Interview: Valve’s DJ Powers on Portal 2, PS3 development

February 19, 2011 / 02:21 PM EDT / (@salromano)

During an Electronic Arts event in New York City this Wednesday, we sat down with Valve marketing manager DJ Powers to talk Portal 2, PlayStation 3 development, Steamworks on consoles, and future developments.

On Thursday night, we ran a preview for a new hands-on of the game offered up by Valve on the same night. Read that here.

I haven’t really heard too much on the story of Portal 2. I know Chell’s back — she escaped in the first Portal — so what’s going on with the sequel? What’s the main premise here?

What you’re seeing, actually, in this demo is the introduction portion of the game. You finished Portal 1, and you’re placed in this, what they call a “relaxation center”, and it’s a room to you, but it’s really a pod, among thousands of test subjects in similar pods. You’re supposed to be in there for a short amount of time, a month or two, and you’re asked to go to sleep. When you wake up, you realize that not a month has gone by, but many many many years have gone by. You’re not told exactly how long, but it’s clearly a very long time because the world around you has kind-of disintegrated.

At that point, Stephen Merchant’s character, whose called Wheatley — he’s what we call a “personality sphere” that kind of guides you through the game — he comes in, knocks on your door, wakes you up, and says ‘hey, here’s what’s going on, I’m gonna get you back in the Portal world’. So he takes you back to the Portal world, you’re able to navigate yourself back in, grab a portal gun, and start going back through the process of making your way through Aperture Science. While this is happening, at some point in the game, you’re gonna come across GlaDOS again, you’re gonna renew your relationship with her, you’re gonna have these other characters like Wheatley and a couple of other people help guide you through the experience.

The first Portal — being included in a set of five games — was a short experience. The game lasted around 4-5 hours for most. How long do you plan on making the sequel?

Portal 1, like you said, was about a 4 hour experience. Portal 2, on the single-player side, is meant to be about a 6-8 hour experience. There’s also co-op, which is a completely different game. Their stories are woven in a little bit, but it’s not just playing the single-player levels again with two people. It’s a completely different experience. And that’s another 6-8 hours. So we’re looking at 14-16 hours of gameplay, which is a significant amount over the first game.

Speaking of co-op, you’re playing as two bots — one of which sort of looks like Wheatley…

One of them looks like Wheatley, he’s got arms and legs. The other one looks like a turret…

What’s their story? What could two Aperture bots possibly be going through?

You’ll find out their story when you play the game. They’re test subjects, as well. They’re brought in because humans can’t handle the kind of tests that they’re doing. They’re brought in to run through a series of tests, and they’re dealing with GlaDOS in sort-of a similar way that Chell does. And they’re experiencing Portal, and you’re solving much harder challenges, because now you have four portals to work with, you each have a gun.

I was trying to put that together in my head — how it would work.

I can run through your portals, you can run through my portals. The challenges get a lot more complex because you have all these ways to work around.

In-house development on PlayStation 3 is a first-time thing for Valve (the first Portal was ported to PS3 by EA). How are your experiences developing on PlayStation 3 for the first time?

It’s been great! We’re really excited to be on PS3. The development process has been fine. Everyone’s been so easy to work with. So we’ve had a good experience.

It seems like the past year or so has seen a great attitude shift in Valve’s attitude towards PS3. Was there anything about the console that influenced Valve’s decision to develop for it?

I think we recognized the opportunity of PS3. I mean, PS3 is a significant player in the console market. If you want to be a big-time game, you need to have your game on all the platforms. So we recognize that — it’s a platform we want to develop on. We weren’t able to get our ducks in the row for Left 4 Dead 2, but we have been able to get organized for Portal 2, and we’re excited to bring it to Sony.

One of the great things about Sony is they have an open platform, that we’re able to work with them on unique things. We’ve placed Steamworks into the Sony build. We have cross-play, where you can be playing on PlayStation 3 and I can be playing on PC and we can play [co-op] together. That’s pretty awesome. We have a cloud functionality where you can play part of your game on PS3, save, go to your PC, pick up and start playing from there, go back, back and forth. Achievements across both ways. And if you buy a PlayStation 3 copy, we’re going to give you a Steam code for free. So there’s a lot of stuff that we’re able to do with Sony that we’re really excited about.

That Steam functionality that you have running on PlayStation 3… what’s preventing you from getting it running on the Xbox 360 version?

Really, we’d love to do it with Microsoft, we just need them to come around and decide that it’s something they want to do, quite honestly. Sony’s just a bit more open about that kind of sharing. Microsoft isn’t.

So did Sony approach you about Steamworks functionality on PlayStation 3?

Nah, it’s something that we kind-of approached Sony about. It’s something we asked Microsoft, but Microsoft has a very successful platform, they’re doing just fine. You know, they don’t want to do that stuff that we’re doing with Sony right now, but maybe in the future they will.

I understand. Microsoft’s caused a few problems in the past for online developers in the past. Final Fantasy XIV, for example: Square Enix wanted to release the game on Xbox 360, as well as PS3 and PC, but due to Xbox LIVE restrictions, could not. It’s unfortunate — I’d love for more people to be able to play these types of games.

We think it’s a first step into Steamworks integrated-with-console-in-any-way, and we don’t know where it’s going to lead, but we think it’s a cool thing to try.

Does Valve have any visions for the future in terms of what they’d like to achieve with Steamworks on consoles?

Nothing specific, because it’s so open as to what it could become. We just have no idea. We really want to see how this works. We’ll get a whole bunch of data when this happens — whether people liked it or not, how people used it, how Sony liked it. From there, we’ll be able to think about our next games and re-approach Microsoft, and talk to them about what they’re up to, maybe do more with Sony, maybe do less with Sony — it just depends on how this goes.

Closing off the interview, with Valve now on the full development train for PlayStation 3, can we expect future games — Half-Life 2: Episode 3 or Left 4 Dead 3, if they’re made — on Sony’s console?

I don’t know. If we make those games, I would expect them to be on as many platforms as we can. But until we know the games that we’re making, it’s hard to decide or comment on where we’re gonna be?

Thanks for your time, DJ. Can we take this Portal 2 demo home with us?

Yeah, sure. Just take the laptop home. (laughs)

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  • Blackmage456

    very good interview, its good to know that cross platform play will be available, I’m a huge steam user, but i’ll be picking this up on PS3, now my brother can play on PS3 and i can play on PC with that steam code. Valve kicks ass, also Where’s Episode 3??!?!?!