Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rebooting GladOS

Wait! Don't go yet! The title of this post makes it sound like it'll be full of spoilers for Portal 2, but it actually won't be. The game is amazing and exactly the sequel it needed to be, but I'm also not finished yet and don't want to accidentally spoil anything for anyone who's in a slower boat than I am. And that's a slow boat!

Instead what I'm going to talk about today is the Rebooting GladOS event that took place over the weekend. A website with a countdown timer appeared last week, and the timer expired at 12:00 PM on Friday. That countdown led to *another* countdown, this one on the glados@Home site.

This text appeared near the top:
08:57 - Default boot scheduled to finish in 93:50:18
08:58 - Activating emergency distributed computing grid...
09:00 - GLaDOS@home starting...
09:01 - Recruiting cpus to force faster boot sequence...

About halfway to go!

The idea is that GladOS needed computational power in order to reboot, and her current power would allow the rebooting sequence to complete in a little over ninety-four hours: the launch time for Portal 2. Beneath the countdown timer and a large progress bar, there were thirteen *other* progress bars, one for each of the thirteen Indie games in the Potato Sack Pack, available for purchase on Steam through convenient links on GladOS@Home.

Each of the thirteen progress bars displayed the number of 'Current CPUs' applying toward the progress of the bar, and this number could go up and down: the number of people currently playing that game. The longer people play the games, the more the bars fill up, and each game whose bar fills all the way up contributes an amount of progress to the main bar. Every time a game's bar was completed, the countdown timer for the reboot underwent an adjustment, bringing Portal 2 closer to release.

Now, this was only for the digital release on Steam. For those of us who already ordered the game on PS3, there really wasn't any reason to participate, other than for the general feeling of helping out, contributing to the cause. But that was plenty - there were enough games on the list I'd always been interested in that this was the perfect excuse to pull the trigger on and do my part for the effort: Audiosurf, Super Meat Boy... and I already owned Bit.trip Beat.

Additionally, each of the games on the list had hidden objectives in them that would reward you with 'potatoes,' little potato icons that appeared on your Steam profile. These were basically faux-Achievements, but more importantly there was a counter on the bottom tracking the number of potatoes everyone had collected. At a certain threshold, about 450,000, the number of potatoes started winding down at a rapid rate, increasing the progress of the thirteen game bars.

Here's the punchline, though. Portal 2 did come out early as a result of this effort, ten or so hours before it originally would have, but that wasn't early enough for the Internets: people are spamming user review sites with negative reviews for Portal 2, message boards are full of raging about Valve and the whole event, and I think maybe the point was missed.

I loved it. It was the perfect way to get even more psyched for Portal 2 and to support some good indie games in the process. If you're interested in reading some of the behind-the-scenes goodness about the whole event, here's an interesting read that also talks a bit about the formulas in play:

Chronological Halo will be back next week, as Noble Team goes on their final mission: a torch-and-burn op to keep valuable research from falling into Covenant hands. Till then!

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