I've recently been playing a lot of Portal. A lot. I've played Portal 1, Portal 2, Portal Stories: Mel, Aperture Tag, Rexaura, and many, many community maps for Portal 2. (Though I have not played anywhere near as much as this guy). One thing I have noticed consistently is that I enjoy fizzler puzzles - you know, those ones where one or more Aperture Science Material Emancipation Grills play a crucial role in the puzzle?
|A fizzler in Portal 2, with a nearby cube to show the effect.|
If you can, you should play The Winter Testing Initiative - the last puzzle is a fizzler puzzle and had me stumped until I looked up a walkthrough. Fizzler puzzles become very challenging when you can turn off the fizzler temporarily - you suddenly have to think far more carefully about when and why you would turn it off, because when you turn it off you can shoot portals on both sides, but then you may be required to turn the fizzler back on. Suddenly, you have to keep your portals on each side of the fizzler and never touch the fizzler. You also have to decide which side of the fizzler you want objects on. It introduces a whole new level of challenge despite the rules being so simple.
The Portal trilogy aren't the only games with this concept, though; Antichamber, another of my all time favorite games, also employs fizzlers - a few different kinds, actually. Some fizzlers don't let you carry bricks through in your brick tool, but you can shoot bricks through them and move them to the other side. Other fizzlers will let you carry bricks but won't let bricks exist within them, destroying them on contact. There are also fizzlers that do both. Several puzzles in the game revolve around outwitting the fizzlers.
|A fizzler in Antichamber.|
|A fizzler (left) and colored lights (center) in The Swapper.|
|A puzzle in The Witness with two "strategic breaks".|
Fizzlers require thinking about alternative solutions. They aren't always wall, because the player might be able to pass through them effortlessly. They aren't always door, because you might be able to walk through them whether they are on or off. They generally aren't deadly, though Portal 2 does have deadly player fizzlers. They don't have to be moved from point A to point B. They don't have to be stood on to satisfy a requirement. They might not even have on and off states.
The interesting thing about fizzlers is that they can be found even in games which are not primarily puzzle games. Think force fields which allow passage but cannot be shot through. Sci-fi shooters are full of them. Sometimes they are even just invisible walls to prevent objects from leaving areas. However, despite the fact that you can find a fizzler in so many games, very few actually take advantage of their properties - generally fizzlers are just used to prevent the player from doing something that the developer doesn't want them to do. Things get interesting when developers use them to force the player to do something they want the player to do.
|A picture I totally didn't steal from the internet. Only ninjas do that sort of thing.|
My point is, whether fizzlers are obvious or not, you can usually find them in good games, and for me the most challenging and engaging games are the ones that take advantage of their properties. But what do I mean when I talk about fizzler in the general sense? In Portal, fizzlers are a field that disintegrates objects and resets portals. In Antichamber it is much the same. The Swapper is where things get interesting - not only is there a traditional fizzler that resets your clones, there are the colored lights that I also consider fizzlers, just a different kind. The colored lights in The Swapper don't disintegrate objects or clones, but they do prevent using your abilities in certain areas. Where you cannot shoot a portal through a fizzler in Portal 2, you cannot swap to a clone through red light in The Swapper.
What about The Witness? Surely I don't consider the strategic breaks to be fizzlers too? There are no objects to be destroyed, no guns to shoot, no switches to toggle them on or off. Well, you're right - I don't consider them to be fizzlers. I threw them in as a red herring - they are just plain ordinary walls. Basically, I lied to you in order to get my point across. Will you accept my apology? Yes? Good. Now let's talk about my general definition of a fizzler.
To me, a fizzler is any selective filter in a puzzle game - it must allow travel for some things but not others. Things that can be filtered by a fizzler include the player, various objects, and remote abilities (such as portals as in Portal, energy orbs as in The Turing Test, or bricks in Antichamber). This definition supports fizzlers in Portal, Antichamber, The Swapper, Twilight Princess, and The Turing Test.
That's it! We have a definition. Are there any other games which contain fizzlers by that definition, obvious or not? Let me know! Or don't. That's fine too.
UPDATE 2016-07-20: I've played more puzzle games and found more fizzlers! It's almost as if there is a correlation...
|In "The Talos Principle": a classic fizzler (left) and a toggleable barrier (right)|
|In "Red Trigger": a basic fizzler that resets your blocks and energy when you pass through it, but you can also shoot through it|