One of Valve's biggest innovations with the Source engine arrived in 2007's The Orange Box compilation: the Portal series. The portal gun is one of gaming's most inspired devices, but it's driven by limitations surrounding it. As Davey Wreden would point out in his chilling Source-powered 2015 narrative meta-game The Beginner's Guide: "One of the things [the Source engine] does very well is boxy, linear corridors."The Portal games thrive on their own boxiness. As the mute heroine Chell, you're forced to navigate one boxy test chamber after another, while a barrage of demoralizing vitriolic taunts are hurled at you by a malignant and witty AI.The original Portal is an archetypal corridor game in the sense that there literally is no other objective. There's nothing to shoot and no vehicular sequences, quests or mini games. You simply have to find the hidden corridor to get from A to B and into the next room; but that thought never crossed my mind once as I played, so deeply was Iimmersed in the fabric of the game world around me. The formula would be refined with the addition of a mind bending co-op mode in 2011's Portal 2.Spoilers below for The Beginner's Guide.
"One of the things the Source engine does very well is boxy, linear corridors." — Davey Wreden, The Beginner's Guide
"Why would the developer let you create new missions, weapons, characters and tools when they can spend a couple of weeks doing that and sell it as DLC?" — Garry Newman, Garry's Mod
"The boxiness of Quake and Source engine games is a weird thing," Newman says. "You think as a player you want more detail, you don't want rubbish everywhere, broken surfaces. But the truth is that a lot of the time this extra detail can confuse the eye and be detrimental to gameplay. You can see this in the popular Counter-Strike maps. They're not all ruined buildings with rubble everywhere. They're boxy, predictable corridors."Perhaps his success, and the success of Source titles in general, is down to the engine's archetypal game-y-ness, reminding us at every turn that there are certain things that gaming communicates better than other visual and technological arts. As graphics get better, the demand for games to be interactive movies has never been greater. What Source titles achieved is still hard for a lot of contemporary games to pull off: they often made us forget that the rich worlds we were traversing were really just gigantic corridors.Follow Tim on Twitter.
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