Aperture Hand Lab
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June 25, 2019
Valve Index headset
Aperture Hand Lab is a technology demo made by Cloudhead Games and Valve to showcase the functions of the hand, knuckle, and finger tracking technology used by the Valve Index. It was released on June 25, 2019.
The game, set in the Aperture Science Enrichment Center and instructed by the Announcer, consists of the Hand-Assisted Non-Verbal Machine Human Communication Training, a triple-blind study and classified exercise performed on a training platform overlooking a large shaft (in this case, platform 42) by a robot Test Subject that has been given human-like face and hands for the purpose of the training. It is made of three "exercises": Waving, Shaking, and Grabbing. Each exercise consists of a Personality Core equipped with "personality arms" with hands and instructing the player to do various gestures, while imitating human interactions. After each exercise, the Core is dropped into the shaft, apparently destructing it.
- The first exercise, Waving, is instructed by the Friendly Core, also known as Frank, or Friendly Frank, a friendly, polite Core. The exercise consists of waving back to him. Near the end of the exercise, P-body can be briefly seen playing golf on another training platform below.
- The second one, Shaking, is instructed the Angry Core, also known as Alan, a slightly aggressive Core. He shakes his fists for the player to shake back.
- The second part of Shaking is revealed to be a "game of deceit", instructed by the Deceptive Core, also known as Danny, or Deceptive Danny. A deceptive, tricky Core, he first pretends to be Frank, the first Core. The player first has to give him the three variants of five. When the low five is asked, Frank removes his hand, doing the "too slow" trick, at which point Deceptive Danny reveals his true identity and the nature of the new game. The player then has to complete three rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors with him, and there has to be a winner each time to complete the game.
- The third and final exercise, Grabbing, consists of making a strong handshake with the Boss Core, a business-like Core. It has to be repeated several time until it's strong enough, but the last handshake is so strong that his arms gets ripped off, damaging the whole installation and making the training platform fall into the shaft.
Landing into an older area of the Enrichment Center turned into a pit a discarded robots, the player is confronted by Frank, still alive, who said all he wanted was the player's friendship and asks the player to free him, threatening him with a revolver. He commands to open a drawer containing an envelope and tear it open to reveal an "absurdly large key" and use it on a console that can either free or destroy him, then he regrets threatening with a gun and discards it, now asking again to be freed, but politely. If the player chooses to free him, the Announcer states that it was all planned and that the true purpose of the test was to discover the value of friendship by freeing the Core instead of destroying it. If the player chooses the destruction option, nothing will happen to the core and the Announcer will say a similar message about the purpose of the test, just adding that the player has failed it since they ultimately chose destruction. In both cases, the robots are then supposedly put into sleep mode, which fails to activate, leaving the participants still awake and in the dark.
Behind the scenes
- Valve writers Erik Wolpaw and Jay Pinkerton worked with the Cloudhead Games developers on improving the story ideas and wrote most of the Personality Cores' lines.
- One of the ideas discussed with Wolpaw and Pinkerton that was cut close to the demo's release was a second area, the "Nutritional Information Station", where robots would have been tested on how they think humans eat. There the player would have had to put several types of synthetic food items that shouldn't go together into the EJ-9000 OMNI, a blending machine that would then be presented as a prototypical version of an ASHPD and used as a cannon to shoot the food several times into the Nutritional Evaluation Device, number X9-42J, consisting of a giant, yelling robotic head that would have come up on a tread on a locomotive frame from the bright end of a dark tunnel. Overtime the head would have become more and more sentient thanks to the food and leave the facility to destroy the world. The head is still present in the final game, and is seen idle on the right side of the discarded robots pit at the end. Blueprints for the head and the blending machine, as well as a poster for the latter, can be seen in the area, showing that the project has been canceled in-universe as well. Labels on blueprint tubes also refer to two other unknown projects referred to as KF6-818 and MX-616.
- Cloudhead Games were given the raw assets from The Lab, the first VR technology demo released by Valve, and used them as reference.
- The Aperture Science Radio version of "Still Alive" from the Portal soundtrack and "Robot Ghost Story" from the Portal 2 soundtrack are used as background music.
- A green JoeJeff can be see sitting on the frame of the outer wall of the elevator's shaft by going beyond the play area.
Logos, signs and posters
- Aperture Hand Lab on Steam. Retrieved on 30 January 2020.
- Aperture Hand Lab game files
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