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Generating content – Portal 2’s “Perpetual Testing Initiative” DLC

With community generated content, I am always situated within the group that lets other people do all of the work so we can have the fun. Sure there are many who enjoy constructing levels in LittleBigPlanet or maps in Halo’s Forge mode, but they are the minority. Like many others I imagine, I have briefly fiddled with the community tools and only created something that was simple. On top of being extremely overwhelming with objects available for use and alterations I could make to those objects, making a great map or level is rather difficult and only made harder by the inability to successfully manipulate objects precisely using a controller.

I am certain the PC community is significantly more enthused with the creation of content, as there is much more freedom and precision granted with a mouse and keyboard. With control aspects aside, what all user creation tools share, is an overwhelming amount of content. I can probably make a decent map in Forge or a creative level in LittleBigPlanet, but I always spend more time trying to make my blank canvas somewhat visually appealing more so than making an effective play space. Without experience or tons of patience, there will always be this huge gap between the quality of a developer’s stage and community stages.

I speak of community generated content because of Valve’s recently released “Perpetual Testing Initiative” DLC for Portal 2. This free PC only content, despite being for one of my favourite games, was something I just ignored. Yet after spending time watching a video of the application of these tools, I was intrigued by how simple they were and of high quality each test chamber looked once played. I was excited to start playing some more Portal 2 and purchased a second copy of the game, this time for PC.

I spent about a week, often during my lunch, solving my way out of the test chambers generated by the community. Contrary to my experiences with community driven content featured in other games, I was continually impressed with each chamber that I solved. There are a lot of creative, clever map designers within the community, and the simple tools that allow each user to focus on their idea to create complex puzzles, are what makes this free DLC so amazing. Valve handles all of the time consuming aspects such as visuals, sound and the ease of access to content, leaving us to just worry about making the most mind bending, clever puzzle our brains can come up with.

I would never have imagined making a level in Portal 2, but after I spent over 2 hours with the tools I never used before, I was extremely impressed with how awesome my puzzle turned out. I obviously have huge bias towards whether or not the chamber is actually good as it’s difficult to determine if a puzzle that you created is as mind bending you imagine, but I actually enjoyed the process. I anxiously monitor my published chamber, constantly checking for new comments or ratings that either confirm or deny the quality I assume.

So do I plan on making another map using the incredibly easy tools Valve has provided free of charge? Well that sort of depends on the reception I receive with the map I created. Even if my map making days are over as soon as they started, I will still play Portal 2 and see how people – as they become more and more familiar with the scope and limitations of this level editor – create even better, more complex puzzles to solve. The community drives the content, and the quality is not determined necessarily by how well you can use the level editor, but rather how far you can wrap your brain around the concepts that stump even the smartest of people who play.