Old School Gaming

Like A Duck Taking To Baseball


Aside from the radio, I don’t even know where to start.

The greatest spectacles in sports and competition have the most talented people doing the most extraordinary things. Part of the delight is relating back to games we played as children. We know the goals, but professional players show us what we didn’t know was possible. [1]

When Portal was released to great fanfare, I was skeptical. I expected the game to crash when two portals created infinite hall-of-mirrors views of a single character. But the trailer showed the ability to chase yourself in a 90-degree loop. The programmers managed to express space that exists only once, but can be accessed endlessly and seamlessly.

Games give the narcissistic sense that (a.) the world is created especially for you, (b.) the world is specifically out to get you, and (c.) most importantly, completing one step leads to the next thing automatically. Things work the in the simplified way we expect them to. It feels like exploring a world, even though it’s linear. Walk don’t run, relax, stop and look around, enjoy the scenery.

The great irony, at least in Portal 1, is that a true map or model of the Aperture Science Center would overlap or interfere with itself, requiring entire walls of cutting edge shower curtain technology..

On par with an Imperial Star Destroyer or Spaceball One.

Then I get stuck yelling WHAT DOES IT WANT? I needed to consult a walkthrough three times. One: There’s a surface you don’t know about. Two: The thing you just did? You have to do it all over again. Three: Weak on judging where to land, much less double loops.

It was interesting playing through the single and co-op modes of Portal 2 with my sister. [2] One of us would be completely baffled, while the other had a visible lightbulb moment. ‘Oh, I got it, all it takes is…*flicker*… I gotta go do something.’ And we would alternate almost level by level. I died repeatedly, but, compliments to the level designers, we did not get stuck. Not even when we concluded that the solution to one puzzle was a flying midair catch of a catapulted cube. [3]

I cannot match the speed, consistency, and precise timing of skilled players. I am horrible at running and jumping (in video games). I am weak on firing shots from mid-air (in any situation, ball sport or otherwise).

I am here because I was told there would be cake.


[1] I was shocked when I learned that dunking is rare in women’s basketball. A friend who played college ball confirmed this. Even more shocking is no one seems to know why. Yes, there are characteristic differences in physical strength, and yes the average vertical leap is significantly higher for men, but I would expect the serious female athletes who compete past high school to demolish the ‘average’ male. They are already outliers, just like Olympian high jumpers, where the gap between the top men and the top women strikes me as smaller than the gap to ‘average’.

[2] The serious gamer in the family.

[3] My sister said it looked hilarious when I finally grabbed it on the 5th or 6th try. Much later we learned you can make the level bring the cube to you instead.


Portal Done Glitchless in 14:42, via FnzzyGoesFast. You don’t know a program until you can make it do something it’s not supposed to.

You Are Here, via Half-Life Wikia


  • 0A5599

    Yay, new content!

  • Mr_Biggles

    I was very skeptical of Portal prior to playing but for different reasons. I kind of wondered why one would bother with a game where one was not either shooting at people/aliens or driving cars/planes. I couldn’t see the point. In the end I took friends’ advice and loved the games. And I sucked at them. Unfortunately I had to look things up more than a few times and then felt fully “Stimpy you eeeeeediot” about them.

    My kids have since introduced me to Crossy Road. I no longer have the same questions about pointless games. I just accept them.

  • My wife has a secret fantasy of being Lara Croft. I have found that, compared to playing myself, I much prefer sitting on the couch next to her saying “maybe if you shoot at that cable,” or “is it possible to jump over that wall?” I enjoy encouraging her and watching her get excited when she accomplishes something on the eighth try much more than playing myself.

    • nanoop

      That’s how we all played, around 1990.

      • Back before the self-absorption singularity, when when people interacted in meatspace?

  • jeepjeff

    I feel like such a bad geek for not having played Portal yet. (Particularly now that there is an official Linux port, so my normal excuses don’t apply anymore…)

    OTOH, I love that people are making speed run videos. I was a big fan of Quake Done Quick back in the day. I couldn’t replicate any of it myself, but watching that level of play is fun, particularly when you know what went into developing the tricks. There are two main videos: Quake Done Quick, the original speed run, and Quake Done Quickest, the full on refinement that brought all possible tricks to bear on the problem, including things like bunny hopping, jump rotations and aggressive rocket hopping (and grenade hopping and grenade-rocket hopping). To appreciate QdQest, you need to know the physics shortcuts Id made when writing the engine and know the levels pretty well (the video is pretty chaotic: they play on nightmare and ignore the enemies as much as possible; health is just a stat that determines how many rocket hops you can make and how many enemies you can dodge past; a resource to be abused as any other). (Thankfully: QdQ and its ilk are all hosted on Youtube now; they predate youtube, so there was a period where it could be hard to get a hold of them.)

    SuperMeatBoy is another good speed-running game. It has speed running as a built-in game mechanic, which was super fun to master. Since if there was a “cheat route” through the level,
    exploiting it was built into the par time for the level; there is no way to beat the par time if you don’t make the extremely accurate, impossible looking jump that cuts out 1/2 to 3/4s of the level.

    Thanks for pointing this out, Skitter. I now have even more reason to play through Portal. I’m going to wait to watch this video until I can appreciate it as well as I can QdQ and SMBoy play-through videos. Ok, enough rambling game geekery.

    • If it makes you feel better, it sat on my desk for around 7 years before I had a computer that could run it. And due to my low gaming literacy, I would estimate it took me 40 hours to complete the game. Steam, however, will tell you I did it in less than 7. Safe to say it’s absorbing, then?

  • CruisinTime

    Cake for everybody.