Portal Stories: Mel

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Portal Stories: Mel
Portal stories mel logo.jpg
Developer(s)Prism Studios
Publisher(s)Prism Studios
Composer(s)Harry Callaghan
Ian Wiese
EngineSource
Platform(s)
ReleaseJune 25, 2015
Genre(s)Puzzle-platform
Mode(s)Single-player

Portal Stories: Mel is a single-player mod for Portal 2 developed by Prism Studios. The mod was released on June 25, 2015, for Microsoft Windows, OS X and Linux systems, available freely to users who own Portal 2 on Steam. Like the official Portal games, it is a puzzle-platformer that involves placing interconnected "portals" to solve puzzles. Set in the Portal universe, players control the test subject Mel, who has to escape an underground facility after she spends decades in artificial hibernation. Reviewers largely praised the mod's visual design and ambition, though they criticised its difficulty; later updates added a "story mode" that made the puzzles easier.

Gameplay[edit]

A schematic of two platforms separated by a gap and by height. One portal opening is located at the bottom of the gap, the other on a wall high above the lower platform. A human figure is shown by a trajectory path to be able to jump from the lower platform into the bottom portal and exit the top portal to land on the higher platform.
Like Portal 2, Portal Stories: Mel allows the player to solve various puzzles with portals.

Like Portal 2, Portal Stories: Mel is a puzzle-platform game played from the first-person perspective as the player character Mel.[1] Featuring the same mechanics as the original game, the player solves puzzles with a prototype "portal gun", which allows them to create a connected opening on two different flat planes. Portals can only be placed on certain surfaces, and portal shooting can be blocked via electric barriers. Additionally, the player can use a variety of other puzzle mechanics, including "light bridges" that allow traversal over gaps, "gels" that affect the player's momentum and velocity, and cubes that can be placed on buttons.[2][3]

There are a total of 22 levels in the game; the developers expect players to take 6 to 10 hours to complete it.[4]

Story[edit]

An overgrown testing chamber, with two platforms on the left and right.
Portal Stories: Mel is set in the dilapidated underground complex of Aperture Science.

Based in the same universe as the official Portal games, the story is initially set in 1952, when Aperture Science is still a fledgling company.[5][6] Players take control of Mel, a German olympian who has been recruited as a test subject.

She arrives by tram at the Aperture Science Innovators headquarters in Michigan, and makes her way through Aperture's company town and into a massive underground complex. Aperture's CEO, Cave Johnson, speaks to Mel through prerecorded messages via intercom, informing her that she will take part in one of their smaller tests, the Aperture Innovators Short Term Relaxation Vault. After the test goes wrong and she is put in suspension for decades, Mel is woken up and finds much of the facility in disrepair. With the help of a Cave Johnson impostor, who tries to get her to think she is still in 1952, she finds a portal gun. Soon, the impersonator admits that he is in fact a maintenance core named Virgil, and offers to help Mel escape in exchange for putting him back on a management rail. Virgil guides Mel through the remnants of the old facility, explaining that the destruction of GLaDOS in Portal caused most of the control systems in the facility to falter.

Continuing upwards, they learn that the reserve power has caused a prototype security system, AEGIS, to become active. With GLaDOS absent, AEGIS attempts to track them through the facility to eliminate them, deeming them potential threats to Aperture's long-dead scientists. Virgil realizes the only way for Mel to escape is to disable AEGIS. Going through overgrown test chambers, they eventually arrive at AEGIS's central core and successfully disable it. Mel enters the code to shut down AEGIS, but while doing so, her and Virgil learn that it was flooding the facility in an attempt to destroy GLaDOS's remains. Mel hands in her portal gun to activate the exit elevator, and she bids Virgil goodbye. At the top of the elevator, she finds the town where she entered Aperture in ruins. In a post-credits scene, AEGIS has enough power left to initiate one final fail-safe: waking up the test subject Chell by draining the reserve power so she can escape, setting up the events of Portal 2.

Development and release[edit]

Portal Stories: Mel was developed over the course of four years by a small independent team of Portal fans under the name Prism Studios.[2] Development for the mod started in May 2011, with it originally being intended to launch in early 2012.[7] After several delays, on March 21, 2013, it was announced that several maps had to be rebuilt to meet satisfactory quality, with several members of the team changing.[8]

The first closed beta was announced on August 4, 2013, leading to several maps being re-worked and updated to higher quality standards.[9][10] The team also saw the addition of a new modeller and an extra level designer. On June 20, 2014, the development team announced that they were aiming for a release in the first quarter of 2015, with support for Windows, OS X and Linux systems.[11] On August 1, 2014 the mod advanced through the Steam Greenlight program.[12] After being successfully green-lit, the developers started a new closed beta, which expanded every month with new players to gather more feedback. In a February 2015 developer update, Prism announced that they had to once again postpone the release. [13] During the whole process, the team consulted Valve for development advice.[2]

On June 25, 2015, the mod was released on Steam as a free download for owners of Portal 2, alongside some developer commentary videos on YouTube.[1][6][14] In response to complaints about the high difficulty level of the mod, the developers released a "Story Mode" campaign on August 31, 2015, with certain puzzles tweaked to reduce their difficulty. The "Story Mode" puzzles became the new default, and the original puzzles were repurposed as an alternative, higher-difficulty setting known as "Advanced Mode".[15][16]

Portal Stories: VR, a virtual reality modification of Portal 2, was released on 16 May 2016, and is a small campaign designed for the room-scale VR that SteamVR offers.[17]

Afterwards, the studio switched from being a mod team to being a standalone game development company in August 2016,[18] releasing The Captives: Plot of the Demiurge in 2018,[19] but shut down around December 2020.[20]

Reception[edit]

Many media outlets praised the mod's ambition and polish, though they often criticised its challenging levels.[21][2][5][3] For the Washington Post, writer Michael Thomson commented on the mod's difficulty, stating that he "found the game unusually difficult, almost physically fatiguing", but that he was "hesitant to say those qualities are negatives". In contrast to Portal 2's puzzles that guided the player to discover solutions on their own, Mel's difficulty was a "reminder that games are just as beautiful when they expect the inconceivable from us". Eurogamer writer Ian Higton described it as the Dark Souls of Portal games, stating that "if you've not up to speed with everything, their test chambers can be really punishing", but nevertheless stated that it "nails what it means to be a Valve game".[21] Although he rated the mod 7.5 overall, Ruslan Gubajdulllin of Overclockers.ru criticised the game's pacing, stating that the developers "practically do not give you time to rest" from solving puzzles.[3]

Higton praised the mod's visual design, which he thought gave the mod "its own flavour".[21] Conversely, Gubajdulllin stated that while the developers had a "good sense of taste", a discerning player's "inner perfectionist will be horrified" by the mixed quality of the assets.[3] PC Gamer reviewer Christopher Livingston stated that he "didn't find the humor particularly effective", though it was written "with a lot of enthusiasm and an obvious fondness for the Portal series".[5]

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • Portal Stories: Mel won the award for "Best Fan Creation" at The Game Awards 2015.[22]
  • In 2015, it was nominated for Mod DB's "Mod of the Year" in the Player's Choice category and won the Best Singleplayer mod in the Editors' Choice.[23][24]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Hillard, Kyle (2015-01-31). "Fan Made Portal 2 Mod Looks Good Enough To Be From Valve". Game Informer. Retrieved 2015-05-10.
  2. ^ a b c d Thomsen, Michael (July 7, 2015). "'Portal Stories: Mel' is a surprisingly difficult but imaginative game made by fans". Washington Post. Retrieved July 31, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d Gubajdulllin, Ruslan (August 13, 2015). "Portal Stories Mel: рецензия на мод к Portal 2". Overclockers.ru (in Russian). Retrieved October 7, 2021.
  4. ^ Moser, Cassidee (July 6, 2015). "Portal Stories: Mel is a Free Prologue Mod to Portal 2". IGN. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Livingstone, Christopher (June 17, 2015). "Portal Stories: Mel is huge and challenging and free". PC Gamer. Retrieved July 20, 2015.
  6. ^ a b "Portal Stories: Mel". Steam. Archived from the original on May 13, 2020. Retrieved July 17, 2020.
  7. ^ "Portal Stories: Mel : Coming soon! news". Mod DB. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  8. ^ "Progress! news - Portal Stories : Mel mod for Portal 2". Mod DB. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  9. ^ "Portal Stories closed beta 1.0 news". Mod DB. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  10. ^ "Assuring quality news - Portal Stories : Mel mod for Portal 2". Mod DB. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  11. ^ "Portal Stories: Mel Releasing Q1 2015! news - Portal Stories : Mel mod for Portal 2". Mod DB. Retrieved 2021-10-06.
  12. ^ "Steam Community :: Group Announcements ::". steamcommunity.com. August 2014. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  13. ^ "Steam Community :: Discussions". steamcommunity.com. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  14. ^ "Portal Stories: Mel Developer Commentary Playthrough Part 1". YouTube. 9 July 2015.
  15. ^ "Steam Community :: Group Announcements :: Portal Stories: Mel". steamcommunity.com. 18 August 2015. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  16. ^ "Steam Community :: Group Announcements :: Portal Stories: Mel". steamcommunity.com. 31 August 2015. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  17. ^ "About". Prism Studios. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  18. ^ @PrismStudiosUK (5 August 2016). "We're very excited to announce that we're no longer a mod team, but an actual games company!" (Tweet). Retrieved 27 September 2017 – via Twitter.
  19. ^ "Games". Prism Studios. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  20. ^ "Index | Prism Studios". PrismStudios.org. Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  21. ^ a b c Higton, Ian (June 30, 2015). "Video: Portal Stories: Mel isn't Portal 3, but it could be". Eurogamer. Retrieved October 6, 2021.
  22. ^ Keighley, Geoff (November 13, 2015). "Nominees - The Game Awards 2015". The Game Awards 2015. Archived from the original on November 14, 2015. Retrieved November 15, 2015.
  23. ^ "Editors Choice - Mod of the Year 2015 feature". Mod DB. December 23, 2015. Retrieved October 6, 2021.
  24. ^ "Players Choice - Mod of the Year 2015 feature". Mod DB. December 30, 2015. Retrieved October 6, 2021.

External links[edit]