There weren’t really interviews with the individual team members or the programmers, so I’ll treat all of them together. If you haven’t heard the story, the team that made Portal was initially just a student team at Digipen (a game school). Portal was initially Narbacular Drop, which had the original portal mechanic, but with much different aesthetic, and story. You’re a pixie trapped underground.
Valve came to the release fair, saw the game, and offered some feedback, and then eventually offered to have them show the game at Valve offices, where Gabe Newell offered them jobs to finish Portal.
The initial feedback was in line with Valve’s style:
JB: One thing I remember in particular… In Narbacular Drop there’s a lot of cases where we have places where you can screw yourself. You can drop your box in the lava and you have to reset the level. And in Valve design terms, that’s retarded. You can’t screw the player. That was one big thing that came up. The art design – everything was pretty brown and muddy. So when people first see the game they say…
JB: Yeah, it’s a first-person shooter. So there were a lot of things that we did wrong in that sense. You couldn’t tell the ceiling from the floor, there was no grounding in reality.
One takeaway for me is to show games I make to people in industry, and ask for feedback. At the very least, I’ll get feedback, and as long as the games are decent, there’s not much to lose.