out-of-game alternate reality campaign. Portal remains one of the most amazing games ever and if this is the how Valve chooses to start a marketing campaign for a sequel, then this bodes well for the future of the game. Here are a couple of screenshots I took while exploring some of the new game features:

Updated: It looks like Portal 2 is official (this December) and it is likely coming to the mac, too.

Much More Fun Than You Might Think

So, you might have picked up that I’ve been on something of a fantasy kick lately. One thing that I’ve considered doing off and on for several years now (Okay, ever since I got out grad. school – whatever) was picking up role-playing games again. I played them a lot as a kid and loved every minute of it. They appealed to me on so many levels: tons of maps, loads of math & tables, and open ended stories.

I ended up find a group on MeetUp.org who run some 4 hour games, once a month; most of which were aimed at beginners and people getting back into the game. This sounded like a perfect fit. Saturday evening, I broke out an old Player’s Handbook and created1 a pretty basic character for myself. I was never very good at coming up with fantasy character names (I once named a rogue character Robin Stealer. Subtle, no?), but I know of a group that is great at it: Ikea. So, I named my first level, dwarf fighter after a very tasteful and modern coffee table (Ramvik, if you’re curious).

Sunday, we all drove down to Murfreesboro to the comic and games shop. I got a seat at the D&D table while Angela and Ainsley looked around briefly at some comics. They then took off to tool around the mall while my game got underway.

Now, I suppose on some level, the seven people around the table fit exactly the description of D&D players you likely have in mind right now: white males sitting indoors on a perfectly nice sunny day. However, despite that general stereotype, these were a fairly diverse lot: a grad. student, a downtown lawyer, a high school math teacher, a father and his son – who had recently gotten his dad back into gaming, and the father of a 1 1/2 year old (who seemed happy to get out of the house and play a game with adults). What’s more, they were all outgoing and fun personalities. While the game ran a bit long (even at five hours, we didn’t quite finish); a good bit of the time was spent joking around. Instead of dice and pencils, we could have just as easily had poker cards and chips in our hands.

Other than the fact that I ended up losing my voice by the end of it (as much from all the laughing as anything else), I had a really great time. So much so, I plan to make it a monthly event. Angela said she might even join in for a game in the future (by the way, there are females in the MeetUp group, just none happened to be playing this past weekend).

Oh, and the game itself? It was a fairly tough module, actually. Fortunately, we had a decent mix of a 7th level barbarian, a 3rd level cleric, a 3rd level rogue, a 1st level ranger, and two 1st level fighters (including my Swedish furniture namesake). I ended up dying at the end, but the DM allowed for the NPC cleric whom we were helping to resurrect my character out of gratitude after the fact. I think the DM felt bad since my character died on my first game and that I might not have enjoyed it. Quite to the contrary, I had had a great time and I was actually kind of glad that it wasn’t a cakewalk. I got to feel like I was working on a team trying to figure out a mystery.

As I said, I can’t wait until next time.

  1. I would have formerly said "rolled" instead of created, but there’s no rolling involved in character creation anymore – at least not in the method employed by this group. []

Five Fun Things Friday – Mid-April Edition

Oh, to have blogged in so long and only to come back with a measly list of fluff. Well, something’s better than nothing, right?

I’ve been on a rather rampant fantasy kick as of late:

  1. "Dungeons & Dragons" – That venerable fantasy RPG lost one of it’s founders last month. However, not to be stopped, a new 4th edition of the rules are being published in June. D&D has definitely come up out of Mom’s basement, showered, and decided that hanging out with some of the cool kids isn’t so bad, after all. This, along with the fact that nerds are now cool, might just make for a renaissance of table-top gaming.
  2. "Dragonlance" – When I was a kid, "Dragonlance" was the coolest D&D setting (at least to my pal, TJ, and I – he even had the campaign book). An animated film was released to DVD in January of the first of the original trilogy of novels. You know, the sort of the thing that every kid dreams about as they read fantasy novels at age 12? Ah, even at that age, I’d have understood just how bad this adaptation was. I was depressed but happened upon a fantastic graphic novel by Devil’s Due Publishing of the same series of novels made me almost completely forget what an awful film Dragons of Autumn Twilight was. I even picked up a new novel by the same authors, which so far has been quite enjoyable.
  3. Krull – Speaking of D&D and my childhood (the two of which are pretty closely linked), I learned from IMDb that the 80’s fantasy film Krull was originally to be the first official "Dungeons & Dragons" movie. I went back and watched it and too things struck me: A) it doesn’t really resemble D&D at all and B) it wasn’t nearly as good a movie as I remembered it being (Great way to start a career, there, Liam Neeson!). Then I realized that pretty much all movies based on D&D have been awful: Krull, Dungeons & Dragons, Dragons of Autumn Twilight. When a movie by the SciFi channel is the best of the back, that’s just plain sad. I think Wizards of the Coast should encourage a TV series, instead. Better yet: more graphic novels.
  4. Graphic Novels – Having read the graphic novel of Dragons of Winter Night, I went in search of more graphic novels to feed my endless need for scifi and fantasy. Oh boy, did I find them: Aliens, Predators, Aliens vs. Predators, Conan the Barbarian, G.I. Joe… okay that last one isn’t really scifi, but did I mention childhood nostalgia? Maybe that’s a better theme here. Anyway, I’ve been on a graphic novel kick and, despite it being a rather pricey habit, it has been very rewarding. A lot of these really represent some great comic book artform and I’ve determined are often my best hope for amazing fantasy visuals, gripping plotlines, and epic characters. They sure as hell aren’t to be found in any of the movies.
my fantasy audiobook collection in iTunes
  1. Audiobooks – Lastly, I’ve also been on something of an audiobook habit (more posts to follow on this subject). I was able to find some really great audiobooks by R. A. Salvatore and Michael Moorcock; two men who write about troubled anti-heroes with long, white hair. I even found audiobooks for that original Dragonlance trilogy I mentioned. There’s just one drawback to the audiobooks: I used to listen to these (along with podcasts) on my commute. Now that I hardly drive at all, it’s going to me forever to listen to them all!

Well, before you give me a wedgie and shove inside my locker along side my Player’s Manual, I should also say that I’ve been enjoying Season Two of The Wire, as well as all this fantasy stuff. Perhaps that explains it: I needed something whimsical and out-of-this-world to balance out the dark, gritty nature of a show like the The Wire. At least, that’s why I keep telling myself.

Text Adventure Documentary Film

When I was a kid, I played just about every computer text adventure game I could get my hands on. I did try to play one of those graphical D&D games, but it never seemed to run very well on my VTech Laser128 (an Apple II clone). However, the text adventure games seemed to have so much more wit to them. I think it was very much a result of the games’ authors being required to focus on story and find creative responses to all the crazy sorts of input that players would be sure to enter. I mean, didn’t we all instruct our brave adventurer to “pick nose” at some point?

So, I was really excited to see the trailer for Get Lamp, a documentary film about the text adventure game. Check it out. Of course, this is about as Indy as independent films get and the film maker isn’t too sure when he’s going to release it — you’ll just have to sign up for the e-mail list.

And if you’ve never played a game like this, or just forgot how fun they were, then why don’t you go play Zork for a while? Don’t forget your trusty map:

Hand drawn map of Zork I

…and if you’ve got a more recent version of OS X installed (like me), then you can no longer play the copy of Zork you downloaded from Infocom’s website. You can still install the Zork engine and play via the Terminal. However, if you’re too lazy to do that (also like me), you can still play a web-based version at iFiction.

You are standing in an open field...