The Portal 2 Perpetual Testing Initiative is officially underway. This piece of free DLC adds Portal 2 to the small list of games currently supported by the Steam Workshop, alongside Team Fortress 2 and Skyrim.
The Steam Workshop was introduced in October 2011 as a centre to aid in the creation, publishing and distribution of items and hats for Team Fortress 2. Through the Steam Workshop users can submit their created items and have them rated by the community. If accepted for use in game by the TF2 Team, the items will be sold through the in-game Mann Co. Store and the creator will earn a share of the profits.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was added to the Workshop in February 2012. Alongside the Skyrim Creation Kit – available free to all Skyrim owners – this feature allows players to create and share mods with the community. Unlike the Team Fortress 2 items, there are no associated micro-transactions and all mods are freely available for all to use.
Finally, effective from 8th May 2012 Portal 2 was added to the Steam Workshop. The Perpetual Testing Initiative is available to all Portal 2 owners and adds the ability to create brand new test chambers via an in-game map editor and post these directly to the Steam Workshop for others to play and to select maps from the workshop to play in your own game. As I write this, only 7 days after launch, there are over 76,000 available user-created maps available for download and play.
The benefits of the services offered by the Steam Workshop the average user are massive. Let’s take a quick look at each game in turn: -
Since Team Fortress 2 went free-to-play in June 2011 the game has been supported entirely by in-game micro-transactions. Opening the creation of new items to the player base means that Valve have tapped into an almost infinite resource of new content, which can only help keep the wheels rolling. In offering to split the earning with the players that made the items, they are also offering a pretty good deal to those who are skilled enough to create a good item and get it published.
Skyrim is all about mods, Bethesda’s open world RPG series has always enjoyed a healthy modding community, thanks in no small part to the ‘Creation Kit’ programs they tend to release to the fan base for free. Mods are a huge part of the PC experience for many dedicated PC gamers, opening up a huge world of variability ranging from a tweaked character model to a total game conversion. However, modding can also be a bit of a pain. After eventually finding it after hours of searching the internet even the most technically minded PC gamer can run into problems trying to get his ‘all women in the game are nude’ mod working properly.
Integration into the Steam Workshop has made the modding process easier for the typical user. Mods are published directly to the Workshop and you can search for what you want by keywords, by category or simply by browsing through all the user-reviewed content available. Once you have selected the mod you want it is automatically downloaded and can be activated for your game simply by ticking a box on start-up. This makes modding your game a breeze and accessible even to the most technically illiterate of us.
This latest offering for Portal 2 is of massive significance, given that what is on offer is essentially infinite replayability. Considering that most developers are happy to charge a good chunk of change for your average map pack, Valve are certainly to be commended in that the tools they have created and given away for free have given each and every one of us access to a choice of 76,000 maps at no extra cost, and that is just in the first work with the number increasing every day.
Custom test chambers can be browsed through the in-game Steam Interface – which you are directed to from the main menu. Any level you select and download is added to a queue and when you are ready to play you can pick any of the selected levels or elect to play the queue in order. Once finished you can give either a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ to the puzzle which will be reflected in its workshop rating.
It is simple really, and accessibility is the key here. Even the in-game map creator/editor is a breeze to use. That’s not to say it’s easy to create a good Portal 2 test chamber – but the difficulty encountered will be in designing a challenging puzzle rather than in building it.
There are some noticeable limitations at present in the DLC. Using the editor you cannot add any scripted events and the items and textures available for your use are limited. You also cannot allow the game to randomly select test chambers for you; they must all be manually downloaded from the Workshop. Hopefully some of these issues will be addressed in future updates, but considering the scope of what has just been given away for free you can’t really complain.
It is worth noting that the Workshop does allow the hosting of custom test chambers that have been developed outside of official editor and some great maps have been produced by talented developers using other means.
The Steam Workshop is a fantastic asset for PC gamers and by allowing players to develop and share their own content it has opened the door to some fantastic additions to the games we love, giving us new experiences and potentially infinite replayability. Not only that, but in a culture where high priced and regularly released downloadable content is the norm, gamers are able to access the majority of this content for absolutely free.
As it stands the Steam Workshop is an excellent addition to an already excellent games client and as further games are introduced it will only get better and better.