GDC 2012: Portal 2 Originally Didn't Have Chell, GlaDOS, or Portals

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GDC 2012: Portal 2 Originally Didn't Have Chell, GlaDOS, or Portals

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The designers at Valve quickly realized it would no longer be a Portal game without those elements.

Valve writers Chet Faliszek and Erik Wolpaw revealed that Portal 2 originally was a very different project than the final game released in stores. In a discussion entitled "Creating a Sequel to a Game That Doesn't Need One," the two veteran writers explained to the assembled GDC audience that Chell, GlaDOS, Wheatley, and even portals weren't intended to appear in the sequel to the popular first-person puzzle game.

Fair warning, spoilers for the story of the Portal games are within. Tread lightly.

The first question Wolpaw and Faliszkek tried to answer was "Why make a sequel?" Even the writers admitted that the game was pretty self-contained. The protagonist escapes the lab, the villain is vanquished. Why go back to the well? The simple answer was enthusiasm: The staff at Valve was excited to create another Portal game and "so many people wanted to make it," admitted Wolpaw.

The team, however, wanted something completely fresh. "We cut Chell. She got out [and escaped at the end of the first game], good luck to her, who needs her?" explained Faliszek about the staff's original thinking. "[We initially] cut GlaDOS. She kinda died at the end [of Portal]. She had a nice little story. It's time for a new villain." But even more strikingly, the Valve team "cut Portals. Sure, name is in the title but we figured we'd figure it out later. We had a sexy new mechanic and we were super confident in that."

Without the protagonist, villain, and main mechanic of the original game, Portal 2 was free to pioneer new territories. The new villain was supposed to be Cave Johnson. Fans of Portal 2 will recognize the JK Simmons-voiced eccentric former president of Aperture Science as a recurring guide in Portal 2. But originally, "He was the main character...he was going to be this southern billionaire," explained Wolpaw. "GlaDOS was only going to appear in a cameo." In the original vision of the game, she'd appear at your feet and say "some legalese stuff" about how dangerous the testing was, but she was most certainly in a secondary role.

The setting was also different, taking place in the eighties, "about twenty years before the events of Portal 1," and after a "robot uprising," mused Wolpaw. The original sequence for this game had the player waking up on a desert island which crumbled around them to reveal itself to be part of the Aperture testing facility. Aperture was always part of Portal 2, with Wolpaw calling it "The Foundation upon which Portal was built" and adding that the developers and players alike enjoyed playing around in the lab's "madhouse of science."

The feedback for this initial version was that it wasn't "Portal 2. "Lesson 1: Don't need to burn everything in the ground," Faliszek stated. "So they added back in Chell, GlaDOS, and Portals."

"Bringing Chell back was the least intuitive part," explained Wolpaw. But "when GlaDOS wakes up and she doesn't recognize her" that became a problem. They needed Chell back in to have that moment of recognition, to trigger the emotional response they were looking for.

There were some subtle changes to the game as well. The elevators were completely changed, which the writers admitted made little sense given the game's story. "If you're improving it, players don't care," Faliszek explained.

Wheatley presented a major problems for the staff, as they originally had an entire sequence where you could drop Wheatley down the stairs - a moment they liked with a different personality ball in an earlier version of the game. But the potential to drop him in the wrong place wasted too many resources to program. So, Wheatley remained fixed to the player in the short segment where you carry him.

Also, the original version of Wheatley had Valve animator Richard Lord as the voice actor. He was much loved by initial testers in the short segment he was in the game. But Wheatley was supposed to die when GlaDOS awakens, Faliszek explains.

When they recast Stephen Merchant in the role and brought Wheatley back, many fans were upset by the voice change. "Law of sequels: you can't win," said Wolpaw. "Or you can win, but can't have a flawless victory."

Wheatley ultimately came back because the writers felt you couldn't bond with the other personality cubes in sufficient time. But they still needed an ending, or should I say, endings.

Portal 2 was supposed to have multiple endings. You could die within the first two minutes, get a funny song that talked about your short life, and that was it. Or you could have another "fake" ending where you shot a portal into the moon and get sucked out into space and died. You'd get another song and another "fake" ending. "Play testers loved it," Wolfpaw admits. But they completely overestimated how many clever "fake" endings they could come up, so Valve cut them.

But they knew that in the end, GlaDOs had to be replaced in her chassis, Wheatley had to have his comeuppance, and somehow Chell had to survive. The original ending called for the stalemate between Wheatley and GlaDOs to be Chell simply saying "Yes," to break the tie, giving her, her first lines of the series. "Boy, did it suck," laughed Wolpaw.

In the end, they brought back the moon anecdote from one of the fake endings to make what Wolpaw claims is the appropriately "totally awesome" and "completely stupid" way to end the game. The writers at Valve simply "needed the time to figure out the obvious." The lesson, he explains, is the "answers for what you need to do are buried in what you've already done."

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A Portal game without portals...

The designers at Valve quickly realized it would no longer be a Portal game without those elements.

No bloody kidding?! Glad somebody's on the ball over at Valve!

Here's hoping they make the 80's concept for Portal 3. We need more Cave Johnson.

well

thank the gods they did what they did with it, portal 2 was awesome.

I LOVED Portal 2, but now I want to play that game.

I wonder when the F-Stop that all the Valve employees rave so much about will see the light of day? HL3?

The first question Wolpaw and Faliszkek tried to answer was "Why make a sequel?"

Because you like having money?
Because you weren't very bloody well gunna make HL3 NOW WERE YOU!?!

But they knew that in the end, GlaDOs had to be replaced in her chassis, Wheatley had to have his comeuppance, and somehow Chell had to survive. The original ending called for the stalemate between Wheatley and GlaDOs to be Chell simply saying "Yes," to break the tie, giving her, her first lines of the series. "Boy, did it suck," laughed Wolpaw.

You know I don't hate the idea of Chell speaking at the end of the game but I think it would have been better if she had said

I remember when the teaser trailer for Portal 2 played - the one that started with GlaDOS' head switching back on? And people just screamed with excited recognition.

There's no way they'd have had the same kind of response from some other bad guy in a place that looked kind of like Aperture and had no portals.

I for one am so thankful that what we got was what we got. :)

cool story c: I love Portal 2 so it's awesome to see how it was made.

Alexander Reeve:
they brought back the moon anecdote from one of the fake endings to make what Wolpaw claims is the appropriately "totally awesome" and "completely stupid" way to end the game.

Completely stupid is correct. I missed them saying the white-goo had MOON DUST in it during my playthru. Seemed like an afterthought.

You know, I'd love to see the could-have-been Portal 2 as a game. Or maybe we don't need to explore the origins of Aperture Science any more. Hmmm...

I'm actually quite interested to know what this new mechanic was, seeing as they thought it was good it enough to completely remove the series' core game mechanic. And the premise with Cave as an antagonist and glados as secondary sounds interesting, but would only work if the kept portals.Maybe they can do that for Portal 2 episode 1 (Manchester United 0)

Loop Stricken:
A Portal game without portals...

The designers at Valve quickly realized it would no longer be a Portal game without those elements.

No bloody kidding?! Glad somebody's on the ball over at Valve!

Well... don't be too critical of them. What really defined Portal was the setting (a sterile and manufactured lab) and GLaDOS's taunting. And they kept several things from the planning stages that became iconic in Portal 2 (Cave Johnson for one, older testing facilities for another). They were opting to keep Aperture as the main focus of the game, but were trying to see if they could completely change the gameplay.

Thank about that: how many sequels opt to discard the perfectly serviceable elements of prior games in order to try something completely new? How interesting would it be to break from the pattern of "make good game, copy-paste mechanics onto sequel story one/two years later" and instead try something completely different?

instantbenz:
Completely stupid is correct. I must've missed if they said the white-goo had MOON DUST in it, because that might've legitimized the ending.

Actually, they DO say so when you're running through the old courses. Moon dust is even the cause of Cave Johnson's cancer (and ultimate demise), probably something akin to asbestos.

I love this article. It's the inner workings of how they actually came up with the finished product that absolutely fascinates me. I really liked Portal 2, but now I'm extremely intrigued, and the mind boggles with the possibilities.

The Gentleman:
Well... don't be too critical of them. What really defined Portal was the setting (a sterile and manufactured lab) and GLaDOS's taunting. And they kept several things from the planning stages that became iconic in Portal 2 (Cave Johnson for one, older testing facilities for another). They were opting to keep Aperture as the main focus of the game, but were trying to see if they could completely change the gameplay.

Thank about that: how many sequels opt to discard the perfectly serviceable elements of prior games in order to try something completely new? How interesting would it be to break from the pattern of "make good game, copy-paste mechanics onto sequel story one/two years later" and instead try something completely different?

I completely agree and it's why I appreciate Valve as a game developer. They're willing to try and go in different directions, to try something new. And in the end, it's definitely a plus for the industry and for gaming as a medium.

I don't know...I think it could have worked.

Granted, the no Portals part probably would have stretched things unless they re-named it, but I don't think it would have been so bad if they actually had done the rest of the replacements - Cutting Chell for a new protagonist and replacing GLaDOS to make Cave the new villain. Probably would have turned out a game just as likable as the one that actually came out, especially since Chell is pretty well interchangeable anyways and Cave turned out to be as likable a character as GLaDOS.

Sounds like they've got the building blocks in place for a prequel right there.

This is going to be at a Cracked article someday.

Anyway I can understand not having Chell, in fact I don't understand story wise how she's still at Aperture at the beginning, but no Portals?

What kind of potentially awesome mad science gameplay did they think could replace Portals in a portal game?

Father Time:
What kind of potentially awesome mad science gameplay did they think could replace Portals in a portal game?

This is actually discussed in the developers' commentaries in the game when you get to the old test courses with the acceleration, bouncy and portal gels. (Yes, I'm calling it the bouncy gel) They had initially used the concept of the various gels but decided in the end that it would be confusing to the players to have a Portal game without Portals.

I highly recommend the Valve games' developer commentaries, they are always insightful, and it's fun to listen to them while playing the game once more.

Alexander Reeve:
Snip!

Fascinating article, thanks for sharing!

It's great to be able to hear about the thought processes that go into creating games like these. Even Valve, who can do no wrong for some people, can make some monumentally bad choices. Then again, any other dev team probably would have run with their first idea, despite the drastic changes and negativity of play testers.

The idea of Cave Johnson being a Southern millionaire antagonist really makes me cringe. It just doesn't feel right.

Is it odd that I kind of like the idea of Chell talking at the end?

VondeVon:
I remember when the teaser trailer for Portal 2 played - the one that started with GlaDOS' head switching back on? And people just screamed with excited recognition.

There's no way they'd have had the same kind of response from some other bad guy in a place that looked kind of like Aperture and had no portals.

I for one am so thankful that what we got was what we got. :)

Good point. Just imagine how much hate Cave Johnson would have gained if he had actually replaced GLaDOS instead of supplementing what was already established. His combustible lemons would not be so well received, that's for sure. There would be an outcry I tell you, an outcry! I too am very glad we got what we did.

The original sequel concept sound interesting but I agreed that they would of have removed too much it shouldn't be called as a sequel.

Perhaps they could bring out aversion of their original concept as DLC at some point in the future?

That would be pretty cool.

Portal 2 was great and all, but now I just can't shake the feeling that we're missing out on something. We basically got the 'safe' version, while we also could have gotten something entirely new, which would still have been based on the great combination of original puzzles + engaging story + Valve.

Daaaaaaaaamn.

Not a complete surprised to be honest as games can ussually chenge to be something completely diffrent than what they started as. Portal 2 was and is one of the best games ever made and if there were no portals, or glados I doubt that would still be the case. howvere maybe not as a portal game but a related small project under a different name could eventually give us this sorta game (halo was orriginally going to be a RTS and eventually got it's rts game)

I am glad that they stayed true to what makes portal... well portal. And would love to see a portal 3 with Chell and the portal gun back in

ResonanceGames:

F-Stop

F-Stop in an Aperture-heavy thread. Camera puns, I approve.

While I could see the need to have portals and GLADOS in a portal game, was there really a call to bring back Chell? Did anyone feel any sort of attachment to her or a need for her in portal 2? Personally you could have replaced her with a sponge and the game would have been the same in my opinion. I frankly preferred p-body and atlas as characters.

Space Jawa:
Granted, the no Portals part probably would have stretched things unless they re-named it

"Portal 2: No Portals."

Kaytastrophe:
While I could see the need to have portals and GLADOS in a portal game, was there really a call to bring back Chell? Did anyone feel any sort of attachment to her or a need for her in portal 2? Personally you could have replaced her with a sponge and the game would have been the same in my opinion. I frankly preferred p-body and atlas as characters.

I'd say it's because Chell is supposed to be little more than a stand-in for the player. Like they mentioned in the article, when GLaDOS wakes up she needs to recognize the player in order for the right mood to be conveyed. If she woke up and found someone she'd never met before, it just wouldn't feel right. The fact that she's Chell isn't important, and never was. What's important is that she be the same.

That's the thing with sequels, they are to prohibitive in he department of creativivity.

The best approach, I think, it would be to simply make a game with an unrelated name (no 2s) with a plot that shows the connections between the universes in the late game. People would be like: "Oh, Fuck! We are in the Portal universe!" and love the game more for it.

Both Portal and Half-Life did this with eachother and it was a success.

Alexander Reeve:
Portal 2 Originally Didn't Have Chell, GlaDOS, or Portals

But they still needed an ending, or should I say, endings.

Permalink

Aw, man. I love multiple endings :(

What was the new mechanic?
I want it now...
Aww.

I already knew most of this. I think I must have read it in Portal 2: The Final Hours? That goes through quite a lot of F-Stop's development and how Portal 2 came to be. Still ncie to here from Wolpaw, I absolutely adore the guy. Wish he was writing for films, we need more good writers like him in every medium.

instantbenz:

Alexander Reeve:
they brought back the moon anecdote from one of the fake endings to make what Wolpaw claims is the appropriately "totally awesome" and "completely stupid" way to end the game.

Completely stupid is correct. I must've missed if they said the white-goo had MOON DUST in it, because that might've legitimized the ending.

...uh... they did... they said that the white gel was made of ground up moon rocks and that prolonged exposure to it is what killed Cave Johnson. Unless of course you're being sarcastic about it, in which case ...oh. But no yeah it was well established, you must have been distracted by a passing gnat.

While some of the prospects they talked about are intriguing, I'm glad we got the Portal 2 that we did:

The Gentleman:
Thank about that: how many sequels opt to discard the perfectly serviceable elements of prior games in order to try something completely new? How interesting would it be to break from the pattern of "make good game, copy-paste mechanics onto sequel story one/two years later" and instead try something completely different?

See, I'd rather play a good game that knows when to reign it in, than a bad game that's overambitious in it's strive for idiosyncracy. It's all well and nice to think about the possibilities and broaden horizons for the project, but you don't need to sacrifice fundamental essence of what made the first game work to do so, like they said; 'Don't need to burn everything in the ground.' The ideas my sound cool in hindsight but there's a reason they dropped them, I trust Valve enough that they know just when to step back and say we need to scrap this, the game had originally envisioned may have been good, but from the sounds of things it wouldn't have been a Portal game.

This entire article reads as "Portal 2 was as unnecessary a sequel as it gets".

Hammeroj:
This entire article reads as "Portal 2 was as unnecessary a sequel as it gets".

And yet still a better use of your money as opposed to Madden '12

I personally would've been happier without Chell, really, her quest was indeed done, and I sure as hell didn't need GLaDOS to recognise "me" when she got woken up. She'd still have been equally as snarky to whatever other girl was unfortunate enough to stumble into Aperture and wake her up.

Sandytimeman:

Hammeroj:
This entire article reads as "Portal 2 was as unnecessary a sequel as it gets".

And yet still a better use of your money as opposed to Madden '12

That rests entirely on one's preferences. As someone who was looking for an in any way meaningful continuation of the story, or at least some elaborate/thoughtful puzzles, I got nothing for my buck.

Maybe they should make a little 'Aperture Science Adventures' game. It could be something very downscaled compared to Portal 2 and even Portal 1, but it would give them the opportunity to explore some of their earlier concepts without ruining the whole Portal franchise.

I would buy that game, I'm a sucker for anything Valve makes. (Besides CS).

Hammeroj:

Sandytimeman:

Hammeroj:
This entire article reads as "Portal 2 was as unnecessary a sequel as it gets".

And yet still a better use of your money as opposed to Madden '12

That rests entirely on one's preferences. As someone who was looking for an in any way meaningful continuation of the story, or at least some elaborate/thoughtful puzzles, I got nothing for my buck.

You should keep an eye out for this.

Link

Hammeroj:

Sandytimeman:

Hammeroj:
This entire article reads as "Portal 2 was as unnecessary a sequel as it gets".

And yet still a better use of your money as opposed to Madden '12

That rests entirely on one's preferences. As someone who was looking for an in any way meaningful continuation of the story, or at least some elaborate/thoughtful puzzles, I got nothing for my buck.

I personally thought the co-op by itself was worth my money, I know not of other co-op puzzle games like that.

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