This article is about the video game titled Portal. If you are searching for portal-related tropes, please refer to Teleportation Tropes.Portal is probably best described as a "first-person puzzle game." Essentially, it is a Puzzle Game made in 3D with a First-Person Shooter engine, which can serve as a somewhat misleading combination.The player character is Chell, who wakes up in a seemingly uninhabited facility. GLaDOS, the facility's AI robot voice, sends her through a series of puzzles as a test subject for the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, which is capable of opening portals on flat surfaces (only two at a time), creating a link between them. The tests are deadly and require quite a bit of creativity for Chell to get through, navigating the bizarre twists of geometry and gravity that are exploited for all they're worth.There are no other characters to interact with, no enemies to kill (except for gun-turrets), and no items to find (other than the portal gun itself, which is given to the player right away and upgraded shortly after). The challenge comes from progressing through the test chambers, as it becomes increasingly clear that GLaDOS might not be all there and displays an alarmingly cavalier attitude to your safety and sanity. But hey, you're promised cake.The game nominally takes place in the Half-Life universe, but there's nothing connecting them so far other than random hints on walls referring to Black Mesa and the fact that Aperture Science is mentioned in the Half-Life 2 episodes. Black Mesa is also mentioned in the credits song, and GLaDOS herself makes vague references to the events of Half-Life during the final confrontation.Released as part of The Orange Box in October 2007. It was patched in March 2010 with an updated ending through Steam, a rarity for such an old single-player game.Portal appears to have revitalized a somewhat stagnant industry; instead of being a confusing 'me-too' clone of the big sellers, the game was relatively short, used easily-understood mechanics, and featured a premise that was clearly spelled out, easy to grasp, continually challenging as new puzzles were introduced and didn't bog the gameplay down.The sequel, Portal 2, was released April 2011. Chell is awakened an uncertain but very long time after the events of Portal by an AI core named Wheatley, and in an attempt to leave the facility, they accidentally awaken GLaDOS. Now, please enter your local Aperture Science Enrichment Center for further testing.
Affably Evil: The modus operandi of Aperture Science in a nutshell, and of course that of GLaDOS. They are absolutely willing to risk your life, yet they're so sincere about it...
A.I. Is a Crapshoot: A pleasant, amusing, physics game is turned into a brilliant story demonstrating the power of the medium merely by the judicious application of an Insane Killer Disk-Operating System. And cake.
Alternate Reality Game: On March 1, 2010, the game received a surprise patch, featuring a new achievement and a load of seemingly innocuous sound files full of static. Until someone savvy enough to know old-school technology (SSTV) found images hidden within them and oh bloody hell◊.
Antepiece: the puzzle design is very varied and deals with rather sophisticated ideas. Yet it's approachable for everyone and very concise. To introduce ideas to the player, the designers often use antepieces: small, unchallenging tasks that act as a stepping stone to something more complex. For example, test chamber ten is a three section chamber: the second and third sections are about throwing yourself down a pit into a portal at the bottom and flying out of a wall. But the first section of chamber ten is barely a puzzle at all; it's just a panel and a staircase. All the player has to do to keep moving is make a portal anywhere and go into it. But it introduces a structure that is to be repeated.
Arc Words: *warping sound* ""C-C-Cakecakecakecakecake..." To an extent, anyway. "The Cake Is a Lie" fits the bill. (Even though it's never actually spoken in-game — the Rat Man has scrawled it repeatedly on the wall of one of his dens and over a tube you have to go through a while after escaping the incinerator). For Science! is also repeatedly thrown around.
Bag of Spilling: The Emancipation Grill (also called "the fizzler") is a forcefield which is harmless to Chell and her Portal Gun, but prevents her from taking foreign objects like cubes through it, and there's one at the end of each level, which prevents you from cheating or breaking the game. Additionally, you can't shoot portals through one, and passing through erases all current portals. Many puzzles force you to circumvent Emancipation Grills creatively.
Bechdel Test- There are two named characters- Chell (Your Player Character) and GLaDOS, the Big Bad with a sense of humor- and both are female. Granted, only GLaDOS speaks,but Chell's silence is out of will not irrelevance to the plot.
Black Comedy: Aperture Science's approach to anything is steeped in this. So is GLaDOS's sense of humor.
Blatant Lies: GLaDOS attempts to convince you that attempting to murder you at the end of the testing procedure was just another test "where we pretended [...] to murder you". She then claims that there's a big party being thrown in your honour if you'll just stop right there and lie down. She's not terribly convincing when her test subjects go Off the Rails. This is lampshaded toward the end:
Body Horror: GLaDOS mentions offhand that the Emancipation Grill may, "on semi-rare occasions, emancipate dental fillings, crowns, tooth enamel, and teeth."
Boss Arena Idiocy: GLaDOS' arena has everything you need to beat her, but it's Hand Waved as being out of her control. The room was designed so that the Aperture Science employees would have a way to deal with her if she went insane.
Boss Banter: Part of the attraction of this game is GLaDOS' hilarious banter while you're trying to destroy her.
The patch added one to the ending of Portal. "Thank you for assuming the party escort submission position..."
A lesser Brick Joke comes in the form of one of the radios you can collect for the Transmission Received achievement. When GLaDOS decides to kill you at the end of the last test chamber, she'll tell you that all Aperture technologies remains safely operational up to 4000 Kelvin. One of the radios is in the incinerator, still working. This is also told to be why in the second game GLaDOS and the portal gun are still operational after being thrown in the incinerator. Although, ironically, the portal gun's model does actually burn up in the incinerator if Chell falls in.
Briar Patching: Near the end of Portal, GLaDOS tells you not to touch a certain object and, for once, it would probably be for the best if you complied (but Stupidity Is the Only Option in order to beat the game). GLaDOS actually bets on the player not trusting her and doing the opposite of what she says. Despite her double use of Reverse Psychology, her intention is still pretty obvious.
The Cast Showoff: Ellen McLain is an operatic singer, which means she sings one hell of a credits song.
Chekhov's Gun: The radio in Chell's room/cell/pod, a seemingly innocuous prop (which played an uptempo version of "Still Alive"), was given an upgrade into a myth arc/ARG prop status two years after release.
Cleveland: Apparently◊, Portal takes place in Cleveland. Specifically, it takes place in the massive, miles-deep remains of the real-life salt mines near Cleveland that were, in-story, purchased by Cave Johnson back in the 40s and expanded into a gigantic labyrinth of testing and production facilities. The sequel, however, apparently retcons this by placing the mine in Michigan.
Cave Johnson:...well, it’d be like, I don't know, something that would help with the shower curtains I guess. I haven’t worked this idea out as much as the wish-taking one.
Collision Damage: Mostly averted, with a Hand Wave thanks to Chell's heel springs. Played straight with the toxic floors and energy orbs. GLaDOS even lampshades it:
GLaDOS:While safety is one of many Enrichment Center goals, the Aperture Science High-Energy Pellet, seen to the left of the chamber, can and has caused permanent disabilities, such as vaporization. Please be careful.
Combat Stilettos: Played with. Chell wears a pair of heel springs to cushion very fast, very high falls in order to prevent her legs from being crushed. They're also very similar to prosthetic running feet of similar purpose.
Creepy Monotone: Or at least very passive-aggressive. And then when you destroy the Morality Core and GLaDOS switches from robotic monotone to an emotive, described by the subtitles as seductive, and more obviously female voice, the contrast is actually creepier than the robotic monotone that you've been listening to all game. Listen for yourself
Creative Closing Credits/Credits Gag: The ending song plays over a text screen that displays the lyrics in the form of a computerized personnel file report, accompanied by some rather hilarious ASCII art.
Distinctive Appearances: The white tile surfaces you can attach portals to are significantly different in color and texture than surfaces you can't use the portals on. This is so you can view things from a distance and know what your options are.
GLaDOS: The device is now more valuable than the organs and combined incomes of everyone in [Subject Hometown Here].
DVD Commentary: The game has an alternate play mode in which speech-bubble-shaped objects appear that are triggers for audio clips of commentary. Most of the clips are the designers talking about the process of making the game.
Elaborate Underground Base: The Enrichment Center. The sequel shows how astoundingly elaborate it really is, and even then we don't directly see all of it. Aperture is huge.
The End... Or Is It?: Both the original last scene and the updated ending make it clear that GLaDOS is not really dead, and that Chell's ordeal in the Enrichment Center is far from over.
Everything Is an iPod in the Future: Or more accurately, about the time the iPod came out. The similarity between Aperture's aesthetic and Apple's has been noted and was even exploited for one of Valve's teaser pictures when they were about to release Steam for the Mac.
Eternal Engine: The facilities behind-the-scenes. Taken to further extremes in the sequel.
Evil Sounds Deep: After the Morality Core is destroyed, GLaDOS voice deepens and becomes much smoother and, dare we say it, sexier.
Exact Time to Failure: The Deadly Neurotoxin that GLaDOS releases during the Final Battle will kill you as soon as the timer runs out, no sooner or later. Chell will start to choke as the clock approaches zero.
Excuse Plot: Chell's apparent motivation for completing the tests is, as stated by GLaDOS in the page quote, "cake and grief counseling." The trope is deconstructed post-reveal, though, as it raises the question of how insane Chell would have to be to face trigger-happy turrets and spheres of energy that disintegrate you on contact just for this simple reward - never mind the fact that she never would have received either reward anyway.
Expospeak Gag: The "1500 Megawatt Aperture Science Heavy Duty Super-Colliding Super-Button" and "Aperture Science Thing-We-Don't-Know-What-It-Does", among others.
Foreshadowing: "You will be baked, and then there will be cake.", "You will be [static] cake."note This iteration is what is transcribed in the subtitles., and "When the testing is over, you will be... missed!" Guess what GLaDOS attempts to do later?
"You're curious about what happens after you die, right? Guess what...? I know."
A pretty subtle case, but in on of the Ratman's secret rooms, you can actually find a reference to Cave Johnson, from the second game.
For Science!: Aperture Science doesn't seem to be too good at considering the future implications of the gadgets they make. As the theme tune says, "We do what we must / Because we can."
Gaiden Game: To the Half-Life series. Of course, given that it involves completely original characters and the sequel has been confirmed to have nothing to do with Episode Three or Half-Life 3 after all, you could also consider it a Backdoor Pilot.
Game-Breaking Bug: When you're portalling your way onto the platforms over the water that will eventually lead to the incinerator room, the game saves as you go. If you fall off one of the platforms in the middle of one of the game's auto saves, you'll end up in an endless loop of respawning and dying. The developers realized that this was a problem, so they designed the game to keep the previous save state available. However, the game won't automatically load this previous save. To take advantage of it, you have to exit to the main menu, then load it manually. There's no indication that this is even available, except for a single extra entry in the "Load Game" menu.
Gone Horribly Wrong: The only thing Aperture Science has made that hasn't (yet) had terrible repercussions or just been a flat-out terrible idea? The Portal Gun, and that's only until the singularity inside it destabilizes.
GLaDOS:Unbelievable! You, [Subject Name Here], must be the pride of [Subject Hometown Here]!
The portal gun costs as much as "the collective income and vital organs of everyone in [Subject Hometown Here].".
Parodied in the audio commentary where the introduction says: "Welcome to [Game Name Here]."
Heroic Mime: Lampshaded by GLaDOS, naturally. Chell's lack of response to her monologues leads her to say "Are you even listening to me?" Word of God is that Chell won't offer her the satisfaction of speaking; she's just that stubborn.
High Voltage Death: Used to justify Chell's Super Drowning Skills; falling into water causes the portal gun to short out and (presumably) give her a fatal dose of electricity
Hot Line: Just inside GLaDOS' chamber, prior to entering the main arena, you see a red phone. In the commentary, the developers explain that it was a hotline for scientists to use in case of an emergency with the AI. They point out that the connection cord is cut, hinting at just how effective it was.
Human Resources The Enrichment Center is required to remind you that you will be baked, and then there will be cake.
Humble Goal: Played for Laughs. If GLaDOS is to be believed, all Chell wants is cake. It's never revealed what she really wants, but since the game leads her to (temporarily) kill GLaDOS and escape Aperture's testing chambers, we'll assume it's that.
Incompetence, Inc.: Aperture was not a well-run research centre. They were great at inventing innovative things and making profound scientific breakthroughs, but also seemed almost wilfully ignorant of the uses to which said discoveries could be put and tried to shoehorn them into products for which they were completely unsuitable. See Inventional Wisdom below.
Industrialized Evil: The whole maze is one giant example, with however many test subjects came before.
Infant Immortality: Judging by the fact that GLaDOS' initial rampage took place during "Bring Your Daughter To Work Day", it's safe to assume this trope was averted.
Inferred Holocaust: Never mind all the researchers that GLaDOS gassed; "Bring Your Daughter To Work Day" implies that their children became victims too, or were tested to death. GLaDOS also manages to sneak in a reference to the multiple disasters of the Half-Life universe during the Final Battle and in "Still Alive". It's implied during Portal 2 that Chell herself was the daughter of one of the scientists at Aperture and she was forcibly taken as a test subject by GLaDOS during her massacre.
Interface Spoiler: Averted — the New Game level selection menu shows all of the test chambers. But that's only half the game.
Inventional Wisdom: The actual functions of Aperture Science's inventions are almost entirely tangential, if not antithetical, to their ostensible purpose. GLaDOS and the portal gun started as a fuel system de-icer and a shower curtain, respectively... at least until the retcon established in the sequel.
Justified Tutorial: Chell is a test subject, who is supposed to be learning how to use the portal gun from scratch. The developer's commentary discusses how the flow of the test chambers in all of the games is designed explicitly to train the player for each new feature and make sure they get it before incorporating it into the more complex puzzles later.
"For your own safety, and the safety of others, please refrain from... *crackle* *static* Por favor de donde fallar muchos gracias de fallar gracias. *crackle* ...stand back. The portal will open in three... two... one..."note For the curious, the Spanish is somewhat nonsensical, but do note that under it, it closely literally translates as "Please fail/die, thank you very much..."
Subverted later on. The (somewhat inaccurate and probably to-the-script) subtitles say, "...you will be baked *static* cake". But the audio track clearly says "...you will be baked, and then there will be cake."
Also, when you get the portal gun...
"Do not touch the operational end of the device. Do not look directly at the operational end of the device. Do not submerge the device in liquid, even partially. Most importantly, under no circumstances should you—" *power drain*
Levels where the player uses flinging.
After the level where GLaDOS admits she lied to you:
"As part of a required test protocol, we will stop enhancing the truth in three... two..." *static*
Lyrical Dissonance: "Still Alive" is certainly upbeat for a gloating song or a song about how the singer was murdered, torn to pieces, and thrown into a fire.
Mad Science: One kind of gets the sensation Aperture was run a little like this even before GLaDOS took over; the test rooms don't really seem to be built with "safety" or "sanity" in mind. The sequel plays this for all it's worth.
Misapplied Phlebotinum: The Portal Gun originated as an "improved" shower curtain. GLaDOS originated as an "improved" fuel system de-icer. Aperture developed wormhole teleportation and artificial intelligence, yet used them for nothing more than to run hapless subjects through mazes like lab rats.
Monster Closet: The game explains where the turrets-in-the-walls come from by showing you a whole distribution system for them criss-crossing the entire facility.
Morality Core: Even with it installed, GLaDOS still tries to kill you — and it's the only core you find that's completely silent, implying that it's not working correctly anymore (if it ever was). And of course there's the fact that it was programmed with Aperture Science morality in mind.
"It was a Morality Core they installed after I flooded the Enrichment Centerwith a deadly neurotoxinto make me stop flooding the Enrichment Centerwith a deadly neurotoxin."
Never Trust a Trailer: In one trailer, a spike plate descended from the ceiling while the path was blocked by a pit of fire. Neither actually shows up. However, the fire pit does show up later, but in an entirely different form, and there are spike plates in the sequel (again, in a very different form). Although, it can still make sense since the "Real Life" footage came from a time when the game was in extreme beta.
No Fair Cheating: The steps, portals, and time challenges. Also, you can't get achievements with cheat mode on.
No Medication for Me: Inverted in the Lab Rat comic. Doug Rattman has been saving the last of his anti-psychotic medicine so that he'll have a clear head when Chell destroys GLaDOS and he can escape, even if the Companion Cube tells him he doesn't need it.
GLaDOS:The Enrichment Center promises to always provide a safe testing environment. In dangerous testing environments, the Enrichment Center promises to always provide useful advice. For instance, the floor here will kill you. Try to avoid it.
Point of No Return: Within some levels, there are doors that close once the player goes through. (The divisions between each Game Level are also points of no return, of course, as they prevent players from putting portals across levels.)
Averted: The developers wanted players to feel safe, so if the player tries to put a portal elsewhere when the player or an object is in the middle of a portal, the player or object gets pushed out. Most of the time.
Inverted: Opening a portal pops off security cameras.
Portal Slam: Gets completely averted, at considerable programmer effort.
Pressure Plate: The 1,500-Megawatt Aperture Science Heavy Duty Super-Colliding Super-Button.
Product Placement: The infamous "cake" is a Black Forest cake, modeled after the one in the window display of "Regent Bakery & Cafe", a bakery near Valve corporation. Since the game's release, the bakery has boosted in popularity because of the cake itself.
The "High-Energy Pellet" is the same sprite and sound effects as the Combine's energy orbs. Its effect on living beings is pretty much the same as well, although Gordon's suit seems to block its damage.
Chell's leg-springs were part of an unused model for an enemy in Half-Life 2.
The sentry turrets have largely the same behavior as Half-Life 2's combine turrets.
Puzzle Game: One of the only genres in which Portal readily fits.
Among other things, beta testers caused the creation of the Companion Cube. Chamber 17 was designed for players to take the cube provided at the start of the level with them through the entire chamber, but at this point players had been well and truly trained that cubes were to be used once and then discarded, and another would be provided next time. What to do? Paint tiny hearts on each of its sides and call it a Companion Cube. Then have GLaDOS repeatedly tell you that the cube was your best friend and you should look after it. That worked!
Beta testers asked why Chell could survive multi-story falls through recursive portals and still land on her feet without being smashed into the floor (particularly as this was an issue in Half-Life). Once she was given leg-springs to absorb the shocks, no one ever asked again.
"A lot of people like cake." That was sufficient enough reason to put the cake in the game. More accurately, during a design meeting about what sort of philosophy to drive the game with the answer was the above. Of course, the dev team did not expect the reactions from the fans, which is why there is absolutely no cake in Portal 2. Unless you count a reference to a "cake dispensary" in one trap. They couldn't resist putting in just one.
Hoopy the Hoop was what the devs thought would become the meme for the game (apparently having it become the focus of the last cutscene and appear throughout the levels). instead "The Cake is a Lie" took that spotlight and Hoopy ended up more or less as an office joke.
GLaDOS:I'd just like to point out that you were given every opportunity to succeed. There was even going to be a party for you. A big party that all your friends were invited to. I invited your best friend the Companion Cube. Of course, he couldn't come becauseyou murdered him. All your other friends couldn't come either because you don't have any other friends. Because of how unlikable you are. It says so here in your personal file: Unlikable. Liked by no one. A bitter, unlikable loner whose passing shall not be mourned. 'Shall not be mourned.' That's exactly what it says. Very formal. Very official. It also says you were adopted. So that's funny, too.
Required Secondary Gadgetry: Chell wears a pair of ankle-springs in order to ensure her legs aren't shattered when she comes flying out of a portal. The commentary bubbles indicate early on that the reason was that playtesters complained that Chell could survive falls that would kill Gordon Freeman. Despite the fact that the springs are patently insufficient to realistically protect her, they stopped the complaints, so mission accomplished!
Research Inc: Aperture Science, we do what we must because we can.
Revision: Prior to the release of Portal 2, Valve released an update which adds a few seconds to one of the final cutscenes, revealing a significant event just after the point where that scene originally ended. This, of course, ties into the sequel.
the cake is a lie the cake is a lie the cake is a lie the cake is a lie
Rouge Angles of Satin: Several, including one at the final boss fight: if you turn on the closed captions (at least for the 360 release) there will be a grammatical error of GLaDOS saying "I don't want to tell you you're business" instead of the correct "I don't want to tell you your business." This can dampen the gravity of the situation quite a bit.
Sequel Hook: In the form of all the spare GLaDOS cores turning on and the end song stating she was "still alive." Then the official patch to the end sequence itself, as part of a Viral Marketing announcement of the sequel.
Second Hour Superpower: You originally start out with the ability to just shoot blue portals, but a little bit into the game, and you can shoot both orange and blue.
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: What GLaDOS originally tries to do to you in the final test chamber. The revised ending also shows that Chell is going to be dragged into another "test", so that whole escape attempt pretty much failed.
Spell My Name with an S: The Aperture Science Material Emancipation Grill at the end of each level caused controversy after the first game. It's not a "Grid". Portal 2 pronounces it and has its subtitles clearly as "Grill", putting the argument to rest.
Stuck on Band-Aid Brand: GLaDOS is apparently programmed to use the full name of all Aperture Science products every time she refers to one. Thus, you don't have a "Portal Gun", you have an "Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device". Even something that she doesn't know the name of (supposedly) gets called the "Aperture Science Thing We Don't Know What It Does".
Stupidity Is the Only Option: Subverted, in that the only way to progress is to escape from an apparently inescapable trap. Even more so since, if you get killed there, the game reloads an automatic save point just before you enter that area, allowing you to try to escape again.
Teleport Interdiction: Portals can only be created on certain types of surfaces (e.g. white tile, yes; bare metal, no). Navigating through areas with few or no portal surfaces becomes an increasingly common puzzle element in the later stages.
...I'm not even angry/I'm being so sincere right now/even though you broke my heart and killed me/and tore me to pieces/and threw every piece into a fire...
The Tooth Hurts: Apparently the emancipation grid can suck out people's teeth.
Totalitarian Utilitarian: In the credits song, GLaDOS claims her actions were for the greater good of mankind...at least, what's left of it. Also, she fully intends to keep killing innocent people For Science!. See page quote.
Some of the autosaves are placed over toxic waste. Oops. Also, if you really try, it's possible to exploit the physics to trap yourself or otherwise make the level unwinnable. Thankfully, much of the time the game will notice when you've trapped yourself in a place you can't get out from, and will let you out.
The Xbox 360 Arcade re-release, Portal: Still Alive, has an achievement for getting stuck.
Unreliable Narrator: Keep in mind what computer appears to be working as the Aperture web server. (Before its December 2010 change which removed the site's viral advertising features.) This also applies in the actual game; you can't really trust what you're being told.
Villain Song: "Still Alive", performed by GLaDOS over the ending credits. The song plays out almost like a break-up song, as GLaDOS spitefully tells an absent Chell that she's still alive after she leaves and how she doesn't need her around since she still has "Science to do".
GLaDOS:Stop squirming and die like an adult or I'm going to delete your backup. Okay, STOP! Okay enough, I deleted it. No matter what happens now, you're DEAD. You're still shuffling around a little but believe me you're dead. The part of you that could have survived indefinitely is gone. I just struck you from the permanent record. Your entire life has been a mathematical error. A mathematical error I'M ABOUT TO CORRECT.
Visual Pun / Stealth Pun: As the effects of GLaDOS's morality core begin to wear off, her monitors display a small pile of screws. She does have quite a few screws loose by this point. On top of that, she's about to screw you, and not the fun way. Also, when GLaDOS mentions "violent behavior", a picture of a violin with a knife on it flashes on the screens.
Vitriolic Best Buds: Darkly subverted in the sense that GLaDOS somewhat treats Chell in this manner, as one-sided as it is.
GLaDOS:Good news. I found out what that thing you just incinerated did. It was a Morality Corethey installed after I flooded the Enrichment Center with a deadly neurotoxinto make me stop flooding the Enrichment Center with a deadly neurotoxin.
Also, from the new ending: "Thank you for assuming the party escort submission position."
When All You Have Is a Hammer: The portal gun is the only weapon Chell uses throughout the whole game (although it is upgraded once) using it to do pretty much everything.
Why Don't You Marry It?: "Maybe you should marry that thing since you love it so much. Do you want to marry it? WELL I WON'T LET YOU. How does that feel?"
GLaDOS:You Are Kidding Me. Did you just stuff that Aperture Science Thing-We-Don't-Know-What-It-Does into an Aperture Science Emergency Intelligence Incinerator? That has got to be the dumbest thing that — Whoa. Whoa.Whoa...