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Valve are a bloody interesting company. Their games are interesting, their ideas are interesting, and whenever they talk about what they're up to, it's always very, very interesting.
So I was mighty (yes) interested to read a new interview with Valve Project Manager Erick Johnson. It's an exciting and in-depth talk about all things Portal 2, so obviously you need to check it out by default, but it reveals some important points in regards to Valve's stance on the current-gen domination of online multiplayer over single-player story. Personally, I stand very much in the latter camp, so I was really heartened to hear one of my favourite devs backing me up. Check out my selected quotations and tell me what you think.
Discussing the communal nature of modern gaming, Johnson draws a definite line between being connected and playing together directly, seeming to prioritise shared experiences over any specific method of creating them.
"Half-Life 1 was a really offline product. I think customers want to find ways to talk about the thing that they are a big fan of with other people, and ideally experience it the same way.
That doesn't mean every game needs to be multiplayer. With single player games that were completely in a box, and there was no way to experience anything else, I think there are things that customers want that those games don't take advantage of"
And as for alternative methods of delivering those "things":
"That could just mean that you want to be able to chat with other people who are playing through the same part of the game as you, or the fans can write commentary nodes in the game and everyone can experience those to take advantage of the fact that there is a huge community of people that want to interact with each other.
I still think the analysis that every product needs to be a competitor in multiplayer, or an MMO, is incorrect; there are a lot of people who want an experience without the stress, so I don't see that changing"
And I can't say I disagree. I love the connected, shared experience of modern gaming, but I don't like the way that a competetive model is usually the default one implemented. Games are as great a shared narrative experience as films, but we don't enjoy those by punching each other in the arm in the cinema.
And more specifically on Portal 2, Johnson revealed that the sequel's story and objectives are certainly going to be a shake-up of the scenario established in the first game. It seems this isn't just going to be another case of "work out Portal puzzles, defeat GLaDOS, escape":
"This is getting tricky to talk about, because it's about story stuff a little bit, but I think if you are telling players that the core of the story is "you are going do again what you did last time," for most people that is pretty unappealing. That's not what is going to happen in the game, but there are definitely some things that are similar to the previous game. In implementation, they end up being fun and different. You're still going to have a testing relationship with GLaDOS"
So, all things considered, Portal 2 seems sto be shaping up to be another strong narrative showing from Valve, with a purity of single-player experience (augmented by the new, separate co-op campaign, of course) and an interesting spin on the Portal universe's original tale. Are you as happy as I am by the direction it's taking, or are you still dying for Portal deathmatch?