Here’s a situation you don’t encounter every day: You – yes, you – can make Portal 2 come out sooner than originally intended. How? By collecting potatoes, of course. Valve’s latest marketing stunt is nearing its conclusion, and you can help.
A few weeks ago, the casual PC gamer might have noticed the rather oddly-named ‘Potato Sack‘ bundle on Steam, released April 1st. Originally thought to just be another deal, it contained 13 indie games for just under £30:
- 1… 2… 3… KICK IT! (Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby)
- AaAaAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity
- Amnesia: The Dark Descent
- BIT.TRIP BEAT
- Defense Grid: The Awakening
- Killing Floor
- Super Meat Boy
- The Ball
- The Wonderful End of the World
- Toki Tori
All great games, in a variety of genres. Definitely worth the money. If you were to buy and play these games, however, you’d find that they had been… altered somewhat. Potatoes and potato references were everywhere – For example, Super Meat Boy became Super Potato Boy, while Defense Grid: The Awakening’s menu now listed various ways to cook a potato. Potatoes started to appear on people’s Steam profiles, as they completed various challenges within these games. Each one collected would reveal a clue for the next one. Gradually, links started to form between games, and Valve’s latest ARG (Alternate Reality Game) began to reveal itself.
The full extent of the ARG’s twists and turns are far too complicated for me to understand, let alone explain here. The full details are laid out lovingly in the Valve ARG Wiki, if you’re interested. Eventually, it was revealed that the whole thing was devised by none other than Portal’s deranged, murderous AI, GLaDOS, in her attempts to restore power. She knew it was possible to generate electricity from potatoes, and that’s exactly what she’d been doing. Anyone who had collected even one potato had been helping her to reawaken.
Eventually, the end of the ARG was found – a simple countdown. When it ended, the GLaDOS@Home website was finally unveiled, showing the time until GLaDOS herself will wake up – handily, the very moment Portal 2 is unlocked.
The trick? It’s a collaborative effort again. Anyone playing any of the Potato Sack games right now will be adding their ‘CPU computations’ to hers, decreasing the amount of time before the game’s release. GLaDOS@Home keeps track of how much each game needs to be played before it will have an effect – At the time of writing, 1… 2… 3… KICK IT! and The Wonderful End of the World have been completed, and the current focus is on AaAaAA!!!
So if you fancy playing Portal 2 a little bit earlier, then the best thing you can do is to get your potatoes and get playing! The difference will be measured in hours, rather than days, but it’s still a nice, interactive way to pass the time before the game unlocks.
Sure, the whole thing does just boil down to a bit of free publicity for Portal, Steam and Valve. But the fact that even their marketing campaigns are this entertaining is one of the main reasons Valve are so damn good at what they do.