Tearing at the Surface: Foreshadowing, Twists, and Ludodiegesis in Corrypt and Portal
By Joel Jordon
The undo button in Corrypt that allows you to rewind from mistakes made while solving puzzles as many times as necessary is a good replacement for something like the death mechanic used in most games, for which the checkpoints are often arbitrary. Undo is a mechanic that punishes you in a way that’s less noticeable, with the time it takes for you to use it and get back to where you were only adding up if mistakes aren’t dealt with immediately. Leave a box in an unreachable place and go to solve some other puzzles, and you’ll have to use undo until you get all the way back to the time you stupidly left the box like that, resetting all the puzzles you solved. This prepares you for the game’s mechanical twist.
Halfway through Corrypt you gain the ability to use magic, which lets you literally tear at the surface of the game. There is a huge gain in complexity from this, and the way the game is played changes completely. Whereas before mistakes made were usually immediately apparent and contained to a single room, every time you use magic now it glitches a piece of the grid layered over the whole game, affecting every room.
The diegesis, or “fictive reality,” of Portal consists of the narrative in which you play the role of a subject forced to solve puzzles in a series of test chambers in a lab before the twist occurs in which you begin to make your escape from that lab. This diegesis is communicated in large part by the monologue provided by GLaDOS, but it is also communicated by the aesthetics of the spaces in which the game takes place. When you begin your escape, you move from the austere white test chambers to the mechanical spaces operating “behind-the-scenes,” an aesthetic change that carries most of the weight of the diegetic twist.
A game can be called ludodiegetic when its play coheres with its diegesis. Portal is mostly ludodiegetic before the escape because solving a linear series of puzzles matches the narrative in which GLaDOS forces you to go through a series of test chambers. The moment-to-moment play, however, mostly involves spatial reasoning, which has no great significance to the diegesis, and the diegetic twist that occurs also suggests there should be a mechanical twist like the one that occurs in Corrypt, but there is none. Even as the player is escaping, the game continues to consist of puzzles placed in linear sequence, and the experience of this in play fails to cohere with the actual experience of escape.
What would make Portal a more ludodiegetic game: the game opens up and grows exponentially in complexity at the time of the escape, enabling you to use the spatial reasoning skills you’ve acquired in unexpected ways that break the game’s linearity. The designers would have to relinquish their control over the path you take so that you can believe you are actually outsmarting GLaDOS with the skills she gave you.
The one instance during the escape that might feel more ludodiegetic is when you stumble on an old test chamber and have to get past its puzzle a different way by using two portals, whereas the last time you were here you only had the blue one. Because this suggests you are breaking the game’s puzzles, it better fits the diegesis of the escape, although even in this case the effect is only illusory because you have no choice but to solve the puzzle in this new way.
Contrast this with Corrypt, whose mechanics follow up on the diegesis provided. Characters who warn the player early on to be wary of magic are not just foreshadowing a diegetic twist but also the dangerous consequences of using magic in play. Portal also foreshadows its diegetic twist well, with the Ratman’s hideouts that you stumble on in the first part of the game, although what these seem to promise is only delivered on the most literal level of the plot and aesthetics.
The diegetic twist in the second part of Corrypt consists of aesthetic changes, too, including the graphical glitching of the game and the way the music starts to skip. It also consists of the way you can discover areas beyond what appeared to be the boundaries of the world and which feel, by the unusual placement of enemies and boxes in them, that they should have been inaccessible to you. But what it consists of that the twist in Portal does not is a new mechanic, which coheres with all these other changes.
You obtain magic, which appears to grant you freedom, but this freedom is not without the potential for consequences that are not as easy to undo as mistakes made earlier in the game. Working your way with magic through strange new spaces with glitched aesthetics, you struggle to express the freedom to make your own choices while creating an uncontrollable chaos. A ludodiegetic whole, Corrypt suggests early on, in its diegesis as well as its mechanics, an oppressiveness you struggle against that, once all parts of the game shift later on, finds its full expression.