The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 13
Recently I had an opportunity to sit down and do a replay of Portal 2, a game I had not played since the summer of 2011. Once again, it was a blast, sitting down and doing the puzzles relatively free of remembrance from the solutions. I explored every nook and cranny of Aperture, enjoyed the antics of GlaDOS, Wheatley, and Cave Johnson, and even just had fun messing about with the portals and seeing what all I could do. But one aspect above the hilarity of the characters and the absurdity of the situations, the creative puzzle solutions and gleaming white walls of Aperture stood out to me. This, is quite obviously from the title of this blog, your descent into the annals of the building partway through the storyline and discovering the history of the science center, the whole tragic past. I am a sucker for stories such as this, and it's here in the bowels of Old Aperture I discovered a world rivaling the majestic somberness projected by Vault 11, by Rapture. This is the story of a powerful company descending into poverty due to their methods of scientific experimentation and its eventual culmination in the gleaming white walls you normally associate with the Portal series. This is the story of the vitrified testing chambers deep in the salt mines and what lays beyond the immense cog door that has been sealed off since 06/15/1961. Please note that there WILL be talk of the plot of the game insofar as mid-game story revelations, but there will be nothing referring to the endgame.
Now, with that out of the way, certain events happen throughout the early parts of the story, and culminate in you being sent down a shaft to miles below the modern, gleaming, sterile walls of modern Aperture, into derelict sections of the salt mines deep below. And these caverns are absolutely massive, providing some of the most expansive vistas of the while game. Natually, these are what captures ones attention after falling down the shaft. But, soon you start coming across signs declaring "KEEP OUT" and "VITRIFIED EXPERIMENTS" and "SEALED 06/15/1961". This is when the story starts turning on full blast, and this is exacerbated upon unsealing the door reminiscent of a mammoth Vault-Tec installation. Behind the cog door, unbenownst to the player, holds the richest story told in the game. You step through the door...
And step into the rich tapestry of history. Cave Johnson's voice comes over the loudspeaker, welcoming the astronauts, war heroes, and Olympians that have volunteered as test subjects at the height of Aperture's heydey. A huge sign lets people know where they're standing, cutting edge 1950's decor plasters the hallways such as marble floors and rich carpeting, and an awards case tells of Aperture's rise to fame from a shower curtain sales agency to the pioneers in science that they are at that point in time. They're rich, they're famous, and they're at the top of the world. Nothing could push them off of the pinnacle of existence that they're at.
But...as you move on, the reasons for the vitrification of the testing chambers become clear. The test experiments they were performing were highly dangerous, using everything from lasers and prototyped teleportation to using jet engines to try and lower the amount of water present in the human body as an unnecessary extravagance. At one point Cave Johnson even proudly proclaims that they're "just throwing science at the wall to see what sticks". The company is highly incompetent and Johnson has no regard for the safety of anyone in the building. This ends up with many of the astronauts and war heroes who went to Aperture dying and became missing persons with Aperture at the forefront of Senate hearings on missing astronauts. At this point it becomes clear that they're either lying to the public after the tests going awry, or possibly that they even kidnapped some of the people unbeknownst to the outside world.
After the Senate hearings, they seal off the oldest testing tracks that have fallen so far off course that they just cut their losses and move on. As Aperture starts its decline from grace in the sixties, due both to the failing experiments and Black Mesa stealing technology from them, Cave Johnson still attempts to test and keep his company on track. They've moved to having test subjects at the peak of physical conditioning and well-respected to people they have rousted off of park benches for "sixty bucks". Johnson even offers an additional sixty bucks to these people if they will let the Aperture scientists take them apart and put them back together in additional experiementation. Cave Johnson at this time becomes increasingly cynical and embittered at this point in time.
By the time the seventies roll around, Aperture is facing ruin beyond what happened back in the sixties. As one of the recordings mentions, the financial advisers to Aperture inform Johnson that he literally does not have the funds to spend seven dollars on moon rocks. Yet Johnson continues to make exorbitant investments, including buying millions of dollars of moon rocks to grind up andput into a new gel to conduct portals on most surfaces. These rocks are lethally poisonous and contribute to the declining health of Cave Johnson. At this point he's made testing mandatory for all Aperture employees, dramatically increasing the quality of test subjects from the hobos he was using before. In his final days, he laments that Aperture hasn't focused more on artificial intelligents and muses on the idea of putting a man's brain into data storage. Knowing he won't live to see this completed, he asks the employees of Aperture to put his assistant's mind, Caroline, into an AI. This is what leads into the birth of GlaDOS and the eventuall fall of the Aperture Science center as the scientists have trouble containing this new AI.
So, deep in the bowels of Aperture, you see all this happening, seeing the marble and carpet and beauty fading into cheap linoleums and plastics as Aperture falls on harder and harder times ultimately leading them to ruination. Behind the white walls, beneath the tile floorboards, there lives the tragic tale of a dead man and his string of bad decisions leading to the hellhole that a once bright company fizzles into. Behind the vitrified cog door that has been sealed off since the days of John F. Kennedy lies the man's voice that inadvertantly lead Chell into being the plaything for an insane artificial intelligence. Beneath the sterile environments lies the history of Portal's characters, and one of the somberest tales ever to grace our medium.