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Before Portal there was Narbacular Drop, a free game created by students of the DigiPen Institute of Technology. Gabe Newell, the president of Valve, subsequently hired the students of this game. The team went on to turn the project into Portal. Only about ten people worked on Portal, and it took two years to finish. Originally the game had no narrative, but play tester feedback encouraged the team to then add a story. The team quickly ended up creating an A.I. to lead the player through the tests, and eventually the A.I. became the infamous robot GLaDOS. Portal went on to become "acclaimed as one of the most original games of 2007." According to Wikipedia, over four million copies have been sold since release, excluding Steam sales.
Four years later on Apr 19, 2011, Portal 2 was released as Portal's sequel. The team that worked on this sequel expanded to around thirty to forty people compared to the odd ten or so who worked on the first. Gabe Newell described Portal 2 as "the best game we've ever done," and Wikipedia says that "it has been described as one of the greatest video games of all time by numerous publications and critics." Needless to say the Portal series as a whole has gone on to become a well known and beloved game.
Though fans have been hoping for a third game in the Portal universe many are unsurprisingly skeptical that one will ever be released, for a number of reasons. Looper, an online publication that writes on games, said that Portal will never get a third installment due to many of the original Portal team having had left Valve. Screenrant, another gaming publication, notes that Valve has never successfully created a three part sequel, referencing both Half Life and Left for Dead. As of May 2020 there has not been any confirmation or hint from Valve that suggests the game will ever receive a third installment.
Gameplay and Plot
Portal is a puzzle game with elements of platforming. The player takes control of Chell, a human woman stuck inside of a testing facility called Aperture Science. She must navigate through test chambers while making use of the portal gun provided to her. Along the way a mono-toned artificial intelligence named GLaDOS steers her forward, giving both praise and negative feedback. Without knowing the contents of the game's plot the player may first assume the voice coming from the speakers is a human, however they will discover GLaDOS is a robot by the end of the game. During the final test GLaDOS claims that there will be cake as a reward, but intends to kill Chell. Ultimately Chell escapes the facility by killing GLaDOS.
Portal 2, the sequel, has more complex puzzles and several new mechanics. It also introduced a much longer and detailed plotline. New characters included the robot sphere Wheatley as well as a cast of humans. It retcons the end of Portal so that Chell did not escape the facility after defeating GlaDOS. At the beginning of the game Wheatley is a guide to aid Chell in her escape, which wakes up GLaDOS in the process. Chell and Wheatley attempt to defeat GLaDOS in her chamber again, where Wheatley takes over GLaDOS's chassis. He becomes the enemy while GLaDOS is put into a potato. Chell and "PotaDOS" team up to defeat the unstable Wheatley. They confront Wheatley, defeating him by sending him through a portal on the Moon. Chell returns GLaDOS to body and GLaDOS reluctantly sets Chell free.
One of the other Valve series, Half-Life, is canonically in the same universe as Portal. In canon, Black Mesa and Aperture Science are rivals. In Portal 1, Black Mesa is referenced as an easteregg in a presentation room of Aperture Science, and is also referenced in the in game song sung by GLaDOS, "Still Alive." In the Half-Life series, the Aperture Science logo is displayed on the Borealis in Half-Life 2: Episode Two. Outside of these references, the two games do not directly interact with one another, though fans have made many theories about them.
Despite the short length of the first game Portal amassed a fandom following for its unique gameplay and characters. One of the most well known and (arguably) overused memes from this era, "the cake is a lie," comes from this fandom. This early-2000's meme spread through forums and blogs, and it quickly came to mean "you are chasing after an empty, unattainable goal," as noted by Known Your Meme or "your promised reward is merely a fictitious motivator," as noted by Urban Dictionary.
Fans went on to make a number of fanworks, including fan characters, fanfictions, machinimas, and fan songs. It was a popular pass time within the early fandom to humanize or personify the generally non-living objects of the game. Many artists used this was a way to create more characters to play with in the first game, and even after more characters were introduced in portal 2 continued this practice, especially with personality cores.
Before Portal 2 there were only three characters that fans could use in their shipping: Chell, GLaDOS, and the unseen Rattmann. Fans would personify the turrets and cubes/companion cubes and use those in shipping, though this was more rare. When Portal 2 finally released it opened the fandom up to many more characters, including the ever popular British robot Wheatley.
A popular ship, and perhaps one of the only ships available in the first game, was Chell/GLaDOS, also called ChellDOS or "ChelDOS."
Another popular ship is Wheatley/Chell, called Chelley. As Wheatley became Chell's guide through the second game, and then eventually became the enemy, it is not difficult to see why some fans may have taken a liking to the little blue sphere. GLaDOS/Wheatley is a bit rarer, as well as GLaDOS/Chell/Wheatley, though they exists.
Fans of Chelldos and Chelley sometimes create discourse with one another, some citing GLaDOS/Chell as being abusive while simultaneously saying that Chell/Wheatley is not. In response, one Chelldos fan said that "if GLaDOS was voiced by a man ChellDOS would be so much more popular."
Atlas and P-Body, minor characters who go on to play a larger role in the multiplayer of Portal 2 are also frequently shipped together.
There are a few notable fan theories that gained popularity among fans. The most notable being the "Caroline/GLaDOS is Chell's mother" theory. This theory started early, around the release of Portal 2. In this sequel it is revealed that GLaDOS's brain is not that of pure A.I., but is instead a copy of a human's brain. Caroline, the secretary of Aperture's CEO Cave Johnson, lives inside of GLaDOS. In one part of Portal 2, when Chell and PotaDOS are navigating through the old parts of the facility, an over grown potato battery from 'take your daughter to work day' can be found pushing giant vines up through the room. Upon inspection of the project reveals it was created by "Chell." This at the very least meant that Chell was canonically the daughter of someone who worked at Aperture. Though there was never any proof in the game itself, many fans began to speculate that this meant Chell was Caroline's daughter, and thus GLaDOS's daughter. The father in this theory is speculated to be Cave Johnson himself, which also insinuates he had relations with his secretary.
One argument that leans both towards the mother theory, but is also used as shipping fuel, is the "turret opera." In this short Italian song the word "bambina" is used. When translated it decisively means "baby" or "child," affectionately. However, the context of the word changes its meaning. While "bambina" can be used affectionately for daughters, it can also be used as slang for "baby" in the same sense the English use. The song has thus caused much grief between believers of the mother theory and ChellDOS shippers, as there is ample evidence for both the context of familial love and romantic.
An opposing theory is that instead of Caroline being Chell's mother that Rattmann is actually Chell's father. Because Rattmann went to great lengths to help lead and protect Chell, as well as frequently painting pictures of her in Portal 2, it also makes sense why this theory would become just as widespread.
Portal Stories: Mel
Portal Stories: Mel is a fan mod created as a prequel to the Portal series. It follows the main human Mel as she is guided by a personality core named Virgil. It was released on Jun 25, 2015, four years after Portal 2. Portal Stories: Mel is a totally fleshed out game with its own textures, art, and mechanics, leading some people to consider it nearly canon material even though it is fan made. In 2016 it received the Game Award for "Best Fan Creation".
In 2015 an actors' group called Geekenders began putting on showings of their fan musical for Portal 2. This "unauthorized" musical goes through the stages of Portal 2, but in musical format. It had two showings on January 30 and 31, 2015 at Vancouver's Rio Theatre. Since 2017 it can be watched in full on Youtube.
Harry101UK is one of the most popular Portal Youtubers who still actively makes Portal fan content on Youtube. It is impossible to be within the Portal fandom without coming across several of his videos, especially his "Meet the Cores" series which he started in 2012. Harry has been making Portal content on Youtube since 2010 when only the first game was out. He still regularly makes content, as evident with his video "Sound of Science" that was released on May 29, 2020. Harry's old Portal videos receive millions of views, though his newer videos are also nothing to scoff at as they usually receive to upwards of 300,000 views.
The videos usually consist of skits based around Portal using both canon characters and fan characters. Harry designs a wide array of original core characters that he voices in his Meet the Cores series. Besides his skits, Harry has also orchestrated several well known fan songs for the game. His videos are edited impressively, with complex animation, lighting, and sound design, making them very professionally edited for fan content.
Main Article: Blue Sky
Blue Sky is a popular Portal fanfiction of novel length and professional quality writing. It contains 15 chapters, each of considerable length, and a wide cast of original characters. It also employs a very accurate and in character representation of canon characters.Its popularity had earned it fame in the Portal fandom, and Blue Sky itself has produced numerous accounts of visual fanart and spin-off fanfiction.
Blue Sky became popular enough to have its own Tumblr tag. "Blue Sky," while containing numerous images of sky photography, also has a handful of fanfic fanart and pictures of Wheatley. Narrowing it down to "Blue Sky Portal" comes up with dozens upon dozens of fanwork. One user even made a Blue Sky themed quilt. Archive of Our Own also has a "Blue Sky (Portal)" tag. As of June 2020 Blue Sky has 16 spin-off fanfics on AO3 using this tag, some of them having been written in 2020, seven years after the original fanfic was completed. There is also a Blue Sky fan made web comic.
- Day in the Life of a Turret, Archived version and the Remastered Version, Archived version
- The Device has been Modified, Archived version-- One of the first Portal fan songs
- Taste the Cake, Archived version-- A machinima
- Outside Aperture, Archived version-- Short film
- Portal- Meet the Cores 1, Archived version-- From popular Portal Youtuber Harry101UK
- Want You Gone- Portal 2 Fanmade Video, Archived version-- Fan AMV of a canon song
- Portal: Betty Help?, Archived version-- Fan animation
- Accessing GLaDOS Memory Logs, Archived version-- Oldest Portal fanfic on FFN from 2007
- A New Test, Archived version-- The first ChellDOS fanfic on FFN from 2009
- Love as a Construct, Archived version-- Longest Portal fanfic on AO3 and a GLaDOS/Wheatley fic
- What is Portal 2, and Why Should You Care?, Archived version
- Theory on, well, everything (with pretty pictures), Archived version
- I Cannot Believe That I have Been Around This..., Archived version
- Glados Glados and Wheatley Did Nothing Wrong- Sort Of, Archived version
- Things I have Learned from My Brief Stay in the Portal Fandom, Archived version
Links & Resources
- Portal for PC Reviews on Metacritic. Retrieved 2014-10-24.
- Portal (video game), Wikipedia. (Accessed 4/28/2020)
- Portal 2, Wikipedia. (Accessed 5/7/2020)
- Why Valve Won't Make Portal 3, Looper. Mar 13, 2017 (Accessed 5/7/2020)
- Portal 3 Updates & Rumors, Screenrant. Apr 5, 2019 (Accessed 5/7/2020)
- People on that Last Post... Tumblr. Jun 11, 2020 (Accessed 7/21/2020)
- The Cake is a Lie, Know Your Meme. (Accessed 5/7/2020)
- The Cake is a Lie, Urban Dictionary. Oct 15, 2007 (Accessed 5/7/2020)
- PORTAL Characters, DeviantART. Feb 2, 2008 (Accessed 5/7/2020)
- A Turret Personified V2, DeviantART. May 5, 2011 (Accessed 5/2/2020)
- Tell Me Again How Chelldos is Inherently Abusive, Tumblr. Circa 2017 (Accessed 5/2/2020)
- Reply to Tell Me Again How Chelldos is Inherently Abusive, Tumblr. Jun 28, 2017 (Accessed 5/2/2020)
- Portal Theory: Caroline/GLaDOS and Cave Johnson are Chell's Parents, Reddit. Aug 16, 2013 (Accessed 5/2/2020)
- Daughter of Cave and Caroline, Half-Life Wiki. Circa April 20, 2011. (Accessed 5/15/2020)
- Turret Opera, Youtube. April 19, 2011 (Accessed 5/15/2020)
- Bambina, Urban Dictionary. April 20, 2005 (Accessed 5/15/2020)
- Peacefully scrolling through #chelldos on instagram, Tumblr. Nov 12, 2019 (Accessed 5/16/2020)
- Ok #ChellDOS shippers explain this, Tumblr. Oct 7, 2019 (Accessed 5/16/2020)
- Chell's Father (Theory), Reddit. Apr 26, 2011 (Accessed 5/2/2020)
- Portal Stories: Mel, Portal Wiki. (Accessed 5/16/2020)
- I love how even though it’s a non-canon mod, Tumblr. Feb 2, 2017 (Accessed 5/16/2020)
- What is Portal Stories: Mel, Prismstudios.org. (Accessed 5/16/2020)
- Portal 2: The Musical Is a Real Thing, Techtimes. Jan 16, 2015 (Accessed 5/17/2020)
- Portal 2: The (Unauthorized) Musical, Youtube. Deb 4, 2017 (Accessed 5/17/2020)
- Let's Play Portal: Part 1, Youtube. Jul 18, 2010 (Accessed 5/31/2020)
- Sound of Science, Youtube. May 29, 2020 (Accessed 5/31/2020)
- Blue Sky: the web comic, Tumblr. (Accessed 6/20/2020)
- ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-look-what-came-in-the-mail, Tumblr. 2018 (Accessed 6/20/2020)
- Its Been Years Since I First Read this Amazing..., Tumblr. Sept 16, 2019 (Accessed 6/20/2020)