Potato Salad For Two: Portal 2 Compo Co-op

By Andrew Smee on June 30th, 2011 at 1:20 pm.

Good job all these tests are still completable with so much of them missing
A couple of days ago we reported on the Portal 2 Summer Mapping Initiative, a competition held in honour of the frankly frightening creativity of the Valve fan base. If you enjoyed Portal 2, and who didn’t, you might want to give them a go. The official winners and runners up created a big chunk of content, dumping easily a typical single-player game’s campaign worth of playtime into your lap, for no pennies. I’ve been playing the top-rated co-op maps, because the stark terror of being trapped in a testing facility that mostly wants to kill you is best experienced with company. Let me tell you about it!

The maps we played are MrTwoVideoCards’ Redirecting Redirection, Skotty’s Fast Bridge and Kosire’s Fling Bridge, and it’s a breeze to install them and have a go yourself. Both players need to download the .bsp map files, drop them in your Steam/steamapps/common/Portal 2/portal2/maps folder and join a regular Co-operative game. Once you’re in the hub, the host needs to bring up the console and enter “changelevel nameoflevel” without the quotation marks, and the server will automatically load the user-made maps for the both of you.

The best of those three by far was Fast Bridge, named after one hilarious section involving an untrustworthy bridge over troubled waters. Hopefully not an example of my stupidity, the whole thing took us much longer than Skotty’s stated 25 minutes to complete, and actually feels more like an entire chapter as opposed to a single test chamber many of the other entries resembled. It fits in just about every kind of puzzle mechanic, multiple puzzles based around splitting the two of you up to carry out your own missions and even briefly features a puzzle involving a Pneumatic Diversity Vent, an idea Valve have trailered but never made it into the game.

All three are good if you and your partner enjoy a challenge, expanding your mind once again to think in that peculiar fashion the mechanics exploit. There were plenty of “A-ha!” moments shared by the two of us, and also just enough problems solved by simply bodgeing it to make us feel like we were outsmarting the level designer, which is always nice. The sense of scale seen in the later chapters of the Portal 2 singleplayer campaign also makes a welcome return, with some rooms and set pieces being of dizzying size.

These bloody things.

Unfortunately – and this was a problem that many of the competition maps had, including the single player ones – that sense of scale frequently gets in the way of puzzle solving, especially if the challenge relies too heavily on the Thermal Discouragement Beam. Redirecting that sizzling red laser has always been the most tiresome aspect of Portal 2, and it’s not especially invigorating to see map makers come up with even more convoluted and painstaking ways to employ them. Valve never really exacerbated the problem by simply having most maps that utilised them putting them all close together. If you don’t do that, problems arise, as these user-made maps all-too-often show. The simple act of dropping a Prism Cube can bounce the laser off it’s target by a few micrometers. Add in the unpredictable effects of dimensions and angles that Portals have on the beam (again a problem Valve usually fixed by forcing the specific laser puzzle portals to only work in a single placement, which seems like their own admittance that the mechanic is too unwieldy) and it’s a recipe for simple irritation.

The main point to take away from the competition, other than just how invigorating an experience Portal 2 really was, is just how damned difficult it is to make a good Portal 2 map. Whenever any of the Valve Commentaries talk about play testing and guiding the player, you could be forgiven for thinking that there are just a couple of simple tricks to employ each time, usually along the lines of lighting up the player’s destination to draw the eye. It’s only when you load up these maps, even the most highly placed, and you realise just how good Valve are.

Not pictured: Me forgetting I even have a portal gun.

However, the levels still had that right feeling. Forcing entrants to only use stock Portal 2 content gives all the maps that same unique atmosphere that Valve’s effort has. All the maps felt like that they’re connected to the game proper, as if Atlas and P-body had simply taken a brief detour through test chambers in which Glados hadn’t yet ironed out the kinks. Now I’m going to put on my soothsayer hat and ponder that the canny way of stipulating in the competition rules that each map must begin and end via the use of one of those Aperture Science Vertical Momentum Induction Devices that bookend the official puzzles is perhaps a not too subtle hint as to the ultimate goal of the competition.

As Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead 2 have shown, Valve have made a big show and tell in the past of including the best user-made content in official updates. I wouldn’t be surprised if Valve later releases these competition maps reworked as fully-fledged campaigns, both for single and multiplayer. Goodness knows there’s a fan base ready and willing for more time with the Portal Gun. It would be entirely in keeping with Gabe Newell’s previously stated desire to develop the so-called Single Player Plus.

How about you, dear readers? How many of you would return to Portal 2 with a friend if new content drops in the future?

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25 Comments »

  1. Harlander says:

    Oh yes. Portal 2′s co-op was delightful and all too short. If some new challenges for it turn up I’ll be on it like something on something else that it goes on quickly.

    (I’d rather wait for a more integrated release that can be accessed without console tomfoolery, because I am lazy)

  2. Kirioth says:

    I’d go back to it today. I enjoyed Portal 2 a hell of a lot, and the co-op felt too short for how much fun it was.

  3. skinlo says:

    Still haven’t really played the coop much at all really, from what I have played I think I prefer single player. I don’t like the pressure of having to solve the puzzle with someone, especially as I’m not that good at this game. Most people seem to notice solutions quicker than I do, and move in to position expecting me to have seen the same solution. It ends up with them having to give me a step by step break down of how to do it, which isn’t fun for them, and embarrassing and stressful for me. I can’t take the 1 on 1 interaction under pressure, even with friends.

    I’m fine in L4D2, but I’m actually reasonable at that, and there are more people .

    • Grygus says:

      I am also mediocre at Portal. Sure, I finished them both, but the first game took me six hours to complete, and this one took me something like nineteen. I know, I know… anyway, I played co-op with someone much better, and just placed myself in a silly sidekick role. Solving the puzzles was his problem, primarily, though I’d chip in ideas now and then. So he’d enter a map and stand there, no doubt stroking his beard and zooming in on things, while I scientifically tested where the catapults went to, whether the turrets could see particular spots on the map, and whether there were limited respawns. No pressure on me and we both had a lot of fun. You might try this mindset yourself.

  4. Callum says:

    I absolutely loved Portal 2′s co-op. Jumping into my first random game on the week of release I found myself paired with a stranger who was on PS3 as he did not speak or type. However, we worked together so well just using gestures and the signalling tool that we completed almost the entire game together until unfortunately the server we were playing in shut down. I never saw my silent partner again but I enjoyed every minute of it. I would love some more co-op goodness.

  5. gallardo1 says:

    Who doesn’t love Valve and Portal2, but be honest and admit that installing maps isn’t “a breeze” at all. It’s in fact even worst than Portal1 where there was a dedicated section in the main menù.

    • GeneralERA says:

      It doesn’t seem difficult to me; copy some files and enter a console command? This is PC gaming, after all…

    • p4warrior says:

      For the most part, it is a breeze. It’s only upgraded to the difficulty of a light gusty wind if you have to drop some new models or sounds into their respective folders.

    • zeroskill says:

      if unzipping a file and placing it into a specific folder, dropping down the console and typing in a simple command is too much for you, you should quit PC gaming.

    • Vandelay says:

      To be fair, considering Valve pride themselves on their community support and the modding capability of their games, a Custom Maps option on the main menu seems fairly obvious.

      You and me may have been playing custom maps with this method since Half-Life, but I can see why it would be daunting for someone, particular as it could be so easily simplified.

      Allowing you to download outside of the game is a must though. I never fancied the idea of only developer/publisher approved games being available, like SC2.

    • Joshua says:

      @Zeroskill:

      if adding a menu for custom maps is too hard for a developer, then that developer should quit PC gaming…

    • steviesteveo says:

      “You and me may have been playing custom maps with this method since Half-Life”

      Quick check, has anyone who is complaining about how difficult and fiddly installing custom maps is not successfully installed a custom map?

    • gallardo1 says:

      I already knew which kind of comments I would have received and that reinforces my point.

      RPS was already accused of not being impartial toward Valve, but I know nothing about those claims and I don’t care too, the simple fact (and it’s a fact) is that the process to install custom maps is worst than the one in Portal1.
      Obviously it’s not mega-complicated, but at least a bit strange compared to how accessible are the ingame purchase and upgrade/patches (thanks to steam), and definetely not a breeze.

  6. machinaexdeus says:

    In single player I felt I followed the breadcrumbs but in co-op it felt like we were really ‘thinking in portals’, the sense of real discovery, problem solving and just joy that portal 1 gave me was back again. I played it with a friend in one sitting, we immediately wanted more, lots more, and we were thinking they could add two more robots and lets have four sets of portals, four sets, imagine the complexity of puzzles you could have!

    Oh and the pointing tools they had for pointing out bits of the puzzles to your partner were inspired and need to be copied in every multiplayer game.

  7. skinlo says:

    Seems I’m in the minority then :P

    • DrGonzo says:

      Yes. I’m not very good at Portal 2 myself, but absolutely loved the co-op. It was unlike any other multiplayer game I’ve ever played. I never felt pressured to figure things out, as we were a team, solving things together. I actually found it easier as you have another brain to help when you hit a brick wall.

      Mind you, you will have to ask DarkNoghri what it was like playing with me.

  8. p4warrior says:

    I also would like to point potential portal puzzle partners to the Colours Co-Op maps , of which there are three or four I believe. They are fittingly colorful with a lot of personality and are pretty well-designed, though like most Portal maps the design can get a little sloppy at times. My wife and I have completed all of them.

    Oh, and I do not recommend playing Portal 2 with your wife/husband, for you will likely sleep in separate rooms after dropping one another in one too many pools of bubbling acid.

  9. awwells says:

    Gentle mid 20′s Seeking portal partner to do science with. Must me puzzled by most things, must not want to rush.

    • Noumenon says:

      I’m confused by this. Could you repeat it again, slower?

    • Donjonson says:

      If you’re asking for a co-op partner, I’m in. Been waiting for two months for my friend to build his computer… And if you’re asking for a date, I’m in, just gimme a time and place hombre.

  10. suibhne says:

    SP in Portal 2 was a wonderful experience for its characters and (albeit skeletal) narrative, but co-op offered the best actual gameplay. I’d love to play more.

  11. ssbowers says:

    Alas – I have no gaming friends. I will never know the joy of coop… :(…

  12. Vandelay says:

    Although the main event of Portal 2 was the single player, as any Valve game should be (exempting TF2, of course), the co-op was a lot of fun. I also thought it offered the most potential for user maps to make things a little more complex (I love you Valve, but a little challenge for those that want it isn’t a bad thing.) Look forward to trying these out.

    Tip for even more co-op fun, do not use a headset; communicate through text only. The misunderstandings can be hilarious!

  13. ColOfNature says:

    I must be the only owner of Portal 2 left who hasn’t played the co-op levels. I can’t find anyone to play with who doesn’t already know the solutions.

    As a corollary, this implies that the number of copies of Portal 2 sold must be odd.

  14. Morph says:

    Any reason you didn’t play the maps that won the contest? Surely there would be the best…

    Edit: Because those maps are single player only. I’m a fool.

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