Writing Valve's silent protagonists

GDC Online 2011: Erik Wolpaw, Marc Laidlaw, and Ted Kosmatka explain the rules behind writing for Half-Life's Gordon Freeman and Portal's Chell, set the record straight on Portal 2's rumored rape scene.

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At Valve's 2011 Game Developers Conference Online writers roundtable session today, studio scribes Erik Wolpaw, Marc Laidlaw, and Ted Kosmatka spent an hour answering audience questions covering everything from Half-Life to the upcoming DoTA 2. One of the topics touched on repeatedly was the notion of Valve as experts of the silent protagonist, thanks to their work with Gordon Freeman in Half-Life and Chell in the Portal franchise.

ATLAS and P-body weren't the biggest of talkers themselves.

Despite that perception, Wolpaw said the writers don't always know exactly what they're doing when writing for their mute mascots. Specifically, he pointed to a segment in Portal 2 where the player is exploring an abandoned Aperture Science facility with the aid of the antagonistic artificial intelligence GLaDOS.

"We had envisioned it as this buddy-cop thing, where you'd be together and you'd be bickering and it would be awesome. It honest to God did not occur to us that the buddy-cop thing doesn't work if one of you is quiet. It's funny now...everybody's laughing, but it was a true moment of incredible panic for us when we realized we'd painted ourselves into a corner. And that's when we decided we need to give her some external thing to deal with. She has a relationship with Cave...realizes she was another person. And then there's the bird and other stuff. We run into that a lot with the silent protagonist, even at this point."

When later asked about things that were left on the cutting-room floor, Wolpaw seized the opportunity to quash a rumor that had been circulating about snippets of unused dialogue left in the game.

"J.K. Simmons will do anything if you pay him."--Erik Wolpaw.

"There's some piece of dialogue in there where Carolyn is saying 'No, no, no, I don't want this. I don't want this,'" Wolpaw said. "And there's some kind of story on the Internet that apparently people think has been verified that there was a scene where Cave Johnson was raping Carolyn, and that J.K. Simmons wouldn't read the dialogue, so that's why we don't have it [in the game]. Apparently, these are people who never saw [prison drama] Oz. J.K. Simmons will do anything if you pay him. But that is absolutely not true. It's like they played the rest of the game and thought we wrote a rape scene in there and had that in there for a while and thought, 'Well, maybe we'll ship that.' It's insane."

For more on what did ship, check out GameSpot's review of Portal 2.

Discussion

44 comments
B33KHOF
B33KHOF

I can not express in words how good a portal three would be. It's like Saw, or Police Academy or The Simpsons. But better. It will always be good. No matter what they do to. It might be the same game over and over again *cough*, Call of Duty (but CoD is getting boring, only thing carrying CoD is the epic stories they tell), and Portal would still be awesome. I LOVE Portal.

KingChainz31684
KingChainz31684

i remember her saying it all it had to do was with her becoming a machine. Dumb story. next.

The_Godfather_
The_Godfather_

people think there was a rape scene just because 'No, no, no, I don't want this. I don't want this! ' dialogue? that's nonsense! why people so love to take things into wrong way.?

crossdudu
crossdudu

First: I don't recall this "no, no, no I don't want this" dialog. Second: the people who said that have never played the game? If you play it it becomes obvious that this dialog would be something about Carolyn being forced to become GlaDOS. And third: if there was actually such a scene, why did nobody see it on one of those underground video sites? Or why wasn't it available for download?

death13a
death13a

I always thought that they were dragging Carolyn away so they could scoop out her brain and digitize her.

CrossFire312
CrossFire312

Wait... there was a rape scene? Just because someone says, "No, no, no, I don't want this. I don't want this" doesn't mean rape. Besides, why would a person even make that assumption?

CrossFire312
CrossFire312

Half Life 3, Episode 3, Left 4 Dead 3, Portal 3.... What is wrong with Valve and 3? Make the third game of something!

NotJackieChan
NotJackieChan

How about you write Half-Life 3? And then make it. Please?

hombreg1
hombreg1

but reaaaaally, would you talk to anyone in portal? no...

fadersdream
fadersdream

Pretty sure she was being forced into being an immortal Artificial Intelligence.

StJimmy15
StJimmy15

@crazyguy105 Somebody can't follow the narrative... One of the best conflict drama stories I've seen. (In games, movies, tv, etc.) That being said, its being milked like crazy and the games could be wayyy longer. The whole thing could've been 2 games.

Dreammosaic
Dreammosaic

Wow, I've played through Portal 2 a couple times now and never once thought there was a rape scene.

krayjk
krayjk

Can you really call it writing for the silent protagonists (really could use italics here, Gamespot)? When playing the game you play as a specific persona, but everything is written for you, the player -- the audience -- much like when you watch a performance. "Wolpaw said the writers don't always know exactly what they're doing when writing for their mute mascots..." I think that's because you don't need to worry about the protagonist character role as much as you have to worry about how the player perceives the story. I can honestly say that it doesn't cross my mind that I am "Gordon Freeman" or "Chell" when playing. I think part of it is because we take the 3rd person perspective out of the whole thing. In most RPGs or Adventure games you can see the character you are playing for a reason.

toddx77
toddx77

@bri360 Valve probably just says "we have nothing to say" lol

bri360
bri360

I wonder what they say when people ask about the next Half Life... I mean im sure somebody must of brought it up lol.. I know that woulda been the first thing id ask if I was there.

Evenios
Evenios

I interviewed Laidlaw via email for my school newspaper in high school before Half Life was released and the company became as well known. He sent me an autographed poster of Half Life 2 with some of the team signing it! yay!

nyran125
nyran125

dotnt ever give Gordon freeman a voice...its what makes it so awesome. Matter of fact, i like when your character doesnt speak. It allows me to be able to use my imagination more.

toddx77
toddx77

I remember someone saying once that it wasn't a rape scene but rather Cave was putting Carolyn into GLaDOS and it sounded like a rape scene. Then the person said JK Simmons refused to record it and Ellen Mclain cried after reading the lines so Valve didn't put it in the game. Don't know if that is true or not but atleast that makes a little bit more sense. I gotta say though a distrubing scene like Cave forcing Carolyn into GLaDOS would have been a nice twist in some point instead of hearing the always happy and cheerful Cave.

nitrocole
nitrocole

People actually thought there was a rape scene in Portal 2? Well... I'm not sure what to say about that... Buuuut you know, whatever floats peoples boats, right? .... No, not right, that's just no!

dlhoff
dlhoff

From what I understand, that whole "No, no, no, I don't want this. I don't want this" bit of dialogue was supposed to be about Carolyn trying to stop them from turning her into GLaDOS.

Crazyguy105
Crazyguy105

@Hm1911: You had me until you said CoD had a great storyline. No. Just no. If you're going to play CoD at all, it should be only for the multiplayer aspect.

TurambarGS
TurambarGS

Why, oh why, are people talking about %$*&% Call of Duty on a Portal article? I am so sick of hearing about Call of Duty. Portal and Portal 2 = great games, ORIGINAL games. Not everything needs to be compared to Call of Duty.

abompro
abompro

@Hm1911: I like CoD as well, though I'm more of a Treyarch CoD player. I just know that none of the games have a good storyline. It's strength is in other areas.

Hm1911
Hm1911

@abompro I like call of duty, especially modern warfare series. Anyway, one man's meat is another man's poison

abompro
abompro

@Hm1911: Call of Duty, are you serious? I enjoy the game now and then, but to say it has good storylines compared to Portal or Assassin's Creed is just dumb. A 12 year old could write those scripts. As for the other games, I have yet to check them out so my apologies.

Hm1911
Hm1911

@abompro mafia, max payne, call of duty, and many other games have stories that are far superior than valve's or ubisoft's games. Of course I'm not criticizing the latter two, the are great but not the best

abompro
abompro

@mooncalfreviews: Personally, I think that there is no other story writers in the video game industry than Valve. Ubisoft comes close with the Assassin's Creed series as far as story goes, but Valve is the best. Period.

funkymonkey4710
funkymonkey4710

@MooncalfReviews If Valve writes bad characters than you obviously haven't said hi to GlaDoS, Alex Vance, Cave Johnson, etc.

attachtatuk
attachtatuk

@MooncalfReviews Valve not good at telling stories?!? Have you even played Portal or Half Life? I know we cannot discuss taste but WOW that's one hell of a statement!

MooncalfReviews
MooncalfReviews

The reason they are silent is because Valve suck at writing good characters or stories, so they take the easy option.

aj_marquez
aj_marquez

@Fayt1986 ""There's some piece of dialogue in there where Carolyn is saying 'No, no, no, I don't want this. I don't want this,'" Wolpaw said. "And there's some kind of story on the Internet that apparently people think has been verified that there was a scene where Cave Johnson was raping Carolyn...""

mboettcher
mboettcher

#Fayt1986 No, not Chell, Carolyn, the woman who's mind becomes GLaDoS, was erroneously thought to have been raped by Cave Johnson, her boss, in the past, and Chell heard the recording of this rape when she travels through the old Aperture Science labs. It's not true, but, that's what people are saying.

Fayt1986
Fayt1986

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

T_REX305
T_REX305

lol rape scene? In a E10+ rated game?

svaargod
svaargod

Rape scene in Portal 2, hmmmmm...I dont think so, but in the other end that whole story had an erotic touch in some dialogues...

kyosukeugc
kyosukeugc

wtf? who the hell thought there was a rape scene in the game?