The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Portal

Portal 2: A Reflection and Recollections of the Perpetual Testing Initiative

“All right, I’ve been thinking. When life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! I don’t want your damn lemons! What am I supposed to do with these?! Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am?! I’m the man who’s gonna burn your house down! With the lemons!” –Cave Johnson

Chell finds herself pulled out of stasis by the AI Wheatley, who informs her that the Aperture Science facility has fallen into a critical state and that they need to escape. Leading Chell through old test chambers, Wheatley attempts to work out a plan while Chell locates a portal gun. However, they inadvertently reactivate GLaDOS, who separates the two and sends Chell into a series of test chambers to continue on with where they’d previously left off. When Wheatley figures he’s got a solution, he creates a distraction, allowing Chell to escape into the maintenance passages beyond the test chambers. Chell sabotages the turret production line and disables the neurotoxin generator before heading off to face GLaDOS, successfully inititing a core transfer. Wheatley takes over Aperture Science’s main system and places GLaDOS in a potato battery powered CPU. However, he reneges on his promise to send Chell to the surface, and when GLaDOS reveals Wheatley was designed to inhibit her, he throws the pair into a shaft leading into the bowels of Aperture Science. Making her way through the old Enrichment Spheres, Chell learns that Aperture Science was once a shower curtain manufacturer for the military and received an incredible amount of funding to test their products. Helmed by Cave Johnson, Aperture Science began exploring the realm of science with a reckless abandon, and over time, the company began failing even as Johnson started developing an illness from testing products on himself. His final act was to transfer control of the company to his assistant, Caroline. When Chell reunites with GLaDOS, the two set their differences aside to return to the upper levels and stop Wheatley from destroying the facility. GLaDOS reveals that she has Caroline’s memories and begins opening up to Chell. Upon their return, Chell makes her way through Wheatley’s test chambers to stall for time and manages to elude his crude traps, eventually returning to GLaDOS’ main body. She manages to change out the personality cores and places a portal on the moon, sending Wheatley into the depths of space. Back in control, GLaDOS stabilises the facility and decides to let Chell go, figuring that killing her is too much effort. Wheatley laments his decision to betray Chell and wishes things were different. This is the adventure that Chell goes through in Portal 2, the 2011 sequel to 2007’s acclaimed Portal, a highly innovative and remarkable puzzle game built in the Source Engine with Half-Life 2 assets.

In contrast to its predecessor, Portal 2 is much livelier, and although Chell is exploring an abandoned, derelict Aperture Sciences, Portal 2 never had the same sterile, cold feeling that Portal did. Portal 2 explores a greater range of Aperture’s constructions, and in doing so, also explores a greater range of emotions. Wheatley provides an endless supply of comic relief, driving players forward with an improvisational tone even when he does take over Aperture and develops GLaDOS’ old tendency to want to kill Chell. When she falls into the depths of Aperture Science, Cave Johnson’s old recordings give insight into a once-brilliant mind and his fall from grace. The ruins of the old facility are the only remainders of his legacy, giving the entire area an air of melancholy. GLaDOS is a more multi-dimensional character, carrying out her directive per her programming but also recalling that she was once human and coming to understand why Chell chose to act the way she did. The characterisation creates a much richer experience that ultimately tells a story of regret and longing, as well as coming to peace with what has come to pass, set in the cavernous interior of Aperture Sciences. Besides an enriched story, Portal 2 features all-new mechanics to properly differentiate itself from its predecessor and Half-Life 2. Aerial faith plates propel players to new heights from fixed points, thermal discouragement beams require careful placement to activate exits, hard light bridges to reach distant points, special gels encourage lateral thinking to help players pass otherwise impassible areas, and excursion funnels provide a thrilling way of transporting player and materials across chasms. Like its predecessor, players must use a combination of their knowledge of previous mechanics to devise solutions for clearing different areas, and as Chell edges closer to escaping Aperture Science, she learns more about its storied past. In this way, Portal 2 and Portal share the same relationship that Halo 2 and Halo: Combat Evolved shared; both sequels participate in extensive world-building that enriches the player’s experience of the world, at the expense of the suspense created through the minimalist story-telling of their predecessor. In addition, the sequel’s introduction of new mechanics also changes the strategy players take in completing the game – in the case of Portal 2, the new mechanics cement the notion that the game has evolved into a separate entity from Half-Life 2 with its own distinct elements, but it also creates the caveat that some areas must be cleared a certain way, which restricts players’ freedom to solve puzzles in their own way.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • An indeterminate amount of time has passed since Chell last ventured through Aperture’s test chambers, and in that time, the facility has become dilapidated, overgrown with vegetation and mould. It is through these test chambers that Chell makes her way through, and initially, she’ll find the single-portal gun and advance a short ways before locating the full portal gun. Like its predecessor, Portal 2 gradually introduces players to game elements, although players familiar with Portal will doubtlessly have itched to advance further more quickly.

  • It’s been eight years since I last wrote about Portal 2 – eight years earlier, I had been staring down the MCAT, and at this point during the summer, I had just begun my MCAT course; my physics course had finally ended, and I could turn my full attention towards what would certainly be a challenge. However, in between studying, I was able to unwind by going through a friend’s Steam library: in between study sessions, I was able try a few of his games out, among them Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Portal 2. I blazed my way through the former before beginning the latter.

  • Chell’s gear has changed somewhat since the original Portal: long fall boots take place of her original her knee replacements, and she dispenses with the top of her jumpsuit. I’ve seen a few Chell cosplayers at Otafest in past years: when I first attended, Portal 2 would’ve been two years old. The game’s requirements aren’t steep at all, and even in those days, my old desktop had no trouble running the game smoothly, although there was the minor annoyance that the light on top of the portal gun never lit up owing to a limitation in my old GPU. This particular matter is no longer an issue, and in my current screenshots, the light on the portal gun lights up as expected.

  • Death lasers (formally, “thermal discouragement beams”) replace the high-energy pellets of Portal, and require redirection towards a receptacle in order to activate doors and lifts. Like the high-energy pellets, lasers can kill Chell, but only after prolonged exposure, and they typically must be redirected using a combination of portals and redirection cubes. Portal 2 also introduces hard light bridges, which function similarly to those of Halo. The new mechanics of Portal 2 are fun additions to the game, adding further nuance to various puzzles. Not everyone shared this sentiment, and many regarded Portal‘s simplicity as being more conducive towards creative solutions for solving a particular test chamber, whereas the new mechanics made it clearer how one could solve the test chamber and restrict novel solutions.

  • The lift taking players to the next level have changed in appearance: originally, they were solid, and Portal loaded different segments similarly to Half-Life 2, but by Portal 2, they look sleeker, and the game loads new levels quite separately. The lifts are surrounded by screens that give a visual representation of how a new mechanic works, and one of my favourite animations was the one depicting the turrets in action, showing the automatic chambering and firing of rounds. In Portal, turrets could be disabled by knocking them over, and while this is still viable in Portal 2, there is a rather more entertaining way of dealing with turrets.

  • Using a redirection cube allows one to focus a laser on a turret, which heats up its inner structure and eventually causes it to explode: back in Portal, the high-energy pellets could only knock turrets over, which, while functionally equivalent, was nowhere nearly as satisfying. Because Chell is completing these test chambers to occupy GLaDOS while Wheatley works out an escape plan, there’s the sense that something big is in the making.

  • The new test chambers of Portal 2 have a different aesthetic than the test chambers of Portal, being composed of sliding panels rather than the metal cubes. The amount of portal-conducting surfaces are also reduced in many places. While this initially felt restricting, it’s also a bit of a clever way to subtly hint at where portals should be placed. Here, I grab ahold of a weighted cube and make my way across a hard-light bridge: it suddenly strikes me that, since the Perpetual Testing Initiative days, I’ve not actually gone back through Portal 2 until now.

  • Test Chamber 20 is the only test chamber that’s completed and ready to roll: it most resembles the test chambers of Portal and every surface is capable of conducting portals. While seemingly simple, it involves redirecting the lasers into the right receptacles using a combination of redirection cubes and portals. I’ve heard that it’s possible to finish this test chamber without placing any portals, but this requires precise use of the redirection cubes. Once this test chamber is cleared, Wheatley returns and prompts Chell to go into the maintenance access surrounding the test chamber.

  • Portal‘s maintenance areas had a more Half-Life feel to them, and Portal 2 modifies them to have a different aesthetic. I can’t help but wonder if the design was inspired by areas of Facebook headquarters. Once Chell’s escaped, Wheatley will have her help in sabotaging the turret manufacturing line and disabling the neurotoxin supply before taking her to face GLaDOS. Chell manages to perform the core transfer, placing Wheatley in charge of Aperture Sciences, but the additional processing power drives him insane, and he reneges on his promise to Chell. When GLaDOS insults Wheatley, he loses his cool and smashes the lift Chell is in, sending her and GLaDOS tumbling into the depths of Aperture Sciences.

  • After falling into the depths of Aperture Science, some four-and-a-half kilometres beneath the surface, Chell is briefly knocked out and comes to just as a bird carries GLaDOS away. This is the loneliest it gets in Portal 2, and Chell can only count on her wits to figure out how to return to the surface: there is no Wheatley to lighten the moment up, and no GLaDOS to make snide remarks. The sense of scale at Aperture Science becomes apparent here, giving an idea of just how extensive the facilities are. When I first came here in Portal 2 some eight years ago, I was thoroughly impressed with how the older facility was presented, and it was here that the melancholy in the game became visibly felt.

  • Wandering through the unused sections of Aperture Science, I would come upon the vault door that leads into the next section. Portal 2‘s designers stated they wanted to play with some visual humour, in which they would use an immensely large vault door to conceal an ordinary door. At this point during my first play-through, I was wrapping up a physics course and making more headway into the MCAT preparation course. The timing of this was excellent: I had been a little worried about a potential scheduling conflict, but with physic concluding, I was free to focus purely on the MCAT.

  • By the time I’d set foot in the catwalks leading into the first of the Enrichment Spheres, Portal 2 had been out for just over a year. One of my friends had already completed the game and began using the music to test to in accompanying his videos of his Otafest experiences. Portal 2‘s soundtrack was carefully composed to fit the atmosphere of different areas of the game. The music of the Enrichment Spheres, in particular, create a light-hearted sense of science fiction that suggests a combination of whimsy and cleverness that is needed to complete this section of the game.

  • I’m guessing, then, that for my friend, Otafest represents a similar challenge for visitors in that it requires an open mind and awareness of one’s surroundings to ensure one doesn’t miss anything. This turned out to be true: when I attended Otafest a year later, I planned to attend for one day and played things by ear. While it was a fun experience, I would subsequently learn that I’d missed a bunch of events and a chance to collect special pins. For future conventions, I planned ahead and would go on to have a more comprehensive experience. Here, I pass through one of the older offices, and a trophy case of Aperture’s best achievements of the day are visible.

  • Besides Otafest vlogs, my friend had also made extensive cross-overs of Portal and Team Fortress 2 with The Melancholy of Suzumiya HaruhiLucky☆Star and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I’ll admit that I don’t fully understand half of the intended themes in crossovers, and upon asking my best friend to take a look, and they were similarly uncertain as to what was going on. If I had to guess, they probably represent how he may felt about certain character interactions and themes in a show, brought into a context he was familiar with. Portal 2 captures the feeling of loneliness and the hubris of ambition in this section, so for me, these sections of the game were the most memorable.

  • Chell eventually makes her way into the control rooms that activate the different mobility gels: these modify the properties of a surface, allowing for movement in areas that would otherwise be impassible. While it’s a lonely journey through the bowels of Aperture Science, Chell is accompanied by Cave Johnson’s hilarious, but also increasingly erratic dialogue, which gives a rather detailed history of Aperture Science, which began as a highly successful company that Johnson ran into the ground with uncertain, experimental projects. While a man of science, Johnson evidently had a stubborn pride about him, as well.

  • After reaching a series of abandoned offices, Chell will find the potato that GLaDOS is stuck to; a bird had carried her away earlier, and GLaDOS becomes deathly afraid of birds for a period after she reunites with Chell. Having GLaDOS attached to Chell’s portal gun, Portal 2 suddenly feels a lot less lonely, and the two work out an alliance with the aim of getting back to the main facility so that GLaDOS can stop Wheatley from destroying everything in his incompetence.

  • Once GLaDOS is back, she’ll occasionally react to Cave Johnson’s recordings: it turns out that GLaDOS was built from Caroline, Johnson’s pretty-as-a-postcard assistant with a bright personality who was also evidently competent. Upon hearing one of Johnson’s recordings, GLaDOS responds with a heartfelt and genuine “Goodbye, Sir“, hinting at her origins. It turns out that Johnson had intended to have his mind transferred, but in the event that he died before the process could be carried out, Caroline would take his place. These exchanges match the melancholy, wistful feeling one gets when traversing these test chambers. The inquisitive player can locate a picture of Caroline and unlock an achievement for doing so in this test chamber.

  • I still have vivid memories of being stuck in this enrichment sphere after arriving for the first time: I had started playing Portal 2 as a bit of a study break, having hit a wall of sorts in revising the new MCAT materials, but wound up without a means of completing this test chamber. I ended up putting the breaks on Portal 2, returned to hit the books and ended up understanding the concept I was looking at. The early summer of 2012 was characterised by me being entirely focused on the physics and MCAT courses; most days entailed me going to campus to take the courses and then returning home in the afternoon to study.

  • By June, my physics course had nearly wrapped up, and all that was left was the MCAT course, which ran until the end of July. I spent many a beautiful day indoors doing review problems with friends who were also facing down the MCAT or had previously done so. I constantly swung between an impatience to take the exam and a gripping panic during this time, but with support from my friends, I weathered on. Most of my days were punctuated by a great deal of gaming, which helped me to unwind and focus in between studying sessions.

  • Finally, August came, and I sat the exam. When I had finished, it was as though a great weight was lifted off my shoulders. With the remaining twenty days of the summer, I spearheaded an effort that some of my colleagues had taken to submit a paper to an undergraduate journal earlier that year: we had become swamped with coursework and the paper was shelved. However, two of the remaining colleagues had expressed an interest in continuing, and since I was not officially doing summer research then, I had unlimited time on my hands.

  • After receiving everyone’s drafts, I ended up writing out the entire paper and then asked that my colleagues review it as they were able. As August drew to an end, and my final undergraduate year started, we had a fully finished draft. My supervisor was happy to review it, and we ended up submitting it to the journal. It was accepted some time later, and I was invited to participate in the undergraduate research symposium with my older project from a summer earlier. Seeing the extensibility of this project led me to build my undergraduate research project off it, and for my troubles, I ended up doing very well.

  • As I return further up the facility, I recall that because I had been in the midst of MCAT season and had wanted to finish Portal 2 as quickly as possible. I therefore skipped over the sections of Portal 2 where Chell and GLaDOS return to the more modern Aperture Science facilities, returning to the point after the pair reach the stairwell leading back into a more modern-looking test chamber, shaving about 15-30 minutes off my run. In retrospect, I needn’t have skipped this part, but what’s done is done.

  • According to the screenshots, I finished my first run of Portal 2 precisely eight years earlier and ended up writing about the new mechanics here. At that time, this blog was really more of a side resource where I could go to write shorter articles, supporting the content at my main Webs.com page. However, as the limitations of Webs.com became increasingly apparent, I transitioned all of my writing to this blog. Here, I make use of a portal conducting gel to coat the interior of this shaft, allowing me to freely place portals in critical areas to reach further up.

  • While I had finished Portal 2 and wrote about it eight years ago to this day, that same summer saw Valve introduce the addition of Perpetual Testing Initiative, adding co-op chambers for players to complete. Any owner of Portal 2 was automatically granted a special discount coupon for Portal 2 to gift to friends so that they could claim a copy of the game for 5 USD. My friend, having heard about my enjoyment of the game, sent me his coupon, and a few hours later, I was the proud owner of Portal 2. I started my journey late in August, and finished the campaign a second time just before term started.

  • On my second play-through, I went through every area of the game, including the shafts leading back to the more modern facility and the crawlspace just beneath the modern test chambers. As I passed through familiar test chambers and the bowels of the facility alike, I recalled with vivid clarity the old thrill of studying for the MCAT. Three days later, my MCAT results came back, and it was to my immense relief that I’d done rather well. I wouldn’t actually use the results in later years, having developed a keen interest in software development following my undergraduate thesis, but the lessons and experiences from taking the MCAT persisted: besides being a better tester, I also relaxed considerably regarding challenges.

  • I don’t believe I have any screenshots of Portal 2 left over from those days: all of the screenshots for this post were taken relatively recently. Upon returning back to the modern facilities, it’s evident that Wheatley has made a mess of things, creating illogical tests. Fortunately, there are solutions to Wheatley’s tests, and the introduction of the excursion funnels, which act similarly to the hard light bridges but also offer laminar flow, allowing players and objects to be pushed across an area.

  • Despite displaying fluid-like properties, the excursion funnels are not liquid in nature. Special switches allow their direction to be switched, and they become an invaluable mechanic for crossing over large chasms opening into the deepest reaches of the Aperture Science facility. Wheatley’s tests leave massive gaps in the floor, which expose infrastructure and also give an idea as to how vast Aperture Science really is. Chell can exit the funnel at any time by means of normal movement, but careless movement at the wrong time will lead to death.

  • Besides Chell herself and objects like weighted cubes, the excursion funnels can also be used to transport mobility gels great distances. Solving puzzles with a combination of the mobility gels and excursion funnels turned out quite fun: by this point in time, familiarity with all of the mechanics means that players will have no trouble figuring out what needs to be done. Of note was the part where one needed to use the repulsion gel on turrets to safely deactivate them: once coated, they begin bouncing around erratically and plummet to the depths of the Aperture Science facility.

  • A distant light can be seen as Chell heads towards Wheatley with every intention of stopping him and restoring GLaDOS’ access to control Aperture Science. Traveling through this excursion funnel, with a distant light illuminating the way, players cannot help but feel that they are almost at the light at the end of the tunnel. This screenshot here perfectly captures how it felt to watch the days between myself and the MCAT count down to the doom of my time.

  • The fight with Wheatley is hilarious: while he takes measures to prevent himself from being defeated the same way GLaDOS was defeated, conditions transpire against him, and Chell is given all of the tools needed to stop Wheatley, by corrupting his main core with alternate cores and prompting a core transfer. Once successful, Wheatley is sucked into space, and regrets betraying Chell, while GLaDOS stabilises the facility and allows Chell to walk free, since killing her was too much work. This brings my third play-though of Portal 2 to an end, and having gone through both Lucky☆Star and both Portal games, I turn my attention towards The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya next, which holds the answers to lingering questions I had surrounding Otafest.

Being more extensive than Portal in every way, Portal 2 ultimately is an immensely enjoyable and immersive experience overall. In particular, I was most fond of the game’s midsections, which sees Chell explore the abandoned ruins of the old Aperture Science. The sheer scope and scale of the old Enrichment Spheres are a monument to Aperture Science’s hubris: Portal 2 demonstrated that level design and voice acting alone can tell an incredibly compelling story: Cave Johnson himself never appears, having long died from being poisoned by the moon dust used in creating portal-conducting surfaces, but old heirlooms and artifacts do much in filling in the gaps. Together with the derelict state of the old facilities, one really gains a sense of the hopelessness and desperation Johnson had to bring back the glory days even as Aperture Science fell further into ruin. These missions are reminiscent of exploring haikyo: although the walls of abandoned buildings might not speak, an entire story lies beyond their silence, told in stone and mementos alike. Altogether, Portal 2 places a much greater emphasis on the human elements of the series compared to its predecessor, which, while succeeding on the merits of its simplicity, left many questions unanswered. Portal 2 answers some of these questions and suggests that behind the events of Portal, there was a human element to things, which help players to really understand the dangers of an unchecked desire for progress. Together with areas that capture the scope and scale of Aperture Science, moments that help characters grow, and a generally livelier atmosphere, Portal 2 represents a novel direction for Portal that adds nuance to the series, and while its story leaves players no closer to understanding the role Aperture Science and the Borealis plays in Half-Life 2, does offer closure for those who had lingering questions after completing Portal.

Portal: A Reflection

Didn’t we have some fun, though? Remember when the platform was sliding into the fire pit and I said ‘Goodbye’, and you were like ‘NO WAY‘, and then I was all ‘we pretended we were going to murder you’? That was great.” –GLaDOS to Chell

Twelve years after Aperture Sciences is abandoned, Chell awakens in a Relaxation Chamber and is given instructions from GLaDOS, an AI overseeing the facility. She acquires a single-portal gun and begins the testing procedure on the promise that cake is to be provided for all successful testers. As Chell progresses through the different test chambers and picks up the full portal gun, things become increasingly dangerous: some test chambers are flooded with toxic compounds, and GLaDOS also introduces test chambers with automated turrets. Chell eventually acquires the weighted companion cube in one chamber, and is forced to destroy it to continue. In the final test chamber, after successfully finishing it, Chell finds herself facing certain death, but uses the portal gun to escape to safety. GLaDOS attempts to persuade Chell into returning back into the facility, but she ventures deeper into Aperture Sciences’ maintenance areas, eventually locating GLaDOS’ chambers. Here, Chell eludes GLaDOS’ attempts to kill her and manages to crippled the system, causing an explosion that propels her to the surface. Beginning its life as a Source Engine re-imagination of an older title (wherein recycling assets from Half-Life 2 and using the Source Engine simplified the development process), Narbacular Drop, Portal was released in October 2007 alongside Half-Life 2 Episode Two and Team Fortress 2 as a part of the Orange Box. The game became an unexpected hit for its clever mechanics and narrative, as well as for its unique aesthetic and promotion of scientific principles in problem-solving.

Because of its minimalism, Portal is characterised by the immense sense of loneliness that Chell faces during the game’s events. There are no other humans in Portal, and as Chell progresses through each test chamber, the only interaction she has is with GLaDOS, an AI that becomes increasingly sarcastic and hostile as the game wears on. Chell also finds signs that everything is not what it seems after finding an opening to the maintenance area in one of the test chambers, where another test subject had hastily scrawled “The Cake is a Lie” on the walls. In spite of these ominous signs, Chell initially complies with GLaDOS right up until the final chamber, where it is revealed that GLaDOS had planned in killing her after all. After escaping, Chell is truly alone, and so, begins to follow signs left by the previous test subject, eventually deciding that the only means of survival is to destroy GLaDOS. In the absence of human contact, Portal succeeds in creating an unsettling atmosphere that suggests loneliness can drive individuals to follow anything that resembles social interaction. In Chell, this first takes the form of trusting GLaDOS and obediently completing test chambers, and then in placing her trust in the previous test subject’s discoveries. With its dark humour and play on the human psyche even as players complete the puzzles of the test chambers, Portal quickly became a success, and Valve would follow up with a sequel, Portal 2, in 2011.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Because Portal was built in the Source Engine and recycles assets from Half-Life 2, the game even utilises the same menus and sound effects. The Portal Gun itself is a re-skinned Gravity Gun with the power to pick stuff up and place them, aside from its portal-making functions. Initially, the puzzles of Portal are very easy, designed to get players used to finishing test chambers, but as the game wears on, they become increasingly challenging.

  • According to my Steam achievements, the first time I played Portal was back in September 2011. This would have marked the start of a new term after a summer of research and adventure: besides building the prototype renal model that would form the basis for my undergraduate thesis, I also travelled about both to the Eastern Seaboard and regional mountains, spent memorable days at LAN parties and enjoyed the beautiful summer weather on campus. Entering the new term, I found myself rejuvenated and quite ready to get my GPA back on track for the Honours programme.

  • Late in September, Valuve made Portal free to pick up, and having seen one of my friend’s The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi mashups with Portal, I decided to grab a copy and began playing it later in the month. The first month of term is always slower, so I hastened to finish Portal before things became too crazy, and I would end up wrapping up the game closer to the Thanksgiving Long Weekend in October. Subsequently, I focused my efforts into my studies and wound up doing okay, sufficiently well to return my GPA to the faculty satisfactory standing of a B- or better.

  • I have no screenshots from that particular playthrough of Portal, but if I did, they likely would’ve been 1024×786. In order to acquire screenshots for this post, then, I beat the whole of Portal in a shade under two hours. While there are no mirrors in Portal, the fact that the game does render portals fully means that it is possible to see Chell, and as such, Valve ensured that Chell has a player model – I do not believe that Half-Life 2 actually rendered Gordon Freeman, but thanks to the simplicity of Portal, no crazy models are needed: Chell only needs animations for running and jumping. In Portal, Chell is equipped with the advanced knee replacement mod, which allows her to automatically right herself when moving through a portal and absorb the impact of a long fall.

  • All of the puzzles in Portal involve reaching an exit to the test chamber, and then variation comes from how to open the door and getting to the door. Weighted cubes can be acquired to activate switches, while other switches are activated by redirecting high-energy pellets into them. The pellets are Half-Life 2‘s Energy Balls, using the same asset and possess the same properties: coming into contact with one is instant death, and since they follow a linear trajectory, it takes a bit of creative thinking to direct them into their receptacles.

  • The relatively small number of mechanics in Portal belies a certain ingenuity in the game. The use of momentum in the fling manoeuvre is probably the feature that defines Portal: after players are introduced the idea that “speedy object in, speedy object out”, the game is really able to get creative with its level design. Obstacles and hazards are incorporated in a way as to challenge the player to see what is possible with portals, and because of the pure number of portal-ready surfaces available, players can also explore novel ways of getting around more quickly even in more ordinary environments: some test chambers are quite large, and portals can be used as a shortcut to traverse great distances quickly.

  • The fifteenth test chamber exemplifies the sort of genius that went into the integration of game mechanics with level design in Portal: it is a deceptively simple setup involving the Emancipation Grill and glass walls that prevent players from easily traversing the level. The lack of pits also means that flinging is not immediately an apparent manoeuvre, so players must get creative in portal placement in order to pass over the glass walls, then make use of the high-energy pellets to activate a platform. Because the platforms move in the opposite direction as one’s destination, use of portals is required to advance towards the exit.

  • Half-Life 2‘s sentry guns are repurposed as sleek, Apple-like turrets with a laser sight that indicates where it’s pointing. The turrets are sentient, and speak to the player. Chell can take a few rounds from a turret before dying, and the turrets themselves can be defeated simply by knocking them over. This is typically achieved by dropping objects into them, directing high-energy pellets at them or else opening a portal in the ground underneath them. In situations where none of these are optional, the old Half-Life 2 standby of picking up an object and using it to absorb incoming fire is also a possibility.

  • The weighted Companion Cube is a Portal icon, and while only appearing in test chamber seventeen, very quickly became counted as an integral part of the Portal universe. It is the only cube that must be destroyed, introducing players to the incinerator, but as it turns out, the Companion Cube is not unique, and others are shown in spin-off media, as well as Portal 2. Players who pre-ordered Portal 2 also received a Companion Cube pin as an in-game cosmetic reward for Team Fortress 2, and during my short-lived days trading for Team Fortress 2 hats to help a friend out, I ended up picking a Genuine Companion Cube pin up for myself.

  • The penultimate test chamber is the trickiest, requiring a combination of everything that players have picked up: flinging, use of the high-energy pellets, weighted cubes, avoidance of turrets and caution to avoid the hazardous sludge, as well as implements that require careful timing to activate. By this point, Portal has introduced everything that players need to survive, so even the most intimidating-looking test chamber suddenly becomes a fun challenge to overcome, rather than a rage-inducing puzzle.

  • The last test chamber supposedly marks the end of Portal, but players will feel a sense of unease: given how quiet its been, the probability of there actually being cake seems slim to none, and the mysterious scrawl from an earlier test subject indicates that there is more to Portal than meets the eye. Once players activate the platforms and prepare to progress into what GLaDOS promises to be a celebration, the truth behind Portal becomes apparent.

  • There is no cake, and instead, GLaDOS means to burn Chell alive by dropping her into an incinerator. Fortunately, armed with what is about an hour’s worth of skill with portals, Chell is able to beat a quick escape and avoid being charbroiled. From here on out, Portal dispenses with the highly-structured environments within the test chambers, and puts the player’s knowledge to the test as Chell pushes through the back doors and maintenance passages of Aperture Science.

  • The fact that Aperture Science possesses monitors and keyboards suggests that it was once staffed by humans: a purely automated facility would not have a need for any HCI and by extension, any I/O capture devices. Because Portal recycles so many of Half-Life 2‘s assets, the game does distinctly feel like Half-Life 2 without the Gravity Gun and things to shoot at: the sterile interior of the Aperture Science offices do have that gritty and worn feel as Half-Life 2‘s interiors did.

  • An ominous orange light fills these back ways, along with bits of lighting from lamps illuminating these areas. Filled with pistons and other hazards, it takes a fair bit of observation to figure out where to go, and even though I’ve already beaten this game some eight-and-a-half years earlier, some areas still required that I slowed down to find a suitable surface to place a portal on. Progressing through these areas, markings hastily scrawled in red paint point Chell in the right direction, and with GLaDOS hellbent on killing Chell, players have no choice but to trust these markings.

  • The page quote I’ve got for this Portal talk is probably my absolute most favourite line from the entire game. While it’s not very convincing, it exemplifies the sort of humour that went into Portal. It suddenly strikes me that ten years ago to this day, Otafest 2010 would’ve been starting: back in those days, Otafest happened on University grounds, and so, the organisers opened the event in the afternoon to avoid disturbing the researchers on campus, and the first day’s events were of a much smaller scale.

  • After clearing an arena’s worth of turrets out, Chell travels upwards into the Aperture Science facilities, passing through a cavernous open area that eventually leads into the chamber where GLaDOS’ main body is held. The use of distance fog in conjunction with the orange lighting creates an atmosphere that is simultaneously ominous, yet melancholy, and the colours stand in stark contrast with the welcoming glow of the portal gun. The scale of the interior at Aperture Science suggests to players that they’ve become entangled in something vast, although Portal does not explain what it is.

  • The rooms overlooking the skybridge leading into GLaDOS’ chamber brings to mind an atrium in the Professional Faculties on campus, which had a similar (but warmer) aesthetic. During my time as a university student, I only ever had one class in the Professional Faculties building, which was located a fair distance away from the events of Otafest: the proximity of the Science department’s buildings to the campus student centre meant that the areas where I took most of my classes in, and where my old office was located, would see host to most of Otafest’s events until they moved the venue downtown during my final year of graduate studies.

  • After surviving numerous perils, Chell finds herself face-to-face with her nemesis. Defeating GLaDOS is a relatively simple task: once the rocket turret is deployed, it’s a matter of using portals to redirect rockets to hit GLaDOS’ main body, and then chucking various personality cores into the incinerator before the molar concentration of nerve gas becomes lethal to Chell.  Eventually, damage sustained during the fighting causes the facility to go critical and explode, forcing Chell up to the surface. It turns out that Chell was dragged back into Aperture Sciences and put into stasis, being reawakened an indeterminate amount of time later for the events of Portal 2.

  • I will, of course, be writing about Portal 2 come June, and for now, the fact that we are sitting a decade after Otafest 2010 means I’m feeling nostalgic, so I will be revisiting Lucky☆Star tomorrow, which was when ten years earlier, the main events of Otafest 2010 would have taken place. The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi is another one of the anime that brings back memories of a simpler time, but since I’d forgotten so much of what happened, I do plan on spending early June on a re-watch before attempting to write about it. Because we’re on course for the end of May, as well, the last post I have planned at the moment is a massive one on Halo 2, which joined The Master Chief Collection nine days ago.

While elements of dark humour typically go over my head, what’s not lost on me in Portal is the strong gameplay. The gradual progression allows players to be slowly introduced to game mechanics, and so, when players reach the later test chambers, a bit of creativity will yield a solution. For instance, using portals allows Chell to “fling” herself great distances: as GLaDOS puts it, “speedy object in, speedy object out”. By applying the conservation of momentum, players can reach otherwise unreachable areas needed to solve a test chamber. Momentum is first introduced in a simple room with a pit, but later rooms with the emancipation grills and impassable glass walls prevent players from simply using portals to enter. Instead, players must recall that they can create a portal in the floor and then near the ceiling, after which they can build up the momentum needed to fling themselves into the next area. The end result is that players feel very clever for having completed Portal‘s puzzles, and after GLaDOS goes rogue, players are assured that they know all of the tricks needed to survive. Using only the most basic of mechanics and the laws of physics as defined by the Source Engine, Portal managed to create an experience that was memorable: this sentiment is shared by countless others who’ve played through it, and the game is counted as one of the best games ever made. My time with Portal began in 2011, shortly after Portal 2‘s release and Valve made Portal free to download for a while: coupled with an interest in the series stemming from a series of Otafest videos one of my friends had uploaded, I finally had the chance to experience what is one of the best-known games in recent memory.

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.”

The Portal Gun

The Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, is a fictional device originally marketed in the 1950s as an Aperture Science Portable Quantum Tunneling Device, also commonly known as a Portal Gun or by its acronym, “ASHPD”, is an experimental tool used to create two portals through which objects can pass. For those unfamiliar with it, the portal gun manufactures two linked portals. No matter the distance between them, any object which passes through one portal will emerge from the other and vice versa instantaneously. The portals can be placed on almost any surface which is flat, white coloured and large enough to accommodate them. Moving objects, or certain types of surfaces, will usually prevent the formation of a portal. Material Emancipation Grills will block any attempt to shoot portals through them, as well as reset any active portals should the ASHPD pass through it. The ASHPD is held with a hand behind the weapon, holding the handle/trigger, while the other hand supports the barrel.

  • Insofar, I have yet to actually beat Portal 2. I’ve beaten Portal once over a two hour period during Thanksgiving long weekend. I had finished all of my assignments and readings then and had no papers; having downloaded Portal during an educational promoter, I found the game to be highly amusing.

  • Portal is a brilliant puzzle game; portals can only be spawned two at a time, and only on certain surfaces. A degree of creativity and patience is required to beat some of the levels. The latter is important because it is crucial to wait for things to happen (such as waiting for objects to move through a portal).

  • The story within Portal is simple but brilliant: a player takes on the role of Chell, a female test subject who is awakened to undergo a series of experiments involving the Portal Gun. She is initially guided by GlaDOS, an AI directing operations at the Aperture Science facilities, but as the levels wear on, it becomes apparent that GlaDOS is insane, and the game’s objective suddenly changes to surviving and escaping.

  • I wouldn’t pay 150 dollars for a model of the portal gun, primarily because I don’t have that kind of money to spare. 150 dollars is the equivalent of one textbook.

  • Otafest is just over the horizon: I wonder how many attendees will cosplay as Chell. From the screenshots from last year, I think a handful of people were able to do so, and they had their own portal guns to boot.

  • This is probably one of the best Chell cosplayer I’ve seen and reflects the in-game character very nicely. Chell is a young woman in her early or mid 20’s. Her ethnic background is somewhat ambiguous; she appears to be of Latin or multiracial descent, and Valve concept artist Matt Charlesworth described her as having a hint of Japanese ethnicity, as she is modelled after Alésia Glidewell.

Given that it is only a week before Otafest kicks off, I imagine several fans of Valve’s Portal series will cosplay as Chell from said game. That said, no costume is complete without the Portal Gun. Fortunately, a while back, ThinkGeek released a limited edition of a 1:1 replica model of the Portal Gun. It is capable of looking every bit as cool as the original portal gun, having orange and blue LED lights, triggers that manipulate the LEDs and posable manipulator claws. It costs roughly 150 USD, and as only 5000 units were ever produced, are sold out now. That said, I imagine several cosplayers will also probably hand-craft their portal guns.