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Video Game / Portal Stories: Mel

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Portal Stories: Mel is a free, community-made Game Mod for Portal 2 made by Prism Studios, based in the Portal universe. It tells the story of Mel, who meets a new personality core and faces an undiscovered threat to the Aperture facility.

Our protagonist, named for a Dummied Out Portal 2 character, is one of the early "Astronauts, Olympians, and War Heroes" chosen to test at Aperture Science Innovators in 1952. Her assignment is simple—a short sleep in their new Relaxation Vault. However, when she wakes, she finds her surroundings deteriorated—and a voice that is decidedly not Cave is claiming to be him and ordering Mel to evacuate. With the aide of an early Handheld Portal Device, Mel will find her way out of Aperture's desolate underground, make an ally in the imposter, and find out what happened to the facility—and herself...

Portal Stories: Mel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Accent Relapse: Virgil impersonates Cave Johnson's voice when you wake up from the Relaxation Vault, which you may or may not notice immediately. As you progress through the facility, however, his Norwegian accent keeps slipping through to varying degrees. After a couple of tests, he just flatout tells you he's not Cave Johnson and that it is not 1952 anymore.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: AEGIS, naturally, though he's only trying to terminate you and Virgil (and GLaDOS) because he perceives you as a threat.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Virgil is obviously crushing on the Rainbow Core.
    Virgil: Er... er... did you... eheh... by any chance... er... get that core's serial number? I... I.. I'm... er... I'm asking for... a... a-a friend, yes, a friend.
  • Anachronism Stew: Parodied. While masquerading as Cave Johnson, Virgil mentions that recent earthquakes have shook up time and brought in things from the future, to try and explain why the building has been updated since Mel was asleep.
  • Antepiece: Very early in the game you are instructed to put out a fire by sending water onto it through a portal. This comes in handy during the final level.
  • Arc Number: 2056, which is a reference to one of the developers, LoneWolf2056. It even becomes the code needed to shut down AEGIS entirely.
  • Artistic License – History: Mel is said to have been in the 1936 "Nuremberg Olympics," when the 1936 Olympics actually took place in Berlin. One of the developers admitted their mistake and suggested that it took place in an Alternate History. An Alternate History is also suggested by Virgil assuring Mel that "Adlai Stevenson is still President" (in real life, Adlai Stevenson was a candidate more than once, but never became President); though this could equally be explained as Virgil getting his facts wrong.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: Virgil says that test chambers usually need to be tested three times before they're finalized, and that apparently, "some people just can't count further than that".
  • Bittersweet Ending: AEGIS is shut down and Mel escapes the facility, but her Fish out of Temporal Water status is not helped by the apparent holocaust that has destroyed the world during her sleep. Oh, and with AEGIS gone, GLaDOS is going to come back on-line in the future.
  • Blatant Lies: When Virgil is pretending to be Cave Johnson. He stops because he decides Mel's not stupid enough to fall for them.
  • Bookends:
    • The game starts with Mel entering the Aperture Science Innovators Facility, and descending down into the depths on an elevator. It ends with her ascending a different elevator, and exiting through the remains of the same facility.
    • At one point in Chapter 2, Mel comes across a door with a circular handle she needs to turn to get through, but can't do so because of it being jammed tight. Come the ending, and another door like that is the last thing blocking her way to the outside world. And this time, she does get it opened.
  • Brick Joke: As Mel is riding the train at the beginning, Cave Johnson's recording reads "statoion" rather than "station" and he fires an employee for making the typo. During the credits, a sign reading "statoion" can be seen in the train station, with the extra O painted over. A pump station can be found with the same mistake, with the O crossed out.
  • City with No Name: The Michigan town which holds Aperture; justified as the company built it themselves.
  • Company Town: The town is built entirely by Aperture for the purpose of housing its employees.
  • Contrasting Sequel Antagonist: As mentioned below, AEGIS serves as a foil to GLaDOS, mirroring her in a number of ways.
    • AEGIS uses a male voice, whereas GLaDOS is female.
    • AEGIS is incapable of lying, openly announcing upcoming traps and ambushes, whereas GLaDOS lies all the time.
    • AEGIS appears to have limited, if any, sentience and a logical, robotic personality, whereas GLaDOS' personality is eerily human.
    • AEGIS tries to kill Mel by pumping lethal amounts of oxygen into his chamber, whereas GLaDOS uses neurotoxin to choke the player.
    • Finally, AEGIS continues to uphold his function protecting the facility and the scientists within it, whereas GLaDOS murdered them all as soon as she could. AEGIS knows about this, and his ultimate plan is to flood the Enrichment Center to destroy GLaDOS once and for all.
  • Cryonics Failure: Mel was only supposed to in suspension for a brief period of time to test out the relaxation vault. Guess what happens.
  • Desolation Shot: There is a truly beautiful one in the final cutscene that pans out to show the exterior of Aperture Science amidst the ruins of society.
  • Developer's Room: The office area where you find Virgil at the beginning of Chapter 3 has three offices with pictures of the developers in them.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Not that AEGIS is "evil" per se, but he has an unsettling creepy voice that fits his antagonistic role. This contrasts starkly against his logical, computer-like personality.
  • Foil: AEGIS is in many ways the exact opposite of GLaDOS. He acts far more like a non-sentient A.I. (whereas GLaDOS acts very human) and never talks to the player or Virgil directly. Rather, his dialog is more of an announcement of whatever he is detecting and what he is doing.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When AEGIS detects Virgil and Mel in the facility, he notes that there are three targets. The third target is eventually revealed to be GLaDOS, but AEGIS was shut down before it could destroy her.
    • Virgil states at one point that AEGIS seems to think that you killed all the scientists, which is why it's trying to kill you. It actually knows GLaDOS killed the scientists, and is trying to kill her. You're just caught in the crossfire.
  • Fun with Acronyms: AEGIS, the Aperture Employee Guardian and Intrusion System, and the antagonist of this mod.
  • Game Mod: Of Portal 2.
  • Hand Wave: Virgil explains that he was able to watch you in the Old Aperture testing chambers because he's "fully Wi-Fi capable."
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Turned on the heroes. Virgil goes through the trouble of funneling old turrets that aren't connected to AEGIS's system into the new facility with the hopes that they can be used against him. Unfortunately, the way the system is set up, he can't bring them into AEGIS's turret production line, so Mel has to reprogram the new turrets' targeting parameters instead. When AEGIS realizes his turrets are defective, he discovers all the old turrets lying around and sets them to attack Mel.
  • Idiosyncratic Cover Art: The cover art of the soundtrack album has two different colours. The blue cover is used for the tracks that the player hears while on an excursion funnel.
  • I Have This Friend: Virgil asks if Mel got the Rainbow Core's 'serial number'... for a friend, yes! A friend!
  • Inspector Javert: AEGIS thinks that Mel and Virgil are threats to the facility and attempts to eliminate them. All they want to do is leave the facility.
  • Insurmountable Waist-High Fence: There are many points where Mel would avoid portalling puzzles or bypass hazards if she could simply climb a chest-high catwalk railing, but the game forbids it. This can be quite frustrating as it stands in contrast to the official game, which also restricted player movement with railings, but in nearly all cases to help the player (by preventing accidental suicides, trappings, or pointless detours) rather than to impede plot-relevant progress.
  • Interface Spoiler: Downplayed in the subtitles when Virgil is pretending to be Cave Johnson. They say "Cave Johnson" until he comes clean so that you don't know who it really is; but they are also a different colour from the real Cave's subtitles.
  • Interquel: The game is set sometime after the first Portal, and ends with AEGIS draining the facility's reserve power and waking up Chell, setting up the events of Portal 2.
  • Man of a Thousand Voices: All characters excepting Virgil (i.e. Cave Johnson, AEGIS and "The Rainbow Core") are played by one person, Harry Callaghan.
  • Meaningful Name: In The Divine Comedy, Virgil was Dante Alighieri's guide through Hell and Purgatory. Here, Virgil is acting as Mel's guide through the Aperture Science Enrichment Center, so really the only difference is that Virgil's a core here.
  • Morton's Fork: In one area, you have a choice of either the stairs or an elevator to get to the sphere exit as the sphere itself begins to flood/fall apart. Virgil will berate you no matter which you choose, as both are risky.
    Virgil: [If you take the stairs] Your life is at stake and you're going to walk up the stairs? With falling rocks everywhere? I get you're an Olympian track runner, and all, but what's wrong with you?!
    Virgil: [If you take the elevator] The place is exploding, rocks are falling everywhere, and you're taking the elevator?! What if the power went out?! You'd be trapped!
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The game starts off with Mel arriving at Aperture Science on a tram.
    • Virgil directs Mel to turn on the office's power when she first meets him in person. If she continues to try to pick him up instead, he'll get increasingly exasperated and eventually ask if he's "speaking in an accent beyond your range of hearing", referencing a humourous moment between Wheatley and GLaDOS.
    • The stinger features a long, winding flythrough of the Aperture facility, much like the stinger of the first Portal.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: When Mel goes to shut down AEGIS, she and Virgil notice that one of its targets, alongside the two, was GLaDOS, whom they prevent him from killing.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: However, AEGIS' last act while shutting down is to reawaken Chell from extended relaxation, setting the events of Portal 2 in motion.
  • Nintendo Hard: zig-zagged. The game's puzzles are much more complex and hard to solve than the ones in the original games, fitting the trope. However, the timing aspects, on the contrary, are made as easy as possible. Unlike an earlier well-known mod for the first game (specifically, Portal: Prelude), if you feel like you have to do something really quickly, or really precisely, chances are you're doing something wrong.
    • That said, like in the original games, sometimes ninja tricks can lead to success if you're persistent and skilled enough. The official developer rule was "if a casual player can't execute it, we can leave it in".
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: The British Harry Callaghan has a few minor slip-ups voicing his American characters.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Repeatedly played with. Virgil tries hacking into old computers by trying out some passwords. "password", "admin", "letmein", "123456", "0000", "blackmesasucks". After that he gets locked out and it now requires an admin override. He blames the plants interfering with his Wi-Fi and then he hopes if he keeps staring at the main computer, something will work eventually. The player can now help him with the admin override button. Or listen more to him getting a screensaver, the computer getting into sleep mode, trying to reason with it, then somehow succeed in the hacking.
  • Rip Van Winkle: Mel, thanks to the Aperture Science Innovators Short-Term Relaxation Vault.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: Virgil and some signs warn Mel about human-eating rats in the underground junkyard. Mel thankfully never comes across any, since there is a metal fence that apparently keeps them out.
  • Scenic-Tour Level: The game begins on a train traveling through 1950's Aperture Science.
  • Shout-Out:
    • One of the drinks on the vending machines at the beginning is "Citranium Soda". Citranium is a drink from another Portal 2 mod, Aperture Tag: The Paint Gun Testing Initiative, which many of the game's developers also worked on.
      • One easter egg involves trying to go out of your way. Virgil reacts to this by saying that there is absolutely nothing interesting there, like Nigel does a lot in aforementioned modification when protagonist (legally) explores out-of-bounds sections, eventually saving themselves from death. Once your escape attempt fails, Virgil makes quite a long speech about your distrust in him, noting that some cores may lie badly about things like this, referencing Nigel once again.
    • Some magazine racks at the beginning have a magazine with Cave Johnson on the cover above the title "50 Shades of Cave".
    • A few shout-outs to The Maze Runner, there is a scrawl that says WCKD is good, and in the end elevator the number 71526483 is seen; this number is the escape code to the film version of the maze. The design of the destroyed Aperture exterior is also based off the Maze.
  • Story Difficulty Setting: Story Mode completely overhauls the campaign, making the puzzles less challenging. It was created as a response to feedback claiming that the game was too hard, making it hard to follow along with the story.
  • Super Drowning Skills: In Chapter 1, Mel simply walking into water will kill her, even without a portal gun. There is even an achievement for drowning.
  • Take Your Time: Virgil is constantly telling you to hurry to avoid the rising goo, except you have infinite time, and you never even see the goo rising behind you.
  • Tempting Fate: During the final chapter, at one point, you have to use a manual security override to restore power to the facility, with Virgil proclaiming "What's the worst that could happen?" He takes back that statement almost immediately afterwards, as both switches activate the security measures around AEGIS's lair, even admitting he Didn't Think This Through.
  • Thanatos Gambit: AEGIS uses its last seconds before it shuts down completely to wake Chell, trying to finish off GLaDOS once and for all.
  • That One Level: Noted In-Universe; one test chamber has Virgil note that it was said to be one of the hardest ones in the facility and that "it was made by two particularly cruel scientists."
  • Time-Limit Boss: Just like in the last two games, the only difference being that the time limit is for oxygen depletion rather than neurotoxin.
  • Token Good Teammate: Virgil is the only artificial intelligence in all of Aperture Science who's both completely functional and actually helpful, either in the mod or the game proper.
  • Violation of Common Sense: Several achievements, including some hidden ones, require you to die in some way. While only one requires falling for a trap, the others are rather easy to avoid (though not impossible to do by accident.)
  • Wingding Eyes: Virgil's eye is based off of the 1970s Aperture logo.