Game Development Reference
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thinking about what the mechanics allow, and start thinking about what
the designer wants them to do. The narrative remains inviolate on the
screen, but the player's thought process of exploring the game mechanics
collapses because the game mechanics aren't honest and consistent.
When it is fictionally justified, however, disallowing desk jumping
works exceptionally well. For example, Valve's Portal has been lauded for
its storytelling, but it doesn't actually solve any of the thorny storytelling
problems in games. Rather, it avoids them entirely through clever story
construction. The only nonplayer character in Portal is GLaDOS, a com-
puter AI who speaks to the player exclusively through the intercom; the
game has no other human characters. The player character is trapped in
a series of white-walled, nearly empty test chambers in an underground
science facility. The only tool she finds is a portal-creating gun.
Portal is world is so small and contained that it naturally disallows
any player action which would break the fiction. The hero can't tell other
characters strange things or jump on their heads because the only other
character is a disembodied computer voice. She can't blow holes in the
wall because she doesn't have explosives. She could refuse to proceed, but
even this wouldn't bother the AI on the intercom, because an AI can wait
forever. There is no temptation to desk-jump because this story involves
no desks.
Similar tricks have been used by many other games. BioShock takes
place in a collapsing underwater city—a perfectly enclosed, isolated envi-
ronment, similar to Portal 's test chambers. You can't wander outside the
level because much of the city is locked down and flooded. You can't blow
holes in the walls because they're made of reinforced steel designed to
withstand crushing ocean pressures. You can't talk to the locals because
they're all violently insane. The fiction naturally disallows most things
that the game systems can't handle. In games set in realistic cities, ex-
ploration must be disallowed by the use of nonsensical locked doors and
other blockages, and communication with strangers must be arbitrarily
disallowed in the interface.
We can ignore desk jumping by letting players do it while not
acknowledging it in any way. This makes desk jumping less appealing.
Valve used this solution in Half-Life 2 . When you shoot the player's
companion character, nothing happens. She isn't invincible; the bullets
just never hit her. There is no blood, no animation, nothing.
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