Okay, ONE more Portal post and then I’ll stop. Promise.
I hadn’t really wanted to use my creative not-an-essay project as a vector (especially because yet another Portal-related vector? Really?), but this week has been sadly lacking in inspiration, so here we are.
For my creative project I chose to create a video expanding upon the history of Apeture Science Labs as it has was revealed through Portal II and its pre-release alternate reality game. The video depicts “recovered” video footage of interviews with a test subject at Aperture Labs in the 1980’s, right around the time that things begin to go decidedly south for the company. This also places the videos before the first Portal game takes place. Visually and thematically I took a great deal of inspiration from the R. Tam Sessions, a series of viral videos released to promote the film Serenity. As the video progresses the test subject, Daryl Mason, begins to deteriorate both physically and mentally, which was my attempt to tap into the sense the player got through the dialogue of Portal II that the safety of test subjects wasn’t much more than rhetoric at Apeture, or at the very least was carried out rather shoddily. By the end of the video Mason is exhausted to the point of apathy and anger, which I felt would be appropriate given the often deadly testing environment the player moves through in both games, as well as the biting anecdotes from company founder Cave Johnson that play as you progress through the game.
Although visually the focus of the tapes is on the character of Daryl Mason, the real subject of the video itself is the mysterious Caroline. Cave Johnson mentions her several times during his in-game rants, but in those recordings her voice is never heard—in fact, she’s never even given a last name. I wanted the opportunity to give her a voice and to explore her character a little, especially considering how vital she becomes in the series later on (fair warning—the end of my video is a huge spoiler!) She’s Johnson’s personal secretary and right-hand woman, but the extent of her presence within the game isn’t fully realized until near the end of Portal II. We catch glimpses of her through Johnson’s anecdotes and of who she becomes later in the games, but never without some kind of filter. In writing her dialogue, I wanted to suggest that her speech patterns are naturally mechanical and rather scripted; perhaps that’s one of the reasons Johnson likes her so much. Her dedication to science, to Apeture, and to Cave Johnson are all very real, and there are moments when her carefully sculpted façade slips and we see her concern for the fate of the company.
As a character I’ve always found Caroline fascinating, and I hope I did her a relative degree justice with this project. I make no claims about the quality of my humble addition to the Portal universe, but I like to think that at the very least any exploration of such a neat character is doing something worthwhile.
Also, I have to give a shout-out to my brother and dad for participating in this. How lucky am I that I’ve got family members willing to take part in this kind of silliness?