As I write this, Valve is busy shepherding PAX attendees into a darkened room to present to them some beautiful new Portal 2 footage. Early this morning, we were lucky enough to be among the first to see it. Afterward, we sat down to ask a few questions to lead designer Josh Weier and writer Erik Wolpaw.
On full display today was a roughly ten-minute snippet from the game’s opening. It was incredibly impressive, both as a tutorial and as a visually stunning reintroduction to the now-decaying Aperture Science testing facility, complete with the Wheatley’s charming humor to break up the decrepit vistas.
More exciting, though, was the revelation of a new main character, Aperture Science CEO and founder Cave Johnson, voiced by none other than J. Jonah Jameson himself, J. K. Simmons. Cave’s footage saw him taking on the sort of mysterious, disembodied overseer role that GLaDOS played in the first game, though with a folksy, unhinged tone that’s worlds apart from her mechanical deadpan.
You can catch the footage and a few details we gleaned from our brief interview after the jump.
When asked for an estimate of just how many characters would wind up filling Portal 2’s rogues gallery, Wolpaw remained tight lipped, though he did offer some insight into the approach Valve was taking towards building on the much-loved narrative structure of the first title.
“One of the things we thought was kind of interesting about Portal,” Wolpaw said, “was that it was this intimate story, especially for a video game, that was about the relationship between you and GLaDOS. We didn’t want to have Portal 2 just be this galaxy-spanning, cast of thousands Mass Effect sort of thing. The characters that are there we still want you to have a significant relationship with.”
If Portal 2 can successfully create compelling and unique relationships with each of the people and machines you come across, then Valve may well be able to recapture that special blend of humor and versatile gameplay that made the first game so widely loved, while at the same time surpassing it in sheer audacity of scope. At the very least, it’s comforting to know that the team has an alarmingly good grasp of Portal’s successes, as well as what it needs to do better to succeed as a full-price title.
“We knew that eight and a half hours of exactly what Portal did was not going to be supportable,” Wolpaw noted. “We’re going to try to break it up pacing-wise, so that you get through this nine-hour experience and it feels like it was two hours.”
From what we saw today, they seem to be succeeding. Time you spend with Wheatley seems vastly different from the time you spend with Cave, and both of these relationships provide a monumental shift from the almost clinically paced interactions you had with GLaDOS in the first game. It’s not a shift in perspective so much a refreshing realization
Though today’s footage focused largely on what the single player experience will bring in terms of narrative, don’t go thinking you’ve already seen all the puzzle mechanics Portal 2 has to offer. Both Weier and Wolpak were cagey about pinning down any specifics, but we were able to confirm that there are puzzle mechanics that have yet to be announced, including a third type of gel beyond the already announced repulsion and propulsion varieties.
“There are still going to be surprises", Weier promised cryptically.
Looks like we’ll have to wait until April 21st to find out exactly what those are.