Portal is one of my all-time favourite games.

It’s available from the Steam distribution system, and is frequently on offer (recently available for free), or bundled inside the Orange Box deal.

It would be difficult to say exactly why Portal is amazing without spoiling it; suffice to say that it’s a short game (approx 4-6 hours play), incredibly clever, with a great sense of humour and a huge twist halfway through. If you’ve not yet sampled it- avoid any reviews before you do so.

It also features a number of extras, one of which is a ‘director’s commentary’ mode. If you activate this, speech bubbles are scattered around the levels – which, when clicked, explain design decisions.

These demonstrate the attention directed towards user testing and how this shaped the look, structure and progression through the game.

There are very obvious lessons to be learnt for game developers, but they’re also acutely relevant to any field that involves user interaction.

To paraphrase them:

  • Your users won’t necessarily see, mentally connect or react the way you would expect them to.
  • Simplify, deconstruct and semaphore the appropriate interactive elements.