Portal 2 User Levels

Back when Portal 2 came out, I spent some time making my own levels using the built-in editor. Unfortunately, I did all of that on my EA work computer without realizing that Portal 2’s cloud save did NOT include levels in progress. Thus, I lost out on anything I didn’t publish before I left EA.

Two levels remain: The Smallest Room, and The Column.

The Smallest Room

My playthrough of the Smallest Room (spoiler alert)

Steam Workshop page for The Smallest Room

This is a very small level. The goal was the create a level that was simple and concise while still using a fairly wide variety of mechanics. I think I succeeded, though it’s not the most interesting level I could have made. I managed to craft a level with a timed button, a springboard, two pressure plate buttons, a companion cube, and one excursion funnel, all in a 4x4x3 cube. Efficient!

What’s featured in the video is the intended solution, though it is possible to cheese it a little bit by throwing the companion cube onto the springboard instead of using portals.

I do think it’s interesting that I was able to make a puzzle that is best solved by the player mostly standing in one place.

The Column

My playthrough of The Column (spoiler alert)

Steam Workshop page for The Column

This was a much more complicated, high-concept level that somewhat succeeds but is probably too finicky to be truly great.

The basic idea was to create a level in vertical layers, where every layer is visible but traversing the layers vertically is not necessarily straightforward. I also kept the number of light sources limited, which makes the whole thing feel more dramatic and ominous.

There were a few key design decisions here; Some worked and some didn’t. I still like that the player sees the companion cube through the wall before they can get to it, and I like that if you look straight across from the start of the level you can see the exit just a room away. One of the biggest problems with the map is that you can’t really see the laser wall from the button that temporarily disables it.

If I learned one major lesson from this, it’s that large, complicated levels benefit from incremental changes in state, rather than a physical progression through a space, and that backtracking that takes more than one step becomes tedious. Much of the challenge of the level is actually in figuring out the valid and invalid line of sight locations for portals rather than working out the logic of what goes where. If you’re paying attention to line of sight, getting the companion cube from the first button to the second button is trivially easy but it seems impossible at first, which seems like a good challenge in theory… Unfortunately, in practice, the solution being “figure out that if you stand in exactly the right spot you can get line of sight from the top of the level to the room with the companion cube” is really not that interesting.

In hindsight, the best large, complex levels with backtracking force you to change the state of the level in small ways, then backtrack so you can see the level again with new eyes and a better understanding of how to traverse the space. This level does not accomplish that.