Valve’s Portal Takes Us to a Computer-Centric Future


Portal 2 Co-opPortal 2 Co-op

Image: Valve Software

The long journey begins with a single click — your thoughts gone awry — as you enter a new virtual world beyond imagination.

You take your first few steps into this place. It looks like you’ve been here for a while. The radio plays from the distance — you didn’t turn it on — and a voice from above begins to dictate your next move.

You’ve been in suspension for a long time. The voice, a woman, tells you that this is where you’re going to begin to test. A timer is counting down from a minute right outside of your room. At zero, an orange portal is placed for you, and you walk through. This is the first time that you see yourself. You are suddenly Chell — a no-nonsense silent protagonist. You are alone, except for the voice guiding you along each room.

It begins with a moment in Valve’s Portal 2 where you step back from your game system and wait as the loading screen fills you with suspense. This is where you might lose interest; this is where it could spark.

[This is a guest post by Audrey Abell.]

Game developers want you to get to those mixed feelings while you wait. And then comes the menu screen. And finally, you’re at the beginning of a project. The result of years of hard designing, programming, and writing is now in your possession.

We’ve come a long way from Tron. The style and aesthetics of the original, made in 1982, was influenced by video games, and video games were influenced by the movie. This is where games became cinematic — suddenly, it wasn’t just about getting from point A to point B — it was the in-between.

Movies have since routinely incorporated many game styles: in 2010′s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Scott tells his story with abundant references to old Zelda games, Tetris, and other classics. In the upcoming Super 8 the filmmakers decided to create an interactive trailer with Valve where you actually walk around what appears to be rubble from a train crash that you experienced.

The goal of this trailer is to capture a certain tone that the players would be attracted to — something that could hold their attention and make them want to see more.

This is exactly the process for game designers and writers. They want you to enter their world, where you’ll get lost, and keep wanting to play more. Many games these days want to emulate the original feelings that some popular movies gave their audience. The Godfather trilogy was incredibly popular, and so the sandbox game Mafia was released.

The future? Gabe Newell, the founder and creator of Valve, says consoles will be a thing of the past. Consoles still have a huge fan base that computers lack because of the social component to gaming. But Newell predicts consoles will eventually become as marginalized as theaters: still a part of the sampling mix, but not for everyone — just as the very solitary nature of Netflix streaming co-exists with going to the movies.

Audrey is a student at Horace Greeley High School. She's been writing, and gaming, for a decade.

So, why is the Portal series important in the world of gaming? It comes down to the visceral appearance in the detailed graphics that surround you in this world where you are trapped, and fighting to get out. It comes down to the dialogue, where it’s all you have, when you’re all alone in the Aperture Science building. You don’t see yourself, you don’t know Chell personally, but you have a very strong sense of who you are when you’re down there. GLaDOS, the computer which has taken over the laboratories and now your life, with her deadpan delivery and maniacal sense of humor, will not forget you in these test chambers, even though everything else has.

I can’t tell you how to experience the game the way I experienced it. Valve can’t show you exactly how, because it’s different for everybody. It’s different for everyone. And that’s why it’s the future.

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