A community-driven difficulty rating for Portal 2 Mods?

5th December 2010

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

Portal is such an interesting game, whether you love it or hate, whether you are a great player or a bad player, it’s clear to see that the concept behind it has so many possibilities.

The problem is that some custom mods have made the gameplay waaay harder than the original game. That might sounds normal but somehow it seems a lot different with Portal. With other games, it’s more to do with the numbers of enemies, health available etc. I could use the console and go into god mode and still finish every single mod, assuming there aren’t some crazy-ass puzzles. But that doesn’t happen with Portal, the actual jumps can be incredibly hard, coupled with the complexity of the puzzles.

So what does that mean for players not modders?

I propose a difficulty rating that has been community-agreed and any mod can work towards building their mod for a specific group of players. Being the kind of person I even imagine a website that simply lists all Portal mods and their META rating fromthe variety of Portal review sites.

With the release of Portal 2 next year and the new gameplay features, I feel that this will be even more important than for Portal.

To get the ball rolling here is my framework.

Slightly easier than Portal 2.

Slightly harder than the Portal 2 for most players.

Includes diffcult jumps and complex puzzles that require concentratiion. Some puzzles may require fast reaction and timed movements.

Less than 10% of players would be able to complete this. These mods would include very precise jumps, multi-stage puzzles and complex layout in all three dimensions.

I currently use a system like this here on PP. I have three tags: Portal-Easy, Portal-Medium and Portal-Hard. Of course these are just my impressions but I feel that I am an average player.

I’d be grateful if readers who are also members of Portal review sites post a link back to this post on some forums. I would prefer that we talked about it here because this site doesn’t require any registration and it will be good to hear what non-regular PP readers have to say.


  1. reepblue

    I’ll just copy and paste what I said, plus more.

    Since we know that Portal 2 will not be that “Bonus” in a package obviously, targeting a larger audience will be needed. Portal maps got harder and harder because the community got smaller and smaller due to Left 4 Dead and time, and the expected skill increased. I’m sure that Portal veterans know how to do a side fling by now since it was in Logic Portals, Prelude, some community maps, and now Blue Portals.

    For Portal, its like that people enjoyed the more harder puzzles and flings until that March evening when Portal 2 was announced, and Portal got attention again. The Portal community changed since then, and that is why Blue Portals has more of a crest then a curve. If I had an idea what the Portal community and players would be like today, I would have done things differently.

    But for those who just got in the scene and/or don’t play Portal as much, If you play Portal maps that date back to 2008, I’m sure you will have a hard time with them also.

    1. I wasn’t targeting your mod specifically, although as I said it did focus my mind. I’m not even suggesting that mods need to target larger audience, just be clear who theya re targeting it.

      Portal maps got harder and harder because the community got smaller and smaller due to Left 4 Dead and time

      I’m not sure I agree with that. Maybe the community got smaller because the maps got harder. That said, with very little left to do creativity wise I can see what that happened.

      Don’t take my post and idea as attack on BP, it’s not.

      All I am trying to do is help players of all standards and maybe modders who are not to clear about the various skill levels of players. I get the feeling that most Portal modders are really good players but I don’t have that feeling with standard HL Source modders.

      1. reepblue

        I don’t take your post as a bash to Blue Portals at all, rather then a interesting post seeing what the people who normally play HL2 mods want in a Portal puzzle.

        The only reason I mentioned Left 4 Dead is because around that time, there was very lack of Portal activity at ThinkingwithPortals.com if I recall, although Portal: Prelude saw a release in that time period. And you can also be right about the lack of creativity as I do remember most maps having a lot of common factors. Or we can both be right and say that both of these factors help the Portal community go in a depression.

        Ether way, the community maps got harder after this time period, and since the people who still stuck to this game like glue, wanted more challenging maps rather then going over the basics again and again, with the same dialog, same clues, etc. And as you said before, maybe this did not help the Portal community revive.

        The depression is actually why Blue Portals started up again. (After a pause due to Portal: Project-Beta.) I wanted something new to happen, but keeping the difficulty since people in the Portal community did not want something that the game has already went over.

        I understand that although mods like Portal: Prelude and Blue Portals (Atleast the first half) was a delight for heavy Portal players, but the people like the rest on this site had a hard time. I do understand that people who mostly play Portal maps and mods and the people who play HL2 mods are mostly different in what they want and see things differently.

        I’m eager to see what people continue to post as it will help not just us, but further Portal modders see what you want, and compare it to the people who had Portal and been playing it since day one, and the “new” Portal community that formed after the announcement of Portal 2.

  2. I like the concept. While I don’t think this would be applicable for something like HL2, which has such a wide variety of skills and challenges that all factor into deciding whether it is easy or hard, Portal (and theoretically Portal 2) have a much more specialized/focused skillset that determines the perceived difficulty. Effectively you can boil down Portal difficulty into 2 parts, which are very distinct and separate from each other; Logic & Skill.

    It is for this reason that I feel that, if Portal mods would receive a difficulty level, that it should consist of a dual rating system. You can have puzzles within portal that are difficult to figure out what to do, but once you know what to do become easy, but conversely you can have a puzzle that is easy to see what needs to be done, but is an exercise of frustration to perform successfully (like the second half of completing chamber 5 in Blue Portals)

    Basically, my preferred rating system for Portal/Portal2 difficulty would be:

    – Trivial, You barely recognize that a puzzle even exists.
    – Obvious, Puzzles are noticeable, but easily solved
    – Challenging, Puzzles can be solved logically through observation before making the attempt
    – Obscure, Puzzles can be solved logically but require some trial and error
    – Irrational, There is no recognizable logic to solving the puzzles.
    – None, No timing, reaction, accuracy, or on the fly accuracy is needed.
    – Simple
    – Moderate
    – Difficult
    – Unforgiving, No room for error

    No mater what the system, the thing that I predict people having problems with will be the idea that it would generally be better to be closer to the center of the rating scale, rather than at the extremes.

    1. I think that’s a great idea. Maybe each point could be assigned a number and then you average together the numbers the playtesters give the map? Just a thought.

      But the quality of the map should also be considered in that. If the puzzles are easy to figure out, but piss everyone off trying to execute it, is that a hard but fun map or just plain annoying and bad? A lot of the difficulty might not be just logic or skill, but also crappy mapping. I’m not really sure how that would fit in with your system, but I definitely think it should be considered.

  3. There is one thing I would like to say : Mod’s are free. Mod developers want many people to play his “baby”.
    If a mod is way too hard, sure he will alienate 80% of the community. So an “average” mod should be the norm.

    1. NykO18

      That is plain ridiculous, modders are not paid for their work, it doesn’t matter that much how many players play it. It’s a perfect opportunity to leave the pre-established standards of the industry and focus more on a niche of players or a specific genre.

      1. I agree, whilst I couldn’t get very far in your mod, I think it’s right and proper that modders build mods for niche players, because commercial games can’t.

  4. Kyouryuu

    I would agree with that concept. To me, the ideal Portal mod is one where the solutions may be difficult to devise, but the actual execution is pretty simple. This is why the timer-based puzzles annoy me so much. There’s nothing like trying to do pinpoint jumps while having a gun pressed to your head.

    The problem with Portal is that within the basic red/blue design, there’s only so much you can do. In some sense, Portal is like Mirror’s Edge in that you can break down any puzzle into a finite series of parts – flings, pressure buttons, energy balls – etc. and a puzzle is fundamentally built upon some diverse combination of these.

    For the biggest Portal fans, identifying these pieces is a no-brainer and not mentally exciting anymore. That’s the logic part Grey mentioned. Sure, you can overlap components or create more elaborate combinations, but eventually you can’t push the logic side much further with the tools you’re given. Which means the only thing left to push is the skill side, the execution, and that’s where most Portal mods went. Really, to the detriment of Portal modding in my opinion since I’m terrible at most of these things, but I can understand why things went that way.

    Mirror’s Edge tried to break up the navigation puzzles with ill-conceived combat segments that didn’t really fit in the game’s plot or structure very well, but nevertheless provided a contrast to the platforming. One of the quirks of Portal is that there’s nothing else to it – it’s puzzles all the way down. I could say there’s some basic exploration when you go through the rusty rooms or find the rat man’s wall scribblings. I could say that’s all you really need for a 2-3 hour game too. 🙂

    1. The real problem is that you have 4 ways a portal puzzle can go:bad:

      1) Illogical.

      2) Logical, with the ability to place portals and preform actions so restricted that there’s no possible way to NOT do the puzzle properly

      3) Logical, with the ability to place portals and preform actions so UNrestricted that it’s easy to find an exploit that skips the intended method of solving the puzzle entirely.

      4) Logical, but with the ability to place portals and preform actions that are restricted in the exact same way they were in the regular game and are thus easily recognizable.

      In order to get a REALLY good puzzle, you need thread right between all of those 4 problem areas, but every time someone makes any type of puzzle at all, it increases the coverage of point #4 and makes it harder to keep from hitting, so unless you completely change the target that you’re aiming at (like what Blue Portals did) then it’s impossible not to hit them.

      Of course even in the case of something entirely different, there’s still the issue of the basic movement skills that are still going to be harder for some than others. I still found only 2-3 sections to actually be at all tedious to preform. The timed sequences themselves I found to be quite enjoyable simply due to the timers that let you know ahead of time exactly how long each button remained active for.

  5. Hec

    Oh thank god PP is putting this rates!!, now we can think pretty well before we atempt to play hard portal mods, at least the clummsy players as mysel!

    1. I’ve hard difficulty ratings for Portal mods for over a year. You need to look more closely at the TAGs sections of the posts.

  6. The problem is with Portal mods that focus on experienced players is that non-experienced player won’t be able to play it and enjoy it. I don’t think that any mod should be focusing on a specific group of players.

    1. NykO18

      … and I think the exact contrary.
      Like I said a few posts above, modders are not rewarded for their work, it doesn’t matter that much how many players play it. it’s a perfect opportunity to leave the pre-established standards of the industry and focus more on a niche of players or a specific genre. These kind of players don’t often have the opportunity to play a game that fits their needs/skills since the mass market logic has diluted the video-game industry to a dull dozen of blockbusters a year.

      1. Especially since “not focusing” on a particular group doesn’t automatically give you both groups. In the case of experienced vs inexperienced players, not focusing on the experienced players pretty much means you’re excluding them just as much as you’d be excluding the inexperienced players by focusing on the experienced players.
        Sure, the experienced plyers can PLAY the mod, but that doesn’t mean they’ll enjoy it, just the same way inexperienced players can still play the mod but find it too hard.

        Think about it this way; would you enjoy a mod that was being billed as a “combat” mod if it had autoaim built in and no way at all to turn it off? I bet there are a bunch of people who would be up in arms over that, and it’s the same thing for experienced portal players when people are saying that all the puzzles in portal need to have the difficulty turned down.

  7. JohnnyMaverik

    I think it’s a great idea and other than that everything I could say has already been said (including that it’s a great idea but hey… I wanted to say something 🙁 )

    I love Portal but I’m most certainly in the average player category and find myself giving up on a lot of the Portal mods I try out because they’re quite simply way, way too hard and in ways that don’t really interest me.

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