Portal 2, the latest rare release from one of the best game studios in the world, is one month away. How will you play it? Will it be too tough? One of the game's creators, Valve Software writer Erik Wolpaw offers some spoiler-free tips.
For those who missed the first game, the Portal games are puzzle adventures that you play from a first-person perspective. You wield a gun that shoots two portals. You can shoot two portals, on
any many flat surfaces. Enter one and you exit the other, meaning you can drop a portal on the floor, attach one to the ceiling and then step into the floor in order to drop down from above.
It gets way more complicated and much funnier, as it is wrapped up in a black comedy involving a coolly malevolent computer program who puts you through a series of locked-room challenges. She also seems to be trying to kill you.
That was 2007's game. Now comes 2011's Portal 2.
For Portal 2, you'll first have to decide which version to buy. That's the one thing Wolpaw didn't prep us for. The game will ship for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC and Mac. Save files will work across the PS3, PC and Mac versions, but the game is supposed to be the same across all of them in terms of content. (PS3 buyers get the PC and Mac versions for free.)
Valve is promising a much bigger game than we got in the first Portal. The original lasted about four hours for the average player, according to Wolpaw. The new one should run more than twice that for single-player and "two or two-and—half times that" for its separate co-op mode. That amounts to about quadruple the content of the first Portal. Which would you play first? Single-player or multi? "You could do it either way." Wolpaw said. "The story's interconnected. You'll get the connections if you play both. You're not going to lose anything if you play them in either order. If it were up to me, I'd play single-player first before co-op."
The playable characters in Portal 2's two-player co-op mode are robots who shoot portals to get through various test rooms. Those 'bots can't be bots. People have to control each. "Puzzle gaming with an AI [artificial intelligence] is hard to do," Wolpaw said. Letting one player control both robots or letting the computer take one over "just seemed like it removed some of the core pleasure of it." So you need a human buddy for this. It can be a stranger, but a friend is preferable.
"Ideally you're going to play with someone you know, because it requires a lot of cooperation," he said. This is a thinking-person's game, one in which the patience of a friend is preferable to the unpredictable passions of strangers. "'Slow-paced' sounds pejorative," Wolpaw noted, "but there aren't things shooting at you every five minutes. You can sit there and talk. It really does require this level of communication that's pretty cool to see."
You'll be able to play the game co-op online or split-screen.
The folks at Valve believe that some people are scared of Portal 2. "The biggest thing we've heard from people watching the videos — and this is kind of the same reaction to Portal 1 — is 'oh my god, this looks crazy hard and I'm not going to be able to do it .' We play-tested this thing to death.
"It uses the exact same philosophy as Portal 1, which is we are going to slowly train you on everything. You're not going to be asked to do anything we haven't prepared you for, and in some ways, Portal 2 is a little bit easier. 'Easier,' I guess is kind of a loaded term, but one of the things we discovered, thanks to Steam and Portal 1, is that there were one or two kind of later-game puzzles that required some twitchy ninja skills to get through and that's where — when people stopped playing, they almost always stopped playing at one of those two puzzles.
"What we discovered, too late for Portal 1, is that the core pleasure of the game is that a-ha moment. You want to build to that moment and then let you be able to execute the solution. If they spend 20 minutes knowing what to do and fighting the controller or fighting the environment to do it, other than some random masochist who enjoys that, but for the most part, to a person people get frustrated by that."
Wolpaw says the puzzles in Portal 2 aren't necessarily easier. Given some of the game's new twists to how its world works, they're certainly going to become complex, but he says players may find the game's physics a little more forgiving. For example, if you're flying just a little off-center toward a portal, you'll still go through it, whereas in the first one you may have gotten clipped and bounced off it.
(If it's the Portal 2 storyline and how it fits into Portal and Half-Life lore that is stressing you out, Valve may have a solution coming soon for you.)
At some point the player of Portal 2 will complete Portal 2. They can then look forward to some sort of downloadable content. No details on what it is, but Wolpaw said some is definitely coming.
Portal 2 will be out next month. We're ready.
And if you want some spoilers, here is some video of Portal 2's intro and something new to the series.