Portal, Sound, and Music

Earlier in the year we discussed the effect sound and music has on games. Portal is an excellent example, since Portal would not be the game it is today were it not for its audio assets.
Sound plays a major role in Portal. Many of the test elements, such as the Aperture Science Unstationary Scaffold or the Aperture Science High Energy Pellet, have very specific sounds. This allows the player to know when they are near such elements, even when they cannot be seen. At some points there is an eerie whooshing sound, caused by vents, that unsettles the player. Sound is used to hide some other messages. In the Portal ARG messages were encoded into a series of beeps that led to more information.
The most important sound is GLaDOS. GLaDOS, the scheming AI that attempts to lead you to your death has a wonderful sound design. At the beginning GLaDOS starts to unnerve the player with her words. She warns the player to be sure not to —— and also gives suggestions that lead the players death. In addition she gives useful feedback such as “The floor here will kill you, try to avoid it.”At the beginning GLaDOS has an emotionless voice and guides you though the testing. Once you break out she starts to gain emotion. First she shows surprise, but later anger follows.
Portal is well associated with its song, Still Alive. Once the game is beaten Still Alive is played, which is an incredibly popular song. At any gamer convention there are people singing it. In addition there are many snippets of Still Alive inside of the game. The radios in the game are playing an upbeat version of still alive with the words removed.

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1 Response to Portal, Sound, and Music

  1. ckingsle says:

    I will agree that the sound in Portal plays a major role, in fact, I’d almost go so far as to say that (if you’ve never played before) it is essential. In any game, the patterns of music start to tell you whether you’re doing something right or wrong, whether you’re going the wrong way or you’ve gotten off track, and whether you are entering a danger zone. With Portal, you can tell whether you’ve walked all the way through a portal based on the sound. Sound also aids timing and direction. GLaDOS, while secretly evil, is still initially helpful. The elevator music signals when you’ve finished a level. Overall, sound is an integral part of the Portal experience.
    When I played Portal, for the first few levels I used the sound. After I became more acquainted with the game, I ended up turning the sound off. It was around level 16, and it immediately got more difficult. I started getting hit with the little energy balls and dying, or getting shot to death. Initially, I didn’t realize that it was the music making the difference, but when I turned it back on, I started doing a lot better again. The auditory cues that you become accustomed to really do affect game play (look at pg 73 in Koster, it is a great visual for the auditory affect I’m trying to explain).

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