Portals In 1998

Comrade Mike sent us this ‘Tube link to a 1998 live demo of the second iteration of the Prey project, a game which had originally been announced by 3D Realms back in 1995. It was (probably) the first game to demonstrate working portal technology, as you’ll see three minutes into this clip.

Prey’s fate, of course, was to be abandoned on several occasions, and much of the technology developed through the Nineties was ultimately scrapped. It was finally released in June 2006 after being remade in the Doom 3 engine by Human Head. The portal-use and general physics-twisting Escher-inclinations survived to the released version – and pretty much saved what was otherwise a fairly generic shooter. In fact I would go as far as to argue that reviewers of Prey didn’t quite make enough of its excellent reality-bending ideas. Although none of them were quite of the level of Portal’s own player-empowered puzzling, they did create some incredible moments in gaming: I’m thinking particularly of the size-change scene. (And I think those folks who’ve played Prey will know what I mean.) The overall game might not have impressed us all that much, but the more games we play that add to the reality-warping palette of gaming, the better, says I. We want more of This Sort Of Thing.


  1. Nuyan says:

    Wow. That game was running on a 266 mhz pc? Looked a lot better than the old half-life if I’m not mistaken (old hl1 worked on a 166mhz pc too when it came out though..)

  2. Bob Arctor says:

    It looked ahead for its time.

    The PC is so dated now though. Mind you I struggle to understand new tech these days. All these giant screen macs etc.

  3. nukarmer says:

    hey that’s not fair! there’s not a word about your hangover! ;)

  4. Monkfish says:

    I think the first time I saw anything resembling portal technology was in Unreal, which was also in 1998. There was a deathmatch map which forced you to jump through a portal in order to obtain a rocket launcher, and I’m fairly sure there was a room with a couple of portals you could walk behind, and fire through.

    All the portals were fixed, though, and not quite as advanced as Prey’s, but I still remember being impressed back then.

  5. Pod says:

    Aent for change ramifications batman!
    All that, on a 266 with a vodoo?!

    Also: I don’t remember the UT portals rendering the other side of the portal, as Prey or HL2 do. I could be wrong though!

  6. Jonathan Burroughs says:

    What became of Lionhead’s “The Room” stuff?

  7. Nuyan says:

    UT had portals you could shoot through and so did Quake3.

  8. Matt says:

    Prey the final edition had some really nice gameplay features: the portals (including the size changing scene in particular), the wall walking, room flipping, spirit walking, and death sequence. The problem with the game is that they introduced you to all of these concepts within the first 1/2 hour of the game. It was alot of fun during that 1/2 hour and story was being ramped up nicely. Then… the game stagnated. It didn’t progress any of the concepts. It just became a generic shooter. All the potential the game had was ruined by the fact that nothing happened after you were first introduced to the concepts. Could have been one of the greatest games ever, shame that it became something of a waste.

  9. Thomas says:

    As far as i remember The Room was never something they wanted to release, it would be cool to nudge for it as it’s definitely seems impressive, and to this date nothing have really approached it in the same way.

    You had Prey where the character became smaller/bigger, but here you could manipulate objects into being smaller or bigger, which is an interesting idea.

    I’d definitely give 5-10$ for a release, so it does have some value, that is if it can keep what it promises, which of course seems to be the main problem with Molyneux/Lionhead.

  10. Thiefsie says:

    Unreal did infact have portals, I can’t quite remember the specifics but I remember I either downloaded or made a map that was essentially a cube with walkways in it but each side of the cube warped you thru to the opposit side, so if you fell in, you would fall indefinitely much like portal. I remember giving it a whirl with bots and it was kind of fun, even if it killed my pc of the time. You could see through them too, however they were fixed and large (entire wall size).

    Forsaken (descent clone) also had evidence of portals throughout the game, which was REALLY mindbending to me at the time being it was full up/down 3d as well.

    Remeber Duke3D? haha there were some crazy teleporter maps, but alas not that you could see through. Only shoot and walk through!

    Interesting that the size thing in prey hasn’t really been done in any other game… closest I can think of is the CS maps that made you mouse size. In Prey it was impressive… and I recall it was in the demo too… so I think a fair few people experienced it at least.

  11. schizoslayer says:

    Back then all the major game engines used BSP and Portaling to create 3D spaces. The Duke Nukem 3D maps were actually all 2D in a way. Any point where you were ever above somewhere you could walk you were often in a completely different area of the map and looking through portals.

    Prey was clever because they made the portals dynamic. Static Portals however were the meat and potatoes of how those engines worked at all.

  12. Dave Johnston says:

    Two things:
    1. The moustached guy in the video looks astonishingly like Richard ‘Levelord’ Gray.
    2. Considering that’s from 12 years ago, it still looks pretty damn good. Apart from some Quake-ish scale issues (look at the brickwork in that kitchen!), it’s all quite impressive, even if it is only running at 640×480 (or perhaps less)…

  13. Craig says:

    That was my first thought, Dave. although he didn’t sound like him.

  14. madhaha says:

    Prey had some great puzzles but the fact you could never really die made the combat rather pointless. The puzzles stopped after a while and the whole ghost children haunting thing never got resolved. I’m still glad the game got released though I traded it in soon after playing it.

  15. Coherent says:

    I’m looking forward to the sequel to Prey, hopefully where they expand some of the more mindblowing gameplay concepts that they had with regards to the portals and size-changing.

  16. Watcher95 says:

    Wait a second, The original Descent used portals and it was released Feb 1995.

    Prey Schmey!

  17. PoC says:

    I believe the first recorded* use of portals in gameplay was in 35 000 BC, when a young Jondalar evaded his clan=sister in the previously entirely outside game of “hide and seek” by darting into the chieftain’s hut, making use of the recent invention, “the door.” He then exited by pushing his way through the hut’s thatch rear at great speed, thus also being the source for the first creation of a portal by a player-character.
    *By which I mean “made-up.”