Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Thoughts on Lecture 10

Yesterday's lecture was on media agenda. Bruce explained there were three other agenda's: corporate agenda, public agenda and political agenda. All of these agenda are obviously interrelated, but can also manipulate each other. For instance, the corporate agenda may influence the political agenda to sway the public agenda. Like how big fossil fuel companies allegedly influence senators and congressman in the American government so as to convince their constituents that America's energy independence is more important than green sustainable energy. The same can also be said for green-energy companies who allegedly do the same but for the reverse affect. In both of these examples, the corporate agenda can therefore be summed up to profits and the political agenda can be the financial incentive of allying themselves with these corporations.

Now agenda sounds like a bad thing, but you can agree with an agenda. Like how I agree with the same-sex marriage agenda. In the US their are pro-gay lobby groups who try to influence politicians using the same unethical methods used anti-gay lobby groups such as making large campaign contributions. There are many portions of the public who have an agenda, so the support lobby groups who influence politics.

This is where the media comes in because the corporations, politicians and the public need it to spread their agenda further. The national discourse of Australia can be swayed by the media quite dramatically. Such as how live-export wasn't that much of an issue before Four Corners made an exposé on the poor treatments of  livestock when sent to other countries. If Four Corners never did that, the corporations (livestock traders and animal groups), the politicians and the public would never have a prominent discussion on this issue.

Thoughts on Lecture 9

News values was the topic for last weeks lecture and it was the most interesting of the course so far. It's difficult to articulate what makes a story newsworthy, but many people have tried to dissect pasts trends in news stories so they can clarify what 'newsworthiness' is. This was explained to us by Bruce, who showed us some 'criteria' for newsworthiness from different scholars in the field of media. Criterion such as timeliness, proximity and impact where a common factor among these lists of criteria.

Almost all news stories don't even need to be critically evaluated in order to determine whether or not it is newsworthy. Good editors and producers of media outlets - the people in charge of which stories are covered - have an intuitive eye for newsworthiness. Major events such as 9/11 and Invasion of Iraq are the pinnacle of newsworthiness, since there very nature affects everyone in America, and the western world for that matter.

It also depends on the audience of the media outlet. Gossip magazines have a different criteria of newsworthiness than late-night political television programming. The former heavily focuses on celebrities, seeing sex scandals, weddings and break-ups as being the most publishable while the latter sees wars, diplomatic affairs and national issues as the most newsworthy and therefore 'air-able'.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Thoughts on Lecture 8

The 8th lecture in this course was media ethics, and a guest lecturer came in to apply media ethics to real-life ethical conundrums that you face as a journalist. She first explained that in Australia, the ethicalness of a journalist's actions is based upon the rules set by the Media Alliance Code of Ethics. The three basic principles of this code of ethics is honesty, fairness and independence, which are all, in my opinion, nonnegotiable tenets. The news is only as reliable as the journalist who presents it, so those three principles are paramount to keeping the idea of 'news' alive.

She told us the story of how she was able to get an interview with the mother who suffered an unimaginable loss. The mother had recently lost her three children, all of whom died from rafting in a lake and being exposed to a live electrical wire. The guest lecturer referred type of interview as a 'death knock' because she  had to visit the home of the grieving mother and father uninvited and try and land the interview then and there.  This style of interview seems very invasive to me, but the mother consented to the interview, so I guess it was ethical.

One point she told us that really grabbed my attention was that she doesn't over-think the more depressing aspects of her career. She elaborated that coldness is the best remedy for not being overwhelmed by tragedy and despair, which makes me have a little bit more sympathy for journalists.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Assignment 3 - Factual Storytelling Exercise

Interview: ColbyCheeZe


The MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) gaming genre has become increasingly mainstream over the last few years, with the free-to-play video game League of Legends being the most popular. ColbyCheeZe is an internet personality who has been making commentaries and guides for LoL since it's early days. His YouTube channel now has over 100,000 subscribers and his livestreams on his Twitch.tv channel has had over 1.2 million views. 

Here is an edited version of the interview. This is what I am submitting for the factual storytelling exercise. 

video

Here is the whole interview; sorry that it cuts off abrubtly, blame the recording software. 

video

Thoughts on Lecture 7

Last week’s lecture was on public media with a specific focus on Australia's. Bruce kicked things off with a hilarious video by British humorist Charlie Brooker, who parodied the tired news report
formula ironically through a self-referential and cliched news report. It has nothing to do with the topic, though.

Back onto the topic at hand, Australia's public media, the ABC and SBS, have an interesting history. First and foremost, the ABC, founded in 1923, was designed with the intention to serve the public good of Australia through creating an unbiased and non-partisan medium for the public discourse. SBS followed around 50 years later, in 1975, with the goal of allowing the voices of Australia's
multicultural landscape to be heard, and is tailored for all cultural communities. Both are not meant to be corrupted by the forces of enterprise or politics, always being objective.

The problem with these two media groups is that, because of their social function, they are not allowed to create drama when their is none. They cannot sensationalize the news in any way, unlike Channel 7, 9 and 10 which have always done this and will continue to do so. I remember, I think, last year when the ABC television channel aired a hour-long documentary on the Global Financial
Crises. This particular documentary received a lot of criticism and outright backlash for being too flashy and dramatic, essentially using cheap emotive tricks and not being fact-driven. This little controversy shows how much the Australian public look towards the ABC for being 'dry' in the sense that they, the viewers, never need worry about being manipulated. This affair was, of course, featured on Media Watch, which is surprisingly on the same channel that aired the documentary. Something like this would never happen in a million years if it happened to a for-profit media group like the News of the World scandal and News Corp.

Interview: Four Court Jester

Four Court Jester is a part-time video game shoutcaster and commentator who specializes in MOBA (multiplayer online battle area) matches, similar to being a sports commentator who covers physical team-based sports. He has recently commentated live for a high-stakes League of Legends qualifiers tournament in Australia. You should also check out his Youtube channel and Twitch.tv channel

Below is the edited version of the interview. Unfortunately, this is not my submission for the factual storytelling exercise, but was still nevertheless a great time.

video

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Thoughts on Lecture 6

Yesterday the latest JOUR1111 lecture was on commercial media, and it explored it's role, function and purpose in Australia. Bruce kicked things off by saying that all the commercial media conglomerate's goal is to make money and more money. This is, of course, nothing new to me and not that interesting to learn. The way in which they make profits - or lack thereof - is what sparked my interest, though. The most surprising piece of information I learned was that major news outlets cater more to the advertisers rather than the readers, viewers or listeners. The more you think about it, though, the more it makes sense.

It was also interesting to learn about all the big players in Australia's commercial media and their respective subsidiary groups. For instance, I didn't know that many of the media conglomerates such as Fairfax Media and News Corp. have their hands in more than just one medium. Television, print, radio and the world wide web are their primary domains. Some of these mediums are more profitable than others. In fact, News Corps.'s involvement in newspapers is rumored to be not a money making scheme, but rather a platform for the partisan agenda of the Murdoch empire. If you ever watched Fox news, this is not hard to believe.

The social role of commercial media has always been at odds with their profit-orientated mission. Unethical media practices such as distortion, miscommunication and sensationalism of the news will always attract more eyes and ears - and more ad revenue - but is counterintuitive to correctly informing the masses, unfortunately spawning an unworldly public-sphere. This, of course, defeats the purpose of news, which is to communicate an accurate recounting of the important stories of the day.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Thoughts on Lecture 5

Last week's lecture was on factual storytelling with pictures, and provided a rudimentary overview of photography. Buzz words such as viewpoint and light were mentioned, unlike in COMU1999 were it's as common as the word 'the'. It was, however, also heavily focused the history of photojournalism, which was surprisingly the most interesting thing I've learned all semester. In the realm of traditional media, black and white illustrations in newspapers were the norm for a very long time  It wasn't until a few years after photography was around, it then become a very commercial and economical method to use photos to capture images for important stories.

Even more interesting to learn from the lecture, though, is the history of visual media on the internet. For instance, the first picture ever uploaded on the internet was this:

Behold! The majesty of the internet.
This goes all the way back to 1992, making it two decades ago that this historic milestone of the internet occurred. In the same light, the first ever video uploaded on Youtube - which is now seven years into prime - just happens to be an impressively unimpressive, less-than-twenty-second video of a guy at the zoo talking about elephants.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Thoughts on Lecture 4

The last lecture was on sound and could only be accessed on Blackboard as an audio file. The whole thirty minute lecture is two interviews with people in field of radio. The first interview is with a man, who as apart of his career, conducts long-form intimate interviews with generally interesting people such as famous sportsmen and politicians. He discusses some of his techniques that he uses to get the most out of an interview, making it more organic and natural, and really have a deep discussion with interviewee. One that he highlights is the power of listening, ensuring that when the interesting person is divulging a meaningful anecdote or some other private information, that he/she is not interrupted. The general rule is that when an interviewee fondly reminiscing, bombarding them with follow-up questions is the worst thing for the situation. Another good point he made, was the beauty of silence in radio and how it can be used for effect. He recounted when his former co-host - unfortunately - frantically talked during a silent moment in an interview because he thought that was ruining it.

The other man of the two interviews is better known for his role in talk-back radio. The only reason I remember his name, Steve Austin, is because it's the same name of the famous "professional" wrestler. He talked about how he tries to discuss important topics of the day on his radio program, with some being more serious than others. Austin made the interesting observation that on his program, the vox populi is more vocal towards more trivial things like the feud between cyclists and motorists rather than big affairs such as the War in Iraq. I found this to be very interesting. The interview also gave me some intriguing insight into the selection process for callers who want to voice their opinions.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Quantum Conundrum

It's the best spiritual successor to a spiritual successor to a freeware game so far this year. 


It's hard not to get déjà vu when jumping into Quantum Conundrum, seeing as this is yet another first-person puzzle platformer from the mind of Kim Swift. Like her groundbreaking work on Portal, you can expect to be flying through the air more than most planes, only ever hearing one voice from start to finish, and seeing a lot of buttons alongside their natural predator; boxes. Though, in spite of this title being a spiritual successor to one of the greatest video games to come out this decade, it doesn't have the same magic - but is still nevertheless worth checking out. 

Being the nephew of the genius inventor Professor Fitz Quadrangle has its perks. Every time your mum drops you off at Quadrangle manor, he surprises you with one of his amazing new inventions. However, this time around, something goes terribly wrong, and you're tasked with navigating through the manor that has been re-purposed to test his latest contraption: the Inter-dimensional Shift Device, or IDS device for short. 

Once you get your hands on it - or to be more precise, 'it' on your hands, because it's a glove - the IDS device allows you to access up to four dimensions. This gives a whole new meaning to physics-based puzzles since the physics of the environment is literally in your hands. For example, if there are objects that are too heavy to lift, switch to the Fluffy dimension, and before your eyes can blink everything will turn light and fuzzy. This is, of course, just a taste of what you can do. 


There's the opposite of the Fluffy dimension known as the Heavy dimension, where everything is denser, and very helpful in making tougher objects to protect yourself against lethal hazards. Not to forget the Slow dimension, for when some precious extra time is the only thing stopping you from plummeting to your death. Then there's the Reverse Gravity dimension, the most fun of all of them. Later in the game, a good number of the manor's rooms are on a grander scale, and are cleverly devised so that all four of the dimensions need to be used. 

Unfortunately, the puzzles are not that challenging.


Don't get me wrong, the rooms are difficult; but the puzzles themselves are not. It's a juggling act to switch between dimensions, requiring timing and co-ordination, yet, for the most part, the rooms don't draw out any lateral-thinking skills. In fact, you will feel less like a puzzle-solver and more like an inter-dimensional acrobat considering precision and accuracy is more important than anything else - especially whenever platforming. While there is still a challenge in Quantum Conundrum, don't expect it to stress your brain, just your reflexes. 


What surprised me, though, is the strong driving force of the story. Shortly after arriving, something happens that leads to your uncle suffering from amnesia and disappearing to some unknown place, along with the manor's power being turned off. He can still communicate with you over the manor's intercom system, though. So your eccentric uncle, voiced colourfully by John de Lancie - between his funny technobabblic ranting - helps you in unraveling the mystery that is afoot. This will hook you in and keep you puzzling all the way to the end.

Along the way you will also be helped by a small critter named Irk, Professor Fitz's pet thing, who looks like it was plucked straight out of a Dr. Seuss story book. It lies somewhere between cute and creepy, and bizarrely enough, it wears a name-tag. You will, however, grow on the little shy guy, seeing as it's always by your side. 


Quantum Conundrum looks and sounds great for a small-ish puzzle game. The visuals are not graphically impressive, but make up for it by giving off a zany vibe. Everything, from the hilarious painting mounted on the walls to the cartoonish gizmos scattered around the manor, make this a wacky sci-fi adventure romp. The score matches this tone, but it's more in the background and doesn't leave that much of an impact. Plus, it must be noted that you are treated to a song at the end credits, a la Portal. 


The sound design, on the other hand, is perfect. In the Heavy dimension, objects loudly clang when dropped, while in the Fluffy dimension, they softly thud. The best is the Slow dimension, where all noises are slowed down to a crawling pace, and listening to them is mesmerizing. Simply put, it's sound like this that convinces you that you're actually there, traversing through dimensional rifts. 

At around five hours, the game is not long by any stretch of the imagination. To counteract this, there are plenty of added incentives that will entice you to come back for more, such as collectible items, unlockable achievements, and an in-depth leaderboard. If you're a completionist, these will keep you occupied for a very long time, but for only $15, the single player campaign alone is already a great deal. 

It's unfair to compare Quantum Conundrum to Portal since Portal has a special quality about it that no other game can capture. Still, there's much to like about Kim Swift's latest project. The story never falters and will keep you interested, if not at least intrigued, all the way to the end thanks to Irk and Professor Fitz Quadrangle. These two will also help in guiding you through the puzzles, despite the fact that no help is need in solving them. What it lacks in puzzling, though, it sure makes up in platforming, as it will test your jumping and maneuvering a lot - without ever feeling unfair. Basically, it's a game that came out of nowhere and is surprisingly good, as it offers an inventive gameplay experience. Go ahead and take a look at Quantum Conundrum, you won't be disappointed. 

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Media Use and Production Diary

This log only accounts for a partial selection of the media that I consumed and produced over a period of ten days. Further down is the actual data of my media exposure which has been categorized into different groups (eg. Podcast, Web Browser, Video Games).

Thursday 2nd of August

Web Series - HuskyStarcraft at Youtube
Web Series - Sykkuno's channel at Youtube
Uploaded Blog Post - The Next Game is... Portal 2 at http://s4290589.blogspot.com.au

Friday 3rd of August

Web Series - The Young Turks at Youtube

Saturday 4th of August
Podcast - Total Recall - Audio Review at Spill.com
Vlog Series - VlogBrothers at Youtube

Sunday 5th of August
Webpage - Six Picks for the Week of August 6-12 at Metacritic.com
Blog - Monday Review: Mirror's Edge at I Play Games

Monday 6th of August

Uploaded Blog Post - The Next Game is... Pokemon Black and White at http://s4290589.blogspot.com.au
Podcast - A Couple of Cold Ones - August 6, 2012 at Spill.com

Tuesday 7th of August

Webpage/Web Video - Stewart Calls Out Fox News' Judith Miller for Hypocrisy on National Security Leaks at Mediate.com 
Watched Breaking Bad
Watched The Project

Wednesday 8th of August

Podcast - Happy Hour: Slender at Spill.com

Thursday 9th of August

Podcast - Remote Viewing Episode 21 at Spill.com
Video game review - Persona 4 Arena at IGN.com

Friday 10th of August

Played Professor Layton and the Curious Village on the Nintendo 3DS

Saturday 11th of August


Table 1: media usage over the course of 10 days (hours)

Days
Facebook
Skype
Podcasts
Video Games
Television
Web Browser
Music
1
0
1.5
0
1
1
3
0.5
2
0.5
3
1
2
1
3
0
3
1
3
2
3
0
6
0.5
4
1
2
0.5
2
0
6
1
5
0.5
2
1
1
0.5
3
0
6
0.5
2
0
2
2
5
0
7
0.5
3
0.5
2
0
3
0
8
0.5
1
1
1
0
5
0
9
0.5
2
1
1
1
3
0
10
0.5
3
1
3
0
4
0
Average
0.55
2.25
0.8
1.8
0.55
4.1
0.2

Graph 1: average media usage over the course of 10 days 



Analysis 
__________
Jumping into the analysis I must first admit that while I do own a desktop computer, I neither own a smartphone nor a laptop. This makes me apart of the minority of the JOUR1111 cohort , as only 21.2% don't have an internet-enabled smart phone. Not having these technologies also means that I don't use apps and that I don't access to the internet outside of my home and the university computer labs. However, this is not uncommon, because around 90% of the cohort also have access to Wi-Fi at home and at UQ.

Overall my media usage and production - with a few exceptions - is pretty atypical of my age group. For instance, I get the majority of my news from the very popular website Mediaite.com. As you can see in the media log above, it is an American blog that covers political and media related news. While this a professional blog that is highly respected as a media source, it is nothing compared to online "newspapers" or TV which 39.4% and 30.9% of the cohort rely on most for their news, respectively.

Also noteworthy, is that the largest portion of time I spend connected to the media is through web browsing which adds up to, on average, an astonishing 4.1 hours/day (40%), as you can see in the pie graph above. That makes me one of the 9.1% - a relatively small portion - of the cohort who spend most of their time web browsing and surfing. According to the survey, the most popular online pastime is Facebook with a total of 43%, whilst I only spend 5% of my time on the social network; thus tying with TV watching as the second smallest portion of my media exposure. I, in fact, spend more time listening to podcasts, than being on Facebook. You can see in the media log that I frequent the website Spill.com, which has podcasts focusing on film, video game and geek related news and opinion. 

A signification portion of my time is devoted to chatting with friends on Skype (22%) and playing video games (18%). These two activities primarily occur simultaneously, as I play the online video games League of Legends and Team Fortress 2 with friends, who I communicate with through Skype. While the survey did not cover online video games, I'm presuming that a moderate percentage of the cohort devotes some leisurely time to them. However, what I do know, is that Skype is very popular among the cohort, as 55.2% use it.

Some of my media habits are, of course, consistent with the rest of the cohort. Not at all surprising is that, on average, I watch television for less than 1 hour a day, which is the second largest response of 23.6% to the survey question 'How much TV do you watch most days? (Both broadcast and online)'. In addition I avidly visit the website YouTube, which 93.3% of the cohort also do, and I use the internet for shopping, banking, emailing, studying, and downloading entertainment.

In terms of media production, I have been posting content on this student blog with more than just the basic assessment requirements. Since it's creation, I have posted two video game reviews and I am planning to post more in future. For what I've seen the of other blogs, some of my peers are doing the same.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Thoughts on Lecture 3.

A special guest speaker lectured us on Monday; she covered the differences between print and digital journalism. She was very insightful and informative, offering many facts and pieces of trivia that gave me a new perspective on how journalism is currently forming around the juggernaut that is the internet. For instance, she spoke about the infancy of hypertext, which is text that has been tagged and hyper-linked in order to direct viewers to related content that they may find interesting. The exploitation of this potentially infinitesimal network has been very limited so far, and no media outlet or group has truly mastered it yet.

A piece of trivia that I also found intriguing is that people's eyes intuitively scroll webpages diagonally from the upper-left corner to the bottom right corner. This phenomena can be exploited, ensuring that website visitors are directed to the most important news - the ones that should grab people's attention once they are on the webpage. This reminds me of another piece of trivia; people when entering a supermarket intuitively look right, meaning that stock that the store owners want to sell should be placed to the the shopper's right. In the same light, the chocolate stand next to traditional checkouts is designed so that sweets for children are lower, to be at their eye level, while chocolate for adults is higher, to be at their eye level. I just find this kind useless knowledge interesting.

Back to print journalism, the standard model for newspapers has been for many decades, and has been refined to an art. In spite of this, the model doesn't translate to webpages. In my opinion, experimentation and research is the only key to designing a separate model that will become the template for all digital journalism. This is take a while, though.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Next Game is... Pokémon Black and White

Two high quality games that, in many ways, have rejuvenated the Pokemon series.

____________________________________________________________________
I've been a Pokémon fan going all the way back to when I played Pokémon Blue on the Game Boy Color. That was twelve years ago and since then I’ve also played Silver, Crystal, Sapphire, Emerald and Diamond. One thing you would notice from playing all five generations is how little the series has evolved over this time. When Game Freak decides to tinker with the Pokémon formula - assuming that all the planets are aligned - the changes are, more often than not, minor. But is Generation V the exception? The answer is yes and no. I would be lying if I told you that Pokémon Black and White for the Nintendo DS is radically different. The truth is that just enough tweaks have been made to the formula to reinvigorate the series. 
____________________________________________________________________
Everyone knows how a Pokémon game goes. You play as a 10-year-old kid with the dream of being a Pokémon Master. To do this you must travel around the [place region name here] region; catching Pokémon and training them by battling other trainers. With strong enough Pokémon you can face-off against the eight Gym Leaders of the region. By defeating each one you earn a badge, in which collecting all eight will allow you passage through to the Elite Four.  Along the way you also unravel the evil plans of an insidious group known as Team [place evil group name here] who try to stop you at every turn. All of this is pretty standard stuff.
____________________________________________________________________

What makes B&W unlike the previous games is that the Gym Leader subplot and the Team Plasma plot are combined into a full narrative. You're probably thinking now, "After fourteen years and five generations, this is what they come up with?" But to be fair, this is the first game to feature an antagonist that is interesting and three-dimensional. This antagonist, aptly named N, at many points throughout the game, challenges you with an intriguing - but in the end lacklustre - question of morality about the relationship between Pokemon and humans. While the game’s story could have been improved on, at least it's something different.     ____________________________________________________________________

No generation is without a bad Pokémon or two. In this respect, B&W is no different. While there are plenty of awesome new additions like Musharna and Bisharp, the abominations Vanilluxe and it's pre-evolutions are all contenders for the ‘Worst Pokémon of Any Generation’ award. What makes B&W stand out, though, is that this is the first generation since Red & Blue to include only its regional Pokedex. This is at least until you finish the main story, unlocking all the previous generation’s Pokémon for you to catch. Whether you love or hate the new Pokémon, I didn’t run into the “elusive” Zubat once and that made me very happy.
____________________________________________________________________
This time around, navigating through the region is as frustrating as ever, but in a good way. I dread walking into caves without any repellent on and I avoided tall grass at all costs. At the same time, though, enduring through this means you will come across many worthwhile items. These items will be the ones you cherish the most when you're versing formidable opponents at the tail end of your journey.

You won’t be surprised to find out that the Pokémon battles are the best part game. As always, they’re involving because you need to account for all the different Pokémon types; offensive, defensive and supportive moves; items such as potions, berries and in-battle effect items; and status ailments such as being poisoned or frozen. In Ruby & Sapphire, they gave us double battles which are terrific because they require even more strategy. This generation has now gone one step further by introducing triple battles and rotation battles. If you're the kind of gamer with an inner-tactician, you will have a great time with both of these new battle types. However, while these are available in online multiplayer - so you can verse your friends - the triple and rotation battles have too small of a presence in the singleplayer campaign.

  
The Pokémon are now animated, finally replacing those lifeless, still sprites. For example, the bigger Pokemon flex and pose, the cuter Pokemon fidget and hovering Pokémon bob up and down. Small touches like these make the battle sequences that much livelier. Also noteworthy is the game’s more diverse and saturated colour palette, making the various routes and Gyms of the Unova region picturesque. Plus it sounds as good as it looks; especially Team Plasma’s battle theme music, which I have to say is completely bad-ass.


A big problem with this game is how it has mishandled its new online features. It’s confusing to even wrap your head around what some of them do. There’s one feature that allows you to put one of your Pokémon to sleep so it can enter the Dream World. I did this to only then visit the browser-based interactive game that I immediately gave up on after only ten minutes. This is because no matter what I did I couldn’t make any sense of it. Hopefully, you will have a better time using the new online features than me.

If you’re a Pokémon fan craving for a fresh rethinking of the Pokémon series, Black and White almost delivers it. The familiar elements of Pokémon formula will hit all the right buttons, but all those buttons have been hit too many times. It’s the changes to the formula – granted some of them are hit or miss - that gives new life to the series, and if you’re someone who has never played a Pokémon game, it will nevertheless be an enjoyable ride. So what are you waiting for? Go catch ‘em all. 

Screenshots are courtesy of http://www.cheatcc.com and http://au.ign.com/.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Next Game is.... Portal 2

A surprising addition to the Valve’s 2007 Orange Box was Portal which charmed us with a dark sense of humour and brain-bending puzzles to become a classic game. Portal was short but unlike anything that has ever come before it.  The game cleverly took the relatively simple mechanic of portals and pushed itself into the stratosphere of puzzle gaming. It also introduced us to the deranged, but still lovable, Glados, the quiet weighted companion cube and delicious, moist cake (and the meme that will never go away). With such expectations, I had doubts that Valve could repeat the success of the original, as there was seemingly no clear direction the series could go.  I now understand how stupid it was to ever believe this. Portal 2 has not just lived up to its predecessor - it has risen above it into outer space as one of the best games of 2011.

While reuniting with your "old friend" Glados, she informs you that “it’s been a long time” and... she's not kidding. The Aperture Science Facility clearly needs a bit of maintenance since you were last there. Being left in a state of ruin, the locale has changed drastically enough so that re-visiting this universe feels unlike a retread of Portal. The once pristine and sterile testing chambers are now hosting a lot of greenery and nature’s other elements. Further down, entire sections have crumbled and fallen, making the already labyrinth-like facility even more difficult to get around - but it’s the new undiscovered areas that are really great to explore and also serve as a time-capsule of Aperture’s history. This will come as a great delight to fans who really want to study everything about the Portal universe, right down to the office’s bulletin boards.


The story of Portal 2 is where this game really shines so to spoil anything would take away some of its lustre. What I can tell you is that you will definitely be laughing due to the new addition of Wheatley - the quintessential comic-relief - with his nervous, barmy ramblings. Voiced by Stephen Merchant, with his unadulterated British accent, it is quite an odd choice for playing a personality orb - but he surprisingly adds much character to the game. J. K. Simmons is also among the new cast as Aperture Science’s founder and CEO Cave Johnson, a no-nonsense, enterprising tycoon. Although he does a very funny and entertaining performance, it’s disappointing that by the end of the game you’re left wanting more of him. And the Portal series wouldn’t be what it is without Glados, who is as vitriolic as ever. She hasn’t forgotten what you did to her, and with her sharp quips she’s not going to let you forget it any time soon. While all three are funny with their different styles of humour, they all provide pensive moments throughout the longer three-act campaign that really give the story some needed weight. You’ll be laughing from start to finish, but that doesn’t mean some moments won’t be emotional.


The basic portal mechanics haven’t changed; fire two portals from your trusty portal gun and jump through one to come out of the other. What makes this a puzzle game is using this mechanic to get through a chamber or area that is devilishly designed to test your ingenuity. With this being a fully fledged sequel, the puzzles have been amped up significantly with the addition of more ‘testing conditions’. To name a few, they include: aerial faith plates, hard light bridges, thermal discouragement beams and, of course, the 'pièce de résistance' being the gels. To describe these gels as anything but inspired (maybe even divinely) is to underrate how they have added a whole new dimension to the already fine puzzle mechanics. One in particular is called the ‘propulsion gel’: when covered on any surface, it allows the player to bounce off it and is used in some of the most fun chambers. While ideas such as these are brilliant on their own, the real achievement by Valve here is the way they combine them all to test your lateral thinking.


Portal’s level design was greatly focused on teaching the basic skills needed to complete each puzzle; the game never forced you into chamber that you were unprepared for. Although to be fair, the original was smaller in scope and had very little puzzle elements in comparison to this Triple-A title. And so despite introducing a large number of new gizmos to work with, you’ll never be overwhelmed thanks to a level design that has been refined into an art. In the same light, Portal 2 never handholds to make the solution obvious, meaning that to solve each puzzle you have to earn it. This can be done through some trial and error, giving you ample opportunity to experiment so you can get that eureka moment. The point is that the solution is not given on a silver platter, and it is satisfying that this perfect balance has been carried over from the original because, after solving each puzzle, I honestly felt smart - and so will you.


This time around you can team up with a friend and tackle the new co-op campaign. Together, you play as P-body and Atlas, two very animated droids who are emotive, funny and - dare I say - cute. Now with four portals at yours and your companion’s disposal, the puzzles have shifted into high gear. They're more elaborate and inventive, meaning that you’re going to have to put your brains together to solve them. Make no mistake; teamwork is essential becuase one doing all the work won't get you anywhere. So to communicate with your partner, you’re given a nifty indicator menu which can be used to select and place down visual icons for your partner to see. They include icons that indicate where to look, where to place down a portal and a short countdown for when timing is necessary. Nothing, however, beats directly talking to your partner through online chat. Like the original Portal, the campaign is short but brilliant, and will surely keep you coming back with future DLC.


This game is not a technical marvel by any stretch of the imagination. What do you expect with the game’s engine being Source, which is now seven years into its prime? Lucky for Valve they don’t have to render an enormous, finely detailed open-world but instead a smaller, linear game. Despite the graphical limitation, the visuals are still crisp and more than just pretty to look at. The game's art style, in fact, favours a quasi-plasticine texture rather than gritty photo-like realism in order to achieve a whimsical look which fits the game’s tone. Portal 2 won’t stress your graphics card; it instead offers a rich, fleshed-out world.


I would like to do more than just briefly mention that the music is stellar. If the sci-fi genre could be in the medium of music, the score of Portal 2 would be it. The soundtrack’s synthesiser beat and electronic sound just on its own evokes science-fiction exploration and adventure. Throughout the campaign, it plays in the background at opportune times for a great effect that will often arrest you. More importantly, however, is how music is incorporated into the gameplay. Some puzzles, to be solved, require preparatory steps, like the setting up of a line of dominoes ready to be knocked down.  While this is going on, the music builds as you progress, similar to how music was used in Shadow of the Colossus. Thus, by having this dynamic music, the buzz of setting everything in place swells until you’re finally up to the final step, and you trigger a chain reaction. Also, depending on what type of motion you are in, a specific tune is overlayed over the music stream for the added adrenaline rush.  All games should use music like this in some form or another because this is what modern video games are all about; an interactive experience.

Portal 2 is, for all intents and purposes, a perfect sequel, in that it delivers exactly what a sequel should. It’s not just a rehash of the original; it’s taken what Portal did so well, and improved upon it. The puzzles are more fun and elaborate, with many new elements that will test you. With this, the Portal universe has welcomed more charming personalities to make you laugh and really leave on impression on you.  If you thought that this game was unnecessary, that it won’t offer anything like the original Portal did, think again.