Thinking With Portals.

There’s a nice discussion on The Escapist in regards to everyone’s favorite First-Person-Puzzler, Portal.

It got me thinking, as it were, about just how much Valve (and the inevitable copycats) will be able to do with this concept. The game, if you haven’t played it yet, is perhaps the best technically-executed idea in gaming right now. The concept is simple, you have a gun, the gun can fire two portals, you need to use it, along with the laws of physics, to complete a series of challenges in exchange for some delicious cake.

Did I mention it is also one of the funniest games of the year? I should.

The aforementioned thread is mostly about what you would do with a portal gun in the real world. Suggestions range from solving the planet’s energy crisis to theft. The fine folks at Rooster Teeth have their own predictably scatological take on the idea, as well. And while the possibilities are truly endless, I’m more interested in how this is going to change games.

What if we put the portal gun into other games? Take Bioshock, for instance. One could open a portal below a nearby font of water and then open another above a group of unsuspecting splicers, proceeding to give them the trusty electroshock. A non-FPS game, maybe.

Take the sci-fi third-person-action-rpg-wtf-bbq of Mass Effect. In a tactical setting, you could order one squadmate to open a portal behind a patrol of enemies, and another to open a portal in cover, allowing you to flank them before they realize you’re there.

In Starcraft 2, something like this is more or less in place for the Protoss, and let’s not forget the Nydus Canal of the original. Send a single scout-type unit to a distant staging ground, and use it to bring your army in without them having to traverse the chaotic middle-fields of RTS.

Perhaps a more potent example would be for Supreme Commander. The vast expanses of that title lend to massive offenses, flanking maneuvers, and feints, not to mention aerial and naval combat. By adding a portal-gun device the entire game could be turned into a frenetic game of militaristic cat-and-mouse, perhaps an airship capable of deploying two portals at a time, allowing for a hasty retreat from a compromised staging ground, or a surprise rear-assault into a heavily fortified enemy encampment.

The same sort of idea can be adapted to fantasy settings by swapping technology for arcane magics. Take an Elder Scrolls game with portal-oriented puzzles. Set up a portal near an inquisitive guard and wait on the other end for them to inspect, delivering a fearsome bolt of lightning at them once they take the bait. Then drag the body back through to hide the evidence from his friends.

The mechanic is solid, and can add a whole new layer of depth to games that are conducive to it. I’d look for some very, very similar ideas being announced for future titles, soon.