Thursday, May 24, 2012

Not Really Thinking With Portals

If you're on Steam you might have seen me fiddling with the Portal 2 Authoring Tools. Yes, it's true, I've been trying to make a map for that game for the Perpetual Testing Initiative. And you know what? It's hard. It's downright unpleasant. Portal 2 maps are an entirely different kettle of broth than what I'm used to. In the Paranoia maps I did basically whatever I wanted and it would work. No one questioned why they need three batteries to open a door to ride an upside down train, they just accepted it because it's weird and they already saw weirder things just getting there.

But that's not the case in Portal. Here, everything needs a purpose, everything in the map must somehow contribute to solving the puzzle. At first I thought it was going to be easy. "It's just a simple test chamber!" I told myself, "I don't even have to decorate it (much)!"

How wrong I was...

When making a test chamber, the mapper doesn't just worry about making the test fun, but making sure it works perfectly and has an intuitive solution. As I drown in more and more plans for my own test chamber I'm starting to understand that these two concepts are more intertwined than I originally thought. As it stands, I've probably abandoned enough ideas for puzzles to make an entire mod, all in the hope that I'll divine some perfect, distilled test by churning these puzzles in my mind, stretching and pulling them into an ideal, mailable shape like some kind of proverbial taffy.

That isn't to say I haven't made some kind of progress; it is absolutely set in stone that the map is going to be a Penrose Triangle shape. That's a given.

Besides my mission to abuse the linked_portal_door entity, I've resolved not to use certain test elements and that's helped simplify planning. For example:
  • Mobility Gels: After playing a few custom maps that rely on propulsion and repulsion gel, I can't help but feel like they're unnecessary and sloppy, at least in the maps I'm hoping to make. Besides, conversion gel is only good for one thing and there's basically only one kind of test one can make with the stuff.
  • Thermal Discouragement Beams: As much as I love lasers I don't feel like I'm ready to tackle this testing element just yet. While it's easy to put them in a map, it's very hard to do laser-centric puzzles well. More often than not tests that rely on them turn into total snooze-fests because all the player is doing is moving Redirection Cubes around just to get the laser in just the right spot.
  • Turrets: This test is all about expanding the players mind to the possibilities of non-euclidean space. Shooting their brains across the room with automated guns isn't really mind expanding...well, it is since it's flying across the room, but...well you know what I mean.
And that's about it for now. I don't have any good pictures of the map so far. One last thing: this is probably the first time I haven't decided on a good name before working on the map. I almost picked Vertigo but it was already taken. So if you have any suggestions they're welcome in the comments. Who knows, I might even reconsider Sleep Apnea.

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