Please support Game Informer. Print magazine subscriptions are less than $2 per issue


Portal 2 Writer Explains Why Chell Doesn't Speak

by Phil Kollar on May 06, 2011 at 09:50 AM

Portal 2 writer Erik Wolpaw arguably faced one of the toughest jobs in the industry in making players laugh while playing a video game. For the vast majority of gamers, he succeeded, but the writing team at Valve also took what might be viewed as a shortcut in having protagonist Chell remain mute. Wolpaw explained this decision during a lecture at New York University yesterday.

After making a couple of jokes about possible reasons Chell might be eternally silent, Wolpaw provided the following more serious explanation:

"There's also this thing, with comedy -- this is sort of reductive -- there are sort of two different patterns. There's the straight man in a world gone mad. And the other one is: You're a crazy person in a sort of straight world. Portal is definitely the world gone mad with a straight man. And the straight man is you... Because you have to write in the margins in the game, time is kind of at a premium. The fact that there's already this established thing where you can have a silent protagonist, that saves us a lot of time.... You may want Chell, you may want to know her back story and hear her say things, but I guarantee if she had to say her straight man lines, at the expense of half of the other dialogue, it would suck."

So in other words, it was kind of a shortcut...but one that makes sense from a writing standpoint in a comedic game, as it gave the team more time to focus on the funny. That seems like the right choice to me. Would you have rather Chell had speaking parts and a deeply developed backstory?

[story via Kotaku, image via Deviant Art]