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A behind-the-scenes review of some of our work this last year, and some sneak peeks for what’s ahead.

It’s that time once again! As we head into the New Year, we wanted to share an update on Desolation’s development over the course of 2023. It’s been a productive year, and there’s lots to talk about!

Before we dive into the details, I wanted to take a brief moment to introduce myself. My name is Brian Koren — or Distanced, as I’m known online — and I’m the new Producer for Desolation. While the Project Manager and Creative Director focus on broad issues and the vision for the game respectively, it’s my job as Producer to ensure that development progresses smoothly and steadily; I’m very happy to report that it has! We ended last year’s update by saying that we needed to just hunker down and work on the game; no major teasers, no big reveals, just focus on actual content — and that’s exactly what we’ve done.

Story Maps

Desolation isn’t just test chamber after test chamber; much like in Portal 2, the testing tracks are set in between large “story maps” that take you throughout the expansive facility. In fact, as of writing this, story maps make up 42% of all the maps in the mod! At the heart of our efforts this year was the goal of taking one of these maps from the first chapter of the game and getting a “vertical slice” out of it — essentially, what this entails is having every facet of the map at least partially complete, like the gameplay, detailing, lighting, narrative, and music. You've seen fully completed test chambers from us, like Chain in our inaugural Gameplay Showcase, but we wanted to prove to ourselves that we're capable of giving our story maps the same treatment. One year later, and the map we’ve chosen for this undertaking has been blocked out, detailed, lit, and partially soundtracked.

Not only did we achieve our goal of a vertical slice with this map, but it also reached a new milestone for the game being the first to receive placeholder subtitles and dialogue from the script. We’ve since begun implementing dialogue throughout numerous other maps as well, and it’s been so exciting to see our characters come alive inside the game for the very first time. This milestone is a very important step in development because of how closely intertwined the script is with the story maps. It’s a very iterative cycle — the script gets drafted, we make the map based on the script, and then the script is further refined to better suit the map. We had this process in action with the game’s introductory maps this year, blocking them out to get a feel for the pacing and adjusting the script as necessary. It’s been a great year for our story maps, and I can’t wait for you all to experience them for yourselves!

UI Updates

I mentioned Chain earlier, and those of you who’ve seen our Gameplay Showcase might recall a new HUD at the beginning of the level. This HUD is just one small piece of a larger effort to redesign Portal 2’s UI, not only to better fit Desolation’s visual identity, but in some cases to even help tell the story (like with the chamber HUD, seen by Diana through her B.R.A.C.E.’s Optic Perception Spheroid module)! The test info HUD not only appears at the start of each chamber, but is also available to view at any time in the pause menu, accompanied by quick explanations of the puzzle’s test elements.

Our main menu received some big upgrades this year thanks to one of our programmers TeamSpen, who implemented our new Level Select and Gallery pages. Level selection has never been easier with the power of spoiler-free static to maintain the mystery of unplayed levels, and something called “images” for levels you’ve already experienced. The Level Select menu even has a neat feature allowing you to pick a particular puzzle in maps with multiple chambers, letting you jump right into your favourite test!

Out of the two new menu pages, the Gallery is by far my personal favourite. Our maps are littered with new art, posters, and signage that makes me laugh no matter how many times I read it, and we love this new content so much that we wanted to have an easily-accessible page where players could go back through it on their own time. The posters below are just a small taste* of what you can expect to see in game...

*Aperture Science posters are not edible and should never be ingested under any circumstances.**
**Disregard if you are a participant in Enrichment Program 1516N.

Adhesion Gel

It’s no big secret that Adhesion Gel is part of Desolation’s puzzle campaign, but stick with me here… Implementing this testing element isn’t as simple as slapping it on any wall and calling a day; we’re well aware of the reasons why it was cut from Portal 2 in the first place, and we know that bringing it back must be taken care of with delicacy.

Aside from a number of improvements we’ve made to the functionality of the gel this year — like making it work on moving surfaces — we’ve also begun development on an entirely new visual theme specifically for the part of Aperture that houses the Adhesion Gel puzzles. We want this testing element to be done justice, so we’re putting a lot of effort into making sure the environment is suited to it. This includes visual elements like clear and contrasting floors and ceilings, making them easier to differentiate and reducing motion sickness, as well as story elements like in-universe explanations for the gel’s purpose.

While we’re not ready to show off this new theme just yet, we’re really proud of how it’s been materializing. I’m personally thrilled about this style — the first maps and models (including some of my own!) have begun to shape up, and I can’t wait to reveal what we’ve been working on down the line. All in good time!

Thank you all so much for reading and especially for your patience. We have a lot in the pipeline, and as always we’re looking forward to showing more when we’re ready. Following us on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Discord is the best way to stay updated. If you’re interested in joining the Desolation team, you can apply here.

Thanks again, and we’ll see you in the next update!

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