GDC 2012: How Portal 2 Was Made
The game’s ending was another knotty problem. Valve wanted to give players the opportunity to a. confront Wheatley b. remove him from GLaDOS’ chassis and c. give him some richly deserved comeuppance, but they were intent that the puzzle not be too hard. An early version that ended with Chell speaking a single word (“yes”) was scrapped as awkward and unsatisfying.
The lunar hijinks that shipped with the final game were inspired by a “false ending” that the developers had initially slated for earlier in the game. During testing for the original Portal, the Valve team were amused to see that some players were happy to give up the ghost at certain points — when lowered slowly into a pit of fire, for instance. With this in mind, they planned a variety of joke endings for Portal 2 that would be accompanied by humorous songs.
Eventually, a joke “death by lunar portal” ending became the game’s real conclusion. Displaying characteristic irreverence, the panelists described it as the “perfect mix of totally awesome and completely stupid.”
Valve’s team thought making the game’s co-op portion would be “easy,” but they were quickly disabused of that notion. Co-op presents unique storytelling challenges: players tend to pay less attention, so the designers had to keep repeating story bits in case any were missed. They even planned competitive multiplayer, which was a disaster; according to Wolpaw, the only good thing about it was that they “cut it pretty quickly.”
While watching play-tests of co-operative gameplay, the designers noticed an interesting phenomenon: even when they couldn’t hear or see their partners, co-op gamers laughed and joked throughout, in contrast to single players, who remained completely stone-faced. Nevertheless, when asked to describe their experiences, both sets of players reported similar enjoyment.
Valve’s experience with play-testing provided a variety of humorous anecdotes. Players will almost never look directly up at the ceiling, for example, so any puzzle that required them to do so had to be scrapped. They also tended to get distracted during big, scripted moments, requiring hilarious in-game signs that say things like “in case of implosion, look directly at implosion.”
When asked to if their many hours watching play-testers ever made them feel like GLaDOS, Wolpaw and Falisek answered in the affirmative, admitting that this aspect of game design had informed Portal’s setting. Wheatley, they added, designs his first puzzle like “a novice level designer.” Luckily for all the people who enjoyed Portal 2 when it came out last year, the people at Valve are pros.