More thoughts on Portal 2

Okay, so this is a post about Portal 2, but you’ll probably not want to read it unless you’ve already played through the game because it is literally full of spoilers right from the beginning. So I’m going to make some white space now in case you’ve stumbled on this article by accident and don’t want the game spoilt for you, although when you think about it you really should have taken the hint from the first sentence of this post…














What happens in Portal 2 is that a time warp takes place. And it doesn’t take place before Chell gets woken up in The Courtesy Call, it takes place when Wheatley is in charge.

The biggest hint in the game is an obscure achievement called “Ship Overboard”, which is a kind of companion to the “Door Prize” achievement. In Ship Overboard you stumble on a dry dock which is rather oddly located in a salt mine, with a rescue buoy from the ship BOREALIS. This is a reference to Half-Life episode 2 where the Borealis, which bears an Aperture Science banner, and her dry dock go missing. But this is the HL2 timeline, and that takes place some time in the future. So why does the dry dock turn up in the Aperture experiments facility that was built in the 1970s?..

There’s an even better question, though. How did it come to pass that Aperture had scientific testing facilities as far back as the 1950s? If you look at the “official” Aperture Science wiki it states that AS was just a shower curtain company from its foundation in 1953 to Cave Johnson’s death in 1976 (that’s also problematic if you’ve played through the game, but bear with me) and only gets into science at all in the 1980s. Yet in the 1950s test chambers there’s a trophy room touting science awards that Aperture Science Innovators (as they were known then) has won in the 40s and 50s. So clearly something has changed there.

This is also obvious when you consider that in the beginning of the game, through the ruined test chambers, you never see anything about the repulsion, propulsion and portal gels, but they’re a big part of the ending of the game which takes place in the same day as the beginning of the game.

It also goes some ways towards explaining exactly why someone would build a science facility in a closed salt mine in the first place. After you reach the bottom of the mine you have to wonder why and especially how such gargantuan and technically complicated buildings could possibly be built 3 miles underground. Not to mention how a shower curtain company manages to attract test subjects who are also astronauts, war heroes and olympians.

Another hint comes very early in the 1950s testing phase of the game, where you’re informed that you need the portal device in order to complete the test. This was supposedly not invented until the 1980s! And the propulsion and repulsion gels were not invented until the late 1990s, but they show up in the 1950s and 1970s test chambers! And the 1950s chambers were condemned (“vitrified”) back in 1961 (read the signs, folks!). Also the reason stated for the vitrifying of the facilities is cosmic ray contamination, which seems unlikely in a facility that’s 3 miles underground. Unless of course there is some sort of a portal device involved…

There’s clearly a time warp that occurs somewhere and changes the in-game reality. It’s not just the gel or the portal technology, but the “current” Aperture Science facility also becomes hugely more vast than was hinted at in the first Portal game. By orders of magnitude.

As for Cave Johnson, in the first Portal timeline (from the wiki posted above) he dies in 1976 of mercury poisoning, but now he’s made prerecorded messages for chambers that were only built in the 1980s.

One may well then ask, “if Aperture Science had all this technology in the 40s or 50s why didn’t they deploy it all then?” Indeed the gameplay is structured so that the 1950s introduce the repulsion gel, the 70s introduce the propulsion gel, and the portal-surface-making gel shows up in the 80s. Some of that new technology was obviously released then, that’s how ASI was able to fund their fantastically immense facilities, but you have to keep in mind that ASI is not a very good science company — they build giant spheres of asbestos to conduct tests in, test products without knowing what elements they contain (“it’s a lively one and it does not like the human skeleton”) and “throw science at a wall to see what sticks”.  It took them some time to figure out how to replicate the propulsion gel, and their early experiments in gathering moon rocks — a necessary ingredient for the portal-surface-making gel — led to the cosmic ray contamination that caused the shutdown of their 50s facility. They only managed it in the early 80s, with bad consequences for Cave Johnson and his “why not” approach to scientific experimentation.

So, for those of us who think that the Portal 2 game was rather short, this seems to offer the answer that the game is, in fact, not over and that there is more to come. There might be more use for a stalemate associate yet. The game is such a mindfuck it’s brilliant.

Portal 2

I’m not going to say that it’s too short a game — it’s a lot longer than the original — but it’s not been out for a week and I’ve run through it 3 times and collected all the achievements… and I’m not exactly the hard-core gamer type. Still, it’s well worth it, especially if you liked the first one.