Portal 2’s Level Editor – How It Works And What You Can Create

Adam Barnes


Valve’s Portal 2 level editor releases next week, but how does it work and what can you create? Find out here.

Published on May 3, 2012

What is the future of Portal 2? Campaign has been completed, co-op and its DLC are done and dusted: how exactly could Valve ensure people are playing Portal 2 all the time.

Well, with this level editor.

By handing over the ability to craft your own test chambers, Valve has bestowed on Portal 2 eternal life: with Steam Workshop integration and possibly the easiest level editor known to man, Portal 2 is about to become the game that just doesn’t end.

Guess it's called 'Perpertual Testing' for a reason.

Isometric View Brings Better Understanding

Few level editors have been as superbly designed as this. Replicating an Aperture Science video, the semi-cartoony feel of the editor means it’s not immediately overbearing like so many other editors.

But the isometric view is so much more important than that. Just a glance is all it takes to understand exactly what state the puzzle is in and how everything interacts.

And since everything is grid based, you won’t need to worry too much about making things match up. Everything slots into place so there won’t be overlap or incompatible parts. It just works.

Your Grandma Could Create A Portal 2 Level

With a simple drag and drop interface, anyone with even a basic understanding of how a mouse affects a cursor will be able to jump into the new tools.

Hold the mouse down on any tile and drag and its position in the chamber will change – either creating a raised column or a deep pit depending on the directional of your mouse movement.

Adding puzzle items is just as simple whether it’s a puzzle cube, a turret, any of the gels or even a water level – select the icon from the pop-up menu on the left and click it to place it into the world. 

Everything else is interacted with by right-clicking its icon. If it’s got an option – such as whether its “portalable” or not – then it’ll be here, and only a few objects actually have these options to worry about anyway.

It’s astonishing how quickly and easily a solid, playable level can be created. Complex puzzles may take a little longer, however.

There Are Limitations To Portal 2’s Level Editor

This isn’t an endless, sprawling environment to construct in, however. There’s a limit to the base and height of a level, but while the isometric view might scale that back there’s still plenty of room to create a tougher puzzle.

The toolset’s grid based system is a little restrictive too. There’s no tweaking the boundaries of the walls or the nature of the puzzle objects you use.

Similarly, there are no specific objects for moving parts. Later challenges in Portal 2’s campaign had moving platforms and even large glass boxes but they’re not available here, so it’s strictly basic puzzle parts.

Whether this will prove to be an issue will be when the masses get their hands on the level editor – if the mind-melting puzzles don’t start popping up then Valve may need to open the editor up a bit for more advanced customisation.

But this is detracting from what an impressive job Valve has done with this level editor: not only is it simple to use, aesthetically pleasing and incongruous with the Aperture Science design, but it’s a benchmark for other developers and how they should handle their level editors.

To finish up, here's a summary of all the available tools and what they can do:

- Four buttons: activated, pressure pad, cube pad and sphere pad. Can be connected to machines.
- Five puzzle cubes: normal, companion, sphere, frankencube and beam redirectors. Can be stationary, or come with dispensers.
- Excursion Funnel. Direction of funnel can be changed.
- Aerial Faith Plate. Power controled via second click after placement.
- Hard Light Surface. Can begin activated or deactivated and controlled through buttons.
- Steps. These can be active or inactivate and controlled through buttons.
- Emancipation Grid. Destroys cubes and can be active or inactive and controlled via buttons.
- Glass. Acts as a barrier, but one that players can see through.
- Piston Panel. Base level and active height can be set, which works when stepped on. Can also be controlled via buttons.
- Wall Panel. The same as piston panels, except must be connected to a wall.
- Thermal Discourgement Beam.
- Two beam Catchers. One that is connected to a wall, and one that is placed on the ground.
- Three panels. Glass, angled wall and invert wall. The two former can be angled as 0, 30, 60 or 90 degrees. The invert wall can only rotate 180 degrees, to turn a non-portalable surface into portalable and vice versa.
- Observatory window. Decoration.
- Laser Barrier. Prevents player from passing. Can be active or inactive and controlled via buttons.
- Turret. Angle of view can be controlled, radius cannot.
- Water. Placed on the wall to create a water level.
- Indicator Lights. Used as decoration or to highlight puzzle elements. Can be controlled via buttons.
- Four Gels. Repulsion, Propulsion, Conversion and Water.



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