Thrilling The Gamer: Portal 2 Level Design

Posted: September 30, 2012 in INFR 3330
Tags: , , ,

In the recent couple of weeks, an assignment for one of my classes, INFR 3330, or better known as Game Design II was to create a level with a group with Portal 2’s puzzle maker. I and my group decided we would each create a short level to put together and call it our group’s level. This gave us as game designers a lot of freedom when creating the levels, which let us flex our creativity muscles.

Even though we were allowed to create a level from our own designs, we agreed as a group collectively we should have the levels at least progress logically in difficulty. I was assigned level 2, so I tried to design a level which would have somewhat of a beginner difficulty, while trying to satisfy the assignment’s requirements. Overall I had some fun with it, which helped me create this level:

Grand scheme/view of my level

So as you can see there are a few rooms in my level. It is actually quite a small level with just a few components. Since it was more of a beginner level, I wanted to keep players entertained during my level, since I wasn’t trying to focus on extremely difficult elements/puzzles. So in essence, I decided a level to thrill the player, rather than challenge/frustrate the player. I wanted to create a level where things were kept simple, fast paced and made the players feel something; an emotion while playing my level. By approaching level creation this way, I believe this would leave a better impact on the player, rather than trying to win them over with extremely difficult puzzles. Have fun, not headaches!

How did I achieve this you ask? Well I’ll list a few things.

1. I made the start of the level look extremely easy, and I mean extremely. 

Here is the entrance to the level. Hey look, it’s the exit, a laser field and fizzler attached to a switch? That’s it?

I thought that creating the starting passage like this would instantly confuse players and get the player to start thinking/get paranoid about what this magical switch does. Does it really just let them through and teach them how to use a switch? Well to those paranoid players to suspect it’s too good to be true, good for you. Because it opens the hatch below where you fall down into the rest of the rooms; the fun begins.

Down the hatch we go. Uh oh, lasers!

2. Safe and cheap thrills. Get the player to think they did something wrong/are in danger

As you can see in the above screenshot, after hitting the switch, the player immediately plummets down a chute into a room below lined with laser field. This will make players think “Oh no, did I screw up pressing that switch? Was there another way to get across? I’m going to die” Then the players see some hope in the faint blue hue of the tractor beam which will catch them, giving them a ride to safety and a view of the room.

So many bright shiny things! Wonder what’s below?

3. Little mini games

After tractor beaming it to safety, I present players with a simple puzzle to get some gears in the brain moving. It’s all behind some glass to give it a little mini game feel. My level tends to give players a quick taste of some elements from Portal 2.

Players will then fight a turret hiding in the room, where they get a Companion Cube! Yes I chose to use a Companion Cube instead of a regular cube to give players a hint. You should probably keep it with you after you use it, you might need it! It’s your companion after all!

Move onto the next room!

4. Give players big rooms and lots of space to give players a sense of freedom vs. a confined room

Players leave the tiny room with the mini game into a contrasting large room.

Me and my Companion Cube versus the world. 

This large room has a few buttons to solve some gizmos to raise some platforms which create a bridge across the deadly goo to the next room. I always thought it was cool to have hidden things in levels appear, which is why there are platforms hidden under the deadly goo which rise, along with flipping panels. Not everything it what it seems to the eye.

Bird’s eye-view of the bridge across the goo.

5. Fun with goo

The first level didn’t use goo, so I thought it was a good time in the second level to introduce a fun goo into the level. The bounce gel. This room has gel flowing from above in a corner. Notice the Companion Cube too, another clue! The gel in the corner will provide a simple puzzle/mechanic which involves players bouncing up the walls like a ninja to the switch. Simple, but fun to do and watch!

Players have to find a way to coat the walls in bounce gel to help them ninja their ways up the walls.

6. Think of the players…

For some reason about 50% of the players who play tested my level thought it was a good idea to douse the Companion Cube in bounce gel, which would prove troublesome when trying to seat it into a cube switch. It would just bounce everywhere! This is why I had to install a cleaner in the next room to help clean the gel off. Yes the next room, didn’t want to tell players not to douse it in bounce gel. Why? It’s fun to watch a cube bounce everywhere and players try to recatch it after.

Oops I covered it in gel, I’ll just set it down.

It’s bouncing everywhere!

Ah that’s better, all clean. Happy Companion Cube.

7. Make the player feel like a winner at the end

I have players be raised on a platform to the exit of the level. This implicitly means that the winner has won, almost like rising to the top of a podium. It pushes players up to the top, where they are presented with a button to open the trap door to the exit. Success and congrats! You win!



It was a fun assignment, to create a level to challenge and entertain other players. It feels great when players say it was a fun/good level. There were design challenges of thinking outside the box and trying to think in the players’ shoes rather in the aspect of a designer trying to hit every point for level requirements. If I were to just plug in all the requirements of the assignment, it could have turned into a very bland, boring and unmotivating puzzle level.

So I decided to thrill the player and keep him/her happy. Cheap fun and thrills, not cheap levels!


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