Tag Archives: Portal

Someday we’ll find it, the Portal-ZIM connection?

The INVADER ZIM factor in the making of Portal?

Some gamers out there might get a smile out of this (I know I did!)

Got this email on the ol’ fanmail account a few days ago, and though I usually don’t make a habit of waving fanmail around, prancing about like a lunatic, this was one that stood out a bit.  That’s not to say that getting fanmail isn’t always nice, but now and then you get something from people that had something to do with something you yourself are a fan of, and it makes you realize that everyone else writing to you is shit.

I kid!  Stop with the sad eyes.  You know what I mean.

Anyhow,  I asked  Jeep Barnett if it was cool to reprint his email here for you guys to read, and after he edited the email, removing all the racial slurs and threats to kill the President and such, he said okay.  Thanks, Jeep.

(No, he does no misspell my name.  I sometimes write it out without the O for a more staccato effect.  No kidding.)

Hey, Jhnen! No, we don’t know each other. However, I have a bonus INVADER ZIM Fact that I believe even you aren’t aware of!


Valve’s “Portal” may never have existed if it wasn’t for Invader Zim. It’s true! I know this, because I’m one of the programmer’s who worked on Portal and predecessor, Narbacular Drop. Here’s how it went down…

For our final year at DigiPen IT, our game team wanted to create something awesome that would become DigiPen’s “flagship” of the year… to take us to independent game festivals and propel our budding careers. After a lot of design work, we came up for the portal/puzzle concepts in Narbacular Drop (and Portal).

However, we were missing a key ingredient: artists! While I was at DigiPen, the art and programming students were generally kept apart, except for the final year where artists could choose to work with a programmer game team. There was a very limited supply of art teams that wanted to work on games, so the programmers had to pitch their game to them and pray to be selected.

Well, that year there was only 2 art teams and 15 programming teams, so we knew that we’d have to have a kick ass impressive pitch. We built a small prototype of the game to show them and did a lot of thinking about potential art styles that would make the game an attractive pick. We finally decided on a sort of “twisted fairytale” theme and in our presentation we used JTHM and Zim as examples of the direction we were going for.

I honestly have only seen a few episodes of Invader Zim (I really enjoyed it, but never got around to watching them all), but I love JTHM and Squee (also the Bad Art Collection was awesome). Others on the team are huge fans of Zim. And as it turns out, the art team that decided to work with us were also rabid fans of Zim. Mentioning it in our presentation made our game stand out and was a key factor in acquiring the art team.

So the teams worked together for 8 months, made Narbacular Drop, that went on to great success, got the whole team picked up by Valve, made the spiritual successor Portal, and the rest is history… all thanks to Invader Zim! And in Portal itself, maybe you can see some of that morbid humor that your work inspired in us.

So… thanks!!

And thanks for putting so much time into the 31 facts posts! I’m a slow reader so I’m a little delayed on finishing them, but I was throughly surprised and entertained! I’m especially glad that I didn’t need to be a Zim nerd to enjoy them. I learned a lot and it’s inspired me to add the Zim DVDs to my Netflix queue.