Portal and Procedural Rhetoric

One of the first things I noticed about Portal is the way Chell (the main character) is shepherded throughout the various levels by GLaDOS. While at first this makes sense in the context of the testing center, once Chell (spoiler) breaks out of the first 19 levels, she is still oddly guided to GLaDOS. First, there is the graffiti leading Chell deeper and deeper into Aperture Science, but also the layout of the game itself. While it makes sense for the game to be leading you into new challenges, it seemed odd to me that a game that seems to encourage thinking outside the box (“now you’re thinking with portals”) only encourages minimal exploration within the game.When I tried to enter various grated openings, I couldn’t get through and often the only thing I could see on the other side was a red or white light. Even in the original ending of the game, it ends with a fade to white, before the ending credits.

While there is some exploration within each level, there is still a clear goal. Perhaps is it just because this is a puzzle game, but it seems to me that the game forces the player to stay within the set limitations of what the developers anticipated. Sure, there are many ways to solve each puzzle, but the end result is entering on one end of the room and exiting on the other. Or maybe I am expecting too much from a relatively small game.

I haven’t played Portal 2, but is there more open ended exploration, or is it still following a set path?

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One Response to Portal and Procedural Rhetoric

  1. Jason Ko says:

    One of the reasons Portal forces the player to follow a set path is to limit the amount of possibilities, and thus make it more clear as to the solution of the puzzle at hand. If the world of Aperture Science as seen in Portal were more open, it is likely players would have the tendency to “button mash” and randomly fling portals all over the place, in an attempt to solve puzzles by brute force. By reducing the scope of the puzzles, the creators crafted an environment where it is easier to stop and think about the task at hand, knowing that it will always be within the players skill level. The game is a very gradual build up, resulting in an endgame which showcases how inventive the player has become with the skills available, without feeling insurmountable.

    Thus, it’s less about “this is a puzzle game” and more “we want to you to enjoy learning.”

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