Narbacular Drop

Narbacular Drop is an environmental puzzle video game developed by Nuclear Monkey Software. It was released for free online in 2005 for Microsoft Windows. It was 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). Gabe Newell, managing director of Valve, took interest in the team's work and employed the whole staff at Valve. The developers went on to write the critically acclaimed Portal using many of the same concepts.

Narbacular Drop
Narbacular Drop title.jpg
Developer(s)Nuclear Monkey Software
Publisher(s)DigiPen Institute of Technology
Director(s)Jeep Barnett
Producer(s)Kim Swift
Designer(s)Garret Rickey
Programmer(s)Dave Kircher
Artist(s)Scott Klintworth
  • Joshua Billeaudeau
  • Jeep Barnett
Platform(s)Microsoft Windows
  • WW: May 1, 2005

The word Narbacular, which does not exist in any dictionary, was chosen primarily to aid in internet search engine results.[1]


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, the princess sets out to escape and defeat the demon.


Screenshot of gameplay from the first playable build of the game

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) 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, lava or other artificial surfaces in the game. Aside from the portals, important game elements include switches, boxes, huge rolling boulders which can crush the character, and "lava turtles" that help the player traverse stretches of magma. The player cannot save game progress. Because of the lack of a save feature, the game is actually quite short, comprising only six levels (including an unfinished boss level) and a bonus "showroom" exhibiting the game's art assets alongside unused material.

Being mostly a proof of applied concept, the game contains only six puzzles to solve. However, members of the Narbacular Drop forum community have created a catalog of custom maps.[2]

Awards and honorsEdit

  • IGF Student Showcase Winner (2006)
  • Slamdance Guerrilla 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)


Valve, developers of the Half-Life series, discovered Narbacular Drop after its release and hired the entire development team to work for them. The team developed Portal, which shares some things with Narbacular Drop's concept. In Portal, the player takes the role of a test subject tasked with trying out the "Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device", and along the way discovers that the test facility has been mysteriously abandoned. The main antagonist is a sentient artificial intelligence named GLaDOS, similar to the demon in Narbacular Drop. In Portal, one portal the player created was orange, the other portal blue, similar to the separate orange and blue eyed faces of Narbacular Drop. The game was released on October 10, 2007 on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, as part of The Orange Box, to critical and commercial success.

A sequel, Portal 2, was released on April 19, 2011. One achievement and trophy in Portal 2 is called "Narbacular Drop".


  1. ^ PC Zone #187, Dec 2007
  2. ^ Barnett, Jeep (2014). "Narbacular Drop Published Maps". Retrieved 3 July 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External linksEdit