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Narbacular Drop

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Narbacular Drop

Nuclear Monkey Software

Release date(s)



Environmental puzzle game


Single player




Keyboard and mouse


Sketcher Engine


Narbacular Drop is an environmental puzzle video game developed by Nuclear Monkey Software and released free online in 2005 on PC, as the senior game project of students attending DigiPen Institute of Technology. The gameplay consists of navigating a dungeon using an innovative portal system. The player controls two interconnected portals that can be placed on any non-metallic surface (wall, ceiling, or floor).

After the release of Narbacular Drop, Valve discovered it and hired the entire development team to work for them. The team developed Portal, a spiritual successor to Narbacular Drop, using the same basic concept, after taking part in Half-Life 2: Episode One.

The word "Narbacular", not existing in any dictionary, was coined by Jeep Barnett[1] and chosen primarily to aid in Internet search engine results.[2]

Another game created by DigiPen students, Tag: The Power of Paint, released in 2008, also dragged the attention of Valve. The whole team was also hired, this time to work on Portal 2.[3]


The plot involves the plight of a Princess "No-Knees," so named because she is unable to jump. Captured by a demon, the imprisoned princess discovers that the dungeon she is held in is actually a sentient elemental creature named Wally. Using Wally's portal making ability, she sets out to escape and defeat the demon. However the proper end of the game was never completed, and No-Knees never confronts the demon, while it was modeled.


No-Knees facing two portals.

While Narbacular Drop features a 3D world reminiscent of such first-person shooters as Quake, the unique portal element and the character's lack of a jump ability makes navigation and puzzle-solving very unconventional. The player can open a single pair of interconnected portals at a time, each styled as a huge face with flaming eyes (orange or blue to tell them apart as the player repositions one or the other; the colors were kept in Portal) and an open mouth big enough to see and walk through. Positioned with a point-and-click interface controlled by the mouse, portals are allowed only on natural surfaces and are prohibited from any metal or other artificial surfaces in the game, or on lava. Aside from the portals, important game elements include switches, boxes and huge rolling boulders that can crush the character. Furthermore, the player cannot save game progress, forcing them to complete the game in one play.

Being mostly a proof of applied concept, the game itself is quite short, containing only six or so puzzles. However, members of the Narbacular Drop forum community have created a rather large catalog of custom maps.[4] Additionally, a large number of speedruns and "crate runs" (in which players must complete the game while bringing a small box from the first level with them to the last as fast as possible) have been recorded.

Awards and honors[edit]

A humorous picture of the Nuclear Monkey Software team, all hired by Valve for Portal. From left to right, top row: Jeep Barnett, Realm Lovejoy, Paul Graham, Kim Swift, David Kircher. Bottom row: Scott Klintworth, Garret Rickey.
  • IGF Student Showcase Winner (2006)
  • Slamdance Guerilla Gamemaker, Competition Finalist (2006)
  • GameShadow, Innovation In Games Festival & Awards Nomination (2006)
  • Game Informer, The Top 10 Games You've Never Heard Of
  • Edge Internet, Game of The Month (March 2006)
  • Gamasutra Quantum Leap Awards: Most Important Games, "Honorable Mention" (2006)


External links[edit]