Level With Me, Level With Me.

Level With Me was a series of conversations with level designers like Dan Pinchbeck, Jack Monahan, Magnar Jenssen, Brendon Chung, Davey Wreden, Ed Key, and Richard Perrin. At the end, we all collaborated on a Portal 2 mod. You can download that mod here. Liner notes, installation notes, and screenshots are after the jump.

I’m not really sure who “Level With Me” is for. I suspect that means I’ve made it for no one. Yes, there are some genuine puzzles. Also, there are some purely conceptual puzzles. And then there’s one section where the only thing you really do is open a door. (It’s a pretty cool door though.)

The original plan was just to release the Portal 2 map, largely as it was, and then promptly wash my hands of it. I was reluctant to take authorship. Unfortunately, my conscience — in the form of Davey Wreden’s sonorous, pleading voice — intervened and made me postpone the mod for 2 weeks, to complete it to a personal standard. That standard demanded two additional levels, wholly built by me, that bookend the original map and hopefully contextualize the process of its construction.

If you’ve been reading the series from the beginning, you may recognize certain ideas we discussed, now given some sort of life. If not, read the interviews after you play and trace their origins. It’s like a game.

As always in my mods, I’ve included the .VMF map source files in \levelwithme\mapsrc\ if you want to see how I did something. It is my hope that these conversations have demystified the process of game design: we aren’t wizards or scientists or artists, we’re mostly just people who talk about stuff and took the time to learn how to constrain ourselves to the limits of our tools. You can easily do it too, and you should.

INSTALLATION (as of December 21st, 2011)
1) Download levelwithme.zip and unzip the folder to \Steam\SteamApps\Sourcemods\
(OSX users: drop the folder into something like “~/Library/Application Support/Steam/SteamApps/Common/Portal 2” instead.)
2) Install Portal 2 if you haven’t, and run it at least once to generate some files.
3) Restart Steam.
4) Run “Level With Me” in your Steam games list.
(OSX users: download and unzip this .app, which acts as a symlink sort of, and start the mod with this shortcut instead. Thanks to Don.Gato.)

– .BIK movie files might not play properly on OSX. Sorry.
– Weird workarounds are necessary for OSX users to even play this. Sorry.
– In general, I get the feeling that Portal 2 wasn’t built to accommodate the Sourcemod folder format. It’ll likely get phased out even further in the next big Portal 2 patch that adds integrated community map sharing and such. I will patch the release on ModDB accordingly when that time comes.


  1. amplifiedhands says:

    Would love to see a video walkthrough, since I don’t own Portal 2.

    • Robert Yang says:

      I’m sure there’ll be a Let’s Play on YouTube in a few days.

      In the meantime… STARING. EYES.

    • Pie21 says:

      Where’s the tag? What is this??

    • DrGonzo says:

      I could do one of those. Been meaning to try out Fraps now I have it. Wouldn’t be talking over it obviously. That’s just annoying!

    • ThTa says:

      I’ll record it, though I’m torn between FRAPSing my initial playthrough, in which I’ll surely be dumbfound and spend about four times as long as necessary, or my second one, where I’ll already know what to do…

      Yeah, for the sake of the time I’d spend uploading it, I’ll go for the second playthrough one.

      edit: Or, actually, I’ll record my first one regardless, and see how long it takes.

      edit2: And I’ll record it in Aitch-Dee teneightypee, rather than my native 1920×1200, for convenience.(?)

    • DrGonzo says:

      Well, I’ve started! Here’s the menu. Currently uploading part 1 too. Will take a while to do the rest. Currently stuck at the end of the first chapter.

      link to youtu.be

      I did try to record my first playthrough, but it proved to have a lot of deaths and standing about doing nothing involved. Oh and here’s part two:

      link to youtu.be

    • ThTa says:

      Yep, stuck on the end of Chapter 1, as well.
      Managed to kill the turret, and I know how to open the door. The difficult part is actually keeping it open…

      And I’ll start rendering and uploading the whole menu thingy.

      edit: Fantastic, it didn’t record the menu. I’ll give it another go.

      edit2: Right then, this is causing far too many issues. The videos from FRAPS won’t open in anything other than VLC, and trying to re-encode them just results in the converter crashing. I’m just going to go ahead and give up. Sorry, and good luck Gonzo.

    • Ross Angus says:

      Dr. Gonzo didn’t spend five years at the Muppet School of Medicine to be called “Gonzo”. Please refer to him as Dr. Gonzo.

    • Phantoon says:

      Staring Eyes hexa-combo!

      Well played, sir. Well played.

    • JohnnyMaverik says:

      I started making one earlier today, uploading the first few parts now and will embed links when I’m done. Managed to get past the last level of chapter 1… seriously, awesome, duno who designed that and how, but also screw you, nearly killed me.


      Here’s a link to the playlist for anybody who’s interested. More footage over the next few days (no point putting it all up at once):

  2. fauxC says:

    This feature has been really fantastic, so while I’m looking forward to trying out the level when I get back to my computer after Winterval, I’m sad that it’s over. More of the same please! :)

    • Donjo says:

      I’ll have to play this after Christmas, looking forward to it though. Thanks RPS!

  3. Man Raised by Puffins says:

    Arses. I knew there was a reason I still had Portal 2 lurking on my hard drive (I uninstalled it yesterday).

  4. mrwonko says:

    So once ingame, how do you start it? Is it listed as a new Campaign in the New Game list? Then the Sixense Motion Pack DLC screws with that, I don’t see anything.

    • TomSmizzle says:

      It should just be in your list of games if you put it in the right folder and restarted Steam.

    • mrwonko says:

      I know, it is in my Steam List and I can start it, but in the menu I see no difference to the normal Portal 2.

      Turned out to be an incompatibility with the Sixense DLC – manually adding the mod’s full path to its gameinfo.txt worked, but seems like a hackish workaround.

  5. TomSmizzle says:

    It keeps closing down completely after the initial loading sequence. I’ve run other mods fine on this laptop before, but not Portal 2 ones. I dunno. :(

    • mechabuddha says:

      Same here. I get a fullscreen splash of Rock, Paper, Shotgun Presents and then it closes.

      EDIT: And now Portal 2 itself is doing the same thing. Crap.

      EDIT2: Verified the game cache for Portal 2, which fixed both problems.

  6. iaguz says:

    Whenever I load or die the mod crashes.

    Really sucks because I want to play this but my patience wears too thin.

  7. Blandford says:

    I’ve played it yesterday, and had to skip the last puzzle of the first chapter. At a certain point, after about half an hour of fiddling around in it, I just got frustrated.

    But about the main feature here – It’s cool. Really like the ending. I’m not smartish enough to give a better, more educated opinion, unfortunately.

    Oh, BTW, are you supposed to start the game staring into a portal in the first chamber? Because that’s where I started, rather than in the elevator. Also, I had the crash problem as well, validating the Portal 2 files fixed it for me.

    Good job all and all, really enjoyed witnessing (sort of) the thought process behind this.

    Now where’s Radiator 1-3? or 2-1?

    • Wunce says:

      The last puzzle of the first chapter is broken I think- my laser redirection cube fell through the floor at what I think was the only place I could put it.

      *** Spoilers, I think ***
      I quite enjoyed playing this, a lot of the ideas were pretty good such as the room flying into place around you, the repetitive test chamber (probably could have changed more than one thing per entry though) but my favourite has to be the part where you fix the map by filling out the window with the correct entity.

      I felt that was a stroke of genius, kudos to whoever came up with the idea.

  8. Annexed says:

    First puzzle, first chapter:

    If you put portals next to the two buttons, you can quickly shift the cube from button one to the other and nip through the door before the wall shifts and breaks the laser connection. Not sure if that’s deliberate or not, but if not I’d suggest making the wall next to one of the buttons portal repellant, which would be enough to stop this from being possible and keep people in the room to solve the second stage of the puzzle.

    • Annexed says:

      *Minor spoilers/bugs*
      Second puzzle:

      The ‘Greg’ room. I’m puzzled as to whether this is a puzzle or not. I pressed button 5, then crawled through the duct to the end and escaped. The laser came on briefly a couple of times, but didn’t kill me or stop me proceeding. I’m not sure if this was the maker’s intention – if it was, it successfully confused me enough to post this!

      Edit: Having just played the ‘Sam’ room, two further on, I now wonder whether this was intentional…

      Puzzle 5 (immediately after Sam):
      You can get the laser cube straight away by walking round from the adjacent platform, hugging the wall closely. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t intended.

    • Annexed says:

      I realise my problems with this so far are two-fold. Out of the five levels I’ve completed, two have bemused me (Greg and Sam) such that I’ve not felt I was playing the game/having the intended experience. And on two others (the first and fifth puzzles) I’ve outsmarted or ‘gamed’ the puzzle to escape the room without solving it in the intended manner (by being quick to place portals or cubes in situations that should not have been possible).

      Both of these (very different) problems serve only to disconnect me from the experience of playing – I’m either not sure I’m playing it properly or I’m finding that my way of completing the level is successful but not what the designer intended. So on the one had I’m not understanding the designer(s), and on the other hand they have not understood the player.

      I’ll continue playing, because this has been an interesting and salutory lesson to me about the qualities of level design.

      Edit: Ah, and it turns out I was at the end of the ‘challenging’ part of the mod. Some interesting artistic experimentation after that, but the two halves of the mod (chapter 1 vs chapters 2 & 3) don’t fit together terribly well in my view.

  9. felisc says:

    Congrats on the feature, the 7 discussions were really interesting. Cant wait to try this after work.

  10. Godwhacker says:

    Just played through it. In places clever, but quite often shockingly self-indulgent. I wish I could say I was missing something. The interviews are still quite interesting mind.

  11. nblake42 says:

    Hang on, I played some of it earlier, went back now to play some more, and there’s no way to load my old game! The only way to play is to start a new game, then select “load previous save” which loads up the autosave at the beginning of that new game. Portal 2 didn’t work like that, what’s going on…?!

    (Unless I’m just being stupid and missing something?)

    • Annexed says:

      You’re not missing anything – there doesn’t seem to be an option to select which save you want to load. The best way around this is to exclusively use the quicksave (F6 default) rather than the manual save, and when you load up the game again use quickload (F7 default) from the menu. But yes, it’s annoying if you’re not playing through in one sitting.

  12. liance says:

    Ed Key’s level, where everything goes all Proteus-like and you can go into the “outside” and play with the changing music?

    Yeah, I really liked that part of the mod.

  13. Perjoss says:

    just wanted to say, I LOVE the header image you guys used for this article.

  14. Revenge says:

    Just beat the whole thing. That was fantastic! The last level in the first chapter was indeed a bit ‘off’ here and there, but otherwise it was just great.
    Thanks for the sweet levels I guess :V

  15. crymbus says:

    I’m not really sure what message we’re supposed to take from this mod; that a bunch level designers who work outside design convention will produce something meta and erratic? Shocking.

    I think it’s quite hard to swallow the idea that this pack represents some cohesive whole when the author ends up wrapping levels around it to “contextualize” what’s going on. Whilst chapters 1 and 3 stand well on their own as a deconstruction of modern level design, the middle section is superfluous. The guest designers express themselves far better in the interviews than in the fairly silly Chinese Whispers communal level.

    The Greg puzzle was possibly the most fun I’ve had playing Portal, thanks for that and the interviews.

    • HothMonster says:

      Who promised you a message?

    • crymbus says:

      Seriously? Robert ‘I Heart Ludodiegesis’ Yang? The level design is the medium, when you interact with the space it delivers the message, this has been repeatedly stated in this series of articles.

  16. appropriate touching says:

    Came to post issues that everyone else has identified already:
    Installation broke everything until I verified Portal 2 cache
    Save system doesn’t have a menu item, the game immediately autosaves on starting a new level so you can’t even access the “load last save” button in-game
    laser cube falls through the floor at the top of one of the chapter 1 levels (the one with a laser cube in a tube)
    There’s some texture seams in the first level and some of the door textures look wrong (solid black doors but they have wood-texture sides)
    The little light above the faildoor doesn’t fall when portalled, but hangs in mid-air.

    I’m liking it so far. The level I stopped on was a proper puzzle, and the conceptual ones have a good, appropriate mad-scientist-testing-ideas feel.

    Oh yeah, the menu background is surprisingly shocking and novel. Neat touch.

  17. CMaster says:

    So, the actual “Level with me” level ends up being pretty bland and uninteresting. The ideas thrown around in the conversations never make it into anything of note, which is a shame. The final level however is an interesting tour-de-force in messing with expectations and just what you can manage with Hammer, although the Escher section is framerate destroying.

    Anyway, this has been a really interesting series of articles, it’s something of a shame perhaps that the finished game product seems to have very little to do with the rest of it. Also, I hope the doors opening towards the player was a deliberate “screw you” and not just forgetful design.

    (Also, no install problems here, but lighting goes a bit wrong in a few places)

  18. povu says:

    I had fun. Liked the System Shock 2 reference.

  19. RagingLion says:

    Finally got round to playing it. The hard, end of chapter 1 level had me foxed for some time but after time away and then persisting I got it and that was really quite fulfilling.

    Wasn’t sure where where chapter 2 was going but actually the incremental additions worked out in a cool way for me. I could ‘feel’ the level being constructed gradually and that was a really nice experience. Granted as stated above, that level wasn’t particularly interesting by itself, though I did really appreciate the lighting when you could break through to the outside.

    The final bit was kinda cool, particularly the level slotting into place around me – that was quite a moment. I feel some interesting things could be done if such a concept was taken somewhere.

    Good stuff Mr Yang – really enjoyed this whole series.

  20. Pyrosity says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this series and playing the map. Admittedly skipped over some parts, but to me that doesn’t matter. For every part I skipped over, I clicked on to another reference or game or likewise article mentioned and it made today really a rather satisfying singleplayer’s digest for me. Downloaded and played about a dozen little bits and bobs and it was oh so much fun.

  21. Dozer says:

    I found this level-pack deeply unsettling. When you’re playing Portal 2, you learn to trust the level designer to always look after the player. (As distinct from the player character.) You can be sure you won’t get stuck and stranded if you make a mistake – for example the level won’t have any way of dropping a cube somewhere you can’t reach it and can’t cause it to be replaced. Glitches are rare and fairly obvious and only result from you doing something ‘weird’ (like standing on the button and slinging the last Frankenturret through the sizzler in the Paradox Room in Portal 2). But playing this mod, I knew the level design didn’t have Valve’s standards of player-experience robustness and there was the danger I’d make a mistake and get stuck. Which I did.

    That last puzzle level in the pack, the stone temple place with the lasers and turret and bridges and tunnel, I initially thought the solution was to put the first redirection cube in the tube along with the second one, to stop the laser being redirected when the tunnel’s in ‘pull’ mode. Then I had no way to get it out again. It was rewarding to finally finish that level, especially after the notice saying not to bother!