Behind the scenes with the Portal 2 ARG

In a recent article on Gamesutra, Rob Jagnow (of Lazy 8 Studios) takes a look back at the behind-the-scenes planning for the Portal 2 ARG.

Of particular note may be his examination of the mistakes made over the course of the game — including the claim that “by far the biggest mistake of the ARG was the decision to move up the timeline for the crescendo. We originally scheduled this to start 24 to 36 hours before the imminent 7 am Tuesday launch, but we worried that this would give ARG players in other time zones very little time to participate. So we decided to set the completion threshold much higher so that the crescendo could stretch over multiple days.”

BONUS LINKS: other developers talk about the ARG:
Toki Tori and Rush | BIT.TRIP BEAT | The Ball | Cogs | Defense Grid | Killing Floor | Amnesia: The Dark Descent

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever read a post-mortem like that for an ARG before, and it was definitely a fascinating read. I do think that 24-36 hours would have been about right for the GLaDOS@home section, and it’s interesting to know why they changed it, and how they realize in retrospect that it might have been the wrong choice.

    One other option that we could consider for future projects is to move a crescendo-style event to the start of the ARG to alert the media and engage our core fans from the very beginning.

    I think that could be interesting too, especially because this is the kind of event with the lowest entry bar to participate in. It’s just “play the games on this list,” so it’s pretty easy to do.

  2. I’m glad to see the “crescendo” mistake acknowledged. What they’re not yet explicitly saying is that they were powerless to move up the release earlier than roughly midnight EST due to agreements with EA and/or physical stores. (Though an alternate explanation could be that the Portal team was promised a certain amount of time to squash bugs before release, and they didn’t feel they could revoke that promise. If nothing else, this would be the less crass, more face-saving excuse to make.)

    They’re also not yet explicitly owning up to the time-table being rigged by the potato “over-clocking” system, that they could turn on the over-clocking at any point (and with whatever multiplying power they determined they wanted at that point) to ensure a release at exactly the moment they wanted. (If I recall, until the over-clocking kicked in, it seemed by the end of the weekend that the meters wouldn’t even be filled up in time for the originally planned launch-hour?)

    Something else I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere is that when the Glados@home page was revealed there were already a few blocks filled in for each of the games. (I remember assuming at the time that the individual games’ meters represented a sort of RPM, indicating the strength with which they were helping to fill the main meter, as opposed to individual meters themselves that would all need to be filled up over time.) I suspect this additional mistake was the cause of early reports erroneously estimating a Saturday release.

  3. Though an alternate explanation could be that the Portal team was promised a certain amount of time to squash bugs before release

    I don’t think this would be the case… the game was surely printed on discs and starting to ship to the brick and mortars before the weekend started in order to get them to there on time, well past the point of last minute bug-fixes.

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