The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Aperture Science Origins

Portal 2 immediately evokes all of the positives of its predecessor, coupled with new 2011 graphics and a vastly more detailed, more immersive story surrounding Aperture Science and its ancient ventures. In particular, the latter aspect resonated with me quite strongly, demonstrating just how well the story was told through a bunch of Cave Johnson’s pre-recorded narrations. However, for those seeking some real in-depth reading about the Cave Johnson period, here it is, coupled with screenshots of the original Aperture facilities.

  • The Enrichment Centre is housed ina  large salt mine composed of nine vertical shafts, each at least 4000 meters deep and hundreds of meters in length. Within the cavernous shafts is a large abundance of space that remains unused by Aperture, and installations are often suspended above huge drops that extend deep into the mines. Between the Enrichment Centre and the Test Shafts is a large hatch that, when open, allows an elevator to connect the original facility to the modern one.

  • Test Shaft 09, codenamed “Zulu Bunsen,” is the last in a group of nine Enrichment Shafts located in the salt mine above which the modern Aperture Science Enrichment Center is built: this is one of the massive Abandonment Hatches used to seal off the two facilities. As part of the Enrichment Shafts built in the immense salt mine purchased by Cave Johnson in 1944, Test Shaft 09 was used to test several experiments from the early 1950s to the late 1980s, many being described by Johnson through pre-recorded interphone messages, not necessarily involving teleportation, often with ominous results, and spread through six Enrichment Spheres. On June 15, 1961, Test Shaft 09 was condemned by vitrification, when it was filled with unsafe quantities of cosmic ray spallation elements, until it was reopened in the early 1970s, to be used until the late 1980s. Anyone entering the area is warned to not look at, touch, ingest or engage conversation with any substances located beyond.

  • The 1950s was a very brisk and busy era for Aperture, with a thousand tests performed every day in the Enrichment Spheres. This is one of the lobbies, with 1950s-era decor: it’s a little dark here, but black marble and maroon carpet male up the floor, while wooden panels line the walls. Lamps with spherical lampshades hang from the ceiling.

  • The predecessors to the modern switches and weighted cubes within Enrichment Sphere One.

Aperture Science’s predecessor, Aperture Fixtures, was founded by Cave Johnson as a shower curtain manufacturer in 1947. The name “Aperture Fixtures”, seemingly random, was originally chosen “to make the curtains appear more hygienic”. In 1956, the Eisenhower administration signed a contract with Aperture to manufacture shower curtains to all branches of the US Military, except the Navy. Thus, from 1957 to 1973, the company produced mostly shower curtains; this venture made Cave Johnson a billionaire. Early work on the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device began at this point as well; the early version, called the Aperture Science Portable Quantum Tunneling Device, proved to be too bulky for effective use, while poor surface conductors for the portals often caused mangling or death of the test subjects when they tried to use the portals. Repulsion Gel was first developed around this time as well for use as a diet aid. At first only the brightest and best of society were chosen for testing, but after being connected to a string of astronaut disappearances, Aperture Science focused on recruiting homeless people for testing, starting in 1976, coinciding with the release of the Propulsion Gel.

  • This is test chamber 28. An early Weighted Companion Cube in a large glass case can be found within it: this must be broken after the Cube is covered in Repulsion Gel and starts bouncing around the chamber. After being released, it must be caught and washed to be used on a button that will trigger the exit platform, then covered in gel again to release the platform.

  • A two story building can be found in the welcome area, below the office leading to the Borealis’ drydock. The ground floor is for Test Subject reception. The entrance hall features the portrait of an older Cave Johnson from the 1970s, now with sideburns. The Test Subject Waiting Area follows, in which Test Subjects had to take a numbered waiting ticket before being called for testing. The floor also houses two offices with plants that dried out long ago.

  • An enrichment sphere’s exterior can be seen from here. The sheer amount of time spent in the ancient facility bears testament to how large Aperture Science really is.

  • The absence of portal-capable walls means that players are forced to be creative and observant in seeking out solutions to get across the nigh-bottomless chasms found in the old facility. This part of the game was unusually nostalgic and lonely: we have Chell exploring and solving once-active test chambers, and the only human connection that these facilities have is Cave Johnson’s recordings.

In 1974, Cave Johnson was exposed to mercury while secretly developing a dangerous mercury-injected rubber sheeting, which he had planned to manufacture seven deadly shower curtains to be given as gifts to each member of the House Naval Appropriations committee. In 1976, both of Cave Johnson’s kidneys failed as a result of his exposure to moon dust in the conversion Gel: near death, he designed a three-tiered research and development program that he claimed to “guarantee the continued success of Aperture Science far into the fast-approaching distant past.”

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