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Designing a character for a game is no easy task. Even little nuances such as a character's shoes or hairstyle can affect how players perceive their hero. Redesigning a character brings additional challenges because players already have a set of expectations for established characters. Designers will go through hundreds of concepts before settling on a final design for their character. Valve's concept artist, Matt Charlesworth, explains how that process is working for Portal 2.
From The Beginning“We sort of agreed that as a character Chell was really successful in the first Portal. She fit into the world really well and complemented it without the distractions that a more flashy character would bring. She served a utilitarian purpose for that game, but at the same time when we started out on Portal 2 we weren't sure if we wanted to bring her back. So we explored a few other characters before returning to Chell.
“Right from the beginning, we were constrained to replicate the character that was in the first game. Later on, we decided that we were probably missing a trick by not having Chell present, so we moved her back into that role. We were trying to do different things. Some of the images started with a sporty look – almost like motorcycle gear. Very different from the first aesthetic, even though we were still going for clean and simple. We were playing around with proportion as well, trying to play a lot more with extreme feminine proportions and a totally different color scheme.
“We explored changing Chell’s nationality for a little bit. Nobody really knew what Chell was in the first game. She kind of had a hint of Japanese ethnicity to her, but we were still not quite sure if we were going to keep her or make her a new character. In the end, the things that were successful were the more minimal, clean, utilitarian looks. Nothing was on there for fashion. The constraints we had were that this girl was supposed to be dressed by machines, so any markings on the suit would have been on there for readability by the computer. She was never supposed to look as if she'd been designed. But that's something we fought with – to make her still appealing to the player, but not look over designed. Anything that doesn't serve a real purpose on the character tends to get cut.
Throwing Out Ideas“We played around with some different machine-read imagery, and what extra things you might have on a suit like this, but we’re leaning away from the bar code design now, because it seems like it's been done quite a bit before, and originality is something I really associate with Portal.
“The stuff that was more successful was the really minimal approach, and that's sort of led us to this concept. This just seemed to strike a chord with everyone, because it really seemed like it belonged in the Portal world. It made her look physically capable, but at the same time, there is a vulnerability about her. That's what is attractive to everybody.
“The 06 is an arbitrary graphic put on there. We're trying to de-humanize the character a little bit. That's something that was continually coming up with some of the other concepts suited to the prisoner number system – that constant dehumanization of these test subjects."
Work In Progress“This is not supposed to look like a sexy Marvel superhero suit. It’s supposed to look like it was designed without any thought of making her look attractive. We don't want to make her be unattractive, but we want to balance that out. Chell is a test subject, so she should look like one. Not a prisoner or a janitor or something. We also want people to remember the character this time around. Before I started working on Portal 2, I barely remembered the character from the first game
“The hat came up sort of halfway through the concepting phase. It just seemed to strike a chord with everyone. It's something that always makes me think of test pilots – people who were subjected to testing and extreme conditions. It serves a second purpose too, because if there's a graphic on it that's constantly readable from all angles then there can be graphics on the hat that are trackable by the computers in the world. That sort of serves the fiction of her being tested by GLaDOS. Also it keeps the hair out of her eyes.
“We’re still not entirely sure what we're doing with the spring heels. They were always something that was in Portal 1, and some of us are attached to them, and some of us aren't, so I’ve experimented with how we can do with them right this time around, and how we would go about replacing them. Everything should look 10 times better than the first Portal, that's the goal.”
Valve's Tristan Reidford is the artist working on designing the game's co-op bots
Designing For Two“We went through a phase of putting stuff up and deciding what the direction was. The co-op bots, at the very beginning our concepts had a very Westworld feel. We wanted them to look human, but feel robotic. They eventually developed into being these far more graphic, very industrial looking robots. We took turrets and the personality spheres and integrated them into the designs. There's so much personality in Portal that we thought we could almost tell a story with their design and get more use out of the art than we already had.
“We drew them holding hands because it just kind of describes the whole co-op idea, if slightly tongue-in-cheek. Portal’s got a sense of humor. It's quirky, but it shows that one of the biggest things that is important to Portal 2 will be that you're playing with a friend. It's one of those weird things, where somebody just kind of did it, and we had the sort of team moment where we were like “yeah that’s pretty cool.”
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How ignorant can someone be? No intention of sounding rude, but the art process has everything to do with a game. It determines how the game world's and characters' appearance may appeal to the players. Would you have liked Portal 1 half as much if the dev team had decided to go with a side-scrolling design? Be patient: Portal 2 will release with time (I don't even have my magazine yet)...
looks like the costumes from THX 1138
It looks to me like chell just walked out of a hosbital for the clinically insane rather than a testing facilty. I mean really, she even has a helmet
Looks awesome, character design is great.
"It means a lot to me to have a multi-ethnic heroine. When I was growing up, that didn't happen a whole lot. Maybe Storm from X-Men...I dunno. But it wasn't common place, so to have someone to be my type be in that position is really really amazing."
-Merle Dandridge voice of Alyx Vance. Source: Half-Life 2: Episode 2 Commentary track.
I'm on the same boat as Merle Dandridge. As a person of color, I feel included knowing that there are characters like Mirror's Edge's Faith, Half-Life's Alyx Vance, and Portal's Chell. They not only exist but have the audacity to hold starring roles instead of token throw away parts! I was really grateful since VALVe was so inclusive throughout their existence. My sister and mother generally hate video games, but I somehow piqued their interest while playing Portal around them. After listening to the offbeat humor and seeing the mind blowing puzzles, I sat them down in front of the PC and one of the first things that piped up from their mouths was "Wait, whoa is that a brown woman?" This really surprised them and just one of many touches that they commented were "different from my other games." (I admit they usually star white macho males with short brown hair and who frown a lot.) So it kinda boggled me when I read that they were actually exploring changing her "nationality" for the sequel.
And as a geek I always hate it whenever continuity is changed. In real life I expect to walk outside tommorow and see that the sky is above me. So I like consistency in my games too. In between Half-Life 1 and 2, I can still see that it is the same Gordon Freeman. The designers may have streamlined his suit and made his face younger but I could still see that it is him. But when I saw that Tron/Water Polo suit I just thought "whozat?" It wasn't until I saw her knee replacements that I realized it COULD HAVE been Chell. It boggled me again, when they explored removing them. Like Freeman's orange HEV suit, glasses, and beard; Chell's orange jumpsuit, leg extensions and almond eyes were iconic. Judging from all the fan art and cosplayers they are very well received.
There there's her face. The picture quality isn't that clear, but she clearly doesn't look anything like the original Chell. Her skin tone is lighter. Her eyes are smaller. Her lips are thinner. Is that Alesia Glidewell - the model from the original game? I'm comparing pictures and it doesn't look like so. But she looks like a completely different woman. Hopefully it's still a work in progress, but I don't want a completely different woman.
Oh man, time to fire up the old Portal Game and run thru some challenge maps, brush up on my skillzzzzz
funny how the first chell was in an orange suit and now she is in a blue suit. See... now i am thinking with portals
I like the art design, but why is there a hole in the back of Chell's helmet? Would the Robots that dressed her have gotten a strand of hair and pulled it through?
Sadly, I actually liked how Chell looked in Portal as it seemed to fit the scenery better. Plus, her new outfit just does not feel right considering that the second game takes place right after the first. So, why bother in the first place?
Yeah, I prefer the old Chell too.
Orange suit and barefoot.
Perfect tone for the game, why change
Agreed that the cap is dumb. I think its biggest failing is that it kinda "eggs" her head. Not sure how to describe it, but the bit of slope-up from above the ears, and kinda looking like it's plastering her.
I can see practicality in it, though, if the ear covers are speakers, allowing GLaDOS to keep full track of her this time. However, if its only purpose outside of Chell is identification, then, erm, wouldn't they just have an implant, like on pets?
The suit, it's workable. I don't really like it; the color's blander than the walls, and the CG render up at the top of the article look too plush-plasticy, like vinyl or something (I apparently don't know material names). The more textured render is better. Still a bit iffy; maybe it's some kinda clash with her non-suited parts, like the ponytail (does it seem out-of-place? maybe that's some of the charm and/or idea, that the robots just have a generic suit, and the don't care what setup it's put with, just put. it. on. so we can proceed with the test.).
And for the leg-springs: KEEP THEM. They're practical, they're quirky, are they connected to her?, and they're cool. They looked especially good with the prisoner sort of gear, too.
And, as would be expected, keep her more homely than what's comfortable, eh?
I hope it doesn't end up looking like the in game model but more like the concept minus that cap thing, and some people want it orange but it looks ok grayish-blue...
I had to create a gameinformer account just to post about the decision to "keep Chell" aka change everything but the name.
It's insulting that they think were as dumb as the new Chell looks and that we wouldn't notice their B latent Hypocrisy with the new design.
Purported goals: make Imposter Chell more Memorable than Orange Freak Chell, make her look like she was dressed by machines, and keep it Unique.
1. Toss the orange (too forgettable, too unoriginal). Put her in gray-tones that will make her invisible against the enrichment center color scheme.
Because, you know, machines can track a #6 on a gray shower cap and earmuffs (without a bar code, too unoriginal) but they can't track Neon Orange. I understand the tubes are for some stasis-pod related reasons but they could just stick needles or whatever around the janitor's outfit for the sake of continuity and Uniqueness.
The spiffy new suit looks too planned and predictable and "right" to be right for this game, which Should make the player wake up and feel "this is wrong." I think glaDOS and the machines (sounds like a band) would pick an old employee's uniform out of a closet and throw that on since they don't care about her. Now that's dehumanizing as they claim they wanted.
Did the machines humanely brush her hair too? If I came out of a stasis pod 100 years later my hair would look like orange freak chell's or maybe there's a robot training center for hair and makeup on level 20. Since the co-op robots are holding hands, maybe they're fabulous with fashion. (no offense to robots who hold hands, it's cute).
2. Remove inadvertent traces of ethnic Uniqueness that may have crept in the first time around (Oops, we couldn't find our game-girl-cookie-cutter last time, sorry if we made you uncomfortable, but we fixed her. She is now a bored white model-figured girl in heels). If I was a guy who had to be Chell, I would rather wear a janitor's suit. Grim, (previous comment) I can relate, being non-white also.
3. Ditch the totally appropriate expression/demeanor and make her look like she's bored and disappointed that she can't find anything good on tv.
Why on earth did we think that after waking up after 100 yrs and finding herself prisoner in a place controlled by a psychopath, that she would have a harrowed & hunted expression and look scared/defensive/hyper-vigilant? Those facial expressions aren't supposed to be natural/neutral.
She should look like a freak, she's our freak. (was). Try 3rd person and check out the weird walk w/ the springs and the justifiably fierce survivor look. This wimp looks like she's going to sit on a companion cube for a good self-pitying cry while waiting for the neurotoxin.
Way to shoot yourself in the barefoot with you blatant hypocrisy. The cake was not a lie, but the so called artistic integrity is.
Oh, how things have changed (definitely for the better).