Video Game Thoughts: Portal

Portal was a 2007 first-person puzzle game by Valve Corporation that I played on the PC. Portal was one of the games included in The Orange Box. I didn’t expect much from it, but it turned out to be an amazing game. The game used the same game engine as Half-Life 2 (also included in The Orange Box). This meant it had the same first-person perspective and used a gun. The massive difference was in the gun’s functionality. Fired at one wall made a blue portal. Fired on another wall made an orange portal. The blue and the orange portals were connected. The player could see through them and even walk through them. It sounds pretty subtle, but it was such a cool idea to experience.

Unlike Half-Life 2’s story focus, Portal was more of a puzzle game. It did have a story that became more important as I played, but the gameplay was focused on solving puzzles. Each level was like an obstacle course. The goal was to get the exit, but there were locked doors, toxic waste, and gun turrets in the way. By using a combination of portals, physics, and switches, the player could slowly make their way through all the obstacles to the exit.

The ending in Portal was a blast. I got to what I thought was the last level when the computer AI that had been guiding me through the levels sent me to an incinerator. Through clever use of portals it was possible to escape death. Now I was behind the scenes. I could see the levels I can gone through but I was on the outside looking in. The levels were actually test chambers, with a large, hidden factory complex surrounding them. Slowly, I got to learn more about what this place really was and what this computer AI was doing.

Before Portal had come out, games had started to become more of the same. New games were being made, but almost none of them were doing anything new with the gameplay. It was mostly just better technical aspects like graphics and sound quality with the same old gameplay. People were starting to get bored with the new games. Then Portal came out. I believe it ushered in a new age of originality in games. Portal was actually made by a team just out of college, with the help of some polishing from the Valve veterans. I think Portal totally changed the way new game designers thought of games. The old molds were shattered. It wasn’t just about better graphics and sound quality.

Just a few years after Portal came out, the video game industry suddenly had tons of independent developers forming, with lots of new creative game ideas. Not all of these games were great, but several of them were real gaming gems. These new game ideas in turn rubbed off on the big veteran developers. Overall, games started getting new and original again.

A big worry back in 2007 was that everyone just cared about sequels. Games were becoming stale. It was all doom and gloom. Portal and other creative games pulled the industry out of that rut. By the end of that console generation, which included the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii, some of the best games in history were released. I was blessed to be able to play Portal. It was truly unique.

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