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The Beginning of Portal: Game Design Analysis Part 2

Updated: Nov 9

Welcome to part 2 of my Game Design analysis of the beginning of Portal. In this blog I will be analysing both the game mechanics and decision making.


The screenshots are from my own playthrough of the beginning of Portal (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020).


Game Mechanics (Hoppe, Andreas, 2020)

· The purpose of the portal mechanic is to transport the player character, cubes and energy balls from one part of a test chamber to another part of the same test chamber.

Fig. 01: Two pre-made stationary portals

My screenshot (Two pre-made stationary portals, 2020)...

· In the tutorial chamber both portals are created at once by itself (Fig. 01) (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 05:58-06:28), not by the player. All the player has to do is walk through them which helps them understand the function of portals. You can even bring the radio through the portal but this is entirely optional (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 06:45-07:04).

Fig. 02: Two non-stationary portals

My screenshot (Two non-stationary portals, 2020)...

· In the first chamber, the portals are now not stationary (Fig. 02). The blue portal is transported to three different parts of the room every five seconds (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 09:40-10:37). This lets the player know that portals can be placed in different parts of the same test chamber.

Fig. 03: The Portal gun

My screenshot (The Portal gun, 2020)...

· In the second chamber, the portal gun is introduced (Fig. 03). (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 11:28-11:50) Before we can get it, the portal gun creates a blue portal in four different parts of the test chamber, which further emphasise that portal can be placed in, mostly, any part of a test chamber.

This test chamber is also where you discover what texture you can and cannot create a portal on. Any texture that is not a light grey wall cannot create a portal. Look at the HUD around the reticule when you aim at a texture you can’t create a portal at. It’s transparent whereas whenever you aim at a texture that can create a portal, the HUD is completely blue (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 13:16-13:41).

Fig. 04: Crossing a gap

My screenshot (Crossing a gap, 2020)...


· In the third chamber, the only way you can cross gaps which are raised by both cables and support beams in this chamber is to create a blue portal yourself (Fig. 04) (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 14:16-14:40), teaching the player that to get past obstacles, you need to create a blue portal.

Fig. 05: Cube passing through a portal

My screenshot (Cube passing through a portal, 2020)...


· In the fourth chamber, the player learns that cubes can also pass through portals (Fig. 05) (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 15:49-16:18). Later chambers require objects to pass through portals in order to complete a chamber.

Fig. 06: Raised platforms

My screenshot (Raised platforms, 2020)...

· In the fifth chamber, both the orange portal and cube is on a raised platform (Fig. 06) (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 17:13-17:36) so the player has to take into account that both cubes will enter a raised platform and not on the floor. Having the cube enter onto the floor would make this test chamber too easy.

Fig. 07: Portal behind the door

My screenshot (Portal behind the door, 2020)...


You can stand on one of the switches and place a portal on a wall behind the door (Fig. 07) (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 18:06-18:17), however you won’t be able to get past the door this way because the orange portal is on a raised platform.

This platform is raised so that players don’t cheat the chamber.

Fig. 08: The sixth chamber ceiling

My screenshot (The sixth chamber ceiling, 2020)...


· In the sixth chamber, the player must place a blue portal in a specific position for the energy ball to reach the energy switch (Fig. 08). (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 19:32-19:46) This is also where the player knows that energy balls can pass through portals.

All walls beside the ceiling are a darker texture which communicates to the player that you can only create a portal on the ceiling.

The energy switch emits a faint red light on the ceiling which is where the blue portal needs to go. Slight changes to the grey walls in future chambers show where portals should be placed.

Fig. 09: The seventh chamber scratch mark

My screenshot (The seventh chamber scratch mark, 2020)...

· In the seventh chamber, the solution from the previous chamber applies here. Now scratch marks appear on the wall where the energy ball has hit (Fig. 09) (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 20:29-20:33). The scratch mark stands out compared to the grey wall texture.

Fig. 10: Portal placement

My screenshot (Portal placement, 2020)...

· In the eighth chamber, timing your portal placements is now key to completing a chamber (Fig. 10) (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 22:30-22:50). The solution is built upon what the player learned in both the sixth and seventh chamber.

The player must first create a portal at the part of the wall that will be scratched by the energy ball. Once the energy ball passes through this portal, the player must act quickly and create a portal at the part of the wall that is emitting a faint red light before the energy ball bounces back and goes past the orange portal.

· All the chambers from this point on build upon the foundations introduced for the portal game mechanic.

Decision Making (Hoppe, Andreas, 2020)

Fig. 11: Switch and cube

My screenshot (Switch and cube, 2020)...


· You are presented with one object in the tutorial chamber which is a cube (Fig. 11) (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 07:44-07:46). The switch activates/opens the door when you stand on it and deactivates/closes the door when you leave it, communicating to the player that for the switch to stay activated and for the player to leave the chamber, the cube has to stay on the switch.

Fig. 12: Blue picogram

My screenshot (Blue Pictogram, 2020)...

This is also communicated by Pictograms. There is a blue pictogram on the switch which shows both a cube and a down arrow (Fig. 12) (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 07:38-07:44).

Fig. 13: Tutorial pictograms

My screenshot (Tutorial pictograms, 2020)...

There is also a pictogram of both a cube falling and a cube injuring the player (Fig. 13) (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 07:47-07:52). These both communicate that this cube is a vital component of the tutorial chamber.

Fig. 14: Three sides of the first chamber

My screenshot (Three sides of the first chamber, 2020)...

· In the first chamber, all three sides of the chamber are gated off by glass (Fig. 14) (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 09:30-09:35). This is so that the player can only progress once both portals are opening the part of the room that they need to access to complete the chamber.

Fig. 15: The Portal gun

My screenshot (The Portal gun, 2020)...

· In the second chamber, you cannot enter the chamber and do the puzzle straight away (Fig. 15) (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 09:40-10:37). The door to the chamber is locked for twenty seconds. This is so that the Portal Gun draws your attention with its distinct sound effects.

There are also four arrows that point directly at the portal gun. This to encourage the player to pick up the gun so that they can complete the chamber.

Fig. 16: Glass in the fourth chamber

My screenshot (Glass in the fourth chamber, 2020)...


· In the fourth chamber, there is glass in front of the switch (Fig. 16) (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 15:38-15:50). This is so players know that they can’t use a portal gun to create a portal past the door. This encourages the player to create a portal for the cube to pass through.

Fig. 17: Sixth chamber pictograms

My screenshot (Sixth chamber pictograms, 2020)...

· In the sixth chamber, two new pictograms are introduced (Fig. 17) (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 18:59-19:10). The first shows the energy ball seriously injuring the player which means that this energy ball is dangerous. The second shows the energy ball about to enter an energy switch. This shows the player that the objective of the puzzle is to put the energy ball into the energy switch.

This puzzle solution is similar to the previous puzzle solutions which is that an object must interact with a switch in order to complete a chamber (Fig. 08). This makes the decision-making process simpler for the player to understand since the sixth chamber solution is building upon the previous solutions.

· In the eighth chamber, there is as GLaDOS says “a consequence of failure”. There is a dangerous liquid on the floor which will kill you (Fig. 10) (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 22:50-22:59). This is communicated by GLaDOS who says that contact in the floor will result in death.

Fig. 18: Eighth chamber pictograms

My screenshot (Eighth chamber pictograms, 2020)...

There are also two new pictograms (Fig. 18) (Fintan Davies Sound, 2020, 22:09-22:25). The first shows the player being injured by the water whilst the second one shows that it is not safe to consume. All this encourages the player to stay away from the floor.


This concludes Part 2 of this blog! Click here to go to Part 3 where I will analyse Portal's Difficulty Progression/Complexity and Story.


Reference list:


Headings:


Heading structure by Hoppe, Andreas from an unpublished offline education workshop document, Game Analysis Workshop: Portal (14 October 2020).


Screenshots:


Two pre-made stationary portals (2020) [My screenshot] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


Two non-stationary portals (2020) [My screenshot] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


The Portal gun (2020) [My screenshot] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


Crossing a gap (2020) [My screenshot] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


Cube passing through a portal (2020) [My screenshot] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


Raised platforms (2020) [My screenshot] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


Portal behind the door (2020) [My screenshot] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


The sixth chamber ceiling (2020) [My screenshot] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


The seventh chamber scratch mark (2020) [My screenshot] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


Portal placement (2020) [My screenshot] Available at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


Switch and cube (2020) [My screenshot] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


Blue Pictogram (2020) [My screenshot] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


Tutorial pictograms (2020) [My screenshot] Available at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


Three sides of the first chamber (2020) [My screenshot] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


The Portal gun (2020) [My screenshot] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


Glass in the fourth chamber (2020) [My screenshot] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


Sixth chamber pictograms (2020) [My screenshot] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


Eighth chamber pictograms (2020) [My screenshot] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed: 19 October 2020).


Youtube video:


Fintan Davies Sound (2020) Great Game Design: The Beginning of Portal. 19 October. Available at: https://youtu.be/pLI0M03Ulps (Accessed 19 October 2020).


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© 2020 by FINTAN DAVIES.