Pax Prime 2010 Preview: Teleport me baby... teleport me all night long.
Portal 2 was all the rage at this year's PAX Prime as eager fans swarmed around the Valve booth. The brand-new cooperative demo on display detailed how GLaDOS would guide two robots through some devilishly familiar puzzles. Fifteen minutes was barely enough to satiate those who waited in long lines. That's not to say the demo disappointed ? to the contrary, seeing Valve's new system in action could even be described as delightful. But a one-on-one demo between a developer and a random person chosen out of the crowd left everyone ready for more ? and imagining how much better they would have done in the shoes of that one lucky individual.
In our case, the ?lucky individual? had no idea what she was doing, and it was grueling to watch her inability to follow even the smallest direction, like ?turn left? ? the camera kept spinning wildly, and it was clear she had never played anything from the first person perspective before. The crowd seemed to be a bit restless, agonizing over how much better the demo could have been had someone else ? namely, a Portal fan, or even someone who liked Valve ? would have been chosen. Alas, we were the unlucky ones.
We were first shown a video of the new system, aptly named the ?cooperative testing initiative.? GLaDOS still has her sense of humor, letting us know that ?these next tests require cooperation; consequently, they have never been solved by a human.? Cue the robots, seen creating portals to solve puzzles and get to the end of each level, continuing the test and ramping up the challenge with each success. The video has them creating portals to allow each other to get to places previously unreachable, including a scene in which one robot gains momentum through an infinite loop and then is shot out across a hazard and lands safely ? if abruptly ? on the other side. At the end, GLaDOS tells you the testing has prepared you for the real challenge, and a series of dangerous and threatening obstacles are shown, with a quick glimpse at some imperiled companion cubes.
What Valve noticed about the first game was that many people played it as a make-shift cooperative game, making this the next logical step in the evolution of Portal gameplay. The first part of the playable demo has GLaDOS introducing you to your partner, to whom you must wave. This first task can be achieved by pressing a button on the d-pad, which takes you out of first person view and shows you waving adorably at your partner. The next goal is to grab portal devices, and, of course, the second player to do so gets a derisive comment from GLaDOS. The signature portal puzzles begin after that, with the first puzzle being creating a portal for the other player.
Since it would be difficult to communicate to another player where you need a portal placed, Valve introduced the ?ping? system. The ping system allows a player to ?communicate specific locations to your partner,? GLaDOS explained. So now, you can tag an area for the other player to create a portal. Instead of trying to describe a location to your co-op partner, you can just aim and shoot, giving them an easy indicator of where to place a portal and helping you both to solve the puzzle quickly and efficiently. Of course, the action was broken up a bit when the guys from Valve had to stop every few moments to explain to the girl playing how to do things like shoot a portal, turn the camera, walk, etc. This didn't ruin the experience, but it certainly turned the tone from fun to frustrating.
The players went through a few more simple puzzles, and then encountered some slightly more complicated puzzles. The first one involved a thermal discouragement beam, which can be manipulated by one player. They reflect it, redirecting it into a wall. The other player then creates a series of portals to get the beam through that wall and the other obstacles, finishing the puzzle and unlocking the door to the next test. The next one involved manipulating bridges. Simply get onto the bridge, position yourself in front of the wall, and create a portal, which automatically spans the bridge out into a new area and allows you to reach more locations.
Valve has introduced several new gameplay elements into Portal 2. One of them is the infinite loop. In the demo, the players were stuck on one side of a room and had to work out a way to get across. The center of the room was filled with a dangerous liquid. One player created a loop for the other player, who then stepped into it and continued falling until they built up enough momentum. The first player then hit a button to retract a mechanical obstacle and then quickly shot another portal onto the wall, allowing the falling player to shoot through it and land safely on the other side.
Of course, that wasn't exactly how it went the first time. The Valve employee intentionally shot the player into the corrosive liquid, killing her. She reappeared, giving them the chance to show off another cute interactive moment between the players ? pressing another button allowed the robots to hug and make up. Aww.
After that, they successfully performed the infinite loop puzzle twice ? once for each player to get them both across. It took longer than expected ? mainly because the female player was having trouble coordinating the portals and solving the puzzle at the same time ? but after she got it, the demo was over. It was an anti-climactic ending to an interesting experience.