Today I want to talk a bit about Portal, and it’s influence over the gaming scene, both good and bad.
Well, I am back. Like a new year’s resolution, I rise from my digital grave and back into the spotlight. (Yes, I know that analogy didn’t make any sense). I made myself a promise to keep this thing going and at least try to stick to a schedule, so here I am. Or maybe I was bored, you may never know…
Anyway… Let’s get on topic: Portal. Like the infamous cake, and the tiresome meme it caused, I serve today’s blog posts in small notes. Now would be the chance to go “Top 5 things you didn’t know about Portal” but that’s not really my style, so screw “cheap exposure” and let me get to the point and bring the dessert. (Okay, I’ll stop now.)
[Spoilers ahead for a 5 and 8 year old game. Go ahead and play it already!]
- Can’t believe this game will be 9 years old this year. I remember the first time playing it – maybe together with my brother? – and I found it pretty awesome and weird and clever. I remember a lot of people not liking the second part, criticizing that the puzzles were much”easier”. I’m not one of those people though, I think the sequel was pretty competent, and people were too forgiving of the “mistakes” of the original. Yes, the original was short, sweet and just the right length, but also it was one big tutorial, cleverly disguised. Which isn’t a bad thing, but that allowed the second game to experiment more, flesh out the world a bit, etc.
It was just as good as the first one.
- Ah the days when everything was “Cake is a Lie” and “Still Alive” … and it became old pretty quickly, yet was still going strong for quite a while. It wasn’t the golden days of memes yet – as they call it nowadays – that came later, but it sure was a “predecessor”. Well, in the gaming memes at least. But at Valve they also got tired of it, since they – wisely – only put brief mentions of the cake and the cube in the sequel.
Though I still find it hard to believe they didn’t see it coming, and that they were serious about Hoopy becoming a meme. I mean, really?
- But one thing more annoying for me than the memes were the influence of Portal over games. And my Dog, there were so many of them…
I was big on Flash games in those years and suddenly a lot of games popped up where you were trapped in a giant facility with some evil puppetmaster taunting you.
It was just like the memes. A funny inside joke at first, then became an unoriginal, returning pattern. I even played one as late as 2014(!) that was pretty much the Portal story with a bit of re-flavoring. But the thing is that for most of these games the story was completely unnecessary! This is the advantage of puzzle games, they can work off of pure mechanics alone. You don’t need context to solve a Sudoku puzzle for example, so why bother adding in a completely unoriginal one to a video game.
But I’m purposely not namedropping anything, since most of these were just one-man-shows ,with people experimenting and deconstructing the formula.
On the other hand, there were some big name experiments.
Does anyone remember (or even heard about) Twin Sector? That was probably the saddest attempt. It’s “best feature” was probably “The Room” quality voice acting in it.
But there were some better ones too, some good like The Ball or Quantum Conundrum and some others that I have no opinion about, but clearly show influence, like: Magnetic: Cage Closed; Q.U.B.E; The Turing Test … Even as recent as last year December, with a game called CoLab for VR.
I’m not implying of course, that these are bad for being influenced, just noting how Portal “brought in” the genre of First-person puzzle games, made it trendy and hot again, but non of the ones who came after really took off for some reason, which is a bit unusual. I mean I really liked those where they tried to do their own thing, like Antichamber or (again) Quantum Conundrum. But I’m pretty sure that most people would still name Portal as their first choice for an FPP game, and not say The Witness or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter or The Talos Principle. (I listed these for being a similar genre, but probably not influenced directly by Portal.)
What I’m saying here is that we should broaden the horizon a bit and give other First-person puzzle games a fair chance. I mean there are some good contenders to receive just as much recognition for their unique mechanics, like Perspective or the upcoming Museum of Simulation Technology.
- Speaking of influences, what about all those stupid Portal theories? It’s a dark comedy game that people were overthinking way, way too much. “GLaDOS is a bound woman!” Oh please… Even with her containing (or being entirely) Caroline is just related, this was a case of Pareidolia and nothing else. “The Companion Cube is actually alive! Or contain dead bodies!!!” – This is debunked in-universe twice. Firstly: The Emancipation Grills. They only destroy organic matter by accident. If there were a dead bodies in the weighted boxes they would fall out as soon as they hit the grill. The Companion Cube doesn’t go through the grill, but it does get fizzed a few times by GLaDOS in the second game, disproving this theory.
Second: in the Boots Investment Trailer preceding the release of Portal 2, we can clearly see how Aperture handles deceased test subjects. They are cruel and deeply obsessed about cubes, but not that obsessed to store test subjects in them. Probably GLaDOS wouldn’t do this either. She doesn’t care about test subjects to store them away. (They do mention skeletons in Portal 2, so she just probably left them out in the open.)
So what is in the Companion Cube – if their is anything? What makes it threaten you or be able to speak?
If anything – but I doubt it – it’s simple: Cores.
I mean all the existing evidence points to this – rather than the silly “human remains” idea. GLaDOS hates them; She even reminds her own subjects that “Android hell” is a real place. Also, she does mention that “They are sentient” in Portal 2. A Core or – to a lesser extent – a Turret can be considered that, but a dead body certainly not. Maybe it’s a completely separate AI altogether, a failed box experiment.
But I’m still on the mindset that it’s just another (empty) weighted cube, and GLaDOS is purposely messing with the test subjects.
(I mean the design had some actual reasoning for the Companion Cube’s existence as well as the act of incinerating it.)
- Just to close this off… Does anyone else had like no special feelings for the Companion Cube at all? I mean I get what they tried to do with it, partially to make the player feel guilty and the other part is tutorial. And I know a lot of people got obsessed by it, but I don’t know… I think it never worked for me. Maybe if it would’ve been introduced earlier, and I had to carry it over a few levels, than it would have been effective, but the way it’s presented as it is… not really. It doesn’t even work on Chell in-game it seems, since GLaDOS mention she was the quickest to dispose it, and I don’t think she is lying about that one.
But, all of this implies a really nice thing, and I think a lot of people missed this. If the Companion Cube does really mean nothing to the player and Chell…
That means that the last scene of Portal 2, when GLaDOS sends that Companion Cube after you is not really a parting gift (Chell couldn’t even carry it probably without the Portal Gun). It’s a message. Down below, from a passive-aggressive little murderous robot. A message that she would never admit and never tell you in person, so she just leaves it as a tiny little note in form of a box with a heart painted on its sides: “P.s.: I love you”
And I think it was nice. Maybe the proof that Caroline might still be in there too.
Well that’s all for me today. Next week will be a busy one for me, but I’ll try to stick with my self-approved schedule from this point forward, so tune in next week.