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April 5, 2016
HTC Vive headset, Valve's Lighthouse
- "Hello, Test Traveler, and welcome to the Aperture Science Sub-Universe Exploration Center. This is the Aperture Science Face-Mounted Portal Sphere. It is your gateway to a vast continuum of undiscovered worlds. Full legal disclosure: These undiscovered worlds may also contain undiscovered spiders, poisons, acids and apex predators that hunt humans for sport."
- ― Lab Announcer
The game was previewed at the 2016 Game Developers Conference, where a demo featured four of the eight mini-games (Slingshot, Longbow, Xortex 26XX, and Postcards) was showcased. The concept for the minigames in The Lab were based around ideas on how to transfer other genres and game types into the VR world in an innovative way.
The Lab, set in Pocket Universe Lab 08, one of the many Aperture Science pocket universes, begins in the Aperture Science Sub-Universe Exploration Center, a hub that serves as an "entirely theoretical bridge" to connect to "several contemporaneous parallel universes". The female Lab Announcer, in her first appearance, guides the player and reports on things occurring in the lab.
Each universe can be accessed through a themed testing element station, or "relic", with its associated Aperture Science Face-Mounted Portal Sphere that the player must place near their head to teleport to the related universe. Moving around within universes is used with a Spatial Reassignment Wand, the in-game equivalent of the VR controllers. Visiting a universe consists of a scientific experiment that works as a mini-game for the player, described as a "Test Traveler". Each relic has a clipboard (also known as Aperture Science Information Display Board) that gives a short summary of the experiment, its scientific name, and various comments. These experiments have been carried out since at least 1989.
Completing an experiment leads back to the hub in which the player can interact with items gathered from each game after completion, and placed on a large table in the center of the hub. The area also includes a whiteboard on which the game progression is displayed, with various colored dry erase Marka markers and an Ez-Raze eraser that the player can use (later featured in Half-Life: Alyx). Various marker doodles also appear at random next to the experiments list each time the player returns to the hub. The area is stated to not be exited until a Decontamination Associate has cleared the Test Traveler of quarantine from possible diseases, incubating egg clusters or malicious super-parasites they may have become host to during their test-transits.
Bendies are also present in the adjacent triage / storage areas filled with boxes and crates - one with servers and one with conveyor belts. Some Bendies are working, some are not, and a few others appear behind the locked door near the Postcards relic. Bendies can be shot at with the bow retrieved from Longbow, prompting various reactions from the Announcer. The conveyor belt moves "recycled props" boxes that sometimes reveal targets or release balloons that can be shot at with the bow. A Bendy will occasionally trip and drop a box containing black balls of an unknown nature. They can be retrieved with the drone from the Xortex 26XX experiment, but not used. Near the conveyors are two elevators, and next to them are two signs related to Test Shaft 09 appearing in Portal 2: one indicating "To Enrichment Sphere Juliet Planck", found in the game files only, and one indicating a measure of 3375 meters, originally featured in the shaft through which Chell and PotatOS landed in Test Shaft 09 in the game. A Bendy driving a forklift recklessly regularly passes between the player and conveyor belts area. The conveyors area is separated from the gameplay area by yellow stripes as well as the words "CAUTION KEEP CLEAR" on the player side and "TOO MANY LOTS OF CRATES EVERYWHERE" on the other side.
Several dev kit boxes for the Knuckles EV3, Valve Index's controllers, can be found in the hub, placed there as an Easter egg. One is on a beam above the hub that can be retrieved with the bow or the drone, and three are stacked behind the locked door near the Postcards relic. That area can be accessed and these boxes can be picked up by creating a large VR play area, which prompts various warnings from Announcer.
The game's sound files contain Lab Announcer lines reacting to the player throwing around Face-Mounted Portal Sphere, clipboards and paperclips. In-game however, the spheres cannot be dismounted, throwing the clipboards doesn't prompt any reaction, and paperclips are not present.
Lab Practicum from the Half-Life 2 soundtrack is used for the loading screens.
Following the game's initial release, it underwent two major updates: the Appliance of Science update on June 6, 2016, which added global leaderboards for the mini-games Longbow, Xortex 26XX, and Slingshot, among others, and the Hands-On update on August 29, 2019, which added viewmodel hands and overhauled the physics-based interaction, among others.
|Euclid-Spectrum||Each postcard traverses to a different location from around the world.||Move the plug to select which location you will be sent to.|
|Item: Three sticks and a Ballooninator.|
Choosing the destination from a selection of postcards by plugging a cable into their related socket, the player can teleport to digital versions of real-world locations including Vesper Peak in the Washington state, U.S.A. (the first area visited before entering the hub for the first time), Campo S. Beneto in Venice, Italy, the Raufarhólshellir lava tube in Iceland, and the Snæfellsjökull National Park, also in Iceland. These areas were created using photogrammetry.
Postcards also features an Easter egg that was disabled and requires patching to work. It consists of an alternate version of the Vesper Peak postcard populated with the JoeJeff characters featured in Moondust. Once the Easter egg is restored, a yellow button with a JoeJeff pictogram on it attached to a rock triggers a flood of tiny JoeJeffs coming up the hill, while JosephJeffrey, a JoeJeff father that appears as a giant, older and mustachioed variant with a crown and growling, briefly follows later, walking above the player. Another JosephJeffrey is also seen sitting at the bottom of the valley. The game textures still contain the relic postcard for that variant of Vesper Peak, titled JoeJeff Homeworld, although it sets it in Stalheim, Norway, instead.
Added to the three sticks, the Ballooninator, a balloon inflation device that creates an infinite supply of balloons and is also the quest item from SteamVR Home's Ilia's Retreat, is awarded. The device has a color gauge that changes at random and shows what color the next balloon will be. When inflated at the right size, the balloon releases itself and flies away, and can also be shot. Overinflating balloons in the hub will lead the Announcer to first state "Excess helium detected in atmosphere of Pocket Universe Lab Eight.", then "Warning: Helium levels in Pocket Universe Lab Eight are rising.", and finally "Excess helium detected in atmosphere of Pocket Universe Lab Eight." with a high-pitched voice due the helium deforming it. A balloons scoreboard can also be found in the game's texture files, suggesting points being awarded for creating or bursting balloons, but it was actually never used by the developers.
In these locations, the player can interact with Fetchbot, a dog-like Item Retrieval Core: scratch its belly and play fetch with the various sticks found on the ground, stated as "object retrieval training". Fetchbot subsequently appears in the hub and can be further interacted with, leading to various reactions by the Announcer.
Valve Demo Rooms
The Postcards relic also features a valve with a socket in the axle. Plugging the cable into it allows teleporting to Easter egg rooms, Valve Demo Room 1 and 2, that give a glimpse at the VR development process in photogrammetry-made replicas of rooms from Valve's headquarters, each with explanations on a clipboard:
The first demo is set in a room that was used for early experiments in developing room-scale VR. A prototype VR headset connected to a PC with a Dota 2-themed mousepad is lying on the floor, with codes plastered on the room's walls to be used by the headset's camera to track the wearer's position. A silent fire alarm near the door can also be activated after smashing the glass, which will have small turrets spring from the codes on the walls that will shoot small metallic bouncing balls that can be sent back with the ping-pong racket found on the PC's desk.
The second demo room can be accessed by putting on the VR headset lying on the floor. This room features an ATLAS robot and showcases the experiments on "Lighthouse", the laser tracking technology created for room-scale VR for the HTC Vive headset. This room, equipped with two Lighthouse base stations and a computer with a monitor showing what the player sees, is stated to have been used to showcase hundreds of different VR experiments. Another fire alarm will prompt parts of the dropped ceiling to open and release balloons that can be popped either by a pin or a laser. Getting to close to ATLAS and directing a hand near his face will scare him.
|Armstrong-Gamma||Outputs to a Core Calibration slingshot, which can be used to recklessly destroy an Aperture Science Storage Annex.||N/A|
|Item: The Rhythmic Core that will only play music.|
Set in an Aperture Storage Annex, the player takes the part of a Core Calibration Trainee whose job is to calibrate Personality Cores in the Core Calibration Unit. The unit is a slingshot overlooking a storage area and near a conveyor belt, and with its height being adjustable for that of the player. The aim is to destroy all of the storage units by throwing cores into them, in a fashion similar to the video game Angry Birds. The amount of damage done is displayed in dollars on a monitor, and each time the damage threshold is reached, new cores are deployed. The game always ends by the player getting fired from the job, whether all the cores have been depleted or all the storage units have been destroyed. A global leaderboard, added in Appliance of Science update, is displayed above the conveyor belt.
During the course of the mini-game, 32 different Cores can be placed into the slingshot. Each have specific personalities and lines. One of them is voiced by actor and Rick and Morty's co-creator Justin Roiland.
The game's relic features a partially ripped "Know your... Anti-Matter Risks" sticker that originally appeared in the Portal 2 game files as a Test Shaft 09 sign not used in-game.
|Ascham-Vector||Connects to a castle under siege, where archery skills must defend against a rampaging horde.|| - Wait, isn't that a recurve bow?|
Shut up, Daryl.
|Item: A recurve bow and infinite arrows.|
The player must use what is actually a recurve bow to defend their castle against waves of a horde of Bendies with horned helmets and/or shields. The player loses when the horde was able to break the castle's gate. Burning oil cauldrons can be spilled on them by shooting the nearby target, as well as shooting at exploding barrels. Each wave starts when the player has shot the Bendy waving a red Aperture flag. Targets and balloons can also be hit, and a global leaderboard added in the Appliance of Science update along with infinite waves is also displayed on a wall near the player. The bow can be then used in the hub on the other retrieved items, the numerous coffee mugs, balloons, and the Bendies working nearby, with various reactions from the Announcer.
Upon launching the mini-game, the player is first taken in a curtained area with a miniature of the castle, with a Bendy wearing a VR headset representing the player and a Bendy horde shouting aggressively outside the gate. Machiavellian Bach from the Portal 2 soundtrack is played as the background music.
A Bendy can also be found trapped in a jar behind the relic. When placed on any of the hub's tables, it will try to escape by pushing on the sides of the jar. Placing the Rhythmic Core near it will prompt it to make some dance moves.
|Zennick-Omega||Uplinks to a drone fighter capable of maneuvering through a hail of enemy fire as it shoots down attackers.||Pew pew pew!|
|Item: The game's drone with a controller to fly it and shoot foam darts.|
Xortex 26XX is a shoot 'em up / bullet hell video game whose relic is an 80s-themed arcade cabinet. It consists of controlling a drone fighter to fight waves of attacking drones. The game can be either played in the Classic mode, the original mode that requires defeating the Xortex Core after shooting waves of various drones, or the Infinite mode, added in the Appliance of Science update, for achieving the global highscore that doesn't include the Xortex Core but instead requires surviving as long as possible by using the various powerups efficiently and prioritizing which enemy to shoot first. The global leaderboard is shown each time the player is defeated.
The drone being the item brought back from the experiment, it can be controlled by a remote control and shoot Nerf-like foam darts that can also be used against Bendies, like the bow.
The cabinet itself features a block-breaking game that can be played with the stick. The blocks to destroy with a 2D variant of the drone are the names of the developers, consisting in the game's credits; the final boss is the Tracer Core also featured in the Slingshot mini-game. Winning the game prompts the Announcer to say "Tracer Core defeated. Analyzing test results: Test Traveler in Pocket Universe Lab 8 is a bad dude.".
Looking on the left of the relic under the wooden stool that has an Aperture logo printed on top reveals a Black Mesa Private Lumberyard logo. Behind the relic can also be found a multicolored dry erase marker that can be used on the whiteboard.
A different controllable drone is also the quest item of SteamVR Home's Clockwork Orrery.
|Razzil-Boron||Leads to a storehouse filled with magical artifacts we believe are most commonly used to defend ancients.||Shh!|
|Item: A Roshan figure that will growl when picked up.|
Set in the Secret Shop from Dota 2, the player is greeted by the Shopkeeper and can explore and interact with the objects in the shop. The playthrough ends when Roshan breaks into the shop from the roof.
The description from the clipboard refers to what Dota is the acronym for, Defense of the Ancients.
|Johnson-Micro||Traverses to Aperture Science, where a damaged AT-D7796 robot requires assistance.||So that's what happened to Lab 44.|
|Item: An ATLAS figure.|
Originally shown at the Game Developers Conference in 2015, it was released along with the SteamVR Performance Test in February 2016, then again as part of The Lab two months later.
The only demo that uses the Source 2 engine, it is set in the Robot Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in the Enrichment Center and consists of repairing a damaged AT-D7796 (ATLAS) robot, a test to get a job into Aperture Science's Human Diversity Outreach Program.
The lamp's position at the relic can be adjusted, and turned on and off. Playing the game will award an ATLAS figure; a variant of the figure is awarded in SteamVR Home for playing The Lab.
|Brahe-Quark||Relic emits a portrayal of the solar system with all planets in their correct relative scale.|| - And relative orbital distances?|
- You probably don't want to walk that far.
|Item: An Earth rubber ball.|
The player can interact with the planets in the solar system. The planets can be used as balls and be thrown all over the area or against each other. Throwing all planets into the sun makes it collapse into a white dwarf.
Solar System's relic is a small clockwork orrery on a long table where the Human Body Scan relic is also found.
Human Body Scan
|Kaczmarz-Radon||Seems to lead to an explorable three dimensional model of the human form.||Three dimensional bodies? Impossible!|
|Item: A human femur.|
Also known as Human Medical Scan in the game's Steam store page. There the player can observe a detailed human body model made from a series of CT medical scans.
The Human Body Scan is a skull placed on the table where the Solar System relic is also found. Initially, behind the table could be found a switch, accessible by making a large VR play area, that would give the skull sunglasses. This Easter egg has since been removed.
As explained in The Final Hours of Half-Life: Alyx, a ninth mini-game, titled Shooter, was cut from The Lab, for fears of it not reaching completion for the time of demo's release. It was to be set in a theme park-like simulation of City 17, the main setting of the Half-Life series from Half-Life 2 onward. It is described as a simple arcade-style shot-em-up - a series of quick in-universe gunplay scenes where one plays as an unknown member of the Resistance. Further attempts at a Half-Life VR game eventually led to making Half-Life: Alyx.
No relic, clipboard or item was ever designed for Shooter, as they were all created after the mini-game was already shelved.
- Press release on ValveTime (March 7, 2016)
- Hands On: The Lab, Valve's Portal-Themed VR Games on Rock, Paper, Shotgun
- The Lab diagrams
- The Lab: Appliance of Science Update on Steam
- The Lab: Hands-On Update on Steam
- The Lab textures files
- Small Easter eggs found in the recent update to Valve's The Lab on Reddit
- Jeep Barnett on the unused texture for a balloons scoreboard featured in The Lab files (August 2, 2020)
- The Final Hours of Half-Life: Alyx
- Jeep Barnett on the existence of a relic, clipboard and item for the mini-game Shooter cut from The Lab (August 2, 2020)