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Get the cake ready, ‘Portal’ turns 10

/ 07:58 PM October 09, 2017

Oct. 10, 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of “Portal”, a first-person puzzle game that brought new levels of humor, problem solving and meme-ready one liners to the video game space.

Such was the impact of “Portal” that it’s remained a high water mark in 3D puzzle games since a 2007 debut.

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It was released as part of compendium package “The Orange Box” which also contained “Team Fortress 2” and “Half-Life 2: Episode Two” (a third and final episode has not yet been supplied).

With a silent female protagonist, a portal gun capable of transporting players between two otherwise unconnected points, a deviously antagonistic AI opponent GLaDOS, dumb fellow traveler in the Weighted Companion Cube, the motivational promise of cake-based reward, and a run of increasingly tricky puzzle rooms that carefully introduced new concepts in an open-ended arena, “Portal” became an instant and lasting hit.

The game was actually prototyped by a student team from Washington’s DigiPen, with gaming giant Valve Corporation bringing the team in-house to transform “Narbacular Drop” into “Portal”.

Lead designer Kim Swift was also involved in several other key Valve projects during that time, starting with the first episodic expansion for revolutionary first-person action game “Half-Life 2” and both “Left 4 Dead” team-based outings — another franchise which, like “Portal” and “Team Fortress,” started life outside of Valve.

“Portal 2” followed in 2011, adding a slew of new features, two additional characters, and a two-player mode; since there have been plenty of homages, direct or otherwise, to the franchise’s successes.

Perhaps most notably, Swift herself designed “Quantum Conundrum” (PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3), an inter-dimensional object manipulation jaunt, while “Gateways” (PC, Mac, iPad, 360) took the “Portal” idea onto a 2D plane.

Australian twist “Antichamber” (PC, Mac, Linux) took GLaDOS’s untrustworthy nature and applied the concept to explorable game space as a whole, inviting the player to explore and escape from a sequence of impossibly laid-out levels.

“Magnetic: Cage Closed” on PC and Xbox One swapped portals and paint for a sci-fi prison and a magnet gun, while “Magrunner: Dark Pulse” applies first-person puzzling to a blend of cyberpunk and Lovecraftian horror.

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Also worth checking out is the block-based “QUBE”, which migrated from PC and then Mac onto Android; PlayStations 3 and 4, Xbox One and even Wii U, while the more recent XBO, PS4 and PC release “The Turing Test” continued to probe human-AI interactions.

Perhaps the most worthy successor to the “Portal” mantle would be “The Talos Principle”, which combined ancient Greek and Egyptian settings, philosophical ruminations on the nature of humanity and cyborgization, and a succession of tricky, obstacle-strewn routes toward completion. It is also available on Android as well as computers and the PlayStation 4 console.

And “Portal”‘s influence stretches beyond its native format, with musician Jonathan Coulton gaining a wider audience thanks to his closing credits song “Still Alive”, and Dan Trachtenberg approached to direct feature film “10 Cloverfield Lane” after releasing the seven-minute short “Portal: No Escape”.

Portal is available to play on PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Mac, Linux and Nvidia Shield. JB

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TAGS: Half-life, Portal, valve
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