Portal 64 is an N64 demake of Valve’s classic, now available as a “First Slice”

Enlarge / Remember, this is the N64 platform running a game released at least five years after the console’s general life cycle ended.

Valve/James Lambert

James Lambert has spent years making something with no practical reason to exist: a version of Portal that runs on the Nintendo 64. And not some 2D version, either, but the real, blue-and-orange-oval, see-yourself-sideways Portal experience. And now he has a “First Slice” of Portal 64 ready for anyone who wants to try it. It’s out of beta, and it’s free.

A “First Slice” means that 13 of the original game’s test chambers are finished. Lambert intends to get to all of the original’s 19 chambers. PC Gamer, where we first saw this project, suggests that Lambert might also try to get the additional 14 levels in the Xbox Live-only Portal: Still Alive.

So why is Lambert doing this—and for free? Lambert enlists an AI-trained version of Cave Johnson’s voice to answer that question at the start of his announcement video. “This is Aperture Science,” it says, “where we don’t ask why. We ask: why the heck not?”

The release video for Portal 64’s “First Slice”

Lambert’s video details how he got Portal looking so danged good on an N64. The gun, for example, required a complete rebuild of its polygonal parts so that it could react to firing, disappear when brought up to a wall instead of clipping into it, and eventually reflect environmental lighting. Rounding out the portals required some work, too, with more to be done to smooth out the seeing-yourself “Portal effect.”

To try it out, you’ll need a copy of Portal on PC (Windows). Grab the “portal_pak_000.vpk” file from inside the game’s folder, load it onto Lambert’s custom patcher, and you’ll get back a file you can load into almost any N64 emulator. Not all emulators can provide the full Portal experience by default; I had more luck with Ares than with Project 64, for instance.

How does it run? Like the nicest game I ever played on Nintendo’s early-days-of-3D console. It does a lot to prove that Portal is just a wonderful game with a killer mechanic, regardless of how nice you can make the walls. But the game is also a great candidate for this kind of treatment. The sterile, gray, straight-angled walls of an Aperture testing chamber play nicely with the N64’s relatively limited texture memory and harsh shapes.

Lambert has a Patreon running now, and support does a few things for him. It allows him to pay a video editor for his YouTube announcements and regular updates, it could pay for a graphics artist to polish up the work he’s done by himself on the game, and it could even free him up to work full-time on Portal 64 and other N64-related projects.

His fans are already showing their appreciation. One of them, going by “Lucas Dash,” helped create a box and cartridge for the game. Another, “Bloody Kieren,” created an entire Portal 64-themed N64 console and controller. These people have put serious energy into imagining a world where Valve produced Portal in a completely different manner and perhaps fundamentally reshaped our timeline—and I respect that.

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