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Once in a while, I read someone saying that Portal shows what can be done with a small budget nowadays. Yet, a lot of developers only dream of getting Portal’s “low budget”.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Portal and yes, it did have a smaller budget than other inferior games, but it wasn’t a low budget game.
Just take a look at the game’s credits — there’s way more than 100 names in there. Most of those probably didn’t work directly on the game, but that’s still a lot of people.
Let’s say the core team consisted of 15 people. According to Wikipedia, the game is based on an independent game released in 2005 — so that’s 2.5 years working on the game after a fully working prototype was made. Moreover, since the team was at Valve, they had complete access to the Source Engine — most low-budget games can’t even afford to license that engine for their game, much less afford the level of access to the engine coders the Portal team had.
Portal is a brilliant game, one of the best of 2007, but it’s not a low-budget game. The team took an established game with a gigantic budget, Half-Life 2, and added a single, but very clever, feature: the portal gun. They took 2 and a half year to make a game that uses that one feature at its best. That’s quite a margin with a real low-budget game, made from scratch in 8 months isn’t it?