Portal co-writer Erik Wolpaw: “We’ve gotta start Portal 3”

Portal 2: a puzzle level with a cube suspended in a gravity well

“We’ve gotta start Portal 3. That’s my message to… whoever.” Those words from Erik Wolpaw, who co-wrote both Portal and Portal 2 along with such titles as Team Fortress 2, Half-Life 2, Half-Life: Alyx, and Left 4 Dead, will no doubt whip fans up into a frenzy. However, Wolpaw is quick to constrain expectations. “I can’t do it by myself,” he says to Kiwi Talkz host Reece Reilly.

“I could advocate for it,” says Wolpaw, “It might help a little bit, but the problem is with 300 employees there’s a lot of opportunity cost to taking 75 people and getting a game made.” He goes on to speak about the workplace at Valve and explains that getting a new project spun up isn’t easy. “As much as it seems like Valve often is just a bunch of people sitting around sipping gin and tonics by a pool, everybody’s working.”

Wolpaw says that while Valve’s employees are constantly working on a variety of projects, people don’t always see the results – either because they end up not coming out, arriving years down the line, or are turned into something else entirely. He says that “everybody is accounted for… you’d have to stir up a bunch of people to leave what they’re currently working on and come work on something else. In this case it’d be Portal 3.”

Responding to Reilly’s remark that Portal 3 would be a money-maker with a wry smile, Wolpaw says, “You’re preaching to the choir here. The problem is, you would make money, but… are you going to make Counter-Strike: GO money? Probably not.” After pondering briefly, he continues: “Maybe every game doesn’t need to make Counter-Strike: GO money… Gabe, if you’re listening,” he chuckles, referring to Valve president Gabe Newell.

Wolpaw speaks in the interview about the process at Valve and several projects which he previously worked on. He notes that Portal 2 almost didn’t happen due to teams shuffling around during the production cycle, speaking to the “all hands on deck situation” of finishing up Left 4 Dead 2 and other similar projects where staff members working on other projects would jump over and help close to release to help get a game out the door.

“Portal 2 came pretty close to being, if not killed, maybe it would’ve come back again in some form later on. But it would have been with that team disbanded, and somebody might take another run at it years later.” Wolpaw notes that while this might sound strange given Portal 2’s huge critical success, games are often in a bad state until they come together towards the end of development.

It’s clear to see Wolpaw’s enthusiasm for the prospect of a third game in the Portal series, although he’s realistic about the difficulties of getting such a project off the ground. But he’s hoping that he can convince his co-workers and the higher-ups before it’s too late. “We’re reaching the point where, it’s crazy to think, but we’re literally going to be too old to work on Portal 3.”

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In the meantime, one ambitious Portal 2 mod has been aiming to overhaul the puzzle game’s graphics to resemble those of Half-Life: Alyx. Knowing Valve, there’s also a decent chance that they’d want any future Portal titles to make use of their VR technology as well.

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