Although Portal arrived 11 years after the N64 debuted (and five years after the GameCube, the N64’s replacement, was released) a talented developer is slowly pulling off the seemingly impossible task of recreating the classic puzzle game working on Nintendo’s first 3D console—and it doesn’t look half bad.
Creating demakes of popular graphically-intense modern video games has become one of the internet’s favorite pastimes, but it usually involves recreating the graphics of an A-list game as crude pixelated sprites, which are then brought to life using animation software. In other words, most demakes are just fun but faked ‘what if’ videos. James Lambert is instead taking the long road and actually recreating the Portal engine so that it works on console hardware a decade older than the game itself, which was a PC exclusive when first released.
Lambert’s earliest videos of their Portal demake were simple graphical tests showing that the portal effect—which basically renders the room the player is in multiple times from alternate camera angles—was actually feasible. Lambert then figured out how to let the player move through portals, and then began testing a physics engine that would work on the N64’s hardware without bringing gameplay frame rates to a crawl. Unlike modern games, where hundreds of objects can bounce around a level with realistic animations powered by real-time physics calculations, the N64 delivered comparatively crude and non-interactive 3D environments. But for the puzzles in a Portal demake to work, the weighted companion cube needs to behave just like it did in the original PC game.
In just two month’s time, Lambert’s progress on Portal 64 has been impressive. The game now includes an actual portal gun capable of firing portals onto flat surfaces, complete with error correction should a user attempt to fire one into a corner or the edge of a structure where portals can’t exist, as well as anti-gravity capabilities for picking up and manipulating the companion cube.
In their latest progress video, Lambert spends more time discussing the logistical issues with getting a game like Portal to work on the N64’s hardware, such as doing everything possible to avoid drawing offscreen objects to reduce time-consuming texture swaps. The demake can also now do recursive portal rendering, akin to looking into a mirror with a mirror behind you, up to 14 levels deep, although to keep framerates manageable, the final version of Portal 64 may limit the effect to far less iterations than that.