Courtesy of Valve, I got to try out the PeTI DLC a week early, as part of its beta. Unlike Art Therapy, which was so needlessly hidden and difficult to access, the PeTI gets its own main menu option, in the form of “Community Test Chambers”. Click that, and you are in! No red carpet ceremony, no complicated registration or installation process – it simply takes an extra moment to load up the new sub-menu, and that’s it.
From there, you are free to choose what you want to tackle first: the new Puzzle Maker, or the actual community-made test chambers themselves. We’ll be taking a look at the Puzzle Maker up first; and yet again, it’s quick, easy, and relatively painless… for Aperture technology. Observe!
Whenever you start creating a new map, the Puzzle Maker provides you with a basic test chamber to build upon, with most of the necessary elements already in place (the entrance and exit, plus an observation room for lighting). The main controls are very simple: the left mouse button is the main action button, used for highlighting wall panels or testing elements; holding the middle mouse button allows you to steer the camera by moving the mouse; the mouse wheel zooms in and out; while the right mouse button allows you to move the camera around independent of overall orientation (and, when released while on top of a wall panel or test element, will open up the pop-up shortcut menu). There’s also a bunch of hotkey shortcuts that can be very handy.
Shaping the chamber and modifying its layout couldn’t be any easier. Simply highlight the wall panels on top of the area you want to alter, and then move the mouse in whatever direction you want them to go. You can also highlight things as a box, and set them apart from the rest to craft entire new rooms. Otherwise, terrain modification is very simple and very user-friendly. So is lighting – you can use observation rooms or neon lights to brighten up your test chamber, and everything in-between is entirely handled by the Puzzle Maker itself. While it only takes a few seconds to build/compile the map and take a look at it from the in-game view, the actual editor can be a bit deceptive at times when it comes to lighting – everything looks perfectly lit, with no distinction at all, which can be pretty misleading at times.
But it only takes you a few moments to return to the in-game view, rebuild the map, and see for yourself what you’ve created. Even a weaker computer can build any given level in just a couple of seconds. Perhaps rebuilding could be automatic upon hitting the game view; or perhaps an option enabling this could be added to the Puzzle Maker’s settings, allowing impatient players to toggle it on and get a quicker look at their test chamber. Still, everything is done extremely fast and extremely well.
Installing testing elements is also extremely easy, as is configuring them. There’s no math or number-crunching involved, and all it takes is a couple of mouse clicks. In addition, things like entrance and exit elevators are automatically placed in your map, which is also splendid. In addition, the Puzzle Maker sets you up with a musical soundtrack automatically. This is really great, but I do wish Valve would allow us to select the soundtrack ourselves. And perhaps we could also be allowed to create dynamic music by setting certain testing elements to play musical soundbites taken straight from the game, when they are approached or triggered. It’d be in line with what Valve did in P2 themselves, and surely it can’t be too difficult to implement. And, of course, co-op support for mapmaking has yet to be added, but hopefully that’s on the agenda as well.
Rejoice, my friends – the days of Portal modding being more like Portal programming are long gone. Really, aside from a few issues with figuring out scale (there’s no real units of measurement, and the doors and panels’ sizes can be a bit deceiving at times) and the aforementioned lack of a more reliable method of showing you the chamber’s lighting, the Puzzle Maker is just terrific. Even better: Puzzle Maker maps can be then exported for use in the Hammer Editor, where you’ll be able to add design touches and modify the maps in ways you can’t in the Puzzle Maker. And you can upload Hammer-made maps to the Steam Workshop. The possibilities are limitless!
Let’s move away from the Puzzle Maker and towards the actual Initiative itself. By clicking “Play Community Test Chambers” in the PeTI’s menu, you are then taken to “My Queue”, which is a staging area for newly-downloaded test chambers that you’ve subscribed to from the Portal 2 Steam Workshop. It’s an unbelievably simple process that only takes about 15 seconds until your map is ready to be played. I say “subscribe” because the map author can release updates to the test chamber as they please, and your game will automatically install these map updates in a very discreet way.
Certain maps feature integration with Cave Johnson’s Multiverse side-story, including brand new voice lines that feature some terrific writing. The narrative itself, however, is pretty schizophrenic, as Valve desperately tries to cram the Multiverse thing into the narrative. It likely remains non-canon, don’t get me wrong, but it’s still pretty awkward and a tad confusing.
Still, the comedy is as great as ever. In fact, it might just be the best material in Portal yet – a lovely blend of subtle, dark comedy with some more overt and goofy humor. Unfortunately, figuring out which of the Workshop puzzles do include Cave’s new voicework is… well, very tricky to say the least, and I don’t know if there’s any specific criteria. Mostly, you’ll be going blind until you actually hear Cave open his mouth. Hopefully Valve will be working on making that a bit more transparent.
Even if the PeTI is currently in beta status, there were plenty of lovely maps to try out – not just from community mapmakers, but from Valve developers as well. The amount of great puzzles available is a testament to just how awesome the Puzzle Maker and Workshop integration really are, and just how easy they make Portal mapmaking and distribution.
Once a test chamber has been solved, you are then prompted to give it a rating (either a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down), and you can then return to its Steam Workshop page to add it to your favorites, and perhaps comment on it. Once that’s done, you are returned to the PeTI’s main menu, and the test chamber you just finished is added to “My History”, never removed or hidden in any way.
In conclusion, the Perpetual Testing Initiative is… well, a huge success. The versatile Puzzle Maker makes mapmaking easier than ever before, while Steam Workshop integration for community test chambers makes for a clever, easy-to-use and robust distribution platform. Even after release, Valve will still be working on it, as they aim to add co-op support for the PeTI further down the line.
Targeted for release on the 8th of May, the PeTI will provide Portal 2 with a whole suite of new features, increasing replay value and longevity. It might ultimately turn it into Valve’s perfect vision of video gaming – not just “entertainment as a service”, but entertainment as a community system, allowing the fans to build their own experiences and share them with others. And best of all? It’s completely free. Cave Johnson must be turning and twisting in his grave by now.