• Hey, guest user. Hope you're enjoying NeoGAF! Have you considered registering for an account? Come join us and add your take to the daily discourse.
  • Hey Guest. Check out the NeoGAF 2.2 Update Thread for details on our new Giphy integration and other new features.

The POrTAl TwO ARG: The Whole Story (Gamasutra article by Cogs dev)

faceless007

Member
Mar 11, 2008
10,277
0
0
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/6371/the_portal_two_arg_the_whole_story.php

Way too much good stuff to copypasta (plus I think GAF's practice of copying whole particles should be discouraged) but here are some tidbits:

To help the teams coordinate from our offices spread across multiple continents and time zones, Valve set up a secure wiki where we could share our ideas and critical information that was needed by all of the teams. This is where many of the game and metastructure puzzles were formed. In addition, we had a high-traffic internal mailing list that hit around 150 messages a day during the height of the ARG.

There were no conference calls and no IRC chats. Other than the meeting in December 2010, the only time we all met in person was during a March 10 meeting in Seattle where we finalized our plans and made sure everyone was on the same page for the April 1st #PotatoFoolsDay launch.
The indie developers created far too much content for the ARG to cover it all here. Thankfully, many of us took the time to talk about our puzzles on our own blogs. If you're curious (and don't mind a few spoilers), follow the links here:

Toki Tori and Rush: http://twotribes.com/message/what-we-did-for-the-portal-2-arg/
BIT.TRIP BEAT: http://www.gaijingames.com/?p=2255
The Ball: http://www.theballthegame.com/?page_id=1219
Cogs: http://www.lazy8studios.com/2011/Portal2_ARG_puzzles
Defense Grid: http://www.hiddenpath.com/blog/18/
Killing Floor: http://www.killingfloorthegame.com/potato-arg-a-kf-postmortem/
Amnesia: The Dark Descent: http://frictionalgames.blogspot.com/2011/04/portal-2-arg-postmortem.html
We owe the ARG community a lot of credit for enforcing limits on their own behavior. At one point, the actions of a few hackers threatened to bypass a big section of ARG content. A few individuals managed to crack the system that Steam uses to distribute beta versions to developers for testing, giving them early access to the content. Thankfully, Valve quickly caught on and pulled the content down. At the same time, some of the indie developers hastily beefed up their own in-game security measures. This quick response sent a clear message that this type of hacking was unexpected and unacceptable.

When leaders in the ARG community figured out what was going on, they sent an official apology to Valve and issued a statement on the wiki that this type of behavior was unacceptable. While some amount of hacking continued, this scolding helped.
Even a player who chased after a red herring had a good story to tell. One guy got the idea in his head that he was supposed to find a clue at The Couch Potato, a furniture warehouse in Santa Cruz, California. Team Meat learned about this by monitoring the IRC channel, so Edmund McMillan of Super Meat Boy fame intercepted him at the warehouse and surprised him with a signed copy of Super Meat Boy.
Kidnapped Champions. The second big mistake we made was pulling the ARG champions away from their communities too early. Based on contributions in various games, on the fan wiki and in the IRC channels, we hand-selected a few individuals who had contributed disproportionately to the ARG and offered to fly them to Valve.

In order to give sufficient time to notify them and make travel arrangements, Valve contacted them a few days before the start of the crescendo. We didn't require them to sign any NDAs, but to maintain the fiction, we encouraged them to take a step back from the ARG and claim that they had been kidnapped by minions of GLaDOS.

We failed to realize just how influential these few individuals had been in keeping the ARG running like clockwork. The wiki stopped getting updated, leaving other players confused as to what was going on.

In retrospect, a few minor changes may have prevented this. For instance, we could have altered the fiction of the story in a way that allowed the champions to keep rallying the ARG community in the anticipation that the kidnapping would come later.

The Crescendo. By far the biggest mistake of the ARG was the decision to move up the timeline for the crescendo. We originally scheduled this to start 24 to 36 hours before the imminent 7 am Tuesday launch, but we worried that this would give ARG players in other time zones very little time to participate. So we decided to set the completion threshold much higher so that the crescendo could stretch over multiple days. We moved the start to Friday morning to make it easier for international media to pick up the story before the weekend.

So what really happened? When the final ARG puzzle was solved, it pointed to a webpage with a count-down timer. Players immediately assumed that this was the count-down for the early release of Portal 2 -- a suspicion that they believe was validated by a clue that was sent to several media outlets that included the hint "4/19/2011_7AM=4/15/2011_9AM," where the first time was the published Tuesday release date. In retrospect, it wasn't very hard to see why the the community was surprised and disappointed when the timer reached zero only to be replaced by a page with another timer.

If our goal was to get media attention, then we got it. The extended crescendo gave plenty of time for the news to cover the event, but we sacrificed a lot of goodwill with the players. Those who had been participating in the ARG since the beginning felt let down because there were no puzzles left to solve. They participated in the crescendo by playing the games but found it to be anticlimactic.
 

V_Ben

Banned
May 8, 2009
14,618
2
0
Even a player who chased after a red herring had a good story to tell. One guy got the idea in his head that he was supposed to find a clue at The Couch Potato, a furniture warehouse in Santa Cruz, California. Team Meat learned about this by monitoring the IRC channel, so Edmund McMillan of Super Meat Boy fame intercepted him at the warehouse and surprised him with a signed copy of Super Meat Boy.

That is so awesome.
 
D

Deleted member 22576

Unconfirmed Member
V_Ben said:
That is so awesome.
I know that store. I REALLY want the story of why this guy thought he should go there. WTF, so random.
 
D

Deleted member 22576

Unconfirmed Member
V_Ben said:
Well yeah, but going by that logic he probably stopped by the supermarket on the way home to check the produce section for clues.

POTATOS ARE EVERYWHERE
 

gregor7777

Banned
Jan 17, 2007
13,379
0
0
The Lamonster said:
I don't get your joke but fuck, Defense Grid is awesome and I loved the new Potato levels.

Hackers Gonna Hack

We knew hacking was inevitable, but we didn't realize just how much of an issue it would be. Michael Austin at Hidden Path has a passion for software security, so he played the role of the security expert and suggested precautions that we should each take with our own code.

As for his own code, Michael explained, "I went crazy with security." Not only did he put ample security in place, but he also wrote code that would notify the server whenever it appeared that a player was attempting to circumvent the security measures. "Everything got triggered... every single security measure I put in got hit."

...

The Hidden Path team came up with some particularly creative anti-hacking measures. For instance, one strategy is to look for unusually long frame times -- something that would usually only be triggered by a hacker stepping through the code. If this was detected, they had a subroutine that would corrupt all of the important keys so that they were useless to the hacker.

...and yeah, Defense Grid is one of my favorite games of all time. King of the genre.
 

dave is ok

aztek is ok
Aug 16, 2004
17,419
0
1,390
I'm really shocked that the development of the ARG wasn't shopped out to a third party - as they usually are.
 

gregor7777

Banned
Jan 17, 2007
13,379
0
0
I wonder how exactly Valve chose the studios who would participate.

The next day, an invitation goes out; a week later, on December 16, 2010, 20 indie developers fly in to Seattle, all somewhat confused as to why they are there in the first place.
 
Apr 23, 2006
2,182
0
0
Phenomenal article, just breezed through a bit, can't wait to read the whole thing.

As a golden potato owner (which is still on my profile and I hope hangs around forever) I was not as let down as a lot of people were. Sure, it faltered at the finish, there's no denying that. But all the anger directed at Valve and EA and everybody else in the world only serves to tarnish what was, up to that point, an amazing journey. Probably more hype than was strictly beneficial to my health was stirred up in my cynical gamer heart. For a few (weeks wasn't it?), my dull life had something interesting in it.

Maybe some of the people justifiably frustrated with the outcome can read this article and get an appreciation of what we were enjoying from the beginning. It's pretty clear that they learned a lot of lessons, which means the next one will probably be their masterpiece. I hope we see it soon. Really, really, really soon.
 

JaseC

gave away the keys to the kingdom.
Jul 30, 2009
73,802
7
1,030
Western Australia
A brilliant read pertaining to an equally brilliant experience. Even the "countdown timer after the countdown timer" fiasco didn't detract me from enjoying the wealth of new content and, in particular, the handful of indie games I fell in love with. Initially, I decided not to bother with getting the potatoes, but I was just having too much fun to ignore the goal. I ended up getting every single one. Kudos to Valve for deciding to give those who got all 36 the entire Valve Complete Pack instead of just the games they were missing, as was the initial intention.

It's very obvious from the article that all involved are well aware of the mistakes that were made, and as such I can only hope Valve or other indies will take us on another journey when it's time to formally announce/unveil Episode Three or other games, respectively.

At the very least, I hope everybody who took issue with the last leg of the ARG reads this article.
 

epmode

Member
Jun 7, 2004
28,470
0
0
If there's one thing this ARG taught me, it's that I really, really, REALLY hate sliding puzzles. Especially timed sliding puzzles. Especially especially timed sliding puzzles with a maximum number of moves counter.

Haven't read this yet but I'm really looking forward to it.
 

Red

Member
Feb 16, 2008
23,704
2
0
Good that they recognize the fault with the crescendo. I'm glad to see them admitting to that mistake and realizing why players were so upset by it.
 

megalowho

Member
Jan 3, 2009
6,126
0
1,005
Very insightful and interesting post mortem, pretty much a must read for anyone that took part in the ARG. Loved hearing about how developer coordination worked, that was an aspect I was particularly curious about. And it's nice to see that they get the whole backlash from the final push, after pulling back the curtain their reasoning makes enough sense on paper. I have full confidence that if and when Valve decides to roll out another ARG it'll be an even more engaging and rewarding experience for all who participate.
 

Htown

STOP SHITTING ON MY MOTHER'S HEADSTONE
Feb 19, 2008
44,007
7
0
Good stuff.

Best part of the ARG for me was the Portal-specific content in The Ball.
 
Jan 28, 2007
12,340
0
910
Htown said:
Good stuff.

Best part of the ARG for me was the Portal-specific content in The Ball.

probably the most straight forward addition though. The potato for AAaaaA required a lot more 'hoop-jumping', if you will.
 

Jintor

Member
Oct 22, 2009
87,151
1
890
Australia
What this actually makes me more excited for is Valve's next bullshit crazy-ass ARG. Damn this ride was intense as hell. Mind you, I still can't believe they didn't express any explicit problem with idling.
 

Rapstah

Member
Jul 20, 2009
13,183
0
0
Jintor said:
What this actually makes me more excited for is Valve's next bullshit crazy-ass ARG. Damn this ride was intense as hell. Mind you, I still can't believe they didn't express any explicit problem with idling.
Don't expect anything similar. If they bring in the same indie developers again the internet will be on it within hours.