Great Games – Portal

Valve has always been known for the high octane, shooter library that started with Half-Life and progressed to mods becoming standalone titles, such as Team Fortress and Counter-Strike. However, when Valve unveiled the Orange Box in 2007, it came with the addition of a genre that took the Valve fan base by storm. Portal itself was definitely an unexpected change for Valve as going from their current formula to this puzzle-platformer was unexpected. However, the way that they executed this game, it’s mechanics, and the story it follows eased the minds of long time fans and cemented Valve as a diverse game company.

Example of the game’s Portal Gun and the portals it produces.

One of the things that stands out the most about this game is of course the concept of portals to solve puzzles and navigate the levels. This was one of the more interesting ways to create level design centered around this concept and implement this into how the story fits into the Half-Life universe. The physics engine was really what got me interested when I played through this title, as the need for constant redirection of your momentum to cross gaps or even fling the player to the end of each test chamber was both fun and exhilarating. The art direction that was chosen for this game really added to that sense of isolation and hopelessness. Test chambers having stark white tiles, the various scientific equipment, and the fluorescent lighting gave the atmosphere that factor of changing a person’s mood. Whether or not these were determined by choice of color theory design or the game’s story is debatable, but it stills feels unique. The story design itself is rather short, but it is very well written. The interactions that you have with GLaDos and her ability to make you feel insignificant as you progress feels so nature and the ending gives that sense of it being earned, rather than a given outcome.

One of the various Test Chambers found in the game. Take note of the art design and the way it shapes the environment and atmosphere.

Portal was definitely a game that shows the length of what good game design can be and new ways of considering how to shape your levels based on game mechanics. The other thing that I must point out is how well this game has the ability to incorporate humor into the story and dialogue. Most games that try this approach end up sounding dry and forced as developers are trying to lighten the mood for players. However, the way that Portal depicts it’s humor is more in a dark sense and the way that it executes through GLaDOS makes it work well, one of the few rare examples. I give lots of credit for this game and it’s writing, which it deserves. I decided to just make this posting about this game in particular and not the series as a whole due to the impact that it had on launch for Valve and Portal 2 feels like it needs a separate posting.

Honestly, this game is definitely one to play for anyone who is studying game design and development. I played this game once for the game, but went back to study it further for my own research regarding this topic as there is much that can be learned from this game. If you ever have the opportunity to pick up a copy of this title from a game store or Steam, play this game and you won’t be disappointed, unlike so many that didn’t get that cake GLaDos promised.

The cake is a lie, unlike the design and story of this game.

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