Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fighting Mongooses on Level Design

CB of the Fighting Mongooses, continuing to relentlessly spam the blog with inanity. Today's topic: architecture! That's vague, though, so let's narrow it down just a hair, and correlate the design of the Testing Center with the mindset of its deliciously diabolical propagator, GLaDos. Note that this is in reference exclusively to Portal the First.
Before GLaDos' intentions have been made explicitly clear - while the player continues to identify her as a benign, if sardonic and witty testing aid - the facilities remain monochromatic and sterile. The Weighted Storage Cubes are completely unremarkable, the color scheme (excluding the Portal Gun) runs the gamut from red to black to white, and the only glimpses of areas outside the testing chambers are mundane offices perched about in the corners of several rooms.
Test Chamber 16, the chamber which introduces the turrets and provides perhaps the most definitive evidence of GLaDos' malevolence/insanity up to that point, notably offers the player the first opportunity to slip behind the tail and explore the first of the Rat Man's den. The den is a bleak room drenched in rusty reds and browns, and discarded equipment lines the walls. It's a startling shift from the polished, robotic tones of the Test Center thus far, and a stark sign that all is not well within the facility.
Test Chamber 17, a.k.a. the Crypt of Our Dearly Beloved Companion Cube, offers an even more penetrative glimpse into the machinations of the Testing Center. Poetry and portraits line yet another conspicuously-hidden den, eulogizing and glorifying the Companion Cube to what I consider a moving extent. It's a deeply human (and humorous touch), and the memorial, coupled with the euthanization of the Companion Cube, foreshadow GLaDos' own intentions toward Chell.
The incinerator is self-explanatory: flames lapping at your feet, and as JD noted, that evil little medley whistling in the air. GLaDos has made it inescapably clear that you're set to be murdered, either for a flight of fancy or so that she has more cake to herself.
It's the backside of the Testing Center that stands as the centerpiece of this particular thesis, as it's a deliberate extension of the hidden dens scattered behind the tiling in the chambers. The level design is symbolic of GLaDos herself: functional, highly lethal, and incredibly dark and oppressive. While the technology operating in these areas appears to be running without a problem, it seems to serve no purpose besides alternately aiding your escape and ending your life - GLaDos' MO throughout the game.
GLaDos' personal chamber is a bit of a conundrum, reverting back to the pristine monochrome of the test chambers. Arguably, it's indicative of how GLaDos views herself - clean, functional, and efficient. The chamber exploding and ostensibly caving in on her, by extension, is illustrative of how her attempts at murdering Chell backfired horribly.

That was surprisingly difficult. Still fun times, though. Thoughts? Opinions? Candy?

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