Ten years ago this week, Valve released its compilation of games known as The Orange Box. While it continued the Half-Life saga and innovated the team-based shooter, the publisher decided to get experimental. Taking the Source engine to its limits, Valve put together a unique puzzle game, one that centered around playing around with portals. Go in one end and emerge from the other end, placed remotely in another part of the level. It was one of Valve's most creative ideas, one that encouraged game developers big and small to push the limits of what they could accomplish in a video game.
But Portal was mainly memorable for something else. It was memorable for someone else.
GLaDOS (voiced perfectly by Ellen McLain) was unlike few villains the gaming world had ever encountered. The Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System was the Central Core of the Aperture Science testing facility. She was a HAL 9000-style benevolent AI, but one that carried distinctly human traits. She was malevolent. She was a narcissist. And she such a sharp wit and dry humor about her that she instantly became one of the most intriguing new video game characters of the early 21st century. There's no one like GLaDOS, which is why Shacknews is paying tribute to her today.
The Heart of Portal
GLaDOS would respond to being called the heart of Portal by pointing out that she does not have a heart. She is made up of wires, circuits, and a humor protocol. Yes, that's a lame attempt to replicate her humor, but it also shows how memorable her presence in Portal ended up becoming.
There were the taunting jabs:
- "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!"
- "Remember when the platform was sliding into the fire pit and I said 'Goodbye!' and you were like 'NO WAY!' and then I was all 'We pretended we were going to murder you?' That was great!"
- "Well, you found me. Congratulations. Was it worth it? Because despite your violent behavior, the only thing you've managed to break so far is my heart. Maybe you could settle for that and we'll just call it a day."
There were the friendly PSA-style reminders:
- "Remember: The Aperture Science Bring Your Daughter to Work Day is the perfect time to have her tested."
- "If you become light-headed from thirst, feel free to pass out."
- "All subjects intending to handle high-energy gamma leaking portal technology must be informed that they may be informed of applicable regulatory compliance issues."
And of course, there were the multiple promises of cake.
- "Cake and grief counseling will be available at the conclusion of the test."
- "The Enrichment Center is required to remind you that you will be baked, and then there will be cake."
- "Uh-oh. Somebody cut the cake. I told them to wait for you, but they did it anyway. There is still some left, though, if you hurry back."
GLaDOS' dialogue offered something that other puzzle games did not. It was more than her comedic delivery, her poking taunts, and her omnipresence that kept players motivated to keep going. As players got closer to the end of the game, GLaDOS started become more and more annoyed and even unhinged. There was a mystery about her, making this mysterious figure a puzzle in herself. The goal wasn't just about escaping anymore. It was about seeing what GLaDOS would do when the human, who was supposed to be nothing more than a disposable fleshbag, actually reached her chambers.
And yes, the payoff was absolutely worth it, as the player learned exactly what made GLaDOS tick.
An AI Evolution
Valve's Portal was not only a breakout hit for the puzzle genre, but GLaDOS became a star. Portal's final moments went down in history as one of the most memorable end credits sequences in games, with a not-quite-dead GLaDOS breaking into song. "Still Alive" quickly captured hearts around the gaming world, providing a satisfying ending to the game while also keeping the door open for further testing.
The song was such an earworm that Harmonix offered it as a special DLC track for Rock Band, releasing Jonathan Coulton's hit on April 1, 2008.
Following her turn in Portal's sequel (let's table that for one second), the love for GLaDOS started to spread further. She would turn up as a dealer in Poker Night 2, delivering her trademark dry wit and bantering with the players. Her interactions with Claptrap were especially memorable, since the loudmouthed bucket of bolts developed an affinity for her.
There's certainly nothing wrong with a little franchise cross-promotion. That's why McLain returned to lend her voice talents to Dota 2 for an announcer pack. And she's far crueler here than she ever was in the Portal games.
GLaDOS would later get a little more kid-friendly, popping up for an unlikely cameo in Warner Bros.' LEGO Dimensions. Players would find an entire Portal-themed stage and what would a Portal stage be without GLaDOS to taunt players along the way?
But GLaDOS' most memorable appearance outside of gaming came in Guillermo Del Toro's breakout film "Pacific Rim." Del Toro was such a fan of Valve's Portal games that he recruited McLain to provide the robotic voice for the Jaeger robots.
"I wanted very much to have her, because I’m a big Portal fan," Del Toro had stated in an interview with the Toronto Sun, showing just how far GLaDOS' star had risen. McLain is indeed set to reprise her role as the Jaeger AI in the upcoming "Pacific Rim Uprising," bringing that familiar GLaDOS tone with her.
More Than Just Circuits
While the original Portal came across like a brief Valve side project, the developer crew returned for a full-blown sequel in 2011. One of its central features involved going further into GLaDOS and what made her what she was. Without offering explicit spoilers, the answers were far deeper than anyone expected. The exploration into GLaDOS' past was one of the most fascinating elements of the sequel, but GLaDOS truly shined as a force of order.
That was never more evident than when she was briefly deposed by Wheatley. Wheatley was a sharp contrast to GLaDOS. He was dimwitted, but also carried GLaDOS' narcissistic traits, meaning he attempted to carry on in the face of the chaos he was creating around him. Aperture Science was literally coming apart, but Wheatley was so certain that he could run a tight ship that he went about his path undaunted.
In Wheatley's eyes, GLaDOS was irrational, inferior, and someone who tended to act out. But in seeing the destruction Wheatley had caused, players quickly saw GLaDOS as the glue that held Aperture Science together. She knew the facility inside and out, knew how to maintain it, and needed nobody's help to do so. Under her control, Aperture Science was a tightly-run madhouse of science. But when she lost that control ever-so-briefly, the place came apart at the seams. GLaDOS went from an amusing villain in the first game to a powerful female character in the sequel.
Even the ending displayed a sharp contrast between Wheatley and GLaDOS. After Wheatley was ultimately deposed, he appeared contrite. He was apologetic for his actions. GLaDOS never showed that kind of remorse, however. She was doing what needed to be done. She did it for science. And GLaDOS would never apologize for doing what needed to be done for the sake of science.
But what's next for GLaDOS? She has remained mostly dormant, outside of the aforementioned cameo appearances in Poker Night 2, Dota 2, and LEGO Dimensions. In fact, Valve as game developers have largely stayed quiet since Portal 2's release.
But today is a day for remembering where it all started. It's for remembering the original test chambers. It's for recalling the AI voice that's made a generation laugh, while promising cake and delivering only incineration and certain doom. Today is a day to celebrate GLaDOS and gaming is certainly a better place since she was first activated.
Shacknews salutes GLaDOS. You monster.