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 Portal 2 's Wolpaw: 'I Do Not Want To Resurrect A Three-Year-Old Meme'
Portal 2's Wolpaw: 'I Do Not Want To Resurrect A Three-Year-Old Meme' Exclusive
June 18, 2010 | By Chris Remo

June 18, 2010 | By Chris Remo
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    24 comments
More: Console/PC, E3, Exclusive



Any game developer would feel privileged to have released a game that generated as many oft-quoted lines of dialogue as Valve's 2007 action puzzler Portal.

But Valve writer Erik Wolpaw tells Gamasutra that, with Portal 2, he has no interest in fueling the internet fires that years later still burn with references to cake and companion cubes.

"If you thought you were sick of the memes, I was sick of it way ahead of you," said Wolpaw, who was the primary writer on Portal and one of two writing leads on its upcoming sequel, which was demonstrated this week at the E3 Expo.

"For instance, cake," he added. "I've had enough cake jokes."

Wolpaw said that, as a direct sequel, Portal 2 would revisit many elements of the original Portal, including its memorable antagonist GLaDOS, but that the team has been careful not to retread too much of the same ground. After all, the original Portal was received so well in part because it was such a surprise.

"The cubes are in there because they're a gameplay element, and obviously, GLaDOS is back, but there's a bunch of new gameplay and we want to tell an interesting new story," he said.

"We didn't jettison everything, but I absolutely do not want to try and resurrect a three-year-old meme. That seems like it would be kind of sad. It's not a good idea."


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Comments


JB Vorderkunz
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halarious - Wolpaw's use of "meme" makes it official: Meme is a a nonsense term. 95% of the time "fad" would be more appropriate, and the other 5% it's "tradition". Self-replication? Selection pressure? Srsly? No one who didn't play Portal used the cake and companion box "memes". Thank you, Crazy Old Man Dawkins!

Christian Rudolph
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No matter that i love this cake myth around Portal. This legendary sentence "The Cake is a lie" has taken his place inside every community no matter if its Valve related or not. But it would be indeed lame if Portal 2 comes up with the same old jokes. Im sure Erik and Valve are more than able to create another Blockbuster, they have proven it many many times in the past! And the first insight into Portal 2 looks very promising to me, so im in for sure!

Scott Burris
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Perfect mindset to take in crafting an original sequel. Games that rely on that blatant winking homage to the previous game get annoying fast.

Christopher Totten
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I got to visit Valve's offices a few years back for a design project. A lot of the designers said that while they loved Portal's simplistic gameplay, days of playtesting and hearing the same jokes over and over drove them crazy. I don't think any of them could even listen to "Still Alive" anymore at that point.

Meredith Katz
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@J. Bronaugh Vorderkunz



Oh, trust me, just from being in online communities, I guarantee that people who never played portal did, in fact, use "the cake is a lie". It hit everything from fanfiction to forums to youtube parodies of completely unrelated series. I'VE never played Portal and I've heard "The Cake is a Lie" from just about everyone I know, most of whom also have not played Portal.



Admittedly, I SHOULD play Portal, but that's neither here nor there.



The weighted companion cube thing I've only heard from Portal players, though.

JB Vorderkunz
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@Meredith

I've never seen it outside of arenas that aren't populated by a decent percentage of gamers. If my Mom uses "the Cake is a Lie" out of nowhere, then memes are real; popcult warriors on the interwebs using it, not so much. Perusing comments on the YouTube vids you referenced, it seems that most of the posters and commentators did play the game, so I think it qualifies as the more mundane "cultural diffusion". It's definitely gotten spread around - but it would need to jump between lots of folks who did not know the origin of the phrase before 'meme' as defined by R-Dawk, as his homies call him, could be justified (you did say "*most* of whom also have not played Portal" ;-P). I just think meme is an intellectually pretentious term.



Thanks for mentioning the YT vids - hadn't seem em and some were pretty funny =)

Doug Poston
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So wait, then is the cake still a lie or not? ;)

Doug Poston
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In all seriousness, I look forward to seeing what Valve does in Portal 2.



Where most other companies would just take the 'top 3' best tested elements of the first game (cake joke, boss battle, funny song) and repeat them over and over in the second one, I trust Valve will make something very different while keeping the feeling of the original.

Bart Stewart
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Tough call -- it's another example of the question: do you make games for yourself or for other people?



Of course it's not an either/or... but where's the right balance point?



How many of the key memorable bits of the original game can you exclude (because you personally are bored by them) before you antagonize fans of the original game who find the repetition of jokes more comfortable than annoying, and who bought the sequel expecting to see their old friends again?

Michael Smith
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At least one sighting of the Weighted Companion Cube has been posted from the footage, so it's not completely avoided. http://i.imgur.com/YefAG.jpg



"Meme" isn't an intellectually pretentious term. They're memes! How could it be intellectually pretentious? Here you go: http://www.rocketboom.com/category/know-your-meme/

Jeremy Reaban
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Not as bad as zombies, but close.

brandon sheffield
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J. Bronaugh Vorderkunz - you may find this definition of the word meme to be helpful, from Merriam-Webster: "an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture." Gaming has a culture, and the use has spread within it. Cultural diffision as you use it actually sounds much larger than the term "meme," which has always been used to describe something within a specific group.

JB Vorderkunz
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@Brandon & Michael

When I say "nonsense term" and "intellectually pretentious", I'm referring to the definition of meme as used by the coiner of the term, Mr. Richard "The Anti-Anglican" Dawkins, who claims that they are Darwinian replicators. I disagree, and the "halarious" referred to the fact that yall's use of the term strips away that grafted-on undergirding of biological evolutionary process, rendering the term functionally equivalent to a number of other concepts. Guess I didn't do the best job of hitting that on the first go - and so I'd like to say:



@Meredith - I've enjoyed your comments in several epic posts (ex. The McGucken Episodes - his use of "exalted" - rofl!), so I hope my response to you didn't come off as aggressive or disagreeable!



Note: to avoid further confusion, all of my Dawkins jabs culminating in "The Anti-Anglican" are my way of expressing a weirdly bemused dismay at such a brilliant mind that is so crazy. And what I mean by that is his "atheism" reads (to me) not as a viable alternative spirituality that refuses dogma in any form, but rather a petty vendetta against the religious history and heritage of his culture.

JB Vorderkunz
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/blush

...and the award for jackass double poster goes to: me!

Sean Farrell
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@Vorderkunz



lol he said rotfl... or was it the other way...



I heard the cake is a lie, form my wife. Ok, I play games (including Portal), but I keep the game related talk to myself (and other gamer friends). But she had it from somewhere else... So much for meme...



The cake is a lie!

Mark Raymond
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As soon as you start repeating jokes purely for the sake of being referential, you run the risk of: one, excluding everyone else who didn't originally get the joke; and two, being really lame and unfunny.



Fads are by their nature short-lived. They should be left to die.

Nestor Forjan
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@J. Bronaugh Vorderkunz



Huh. If you're going to take "meme" in its original sense you're going to be pretty angry whenever you browse the internet. "Meme" as a commonly used referential joke, particularly on the net, is pretty much a secondary (actually probably the primary) meaning of the word at this point, totally unrelated to the original theory. Which is funny, because it does turn the word meme into kind of a meme. For the reasons you outline it's not a huge loss, although the concept is pretty interesting to understand some dynamics. As with many things on the field, the meme theory works when it works and it doesn't break when it doesn't.



I don't get the idea that the word as it is used is functionally equivalent to other words. Sure, a meme can be a fad, but the word meme as used on the internet refers to a strictly verbal or visual humorous fad. Synonims that are more specific than the original word do serve a purpose. I don't think the word apple is irrelevant because an apple is a fruit...



And yes, I am being extremely pretentious in my way to state that you are being pretentious by complaining about the bastardization of a term that you deem pretentious to begin with. Here's to internet commenting on specialized sites.



As for the atheism comment, come on, being one myself I would be lying if I denied that some of that is at the core of all atheists. Atheism is always kind of militant, and people without an axe to grind do not actively attack something they don't believe exists. Atheism is a reaction to organized religion. No organized religion, no atheism.

JB Vorderkunz
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Nestor,



hrrrmm... I guess you only browse humor and gaming websites aimed at 20/30 yr olds? "meme" is still used in the original sense in lots of places, even on teh interwebs, so I think you're right that "...as used on the internet refers to a strictly verbal or visual humorous fad" is pretentious (last time I checked the internet is a pretty big place). And the entropy of the concept doesn't make it "kind of a" Darwinian replicator.



As for atheism, I disagree that all atheists are militants - I know brilliant people who are atheists and aren't militant at all, just as I know agnostics and religionists who aren't militant. Further, atheism literally means godless - not believing in a deity is the only condition, being *against* anything isn't required.



I've been sleep deprived for about 3 1/2 months now (my beautiful baby girl!), and I'm sure I've been more aggressive and less intelligent than I wish to be, so if I've offended you or anyone else with jackassery, I apologize =]

Brian Taylor
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Recent meme that needs to be included: drunken journalists who embarrass themselves on podcasts.



And hey, in Super Scribblenauts, I can now use adjectives like "plastered," "drunk," or "inebriated" to describe nouns like "journalist," "reporter," and "writer." This will please certain members of the Gamasutra editorial staff greatly, I'm sure.

Michael Smith
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I'm not sure the common "meme" is being abused. The biological evolutionary similarities hold, I think, as far as they are applicable to a meme. Even assuming the word isn't being used today as it was then, thirty years is a short enough period in which such a term could transform in informal language. I think "fad" is even less functional to describe what we call the "internet meme" than the term "meme." Perhaps "internet meme" is the safe intellectually honest way of discussing these.



My comment above was an attempt to show that if there is a misuse, it's most likely done in good fun, not intellectual pretentiousness.

Ayn Randwich
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@Vorderkunz LOL @ you being such a child to think that some video game article a few thousand people will read (at best) defines this term for you or anyone else, there's the term as originally defined by that douchebag Dawkins, and there's how 99% of the people in the world use it (like it or not, it's colloquial). It looks more like you brought it up so you can type wordy, pedantic replies to show off how you've read some books (or more likely some websites) by that hack Dawkins. I bet you correct people when they refer to all gelatin as "Jell-O" too

JB Vorderkunz
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Michael,

I don't think "meme" is being abused, nor did Wolpaw, or anyone on this post use it pretentiously - language is plastic and what we make of it. The original pretentiousness referred to was that of an evolutionary biologist deciding that his expertise in one field makes him competent to make giant leaps (hehe) in fields in which he has not trained and researched nearly as extensively as his native field (being an EB doesn't mean you know which theories of psychology or sociology are 'better' than others, right? would biologists appreciate an eminent psychologist who started making pronouncements about the genesis of life on earth?). That IS intellectually pretentious, but it's part of academia...



just above, I was poking back at Nestor for calling me pretentious (even though he was right =] ), because he used the words "internet" and "strictly" in the same sentence. So no, I don't think anyone is intellectually pretentious for using the term "meme" in the 'lolcats' sense.



and with that I shall retire from this thread before stepping on any more toes or putting my feet in mouth again.

JB Vorderkunz
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?Ayn Randwich? Halarious. I bet you're the type of person who creates a new yahoo account so you can make a fake name on a non-anonymous website to troll. Emotional immaturity and psychological instability FTW!

Meredith Katz
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@Vorderkunz



Thanks very much! :) Not offended at all, just busy for the weekend.



Nothing wrong with digging into the origins of the term -- on my side, I'm just incapable of seeing meme as anything intellectual at all. I'm far too used to online blogging culture just referring to 'meme' as anything popular that spreads fast through one's social group beyond whether or not people know the origins (in fact, for it to classify as memetic, it almost HAS to spread without everyone involved knowing the origins because then they're just picking up the phrase or concept or quiz or whatever without being fans OF the origins). For all that gaming and anime culture overlap... if "Yugioh Abridged" uses "The cake is a lie" as a gag I'm just like, whoa, this has gone viral. *g*



Basically I guess it's a case where common usage and original intended usage have diverged.


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