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Portal consists primarily of a series of puzzles that must be solved by teleporting the player's character and simple objects using "the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device", often referred to as the "portal gun", a device that can create inter-spatial portals between two flat planes. The player-character, Chell, is challenged and taunted by an artificial intelligence named GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) to complete each puzzle in the Aperture Science Enrichment Center using the portal gun with the promise of receiving cake when all the puzzles are completed. The game's unique physics allows kinetic energy to be retained through portals, requiring creative use of portals to maneuver through the test chambers. This gameplay element is based on a similar concept from the game Narbacular Drop; many of the team members from the DigiPen Institute of Technology who worked on Narbacular Drop were hired by Valve for the creation of Portal, making it a spiritual successor to the game.


Portal was acclaimed as one of the most original games of 2007, despite criticisms for its short duration and limited story. It received praise for its originality, unique gameplay and dark story with a humorous series of dialogue. GLaDOS, voiced by Ellen McLain in the English-language version, received acclaim for her unique characterization, and the end credits song "Still Alive", written by Jonathan Coulton for the game, was praised for its original composition and humorous twist. Portal is often cited as one of the greatest video games ever made. Excluding Steam download sales, over four million copies of the game have been sold since its release, spawning official merchandise from Valve including plush Companion Cubes, as well as fan recreations of the cake and portal gun.

In Portal, the player controls the protagonist, Chell, from a first-person perspective as she is challenged to navigate through a series of test chambers using the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, or portal gun, under the watchful supervision of the artificial intelligence GLaDOS. The portal gun can create two distinct portal ends, orange and blue. The portals create a visual and physical connection between two different locations in three-dimensional space. Neither end is specifically an entrance or exit; all objects that travel through one portal will exit through the other. An important aspect of the game's physics is momentum redirection and conservation.[4] As moving objects pass through portals, they come through the exit portal at the same direction that the exit portal is facing and with the same speed with which they passed through the entrance portal.[5] For example, a common maneuver is to place a portal some distance below the player on the floor, jump down through it, gaining speed in freefall, and emerge through the other portal on a wall, flying over a gap or another obstacle. This process of gaining speed and then redirecting that speed towards another area of a puzzle allows the player to launch objects or Chell over great distances, both vertically and horizontally, referred to as 'flinging' by Valve.[4] As GLaDOS puts it, "In layman's terms: speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out." If portal ends are not on parallel planes, the character passing through is reoriented to be upright with respect to gravity after leaving a portal end.

Chell and all other objects in the game that can fit into the portal ends will pass through the portal. However, a portal shot cannot pass through an open portal; it will simply deactivate or create a new portal in an offset position. Creating a portal end instantly deactivates an existing portal end of the same color. Moving objects, glass, special wall surfaces, liquids, or areas that are too small will not be able to anchor portals. Chell is sometimes provided with cubes that she can pick up and use to climb on or to hold down large buttons that open doors or activate mechanisms. Particle fields, known as "Emancipation Grills", occasionally called "Fizzlers" in the developer commentary, exist at the end of all and within some test chambers; when passed through, they will deactivate any active portals and disintegrate any object carried through. These fields also block attempts to fire portals through them.[6]

Many solutions exist for completing each puzzle.[7] Two additional modes are unlocked upon the completion of the game that challenge the player to work out alternative methods of solving each test chamber. Challenge maps are unlocked near the halfway point and Advanced Chambers are unlocked when the game is completed.[8] In Challenge mode, levels are revisited with the added goal of completing the test chamber either with as little time, with the fewest portals, or with the fewest footsteps possible. In Advanced mode, certain levels are made more complex with the addition of more obstacles and hazards.[9][10]

The game begins with Chell waking up from a stasis bed and hearing instructions from GLaDOS, an artificial intelligence, about upcoming tests. Chell enters into sequential distinct chambers that introduce her to varying challenges to solve using her portal gun, with GLaDOS as her only interaction.[4] GLaDOS promises cake as a reward for Chell if she completes all the test chambers.[18] As Chell nears completion, GLaDOS's motives and behavior turn more sinister, suggesting insincerity and callous disregard for the safety and well-being of test subjects. The test chambers become increasingly dangerous as Chell proceeds, including a live-fire course designed for military androids, as well as chambers flooded with a hazardous liquid. In one chamber, GLaDOS forces Chell to "euthanize" a Weighted Companion Cube in an incinerator, after Chell uses it for assistance.[17][19][20]

After Chell completes the final test chamber, GLaDOS manoeuvres Chell into an incinerator in an attempt to kill her. Chell escapes with the portal gun and makes her way through the maintenance areas within the Enrichment Center.[21] GLaDOS panics and insists that she was pretending to kill Chell as part of testing, while it becomes clear that GLaDOS had previously killed all the inhabitants of the center.[11][12] Chell travels further through the maintenance areas, discovering dilapidated backstage areas covered in graffiti that includes statements such as "the cake is a lie", and pastiches of quotes from famous poets such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Emily Brontë.[4]

Portal began with the 2005 freeware game Narbacular Drop, developed by students of the DigiPen Institute of Technology.[26][27] Robin Walker, one of Valve's developers, saw the game at the DigPen's career fair. Impressed, he contacted the team with advice and offered to show their game at Valve's offices. After their presentation, Valve's president Gabe Newell offered the team jobs at Valve to develop the game further.[28] Newell said he was impressed with the team as "they had actually carried the concept through", already having included the interaction between portals and physics, completing most of the work that Valve would have had to commit on their own.[28]

To test the effectiveness of the portal mechanic, the team made a prototype in an in-house 2D game engine that is used in DigiPen.[29] Certain elements were retained from Narbacular Drop, such as the system of identifying the two unique portal endpoints with the colors orange and blue. A key difference is that Portal's portal gun cannot create a portal through an existing portal, unlike in Narbacular Drop. The original setting, of a princess trying to escape a dungeon, was dropped in favor of the Aperture Science approach.[28] Portal took approximately two years and four months to complete after the DigiPen team was brought into Valve,[30] and no more than ten people were involved with its development.[31]

Valve hired Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek to write Portal. Wolpaw felt that the constraints improved the game.[35] The concept of a computer AI guiding the player through experimental facilities to test the portal gun was arrived at early in the writing process.[15] They drafted early lines for the yet-named "polite" AI with humorous situations, such as requesting the player's character to "assume the party escort submission position", and found this style of approach to be well-suited to the game they wanted to create, leading to the creation of the GLaDOS character.[15] GLaDOS was central to the plot. Wolpaw said: "We designed the game to have a very clear beginning, middle, and end, and we wanted GLaDOS to go through a personality shift at each of these points."[36]

The portal gun's full name, Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, can be abbreviated as ASHPD, which resembles a shortening of the name Adrian Shephard, the protagonist of Half-Life: Opposing Force. Fans noticed this similarity before the game's release; as a result, the team placed a red herring in the game by having the letters of Adrian Shephard highlighted on keyboards found within the game.[38] According to Kim Swift, the cake is a Black Forest cake that she thought looked the best at the nearby Regent Bakery and Café in Redmond, Washington, and, as an Easter egg within the game, its recipe is scattered among various screens showing lines of binary code.[23][42] The Regent Bakery has stated that since the release of the game, its Black Forest cake has been one of its more popular items.[42]

Writing for GameSetWatch in 2009, columnist Daniel Johnson pointed out similarities between Portal and Erving Goffman's essay on dramaturgy, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, which equates one's persona to the front and backstage areas of a theater.[95] The game was also made part of the required course material among other classical and contemporary works, including Goffman's work, for a freshman course "devoted to engaging students with fundamental questions of humanity from multiple perspectives and fostering a sense of community" for Wabash College in 2010.[96][97] Portal has also been cited as a strong example of instructional scaffolding that can be adapted for more academic learning situations, as the player, through careful design of levels by Valve, is first hand-held in solving simple puzzles with many hints at the correct solution, but this support is slowly removed as the player progresses in the game, and completely removed when the player reaches the second half of the game.[98] Rock, Paper, Shotgun's Hamish Todd considered Portal as an exemplary means of game design by demonstrating a series of chambers after the player has obtained the portal gun that gently introduce the concept of flinging without any explicit instructions.[99] Portal was exhibited at the Smithsonian Art Exhibition in America from February 14 through September 30, 2012. Portal won the "Action" section for the platform "Modern Windows".[100] 041b061a72


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