Testing, Testing: Portal 2 Puzzle Creator

If GlaDOS isn't the tooltip helper I'm going to be upset

See that screen there? The screencap of one of Valve’s cute little cartoon instructional videos for Portal 2? Yeah, that’s not a frame from one of those adverts, that’s actually what the new Portal 2 level designer will look like. At least, according to the latest blog post on the Portal 2 website, which also brings news of simplified sharing and community tools, all designed to let users create, share and play new test chambers with relative ease.

A big change from the byzantine befuddlement of Hammer, then. I mean, crikey, just look at those two screenshots they have there. It looks positively Trackmania-like, snapping in the parts like that, only even more beautiful. I can’t see how you could make the really complicated spaces of the official later levels, or how it would support the scripting that goes into the creation of those places, but for building neat puzzles without cosmetic art frippery it looks perfect.

Which is all you’d need, really. A good idea and the tools to see it through. The facilities of Aperture Science will certainly find ease of use with their homogeneous design, and the moving wall panels gave the impression that the chambers were dreamed up and pressed out into service within minutes. This looks like putting that notion into actual service. If Valve manage to pull this off, if the final Puzzle Creator really does look like that and behaves like a virtual Lego kit, not only would it be a pleasing example of life imitating art, it could be one of the best level designers ever made. Certainly the most attractive.

They talk about installing these creations with “a single click” from the forthcoming community website as well, a step up even from Left 4 Dead 2’s streamlined process. Valve’s continued faith and support in their fans continues to astound, and it’s not misplaced – the recent Summer Mapping Initiative proved that. Will this new, simplified editor be strong enough to recreate the detail of the competition winners? What’s going to happen when the army of modders get their hands on the code? Really, it’s all fascinating stuff. I can’t wait to see what’s going to be made.


  1. Alextended says:


  2. Sinnorfin says:

    That’s what i was talking about/wishing for when the original game came out… Great!

  3. Premium User Badge

    Adam Smith says:

    I haven’t designed a level for a game since Quake 1. This makes me want to design levels.

    • c-Row says:

      Agreed. I think my most recent (*cough*) good experiences with level editors were StarCraft and the Neverwinter Nights toolset. This makes me wanna get back to the level drawing board.

    • jonfitt says:

      I made a ton of Doom maps, and many Quake 1 maps, but when HL1 came along I found that the complexity of level creation took all the fun out of it. I would spend more time texturing a room than it would have taken me to map a complex in Q1.
      So I stopped.
      This tool will get me back into map making.

    • zeroskill says:

      What tools have you been using making Quake maps? Quark or Worldcraft? Because Hammer has been pretty much based on Worldcraft in the first place, actually it works pretty much the same up to this day. And I always felt like Quark was much more inaccessible then Worldcraft/Hammer.

    • doubledope says:

      Yeah, I have been making 3D environments since I could walk, but apart from some games years back, level editing always requires some kind of insane level of ability to have the time to spend months on getting to learn quirky interfaces and idiotic design before actually making a decent looking cube. It amazes me every time how unaccessible they make level editors. This is a nice change, really gets me going to make one right now… If I could. :)

    • Thants says:

      Man, I haven’t done any map-making since Marathon. Anyone else remember Forge and Anvil?

    • apa says:

      Everyihin was fun and easy with Wolf3D, this modern real 3D is just too complicated

  4. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:


  5. Bantu says:

    I’m not sure if it’s blasphemy to say this on RPS, but… i’d really like this on some kind of touchscreen device (say Android tablet or iPad).

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      Why would that be blasphemous? That’s a fantastic idea! Have a level editor available for the iPad or what have you and let you export your creations so you can upload them somewhere or tweak ’em some more on the PC.

      Portal map making on the go…my trips to the bathroom would take 3 hours.

  6. wccrawford says:

    I was quite skeptical of this editor when I first saw it, but the fact that one of those 2 screenshots is actually a recreation of an official level… That’s pretty nice. It has some moving parts, too.

    I’m not convinced that you’ll have all the power you do in Hammer, but I expect a lot of good levels will come of this creator.

    And if you can create in this editor, then use Hammer to finish it off, that would be even better.

    Also, it appears that you will be able to just upload the file to Steam Cloud to share it, which is a HUGE improvement all on its own. I’m looking forward to having a decent in-game interface for user-made maps.

    • Donjo says:

      Yeah, just what I was thinking- get the basic idea and the spaces made with this then polish it in Hammer!! Can’t wait, this looks AWESOME!

    • zeroskill says:

      This is what im hoping for pretty much. Designing levels for Portal inside Hammer can be really tedious, having a tool that lets you easily come up with puzzles and challenges and put it down on paper, then finishing the work in Hammer should be quite a good thing. Building the levels in the Portal 2 authoring tools have become much simpler with the help of instances, the main problem for me was the brainstorming phase to actually come up with clever puzzles while mapping.

  7. HermitUK says:

    Portal is the perfect game for this sort of editor. Very much looking forward to using this.

  8. michal.lewtak says:

    I always wanted to design Portal levels but never really had the motivation to learn the complicated software. A simple yet powerful editor created specifically for Portal 2 puzzles, plus instant upload to Steam Cloud, instant installation, and a dedicated website with a rating system? Looks like I’m gonna have to freeze myself for another 2 months.

  9. Quizboy says:

    The fact that it gives dollar values for the testing elements makes me unreasonably happy.

    Also, not to be greedy (because this looks amazing), but I would love some more story content, whether co-op again or single-player. Peer Review was hilarious, and I would happily pay for a few times that much stuff. Or just, you know, carry on receiving it for free. Your move, Valve <3

  10. soylentrobot says:

    I dont get the deal with Hammer being complicated. Compared to the Oblivion tools or the older Unreal tools its pretty awesome

    • skinlo says:

      They are complicated as well.

    • Apples says:

      As someone who has used all the Unreal tools and both the Morrowind and Oblivion tools: no, Hammer really is pretty awful and complicated to use.

    • Bhazor says:

      Yeah Hammer has always been pretty bad but compared to the Bethesda tool kits, the Unreal Kit or Unity it’s absolute gash to work with. The number of fan add ons required to use it tells you how much it needs/needed a redo.

      Though I am worried this may be too streamlined. I certainly doubt it’ll have the hard core total conversions that HL2 and the other Hammer edited games had. The conspiracy junkie in my head tells me this may be linked to Valves current trend of micro transactions and not wanting mods to reverse engineer their stuff or offer competing stuff for free.

    • zeroskill says:

      Hammer being overcomplicated is a myth spread by people that are too lazy to learn the tool. Its very simple for what level of depth it offers. There are problems with it. A more streamlined interface allowing for better work flow is one thing. Instability is another. Its frustrating to lose hours of work because of crashes. The problems Valve should address are all centered around being able to work faster and lose less time because of crashes and such.

  11. DainIronfoot says:

    Yeah, as I said on the TF2 thread, this looks lovely.

  12. konrad_ha says:

    Valve, why are you so good to us?

  13. Enzo says:

    Obligatory “Where is Episode 3?!” post.

  14. Blandford says:

    While this is a feature I was always hoping for, I have a feeling that once I get my hand on this thing I will have absolutely no good ideas for puzzles. Seems pretty cool anyway.
    Especially since GlaDOS might get a role in this too:
    link to pcgamer.com

    A crazy idea popped to mind while playing the new coop course with a friend: Do you think It’s possible do have procedural generated puzzles?

    • michal.lewtak says:

      One day that may be possible, but the puzzles are art too, and you can’t put art in an algorightm. A computer can generate a set of random elements that compose a good sequential puzzle, even with a common theme defined, but it’ll never be as good as a person who just feels some things click together and others don’t.
      Until, of course, we create AIs like HAL 9000 who are basically replicas of brains. Then we can have robots who feel. I’m David!

    • Dawngreeter says:

      Not only can art be put into an algorithm, art is an algorithm.

      Just a random search result: complexification.net

    • something says:

      People seem quite happy with algorithmically generated sudoku puzzles. Certainly it could be done and, while it would be a different experience from playing levels designed by humans, it may well offer something of value. It could, for instance, assess your abilities with different game elements and tailor the tests to be just the right amount of challenging. Perhaps the best algorithm would simply be a big black box neural net that gets positive feedback from testing subjects just right…

    • Dawngreeter says:

      Well, yeah, but an AI that just has you solving tests it creates according to its inscrutable logic and adapts them based on your performance is just way too silly a premise for any game.

  15. DanPryce says:

    Oh, that’s gorgeous.

    • westyfield says:

      Yep, it’s genuinely lovely. Can’t wait to get my hands on this and see what I can make.

  16. Memph says:

    This does look amazing. Although the masochist in me was half-hoping to get back into playing around with hammer for portal 2. I can’t wait for the content this is gonna bring, especially wanting for more coop.

    • Donjo says:

      Definitely give Hammer a go- there’s loads of tutorials on youtube, it’s a bit complicated but very satisfying when you get something made and can walk around it :)

      Edit: Oops, just saw you said get BACK into Hammer! Well, I haven’t really used it since during the summer because I’m too busy now, this might change things though :)

  17. Dawngreeter says:

    This is incredibly good looking. I never made a level in my life, but I want to play with this until the cows come home.

  18. celozzip says:

    this is fanatstic, good to see people supporting it too — a while ago someone made an in-game editor for portal 1 and all the level designers shat on it because they don’t like the idea of someone designing maps without going through months of banging-head-against-brick-wall like they had to.

    you know, i would’ve bought the game if it looked like those screenshots, very nice. can’t wait to try it. a christmas present from valve maybe?

  19. Donjo says:

    Any idea when the next update might be? Really looking forward to this :)

  20. ResonanceCascade says:

    I hope it doesn’t cost anything. The new chapter of Portal 2: The Final Hours strongly implied that the DLC might not all be free this time around.

    • celozzip says:

      @ResonanceCascade thanks man didnt realise the book got an update, my copy was set to ‘do not update’ for some reason.

    • KenTWOu says:


      I’m pretty sure when new chapter of ‘The Final Hours’ says: make the first upgrade free to customers as a thank you, it means: make the first upgrade free to console customers… You know, Portal 2: Peer Review is free even on consoles, while other huge DLCs cost money.

  21. tenseiga says:

    Whell… you know what they say… ALL HAIL VALVE!

  22. Pointless Puppies says:

    I’m absolutely loving this idea. Not only does this facilitate making maps by a factor of 10 (actually letting me make maps), I love the fact that this will make me keep coming back to Portal 2 whereas before it was just a “play all levels, uninstall game” type of deal.

    The “finite” amount of content in Portal 2 is something I lamented. Once you were done with the single player/multiplayer puzzles, that was it. Now with this we’ll get a steady trickle of puzzles for me to play so I can keep testing and testing and testing.

    There’s also the fact that we won’t see any of that user-made wonkiness you sometimes see when playing custom levels, where occasionally things just “aren’t” right with how a door opens or something along those lines. With the editor the levels will all look tightly made and professional :D

  23. digitalfoundry says:

    Will it work without Steam? No? Then ill skip. When’s portal 2 coming to Origin too?

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      It’s like watching someone brag about how they’re such a great shot because they shot themselves in the foot..

    • Wulf says:

      Also, if you’re going to exercise massive amounts of snark like that, aimed towards a group of people, then the least thing you could do is do them the honour of at least trying to have good grammar. You’re clearly capable of it, so that “ill” as opposed to “I’ll” was just lazy.

  24. Jahkaivah says:

    I seriously hope this is complemented with an in-game map browser so you can just pick out the highest rated ones that people have uploaded and play them (by the sounds of things that might be what they are doing).

    Oh, and the option to write the word “TEST” on the wall of the first map you make.

    • PastyAndUnhealthy says:

      Can I just mention I did an actual double-take when I realized you used “complemented” correctly? Thank you.

  25. DickSocrates says:

    I always found it strange how P2’s integration of fan made maps was infinitely worse than for P1. This explains it, they were holding back on the feature complely.

  26. PleasingFungus says:

    Poor Alien Swarm. Practically 2D (in terms of gameplay/movement), almost totally dependent on user levels for longevity… and stuck with an exceptionally terrible Hammer-based workflow!

    If only it could have lived to see the day…

    • LionsPhil says:

      Wasn’t there supposed to be some kind of tile-based editor for that?

      I’m curious about the tech behind this Portal one. Source is very classical precomputed, pre-lit BSP, AFAIK. I wonder if the edting rendering, which has to be fully dynamic but also seems set on very simple, iconic geometry, is doing something “other”.

      Ah, but crazed dreams of smashing together a portal-vis engine I wrote for University coursework with Sauerbraten…never could find the time, or bend the ear of the other smart people needed to make the portals keep working. Tricksy bloody things.

  27. Jahkaivah says:

    …..does anyone else think the editor should have some Sims-esque music playing in the background ?

    Something like:

  28. pupsikaso says:

    As a long-time mapper (going back to UT days) I’m concerned about what freedom I will lose by using a tool such as this. Of course, all we have right now is just two screenshots and not much else, but if it does end up being a simplified level editor for the masses of (excuse me) “noobs”, then I will be very disappointed. Current-gen level editors might seem complicated for anyone that’s never used one, but that complexity is essential to make the levels exactly how you want them to be.

    Being able to quickly snap things in place and churn out a level in less than an hour might be appealing to some people, and I’m sure we’ll get tons and tons of user-generated levels this way, but at the same time they will also all look very much the same since they will all be stamped out of the same template, so to say. I’m concerned that there will not be enough tools available to differentiate the average map from a really great one, and everything will just boil down to the quality of the puzzle, rather than the map itself.

    • zeroskill says:

      I wouldn’t worry so much as long as this editor isn’t a closed down system, meaning we cant bring whatever we did in the editor into hammer for polishing/continue the work. Even then you can always decompile your maps and bring it manually back into hammer.

  29. Josh W says:

    I wouldn’t be at all suprised if people at valve start using these as well, as others have said, that looks like it’d be incredible for prototyping.