Why You Should Teach With Portal 2's Puzzle Creator

What's going on everyone?


One common request I've received over the past couple of years is to find more games that can be utilized in Science and Math courses. This is usually difficult for me for a couple of reasons: Since I am not a Science or Math teacher, it can be difficult for me to come up with something that has real educational value in those classrooms. Also, there aren't many entertainment games out there that are worth bringing into a Science or Math class and educational video games for those subjects are easier to access. With this in mind, Hey Listen Games has always been a place that focuses on the incorporation of entertainment games into our practice.


Enter the Portal franchise. The Portal series is one of the most renowned franchises in gaming history. They are ingenious puzzle games where each level needs to be solved using a combination of portals and physics. The game consists of a series of puzzles which must be solved by teleporting the player's character and other simple objects using a handheld portal device. The goal of each chamber is to reach an exit point. The "portal gun" and the unusual physics it creates are the emphasis of this game. The player needs to become familiar with real physics concepts in order to make their way through each level. It will not be possible to progress through the game without a solid understanding of the workings of various concepts like gravity, velocity, and momentum.


One of the great aspects of Portal 2 is that it actually comes with a Puzzle Creator. The Puzzle Creator is an in-game puzzle editor that allows the creation and publishing of custom single-player or co-op test chambers. It provides an empty room where players can go and create their own puzzles using all of the mechanics found in both Portal games. This allows for students to tap into their creative side just like with other creation based games - like Minecraft and Fortnite Creative. The goal of this activity would be for students to create their own puzzle and demonstrate various examples of physics concepts in play; like gravity, momentum, and velocity. Giving students the opportunity to apply their learning is essential and the Puzzle Creator in Portal 2 allows for a safe and accessible space to do so. It can also be done over the course of only 2-3 days. You can find the lesson plan for the Portal 2 Puzzle Creator here.


If you want an idea of what Portal gameplay looks and feels like, click on the video here to see the player navigate one of the test chambers. They utilize the blue and orange portals in order to traverse from one space to another. Additionally the player needs to utilize the portals in combination with gravity in order to launch themselves farther distances. This is done by placing one portal high up and another one down on a ledge below. The player jumps down in order to increase their velocity and shoot out of the portal above. Each level in the game requires the player to think critically about their surroundings. One needs a general understanding of how basic physics works in order to exit each test chamber. Entire activities can easily be created out of just the game's campaign. Before having students create their own levels, it probably makes sense to have your students play a couple of levels in the campaign so that they become familiar with the game's mechanics.


When you start up the Puzzle Creator you are met with an empty box of a room. A complete blank slate for you to start playing around in. You'll notice that the level consists of a bunch of squares. Each individual square can actually be interacted with and modified. They can be pulled out to create ledges or pushed in to create hallways or additional rooms. I recommend playing this game on a PC because it is far more intuitive to interact with the level creator with a mouse and keyboard instead of a controller.


On the left hand side of the screen is a menu with a number of objects that you can place into your level. All of these items are things that appear in the game's campaign. There are different types of barriers, projectiles, turrets, switches, platforms, and cubes. They can be placed wherever the player wants as an added mechanic to be utilized in the puzzle. My favorite thing that can be added are the blue and orange paints. The blue paint acts as a trampoline of sorts- if a player jumps on an area covered in blue paint, they will bounce high into the air. The orange paint causes the player to move much more quickly while running on it.

Here is a sample level I built in the Puzzle Creator. My intent here was to demonstrate how playing with gravity and velocity can aid in my movement around the level itself.




Steps:

  1. The first thing I did was add some orange paint to the floor so that I can build up speed.

  2. I placed one portal on the floor and another one up higher on the angled platform.

  3. Then I could through the bottom portal at this increased speed and jump out of the top portal onto a platform up above.

  4. This would be impossible to accomplish without the increased velocity the orange paint provides. You can see a tiny cube on top of that platform.

  5. My next step was to place a portal on the ground and drop into it.

  6. This launches me out of the same top portal as before, ending on the same platform.

  7. Then we want to drop the cube into it, but we first need to place the orange portal on a different angled ledge on the other side of the room.

  8. It launches out of that portal into the area with the red switch.

  9. Then finally I jump down into the same portal and launch myself to the area with the red switch


The only way for the cube to reach that area is to use gravity to my advantage. Dropping it from up high allows it to build up speed.


Here is a video demonstrating all of this


This was just a quick level that I put together in about 45 minutes- the room size wasn't even adjusted to its maximum size. This puzzle creator can be an enormous playground for your students to play around in; especially if provide them with an ample amount of time to experiment. The full game can also be used in a number of ways in Science and Math Classrooms. While not created by myself, there are a number of great lessons put together using the game's campaign. Check out the Learn With Portals page created by Foundry 10 for those activities. Whatever you ultimately decide to do with this game, your students are going to love it.


Thanks for reading,

Zack

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