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Portal 2 Viral Marketing: And the end begins...
by Jacques Hulme
14.4.11

If you're a fan of video games then you've undoubtedly heard of or played the excellent puzzle based title, Portal. Released in 2007, the game, set in the Half Life universe, follows the trials of Chell, a test subject of the evil computer, GLaDOS. It has been four years since we began to 'think with portals', and it's almost time to return to the decimated world of the testing facility.

Although, at the moment, it seems our adventure might not be all together clear.

Over the past 13 days a huge Alternate Reality Game, or ARG, has unfolded, revealing a dark future for us all. It started with the release of The Potato Pack on Steam, a collection of thirteen titles all retailed at a discounted price. At face value, it seemed much like any Steam deal pack; a great selection of top titles at an unbeatable price. However, over the course of a few hours it started to become clear that all was not as it seemed. Each had received an update, which stuck Potatoes into odd situations in the levels. After this initial discovery, further findings were made, including a collection of glyphs placed around the games, which were eventually decoded on IRC channels and the Wiki page valvearg.com. At the same time, several fictional characters appeared around the net, including several Twitter accounts and a blog by someone called 'Sandy'.

Although much went on during the next day, it ultimately led to the discovery of 'Aperture Science Login Screens' accessible in each game by completing an unspecified challenge. It was around this point that I joined in with the ARG, and began to follow the unfolding story. The inclusion of these logins suggested that this was Valve's - or more specifically, Aperture Science's - doing, and quite clearly connected to the impending release of Portal 2. To futher confirm this, a number of sites received emails from Gabe Newell, each of which contained parts of a whole picture. Once collected together, these formed a line of numbers which the ARG team set about decoding.


Skipping much of the story - which you can always catch up on alone, should you wish - we come to today. The ARG is still in full swing, with little indication of it ending any time soon. As I write, an interesting development becomes apparent as several prominant members of the IRC and wiki team have been abducted, presumably by GLaDOS. It really has been a great story so far, and I urge you to at least read up on what has happened, or even go and try to help!

Valve wasn't the first to use an ARG, though. In fact, there have been several in the past. Ultimately, they are a fancy way of advertising; personally, however, I would much rather be faced with this kind of task than see a thirty second TV spot telling me that a new title is the best thing since sliced bread. It also brings together a huge group of fans from across the world, who are all focussed on the same task. Each person plays a vital role in decyphering the clues, too (not least the cryptography wizards, who crack them in a matter of hours). On the other hand, IRC moderators are vital to create some order in a frantic world. Even if you're not a great mathematician, and even if you can't decrypt a HEX code, the ideas that you do have are still valuable.

Perhaps, then, an ARG (or even any internet community) is one of the best societies in the world. In only a few days a sense of order has been created, there are dedicated channels filled with people working on with specific tasks, each member has the potential for the next breakthrough and, most importantly, it works so well. An ARG is a giant puzzle, and each player holds one piece which fits somewhere.

Valve does an ARG right.

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- Jacques Hulme

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