Last night, while Amy finished the last book in the Twilight series (a virus that has consumed my family), I decided to take a break from Rock Band and Half Life 2 and revisit Portal.
Portal is by far the best game ever. Even Yatzee agrees that this short game included in the Orange Box is the complete shiznit. I've already played it through and have unlocked all the bonus levels and other stuff. One of the bonuses is developer commentary. Having already tried doing some of the bonus levels (like timed versions of existing levels) and realizing I had retained absolutely no memory of any of the levels I decided I should just play through the game again. This time, I would play through the developer commentary version.
This is something all game developers should do. There are little word balloons scattered about the levels. When you target one and hit the "X" button a developer commentary starts. Every one from designers to developers to the voice of GLaDOS chime in on a variety of subjects. I was amazed at some of the insightful things they learned about games and players. Everything from technical video performance issues of viewing a portal through a portal to modifying the level design to teach players about different constructs.
Portal is essentially a training game. A training game with some pretty incredible concepts to get your head around. Kind of like trying to get people to understand on-access scanning or the meaning of their web traffic data. We can learn a lot from the developers at Valve. Some of the user experiences we design include very complex concepts that stand in the way of our user's enjoyment of our products. How can you see the value of something if you can't set it up? Moreover, how can train people to use your product correctly (and more efficiently) if they don't understand how it works.
Check out the YouTube video (there are a few) or better yet, go out and buy a copy of The Orange Box and play Portal to access the commentary. You can expense it for user research!