As I’m typing this update, Valve’s Perpetual Testing Initiative DLC for Portal 2 is downloading via Steam. This update brings a slick and simplified level editor to Portal 2 along with Steam Workshop support to easily share and find other puzzles online – the first chambers are already beginning to show up!
Over at MapCore, we’re kicking off the Perpetual Testing Challenge in which designers will have about two weeks to create 1-3 Portal 2 test chambers using only the new editor. In addition to being a great quick and timely challenge (that also buys us some time to prepare for the next more technical challenge), it also provides as level playing field as we’ll probably ever get.
When it comes down to it, that’s really the beauty of this editor – whether you’re a professional, an amateur, or a first-timer, you’re on roughly equal footing in this editor. Sure, experienced professionals or hobbyists have the advantage of experience and the knowledge to take a test chamber and tweak/polish/detail it in Hammer. However, they no longer exist behind a thick technical knowledge barrier or this jumbled visual mess:
This type of tool gives anyone with an idea the near-immediate power to attempt to realize it, and that’s a very good thing. In the discussion for the MapCore Challenge, one user worried that tools such as this will somehow dumb down or diminish the achievements of more experienced users. We’ve been having a similar debate since Unreal Engine 2 stepped onto the scene with its modular/scalable mesh-based level design, and the art of level design has not yet crumbled into ruin (unless you count today’s countless destroyed battlefields and overabundance of conveniently placed half-height cover, but that’s another debate).
Simple tools like this, LittleBigPlanet, or Nadeo’s tools (pictured above: TrackMania 2 and ShootMania Storm) exist not to threaten the livelihoods of developers, but to create a spark. The spark of “oh wow, I can do this?” The spark of realizing that all those ideas you’ve had bouncing around in your head as you’ve played your favorite games over the years are something you can actually try out for yourself. For all the amazing ways that exist today to make entirely unique games, there’s still something to be said for the playground of mod tools for an existing game – for taking the familiar and adding your own personal twist. That’s something that’s been sorely lacking in recent years with the rise of this generation of consoles, more and more complex internal tools, and fewer and fewer resources to release polished user-facing toolsets.
In the time I’ve been writing this, the Steam Workshop link at the top of this page has gone from 3 entries to 136. Looks like Valve has ignited a pretty big spark.
Unrelated: A little game called Starhawk is on shelves today in North America, and in the coming days in Japan and Europe. Sadly, I’m home sick instead of celebrating with the team, but it has been a great ride and I’m thrilled to have it out there. I’ll write some more words about it soon.