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Veteran Member - Level 11
If you've visited my profile in the past couple of weeks, you probably noticed some weird status posts. I've been quoting Portal and its sequel Portal 2 an awful lot lately, due to the fact I'm watching a friend play through the series for the first time. Even though I've played through both titles several times, as well having watched my sister playthroughs, I still can't help but be taken aback by Valve's newest series. The puzzles, characters, and the very concept, are all so fresh. Oh and speaking of characters, there's one in particular who has made the franchise almost on her own.
Yes, of course, I'm speaking of GLaDOS. She's been the basis of all my Portal quoting, and to be quite honest, it's a little confusing when you stop and think about it. Why is she liked so much? She's the VILLAIN. Instead of dreading her appearance, we constantly look forward to it. Every plot device in the series is a result of her actions. Once again when you think about it, that's a bit weird to say. Why? Because she's an Artificial Intelligence. AI's are usually motivated by logic, and critical thinking, but GLaDOS' means are often cryptic, as she is more human than the very character we play as. Bear with me as I briefly try to make sense of why she's so adored by fans of the series.
If I could describe the overall mood of the Portal series with one word, the word would have to be "sardonic". Every word, and phrase is just dripping with narcissism, sarcasm, or irony. Especially in the case of GLaDOS. I'd say about ninety percent of what she has to say, is negative in a way that a 5 year old being forced to share for the first time would be. She's resentful, sadistic, and...childlike. Of course she's intelligent, she's an AI! But, she's just loves picking on those who are smaller than her. Erik Wolpaw, Chet Faliszek along with Jay Pinkerton (Erik and Chet worked on Portal and Portal 2, while Jay only worked on Portal 2) do an astonishing job when it comes to GLaDOS' rants. They mold those previously mentioned characteristics into a self-contradicting, and utterly deceitful overlord.
Inside of Aperture, GLaDOS is essentially a god. She controls the walls, and floors, heck she even controls the what's in the air. She could end Chell (the main protagonist) at any second if she wanted, but she's so obsessed with toying with her, and manipulating her, that she refrains from it until it's too late. Here's a few example's of GLaDOS' mind games.
"Please note that we have added a consequence for failure. Any contact with the chamber floor will result in an "unsatisfactory" mark on your official testing record, followed by death. Good luck!"
"The Enrichment Center regrets to inform you that this next test is impossible. Make no attempt to solve it."
"Fantastic. You remained resolute and resourceful in an atmosphere of extreme pessimism."
"The Enrichment Center reminds you that the Companion Cube cannot speak. In the event that the Companion Cube does speak, the Enrichment Center urges you to disregard its advice."
As you can see, GLaDOS has this dark, but very dry humor about her. She toys with your mind, and then mocks you when you succeed. There are points in the game when she genuinely makes you feel like a BAD PERSON. I'll avoid quotes in that area, as to avoid spoilers, but let's just say it involves the Companion Cube.
The Voice Actor
When it comes to making a character truly great, writing is nothing without delivery, and GLaDOS' voice actor, Ellen McLain more than succeeds here. Other than Ellen there are only a couple of actors in Portal and they all play very minor roles. Basically McLain IS the first Portal game. Her delivery is perfect to say the least, as minor things like the pitch of her voice, all the way to major things like when she actually shows human emotion, are all convincing. It would seem that her vocal chords were made just for that sarcastic and mocking tone that is constantly heard throughout both titles.
It's so hard to hate a voice that makes you laugh. It's even harder to hate a voice that's infectious. Think back to Darth Vader, and James Earl Jones (heck yes, I'm referencing Star Wars in a Portal blog). For me, it was his voice that made him so likable. Yeah, sure he looked completely awesome in his duds, but it was the booming, civil talking style that won me over. It was regularly intimidating, but sympathetic when it needed to be.
GLaDOS is a similar case. We regularly recognize that manipulative tone, but Ellen McLain knows how to fill out all of the other vocal ranges required to add depth to GLaDOS. What's more is that Ellen also plays several other roles alongside GLaDOS. Those cute but deadly turrets that spout off lines like "I don't blame you..." when you defeat them? Those are distorted, and altered versions of McLains now iconic voice. Of course we all know that Ellen McLain sung "Still Alive" at the end of the first Portal game. GLaDOS' voice actor WAS the experience. Ellen McLain IS Portal as we know it. I can't honestly say that Portal would be what it is without her.
I can easily say that GLaDOS is one of my favorite characters of all time (if not favorite). It wasn't easy to put together such an awesome character, as it took a very talented team of writers, and an incredibly talented voice actress to really flesh out GLaDOS, but when the formula was finished, it was awe-inspiring. It's not often that we're captivated by what is essentially a robot. The only other one I've ever really been attached to is Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey (he was another demented AI who totally owned the project he was apart of). I think it's only logical to think assume the success found with GLaDOS will be attempted to be replicated in the years to come, but one thing is for certain: there won't ever be another GLaDOS.