Lego Portal 2 Board Game Manual
Project Length: 6 Weeks (1/29/13 – 3/14/13)
My Roles: Gameplay Mechanics, Level Design, Play Testing, Writing (Content & Layout)
End Product: Playable Board Game, Complete Game Manual
This project originated as an exercise in creating additional level maps for the game Portal 2 that utilized a game element that had been cut from the final product. My teacher had suggested to me that I prototype my ideas in a board game fashion, and with that in mind, I decided to make them out of Legos. It was fast, simple, and wouldn’t fall apart easily.
Unexpectedly, as I built my level designs, I began thinking about how Portal would work if it really WERE a board game. Before I knew it, my mind was teeming with ideas about how to translate the design into a unique physical format while maintaining the essence of the original. My project completely changed gears so I could explore the idea in full.
The main feature that makes this game unique is the fact that it’s a two-player versus game. One player takes on the role of Chell trying to escape the Aperture Science computer-aided enrichment center, while the other assumes the identity of GLaDOS and tries to stop Chell. Throughout my playtests, players seemed equally excited to not only taken on one of the two roles, but furthermore, they became interested in playing the game a second time when they had finished in order to try the opposite side.
Like the digital game of origin, this game comes down to strategy. The Chell player does indeed need to figure out how to solve the puzzle chamber in order to escape, while the GLaDOS player must carefully place her turrets throughout the chamber in order to kill Chell. Playtests revealed that, as with the original game, players that did not play with critical thinking in mind did not do well. Those that did, however, thoroughly enjoyed the experience and became very competitive in trying to triumph over one another.
GLaDOS begins the game by setting up the board. Players have the option of using one of the test chamber layouts provided by the game, or GLaDOS may design a chamber herself. Like the game of origin, each test chamber contains one or more puzzles that Chell must solve in order to make her escape. (This is why the Chell player isn’t intended to help design the board, as it would reveal the secrets to the puzzles.)
Once the board is set, GLaDOS places up to 3 turrets into the chamber. Upon initial placement, turrets may not be side-by-side or facing the same directions. The game begins with Chell taking the first turn and exploring the chamber. As Chell progresses and attempts to escape the enrichment center, GLaDOS attacks her with turrets to stop her from escaping. (For more detailed information on turns and combat, refer to the appropriate sections in the game manual.)
This image represents the life and combat systems, and is used by the Chell player. Chell has 3 lives in which to make her escape from the test chamber; although GLaDOS has no limit on the number of turrets she may drop throughout the game, she does have a limit of 3 turrets in the chamber at any given time.
Chell is the only player that takes cumulative damage; when a turret is damaged, it “dies” and is removed from the game. Chell can keep playing despite her injuries so long as she does not fill up her damage chart below the neck. If she rolls “head” or “full body” damage, she instantly loses a life. Additionally, Chell can take up to 3 electrical shocks from turrets before losing a life.
To balance the variety of ways in which Chell can be hurt, GLaDOS’ turrets are very limited in how they are able to stalk her. Turrets have very short movement ranges, and even though they have lots of opportunities to shoot, there’s no guarantee how many (if any) of those shots will hit. Playtests showed that once players understood the system, the uncertainty of having to roll the dice dramatically increased the excitement of every combat situation for both parties.
In addition to the game itself, designing the manual was a major component of this project. It demonstrates that I can be clear, concise, and work within restraints. As this manual is a folded book, page count was critically important because a single sheet of paper creates four pages. This means that I had to organize my information very carefully. If even one section ran over more than expected, I wouldn’t just have one new page to deal with, but three additional blank ones to go with it.
The manual came out to 20 pages, not counting the inside and outside of the front and back covers. I was able to showcase the necessary information without it feeling too cluttered or too sparse, allowing each section to have its own page (or group of pages) with only one exception. The choices I made for the visual design were careful and deliberate; I wanted the very manual itself to reinforce the aesthetic feel of Portal, and I kept this in mind whether I was working on the front cover or making simple font selections. The color scheme of blue and orange against white was an easy way to maintain this goal.
Overall, I’m thrilled with the way my manual came out. When printed and constructed, it truly looks like the sort of booklet that would be included with a board game. The Lego boards I had constructed may have been a bit crude, due to the fact that an actual production model would need several specialized pieces, but it still worked very well for what it was, and players enjoyed the experience. I believe a lot of good came out of this project, both because of the final output and the experience of working out the mechanics on my own.
For more information, click here to read the manual as a PDF.
My main critique of this project is the fact that it was necessary to build it out of Legos due to the time constraints. While I had never intended on the Lego brand being central to the project, my instructor insisted that I embrace it rather than remind the players that it was more of a placeholder design. Because of this, board elements became particularly crammed in some places. I would’ve preferred to build the game out of different materials that would allow for more space. I believe that changing the materials would’ve increased the game’s fluidity, as there were often problems with counting spaces and fitting game pieces together within the available room.
That having been said, I don’t think the Lego element is a total bust. Lego does often do special edition sets that relate to other media, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, Lego also has several video games based on those adaptations. It’s entirely possible that this game can still work while composed of Legos, but they’d need to create several specialty pieces to really make the game shine. I feel I did exceptionally well with what I had (after all, these were just the bricks left over from my childhood), but having pieces made for the express purpose of portraying Portal in Lego form would be a gigantic step forward.
Portal is © 2013 Valve Corporation. All rights reserved. Valve, the Valve logo, Portal, and the Portal logo, and all related objects and characters are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of Valve Corporation. All other trademarks are property of their respective owners.
LEGO, the LEGO logo, and all related bricks and tiles are trademarks and/or copyrights of the LEGO Group. ©2013 The LEGO Group. All rights reserved.
(Most of that was quoted directly off of Valve and Lego’s respective official websites, so don’t sue me.)
The Portal 2 board game concept and instruction manual were created in full by myself.