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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Beyond Portals

I'm pleased to observe that after a long time in the wilderness, the FPS genre has begun to show some innovative promise. I write this in the same week that I both grapple with the challenges offered by Humanhead's Prey and having just watched in awe the new Portal trailer released by Valve. Now although Prey's portals and gravity defying feats distract from what is essentially a linear game, and Portal is still months from release along with Half Life 2 : Episode 2 - both games bring to the PC a fresh mechanic with great potential for further refinement by developing studios and independent modders alike.
But what are the ramifications of technology such as the 'Portal Gun' when applied into a linear game? What if Prey allowed players to create their own enterances and exits rather than having them pre-defined? I don't believe there is a game in existence currently able to adapt to a player given this kind of power. The A to B and then to C structure upon which the gameplay depends would be broken, the experience of the game would change entirely. For those of you who have seen a preview of Medal of Honor : Airborne, here is a game which I believe attempts to empower players in a similar way. My understanding is that the majority of Airborne's levels begin with the player inside an aircraft and over the 'dropzone', with the player free to plummet to a starting location of their own choosing. I am not a developer myself, but even as an outsider it seems apparent that to design a level with this concept in mind would require a change in design technique to cater to the player's ability to experience their own story rather than have the story told to them. Much credit to Electronic Arts for their daring if the game is released with this concept still in tact.
The future for portals and their like remains unclear. It is up to us as gamers to recognise their importance as a mechanic going far beyond novelty in purpose. I'll keep my ear to the wall, and keep you updated.

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