That Portal 64 demake we liked so much has been kiboshed by Valve: 'They have asked me to take the project down,' creator says

Two portals shown in the Portal N64 demake.
(Image credit: James Lambert)

Just a week after releasing an impressive "first slice" playable build, work on Portal 64, a fan-made effort to bring Valve's beloved Portal to the 1996 Nintendo console, has been halted. Developer James Lambert said he was asked by Valve to take the project down, because it "depends on Nintendo's proprietary libraries."

Lambert has been working on the Nintendo 64 version of Portal since at least early 2022, when he posted a video of the first "graphics test on real Nintendo 64 hardware." He also warned, however, that if he decided to move forward with the project, "I would pretty much have to rebuild the entire game from scratch." 

And then he went ahead and did just that, to impressive effect: This is Portal on the Nintendo 64, which frankly I would not have thought possible before seeing it with my own eyes. Lambert's work earned him acclaim from the Nintendo 64 fanbase, including our own Rich Stanton, who said that Portal 64 is "the most impressive homebrew game [he's] ever seen."

Unfortunately, releasing a playable build of the project appears to have crossed some sort of line. "So I have been in communication with Valve about the future of the project," Lambert wrote on his Patreon. "There is some news and it isn't good. Because the project depends on Nintendo's proprietary libraries, they have asked me to take the project down."

In an email sent to PC Gamer, Lambert confirmed the takedown request was legitimate, although the reasoning wasn't entirely clear. "I think Valve didn't want to be tied up in a project involving Nintendo IP," he wrote. "I don't blame them.

"If I could somehow have a discussion with Nintendo about the possibility [of continuing Portal 64] I would love that. I don't know what it would take to convince them."

It's possible that Valve's preemptive strike against Portal 64 was prompted at least in part by an encounter with Nintendo in 2023 over the planned release of the Dolphin emulator for the Wii and Gamecube consoles on Steam. Nintendo sent a letter to Valve ahead of that launch that attorney Kellen Voyer of Voyer Law said was a "warning shot" against releasing it. 

"Nintendo is sending clear notice to Valve that it considers Dolphin to violate the DMCA and should it be released on Steam, Nintendo will likely take further action," Voyer said at the time. "Given that Valve controls what is available on its store, it made the decision not to wade into any dispute between the Dolphin developers and Nintendo and, instead, followed Nintendo’s preemptive request and took down the Steam page."

That doesn't sound entirely unlike Lambert's situation: Portal 64 wasn't headed for Steam but it does make use of Valve's intellectual property, which presumably means there's at least a possibility Valve could end up sucked into a dispute over it. Even if it's only tangential involvement, Valve's lawyers may have just decided that it's not worth the headache.

Naturally, there is disappointment in the comments on Lambert's Patreon post, and some users suggested Lambert might be able to move ahead with the project if he switched from Libultra, the official Nintendo 64 SDK, to libdragon, an open source SDK. Lambert said he's not sure if doing so would appease Valve, and he's reluctant to dive into it without first getting a green light from Valve.

"I would consider porting to libdragon if Valve agreed to allowing me to finish before trying to make the jump," he wrote. "It would be a lot of work and I wouldn't want to commit to it before knowing if it would actually pay off." He doesn't seem to think that's very likely to happen, though: "They also don't seem too interested in the project as I can't meaningfully distribute it on Steam."

For now, Lambert said he's not sure what he's going to do next, but he'll continue his YouTube channel and other projects, including "VR powered by the N64, a computer that runs on air pressure, and some other ideas kicking around in my head." He may also start working on a game of his own.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.