2 1/2 is a Magic Number

It’s been over 3 years now since we flew out to Valve’s old office just outside of Seattle to preview the Orange Box.  That day, we found a little gem […]

It’s been over 3 years now since we flew out to Valve’s old office just outside of Seattle to preview the Orange Box.  That day, we found a little gem of a game called Portal.  As much as it knocked us out that day, we had no idea what a phenomenon that game would eventually become.

Fast forward to present day, just before the Ides of March, where Valve would have a chance to take the spotlight and unveil 2 new characters in the Portal 2 Universe – a new companion called Wheatley and an Aperature Science executive named Cave.   After screening the first 6 or so minutes of Portal 2, Steam Addicts had a chance to sit down and have a chat with one of the game’s developers – writer extraordinaire Erik Wolpaw.  Read on and find out why 2 1/2 is the magic number…

So Erik, a much larger game this time around?

Yes, we have a single player game which is about 2 1/2 times to three times as long as Portal 1. And then we’ve got the co-op campaign which is a separate story from the single player – a separate set of puzzles and it’s also about 2 1/2 times as long as Portal 1.

And the timeline is post Half-Life 2?

Portal one was between Half-Life 1 and Half-Life 2. Portal 2 this in some indeterminate time post, obviously post Portal 1.

I see we’ve got a lot of growth going on in the facility…

Yeah it’s been a long time…

Can you tell us how long?

No, no were not saying how long.

Is it arbitrary or is it just we’re not revealing at this time?

Well either one, because there’s some spoilers embedded in either answer. Either one would probably be valid.

Was there more than one writer involved in this one?

For Portal 2 there was more than one writer. I was the only writer on Portal 1, but then Jay Pinkerton and I co-wrote the single player campaign and then Chet Faliszek jumped in and helped us out with the co-op campaign.

I know Gabe was a little grouchy for a while about the whole PlayStation thing…

Well Gabe gets grouchy sometimes… I don’t know specifically what he was grouchy about, but the main thing is that Sony’s been really great about letting us integrate Steam into the PS3. So Portal is shipping with Steam on the PS3. It gives you a few things…

There’s Cloud saves.  There’s Cross-Play, which means players on any Steam platform would be able to play with each other (so PS players can play with PC players can play with Mac); and then there’s Steam Play, which is a feature that if you buy the PS3 version you’ll own Portal 2 across all platforms.  Which means you can just download the PC version (and have all of them).

So is that going to be a Portal 2-only thing for now or are we going to start coming out with some of the back catalogue?

Right now all that we’ve announced is Portal 2, so actually going into the future you know, Doug might have some more information about that…

So, we got this new goo…

Right – you got the goo. There’s the Repulsion Gel, which bounces you.  And then if you pour it on things, they bounce. So if you pour it on turrets they’ll go crazy and start bouncing. There’s the Propulsion Gel which makes it go faster – those are the two we’ve talked about. That’s not all the Gels, though…

Is the co-op a multi-map continuous game? Like the story in Left 4 Dead 2, for instance?

Well, there definitely breakpoints and you can join in-between. Its two players, so ideally you would play with someone you’re friends with. It will work with random matchmaking, but obviously that’s a little bit iffy-er because it requires a lot of communication to solve the puzzles. The game itself – without giving away too many spoilers – is structured in such a way that there are natural breaking points.

So you can jump in and out at will?


Any idea about how many puzzles?

I don’t know exactly how many puzzles exactly, but it doesn’t always necessarily break down into strict puzzle definitions. But again, in our play testing it’s been about 2 1/2 times as long as Portal 1.

And we’ll see GLaDOS again…

Oh yes, GLaDOS is back again. We’ve actually shown her previously. We didn’t show her this time because we are actually focusing on the Wheatley and Cave (Johnson) characters. But yes absolutely she’s back — we knew right from the beginning that GLaDOS would be coming back.

Was it strange to go from a game that when it shipped in Orange Box no one knew anything about,  and then all of a sudden there’s this huge expectation of Portal 2?

Probably more strange when we started then now, just because we’ve been living with it for 2 1/2 years or however long. Is it 2 1/2 years? Well let’s call it 2 1/2 years.

Did the development start immediately after ship?

No, there were some other things that we were doing after ship so maybe six months after Orange Box shipped, there was a small group of us — maybe 9 to 12 people got together to start thinking about maybe what Portal 2 would be. And, you know, there was some interruptions along the way. The company kind of came together to ship Left 4 Dead 1 – and the next year, Left 4 Dead 2. And then right after Left 4 Dead 2 shipped, the core Portal 2 group had basically defined what the game was going to be; and then the team blew up to kind of execute on that. Then also we iterate because we’re always changing things up to the last minute. So for that last period, there was probably about 50 or 60 people working on it.

And how many of the original guys from DigiPen are still there?

All of them are still there, except for Kim (Swift), and we have some new DigiPen people. The paint mechanic was actually based on something called Tag: The Power of Paint – which was a DigiPen student project – and we hired those guys. They were off on their own working, trying to figure out exactly what to do with it – to see whether it would become its own property – and at some point it just became really apparent that it was very complementary to the Portal mechanic.  So we incorporated it into Portal. And so those guys joined the Portal 2 team.

So when you guys went over there you didn’t know that that technology was going into a particular Valve game?

It’s always a combination – the game is really well executed and well thought out. The guys that are working on it are really smart and really talented, so you kind of want them to be working at Valve more than necessarily the mechanic itself. But no, right at the very beginning  we weren’t quite very sure what was it going to be. There is a period of figuring it out, and at some point it was like:  “Yeah this works really well with the Portal mechanic.”

It’s really interesting because the last time we were at Valve, we talked to Jeep and Kim, and man – right out of school, and with so much energy and excitement that it was really cool.

Well the good thing about Valve in general — we wouldn’t have made Portal 2 if they’re werent’ a bunch of people in the company that were excited to work on it. So you tend to get excited through… even if it’s not the young, fresh faces… because it’s not the type of company where there’s this mandate that comes down that you need to do this and everybody’s like: “Ugh… now we got to do it…” Everyone there who’s working on Portal2 is there because they wanted to work on portal 2. Makes a huge difference.

So, we launch April 19?

April 19 on PC, Mac, Xbox 360 and PS3.

And we’re gold now?

Yeah, we’re done. It’s not slipping – it’s through cert –  it’s done. Well not to misspeak – if it’s not through cert it’s very close. Microsoft has a certification process for 360 and Sony has a certification process for PS3. There are similar because they’re looking for similar things. On PC there is no certification, we just have to make sure it works.

So what are you guys doing between now and ship date? Do you just hang back and do this kind of stuff?

Yeah there’s a lot of this sort of stuff.  We’ve got a lot of content pieces planned that we really haven’t even talked about yet. But yeah, a lot press and stuff like that right before launch.  That’s close now, I mean we’re only talking 4 weeks.

And to do we have a date yet for the Portal 2 SDK?

Not to be cagey but it’s fairly far removed from me, I’m not sure.


Steam Addicts would like to thank Erik for his time and patience, Doug Lombardi for arranging the demo and interview and the rest of the gang at Valve.  As always, you can find out the latest news on Portal 2 at thinkwithportals.com

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