I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy and emotion in video games lately, and this has really given me the itch to play through Portal again. This weekend, I did just that… sort of. Jamie Fuller1 has released a 2D adaptation of the classic for the Commodore 64 (C64), and it is pure joy. It’s quick – 20 levels with brief introductions from GLaDOS, completable in around a half hour. The C64 had a two-button mouse peripheral (the 13512) but it was uncommon enough that even graphical environments like GEOS supported moving the cursor around with a joystick. Very few games had compatibility with the mouse, and here we are in 2018 adding one more – using WAD to move and the mouse to aim/fire is a perfect translation of Portal’s modern PC controls. If you’re not playing on a real C64 with a real 1351, VICE emulates the mouse, and it works great on archive.org’s browser-based implementation as well.
If there’s one thing that I think really makes it lack the feel of Portal, it’s the absence of physics-based puzzles. Portal, of course, had some straight-forward shoot-here-to-end-up-there style puzzles, some straight-forward avoid-the-Sentry-Turret puzzles, and some straight-forward place-the-Weighted-Storage-Cube-on-the-switch puzzles, but a major aspect of the game was figuring out the physics. You had to have a pretty good grasp on how fast and how far you’d be launched if you placed your portal here instead of there. This is, of course, an unreasonable ask for a C64, but it does dramatically change the feeling of the game.
Regardless, Fuller’s adaptation is a wonderful success. I imagine it’d be fun to play through even without knowing the source material, but as an homage it’s blissful. From GLaDOS’s snark to an ending that I won’t spoil, this tribute was made by and for lovers of Portal. Well worth the quick play, especially given how smoothly it runs in a browser without the need to install your own emulator.
- Along with Del Seymour (graphics) and Roy Widding (music). ↩︎
- One might look at the 1351 and think, oh, the Amiga mouse… but of course nothing is ever simple in retrocomputing. The C64 (and C128) had no dedicated provisions for an analog input device, so the 1351 (as well as paddle controllers and the KoalaPad) used the SID audio chip’s ADC. This is a fundamentally different approach than the Amiga’s. Commodore also released another lookalike, the 1350, which was not an analog device, and instead simply sent joystick signals. ↩︎