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Over a decade since it was cancelled, Valve's unreleased Portal prequel, F-Stop has been revived via an unusual source: an indie developer.
F-Stop, which began life as a Valve experiment before it was set to be the next Portal game following the release of the Orange Box in 2007, revolved around taking pictures in the game world, with the pictures then used to create in-game objects. Portals and the Portal gun were nowhere to be seen.
F-Stop was eventually canned and Valve went on to release Portal 2 in April 2011. Gameplay of F-Stop was never officially released, with Valve keeping its cards close to its chest in case it fancied returning to the in-game camera mechanic. But now, over a decade later, an indie developer has said it has permission from Valve itself to show off the F-Stop mechanic using F-Stop's source code - and it released a video revealing how it all works.
Shortly after the release of the famed Orange Box, Valve embarked upon a series of "Directed Design Experiments" that Gabe Newell hoped would spark a new wave of creativity at the studio. One of them, as explained by the Half-Life Wiki, was called F-Stop, and it was enough of an internal hit that it was tapped for full development as a prequel to Portal. For reasons unknown, that prequel never came to be, and the whole thing sunk into obscurity—another Valve mystery, to be occasionally whispered about in Reddit threads.
One of the reasons so little is known about F-Stop is that Valve simply refused to talk about it, apparently out of hope that it would actually turn it into a proper game someday [Half-Life: Alyx stares directly into the camera]. Valve seems to have had a recent change of heart, however, as an upcoming YouTube series called Exposure, being made by indie studio LunchHouse Software, will not just explain how F-Stop was intended to work, but actually show it in action.
"The mechanics are not based on speculation or hearsay. Instead, Exposure uses the original, official code from Valve's own F-STOP, or as it was properly named, Aperture Camera," the video description states. It also notes that Valve has given the studio "explicit permission to continue with our project using their original code."
The "gameplay" in the clip bears more than a passing resemblance to Superliminal, a perception-bending first-person puzzler released in November—a similarity that didn't go unnoticed on Twitter. That may be why Valve is suddenly willing to let this cat out of the bag: There's not much point in keeping your special mechanic a secret if someone else has already turned it into a game, after all.
And while an unused game mechanic might seem like a thin basis for a multipart video series, LunchHouse's Tristan Halcomb told USgamer that there's enough to it to make more than a dozen videos, although they're aiming to keep it to five or six.
A full release schedule hasn't been set yet: Halcomb said LunchHouse wants to "discuss the future of the project a bit more with Valve to see what opportunities we may have going forward before committing to a follow up, so we're working based on their schedule to some extent." For now, you can follow along with the project at exposure.lunchhouse.software.
Portal and Left 4 Dead writer Chet Faliszek and Riot Games senior technical designer Kimberly Voll have launched a new studio called Stray Bombay Company that will focus on the development of AI-driven "collaborative gaming experiences."
"As Kim and I talked over the years about the kind of games we want to make, we realized we want to create games that give players a place to breathe and live in the moment," Faliszek wrote at straybombay.com. "Games that tell stories knowing you are going to come back again and again, that change each time you play them without feeling completely random, and that help you feel like a real team that supports each other... not a bunch of folks in each other’s way. And where AI drives not just the enemies but helps drive the entire experience."
Faliszek is likely the better known of the two among gamers, but Voll has an impressive list of credits too. She's worked on numerous indie games over the years including the 2016 VR release Fantastic Contraption, a must-have for HTC Vive owners, and last year she gave a GDC presentation about how Riot was able to revamp League of Legend's honor system.
"We think now is the time to change the culture of game development. Make everyone equals, not just in their impact on the project but in how we divide the loot of our success. Relax strict PTO policies because we trust each other to take the time you need. We want to build games that reflect our culture," Voll said.
"We are supported by like-minded, patient investors with Kevin at Upfront Ventures as our lead, who has known us for years, working with Chet on a gaming startup board, as well as Riot Games. They love and understand games but more importantly, have time and again backed founder-led and employee-owned tech startups from the beginning towards long-term, independent success."
With the studio announced, the plan now is to "go dark for a little bit as we start laying the foundation of our new world." It sounds like there's already been some decent amount of progress in that direction, though, as Faliszek told PC Games Insider that he had a prototype running in Unity and Unreal before partnering with Voll to launch the studio.
"We know the direction we're going. As people join the team, that'll help find the game more clearly. We're very iterative, everyone is a designer, everyone participates in the process," he said. "Everyone joining [the studio] will have a big impact on the project. Obviously, we have a plan, there's a framework that we can hang it all off, but everyone will be able to express themselves and have an impact."
Faliszek also confirmed that he is no longer with Bossa Studios, the Worlds Adrift developer he joined up with in 2017. In fact, it sounds as though that might be a big part of what led to the launch of Stray Bombay.
"I just don't think it was quite the right match. Bossa is great; I love them. It was the most cordial breakup of making sure that everybody was okay and helping each other the best we could ... I take a lot of notes, I track progress and see where things are so I can have a good perspective on it and I brought some stuff up and we talked it through and it just wasn't good for either side. We decided to break-up."
Faliszek said that it was up to Bossa to comment on the state of that project following his departure, so I've reached out to ask and will update if I receive a reply. To keep up with happenings on the new project, you can add your name to the mailing list at straybombay.com.