Maker Faire 2011 Roundup: Portal

Written by  //  August 8, 2011  //  Events  //  No comments

In 2005, a group of DigiPen students developed a puzzle game called “Narbacular Drop”. The game revolved around a princess trying to escape a dungeon. The player was able to create two connected gateways at will, and if the player stepped through one gate, they would arrive immediately at the other.

The game’s popularity attracted the attention of Valve, a large game studio responsible for several major games. Valve hired the entire student development team and set them to work on a puzzle game using similar mechanics, but set within Valve’s Half-Life universe. The team was given limited resources and manpower, though they had access to Valve’s accumulated knowledge of game design. It was treated as a low-budget independent spinoff game. Portal was released in late 2007, as part of the Orange Box, a compilation including Team Fortress 2, Portal, Half-Life 2 Episode 2, and several older games in the Half-Life universe.

Portal was an instant international sensation. The developers had used dry sarcastic humor as part of the game’s plot, and this proved extremely amenable to conversion into Internet catchphrases and memes. The game’s ending featured a full-length song by Jonathan Coulton, a geek humor singer-songwriter, and “Still Alive” quickly became a recognizable gamer icon. It’s unclear whether the game’s brevity helped or hindered this. While many games last for ten to twenty hours of gameplay, Portal took an average gamer somewhere around three hours to complete, preventing its imaginative but still relatively simple game mechanics from becoming stale.

Portal claimed 13 votes on our wall, a solid 6th place . . . but that’s not the end of this entry.

Valve waited almost three years to announce the inevitable sequel. Portal 2 was released about a month before our Maker Faire event, featuring everything Portal had and more of it. More dry humor, more mindbending puzzles, more gadgets, and two more ending songs. Portal 2 wasn’t an unexpected success – Portal 2 was an expected success, and within days of release, satisfied gamers were already crying for Portal 3.

Portal 2 claimed 14 votes, tying for 4th place. Combining the vote totals of both games puts the Portal franchise as a tie for 3rd place, battling with Tetris.

As usual, Valve is being tight-lipped as to their plans for the franchise, but it would be a surprise if news of Portal 3 were to be received with anything less than excitement.

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