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Narrative in Portal

Posted: February 18, 2013 by tacohead30 in Uncategorized

                 Throughout my game play of Portal, I was sort of wondering about the lack of narrative in the game. Narrative is simply the story of the game. I felt like it was just a more realistic “puzzle” game where you generally just try and make everything fit together to advance through the test-chambers or “complete the puzzle.” Then I realized that part of the narrative itself is supposed to be vague. The player takes control of a test-subject who is put through a series of tests. The narrator of the game is the robotic voice heard throughout the levels.

            Character in a narrative can be described as how a player is represented on the TV or game screen. The character in Portal as defined in Rules of Play would simply be the portal gun you are given as well as the orange and blue crosshairs. The crosshairs light up when a portal can be shot in a certain location.

            In terms of embedded vs. emergent narrative, I think Portal definitely falls in the embedded category.  An embedded narrative is a narrative that will always occur regardless of a players interaction with the environment. An emergent narrative comes from player interaction and can change the course of the narrative. The only thing I’ve noticed about Portal’s changing narrative was the narrator-robot saying after you’ve spent a lot of time on a level, basically telling the player how impossible the level is. Besides that, I can say with confidence that the player really can’t do much to influence the narrative of the game.

            The space of a game is described as the digital area of play. In Portal, the space of the game is the test-chambers and elevators, which the character explores to complete various puzzles throughout the game.

            The narrative descriptors of a game are things that help flesh the narrative out. These things can range from text, dialogue, images, sound, etc. Portal has a few narrative descriptors, the main one would be the narrator who doesn’t tell you a lot of information, but makes it clear the player is a test-subject. Other descriptors can be found by looking at the character through a Portal, where you can see the character is a female brunette in an orange jumpsuit.


One level I was stuck on for a while.

            The actual narrative of Portal is not entirely clear to me at this point. I did not have a chance to complete the game in these three sessions, but I will definitely continue playing to find out what exactly the purpose of the tests are in this narrative and try to get some closure! I’ve heard a lot of people during class saying they were getting bored throughout their game, but I think Portal keeps the player extremely engaged not so much through it’s narrative, but more through the aspect that every level requires a new solution to complete. Although the narrative sets up a nice backdrop to the game, treating levels like “tests” and adding a sense of mystery, I still think the best thing about this game is it’s ability to really make the player think and work through these puzzles. Perhaps in hindsight when I have a better understanding of the narrative I will appreciate it more, but at this point I am really enjoying the problem-solving this game provides.


Rules of Portal

Posted: February 10, 2013 by tacohead30 in Uncategorized

The Rules of Portal 

I started off this session on Portal in “Test Chamber 13.” I don’t know how long the game is but I hope I have enough left for my last journal!


For this journal, I was hoping to focus on the “Rules of Portal,” or the three main categories of rules defined in our textbook, Rules of Play. Constituative, operational, and implicit rules are the three categories in which the rules of digital play can fall under. I want to attempt to recognize rules from Portal and try to place them into one of those three categories.


Constituative rules are the foundational rules of a game; they represent the logic behind playing the game. In Portal, there are a few examples of Constituative rules, but this concept is a little more abstract in my opinion. I came up with a few examples: 1) To complete the level, the player must navigate through the level to the elevator which will take the player to the next level. 2) Before a player may advance to the next level, he must activate every switch to open the doors to the elevator.


Constituative rules were a little tougher to identify for me on Portal, and distinguishing between operational rules can be tricky.


Operational rules represent the rules that are definitively outlined, and relate most with a players interactions with the game and are really the essential to physically play the game. For example: 1) The player is able to fire a blue portal with the right trigger on the controller, while the left trigger will fire an orange portal. They will only work on certain walls within the test chamber. 2) Only one portal of each color may be active at a time. If you shoot a portal of the same color of a portal that has already been created, the new portal will replace the old one. 3) The player can jump with the “A” button. 4) The player can pick up, hold, and move cubes with the “X” button, and can drop them by again pressing the “X” button.


Such rules as these represent the essential instructions on how to fundamentally player the game, in this case Portal.


Implicit rules are often rules that are taken for granted. In the case of Portal, some implicit rules are as follows: 1) The direction to move your joysticks will correspond with how the player will move on the screen. 2) The player can pause, save, load, or quit the game by pressing start at any time during gameplay. 3) When a player saves, s/he will be able to pickup their progress from the exact point in which they saved.


These types of rules are very basic and may be assumed by most players. Portal doesn’t have as many rules as an MMORPG, where you would find many more implicit rules based around social etiquette during gameplay.


So there they are! The rules of Portal!

Portal: Play Journal #1

Posted: February 5, 2013 by tacohead30 in Uncategorized

Portal is a game centered around the player who must complete a series of in-game puzzles or “tests” as they are referred to in the game. Each level is represented in a new “test chamber” which contains a combination of toxic floors, moving walls, deadly balls of energy, switches, and most importantly, portals. Each level is prefaced and narrated by a robotic voice, often offering advice before a level such as, “This next test is impossible, make no attempt to solve it,” and “The enrichment center apologizes for this clearly broken test chamber.” The portals are the key to the game, often referred to as “Inter-dimensional portals” and come in two colors, orange and blue.  The blue portal connects to the orange portal, and vice-versa. The laws of physics, such as velocity and momentum, still apply when traveling through portals.

It isn’t until the 10th level or so that you gain access to the 2nd portal gun to control the orange portal and really get your hands on all the tools the game has to offer. The first thing I attempted was to launch myself into an endless loop, which was actually pretty hard to do. I shot a portal at the ground and the other at my feet and jumped it, but I guess I didn’t line them up perfectly, so I would only stay in the portal for a couple seconds, but after a while I got frustrated and shot the floor about 5 times with my portal gun and fell in and I achieved a perfect endless portal loop.

Picture of me falling in an endless portal loop.

Picture of me falling in an endless portal loop.

My favorite thing about this game is that the controls are simple and the idea is so intuitive, yet it is very enjoyable to play because it does make you think and figure out where to place portals and where to go at exactly the right time to get through to the other level. What I also love about this game is the ability to go off and just play around with portals and experiment like I did when trying to make a never-ending loop, which provides additional entertainment outside of the games true objectives of clearing the “test chambers.”

In my opinion, Portal fits perfectly into Huizinga’s theory of play, and fits all five rules. Play in Portal is clearly voluntary, the game play in Portal is not ordinary, play is limited to the confines of the “test chambers,” Portal is ordered in a series of “tests,” and Portal is really unlike any game I have ever played before. I grew up on a wide variety of games. I loved Madden, basketball games, RPGs, platform games, FPS games, RTS games, but I’ve never really tried anything like Portal. It really opened my eyes up to a new way of looking at games. When playing videogames, I am usually obsessed with the instant satisfaction of scoring a touchdown or blowing something up, but there is something very satisfying about having to experiment and think through the level like I did while playing Portal.