Portal’s Multi-Track Mechanical Mingling – Part 3

This post continues a series on the way Portal introduces and interweaves its core mechanics to create interesting and engaging puzzles. If you missed the previous two, check them out here and here before continuing.

Last time, we took a look at more of the early-to-mid chambers Portal has to offer and the duality many of them share. They pair to form the classic dynamic of education: introduce a topic, then test proficiency before integrating the topic into those to follow. The chambers in today’s post don’t follow quite the same structure, but we’ll see soon how they redefine what’s already been introduced to provide a more complete picture of the player’s true capabilities.

To begin, Test Chamber 08 actually serves as somewhat of an extension of the previous two. It prominently features both the energy pellets and the moving platforms introduced in Chamber 06, with the addition of an extra layer of complexity: the floor is now lava—or, more accurately, unidentifiable yet deadly acid or goop of some sort.

Were it not for the layer of deadly goo on the ground, this one would look pretty nice.

The pellet and receptacle are separated by another degree as well; the orange portal isn’t lined up with either one, so it’s the player’s responsibility to to connect the two. Afterward, they must time their traversal carefully to land on the moving platform without falling to their doom.

Chamber 09 is a step up from previous tests. While the recently introduced threat of instant death is no longer present, what the chamber offers the player causes just as much difficulty as what it doesn’t. This is the first time an emancipation grill appears as part of the core puzzle, directly over an otherwise open doorway into the chamber’s second room.

So close, yet so far.

The grill, previously seen at the end of every test chamber, removes the player’s portals and destroys any objects which pass through it. The second room it blocks contains a door along with a button to open it. As with Chamber 05 before it, the orange portal is elevated to prevent them from simply taking a portal past the closed door—not that they could reach it anyway, with the grill in the way.

This setup creates a block in the player’s thought process; there is a blatant, open doorway to the objective, yet they can’t simply walk through it to solve the puzzle. The narration encourages this further by periodically lamenting its unsolvable nature, apologizing for sending the player to a “broken” test. However, there are actually multiple possible solutions. Both options start the same way: using a portal to bring the cube below up to the platform with the orange portal. While they can’t just carry the cube to the button, there’s a convenient window which allows them to fire a portal into the other side.

Past the radio and on to freedom.

Otherwise, they could walk over and place a portal from the other side and simply grab the cube that way. Either way requires the player to think not only about the tools they’ve been given, but the way in which they go about solving puzzles as well. Thinking with portals is different from thinking about everyday problems, and Chamber 09 is another step in this learning process.

Every chamber up to this point has been entirely contained within a single room. This allows for simpler puzzles which are easier for a player to process at a glance. In each chamber, the primary elements necessary are visible from the entryway, leaving it up to them to find the solution based on the tools at their disposal.

This door just leads to another door; the chambers are growing larger.

The double digit chambers, however, are not so kind. Beginning with Chamber 10 to follow, nearly every single chamber is a series of connected rooms which generally keep to a central theme.

The theme of the aforementioned Chamber 10 is, in a word, momentum. The first, small segment of the chamber starts to redefine both movement and portals with its simple yet clear setup: a pre-placed portal on an overhead panel and a ledge too high to jump to. Some garbled narration offers a hint through the one clear word “momentum,” pointing the player in the right direction if they need it. The next room puts this new knowledge to the test with a similar setup, but more space to see it in action.

Not pictured: the orange portal below the ledge which offers enough speed to fly on to the exit.

Finally, the third room in the chamber requires multiple steps. They must reach one ledge to have enough speed to reach the next, with the exit awaiting them after they’ve applied the new concept.

As the first chamber with multiple rooms, each room in Chamber 10 is relatively simple. They showcase a gradual escalation of the momentum theme, and serve as a micro-scale execution of the teaching dynamic discussed previously. Chamber 11 isn’t much more complex, but it requires synthesis between its various segments, and a cornucopia of previously-introduced mechanics, in order to succeed.

This setup looks awfully familiar, if modified from its predecessor.

Fortunately, connecting the first two segments is simple: wait for the upgraded portal gun—centerpiece of the chamber and visible through the wall-sized window straight ahead at the start—to shoot a portal above solid ground, then use the blue portal to get through it. The next steps are where the trickiness begins. On entering the main room, the player is presented with the first pedestal button, which is pressed by way of the pickup key in order to open a door across the way for a limited time. Beyond the door is the third section of the level, which contains only an energy pellet emitter to match the receptacle in the main room. These two create an immediate connection after their introduction several chambers prior, and bridge the gap between the second and third rooms.

Just another moment of waiting until a whole new world opens up.

On arrival, this pellet sends a moving platform over the acid floor to connect a portal location on the wall with the pedestal bearing the new portal gun, which fully broadens the player’s abilities. The training wheels are off, and the player can control both the origin and the destination for all portal travel going forward. Even so, their first task is a simple reflection of their first in the chamber: hit a button to open a door, place a portal beyond it, and place another in an accessible location to reach the end.

As this post draws to a close, we’ve covered about half of the game. Finally, we’ve reached the point where puzzles can become more involved, but also where there are fewer inherent clues as to their solutions. It’s up to the player’s understanding of the mechanics to see their way through the remainder of the game. The chart, too, looks more complex than ever:

Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for the next step in our journey, when we’ll take a look at the new puzzles the chambers ahead have to offer.

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