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.