Puzzling with Portals

Screenshot from Portal
My favorite game of all time must be Myst — a puzzle solver that held me occupied for several months finding my way around surreal architectures. I’ve yet to find a game which has captured my attention to that extent, but there’ve been some that came close; and they all require either a puzzle solving aspect to it or a very original and compelling storyline for me to enjoy them (usually both). Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave many games that I can truly enjoy, but the recently debuted Portal looks like a strong contender.

Browsing through the 9rules Clips, I came across an article on a game I saw a video of some time ago, but had completely forgotten about: Portal.

Portal is a first-person perspective puzzle game created by Valve (creators of the famous Half-Life series) that debuted today in a gamepack called The Orange Box. In a nutshell the game consists of you — armed with a gun capable of creating portals: oval shaped holes that allow you to instantly travel from one point in 3D space to another. The gameplay revolves around using this weapon to get around various physical obstacles. For example, getting past a giant pit of fire by creating a portal on your side, and on the other side of the pit, then walking through. This is the first puzzle shown in the promo video they published about a year back (see below).

An example of infinite loops in the Portal game by ValveOf course, the puzzles get harder and this seemingly simple concept of a portal-gun allows for an incredible range of solutions and uses, especially because the physics of the game are superb — so you’ll be jumping down a hole on the floor which translates to thrust out of a corresponding portal on a wall. Another interesting use is a portal in the ceiling and floor which creates an infinite loop to fall through. The (brilliant) video promo below, although being almost a year old now, shows the full impact.

[[Feed subscribers, visit the site if you can't see the video]]

Excited yet? I can’t help but mention how awesome I think that ad is. From the haunting voice of the guide to the sneaky humor and animations; fantastic work of advertising right there. And it’s interesting that it doesn’t bother me at all that the storyline sounds flat, I just want to do those crazy puzzles. And yeah, there apparently is some kind of a storyline, here’s what Wikipedia says:

In Portal, players control Chell, a test participant named in the Combine Portal User Training Facility. [...] Guided by a female electronic voice-over named GLaDOS players use the “Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device” to perform a variety of tests, such as creating portals to knock over turrets and other objects or moving to a previously unreachable area. Players must either complete their set objectives or fail the test.

Additionally they mention that Portal is set within the Half-Life universe, and that the protagonist in the game will potentially make a debut in Half-Life Episode 2, which was released in the Orange Box package with Portal (correct me if I’m wrong on any of these specifics, I unfortunately don’t have much time these days to play games and I don’t know that much about Half-Life).

It’s not often these days that I come across non-violent games I’d like to play even though I keep half an eye out for them (okay, this one is semi-violent, but the main goal isn’t killing). It’s not that violent games turn me off — No. Unfortunately those primal urges can work their black magic like their supposed to when I try those games. I don’t avoid them either to any significant extent (they’re just games, after all) — but when I get the opportunity, I’d take an engaging non-violent game over a violent one because those games are usually unique and innovative. It’s hard to create a game that doesn’t play on animal urges to get you excited; they require thought and care in implementation and conception. Portal is a fine example of innovation in gameplay that opens a new dimension, so to speak, for creating excitement and engaging the player by people using their head rather than losing it. Absolutely brilliant idea.

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7 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Hlynur Örn

    Although I’m not a game-freak, I say; -you are incredible at keeping up Hrafn!-


  2. For too long I have been away from the game scene. Well, at least until a few months ago when I finally got over my addiction to Katamari. But this…. Damn it, Hrafn! This promises to destroy any free time I may have.

    There goes my writing.

    Alas, there doesn’t seem to be a Linux version. Guess I’ll have to use my wife’s laptop.

  3. Hrafn

    To play it I’d have to repartition my Mac to allot more space to Windows, or run Parelells. I’m tempted.

  4. Wow, looks great! The hype for this game is actually pretty unbelievable (er, I think it was this game). If my computer can handle it, I’m sure going to try it out.

  5. Well I finished it the day after it was released (after having it pre-loaded and ready to go in Steam). It’s fairly short (19 chapters – the early ones are short and some of the later ones are very long) but very good – There are advanced maps and extra challenges once the main game is complete and I haven’t had a go on them yet.

    As well a being great fun, it has a very unusual atmosphere which adds an extra later of fascination to it.

    I bought this as part of the Orange Box and haven’t actually got around to playing Half Life 2 Episode 2 yet – Portal sucked me in.

    The in game directors commentary is well worth a listen to – that adds a fascinating insight in to the making of the game.

    After playing Portal, I want more Portal!

  6. Hrafn

    Argh. Now you just got me more excited. Given my daily schedule I think I’m still forced to wait for Christmas vacation to try it out. I guess we know what’ll be under my tree :)

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