GDC 07: Portal Hands-On

Valve's quirky student-inspired first-person puzzle game was playable for the first time at a GDC event, and we were first in line to try it.

Ever since Valve Software unexpectedly unveiled Portal as a pack-in bonus for its upcoming cavalcade of Half-Life 2 products--including the Episode Two expansion and Team Fortress 2 multiplayer component--we've been captivated by the game's unique brand of brain-bending puzzles and quirky, stylized visuals and presentation. So we were tickled to finally get a chance to play the game for ourselves at an EA event being held just in time for the Game Developers Conference. What better place to showcase an offbeat first-person game that features no shooting whatsoever?

To set the record straight, Portal's gameplay looks just like that initial trailer Valve released upon the game's announcement, the visual authenticity of which was questioned by more than one industry pundit at the time. The trailer did have a full-scene motion blur added as a postprocessing effect, but otherwise the game we played on the Xbox 360 looked pretty much identical to that original clip. Even the slightly stuffy announcer and minimalist stick-figure iconography heard and seen in the trailer will be in the game. These will act as guides that will give you hints about what you need to do next to get through a given scenario. Then again, some of those stick-figure signs will advise you what not to do, such as one that we merrily ignored before getting embarrassingly vaporized by an energy beam in the demo's first tutorial room.

It can get a little confusing when points A and B can be on the floor, the walls, the ceiling...

Portal doesn't overload you with too many gameplay mechanics; instead, the focus seems to be on making you use the few abilities you do have to get through the obstacles between you and each level's exit. You have a gravity gun, a la Half-Life 2. You can duck. And you've two portals to work with that you can slap onto most flat surfaces from afar. One is orange and one is blue, but there's no functional difference between the two; enter one portal and you'll exit the other. For the most part, you'll use the portals for traveling from one place to another, but you can also look through one to see out of the other one, which will come in handy when you need to check out an area that's being covered by sentry guns, for example.

Most of the puzzles in the brief demo we played involved placing one portal on a high wall near a ledge we needed to reach and then dropping the other one on the floor several feet below us. We then jumped into the lower portal and used our falling momentum to propel us flying out of the upper one. Another puzzle had us slapping a portal onto a moving platform, though this platform stopped when it moved into position. Other puzzles will apparently require more precise timing, however.

This probably isn't even nearly the most complicated scenario you'll be facing.

Alas, Valve is candid about the fact that Portal won't be a deeply involved or lengthy experience. The game will consist of 19 levels that will amount to about four hours of gameplay for an average player, with the most complex levels purportedly taking about half an hour to figure out. Of course, since Portal is only one piece of a considerably value-packed box of games, you can't complain if it seems a little short. Valve hasn't committed to providing any further levels for Portal via download after release, but they may not have to. The PC version of the game will see a level editor not long after it becomes available at retail, so we imagine there will be no shortage of user-created levels to keep you portal hopping for quite a while. (Valve hasn't determined how, or even if, these levels will be available to the console versions of Portal, however.)

From the few minutes we got to play with Portal, we'd say the game is shaping up to be exactly what we expected from that first trailer. The game's lasting appeal will depend on how devilish the later puzzles are and how widespread the user-created content is--but we have to applaud Valve not only for putting so much extra content in with the Episode Two expansion, but also for just trying something unusual in the first place.

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Discussion

127 comments
NoseWeed619
NoseWeed619

I think that they need to get more levels online or something. That would be cool. I mean, since like there's only like 4 hours of gameplay that come with the game.

madaseyer
madaseyer

They need download packs for more levels....

ckTrango
ckTrango

Coolest game I have played for years! As long as there are levels to play, I will play them. Incredible

ckTrango
ckTrango

Coolest game I have played for years! As long as there are levels to play, I will play them. Incredible

Megawizard
Megawizard

After beating it, I must say it was definitely fun. And the ending was just flat-out hilarious.

kevy619
kevy619

i wonder if it will be priced as a single game?

milkcarton57
milkcarton57

I just can not wait to play this game. It's the puzzle game I've been looking for for quite a while now.

coolasj19
coolasj19

downloadable contenet is a must-have if they want me to get this gasme for my ps3. we should be making leapes into game3.0 like phil said if the consoles have user created stuff

poppy_seed
poppy_seed

This game would be so bad ass, They would probably have scenarios in the game that keep you from getting bored.

Beesond
Beesond

This should be pretty damn fun while it lasts. I would love to see this whole portal thing implemented into a game one day. Oh that would be bad ass.

theblackfrost
theblackfrost

After a while i think it wood get borin and or frustrating if u got stuck

Ad-2cool4u
Ad-2cool4u

The video for the Portal thing is F***ING SWEET!!! That would be so hard though, to think of those thing where you would end up and how everything would fall, and much more! That was awesome!

AnFangs_Endes
AnFangs_Endes

XD loved the little cartoon demo I seen, and the one that look's like theyre playing tag

Chainblast
Chainblast

I really cannot wait for this and all the other goodies that come with.

yacbos
yacbos

nice finally some serious puzzles

ntnimara
ntnimara

Very cool... vast thinking thing...

Adel88
Adel88

yes, its a great game...

xeno1ith
xeno1ith

Jumping puzzle type of games drive me crazy. I avoid them like the plague. IMO, HL1 had too many parts with jumping puzzles, it was the only thing I disliked about the game. Just give me EP2 and TF2 and take a few $ off thank you.

Spire88
Spire88

man this game would perfect for the wii

knux15
knux15

If you read the newer articles you will see that there are Episode 1 2 and 3 coming out but then a 4th episode will be released that is both around a new story arch and is being produced by a thirdparty (closely monitored by Valve) So will there be more Gordon Freeman in the future, most definitely "Unless of course they choose to kill him" Which then we will probably have to play Alyx or their son 20 years in the future or something...

Sow_dwpreX
Sow_dwpreX

Good appearance, and will be in the same line of episode 1 or superior, is to wait to play...

olleost
olleost

Wow, this game looks boring! Just run around and get dizzy (in a wrong way, of course)

ThePhilatron
ThePhilatron

I hope that in the future they decide to turn it into full fledged game.

eva360
eva360

I will be purchasing the Orange Box for 360 thank you very much. :-) I was one of the people who bought Half Life 2 on X-Box last year. I don't care if I'm buying it again because it's that damn good!

scmbg
scmbg

i cant wait for this game, is simply awesome!!

scmbg
scmbg

i cant wait for this game, is simply awesome!!

stiker71
stiker71

This game looks so good i Got a Portal icon.

stealthfrenchi
stealthfrenchi

damn souce has still got it i mean 2004 its now 2007 and it can do things better and looks better then most new fps. i just wounder if there will be a half life 3......

Somini
Somini

The portal gun should've been in HL2 instead of the lame gravity gun, that's my opinion. I really hated the gravity gun, I think it was a major mistake to build the whole game around it. Lame, lame, lame...

xioxio9
xioxio9

Portal is awsome nuff said

DFTricks
DFTricks

WOW! that game look awesome, hope it wont take a super computer on steroid to make it run at the minimum requirement

ATMolla
ATMolla

what is the game that he mentions.. "neubachular drop" or something like that. he said it's available online for free.. i wanna find it. .

rokkuman09
rokkuman09

A lot of people at MIT play video games. MIT is full of geeks (geeks rock woot) and geeks like video games... Hey Gordon Freeman was from MIT lol :P ldavidtw2000 Game for brained, not for zombies. hey...are they trying to get some Harvard/MIT/Stanford/Whatever dudes to start playing games?

games100
games100

he he he he he he he he ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha !The Power of the Portal is alive!

Star_Wars117
Star_Wars117

so many games in 1 pack!! will there also be guns and enemys to kill?

ExNeil251
ExNeil251

basically this game looks just awesome

85070537783
85070537783

I better start thinking on some Portal maps, NOW!

bamizhim
bamizhim

People can say whatever they want bout this game its gonna be kickARSE!!!!!!! i cant wait. Steam has finally done it again!

stiker71
stiker71

So this game...Is looking like it might be Imposible to beat...It should have a Lvl editor where people can make there own then post them online...

ldavidtw2000
ldavidtw2000

Game for brained, not for zombies. hey...are they trying to get some Harvard/MIT/Stanford/Whatever dudes to start playing games?

slykid9
slykid9

W.T.F no seriusly what just happend

cjcr_alexandru
cjcr_alexandru

A lot of content for an "episode"... Good job, Valve!

joshSF
joshSF

so much content...