Sunday, September 29, 2013

Meanwhile: Portal

I love Portal so much.  I started playing again on my janky mac laptop, and so far things are going pretty well.  I've really been meaning to play through Portal since I played through Portal 2 just over a year ago.    The trouble is that the thing seems to like to overheat while playing portal.  So the going is slow.  maybe 30 mins at a time, if that.  But I managed to make it through the game, and it still holds up.

I notice that the level design is interesting.  The first ten or so levels are pure tutorial.  The next five aren't really much more than that.  But at about level 15, tutorial is left completely behind and the levels start to get longer.  Each level is broken up into several sub-stages which are as long as any of the tutorials from the first half of the game.  Really, they are very tough, but the rewards are much harder to come by.  After every room is another difficult room. Being that this is my second time through Portal, and I've been through Portal II - I was ready for the challenge.  Still, it can be pretty tough.

Simultaneously, as the game transitions from tutorial to actual challenging levels, hints of a more insidious story begin to become more pronounced.  GlaDOS' deadpan voice starts to say increasingly morbid things.  Another thing I've noticed is  that the ambient music, coupled with the isolation of the player and the starkness of the graphic design, lends an eerie sense to the game.  This eerie tone combines with a growing sense of danger, as GlaDOS' sterile voice begins to say stranger and more threatening things.  The overall theme of misanthropic scientific testing is strengthened by the sounds and images and the isolation of the player.

GlaDOS is a pretty awesome villain.  I love the storytelling as her character develops over the course of the game, leading to the excellent climax.  And in the final battle, there is an excellent example of showing, not telling, in the personalities of the three eyeball-things that fall from her machinery.  The first being innocent and curious, the second calculating and cold, and the third savage and aggressive.  GlaDOS' character is perfectly summed up by those three elements. It is implied but never directly stated in-game that these objects represent her personality.  All the while, she is talking to the player, still trying to convince you of her position, and not really acknowledging herself, even as you discover her.  Fantastic, really. Amazing.  I think it is worth pointing out, also, that, despite her attempts to kill you, she is the players constant, and only companion through the course of the game.  This adds a layer, thin, though it may be, of sympathy that you must overcome in order to defeat her and with the game.

I beat the game in 4.8 hours.  I think it went pretty quickly, because I'm an experienced Portal player.  I think it may have taken closer to 10 hours the first time through.  I still really really love that last level.  The twist is so cool.  It really comes across like a final test.  The whole game could just have been sterile lab settings, and I think it would still have been a fun game.  But that last level really made me feel great.  I feel like Valve really took care of me as a player, and I get to show off all my portaling skills Ive been building.

I'm going to try the extra levels just for shits and giggles.  And then I'm going to install Portal 2 and try to get some multiplayer happening.  I have no idea how that works.


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