Narbacular Drop

By Shamus
on Jun 4, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

The portal in action: Both of those characters are the player.  Go in one portal, seamlessly exit the other.  This is a pretty simple setup, but when you start mucking about with portals on the floors, ceilings, or at strange angles, it suddenly becomes very confusing. In a good way.
The portal in action: Both of those characters are the player. Go in one portal, seamlessly exit the other. This is a pretty simple setup, but when you start mucking about with portals on the floors, ceilings, or at strange angles, it suddenly becomes very confusing. In a good way.
However did I miss this one? Last year I talked about Portals, expressing excitement at such a great idea and then lamenting how the thing would only be available via Steam. I don’t do Steam, so I was going to miss out. I didn’t really want the game itself, I just wanted to experiment with the portals.

While reading up on the game I found out that a couple of the designers had already made a portal game – using pretty much exactly the same mechanics – as a project for their portfolios. The game is Narbacular Drop, and it is freely available. This let me play around with the portals idea without having to get another Steam-based game.

It really was a lot of fun to mess around with the portals. It’s a small download, and a great way to kill an hour or so.

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  1. Vasay says:

    I’ve played this game a couple of months ago, and was stunned by amount of the fun it gave me :)

    And by the way, remember that Counter-Strike was also made by students. Maybe Valve invited these Narbacular guys to work on “Portals”?

  2. wererogue says:

    “Maybe Valve invited these Narbacular guys to work on “Portals”?”

    Yup, that’s pretty much the way it happened, so I hear.
    I’m still pretty psyched for Portal – I played through Narbacular Drop straight after I saw the trailer. It’s only going to be available initially as a package with Half Life 2: Episode 2, unfortunately – it’s now my reason for buying Ep2.

  3. xjermx says:

    Just like wererogue said. Apparently valve got wind of Narbacular drop and hired the programmers outright.

    Mmmmmmm Portals.

  4. Jack says:

    Just curious, Shamus:

    Why don’t you do Steam?

  5. Phlux says:

    Yep, that’s exactly how it happened. The students developed narbacular drop at DigiPen in Seattle. For those not familiar it is a school dedicated to teaching game development and design.

    One of the controversial things about the school (invested in / owned by Nintendo) is that games are considered university property, but this is mostly due to copyright protection issues and academic licensing of software. They don’t use full-priced business eligible tools to make the games, so the students aren’t allowed to sell their work after they graduate.

    What they ARE allowed to do is take their idea and re-develop it under a different entity. So far I have never heard of DigiPen not allowing any student to do this.

    Valve snatched up the entire team that developed the game and put them to work on Portal.

    Here’s the wikipedia entry that discusses this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narbacular_Drop

  6. empty_other says:

    This “amazing portal technology” was also possible in the Unreal Engine once upon a time. Then they suddenly removed all support of it. I dont know if it was possible to move the portal, though.

  7. Lynx says:

    Narb Drop is a fun game, but the version I downloaded some time back was a bit bugged (couldn’t go past a certain point without dying — the area was around the big lava lake, close to the start).

    It is very fun, but got a bit boring after a while. Only so much interaction you can do with the game. Fun to drop a turtle through a hole though.

  8. Will says:

    Unreal’s Zone Portals were stationary and persistent. They were also a bit finicky (in my experience).

  9. wererogue says:

    Lynx – I’ve never had a problem finishing the game without dying. I don’t think there’s a bug, it’s just that some of the solutions are… creative. In fact, if you think about each room and study it carefully, a lot of the rooms have huge shortcuts from the more obvious route, too.

  10. Lynx says:

    Maybe my version’s just bugged. I couldn’t get past that part because there were supposed to be two rolling boulders, which you are supposed to portal them to depress switches. Problem was, the boulders never spawned, so I couldn’t ever utilize them.. until I died, at which point the boulders properly spawned.

  11. Ian says:

    Lynx & wererogue: There actually is a bug that pops up maybe 75% of the time. In the level with the lava pit there’s supposed to be a lava turtle. You *can* get through that area without the turtle with the help of gravity and some clever portal placement, but the “intended” solution is to use the turtle.

    There’s another level that has problems — I believe it’s the fourth one (it’s the tall room with several platforms and a bunch of lava). To work around the bug in both of these levels, hit ESC and restart the level.

    Jack: This should answer your question: http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=95 ;)

  12. Miral says:

    I had the no-spawning-boulders thing too, and it was fixed after reloading the level. (I forget if that was after dying or if there was a save/reload/restart option.)

  13. Miral says:

    Sorry for the double-post, but this was an afterthought and it doesn’t let me edit…

    I quite like Steam, actually. In fact I’m currently playing Jade Empire (thanks mostly to Shamus’ recommendation) through Steam….

    I admit that when I first bought HL2 (around the release date) and the Steam servers were overloaded and couldn’t do the authentication I had several nasty words to say (and did), but that was cleared up after a couple of hours and everything has run smoothly since.

  14. Ian says:

    My biggest issue with Steam is the forced updating. I’ll pop on and say “hey, I think I’m going to mess with Garry’s Mod,” then have to wait for five minutes because it just HAS to auto-update. Sure, it’s always nice to have the latest version of something, but geez, at least give me a choice.

    The other problem that I have with Steam is that it seems to like to do background processing, even while you’re playing a game. This tends to cause occasional stutters in gameplay, which gets rather annoying after a short period of time. What I have to do is set Steam to run as a low priority process. After it starts the game, I kick the game to normal or high priority (Steam spawns the process with the same priority setting as it has) and it runs fine.

    I’m sure the latter issue would be no problem if I had a dual-core processor, but I still see no reason why it can’t run smoothly on a P4-2.8. My system is far above the minimum requirements for Half-Life 2; I don’t see any reason that Steam should cause stuttering like that at all on my system.

  15. wererogue says:

    Ian: I think you’re right, now that I remember it – I restarted the boulder level in order to finish it, because of Lynx’ problems with the boulders.

    I think I forgot due to being far too entertained by the little goblin :V

    I didn’t use the lava turtle, though – you can pretty much just drop onto the other side.

  16. Lynx says:

    I wasn’t entertained by the gobber. He kept getting into the way, clustering around the PC.. so, often, the first thing I do after getting out is to get him into the cage I just popped out from. :D

    I didn’t know you can actually pop over the other side just like that. Gotta try it one day.

  17. Ian says:

    Haha, yes, I love the goblin. :D I tried to avoid them on my first play through because I thought they’d attack me, but no.

    There’s so many tricks in Narbacular Drop it’s ridiculous. Has anyone checked out the speedruns that are available on the main site? They’re pretty impressive.

  18. Primogenitor says:

    Narbacular drop is great, not only because it’s a spacial puzzle game thats not flash-based on a web-site (and how long has it been since one of those?) but also because its the first game in a very long time that has what can only be described as a mindf**k.
    You know whats supposed to happen when you think about it (for example, walking through the wall then dropping from the ceiling, falling through the floor, and then using the momentum you’ve built to slingshot your way over an obstacle) but actually executing it is just so exhilarating, and just such Fun.

  19. Brickman says:

    I found and played it a while back. It was innovative but too short, and my reaction to it was roughly the same as to almost every innovative but too short free game I find–“that’s pretty fun, but it’s a crying shame they did all that work setting it up and didn’t take it any farther”. I mean, they went through all the hoops of getting those portals to work flawlessly in any and all sorts of situations, not to mention the rest of the engine, and there’s not even ten levels counting the tutorial one. Worse, the very last real level was basically a testament to all the potential this thing had, but it ended right there. I always feel it’s kind of a letdown when that happens.

    So I’m happy to hear that those guys didn’t just throw the whole thing away but are taking it not only farther but to commercial lengths. Hell, I don’t even care if I never play it–just knowing they did in fact eventually tap that potential makes me happy (of course, I’m GOING to play that thing). And by the way, my opinion of Valve and how they’re helping or hurting things with their business practices just went way up–I already thought they were moving in the right direction with Steam, with its ability to dodge the stores and the way they used it to support smaller and unrelated programmers/games, including indies, but I hadn’t heard anything from it in a while and it’s nice to see another positive example on their side.

  20. Nat3ski says:

    Valve saw this game and hired the entire student team form Digi-Pen to create Portal and bundled into the orange box as a safety net. Portal was was such a success they dedicated 30 staff to the development of Portal 2, which bears elements of Tag; the power of paint (another Digi-Pen student project)set to be released April 2011.

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