Ever since the birth of Portal in 2007, gamers across the world have eagerly been awaiting a sequel game, myself included. This video game is slated to be one of the most anticipated games of 2011, however nothing we dreamed up in the weeks leading to this moment could have truly prepared us for the return of GLaDOS. Not only has she returned for Portal 2, but she has infected thirteen other video games developed by Indie Studios; titles such as Defense Grid: The Awakening, Audiosurf, Killing Floor, and Amnesia the Dark Descent, just to name a few. See this Youtube Video I took from Audiosurf for an example of the infection.
But it doesn’t end there! Inside each of these video games, which are collectively called “The Potato Sack” on Steam, are a myriad of clues and items. What do these clues and items lead to? The Valve Alternate Reality Game for the release of Portal 2 (more information on what an ARG can be found here). Since April 1st, 2011, a group of individuals have come together to collaborate on solving the Alternate Reality Game to form the ValveArg group. They are responsible for a wiki that houses all known knowledge of the ARG, and an IRC channel to work on the many challenges they faced. These challenges range from decoding data, following information and clues off fictional and official twitters and blogs, enhancing photos, performing certain exact moves in games, and the list can keep on going. Needless to say ValveArg did not sleep very much, and accomplished an incredible amount. Reading their history on the Steam forums discussing what they went through would place even Stephen Hawking in a state of awe. Click here for detais.
At the end of it all, one thing became certain, April 15th, 2011 at 9am PST would be very significant. Perhaps Valve was releasing Portal 2 early? Valve already announced it to be April 19th at 7am. Was the 19th a red herring? Was the game that has stolen the hearts of millions going to come as an early surprise? Only time would tell as the countdown ticked away.
Sadly Portal 2 did not come early. Instead a new site GLaDOS@Home launched, replacing the counter. It would appear GLaDOS needs our help to return to reboot and launch Portal 2. To reboot GLaDOS, Steam pc gamers have to play the games in the Potato Sack for a certain amount of time. Each game that is played enough will cut down the time on which the game would release. Obviously the fans of Portal answered the challenge and those who did not already own the Potato Sack of games in the pack put down $33.72 to help the ValveArg team achieve the goal of an early release, and got to work securing more Potato Achievements to fuel the auxiliary power with rebooting GLaDOS.
As of 9:51 pm central time on April 18th, 2011, the efforts to reboot GLaDOS early have resulted in the completion of nine games and the release time being cut by eight hours, with everyone still focusing on the last four games:Defense Grid: The Awakening, Killing Floor, Super Meat Boy, and Amnesia The Dark Descent.
In the end, Valve pulled an amazing marketing strategy to virally hype up Portal 2, and also expose a set of exceptionally well made indie games to the masses, while making quite a bit of money for all developers involved. I regret not getting the chance to play through the majority of these games yet, but after I beat Portal 2, I plan to go back and play the remainder of the games I missed out on. This does not seem to be the end, however. Evidence has been coming out that Half-Life 2: Episode 3 may be announced soon, given some hints in the Portal 2 Release ARG Event. So who knows, maybe Gordon Freeman is returning soon?
Update #1: It has been about an hour since I published this, but within an hour, quite a bit has happened, and rightly so given we were in the final hour. It has come to our attention those who achieved all thirty-six potato achievements in the “Potato Sack” were able to launch Portal 2 before the rest of the world. It is widely speculated by many members of the Valve ARG community to be a present for their hard work the past few weeks, as is a free copy of the Valve Complete Pack, which has every game developed by Valve.