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Portal 2 almost had fake endings, terrible multiplayer and no portals

Imagine you’re standing on a beachside boardwalk. The sun is shining, the palm trees are swaying overhead and it’s perfectly quiet aside from the sound of distant gulls and crashing waves. You’re standing near an outdoor bar and a few inviting café tables, yet you appear to be the only one around. Not too far from the tables is a dock leading out onto the water, and as you step onto that dock, a transparent wall slides up from the ground, blocking your progress. That’s weird. So you turn around and head in the other direction, and before your feet reach the sand, another wall slides into place in front of you. You move to go around it, but it’s no use; another wall slides up, and then another, until the little boardwalk is completely enclosed.

Above: Although it looks nothing at all like this

One by one, the tables recede slowly into the boardwalk. Seconds later, the trees do the same. The lights flick off, then on again, and as the water drains from the “ocean,” you realize that the sunny sky was just a projection; you’re a prisoner some kind of huge, soundstage-like room. As you watch this helplessly, the walls suddenly close in, leaving you trapped in a tiny, transparent cube. This cube is then pulled through a doorway by some kind of armature, into darkness.

That, as shown at the GDC panel “Creating a Sequel to a Game that Doesn’t Need One,” was the original opening for Portal 2. It seems that, in the years between Portal and its sequel, a lot got left on the cutting-room floor, and Valve writers Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek were more than willing to share. Interestingly, the original vision for the sequel called for three of its most iconic things to be removed: Chell, GlaDOS, and the portals themselves.

“We decided to keep Aperture,” said Wolpaw. “Aperture Science seemed kind of like it was the foundation on which Portal was built. From a writing perspective, we thought there was sort of unlimited potential there to explore this mad funhouse of science. So, having decided to keep Aperture… we cut Chell. She got out, good luck to her. Who needs her? We cut GlaDOS. She kind of died in the end, and she had a nice little story arc; time for a new villain. And we cut portals. The name is in the title, but we figured we’d worry about that later.”

The plan, Wolpaw said, was to replace the portals with a new mechanic that had come out of Valve’s design experiments, called “F-Stop.” (And while Wolpaw described F-Stop as “sexy,” he stopped short of actually describing it, as it may be used in a future game.) The new villain, meanwhile, would be Aperture Science founder Cave Johnson, originally envisioned as a crazy Southern billionaire.

Above: One of the original concepts for Cave Johnson (left), with the final version at right

“In F-Stop Portal 2, [Johnson] was the whole show. He was the main character,” Wolpaw said. GlaDOS, meanwhile, would have appeared only as a little wheeled robot known as the Gyroscopic Liability Absolver and Disk Operating System (referred to as “Betty”). Whenever Johnson would finish explaining a test, she’d trundle out to quickly rattle off a string of legalese meant to absolve the company of any liability.

Originally, Portal 2 was also going to be a prequel. Set in the ‘80s, about 20 years before the events of Portal, it would have focused on a robot uprising at Aperture (which also involved, according to pictures Wolpaw displayed, a giant chicken running through the offices at some point). After about three months of work, the game was ready for playtests. “The constant feedback we got was that it was a lot of things, but it wasn’t Portal 2,” Wolpaw said. “So, lesson one: you don’t need to burn everything to the ground.”

Above: Bits of the 1980s Aperture concept did make it into the final Portal 2, though

GlaDOS and portals came back, but the team still didn’t see the need to revive Chell. “She’s mute, she doesn’t really have a character, she’s just kind of this physical presence that you occasionally see glimpsed through portals,” Wolpaw said, adding that, as writers, they felt her story was finished.

“We started this iteration of Portal with you waking up in the Relaxation Vault, and you were standing in front of a mirror so that you could see that you weren’t Chell,” Wolpaw said. “You were this other character we called Mel, who had blonde hair and a different-colored jumpsuit, and was pretty obviously not Chell. To a person, playtesters didn’t care… until the point where she wakes up GlaDOS, and GlaDOS does not recognize her.”

Above: This moment turned out to be far more important than the developers initially realized

It was at that point, Wolpaw said, that they realized Portal was about the intimate relationship players had with GlaDOS – and if she woke up and didn’t remember them, “it was actually a blow to the player.” So Chell went back in, too.

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24 comments

  • BaronVonFistingMcButtholePunch - March 19, 2012 3:26 a.m.

    While Chell speaking would have been cool, it doesn't really fit with the rest of the game (Never speaking during it), though perhaps if she returned for another game she could have an active speaking roll in that one.
  • Net_Bastard - March 9, 2012 12:21 p.m.

    Chell saying "Yes!" at the end would have been a great ending, that is if it happened after the chosen ending for the game. As in, Chell exited Aperture out of the elevator, the Companion Cube gets ejected out, and she just says "Yes!". That would have been a very powerful ending.
  • Alex_Syros - March 11, 2012 9:46 a.m.

    I don't think such an ending would be fitting. To me, the delightful intrigue of Portal 2 ending is that (a part of) Chell probably does not want to leave GLaDOS after all. Firstly, GLaDOS just saved her life. Secondly, having spent so much time with GLaDOS and having gone through a great deal of turbulent stuff together, Chell must have developed a significant degree of attachment to the deviant AI creature (and it's not just Stockholm syndrome here). Then you have all those Caroline connections to boot... The ending you're suggesting would ruin all these intricacies, ambiguity and intrigue, imo. Portal is more sophisticated and subtle than that.
  • Alex_Syros - March 9, 2012 9:25 a.m.

    Scary to think that Portal 2 could have been stripped of all those things which are so essential (even iconic) to its universe now. The fact that it didn't happen indicates that Valve are doing some... well, lots of things right ;) It's actually quite baffling how they manage to eventually settle on really good, near-perfect stuff having started out with a fair chunk of chaff. One great example would be Chell's outfit. If you look at the early versions of Chell's costume, they look rather generic and somewhat uninspired, while the final version is pure genius and blows everything else out of the bleeming water!
  • TanookiMan - March 9, 2012 7:25 a.m.

    Loved the Portal 2 video by faceofdoomness (and The National!), hadn't seen that before.
  • CommanderCrunch - March 9, 2012 12:39 a.m.

    I DEMAND THE RETURN OF THE MORGAN FREEMAN SPHERE!
  • Fuzunga - March 8, 2012 7:57 p.m.

    Oh, so they mean at the point where you had to push the button she would just say "yes"?
  • slapdatass - March 8, 2012 6:26 p.m.

    Stephen Merchant was brilliant, but Richard Ayoade! If there's any British comedian who could have done as good a Wheatley (different of course, but still), it would be him.
  • KidKatana - March 9, 2012 1:21 a.m.

    But he knows nothing of the crunch!
  • rainn'sgaydar - March 8, 2012 5:24 p.m.

    I understand why they cut the multiple endings, but they would have been great. It would have made finding all of them worth playing the game even more.
  • Redeater - March 8, 2012 4:27 p.m.

    With games like Bioshock, Dead Space and The Darkness II getting slapdash multiplayer nothing suprises me any more.
  • TheFabricOfTime - March 8, 2012 4:15 p.m.

    Portal prequel guys? Guys?
  • shneepsh - March 8, 2012 6:32 p.m.

    Don't ask them to make Portal 0 (the 0 will be a giant portal on the box art, of course), you're just enabling their 3-phobia. In all seriousness, I'd rather they drop the Portal franchise name and make this mystery "F-stop" game, which'll probably be really cool, as a 5 hour add-on game to HL3 or whatever they make next. It'll be short and sweet like the original Portal and avoid all the crazy hype and expectations of fans for a prequel.
  • Headstandz - March 8, 2012 4:14 p.m.

    Portal 2 wasn't my favorite game. But it was the only game which ending made me go O.O It was EPIC!
  • Craza - March 8, 2012 8:17 p.m.

    The little "Ting!" and twinkle as you land that portal, ahhhhh man, that was just perfect.
  • SideOfBeef - March 8, 2012 3:27 p.m.

    They couldn't have the main character speak because they're saving that to end Half Life 3.
  • josh-horvath - March 9, 2012 7:03 a.m.

    we all know how it will happen: 'end of the game' alyx: gordon, you have saved us all. what do we do do know? gordon:'lowers weapon' pub everyone: pub? gordon: 'smiles and nods head' pub
  • talleyXIV - March 8, 2012 3:21 p.m.

    First! Spoilers: for those that have not beat Portal 2 (WHY?) Anyway, this article was really cool. I loved Portal 2 and I think it is the single greatest ending sequence ever, you go to the moon, the villain/friend saves you, and you win (are set free.) I can't believe after the success of Portal they even considered ditching portals, Chell, and GlaDos. Really quite unbelievable. Well, however they came up with it, it was a brilliant game.
  • BladedFalcon - March 8, 2012 3:21 p.m.

    More fake endings would have been cool, but even as the game is, Is till felt it had a couple XD Though they did end like a normal death and not like an ending. But yeah... Good thing that ending in which chell speaks was removed. The current one is absolutely fantastic as it is, easily one of my favorite endings of last year, and possibly this generation. Shocking as it might have been to hear Chell speak, it would have topped a trip to the MOON. Also, Chell suddenly speaking just for that would have made no fucking sense.
  • Redeater - March 8, 2012 4:22 p.m.

    Meh. It made perfect sense in Dead Space 2.

Showing 1-20 of 24 comments

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