It has been a while since Valve expanded the Half-Life and Portal universe. The 2015 Game Developers Conference held on March 4, 2014, however, brought the ‘Aperture Science Virtual Reality Demo‘, which was enough to get fan’s hopes up for the next potential instalment of the series.
Here’s what we know about the demo’s short but humoristic story. It is set in an unknown and previously unexplored are of the Aperture Science Enrichment Center and begins with the player finding himself in a maintenance room. The player is commanded by the Aperture Science Announcement System to open a drawer. No matter the choice, be it a case containing blueprints and tools, a moldy cake, or miniature figures, he will fail to complete the task.
A screenshot of the maintenance room from the demo
The Announcer then tells the player to walk across the room and pull a lever, resulting in him meeting the ATLAS and P-body robots in a state of disrepair. As ATLAS approaches, the player is told to press a button to expand the robot’s countless components in order to repair them. Due to the limited time and complexity of the task, he fails again as ATLAS breaks down and collapses along with the whole room. The Announcer is dissatisfied with the player’s performance and says that he’s now not qualified to do anything.
An official screenshot showing what appears to be a model of ATLAS from Portal 2
The player then hears GLaDOS wondering out loud “how a robot could fail such a simple mission”. With the help of a security camera, she discovers that it wasn’t a machine’s fault. As the room around the player is rebuilt, GLaDOS says that he has done well as far as humans go, and that the player is relieved of his/her duties.
The demo was praised for realism and attention to detail. If you watched the leaked YouTube clip, you probably know what the reporters are talking about – have you ever seen ATLAS up so close and personal? Such polished, photorealistic and elaborate graphics are yet to be seen in a Valve retail release. Valve graphics programmer, Alex Vlachos proudly emphasized that “The moving parts alone are like 600,000 triangles or more.”
Nicole Lee from Engadget said in her article ‘HTC’s Vive made me believe in VR‘ that the demo was “so imposing and realistic that I backed away when ATLAS awakened”. Tech journalist Alex Davies noted in his article on Tom’s Hardware that the sense of scale that the player gets when using the Vive headset was “unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before”, creating a sense of being “actually transported” into the game’s universe.
Hopefully the demo will be available for all of us to experience when Valve release their VR headset in the future. By the way, did you notice that the number ‘3’ on the phone dial is worn off? Stay tuned…