The Final Hours Of Portal 2

NEW: Read about the making of the “Peer Review” DLC  and the future of Portal 2 in a just-released bonus chapter!

 

The Final Hour of Portal 2 takes you deep within the top-secret offices of Valve, creators of Half-Life, for an unvarnished look at the creative process behind the new video game Portal 2. Journalist Geoff Keighley was granted unprecedented "fly on the wall" access to Valve over the past three years to create this staggering 15,000 word multimedia experience. From the hush-hush Portal prequel that was shelved to the last minute scramble to complete the game's story, The Final Hours of Portal 2 is a gripping and dramatic story brought to life by exclusive photos, videos, interviews, interactive experiences, and other surprises. Watch the teaser trailer.

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Have you ever wondered what it's like to create a video game?

In The Final Hours of Portal 2 you'll step inside the offices of Valve in Seattle to experience the development of Portal 2 first hand. Journalist Geoff Keighley chronicles the creation of this new game and reveals never-before-told details that will be a must-read for any fan of Valve. The 15,000 word story is complemented by dozens of photos, interactive diagrams and multimedia features, plus interviews with Valve founder Gabe Newell and actor Stephen Merchant (the voice of Wheatley).

In the Final Hours of Portal 2 Valve reveals:

  • That Portal 2 actually began as a prequel to the first game. Hear the surprising details of the story and see the art that was scrapped.
  • The Directed Design Experiments created after Half-Life 2: Episode 2, including video of a never-before-disclosed project, Two Bots, One Wrench.
  • How the story of Portal 2 evolved during development. See images and read surprising details.
  • How it worked with Jonathan Coulton to create "Want You Gone," the closing song to the game.

Interactive Highlights include:

  • Play with portals in an interactive diagram where you learn how portals work.
  • 360 degree panorama photos of the Valve office and design labs.
  • Listen to the songs that inspired the Portal 2 development team.
  • Hear Jonathan Coulton's Portal 2 song in various stages of development.
  • Puppet Wheatley in an interactive experience
  • Destroy Aperture Science by wiping your fingers over the screen.
  • Interact with fans and voice your opinion via polls and a feedback form.
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Geoff KieghlyLongtime game journalist Geoff Keighley is the host and executive producer of Spike TV's GTTV, as well as The Bonus Round on GameTrailers.com.  The recipient of TJFR "Top 30 Journalists Under 30" award in 2004, Keighley has written for Entertainment Weekly, TIME, and Business 2.0. He is also the co-chairman of the Game Critics Awards.  

The Final Hours App was designed by Joe Zeff Design.

For more information of Geoff visit his own site, GameSlice.com

Follow Geoff on twitter

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About Final Hours

Q: Have you written other Final Hours stories before?

A: Yes, I wrote a number of Final Hours stories in the late 90s and early 2000s as part of my Behind the Games series on GameSpot.  The games I covered included Black & White, Metal Gear Solid 2, Unreal, Quake III Arena and Prince of Persia in 2003. The last story was The Final Hours of Half-Life 2, which published in 2004.  Most of them are still archived up on GameSpot.  As part of the Behind the Games series I also wrote pieces about the downfall of the game company Trilobyte (the company behind The 7th Guest) and Ion Storm, the mega game-developer envisioned by id co-founder John Romero.

Q: Why did you stop writing The Final Hours series in the first place?

A: There isn’t a particularly good or interesting story here. I wrote most of the original Final Hours stories during college. After graduation I thought that if I was going to stay in the games business, I wanted to devote most of my time to sharing our amazing industry with as wide an audience as possible.  So I began writing for Entertainment Weekly and pursuing opportunities on TV at networks like G4 and Spike.  I always hoped to return to the Final Hours series one day, but wasn’t ever sure I’d find the time to write another one.

Q: How did the Final Hours stories begin?

A:  I’ve never told this story before, but I first came up with the idea in August of 1997. I had just started college at USC, and at the end of the first orientation day I felt a little out of place.  So I turned on the TV in my dorm.  As I flipped around I ended up on VH1, which happened to be premiering a Behind the Music Episode on Milli Vanilli. (Believe it or not you can watch the episode online here: http://vimeo.com/6659561) Over the next hour I watched a fascinating documentary about the fall of the lip-syncing pop group.  When it was over I thought to myself, ‘Why doesn’t the game industry ever have good narrative stories written about it that profile the people, not the products?’

A few months later I met a guy named Vince Broady. With two partners he had started this website out of an old travel agency building in San Francisco. It was called GameSpot or the G-Spot.  He liked my personal website GameSlice, and asked if I wanted to do something with him.  I talked to him about writing a story about the making of a game and the people behind it.  His wife Susan suggested that we can it ‘Behind the Games,’ and Vince generously agreed to serve as my editor.

The first story I wrote was about the making of Unreal in early 2008, and that was assembled via phone and email interviews where I re-assembled the story of the game’s development.  I loved writing that story so much that I thought the next step would be to actually immerse myself in the “final hours” of a game’s development – to be a fly on the wall.  But first I needed to find a game developer who might be willing to let me see them at their worst during the final stressful days of squashing bugs.

It wasn’t an easy ask, but I knew the game I wanted to target first: Half-Life from Valve.  So I pitched their publicist, Genevieve, and their founders, Gabe & Mike, on the idea of letting me come to their office for a few days to observe how Half-Life was finished.  Gabe took me to a sushi restaurant near Valve to hear my pitch.  At the time I wasn’t very good with chopsticks, but I managed to get through lunch and explain my idea of chronicling the good times and the bad on the project.  Gabe thought about it and said that yes, that idea sounded cool.  I took a few days off from my sophomore year of college and headed to Valve to write the story.

Q: Why did you decide to return to the Final Hours series now?

A: This is a good question.  For a few years I’ve been thinking about writing a Final Hours story, and have been quietly documenting events at Valve (and a few other studios).  To be honest I always have wanted to write another Final Hours story; the question was if I had time to do it.

If I had to point to a moment where I decided to go all in and do it, it would be last September when I was watching The Social Network in a New York theater.  You may remember that brilliant opening scene between Mark and Erica, where  she ends their conversation about his internet postings with the dismissive and pejorative line, ‘Ok, good luck with your video game.’  As I walked out of the theater that line stuck with me and reminded me that it’s still easy for outsiders to see games as something trivial or worthless.

We all know they aren’t, but game journalists don’t do enough to share what makes games (and the creative process) so special.  When I open a video game magazine or go to many of the top websites I am often amazed at the lack of good journalism about games. There are so many interesting stories out there to write and for whatever reason they are never written.

So I thought I’d write another Final Hours on a new platform, iPad, and see if there is an audience for journalism like this.  I’ve spent a significant amount of my own money to build this multimedia story and really have no idea if it will make back its money.  But I thought I’d run an experiment and see what the market is for a Final Hours in 2011.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the Final Hours of Portal 2?

A: The Final Hours of Portal 2 is the story of the creation of the new video game Portal 2 from Valve.  This multimedia journey takes you through over 3 years of development and shares new insights into the creative process behind the game.

Q: I don’t understand, is this an article? A book?

A: The core of this App is a 15,000 word story about the making of Portal 2.  But the story is filled with dozens of photos, screenshots, audio clips, videos from development, and some interactive experiences as well.

Q: What was your vision for this App?

A: I wanted to write a Final Hours story for the iPad, but also take advantage of the iPad to surround the story with interesting interactive experiences.  As a kid I remember playing with early versions of Microsoft’s Encarta on CD-ROM and loving the interactive diagrams.  So I’ve included some fun interactive elements like puppeting Wheatley and playing with Portals.

Q: How can I read The Final Hours of Portal 2?

A:  Currently The Final Hours of Portal 2 is available from the iTunes App Store for iPad devices. The cost of the story is $1.99.

Q: I don’t have an iPad.  Will The Final Hours of Portal 2 ever be available to read on the web or other platforms?

A: While I don’t have any announcements to make at this time, I am exploring ways to make the story available on more platforms in the near future.

Q: Why would you make this for iPad?  I don’t own an iPad but really want to read it.  It’s not fair!

A:  I know this will be a frequent question. I started with iPad because I love the device; in many ways it helped inspire me to write this story. It’s a good platform to publish log-form journalism with multimedia elements.  But I do realize that iPads are expensive to own and many Valve fans may not have one.  If the iPad version is somewhat successful I am committed to getting this story onto other platforms. I appreciate your patience.

Q: Why are you charging money for this story?

A: The $1.99 price is an experiment. For a while I toyed with making the app a free download as a gift to the game community (and Valve), which I may still do at some point. But ultimately I had to be realistic about the costs of building this App, including the photography, design and programming. I am very curious to see what kind of market exists and if that market is large enough to recoup my production costs.  The $1.99 price was established because it is similar to the cost of a weekly magazine. I think it’s a fair price for such a lengthy story with so many multimedia features.  Please let me know if you disagree.

Q: If I buy this app am I going to see lots of ads and sponsors throughout it?

A: No, there is zero advertising or sponsorship.

Q: How was Valve involved in the creation of this story?

A: Gabe and everyone at Valve generously gave me access to their offices, and more importantly, their personal stories, photos, and time. They let me observe them at their worst, sit in on private meetings, and left me completely unsupervised most of the time.  Heck, I even had my own keycard to the office! More than anything else they trusted me to tell their story, and I hope I’ve honored that trust.

A story like a Final Hours is really only possible under these conditions.  You may wonder why you don’t see more journalism like this about games, and a lot of it has to do with access.  Far too often today’s game studio visits are tightly scripted, with an over-controlling publicist parading you around an office while an advanced team scrubs every white board before you turn the corner.  I guess you have to be careful in a world where one Tweet can spoil a top-secret project, but it doesn’t lead to very good journalism.  Valve is transparent about its creative process, and that’s something I don’t find at many studios.

I really have to thank Gabe and Doug Lombardi, Valve’s VP of Marketing (and overseer of all things PR-related) for letting me do what I needed to do, and to Chet Faliszek, who was invaluable in helping coordinate assets, interviews and scheduling. Chet’s the kind of guy who emails you to say, ‘Are you sure there’s absolutely nothing else we can get you?’ as you’re wrapping up a project.  These guys were incredibly busy these past few months but always made me feel like a priority.

And to those cynics out there, I should note that Valve did not have any approval over this story and did not pay me to write it.

Q: Have you played Portal 2?

A: Yes, I was lucky enough to play the final version of Portal 2 in mid-February right after it was finished. I have completed the single and co-op campaign.

Q: I have another question that isn’t answered here. What should I do?

A: Contact Geoff by filling out the contact form.

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