Portal 2 marks the return of Valve's first-person thinker, bringing with it sardonic mainframe GLaDOS and portal-popping Chell, along with more fiendish puzzles than you can shake a Companion Cube at. It also introduces
one of the most compulsive co-op experiences available today.
Could Valve have changed the face of co-operative gaming? And given their outspoken dislike for Sony's console, why work with it now? We flew to Valve's HQ in Seattle to talk to programmer Jeep Barnett about Steamworks, Left 4 Dead PS3 and groundbreaking tech.
When did you start working on co-op for Portal 2?
We wanted to do multi-player even in the first Portal. The main thing was seeing the way people talked about how a child or a friend was there pointing at the screen, telling them where to place portals. A lot of people were playing the game in pairs or groups, which wasn't something we anticipated.
Looking at that, we tried to figure out a more formal co-op that gets both those players involved in playing. Pretty early on in Portal 2 we knew it was the right way to go.
What do you feel Portal's unique play offers multi-player?
It's kind of crazy. Some games that say they're a co-op game are really just about a room full of monsters and you've both got guns. It's not just about both shooting at the same thing. Portal 2 takes it a step further in the ways you need to work together.
It's difficult for one person to come up with all the answers, and in a lot of puzzles players are given different vantage points. So the conversations those players have when playing Portal 2 are very different from what's out there. There are some very deep interactions - there's a very tight bond between the two players.
Was there a lot of testing in finding out how important gestures and pointers were?
It was something we immediately realised people needed. Even people with voice communication were lacking some very important tools to properly work together. Part of the reason we don't see these things in a lot of other games is because the level of co-operative interaction isn't as deep as in Portal 2.
Being able to tell people specific locations and all these contextual things was important for us as a feature to improve voice communication.
The new gels are the most impressive new features. Are there any that didn't make the cut?
Yeah, we experimented with a Stick Gel, which allows you to walk on walls and ceilings. We essentially got the basic gameplay of that up and running, but then we came up with the Conversion Gel which we found was much more interesting.
What was the decision to work with Sony now, after all the controversial comments in the past?
The main thing was, in-house, Valve is a pretty small company. It has more than doubled in the five and a half years I've been here. When I started, PS3 just started coming online and we didn't have the resources to develop for it. We didn't have dev kits and we didn't have the people to dedicate to it.
We want every version of the game to be the same. Until we had that capability in-house, we didn't want to deliver a half-assed experience.
What does Steamworks really offer PlayStation gamers?
Some people who have PS3s... I'm not going to say all, but I'm going to say a majority, also play PC. So the people who play on PC who have a Steam account will be able to play with PS3 friends and PC friends. It gives people the freedom to play on the hardware that's not only of their preference, but also their convenience. What were two separate universes is now one big happy family.