That’s the Move of the Year. It’s in “Portal.”
During my appearance on the 1upyours podcast last week, I confessed that I would have paid full retail price for “Portal.”
My fellow podcast-people were a bit surprised and for good reason. It took me fewer than four hours to beat, and it currently is available on the Xbox 360 in a $60 package that also gets you “Half-Life 2“, “Half-Life 2: Episode One,” “Half-Life 2: Episode Two” and “Team Fortress 2.” (The game is also available on PC, through the developer Valve’s Steam service for $20.)
Why would I pay full price? Because it’s a bizarre first-person-shooter puzzle game that seems like the mutant offspring of Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima. But it’s not from those guys; it’s from a team that Valve plucked following completion of video design school. It’s a bunch of — relatively speaking — kids showing up their elders.
Did I mention I have yet to finish “Episode Two” but have already gone back for more “Portal”?
People should try this game for themselves. And, really, I’m only writing this to highlight a particular move in the game — the move that I think is the Move Of The Year.
“Portal” is a first-person puzzle game. The player is armed with a gun that shoots two portals. These portals can be applied to many flat surfaces in the game, but not all, which is part of the puzzle. The player is required to use the gun to escape a series of complex rooms. Shoot a portal on, say, a distant wall and another on the floor beneath your feet, and you’ll fall through the second portal and emerge from the first.
That’s it. It gets mind-bending.
So I want to praise this one move, the Move Of The Year. But first, let me elaborate on the Miyamoto and Kojima connections.
Why do I see Miyamoto in there? I think his best skill may be his method for teaching players his games. You don’t need to read the instruction manuals to play the titles he works on or oversees. Yet these games will slowly and surely make you capable of performing amazing feats. “Portal”’s got that. In fact, I think the last game that educated its players about its controls and gameplay maneuvers as steadily and as confidently as “Portal” — such that before they know it they are doing things they couldn’t have initially comprehended — may have been Miyamoto’s “Pikmin” or his very first “Zelda.” The stuff I did near the end of “Portal” amazed me. And I couldn’t even have imagined doing it when I started the game.
Where’s the Kojima influence? I can’t say without spoiling the game, so mum is the word.
What about The Move? It’s sort of displayed in the image at the top of this story, and it’s among the game’s most brilliant. There are some moves in the game that are a shade more clever, but they aren’t as broadly applicable. For example, I refer you to a sequence late in the game that requires you to shoot one portal on a raised floor and another on the ceiling of a very low crawl space. You have to duck under the crawl space to reach the second portal. When you get under that crawl-space portal you should then stand up. Once you do, the bottom half of your body is still standing in the crawl space. But the top half of your body now extends out of the portal you shot on the raised floor. You are in two places at once. It’s a cool move, but you only need it once.
This isn’t the case for The Move Of The Year. You can use it in a lot of places and should probably soon be using it in other games too, if developers are wise and rip it off. It’s a jump of the most extraordinary kind.
Time and again the game will put you in a room that has a very high ceiling. You’ll look up and see that there’s a ledge very high up, just below the ceiling, that you need to get to. How to reach it? You have no ladder. You can’t fly. And, by the way, the surface of the ledge is composed of a substance that is incompatible with your portals. They won’t form there. So you can’t just shoot a portal up there and below your feet and fall into place.
Instead you <i>do</i> put a portal beneath your feet, but only after you place your first portal high up on the wall opposite the ledge. Then you should walk over the portal you placed on the floor so that you fall into it. You will emerge from the portal high on the wall. With nothing beneath your feet, you will plummet back down to the floor. If you placed the floor portal properly, your descent will drop you back into your floor portal. And so you will emerge, once again, through the portal high on the wall. You’ve done a full loop and sped up along the way. The added momentum that drops you into the floor portal the second time — the speed you gained from dropping into it from high above — will launch you out of the portal high on the wall the second time you go through it. You’ll launch clear across the length of the room and land on the high ledge across from it.
Read that again if you got lost. Or just stare at that sketch, which almost shows it (it starts the player on a mid-level ledge, which isn’t exactly as cool as what I described).
The Move Of The Year is amazing. It’s a new way of moving through 3D space. When is the last time a game gave us that?