Friday, May 13, 2011

The Mystery of Chell's Silence

Silent but deadly
Actually, there's no mystery as to why Chell, the protagonist of both Portal and Portal 2, does not speak. It's cheaper that way.

No time spent writing her dialogue, no voice actors and their tedious demands to be paid for their work.

Eric Wolpaw, the head writer of both games, puts it bluntly:
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.
(via Kotaku)
I also like his "in-story" explanation for her silence:
We always assumed she could talk and simply just chooses not to, what with these robots all being dicks. She's not giving them the satisfaction of saying anything.
I'd like to think that'd be my reaction, too, if I were in her situation.

I read somewhere that another famous mute protagonist, Gordon Freeman from the Half-Life games, actually does speak but Valve does not depict that part in the games.

Whichever approach works for the story. I am coming to like the "mute protagonist" style because it makes me feel more involved in the game, as if I am a character being affected by the events of the story.

Not to say cutscenes and character dialogue can't work well. Mass Effect pulled it off nicely.

Spoilery Bonus Chell Fact

You learn virtually nothing about Chell's past from the Portal games. In Portal 2, however, one of the "Take Your Daughter to Work Day" potato exhibits has a tag below it that reads "Chell."

It stands to reason that she was a child visiting the facility when GLaDOS became self-aware and proceeded to slaughter almost everyone.

No wonder she doesn't want to chat with GLaDOS. Bitch killed her daddy.

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