[As Valve re-releases an update of Portal for Xbox Live Arcade, Gamasutra is proud to present a Game Developer magazine-reprinted article by the creators of the 2007 Game Developers Choice awards' Game Of The Year, discussing the creation of the GlaDOS-domineered cerebral action-puzzler. This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of Game Developer magazine.]
To our genuine delight, Portal became one of the most notable games of 2007. Though Portal's development path was by no means perfect, during the two years we spent creating the game, we refined what we think is a terrific process.
A rigorous playtesting schedule, iterative story design, and a marketing strategy that helped mitigate some of the game's riskier elements all contributed to a fresh, enjoyable experience for players -- one which remained accessible despite its unconventional narrative and gameplay mechanics.
Perhaps the most unconventional element of Portal's development was the way in which the project arrived at Valve. All of us on the Portal team (with the exception of our writer, Erik Wolpaw) were students at DigiPen Institute of Technology, a university focused on video game development.
As a part of the curriculum each year we had to form teams and create a game from scratch using our own code and artwork. The requirements for the games range from a text-based game for our freshman year to a fully 3D game with simulated physics for our senior year. For our final game project, seven of us got together and created a game called Narbacular Drop.
We knew that we were going to be graduating soon, and we needed a great project to put on our resumes. When trying to come up with the game design for our project we focused on creating a game that was simple and unique.
Simple, because from our previous school projects we learned that there are never enough hours in a day to do what you'd like. Unique, because we figured we could get more attention for a new idea, and since we were in school there was no risk in trying out an original concept.
After throwing around a few ideas we were able to come up with the game design for Narbacular Drop, the predecessor of Portal. In that game, you were able to create two interconnected portals, a red and a blue, and place them dynamically around the level; using them to solve challenges and traverse the various maps in the game.
Nuclear Monkey Software's Narbacular Drop
Every year, DigiPen holds a job fair for graduating seniors, during which they bring in developers from across the country to take a look at students' projects -- and hopefully offer them interviews.
During our job fair, Valve sent over a couple of representatives who took a look at Narbacular Drop, and they subsequently invited us to come to their offices and demonstrate the game for Valve founder and managing director Gabe Newell.
We ecstatically accepted and the following week we found ourselves in one of the conference rooms at Valve, with Gabe Newell sitting with rapt attention on a couch. About fifteen minutes into our demo, Gabe stopped us and asked what we planned on doing after we graduate. After we answered, Gabe offered us a job on the spot to make the game in full using the Source engine.
Needless to say, we all accepted the offer and started working on Portal in July 2005. Working at Valve straight out of school certainly required some adjustment. One of the wonderful things about Valve is how intelligent and helpful everyone is. We've learned many things that have helped us to become better game developers.