Portal: Cutting into the cake of innovation

Posted: April 17, 2011 by CptToffer in Features
Tags: , , ,

Hello Antiherogamers. Welcome to today’s post, where we look at Portal and imminent release of Portal 2. This post does contain some spoilers, so consider yourselves warned. This week sees the release of arguably one of the most anticipated games of 2011. As we all wait, anticipation reaching mind bogglingly high levels, we should look back at just why so many people are now “thinking with portals”

Back in 2005 an independent game was released by a team of students from the DigiPen Institute of Technology. This was a title named Narbacular Drop. The game was an environmental puzzle one, where you play as Princess No-Knees as she tried to escape a dungeon by making portals. Stop me if this sounding familiar. On a side note the fact that she’s called Princess No-Knees is quite frankly the most hilarious thing I’ve read since an article stating you shouldn’t play Angry Birds because the Prime Minister likes it. But I digress.

The DigiPen team were brought into Valve and just over two years later we had Portal. For those living under a rock since 2007 Portal puts you in control of protagonist, Chell, from a first person perspective as she uses the Portal Gun or the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (for the pedantic among us) to escape the Enrichment Center for Aperture Laboratories. You move through a series of environments with said weapon, eventually being able to create two portals in order to manipulate the levels to facilitate your escape. You are monitored by a computer A.I known as GlaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) She acts as a number of things to the player and you do ended developing quite a strange relationship with her. Without giving away any spoilers to people who haven’t played the game (and if you haven’t finish reading the article and do so) the game takes a very dramatic turn at a point, and you find out there’s more to this promise of cake then meets the eye.

Im so so sorry

It clocks in at around four to five hours for the average player I believe; which isn’t much for a single player game considering some of the other single player only titles out there. Alone it may have not done aswell as it has however Portal was originally part of a package known as The Orange Box. Yes The Tangerine Square was looking to be the best thing since sliced bread when it was announced. It had the next episode to the award-winning Half Life series. It had the latest take on the Team Fortress franchise. It also had Portal. Many people overlooked Portal as the weak link to the three, but as the popularity of the Clementine Cube spread onto consoles, so did the wonders of Portal.

Portal did some things that had not been done before and also did some things reminiscent of previous titles. One of the first and I believe most amazing things that it did was the very concept of Portals themselves. We all know they are cool. The idea of moving from one area to another just by shooting two Portals at various points may have just sounded like a fantastic game mechanic but was in fact a significant change in proceedings for games generally. To understand what I mean check out this video, one of the very first released, showing the premise of Portal technology. That very first puzzle, where the player is looking at the fire, with ceiling of death vastly approaching is a moment in gaming that I will never forget. The reason for this is because up until this point my options as a gamer were as follows: Jump over the gap, or die. There may have been a mechanic to put out the fire, or stop the ceiling, but never a gun, or an option that said “hey, mess with the laws of physics and create inter-spatial portals” Furthermore as the video shows, there was an element of manipulating gravity and momentum in order to complete puzzles. Games have never before asked us to complete puzzles using physics without first giving us a setting or a device to allow us to do it. If you wanted to mess with gravity, you had to be in space, or on a space station. If you wanted to jump across massive chasms you had to have special boots, or a special jump pack. Here you have to literally use the gravity and momentum that is available in reality.

To expand on this idea further you only have to look at some of the later puzzles. You enter areas, being mocked by GlaDOS with promises of cake, and find yourself in facing landscape which quite frankly looks impossible to complete. You stare in awe; wondering how you will ever get out of there. Games beforehand would guide you along, the linear games confining you to a corridor, the open world games using a formula of levelling up and story to propel you. Portal gave you a gun, a room and challenged you to get out. Very few hints, very few clues, very little in the way of a story, essentially relying on the player to remember what had been taught to them. Some areas literally gave you a directional arrow and left you to it.

Portal 2: A brand new challenge

Portal’s other huge selling point is your companion through the game itself (no I’m not talking about the cubes) but am referring to GLaDOS. Video games have had many memorable characters over the years, and a few of them have been artificial intelligences, the most memorable being SHODAN from the System Shock series. Is GLaDOS any more or less insane than SHODAN? There’s a question that would need a whole other post to answer. Despite being overshadowed by SHODAN (there I said it) GLaDOS proves that character creation and development can make all the difference in a game. There is no doubt that this game would not be as memorable with her influence. Apart from giving the player direction and drive, she provides humour in a very sterile and sparse environment. Where there are bleached white walls, and a single purpose (to progress), she provides colourful feedback to your efforts. Offering sniping remarks, put downs and general diversion from the task at hand. Portal 2 would not have been the same without her, so it’s a joy to know she returns; along with several other interesting characters.

Overall Portal 2 is almost upon us. The wait nearly over. I for one, am not worried about the game living up to the hype. Those concerns can be reserved for companies other than Valve. They know how to make a game. They know how much this means to so many gamers. Portal 2 can go down in history as one of the greatest sequels ever created. With a longer and more diverse single player and the addition the co-op mode, this is one game that surely cannot fail to impress.

Thanks for reading


  1. liquid9281 says:

    so which system are you getting this for. 360 or are you going with the PS3 one that allows you to get the game on steam as well? Benn looking forward to this game as well.

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