Mark Plays ‘Portal’

In Portal, what seems like a simple puzzle game involving physics and gravity becomes WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS LAST LEVEL WHAT THE FUCK AM I PLAYING. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to play Portal.

You know, I thought it was only fair that I devote a full post to my playthrough of Portal, considering that I bought it last December, played to level 15, got trapped behind a wall, and gave up in a moment of fury and frustration. So, until this past Saturday, I’d never actually completed it. I saw a comment from Thiamalonee asking if I played through the first Portal, and in the spirit of being complete, I thought I should finish the first one before I sat down to start chronicling my journey through Portal 2.

Four hours later FOR FIVE FUCKING LEVELS, I came to realize that Portal was not the game it started off as.

I often speak of my “religious” upbringing; one of the main reasons I’ve seen so little television relative to most people is because it wasn’t until I was in college that I started seeking out what I missed while I was living at home. I read a lot as a child and teenager, so I’m not as ignorant when it comes to literature. But video games? Good lord. Even more than television, music, or books, my mother thought video games were Satan’s tools. As a kid, I would eagerly await the times our family friend, Tara, would come to visit us. She’d bring her SNES system, and we’d get to play Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt (FUCK YOU, DOG, FUCK YOU), Contra, or Disney’s Adventures in the Magic Kingdom. (Aside: PLEASE, tell me one of you played this game. You had to collect six keys to start the parade, and the Haunted House level was SO FUN and SO HARD. Same with Pirates of the Caribbean. OH GOD, THE SPACE MOUNTAIN LEVEL WAS RIDICULOUS.)

By the time I moved out on my own when I was sixteen, I lived with my godfather for a bit, and there, I got a chance to play the first four Tony Hawk Pro-Skater games, which I MISS SO MUCH and WHY THE FUCK IS MY PS3 NOT BACKWARDS COMPATIBLE. After this? It was seven years until I lived in a house with a video game console again, so I missed everything. I was twenty-four when I bought a used PS2 from a GameStop, stocked up on a few Guitar Hero and Rock Band titles, as well as the LEGO Star Wars game that was out at the time, and I started my very, very, very slow ascent towards becoming a gamer. I stuck with those games because a) I knew how to play guitar and it gave me a little advantage, and b) the controls for LEGO Star Wars were painfully simple. I didn’t play anything else until a few years ago when a friend convinced me that if I was going to try a first-person shooter or an RPG or anything, I would probably like Fallout 3 a whole lot. I once vaguely played the first Silent Hill game when I was in college, but it was mostly my friend taking over the controls to beat monsters and ghouls because I was so bloody awful that it frustrated them. We’d stay up until the wee hours of the morning and that’s a bad idea for that game? It just is.  Even though I only played a third of it myself, the game STILL scared the crap out of me. (Not literally, but remind me to tell y’all the story of how I peed myself playing Fallout 3 once.)

Fallout 3 was on sale. I think it had been out for well over a year, so I begrudgingly bought it, worried that I’d be wasting money because I CAN’T SHOOT THINGS IN VIDEO GAMES. I was so bad at the double joystick style of movement that I was convinced I would hate Fallout 3. So, the first day I got it, I played for six hours. It wasn’t that bad. Shot a few ghouls and rats. Things weren’t too hard, and I got a few missions done. Then six hours the next day. Then ten. Then spent an entire Saturday playing nothing but the game. And in less than a week, I was halfway done, I was totally immersed in the story, and I felt like this huge world had been opened up for me. I had never had so much fun playing a video game of this magnitude. I mean, at that time, I didn’t even know you could make video game maps that big. I had also never played a game that allowed freedom of movement like Fallout 3. There were no defined levels! (That was also why I would play for SIXTEEN HOURS STRAIGHT. If there’s no level, you just keep going. WHOOPS.)

As you can see by my Denied list, I have played so few video games that this project is well-suited for me. I have never been unspoiled for so many titles quite like gaming. At the same time, I do ask that you be a bit lenient on things like accepted terminology or technique. I’m really not that good, I am not familiar with industry terms, and I’m unspoiled for a reason from this point on. I have not lived much of my life in this community, so I am going to get 99% of everything wrong. Just bear with me, and I promise I’ll get there.

So, let’s start things off with Portal!

I began playing Portal in early December of 2011, quit the game in a fury the very night I played it up to level 15, and did not return to it until September 15, 2012. So, full disclosure on that! Miraculously, I was not spoiled for the final five levels. I think I was so mad at how bad I was at the game that I wouldn’t even look up the solution to level 15. Given that, here’s what I thought about Portal.


Playing this on Steam (and using a touchpad on a Mac) was a bit frustrating at first, but only because I was using the worst possible arrangement humanly possible to play this game. But guess what? I EVENTUALLY GOT IT. Then I was the master at this shit. Portal is so easy to get into because of it’s simplicity. Get to the exit. You can move in four directions, then point with the mouse for directional shit. You can create two portals, one blue and one orange, you can jump, and you can crouch. That’s it. That’s all you need for the game. Actually, no, you need a clever mind, an understanding of basic gravity, and a whole lot of patience. Basically, this game lures you in by being supremely easy, and then it shoves you off a cliff into a pit of vipers in the span of just a couple levels.

The game is framed as a test that you are taking part in, and you are goaded on by the dry humor of GLaDOS, a computer voice that exists… somewhere? The game is easy to comprehend, and when GLaDOS isn’t making fun of you, they do provide tips and advice on how to get to the next exit. Overall, the gameplay, before it gets incredibly hard, is fantastic. It’s deceptively simple, entertaining, and satisfying. Actually, I think that’s probably intentional. I made it through the first twelve room with relative ease, and with only seven left, I thought, “Shit yeah, I am going to dominate this game.”

When Portal gets hard – and by gods, this game gets INCREDIBLE DIFFICULT – it truly becomes a different experience. It challenges the way you think about space. Sometimes, you have to throw up portals as you are falling. You have to get creative about travel. You’re often stepping through a wall and plunging from the ceiling. Honestly, I mean this: I have never played anything like this in my life.


I only learned the name of my character from Wikipedia. I don’t think Chell is ever spoken in the game, is it? Hell, I didn’t get a glimpse of her until halfway through the game:

A screenshot of Chell, viewed through another portal to the side of her.

Oh, so that’s what I look like?

It’s interesting that Chell’s characterization is so ambiguous. It’s an easy way for me to channel myself into her, but then I started wondering who the hell she was. Why was she wearing an orange jumpsuit? What were those things coming out of the back of her pants? How did she end up in the Aperture Labs to begin with?

GLaDOS seemed sassy at first, and then WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON. GLaDOS’s sassiness turned into pure anger and maliciousness. So GLaDOS once flooded the whole lab with noxious gas??? What the hell happened here? You know, I’ll address more of this once I get to the story, because oh my god, I have a lot to say. But essentially, there are no men in this story. I know GLaDOS isn’t human, but they’re given a feminine voice. And that’s kind of fascinating to me. WHEN DOES THIS HAPPEN IN A POPULAR VIDEO GAME.


Generally, it’s very low-key, atmospheric, and creepy. It fits the sterile nature of the rooms I was in, and it was a wise choice to use ambient music.

BUT CAN WE JUST TALK ABOUT “STILL ALIVE,” CLEARLY THE MOST CREDITS SONG IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE. Not only was it hilarious, it was really fucking good. Oh my god, my life has been in dire need of this song.


Simple, smooth, and universal. Until the final level (and a couple hints if you peeked in the hidden passages), this game is very clean and clinical. It’s like you’re walking through a hospital. With turrets. Okay, it’s nothing like a hospital in some respects, but the fact that it feels so sterile and plain gets to be pretty creepy. The graphics look terrible if you fall into the toxic goo, but when does shit look awesome underwater in any video game?

But once you get to that last level, you can tell that shit has gotten real by the way the scenery changes. Everything is dank, rusted, rotting, and dark. You’re in the belly of this massive laboratory machine, and the simple puzzle game you thought you were playing is now this unending stream of pipes, ledges, and THINGS THAT CAN CRUSH YOU. (Which may have happened to me. More than once.) It’s such a surreal experience, and I love that the design team chose to do this.


HAHAHAHA I THOUGHT THERE WASN’T A STORY AT ALL UNTIL LIKE LEVEL 16? It wasn’t until I started seeing this stuff regularly

A screenshot of drawings on a wall, with the phrase “the cake is a lie” repeated numerous times, other sketches included.

A screenshot of a section of a wall with dirty handprints and “the cake is a lie” repeated in handwriting.

that I suddenly realized that this might be way more fucked up than I expected. Look, this was a 19 level puzzle game. I THOUGHT YOU BEAT IT, YOU GOT CAKE, AND THAT WAS IT. And suddenly, I’m in passageways looking in on the very game I just played, and my mind can’t handle it. That 19th level pulls your right out of the world you were once in, and you have to force yourself to accept that you’ve been manipulated, not only as Chell, but as the player. This is not the game you signed up for. Seeing the backend of this enormous laboratory was bizarre, exciting, and overwhelming. The entire time, GLaDOS is insulting me or begging me to stay away. What had Chell stumbled into? Where were all the Aperture workers? It was like being in a ghost town. But what made it this way? I liked that Portal never really told me. By the time I did escape the lab (I COULDN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO BEAT THAT BOSS FOREVER), all I get is a glimpse of the outside world before the screen fades to black, then cake, then the credits. Oh god, Portal 2 is going to probably give me more info, right?


Can we talk about how I could not figure out what to do in this level until I accidentally ran into this thing?

A screenshot of the first level with the “portal” gun sitting on a platform with four arrows pointing directly at it.


Get used to me making such foolish mistakes. YOU WANTED ME TO DO MARK PLAYS, THIS IS WHAT YOU’LL GET.

A screenshot of the most horrifying part of the game, where platforms descend into a PIT OF FIRE.

HAHAHA ha aha hdl ajah alhadfh ahs this is a nice puzzle game isn’t it?!????!?!?

A screenshot of GLaDOS in the final boss battle.

Look, I just did not expect this game to have a boss at the end. I DIDN’T. Oh my god, genius.

Other items of note:

  • “Bring Your Daughter To Work Day” should be qualified with (So She Can Be Gassed To Death)
  • GLaDOS’s idea of a “permanent disability” is vaporization. What the fuck?
  • “Unsatisfactory mark FOLLOWED BY DEATH” are you drunk GLaDOS what are you saying anymore
  • I had to kill my companion cube. :(
  • THE END OF LEVEL 18 IS THE MOST FUN PART. OH MY GOD, I LOVED IT SO MUCH. The reason I couldn’t pass level 15 is because I had never once done that thing where you use momentum to gain more height or distance by falling twice through portals. Once I figured that out, it made most of the game so much easier to get through.

All in all, this was one of the most spectacular games I have ever played, and I cannot wait to start Portal 2 tomorrow. BRING IT ON.

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