Portal is heavily invested in the little things. Although the storyline is relatively simple, the attention to detail is unbelievable. The gameplay almost depends more on the details of the game design than on the actual storyline. Sure, the storyline drives it all forward, but what makes it all worthwhile are the little things. Let’s use the final level as an example.
I didn’t notice all of the details that went into GladOs’ personality until Alec activated the subtitles. I recognised when her voice changed when I played the level before, but I didn’t realize that it was an intentional part of game design for her voice to sound a specific way at a particular moment. For example, when you destroy the (incredibly adorable) first orb GladOs’ voice becomes “seductive” since she is trying to lure you in and kill you. Her voice immediately changes after the incineration of the first orb, which she claims held together her sanity, from the normal robotic voice to a confident voice convinced your death is near. That was pretty freaky! The orbs themselves were each given distinct aspects of GladOs’ personality since they make up GladOs. I was somewhat amazed when the subtitles were activated and the blue orb was citing a cake recipe! Why do they promise cake? What’s Chell’s backstory? Who knows, but hey at least they commit to the cake theme. In fact, the line, “the cake is a lie,” most likely exploded on the internet due to the player constantly running across the line throughout the game. This recurring theme is one of the most memorable aspects of the game – yes, it has to do with the storyline, but honestly just seeing it written EVERYWHERE is enough to make the player remember it. The emphasis on building the narrative into the game rather than neatly handing it to the player as a storyline allows players to piece his or her own storyline together. We never receive a clear storyline or backstory for any character nor the facility, but that didn’t really matter in the end. What mattered was the fact that you recognised that the cake was a lie and escaped the Aperture Testing facility.
The little things – the writing on the walls, the easter egg rooms, the ending cut scene – these all add to the gaming experience. The storyline is present, but it’s the little things – the attention to details -that make Portal memorable.