One of the biggest events in computer gaming last month was the long anticipated launch of Valve’s puzzle game Portal 2. After several months of promotion, including an alternate reality game, Valve’s Portal sequel was exactly what’s a lot of gamers had been waiting for. And after they finished beating the game—which, like its predecessor, did not take very long—some of them might have been curious exactly how the game came about.
Enter game journalist Geoff Keighley. Keighley had written a series of articles called "Final Hours” about the production of various other computer games in the ‘90s and 00’s for posting to GameSpot, most recently one on half life two in 2004. He had been following the production of Portal 2 for the last three years, this time, he decided to do something a little different: rather than write a piece it for a web site, he decided to try his luck with the new media: the iPad
Keighley explained that he feels there is a lack of good journalism about video games—a lot of potentially interesting stories simply do not get written.
So I thought I’d write another Final Hours on a new platform, iPad, and see if there is an audience for journalism like this. I’ve spent a significant amount of my own money to build this multimedia story and really have no idea if it will make back its money. But I thought I’d run an experiment and see what the market is for a Final Hours in 2011.
The Final Hours of Portal 2 is a $2.99 purchase from Apple’s app store. It incorporates a 15,000-word feature article, covering the inception, production, and release of Portal 2. It also includes pictures and multimedia, such as VR panoramas of rooms at Valve headquarters.
The application is essentially an e-magazine, locked in two landscape format and, like the daily, presented as images which do not allow for selection of text to copy and paste. It requires an Internet connection to use, in part because some of its features are Internet-enabled polls. It also includes a link to Keighley’s blog, Gameslice, and a link to buy Portal 2 from Amazon (undoubtedly earning Keighley a nice referral bonus on top of the 70% of $2.99 that comes from the Apple Store).
The material covered in the piece is interesting, especially for somebody who enjoyed Portal 2 as much as I did. There is a good section on Jonathan Coulton and the music he contributed to the game, for instance, as well as a host of other information about the game. (Did you know that one of the animators for Valve used to animate a Fraggle for Jim Henson?) There are some spoilers in the later sections, so it would be best to complete Portal 2 before reading that far.
The fixed format of this e-magazine does have the usual annoying disadvantages: you can’t increase or decrease the font size, or rotate it if you’re more comfortable holding your iPad in portrait orientation, and as mentioned before you can’t copy and paste material from the app to quote elsewhere. The requirement of an active Internet connection could also be inconvenient at times.
On the other hand, the $2.99 price is a bargain for the amount of information contained within the application. If you’re a Portal fan, buying it is basically a no-brainer. I am, and I highly recommend it.
This kind of application is basically the equivalent of self publishing an e-book through Amazon. Just as self publishing e-books has caused a revolution in the publishing industry, journalists publishing their own feature journalism could bring about changes in the magazine industry as well. Certainly it’s one way of getting quality video game journalism out to the public directly, rather than submitting it to a magazine.