Portal 2 Puzzle Maker

Mind-bending level editor for beloved physics game

Learning rating

Community rating

Based on 2 reviews

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Expert evaluation by Common Sense



Subjects & Skills

Creativity, Critical Thinking, Science

Great for

Game-Based Learning

Price: Paid
Platforms: Mac, Windows

Pros: Students get to build pro-quality levels for a beloved franchise while building invaluable skills.

Cons: The teacher community features showed a lot of promise but seem to have lost support.

Bottom Line: For STEAM educators with the right tech and know-how, it'd be puzzling not to use this tool.

The most obvious use for Portal 2 Puzzle Maker is to teach physics, and just about every introductory concept can be covered, from testing the effects of friction on falling objects to calculating acceleration due to gravity. Teachers can build their own lessons and test chambers or challenge students to design, develop, test, and iterate levels that demonstrate concepts. Teachers could also ask students to build machines or apparatuses in test chambers that "do" things, like Rube Goldberg machines, oscillators, and logic gates. This will help student see how complex chains can work toward a simple goal (like getting a cube from one end of a room to the other with no player interaction). If designing something new sounds too ambitious, check out the selection of ready-to-go lessons from expert teachers.

Keep in mind, though, that sharing of levels is still technically challenging, and some lessons may require a pre-constructed test chamber that students play and experiment with. If this is the case -- and building the level isn't part of the lesson -- students or teachers will need to build the levels prior to the meat of the lesson, and/or swap computers that have a particular pre-built test chamber saved locally. For this reason, many of the lessons on the Teach with Portals site have students create the test chamber as part of the lesson.

Portal 2 Puzzle Maker is a game design and learning tool that allows educators and students to create test chambers -- or puzzle levels -- in Portal 2, a hugely popular and influential first-person physics puzzler with a great sense of humor and mind-bending challenges. In Portal 2, players use a handheld "portal device" that places interconnected "portals" on walls, ceilings, floors, and other objects. Go in one portal and you come out the other. There's also catapults, lasers, and other physically simulated objects to make things more fun and more complex. With Portal 2 Puzzle Maker, teachers and students can create levels just like they see in the game.

By solving custom-built learning levels designed by teachers (or other students), the incredibly engaging platform of Portal 2 can be laser-focused on core learning content. By making levels, students must think not only as players and problem solvers, but designers and engineers. And since everything students do in game relies on the game's modeling of physics, students must understand and use concepts like oscillation, momentum, gravity, mass and weight, 2D and 3D geometric concepts, parabolas, and terminal velocity to create and solve levels.

To access the Puzzle Maker, users should install Portal 2 and in the main menu select "Community Test Chambers." From there, select "Create Test Chambers" to start building custom puzzles.

In 2012, Valve, the company that developed and published Portal 2, created an education version of Portal 2 and Portal 2 Puzzle Maker that was free and included a separate teacher community called Steam for Schools. The idea was to get teachers and students creating and sharing lesson plans and levels. This community still exists but hasn't received much support. For instance, it's still difficult to share levels, and there's very little activity in the community forums. There are some superstar teachers creating great content, however. And even without a robust, supportive teacher community and lesson-sharing resource, the Portal 2 Puzzle Maker is a remarkable tool that truly stretches students' brains and encourages them to be creators and problems solvers. There are endless possibilities, making it feel Minecraft-esque, but with a more obvious focus on core learning, especially physics.

Learning Rating

Overall Rating

It's easy to forget something so fun is packed with learning potential. Students and teachers will enjoy testing, tweaking, and sharing their creations.


Gets students thinking and creating like designers and engineers, making STEAM-infused Portal 2 levels that provide a true feeling of accomplishment and pride.


In theory there's a teacher community, but it's difficult to access, unintuitive, and not well supported. The tool itself, however, is well crafted.

Common Sense reviewer

Community Rating

Great Introduction to Game Modding and Iterative Design!

I love the portal 2 puzzle maker. It's so easy to use, but the challenge comes in building challenging levels that will be fun for the player. This is where much of the iteration comes in. I am disappointed that Valve stopped supporting the education version of the game and the Steam for Schools program. When that was in place, the software was free and there were supports and a community of educators. The game is still a great choice for the classroom, but I wish that the structure of supporting school use was still in place and further developed.

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Privacy Rating

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