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Half-Life and Portal universe

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"Prepare for unforeseen consequences."
The G-Man[src]

The Half-Life and Portal universe (HL/P or HLP universe for short) is a shared science fiction universe created by Valve Corporation.[1] It was launched in 1998 with the release of the video game Half-Life on the PC platform.

It is told through four related story arcs, split into two game series, Half-Life and Portal. Each arc stems from a game: Half-Life, Half-Life 2, Portal, and Portal 2. The Half-Life series is action and horror-oriented with occasional puzzles, while the Portal series emphasizes puzzles and dark comedy.

Half-Life has spawned since then many modifications, expansions, and sequels, most of which set in the same universe. Most of them were developed by Valve; however, Half-Life's three expansions, Blue Shift, Opposing Force and Decay were developed by Gearbox Software.

In 2005, Electronic Arts took over the distribution of the Half-Life series.

Since its first installment, the series has been introduced to many consoles such as the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, as well as Mac. Starting on the GoldSrc engine, a modified Quake engine, the series now runs on the Source engine.

The protagonist of the Half-Life series is Gordon Freeman, a former Black Mesa employee whose attempt to escape from Black Mesa ends up in his employment by the G-Man. In the expansions and spin-offs, the featured playable characters are not Gordon Freeman, but rather a HECU Corporal, a security guard, and two female scientists, all as eager as Gordon to make their way out.

In the spin-off series, including Portal and its sequel, Portal 2, the main protagonist, Chell, a Test Subject, is detained in the Aperture Science computer-aided Enrichment Center, run by the malevolent rogue A.I. GLaDOS, the series' main antagonist.


The storylines of the two game series deal with the grave consequences of failed experiments performed by two rival scientific research corporations, Black Mesa and Aperture Science, one caused by the analysis of exotic materials, the other by an A.I. system gone self-aware and murderous, and how the employees and former employees of these companies as well as external people, human and alien alike, experience the resulting disasters.

Half-Life story arc[edit]

Main article: Half-Life storyline
Gordon Freeman, the main protagonist of the Half-Life series.

The Half-Life series begins in 200-, at the Black Mesa Research Facility, deep below the New Mexico desert.[2] Gordon Freeman, a recently employed theoretical physicist[2] for Black Mesa, is involved in an experiment analyzing a strange, unknown crystal (sample GG-3883). On his way to the testing chamber, he sees a mysterious and enigmatic government man watching him from a tram, and again arguing fervently with a scientist. After slipping into his trademark HEV Suit, he makes his way to the laboratory, meeting several nervous colleagues on his way. Inside the large, cylindrical chamber, the scientists assure Gordon that nothing will go wrong, and he makes his way, confidently, to flip the switch. Below him, Gina Cross delivers the non-standard crystal to the delivery shaft.

Powering up, the tunneling rods of electric current jump from the top of the Anti-Mass Spectrometer to its base, signaling that the machine is ready to begin. The specimen for analysis is lifted into the chamber in its cart. Gordon begins the experiment by pushing the crystal into the beam. Suddenly and furiously, the crystal causes severe discrepancies in the equipment, causing explosions and destruction in the surrounding area. Trying their best to shut it down, the scientists in the observation area shout manically. Gordon is somehow teleported out of the facility onto a strange alien world, where he is confronted by aliens and monsters alike. Saved from the destruction, for now, he has no idea of the trouble the crystal has caused.

When he arrives back into the chamber, a scene of destruction and terror surrounds him. The Anti-Mass Spectrometer, now hanging loosely on its hinges and exploding every five seconds, has thoroughly fallen apart and is on the floor in pieces. One of three surviving scientists, Eli Vance, helps Gordon on his way, but not before Gordon has a chance to see an odd alien teleporting in out of nowhere. It seems that, throughout the rest of the facility, aliens are appearing, and attacking scientists without mercy. The few who have survived are fleeing to the surface.

Traveling further through the facility, Gordon learns that the HECU forces have been called in to control the situation, however quickly discovers that their idea of containment is to kill everyone and everything within Black Mesa. A security guard informs him that he is to reach the Lambda Complex at all costs, and on his way launch a satellite which can be used to close the rift. He continues his journey using a disused rail system below the Facility. At the end of the line, he launches the satellite needed by the Lambda team to close off the rift. Continuing along on the surface, Gordon comes across the Black Ops assassins, who were brought in after the HECU repeatedly failed to dispose of Freeman, however they also fail to stop him. He is apprehended by the HECU, and they stash him in a trash compactor. This also fails, and Gordon wakes up in time to get out and find his way back in.

When Gordon reaches the Lambda Complex, he is teleported to Xen in order to kill the creature responsible for keeping the rift from closing. Before he leaves, a scientist gives him the Long Jump Module, which can be used on Xen to make the necessary jumps. Xen, an impossible world of floating islands, is even more full of hazardous aliens than Black Mesa has become, and Gordon swiftly makes his way to the Nihilanth's lair. On the way, he is caught up in a battle with the Gonarch, which he wins.

The Nihilanth greets Gordon with threats, and uses powerful yellow projectiles to take down Gordon. Luckily, Gordon manages to destroy it and the rift begins to close. As the Nihilanth's fading last words echo in Freeman's mind, the G-Man absconds Gordon and stores him in stasis, after telling him that he has been offered employment. Walking into the green portal, Gordon accepts his offer and disappears from the face of the planet.

Half-Life 2 story arc[edit]

Main Article: Half-Life 2 storyline

Nearly twenty years later, the G-Man brings Freeman out of stasis and places him onto an Earth ruled by the Combine, an alien race that used the dimensional rift caused at Black Mesa to conquer Earth. In City 17, Freeman meets surviving members of the Black Mesa incident, including Isaac Kleiner, Barney Calhoun, Eli Vance and his daughter Alyx Vance, and aids in the human resistance against the Combine. The Xen aliens, the Vortigaunts, who have also been enslaved, assist the Resistance. When Freeman's presence is made known to former Black Mesa administrator and Combine spokesman Wallace Breen, Freeman becomes a target for the Combine. Eventually, Freeman sparks a full revolution amongst the human citizens, by destroying the Nova Prospekt prison facility, where the Combine used to manufacture humanoid soldiers. Eli Vance and his daughter are subsequently captured by the Combine, and Freeman helps the resistance forces attack the Citadel to rescue them. Breen attempts to flee in a teleport, but is killed when Freeman destroys the dark energy reactor at the top of the Citadel. The G-Man then arrives to extract Freeman before he is killed in the explosion, but is interrupted when Vortigaunts liberate Freeman from stasis and place both him and Alyx Vance at the bottom of the Citadel. After Dog finds Gordon in the rubble, Alyx and Gordon attempt to stabilize the Citadel's primary reactor while the citizens evacuate the city. Alyx and Gordon soon discover that the Combine is attempting to destroy the reactor to call for reinforcements from the Combine's native dimension. After downloading critical data, they move through the war-torn city to the train station to take the last train out of the city. The Combine then destroys the reactor, thus destroying both the Citadel and City 17; the resulting explosion of which causes the train to derail.

Freeman awakens in one of the wrecked train cars with Alyx outside, where a superportal is visible from where the Citadel used to stand. They begin a journey through the Outlands to White Forest, a Resistance-controlled missile base in the nearby mountains. Along the way, Freeman and Alyx are ambushed and Alyx is severely injured by a Hunter. However, a group of Vortigaunts are able to heal her. After Alyx is healed, both she and Gordon are able to reach the Resistance base and deliver the data, which contains the codes to destroy the superportal as well as information on the Borealis, an enigmatic research vessel operated by Black Mesa's rival, Aperture Science. The base then launches a rocket that is able to shut down the superportal, cutting off the Combine from outside assistance. However, as Alyx and Freeman prepare to travel to investigate the Borealis, they are attacked by Combine Advisors, who kill Eli Vance before being driven off by Dog.[3]

With the events of Half-Life: Alyx, however, the G-Man has allowed Alyx to intervene in these previous events, killing the Advisor to save Eli from death at the cost of her freedom as she's subsequently "hired" and put into stasis by the G-Man and his employers. Eli and Gordon then set out to enact vengeance against the G-Man for his actions.

Portal story arc[edit]

Chell, the main protagonist of the Portal series.
Main article: Portal storyline

Right after the Combine invasion,[1] Test Subject named Chell is awakened from stasis by the AI GLaDOS in a relaxation vault of the Aperture Science Enrichment Center located in Upper Michigan, and completes her tests with the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device. Tests include use of the Aperture Science Weighted Storage Cube, the Aperture Science High Energy Pellet, and a special version of the storage cube: the weighted companion cube which she is forced to "euthanize" with an incinerator. After completing the last test, however, Chell is met with an incinerator rather than the promised Cake. She narrowly manages to escape the incinerator and begins to navigate through the abandoned maintenance areas of Aperture Labs in search of escape. Instead, she ends up in GLaDOS' chamber. Chell destroys GLaDOS' Personality Cores one by one while GLaDOS attempts to kill her using neurotoxins. Eventually Chell manages to partially destroy GLaDOS; her scattered remains, along with Chell, end up in an Aperture Science parking lot. Soon after, a Party Escort Bot drags Chell back in stasis and several other Personality Cores awaken.

Portal 2 story arc[edit]

Main Article: Portal 2 storyline

An undetermined amount of time later, the Enrichment Center has fallen into serious disrepair and restless personality cores travel on rails in the ceilings. One such core, Wheatley, wakes Chell up from stasis and, eventually, convinces her to detach him from the rail. Together, they accidentally awaken GLaDOS, who perceives Chell as her 'murderer' and seemingly kills Wheatley. GLaDOS forces Chell through increasingly difficult tests as she rebuilds the Aperture facility. Wheatley returns, and frees Chell from the testing. Together, they escape to the manufacturing sector of the facility and disable GLaDOS's turrets and neurotoxin. They get back up to GLaDOS, whose core has become corrupt. They initiate a 'core transfer,' substituting GLaDOS's core for Wheatley's. Wheatley becomes corrupt with power, places GLaDOS's consciousness in a potato, and drops GLaDOS and Chell deep into the bowels of the facility.

Chell and GLaDOS end up in the remains of the past Aperture Laboratories built in the salt mine under the present facility. GLaDOS, still being a potato, attracts a bird who takes the potato with it. After finding her way to the actual entrance of the facility as it was in the '50s and activating the Repulsion Gel pump station, Chell completes a series of tests guided by pre-recorded messages of Aperture Science-founder Cave Johnson, who was also the CEO at that time.

When Chell reaches the part of Aperture built in the '70s, she finds GlaDOS there, being pecked by the same bird that took her. Chell takes her onto the Portal Gun and activates the elevator, as well as the Propulsion Gel pump station. They solve more tests, while GLaDOS is confused about Cave Johnson and his assistant, Caroline, as she thinks they sound familiar.

They reach the 80's Aperture, where Cave Johnson is dying from contact with the lunar poison. He wants his mind to be uploaded to a computer as part of a project, and if this fails, he wants Caroline to run the place. Chell activates the last gel and completes the final test before reaching the present facility again, where they meet Wheatley, having invented "Frankenturrets"; cubes and turrets fused together. Wheatley forces Chell and GLaDOS into more testing, but they eventually reach his lair after Wheatley repeatedly fails to kill them. After a fight, during which the facility is coming closer and closer to total destruction, the roof eventually breaks, exposing the moon. Chell pops a portal on the moon, causing Wheatley to get sucked into space while GLaDOS recovers her body and rescues Chell. She then proceeds to send Chell to the surface.

Recurring themes[edit]

Main article: Recurring themes

Apart from the classic first-person shooter themes such as running in corridors, pushing buttons, and turning the player into a "one-man army", the Half-Life series uses many recurring themes. Although not seen in every game of the series, they include:

  • The idea of free will; this is very prevalent throughout the Half-Life series.
  • Freedom vs. Enslavement; this is the main driving force behind the Half-Life series' storyline, especially in Half-Life 2 and the episodes.
  • Loss of humanity; this is very prevalent during Half-Life 2 and the episodes.
  • Science gone wrong; this is a prevalent theme in both the Half-Life and Portal series.
  • Cosmicism; the Half-Life series has been greatly influenced by the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
  • Orwellian Dystopia; this is very prevalent in Half-Life 2 and the episodes. The series has been greatly influenced by the works of George Orwell, particularly the novel 1984.
  • Teleportation.

Other common symbols and motifs include:

  • Almost every Half-Life game starts on a Train of some sort, and those that don't, still include trains in some form.
  • Air ducts; the player is regularly required to crawl into vents many times to reach places that are otherwise unreachable by the conventional doorway. They are dark and are usually filled with Headcrabs.
  • The mysterious G-Man always seems to oversee the game events, watching from the distance and disappearing when Gordon gets near.
  • Headcrabs and Zombies.
  • The Lambda logo.
  • Toxic waste; In Half-Life and its expansions, it has the cliched radioactive-green color. In Half-Life 2 and its episodes, the toxic waste seen in the City 17 Canals and the Outlands is brown in color, and of much less volume. Toxic waste is mostly used to restrict areas to the player. It causes the HEV Suit's Geiger counter to click with varying frequency depending on proximity, and will harm the player when walking on it, killing them when staying too long. During the introductory chapter Black Mesa Inbound, in Half-Life, the announcement system can be heard saying "If you feel you have been exposed to radioactive or other hazardous materials in the course of your duties, contact your Radiation Safety Officer immediately!" Rather ironically, this is said as the tram passes over a large radioactive spill.


Main article: Retcons

Since Half-Life's release, several retcons have been made to the series' storyline. Most of them are minor, and were made by the team to accommodate the subsequent games' storylines. They do not affect gameplay and the main plot.


The Half-Life series has core titles which carry the storyline. The games made in chronological order, portray either the events of one game or a perspective of a different character. As of July 2011, the main series consists of the original video game and its sequel, as well as three expansion packs and two episodic games. A third episodic game remains in development. In addition, several spin-off titles have been released.

GoldSrc games[edit]

Half-Life is the first title for the series, and was the debut title of the Valve Corporation. First released on November 19, 1998, Half-Life follows Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist, after the Black Mesa Research Facility accidentally causes a dimensional rift which allows the facility to be invaded by aliens. Freeman attempts to survive the slaughter and resolve the situation. The game was originally published by Sierra Studios and released for Microsoft Windows, although Gearbox Software would later port the game to PlayStation 2 in 2001. Valve themselves later converted the game to utilize their Source engine. Half-Life received critical acclaim upon release, critics hailing its overall presentation and numerous scripted sequences. The game won over 50 Game of the Year awards and its gameplay has influenced first-person shooters for years to come. Half-Life has since been regarded as one of the greatest games of all time.

Half-Life was followed by an expansion pack, Half-Life: Opposing Force, on November 19, 1999. Unlike Half-Life, Opposing Force was developed by Gearbox Software, although it was still published by Sierra Studios. Opposing Force was first announced as a mission pack for Half-Life in April 1999, and was released for the Windows version of the game. The player no longer assumes the role of Gordon Freeman, but rather sees the later events of the first game from the perspective of a US Marine corporal, Adrian Shephard. Shephard is initially assigned to cover up the events at Black Mesa, but is soon left isolated and has to fight to survive against a new group of alien invaders and Black Operations units. Opposing Force was received favorably by critics, many citing the game as being as influential on setting expansion pack standards as the original game had been in influencing the overall genre. The game won the Console Action Game of the Year of 2000 from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences.[4]

Gearbox later went on to develop Half-Life: Blue Shift, Half-Life’s second expansion pack. Announced in 2000, the game was initially developed as an add-on for a Sega Dreamcast port of Half-Life; however, the port was cancelled and Blue Shift was instead released for Windows on June 12, 2001. Blue Shift puts the player in the position of Barney Calhoun, a security guard working at Black Mesa. The game takes place within the early parts of Half-Life, with Calhoun attempting to escape the facility with a small group of scientists. Blue Shift also includes a High Definition Pack, which upgrades the quality of the models and textures in both Blue Shift and the preceding games in the series. Critics gave Blue Shift a mixed but favorable reception, praising the game's atmosphere and the inclusion of the High Definition Pack, but criticizing the otherwise lack of new content and short length of the story.

The third and final expansion for Half-Life was Half-Life: Decay. The game was again developed by Gearbox and published by Sierra. However, unlike previous titles, Decay is only available with the PlayStation 2 version of Half-Life. Decay is unique within the Half-Life series as the only cooperative game. Decay focuses on two of Freeman's colleagues, Gina Cross and Colette Green, as the two work with other scientists to counter the effects of the dimensional rift and ultimately attempt to close it. Released on November 14, 2001, Decay received a weak but overall positive reception from critics, many reviewers stating that it was fun to play through with a friend, but that the game's more puzzle-orientated gameplay detracted from the overall experience. An unofficial Windows port of the game was released in September 2008.

Source games[edit]

On November 16, 2004, Valve released Half-Life 2, the sequel to the original game. The game had a six year development cycle, which saw several delays and the leak of the game's source code. Half-Life 2 returns the player to the role of Gordon Freeman, now employed by the G-Man. Set twenty years after the original game, Earth has been occupied by the Combine, an alien race that exploited the events of the first game to invade. The G-Man inserts Freeman into City 17 to combat the Combine occupation. Half-Life 2 acquired near-unanimous positive reviews and received critical acclaim, winning over 35 Game of the Year awards for 2004. The game has been critically praised for its advances in computer animation, sound, narration, computer graphics, artificial intelligence, and physics. Half-Life 2 was the first title to use Valve's Steam content delivery system, a system that eventually led to Valve falling out with publisher Sierra Entertainment.

Following Half-Life 2, the series was continued using a trilogy of episodic games. Half-Life 2: Episode One was the first of these, set around City 17 after the events of the original game, in which Freeman and Alyx Vance must attempt to escape the city after a dark energy reactor core they damaged at the end of Half-Life 2 threatens to destroy the city. Developed by Valve, the game was distributed online via Steam and through retail by Electronic Arts. It was released on June 1, 2006, and introduced several new graphical effects including new lighting features and facial animation. Episode One received a generally positive critical reaction, although the game's short length was a point of common criticism.

The second episodic game, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, continues the story from where Episode One ended. It was released on October 10, 2007, bundled with the games Portal and Team Fortress 2 as well as Half-Life 2 and Episode One in the package The Orange Box, which was released for Windows PCs, the Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 consoles. The game was again developed by Valve, and distributed using both Steam and Electronic Arts. Continuing with Valve's policy of orienting each episode around a particular theme or set of technologies, Episode Two focuses on expansive environments, travel, and less linear play. Episode Two's new technologies and gameplay features were praised by reviewers; however, the short length of the game was again a point of criticism.

Half-Life 2: Episode Three is the third and final installment of the episodic expansions developed by Valve Corporation.[5] The game has, presumably, been in development since some time in 2008, since concept art surfaced in July of that year.[6] However, besides passing comments when pressed in interviews, very little is known about the game. Doug Lombardi said that the game would be revealed before the end of 2008, but nothing came of it.

Portal is a puzzle game set in the Half-Life and Portal universe, developed by Valve Corporation. It was initially released alongside Episode Two in The Orange Box on October 10, 2007. The player controls a female test subject named Chell as she moves through the laboratories of Black Mesa's primary rival, Aperture Science, completing various tests with a device that allows her to create linked portals in physical space. In the later stages of the game, the player battles GLaDOS, a corrupt artificial intelligence computer that monitors her every move. The game is the spiritual successor to Narbacular Drop, with many of the same team members working on the game. Portal has been acclaimed as one of the most original games in 2007 despite being comparatively short in length, receiving praise for its unique gameplay and darkly humorous story. An Xbox Live Arcade expansion was released on October 22, 2008.

Portal 2 is the sequel to Portal developed by Valve Corporation. It was released on April 19, 2011. The storyline continues from the end of Portal. The player again controls Chell in the single-player campaign. It also has a cooperative mode with two players taking the role of two androids named Atlas and P-body. The co-op campaign story begins shortly after the single-player story ends.


The success of the Half-Life series has spurred the creation of several spin-off games based on the games' plot.

Codename: Gordon is a two-dimensional Flash sidescroller shooter produced by Nuclearvision Entertainment, and was released over Valve's Steam online delivery system on May 17, 2004, as a promotional game for the, at that time, upcoming Half-Life 2. Presently, the game is unavailable on Steam due to its developer's bankruptcy, causing their official site to go offline. Codename: Gordon was well received by reviewers and the public, and attracted over 600,000 players in the first three weeks after its release. Reviewers praised the game for its gameplay and unique dialog style, but also criticized it for its improper optimization, and lack of opponent variety.

Half-Life 2: Lost Coast is a technology demonstration, developed by Valve to display new high dynamic range rendering and a variety of other features. The level was designed with a variety of appropriate environments to emphasize these effects. Consisting of a single map, Lost Coast was originally to be part of Half-Life 2, but was dropped during development. The game follows Gordon Freeman as he travels up a coastal cliff to destroy a Combine artillery launcher in a monastery, which is firing on a nearby town. Released over Steam on October 27, 2005, the level received a generally positive reception, and there was consensus among reviewers that the new features should be implemented into future games released by Valve.


The video game development company behind the Half-Life series, Valve Corporation, was founded in 1996 in Kirkland, Washington by former Microsoft employees Mike Harrington and Gabe Newell. They began working on the first game of the series soon after the company's formation, and settled on a concept for a horror-themed 3D action game, using the Quake engine as licensed by id Software. The game was a hit at the 1997 E3 convention, where its animation system and artificial intelligence were demonstrated. The game's success led to its first expansion pack, Half-Life: Opposing Force, which was developed by Gearbox Software, a company based in Plano, Texas, and announced on April 15, 1999. Randy Pitchford, founder of Gearbox, said in an interview that he believed Valve gave them the opportunity to produce a sequel to Half-Life to allow Valve to focus on future titles. The game was demonstrated at the 1999 E3 convention, where new locations, characters, and the story were revealed.

The second Half-Life expansion pack, Half-Life: Blue Shift, was again developed by Gearbox Software and announced by its publisher, Sierra Entertainment, on August 30, 2000. The game's story and development direction were first revealed at the European Computer Trade Show in September 2000.

Film adaptations[edit]

A short film loosely based on Half-Life, titled Half-Life: Uplink (not to be confused with Half-Life's second demo with the same title), was developed by Cruise Control, a British marketing agency. The film was commissioned by the U.K. office of Sierra's parent company Havas Interactive in order to promote the game. Produced by Chris Birch and directed by Jamie Matson, Uplink was shot in 12 hours at a decommissioned USAF base in Bedfordshire, England, and was released on the Cruise Control website on March 15, 1999. However, Sierra withdrew it from circulation, after Cruise Control and Valve had failed to resolve licensing issues with Cruise Control over the film. The critical reception of the film was very poor. The film's plot was that of a journalist called Jaz Meadows (portrayed by Patrick Malone) attempting to infiltrate the Black Mesa Research Facility and discover what happened there, assisted only by a woman (voice actress unknown, although since it was announced that the cast includes only four actors, it is most likely Phillipa Norman) who communicates with him through the headset. She tries to talk Jaz out of his plan, but he does not listen, believing that such a report can make him famous. Infiltrating the facility and recording everything he sees with his handheld camera, Jaz stumbles upon a scientist (portrayed by Keith Hillier), who refuses to leave his hiding place and gets killed by the HECU. Meanwhile, Jaz manages to evade several Xen aliens, but is soon confronted by a HECU trooper (Tony Potter). Before the trooper can shoot Jaz, a female Black Op (Phillipa Norman) kills him. She then approaches Jaz and offers him to "come with her if he wants to live". The film ends with Jaz following the Black Op with the end credits saying: "Team Fortress II coming soon...".

In 2013, at the D.I.C.E. summit, Gabe Newell announced that he would be collaborating with director J.J. Abrams and his company, Bad Robot, in order to produce a Half-Life or Portal film.[7]

See also[edit]