Late and much missed actor John Spencer's character on The West Wing, Leo McGarry, used to gather his staff together once a year and make them listen to people who would never otherwise get an audience with anyone senior.
You know, people who think the moon's made out of cats, or want a wolves-only highway that costs 900 million dollars. Or who have watched every episode of The West Wing and want to point out that the thing about the Russians using a pencil in space is made up and that Mandy is hot and getting rid of her was STUPID.
Anyway, the idea, we're told, was inspired by one of those wacky US presidents, Andrew Jackson, who installed a big block of cheese in the foyer of the White House "for any and all who might be hungry". (I also slightly fancy Rob Lowe.)
These were always wicked episodes. And surely if John Spencer hadn't died (and I'm very cross with him for doing that), he would have delighted in the fact that there is finally a game developer who operates within a similar mindset.
Valve has long been celebrated for its amazing action games. But it's the degree to which they let feedback inform their design that makes The Orange Box - comprised of Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Team Fortress 2 and Portal - such an amazing release.
They even listen to people who wouldn't otherwise get an audience. Gabe Newell (firstname.lastname@example.org - and he does want to hear from you) said this to us in May: "if you just reply and say 'what's bothering you' sometimes you just find that their account got hijacked and they're mad at us, they're just mad, and I say 'hey, we can fix that' and they go 'really?' Then we can say 'and hey, here's the IP that your account was hijacked from' and they go 'oh, okay - that was my cousin'." This being someone who began: "f*** you, f*** you, you die". (I don't have a cousin - you can't prove anything.)
At every single stage of development, they listen, and they apply what they learn. There is no one person at Valve who takes credit for what they have done, or allows him or herself to stand out as a figurehead for what's been achieved: it is a truly collaborative effort, with you and I as well as them and theirs. And they know it.
But they also do the ridiculous. And believe me, Orange Box for USD 49.95 on Steam is the wolves-only highway for 900 million dollars. To be able to sit here and tell you that you can buy these three games - not to mention Half-Life 2 and Episode One, which are also included - for less than 30 quid is the sort of pleasure that What's New affords me so irregularly that I've given up trying to summarise games and fallen into a pattern of irreverence.
I would implore you to pay that amount of money to experience these games individually. Together, I feel like my words are almost redundant.
Really, this is a gaming product that reaches so far beyond the entertainment and value potential of other artistic mediums that it brings a lump to my throat. For all of you who love our hobby, this is Rapture.
Although the other one was pretty good too.
- American Civil War (PC)
- Blitzkrieg 2: Liberation (PC)
- Crash of the Titans (Xbox 360, PS2, Wii)
- Dead Head Fred (PSP)
- Dolphin Island (DS)
- Donkey Kong Jungle Climber(DS)
- Folklore (PS3)
- Heroes of Might & Magic V: Tribes of the East (PC)
- Imagine Fashion Designer (DS)
- NBA Live 08 (PS3)
- NHL 08 (PS2)
- Pippa Funnell 2: Farm Adventures (DS)
- Probotector II: Return of the Evil Forces (Wii Virtual Console - NES)
- Project Gotham Racing 4 (Xbox 360)
- Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (Xbox Live Arcade, PC - digital distribution)
- RACE 07 - The Official WTCC Game (PC)
- Rail Simulator (PC)
- SKATE (PS3)
- Spider-Man: Friend or Foe (Xbox 360, Wii, PS2, PC, DS, PSP)
- Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron (PSP)
- Super Metroid (Wii Virtual Console - SNES)
- Tarr Chronicles (PC)
- The Orange Box (PC - Steam)
- The Whitaker Family Presents Horse Life (DS)
- Top Trumps: Dogs & Dinosaurs (DS, PS2)
- Top Trumps: Horrors & Predators (DS, PS2)