Perpetually Testing Portal 2’s Perpetual Testing Initiative

Valve love levels like this.

We looked at Portal 2’s puzzle creating Perpetual Testing Initiative, a streamlined, user-friendly application for making your own Portal 2 rooms, and then cried. So instead we got Craig “Fearless” Pearson to take a look, because we knew without a doubt that no one else can create a box with some boxes in it like him.

There is a point when I’m fiddling with a level editor when the crushing weight of incomprehension finally manages to smoosh my ambition into a sad, red smear. I might have a vision, I might have a plan, but I don’t have ability to figure out how to mould the Source SDK’s four windows and icons into something more complicated than a box containing a series of smaller boxes. “If only”, I’ve thought to myself, “Valve had come up with something simpler. Something instinctive. Then I’d be able to do it.” So I’m basically claiming that this is all my idea. The Portal Puzzle Creator is a simple, instinctive map maker for Valve’s lovely game. It’s Google Sketchup in Aperture Science.

It starts in a room themed a little bit like the Portal 2 infomercial adverts, which is a wonderful little touch. The complicated machinations of Hammer have been stripped back: it all happens in one window, with the tools set into a slide-out menu on the left. You can rotate the room with the middle mouse and zoom in and out with the scroll wheel. Like I said, it’s instinctive: the room has a grid segmenting into little boxes, and every one can be manipulated: I first experimented with that, drawing a box on four of them on the wall and seeing what could be done.

Hovering the mouse over the edge of the boundary changes the cursor to a double-ended arrow. I clicked and grab the section of wall and push: it created a corridor, pushing the section back into the wall and then pulling it back in place. Then I yanked it out and created a jutting out section in the middle of the room, like Homer playing with his hospital bed: wall goes in, wall goes out, wall goes in, wall goes out.

So you can easily move the walls, creating holes, new walls, and drops. But that selection box can also be used to apply portalable and non-portalable states to the surfaces, just by right-clicking and selecting it from the drop down menu. I think that might be the key to making good puzzles: create an end-point and delete all the portalable surfaces, then work backwards.

What it doesn’t do is let you use the selected space for props. Pondering my level, I decided I wanted it to look pretty and highlighted a section of wall: I hopped over to the tool panel at the left and stared at the options there. Here are the devious devices that will make your puzzle the deadliest of all: faith plates, gel droppers, cube conjurers, stair deployers, laser emitters, etc. It also has strip lighting, which I’d hoped would fill the line along the wall, but it had deselected it. No matter what I tried, and I did it with every prop, all you can do is plop props down one at a time. Control-clicking allows you to drag a copy out, though, and you can move groups of props together in a similar fashion: selecting the volume around a group of props, which seems to need to include a section of wall, and you can move them in a group.

It means working with the Puzzle Creator can sometimes be a laborious job. I wanted to create a line of cube droppers, so I could have each cube drop into an aerial faith plate. My idea wasn’t puzzle based, but an attempt to use it to make the boxes dance along the corridor, each hitting a faith plate and launching onto the next one. The idea was sound, but implementing it meant these steps: selecting the space for each cube dropper, selecting the space for each cube’s corresponding faith plate and setting its direction and bounce height, doing the same for the second set of plates, the third and the fourth. Now admittedly I wasn’t actually making a puzzle, but it exposed a few counter-intuitive aspects of the editor.

But it also delivered a few surprises. Right-clicking on the cube-droppers allowed me to manipulate a number of states: whether the cube drops instantly, or if I could have it player controlled. I dropped a button into the world and attached all the droppers to that one button, and to my joy pressing it dropped five of the friendly boxes at the same time. But this sort of silliness doesn’t deliver a workable puzzle, or magnificent, gorgeous Portal 2 level. While it has an inherent charm, but there’s a lot of missing elements: you can only make basic looking test chambers, with no overgrown GLaDOS chambers or Cave Johnson themed backdrops to play with, and no co-op puzzles. It’s not a big problem, and you can export maps to the full Portal SDK to add those creative sloshes, but I’d hoped it would mask my lack of creativity in the puzzle department: when all you have is puzzle props and pretty physics, you have to make a really compelling challenge.

What I made wasn’t terribly compelling, but it when I set it up and solved it, it scratched at itch somewhere. I might add to it, as it took five minutes from forming in my head to completion, but it goes a little something like this: I put a faith plate at one end of a long room and another, each on a two block pedestal. They’re facing each other and anything fired from one would land on the other and be launched back. I dropped a cube on one plate and it set-up a game of cube tennis between the two. At right angles to that back and forth, on opposite sides of the room, I placed two more faith plates, although they’re not aimed at each other, but at a square one block over. A button that you activate with a cube is hooked up to the doorway. In order to defeat this awful, sub-Wheatley challenge you need to time your leap from the faith plate to grab the perpetually tossing cube. It’s awful, it’s tutorial-level puzzling, hell it doesn’t even use portals. But it’s mine and I’m more proud of it than you can possibly imagine.

Not proud enough to upload it to the Steam Workshop, mind. That’s the most amazing thing about this DLC: Uncy Gabe has done something rather remarkable and taken a game with a limited longevity and given us the facility to keep puzzling with our own work. You just tell the game to send the map to the workshop, name it and write a description and it does the compiling, uploading, and tagging.

Give it a try – it’s free – and share creations in the comments below. If they’re amazing, we may put together an RPS mod collection and we can all boast.


  1. djbriandamage says:

    It’s quite a nice UI. Reminds me of the architecture tools in The Sims. It’s relatively intuitive.

    My only wish is for quicker loading times. You have to “compile” (or something) your map before you can jump in and play test and that takes more than several seconds. This is a bit of a disincentive when it takes only a moment to make a small tweak but 20 times as long to make it playable.

    Just when I think I’m getting pretty comfortable at the tool I play some brilliant user-created content like 12 Angry Tests and lose my drive to continue. There are obviously far smarter designers than I out there.

    Apparently 12 Angry Tests were made with Hammer and not the new level builder.
    link to

    • EhsanKia says:

      It is indeed unfair to compare to 12 Angry Test. That map was probably in production for many months in hammer before this editor even came out.

      While I agree with the compile time issue, that’s a limitation of the Source engine they can’t do much about. I do believe it might be possible to avoid compiling when only entities are modified though (such as faith plate settings or button time). I also believe it is possible to avoid compiling light/shadows, which makes the map ugly and hits the framerate, but it could be useful for quick testing.

    • Sparkasaurusmex says:

      Yeah my only complaint is that the SDK maps are listed in Steam Workshop in the same place as the editor maps. When I went to look for some creations the top maps are using art and stuff that isn’t available in the editor. I just want some simple but challenging puzzles created using only the editor (so they are on the same level as my maps, tool-wise).

      • Clavus says:

        It’s easy to identify the maps created with the puzzle designer though, they always have the editor screenshot as thumbnail.

        • Sparkasaurusmex says:

          That is true. I guess my complaint isn’t that I can’t find the maps, but I would like to sort by rating and have the list only return editor maps, not Hammer maps.

          …I never thought I would say something like that.

          • pangaway says:

            There is a checkbox that lets you filter out maps with a custom story or 3D elements. That should give you all Hammer made maps if you want only those.

          • Sparkasaurusmex says:

            Yep. That’s perfect. I just needed to look harder. Thanks!

          • mnxzicun says:

            I think that the puzzle game is also great! 3D Puzzle Big Ben Building the Model Card, Kit link to

    • LionsPhil says:

      12 Angry Tests is brilliant. It’s like Portal 2.5 and you’d have to be mad as a bag of amorous ferrets to not play it.

      I’ve asked for unlit builds, but that’s just one post blowing in the tremendous wind of the Steam forums. It seems there’re also some weird performance spike bugs for some people where it takes forever even on simple maps.

    • wicko says:

      “You have to ‘compile’ ”

      Welcome to game development :/

  2. konrad_ha says:

    When (or if) they add 2-Player levels, this will be the best thing ever.

    • delusionsofnoir says:

      That would be awesome!

      • EhsanKia says:

        From what I heard, it is coming. The logistics of testing are a bit more complicated because you often need a partner in there with you, which is why it is taking longer, and since they didn’t want to delay this any longer, they apparently just let out the single player for now so people can get started.

  3. Scandalon says:

    I too found it nice, but a bit too scaled back. As dj alluded to, working within contraints is sometimes the best catalyst for creativity.

    Also, let’s create an RPS collection no matter if they’re, no especially if they’re a bit shite. Bitpunk and all that.

  4. delusionsofnoir says:

    I knocked this up in ten minutes or so of playing with the editor:
    link to

  5. thegooseking says:

    As we talked about briefly in the forums, there are shades of Cube / Sauerbraten about how the whole thing works. It’s definitely easier to use than Cube (though also a bit more limited, though though also more polished), but the basic idea of the actions you perform is very similar.

    It’s definitely a lot of fun, but what I really look forward to seeing is the jokes people end up telling with it. It is, after all, a Portal 2 map creator, so I want to see maps that are funny.

    link to is my first attempt, though, yeah, that last bit could use a rethink. I even included [RPS] in the name so people on RPS could find it, but apparently the search isn’t that good.

    • LionsPhil says:

      The thing it really lacks vs. Sauerbraten is not needing to rebuild every time; only when you want to re-light it. But unfortunately Sauerbraten’s octree-based engine was kind of built to do that from the ground up, where this is all stil Quake 1 BSP underneath AFAIK. :/

      Also changing the grid size.

  6. Radthor Dax says:

    Here are some of my creations!
    link to

  7. RealoFoxtrot says:

    Well, i know that i am very interested in seeing how people make maps for the Razer Hydra: link to

    My own is not a great one but is here: link to

    • Rob Maguire says:

      Probably not very well, since the editor can’t compile maps if you have the Sixense DLC installed (it gets the directories confused, though this might have been fixed in the last patch). That was fun to figure out.

  8. m3metix says:

    Here is my first puzzle:
    link to

    It’s pretty simple and short, but maybe there’s a small amount of fun there. Enjoy!

  9. stahlwerk says:

    All these level editor shots make me think of a third-person, maybe turn-based, portal puzzle game. Which I’d like to play, incidentally.

  10. ckpk says:

    link to

    Unlocker, my first attempt. A short puzzle of unlocking the main room, I’m aiming to have a bit more of a portal 1 feel (i.e. there’s for thatn 4 portleable walls per level)

  11. Fringe says:

    Here’s my second, more competent bash at the editor:

    link to

    I’d love some feedback if you fancy playing it

  12. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    I’ve uploaded 2 maps so far. Short and simple, but hopefully not too easy- please play! Feedback appreciated.
    link to

  13. megalosaurus says:

    Only had time to make one map so far.

    link to

    It may look simple but it should prove slightly more challenging…

  14. desperado28 says:

    well i been working on this one for a long time, it’s quite long and challenging, give it a shot and a little feedback wouldn’t hurt dudes.

    link to

  15. Arcade Fiction says:

    ooh, ooh, I want to share mine.

    Pit and Pendulum – link to

    Hop-Frog – link to

    As advertised they are inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe, but secretly my muse was RPS (don’t tell anyone). You can leave feedback here: link to

    I hope I make it into RPS’ fancy mod compilation thingy :)

  16. kael13 says:

    I’ll be trying out each puzzle everyone has posted when I get in from work. Sounds like a fun thing to do before Diablo goes live tonight.

    Here’s my own contribution:
    link to

    I’d like to add that it would be nice to have indicators on where to start in your puzzle, like those 1dot, 2dot, 3dot icons in the campaign.

    • Sparkasaurusmex says:

      You can use the light bars to create numbers: | || ||| ||||

    • GreatGreyBeast says:

      I’m doing the same. No fair asking people to play my map if I don’t play theirs. Besides, there’s such an incredible deluge of new workshop content I don’t even know where else to start. PeTI is clearly going to keep me busy for a LOOOOOOOOONG time..

  17. Grey Ganado says:

    I get the feeling I have to post my creations here:
    link to

  18. InsanityBringer says:

    Just out of curiosity, can the resultant map be edited in Hammer a bit to do detail tasks beyond the capabilities of the editor (making Portal 1 styled recessed lighting strips comes to mind, if you’re in to that kind of thing) and the result can still be put onto Steam Workshop and everything? I certainly like this editor idea, but not being able to do things like that would make it ever so slightly just kind of very less appealing to me.

    • celozzip says:

      yes it can. hammer has it’s own publishing program to send maps to the steam workshop. maps made 100% in hammer need to be altered as well to be compatible with the workshop.

    • Technofrood says:

      You can open the maps in hammer, although I believe you can’t reopen them in the new editor after making changes. Also as far as I am aware publishing them to the workshop requires using p2map_publish.exe and following theses guidelines link to

      • InsanityBringer says:

        Alright, that’s good to know. Doesn’t seem to take much to get a hammer-made map working with Steam Workshop.

        I went ahead and ran the exporter to play around with a simple map, and I must admit that while I’m very happy the feature is present, I’m a little sad how messy the resultant VMT is. It’s still quite workable with a little editing though, and this allows me to have the control I like.

  19. doctorpollo says:

    I made my Tennis Match puzzle last week and was blown away by how quick it got downloaded by people. In the first half an hour I got 100 subscribers or so, then it slowed down to a halt around 200. You can check it out here link to

  20. GreatGreyBeast says:

    For something a little more high concept, here’s my take on King Kong:
    link to

  21. Bettymartin says:

    I made this.

    link to

  22. DizzyCriminal says:

    link to

    Here is a map I made, Im rather proud of it.
    Im loving the editor, I can’t wait to play around with it some more.

  23. tarret says:

    I did a couple maps which I’d like to share with anyone who is interested.

    link to

  24. SpakAttack says:

    Here’s my best effort so far:

    link to

  25. kregg says:

    I made just one, but I think it’s the best <3

    link to

    Of course, you don't have to play it. You can frown at the map instead. And then I'll </3

  26. LionsPhil says:

    This is my first serious shot at a proper puzzle, and people seem to be generally positive:
    link to

    And here is a DRAGON. Because DRAGON:
    link to
    (That one takes for-freaking-ever to compile, which made it a real nightmare to tweak.)

  27. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    Cool, I’ve got my queue set up with all these maps on this page. Only have an hour to play, though :( I’ll get through them eventually.

  28. awickedone says:

    link to Here’s mine, features some very creative and compelling names….

    They’re not that challenging, but they work and playground is just a place to mess round not an actual puzzle or anything resembling one.

  29. ajewers says:

    The three maps i’ve been working on: (I’m hoping to form a series)

    link to

    link to

    link to

    Not super difficult, but i chucked in a little gimmicky feature i’ve not seen elsewhere :)

  30. Lemming says:

    Here’s mine!

    link to

  31. Bungle says:

    Here is a video I made to show off some of the timer concepts I’m working with:
    link to

    A link to my workshop:
    link to

    I’m currently obsessed with automation. I make forcefield-based timers to run automated “scripts” in the background. All of this can be done with the in-game editor and it is very reminiscent of Minecraft and all the people that built computers inside the game using game assets. Very fun.

  32. 626 says:

    I’m loving the editor so far, have a couple available.

    Would very much like some feedback… tried to create a good mix and provide a challenge.

    link to

    Gonna have a go at the levels posted above.

  33. Charcoal says:

    I whipped up three little ones on Saturday: link to

  34. I am Grand says:

    This is my first stab at it from the other day :)

    link to

  35. yesterdayisawadeer says:

    One of my first puzzles. Someone even liked it already, yay!
    link to

  36. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    I’ve also made a couple of puzzles: link to

    There will be more to follow!

  37. Odessa_Cubbage says:

    You guys should all add #rps to your map description fields so that all these maps can be found easily in the Workshop with a text search.

  38. PuffTheMagicDragQueen says:

    The editor is great, really a lot of fun. Only built one published map so far, and finally registered an account on RPS after all this time of lurking. Of course it was for shameless self promotion :P link to

  39. says:

    I instantly went on a constructing spree as the new ingame-editor was relesed. I’ve worked with hammer before this, and I love the new simplified editor.

    Here are the test chambers I made so far:
    link to

  40. Bungle says:

    I made seven basic logic gates out of in-game materials (NOT, AND, NAND, OR, NOR, XOR, XNOR). The first three are made from pressure switches, the next two are made from lasers and laser relays, and the final two are made from force fields, weighted cubes, and pressure switches. I laid them out so you can see how the switches work.

    link to

    link to

    • says:

      Awsome, I was missing components in the editor to create logics with OR and XOR gates. Now I know how to emulate them. New possibilities ahead ;)
      Thanks, Bungle!

  41. Arcade Fiction says:

    Okay, I had some very witty commentary about my maps, my inspiration, and my hopes/dreams to be a part of a possible RPS compilation. Unfortunately my comment was sent to moderation limbo from which there is seemingly no escape. So I will re-post a link to my maps, this time with 66% less links, and hope it makes it through.

    Edgar Allan Poe inspired test chambers – link to

  42. The_Jomas says:

    Here’s my best test. It’s made up of three test chambers combined around a central hub. I wanted to make it like the chambers near the end where multiple chambers were smashed together, unfortunately the PeTI doesn’t let me do that, so I combined them in other ways. I spent a good bit of time on this test and I’m happy with how it turned out:

    link to

  43. afarrell says:

    Eh. If there’s one company where the fans absolutely can’t compete with the resources and attention to detail, it would have to be Valve.

  44. foilman says:

    I’m enjoying playing around with the editor, and playing some of the community maps. I haven’t had much time to work on creating a puzzle, but I’ve made something that I quite like. It’s a bit sprawling and perhaps random but has a few challenges in it.

    link to

  45. Mr. Nice Guy says:

    Oh hi – here’s a map for you, Fun Floating with Frankencubes. Pretty much what it says on the tin – but you get to kill turrets with blue gel MAKE THEM DIE MAKE THEM DIE MAKE THEM DIE MAKE THEM DIE MAKE THEM DIE MAKE THEM DIE MAKE THEM DIE MAKE THEM DIE MAKE THEM DIE MAKE THEM DIE MAKE THEM DIE MAKE THEM DIE MAKE THEM DIE MAKE THEM DIE MAKE THEM DIE MAKE THEM DIE

    link to

    So yeah. Feedback is much appreciated. :D Thanks.