Portal – Origins of a Game Type

This came out of nowhere. I remember picking up The Orange Box when it came out back in 2007, and Portal was the part of the game I jumped into. I had heard that while the entire package was a lot of fun, Portal was where it was at. The concept was so face palmingly simple that designers across the industry wondered why they hadn’t thought of it before. I don’t think many of them could have imbued it with the same charm though if they had.


The game was designed by 10 people, most hired out of school after their game, Narbacular Drop, was demoed at a carrier fair. The had developed the hardest part of the game, the physics, before being offered positions. Other than this, and the color of the portals, orange and blue, little of the original demo could be seen in the final product. Instead, Portal is part of the Half-Life world, though they originally didn’t intend for it to be. Much of the art assets from Half-Life were reused, dropping production costs and garnering the need to fit into Half-Life.

Tutorials have become difficult for designers to fit into games. The best example of an in game tutorial is the original Mario Bros. Simple technology constraints allow players to quickly learn the controls. Portal is also in this category. It could be argued that most of the game is a tutorial. Players control a silent protagonist, Chell, who is given a portal gun, and guided from room to room by an A.I. named GLaDOS. She runs the Aperture Science facility, and uses Chell to test the portal gun. Hilarity ensues. No seriously, this game is freaking hysterical.


If the physics were not correct, this game wouldn’t work. Use of basic mechanics (inertia, conservation of momentum, gravity) is key to solving the game’s many puzzles. If these felt off, the puzzles would be incredibly difficult to solve. Thankfully, the designers nail it.

As much as I’d like for things to exist in a vacuum, they don’t. Portal as been around for 6 years now, spawning an amazing sequel, short movies, songs, and an increasing number of clones. What could I say that hasn’t already been said? Portal is an amazing game with enduring characters. I loved Portal 2, particularly the smartly designed multiplayer. The reason the first game succeed was because it surprised everyone. Valve said while creating Portal 2 that it was incredibly hard to do that again. Somehow they did. Taking this into account, I doubt we’ll see another game in the series, but that’s fine with me.

Portal is an amazing game, and for anyone with 2-3 hours on their hand, completely worth the time. If you play (which you should), I suggest not looking up any solution. Your sense of accomplishment will be incredibly high for not doing so. Trust me.

When did you first play Portal? Hoping they leave the franchise alone, or lusting for more? Comment below, on Facebook, or Twitter! You can now see my Saturday Morning Cartoon posts at The Two-Headed Nerd!

Shame if you haven’t played this. 


5 responses to “Portal – Origins of a Game Type

  1. Pingback: Portal 2 – SPAAAAAAAACE! | The Credible Hulk·

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  4. Pingback: Dr. Steamlove or: How I Learned to Let Go of Consoles and Love PC Gaming | Button Smashers Blog·

  5. Pingback: The Orange Box – Valve on Consoles | The Credible Hulk·

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