A fun-sounding project, a Nintendo 64 demake of Portal, has been pulled from Steam. It’s developer, however, is imploring people not to get angry with Valve, suggesting his idea was always doomed from the start. And yet, you know, I’m still a bit mad.
Valve likes to portray itself as the big libertarian force in gaming, where anything goes (until it doesn’t), is defiantly pro-AI (apart from when it isn’t), and any number of other confusing, conflicting positions. But the one area you it seems it’ll always immediately tug its forelock to The Man is when Nintendo’s involved. Which is why the Portal 64 demake was so swiftly removed from Steam.
You might be thinking: “Of course Valve did! Portal is their IP, so it only makes sense they’d prevent others using it.” Except, bizarrely, it’s not because of this that James Lambert’s fan project has been taken down. It’s because the game uses the N64’s SDK library, Libultra.
Now, Lambert is extremely level-headed and sensible about this whole situation. In a video uploaded to his channel, Lambert explained that Valve reached out to him regarding Portal 64—a demake of Valve’s game, made to run as an unofficial Nintendo 64 game—to say he needed to pull it from Steam because of the Nintendo-owned libraries on which it was based. The developer quickly insists, “Don’t be mad at Valve.”
And he’s right! It’s daft to be mad at Valve. It’s like being mad at the sea, but if the sea is made of people who never reply to emails. As Lambert points out, Valve doesn’t want to put itself in any situation where it appears to be endorsing a game that might violate Nintendo’s copyrights, and thus become the target of Nintendo’s notoriously feisty lawyers.
However, it could.
It won’t, and has previously acted even worse, such as when it yoinked the GameCube and Wii emulator, Dolphin, from its store. In that case, the fear was over the “Wii Common Key,” a piece of software that it’s alleged could only be obtained by cracking the Wii, used to decrypt the discs inside the physical machine. But rather than Nintendo first objecting to the emulator’s release, in that case Valve went to Nintendo to rat on the project.
All of this latest debacle would make some degree of sense if this were about trying to rip off Switch games or similar. But this incident regarding Portal 64 is about making a game for a console that Nintendo hasn’t manufactured or sold since 2004—and indeed a game that wasn’t attempting to pass itself off as a Nintendo product. It simply doesn’t and cannot hurt or harm Nintendo in any meaningful way.
Lambert points out that even porting to Libdragon—a non-proprietary version of the SDK—would still likely put Valve in the position of being seen to “support” a project that was in some unspecified sense infringing on Nintendo’s rights. He also mentions how vanishingly unlikely it is that Nintendo would ever give the project its blessing. And, you know, the guy was making a game based on one company’s IP on another company’s IP. If a thing was always doomed, this was it.
All such projects are described as existing in “legally gray areas,” but this really means no one’s ever taken it to court to check. Nintendo would have such an astonishingly hard time demonstrating that creating new games that work on 30-year-old hardware from which they do not attempt to profit violates anything in the DMCA or any other corporation-protecting laws. Obviously Lambert is not in a position to prove this. But, you know, Valve is.
It won’t. It could cost the company a fortune. But it would sure be good if it did. If someone did. We’ve asked Valve why it doesn’t want to do this.
The good news is James Lambert is using this as an opportunity to work on something new, his own property, and co-develop it for PC and N64, such that it can go on Steam without inviting similar issues. Meanwhile, here’s what could have been: