The pursuit of a challenge can be a driving force in life. The accomplishment of something thought to be unobtainable has a certain allure which some find irresistible. Game designers tend to play off of this concept, creating challenges that seem insurmountable in the context of the game world. Typically there will be an option for the player to affect the likelihood of beating the odds through game difficulty. As a designer, the proper implementation of difficulty, in my opinion, is instituting a learning curve and building from there. Once the player has gleaned the knowledge the game has presented, the designer is free to introduce complex obstacles that utilize this knowledge in varying ways. Approaching the difficulty question from this angle allows designers to create more involving situations during the progression of the game. This concept of “learning in order to succeed” seems to eradicate the necessity of a difficulty option altogether.
It was almost impossible for me not to get excited over the release of Portal 2. After all, it was the follow up to one of the most acclaimed games of the last decade. Portal itself wasn’t really even a full game– it was a short proof of concept from Valve that happened to take off. The sequel couldn’t afford to be just a Portal clone, it was going to contain far more mechanics and even a Co-Op mode. The idea of going through all of these mind-bending puzzles with a buddy seemed like a refreshing idea to add to the series.
With all of this in mind, I was ready for Co-Op. I came home to my pre-loaded Steam copy of Portal 2. I summoned up a Steam friend, and we dove right into it. After doing a short test to get ourselves acquainted with the new protagonists, Atlas and P-Body, and the concept of both having portals, we were placed into “The Hub”. There are 5 sets of test chambers in total, all accessed via this “Hub” (a kind of virtual lobby, where a screen displays small stats and tidbits about your game on a large screen). Sometimes getting to each set of test chambers is like a micro puzzle, requiring you to place a few portals, but never anything remotely challenging. Here, you are free to go back and repeat any test that you have already completed, at your leisure. We then got started on the real tests.