Last month, thanks to some enterprising developers who got nonpublic code for the Source engine and permission from Valve, we got our first-ever look at F-Stop, the gameplay mechanic that almost became the basis for what turned into Portal 2. Now, those same developers have given us a brief look at Portal 2's scuppered competitive multiplayer mode.
In a new video with Ben Hanson and Kyle Hilliard of MinnMax, Tristan Halcomb of Lunchhouse Software talks about the strange journey that Portal 2's abandoned code and ideas took to get from Valve's old harddrives and into his hands. Halcomb and co-developer Graham Dianaty have been working on their own first-person puzzle game in the Source engine for years, and after they discovered some unused Portal 2 code across various builds of the Source engine they asked Valve if they could show some of it to the public.
The result, Exposure, is intended to be a sort of documentary series that shows off the F-Stop mechanic first mentioned in Geoff Keighley's Final Hours postmortem for Portal 2 and later teased at GDC 2012 by writers Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek—but for MinnMax, Halcomb provided a clip of a reconstructed version of Portal 2's deathmatch prototype.
In this bonus MinnMax video, learn @boxandrocks' wild story about how Valve gave him Portal 2's source code and let him reveal the game's scrapped "F-Stop" concept and a multiplayer deathmatch "Hot Potato" mode. https://t.co/wEg5V2eJXb pic.twitter.com/6UcGqPEV8n— MinnMax (@MinnMaxShow) February 7, 2020
It looks like the mode was essentially a high-stakes version of hot potato, where players armed with portal guns would zip, drop, and fling themselves across an arena while trying not to be the player stuck holding a bomb.
At the same GDC presentation where Faliszek and Wolpaw discussed F-Stop, they also gave a brief aside on the scrapped competitive mode. "It was kind of a mix between the old Amiga game, Speedball, and Portal," Wolpaw said. "Except with none of the good parts of either of those two things. It was super chaotic, difficult to tell what was going on, and no fun." While this hot potato idea seems to have been an immediate deadend, Halcomb believes Valve has revisited F-Stop for virtual reality as recently as 2018 (perhaps we'll find out if that's true with Keighley's Final Hours on Half-Life: Alyx).
So, while diehard Valve fans may hope that Exposure can one day be expanded into a playable project showcasing the mechanic that Valve kept secret for a decade, it's doubtful that many people would really want to sink some time into Portal 2's deathmatch mode. For Portal, potatoes are probably best reserved as batteries for AI, not gameplay inspiration.