In Memoriam: Portal

Vintage Gaming

– Tom Heath

It’s been a while since we have paid tribute to those we’ve lost over the years, from the death of innocence, the withering of nature, an individual’s personal genocide and the loss of my best goddamned friend.

Well, we’re back at it again because there was one demise that we naively overlooked. It was giving us the eye across the bar, but through ignorance or just plain incompetence we missed the signals and off in its raw gorgeousness it sauntered away into the night. I am talking, of course, about Portal, Valve Software’s sexy piece of perfection.

Scroll past this photo of an attractive goat enjoying the sunshine to get into spoiler territory.

"But you said I was the most beautiful in the bar that night."

“You said I was the most beautiful in the bar that night, not Portal.”

2007 was a fantastic year for gaming. Not only for Portal, but mainly because Portal. This little game had the player use dimension bending holes to solve puzzles in a way that was easily accessible and a lot of fun. Combined with a stellar story, Portal showed us that short games are sometimes the best games.

Yes, we all went in looking forward to looping dimensions in such a way so we could chase our own sexy butts or fall indefinitely, but it was the surprisingly engaging storytelling that we still remember today.

Although…

Although…

The player character, Chell, has awoken in the Aperture Science Enrichment Centre and is the latest test subject for GLaDOS, the Centre’s AI. The tests revolve around the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (or Portal Gun), but among the puzzles are signs that not everything is as it seems at Aperture Science and that GLaDOS might not be the cuddly-wuddly controlling computer science fiction has taught us are so commonplace.

But this In Memorium is not for either of those characters, but for probably the strongest character in the game, who is also the smallest. Its name is The Companion Cube, and I will never forgive myself for what I did to it.

DON’T LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT! I’M SORRY!

DON’T LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT! I’M SORRY!

The test chamber begins like any other, with a sign telling you what to expect up ahead, usually agonising death. But then GLaDOS speaks, she says she is dispensing a “Companion Cube”. Out pops that adorable little box, already so loving and kind and completely inanimate. I am to take it with me for the next test, to guide me through some of the puzzles.

The Companion Cube proves itself to be a loyal friend, helping me climb up onto out-of-reach ledges, holding doors open for me and even shielding me from harm. I could go through an entire lifetime and not have a friend as selflessly devoted to my wellbeing as this love-heart painted paperweight. (That’s a lie friends, please don’t leave me!)

But suddenly, GLaDOS pipes up with a reminder that the Companion Cube cannot speak, but in the event that it does that I should disregard its advice. Jealousy crept into my mind. The Companion Cube has spoken to others? Why won’t it speak to me? AM I NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR IT?

I knew that now was not the time to confront the issue, but maybe if we continued through the test my Companion Cube would eventually speak to me. We plodded along, overcoming obstacle after obstacle, and still my loyal friend was deafly silent.

Silent with judgement!

Silent with judgement!

By the end of the test, I’d had enough. I was so done with this judgemental box of quietness. We arrived at the exit, but it was locked. GLaDOS informed us that now that the test chamber was over, the Companion Cube could no longer accompany me for the rest of the journey.

Good, I thought.

She said that it instead needed to be “euthanised”, and a giant hole opened up leading down to a smelting pit. Now, I want it known that I was a little taken aback by the idea of destroying the Cube. It seemed a little extreme, really I just wanted to part ways, but those thoughts were quickly cast aside in my frustration with its rejection of my friendship and I quickly cast it into the fires below.

A second passed before GLaDOS came back over the speakers. “Congratulations,” she said, “you euthanised your Companion Cube quicker than any test subject on record. Well done.”

That’s when it hit me. Other test subjects had agonised over tossing away their Companion Cube, their best friend. It was the most painful thing for them to do, and I had just done it with not several seconds’ hesitation.

My Companion Cube wasn’t silent because it was a bad friend, but because I was. I didn’t love it enough and it knew that, and I proved that by killing it so quickly.

I’m sorry. RIP Companion Cube.

I always have my plushie to hold in case you forgive me in my dreams…

Tom never got over euthanising the Companion Cube, did you? Let him know on Twitter, @tomdheath. Be sure to follow LoadScreen on Twitter, @load_screen, and Facebook for more In Memoriams and gaming news.

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