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Portal 2: "Let's make Caddyshack"

Erik Wolpaw on writing the great video game comedy.
Erik Wolpaw

There's this thing we do a couple of times where they're almost like classic comedy scenes – [Wheatley] falling off the thing, "catch me catch me catch me!" – that you probably couldn't pull off in a movie, but when you're standing there doing it in game it feels a little bit fresh. We could use that same kind of philosophy that games use, but nobody's ever really done it with these classic comedy scenes before. And so we tried them and felt like they were working, and we thought, "Maybe we're getting here before anyone else."

Like, if I was making a modern military shooter nowadays, I'd be terrified, because it seems like every good scene from every good movie has been taken at this point – like, done well, actually recreated.

Eurogamer There is a lot of comedy in games, but it doesn't seem to be an explicit target for most game-makers to make their games funny.
Erik Wolpaw

I think traditionally comedy games for whatever reason don't do that well... We'll see how Portal does, but if I was about to gamble $20 million of my own money, I'd probably make a game about combat marines in Dubai or something as well.

But having said that, people like comedy, it's just hard to pull off – so if you can pull it off well, people respond to it and they like it, right? There's no shortage of comedy in every other medium – well, ballet maybe doesn't have comedy, I dunno – but the stuff of my diet includes a lot of comedy and it's respected stuff, across a lot of mediums.

So I'd really like to make a really credible comedy game. People seem to be skipping straight to the pure art, and yet nobody's made the Caddyshack in games yet, right? So I'm like, woah woah woah, let's put on the brakes – let's make Caddyshack, and then we can make Anna Karenina or whatever.

There's still this whole untapped area of legitimately you-can-be-proud-of comedy – like, this is not embarrassing, it's not "funny for a game", it's legitimately pretty funny stuff. I'm not saying we necessarily got there, but I'd love to eventually get there.

This is Art. When you hear a buzzer, stare at the Art. (Video: first 15 minutes of Portal 2 co-op.)
Eurogamer You take the player on quite a journey with GLaDOS in the game, and you end up with a very different relationship with her at the end, she changes quite a lot.
Erik Wolpaw

She resets herself at the end though. She does learn a lesson and then explicitly delete it.

Eurogamer If you take the first game into consideration as well, where she's just a really cold, alien voice –
Erik Wolpaw

– until the end. At the end she's way more human, and so we wanted to start where she left off. She's upset. She's incredibly upset at you.

You knew, especially if you came back from the previous game – hopefully we set it up a little bit for you – that you had done her wrong, but the hardest part was we needed to get her into another space, because her being angry at you the whole time was going to get old pretty quick.

It was just not going to be particularly pleasant to have her just being cruel to you the whole time, so she changes, and even when she went into the potato there was initially this thing where she was still kind of angry at you, before we found she needed something else to wrestle with, because it was even worse carrying her around and she's just yelling at you from two feet in front of you.

So both Wheatley, and then wrestling with the Caroline thing, gave her this sort of place to go. And we just really liked the idea of her being able to reset herself. This was a fairly early-on idea – we knew we were going to have this arc. It's the idea of having a character arc and then having the character explicitly reject it and just say, "You know what? Done."

The one thing we wrestled with as well was, we wanted the player to feel like they'd beaten her, but we didn't really want you to have to fight her again as a boss battle, so at the end, she does let you go. But it's mainly because there's this tacit admission that you're just too much for her to handle.

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Oli Welsh avatar

Oli Welsh


Oli was Eurogamer's MMO Editor before a seven-year stint as Editor. He worked here for a colossal 14 years, shaping the website and leading it.

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