The world's biggest game show, E3, was low on shocks. Internet leaks ruined all the major surprises - with one notable exception. When Valve's Gabe Newell strutted onto
Sony's stage, accompanied by the dulcet, robotic tones of Portal's GLaDOS - well, who in the world saw that coming?
"We were pretty shocked that we managed to keep it a secret until Gabe walked out on stage.", admits Valve's VP of Marketing Doug Lombardi, "It's been a few years since anyone kept an E3 surprise secret until the show. Sony were really gracious to invite us, and hopefully it made their event that much cooler".
Newell is head of the enigmatic super-developers - the studio responsible for Half-Life, Portal and Left 4 Dead - so his appearance on the Sony stage was a real coup. It's all the more remarkable, given Gabe's previous dismissal of PS3 as "too complicated", and a "total disaster" - even suggesting that Sony should scrap it and try again.
And yet, here they were sharing a stage. Newell's announcement was simple: Portal 2 is coming to PS3 and is going to be the best version of the game on any console. The reconciliation wasn't explained, but Lombardi reveals that Valve have been building a dedicated PS3 team since The Orange Box debuted on PC and Xbox in 2007. The relative inferiority - and critical scorn
- directed at EA's subsequent Orange Box PS3 port, no doubt hastened the process, with Lombardi explaining that a dedicated team, "Allows us to build our PS3 products internally, which we feel is critical for delivering the highest quality version of our products". A more polite way of dimissing a PS3 port, Lombardi once described as a 'stepchild' relation of the Xbox game.
The reconciliation is great news for Sony and PS3. Valve's gaming pedigree is unrivalled: Left 4 Dead refined co-op expectations, Portal turned a student-imagined indie game into a meme-spawning classic and the Half-Life games revolutionised first person shooters for good.
Traditionally, Valve have been PC-focused, developing and nurturing the Steam platform to pipe digitally distributed games into PCs around the world. This focus seems unlikely to change - but what are the chances of seeing Valve's wider catalogue, like Left 4 Dead, on PS3? "Who knows what the future will bring?", teases Lombardi, suggesting that PS Move and 3D, "will have to wait for Portal 3 or another title. We won't be supporting those in Portal 2." Eh? A third Portal game? It's hardly confirmation, but implies it's at least possible on PS3.
THE FUTURE'S BRIGHT
What, then, of the glorious days ahead? Valve are a notoriously secretive corporation and their Seattle headquarters is a fortress. After releasing Episodes 1 and 2, the 10-hour add-on packs for Half-Life 2, the wires have gone quiet on a third instalment. "We hate to make you wait. But we have no announcements regarding Mr. Freeman or his ongoing adventures at this time", confirms Lombardi. The end of Episode 2 seemed to suggest a trip up north. Also implied by many rumour-chewers is a future combination of game timelines - Portal, in particular, may be set in the Half-Life universe. If so, it's a good bet that the Borealis will contain something like a Portal Gun, the world-altering device that creates openings between two fired circles.
We know Portal 2 will be surfacing sometime in 2011, and screens and video have confirmed that the game is set 100 years after the first instalment's antagonist - deranged robot-lady GLaDOS - was 'destroyed'. You play as the first game's character, but don't expect your earlier actions to have put GLaDOS out of action - she's back, and she's changed.