Why Portal is an important step forward for the gaming industry

TELEPORTED FROM ANDREW’S MIND — For most people familiar with games in any way, Portal was nothing more than a small tech demo in the world of epic shooters, flashy sports games, and extravagant RPGs. As the industry becomes more and more dominated by large publishers such as EA and Activison, many have seen the innovation that used to dominate the industry begin to dwindle.

A view of PortalI’ll admit it, Portal snuck up on me. No, it broadsided me. For the last few years I have begun to think that the first person shooter genre was taking its dying breath, at least for the PC. While consoles have been boasting titles like the Halo deries (a mediocre franchise at best), many old-school shooter vets — like me — have been dying for something new to whet our pallets. I’m not talking about new forms of weapons that further allow us to obliterate our alien/Nazi/robot enemies. Nor am I talking about new “classes” which allow us to “customize” our “style of gaming.”

No — in a world of Halo 3, Unreal Tournament 3, Call of Duty 4, and five Battlefield games, it’s easy to see why gamers feel like they are being force-fed the same rehashed games over and over again. What have now become standard elements to the genre are not strong enough to retain gamers as they are maturing. More gore and blood are not enough to stimulate the brains of the original FPSers, who are now entering their late 20s and early 30s.

So it came to be that what started out as a student project named Narbacular Drop would soon come to reinvigorate what I once thought to be a dying genre. These students, who would become the developers of Portal, actually engaged their brain matter. Yes, something unheard of from large scale developers….

I’ll try to be spoiler free from here on, but it will be difficult, so read at your own risk.

Portal combines the basic structure of first person shooters with a tad of physics, humor, and all around ingenuity. The game has no enemies, not directly at least, as it relies on puzzle-solving in order to progress the story. The player has control over a device which allows him or her to create two portals to pass through, essentially creating a doorway between almost any two surfaces.

One of the most important features that I feel Portal utilizes is its conservation of momentum. This small law of physics allows players to truly maximize the potential of portals by allowing them to use their portals to fling themselves over obstacles and large distances.

CompanionCube 1The way the game is played is almost prefect, albeit a little short. However, the implications are limitless. I can imagine a day in which basic world applications could be taught via video game interfaces. There has been much work in the educational games industry, but none with the passion nor budget that goes into the high profile games marketed toward kids today. Portal showed me a world in which innovation and intelligence drives players to use higher brain functions in an engaging and dynamic fashion.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to replace the school system with video games, but learning the laws of circular motion, momentum, and basic kinematics would be a lot more interesting if you had some real-world applications such as a Portal-like game as opposed to a two-hour lab of sliding blocks down ramps.

I’ll admit it, I haven’t quite played a game like Portal or at least one which spurred my interest quite like Portal. It has enamored me, made me lovestruck of the days gone by where games like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom changed the way I viewed the FPS genre. It brought me back to the hilarity of the old LucasArt adventure games. It brought me back to the feeling I had when I first picked up a NES controller and played Mario. It reminded me how much I love video games.

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2 Responses to Why Portal is an important step forward for the gaming industry

  1. […] — but I had no desire to play Team Fortress 2 and I am indifferent at best about Half-Life. Andrew posted his analysis of Portal way back in November, when it was still relevant, and I realize how right on the money he was back […]

  2. Sam says:

    “In Layman’s terms, speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out.”

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