Portal 2 map editor finally supports co-op

The Portal 2 Perpetual Testing Initiative

After gently inquiring about our health with a fixed, unsettling stare, the sociopaths of Aperture Science have announced that Portal 2 Perpetual Testing Initiative will sacrifice you and a friend to science — together.  For as of today, Valve’s map-making software will support co-op maps, and there’s a 75-percent discount on second copies of Portal 2 that you might tempt your friends into their fiendish traps. 

Portal 2 has supported user-created mods ever since Valve released the Perpetual Testing Initiative, the appropriately wry name for its elegant map editor. Although the editor had plenty of features to showcase budding level designers, including a place on the Steam Workshop where Valve could turn a spotlight on the best user-created content, the one thing it didn’t support was the creation of co-op maps. This was a pretty big omission, considering that the co-op content in Portal 2 impressed some reviewers more than the main campaign.

Of course, the absence of official support for co-op didn’t mean that user-created maps would be doomed to a life of solitude and onanism. The mod community always regards limitations as dares, and as soon as the map editor was in their hands, the freelance boffins of the gaming community marshaled their typical combination of ingenuity and lawlessness, producing tons of co-op maps that could only circulate underground. Valve, equally typically,quietly but firmly supported this misuse of their software, providing a list of co-op implementation commands that let modders build settlements in the spaces between level end rooms where co-op could thrive. But while Valve was willing to offer programming tips, the Steam Workshop remained closed to co-op until now.

So while this isn’t the first time dedicated hackers could put their friends through collective torture, it’s a nice coming-out party for the co-op map community, which now enjoys official status. Thinking With Portals, the largest Portal 2 mapping community, summarized the announcement not by noting what could be built in the editor, but as “Steam Workshop Now Accepting Coop Maps.”

It’s been a good summer for modders, as the ARMA mod DayZ has become the hottest thing on the Internet, vastly surpassing the popularity of the program it’s modding (while driving up the ARMA’s sales by 500 percent). Other games, though, are fleeing the mod community, most notably Battlefield 3. Battlefield 2 shipped to the PC with very popular modding tools, but Karl Troedsson, general manager of DICE, explained to the assembled throngs of the European Game Developers Conference that those tools were left out of Battlefield 3 out of a fear that giving players mod access could result in a deluge of hacks and cheats that ruin the online multiplayer experience.

It’s strange to see a company walking away from the long-tail sales that a thriving mod community can provide, but Troedsson’s concerns can’t be written off when you’re on the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is competitive console multiplayer. Valve, by contrast, has always been more willing than most to release its code into the wild, and more capable than most of patching hacks and exploits in their wildly popular online multiplayer games. Portal 2, of course, is a pretty non-competitive experience, with no enemy but your own pathetic human brain, so Valve can open up their code in a way leaderboard-driven experiences can’t. Once again, Aperture Science walks off with all the sales, and everyone else must comfort themselves with their pride. Which is, if you’re a Battlefield fan, very little comfort indeed.