The lights are on
Experiments are a dangerous proposition. Valuable resources can be wasted if a creative idea is poorly implemented. At a glance, Valve’s 2007 release Portal might have seemed like a risky gamble. While it came from one of the most respected development houses in the industry, the actual team was small and the gameplay featured novel mechanics difficult to convey in simple screenshots. Even the creators didn’t know what to expect from Portal until it released – that’s when Valve’s experiment turned into a phenomenon.
The Half-Life Connection
Valve fans that played through Portal may have picked up on the game’s subtle references to Valve’s biggest franchise, Half-Life. GLaDOS mentions Half-Life’s Black Mesa in the closing song, and a Powerpoint presentation detailing the financial competition between Aperture Science and Black Mesa can be seen in the later sections of the game. Given that Portal and Half-Life have vastly different tones, the link between the two titles seems a little odd. Valve’s other major franchises – Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress – have received their own distinct settings, so why was Portal an exception? The answer is simple – it was a decision made out of necessity. But to understand the dilemma, we have to go back to Portal’s humble beginnings.
In 2005, Valve discovered a young group of students at DigiPen and took them under its wing. The young programmers had been working on a game called Narbacular Drop (for more on Narbacular Drop be sure to check out our video feature on the game) Valve supervised the team and paired them up with one of its newest writers, Erik Wolpaw, a veteran humorist from Double Fine and the website OldManMurray.com. Valve saw great potential in the student project, but it kept the Portal team small, because it didn’t know if that potential would be realized.
Because the Portal team’s resources were so limited (the core team was less than a dozen people), certain developmental concessions had to be made. For one, the team didn’t have enough artists on tap to create assets for a new world. “It seemed like it made sense to put Portal in an existing universe,” recalls Wolpaw. “Some of that was driven by the fact that we didn't have a big enough team to do the art from scratch, so we ended up reusing primarily Half-Life 2 art assets.” The two games may have been linked by a similar setting, but the team had a feeling that they should keep that link as understated as possible. As it would turn out Portal would be a vastly different title from anything Valve had done before.
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I was afraid this wouldn't be posted! I was hoping when I saw the title that it was going to include the history behind, Aperture Science and Black Mesa, but this was pretty good too. I didn't even realize Hoopy! I feel evil ;.(
Oh man, poor Hoopy.
Pretty awesome how stuff like that is so hilarious to one group and then complete passes by the entire rest of the world.
Hey man, that hoop was the sh!t though.
An excellent read. Reading these kind of stories always put the idea in your head, "What will they do next?"
Love this article, it reminds me to renew my subscription so I can get the Portal 2 issue. Portal 2 is going to be awesome.
Cool.To bad for Hoopy though.
Hoopy must rise to glory! Someone get 4chan on the line!
Great article. I still hope there's ties to the HL universe in Portal 2, but since its taking place in like a hundred years...
I was kind of expecting the link between HL2 and Portal, and not just aesthetically. Oh well, good article anyway.
I think the subtlety works nicely. I always love these articles that give us that peek behing the curtain to see why things were the way they were.
Nice article, but arrggh, I wish my new issue would get here already!
Just got done reading the magazine article. This game can't come out soon enough!
How did they ever think that something that obscure would become famous? "Hoopy the hoop"? Really?
Awesome feature though. I can't wait for the mag to get here! It will be great to learn more about Portal 2!
So how is Aperture Science and the Half-Life universe connected?
That's exactly the type of dev team I'd like to work in someday.
I love portal! Definately very funny and mind bending, and thats why im excited for the sequel
I really enjoyed this article. It's great to hear how Portal came to be.
Very interesting... now I'm going to look back at that hoop