*Portal* by Rob Swigart & Activision

This is probably somewhat outside the scope of IF/text adventure, but I have just begun reading the interactive science fiction novel Portal by Rob Swigart and Activision (1986). I’m not that far into it yet, but what I have read is really intriguing.

You have to piece together the story by reading chunks from different databases, some of which are DNAcode-protected. As I said, just getting started, but very interesting.

Just thought I’d put this on here, in case anyone is interested or has any experience with this novel/game to share.


Oh, Portal was a great inspiration to my young self. I don’t think it succeeded, either as a game or as a novel. But it hinted at a kind of explorable narrative which seemed worth inventing – entirely distinct from parser IF (which had the admitted advantage of existing in full flower).

These days, of course, that kind of explorable, database-inspired narrative isn’t a pipe dream at all. Telling Lies, Neurocracy (https://neurocracy.site/), etc.


It also sounds similar in style to The Endling Archive - Details (tads.org) by Kazuki Mishima. (I haven’t read/played this yet.)

Big database with the backstory left to the reader to uncover.


I’ve been wanting to play Portal for ages - how are you going about playing it? Original copy?

Endling Archive is something I’ve been fond of for a while. But I think especially close modern analogs in the postmortem-story-through-abandoned-database genre are Christine Love’s Analogue: A Hate Story and Hate Plus games. I’ve only played the former but highly recommend it. The anime aesthetic was a little off-putting, but the story itself is my favorite kind of really dark SF fiction.

The Digital Antiquarian blog entry has a link to the C64 version, which you can play in an emulator: https://www.filfre.net/2014/11/portal/

There are also versions (with handy emulation) on archive.org.

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Thanks much! And thanks for the link to Neurocracy, I hadn’t heard of that. Now I’m very excited for it.

I think one of my favorite element in games of this fashion, and a rather perverse one, is the sense of voyeurism. There’s a certain power fantasy in being able to uncover the past in such an anonymous fashion, which some games lean into more than others.

Trivia: I once started doing a prototype for an iOS version. This was 2011-ish. I showed it to Rob Swigart, and he thought it was a neat idea, but I wound up shelving it – I thought Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile would make a better app. (Probably the right call!)

I thought Portal would need some updating for a modern audience… perhaps a light puzzle mechanic for collecting clues to open new database entries. I didn’t come up with anything I really liked, though.

Prototype icons: