I don’t know about you, but I’m a sentimental fucker. I feel a twang when I send off PC hardware to get replaced. So it won’t come as a surprise to know that I feel the same way about game development. I’m getting better, but I find it hard to let go of certain things. This really isn’t good in long-term creative projects, especially game development. Lately I’ve gotten ruthless and started replacing maps created back in 2012 (when the current version of the game was started – I plan on a post about the history of the development sometime soon), and changing design attitudes to fit better with what I love about the original Portal.
I’m an outspoken critic of Portal 2 – I genuinely feel that the sequel lost what was so special about Aperture Science. Portal features an attention to detail unmatched by any other game, even other games by Valve. Individual panels are textured slightly differently to give the impression of age, tiles are stained here and there, and everything is laid out to give the player the best view of the puzzle before beginning. Portal 2 went for the scale approach, making Aperture seem vast, but in the process lost the strange, impersonal intimacy that the original game featured. Portal’s Aperture was clinical to the core. Not wanting to be a hypocrite, I’ve gone over my maps making sure they follow some of the design cues from the original better.
Some of my older puzzles are… well, they’re not good. And I know they’re not good. Some of them are fine, and need only minor tweaks (which have been made), but some are just terrible, relying on weird tricks with the portals that just don’t make real sense. It’s good that I’m finally recognizing this and taking steps to solve the issue, but part of me hurts to change these maps. One particular test involving turrets has a room that is virtually unchanged from the very first version of the game from way back in 2009 – it had remained for over 5 years.
It’s not the only thing in the game left over from this stage either. Pieces of geometry have been copied from version to version and are finally being replaced (such as my strange, oversized Relaxation Vaults, which can be seen in Portal: Skyline), as well as my half-sized test chamber signs. These signs made sense at the time, and honestly still kinda fit the hub structure of the game… but they don’t feel quite right to me. They’re too efficient – and Aperture isn’t efficient in the slightest. There’s no reason to change something that even Portal 2 didn’t mess with (besides a font change). Afterwards, I turned my attention to another sign. A single texture that dictated the design style of the rest of the game from that point on.
This is the first texture created for Portal: Destination Hostile, way back in 2009. It was tweaked in 2011 to remove some artifacting involving the alpha channel, but otherwise is unchanged since it’s creation. The rest of the signage followed this theme – text, with a line underneath, followed by “APERTURE LABORATORIES”. Looking at it now, this texture is terrible – the line is misaligned, as is the text. But even still, it’s something that I genuinely regret changing. It’s like an old friend, greeting me every time I open testchmb_dh_01.vmf, and you shouldn’t get rid of a faithful old friend like that.
From left to right, these are the three uses of this texture throughout the three distinct versions of the game (that I call V1, V2, and V3, with V3.5 being the current version – but more on that in another post). Part of me feels like I’m kicking a puppy or something by removing it. I don’t feel like that about other parts of the game – the Portal 2 style refraction lights were easy to replace with the texture lights I use now, and the replacement of dialogue is so common that it’s par for the course. But this has never changed.
Yes, it’s something I need to get over. Sentimentality stands between me and the path of progress – and unlike Mr. Dent I’ve not quite gone off the idea just yet. So, in memory of decals/hub01_sign.vtf, say hello to his newborn son.
Funny how much better things can be when you finally let go to something, isn’t it?
Of course, it’s not being removed entirely. You’ll still be able to see ol’ hub01_sign.vtf in the bonus chapter “Camera Obscura”, which I will talk about another time.