Cave Johnson (Portal)
Cave Johnson (left) and his assistant, Caroline (right) as they appear in Portal 2.
|First game||Portal 2 (2011)|
|Created by||Erik Wolpaw|
|Voiced by||J.K. Simmons|
Cave Johnson is a fictional character from the Portal franchise first introduced in the 2011 video game Portal 2. He is voiced by American actor J. K. Simmons and created in part by Portal 2's designer Erik Wolpaw. He is referenced by a computer username in the first game and appears indirectly in Portal 2. Johnson serves as a guide to the player-character Chell as she explores an abandoned part of the Aperture Science facility, though all of his messages are pre-recorded from before the events of the Portal games.
Concept and creation
Cave Johnson was created by designer Erik Wolpaw and is voiced by actor J.K. Simmons. His physical appearance is based on that of Portal 2 lead animator Bill Fletcher. He is described as an "eccentric dead billionaire" and "extroverted, enthusiastic, and opinionated." He was the founder and CEO of Aperture Science. He was also a "shower curtain visionary." He was initially considered to be the main character of Portal 2, where players were in control of him as he was trapped inside a computer. This idea was scrapped, however. They later envisioned Cave Johnson as the primary antagonist, but this was also scrapped. This idea was revealed as a result of leaked quotes from the character.
Johnson was envisioned since Portal as an "industrial, Southern guy" who would contrast the "anti-septic" and "politically correct" nature of Aperture Science. Though their idea of the character underwent several changes over the development, the selection of J.K. Simmons helped to solidify the character. Pictures of Cave Johnson appear throughout Portal 2, and though Valve used a casting call to try to find someone to use as a template, they turned back to their own lead animator, Bill Fletcher, for Cave's face.
Though comparisons have been made between Cave and Andrew Ryan, the wealthy industrialist that created the fictional underwater city of Rapture in BioShock, Wolpaw claims they had not considered this character in their creation of Cave.
Cave Johnson's only full appearance to date is in the 2011 video game Portal 2, having been referenced by a login username in the first Portal game. His actor, J.K. Simmons, spoke original lines for various trailers for Portal 2, including at the PAX East exposition in 2011. He does not appear as himself, but instead he is heard by the player-character Chell as she traverses abandoned parts of the Aperture Science facility in pre-recorded messages that explain the area as well as some of the backstory of Aperture. In these pre-recorded messages, he is sometimes accompanied by or makes reference to his personal assistant, a woman named Caroline. As Chell progresses through this area, the messages appear to indicate a decline in Aperture as well as Cave himself. He eventually contracts a deadly illness after grinding up moon rocks, which he turns into Conversion Gel and then eats (in keeping with a previous comment that Aperture's research policy is to "throw science at the wall and see what sticks"), and begins discussing the prospect of putting a person's mind inside of a computer. He indicates that if the process isn't able to be done on him before he dies to put Caroline in charge, even forcibly if necessary. This leads the player to find out Caroline is in fact the personality on which the GLaDOS computer system controlling Aperture Science's testing course is based.
J.K. Simmons returned to the role for a cameo in the Lego Dimensions Portal 2 level pack.
1UP.com's Steve Watts compared Cave Johnson to the industrialist Howard Hughes. A writer for Edge wrote that the "surprise star turn" was J.K. Simmons as Cave Johnson. The editor described him as a "gruff and acid alpha male who set up Aperture, who performs with real brio and bite" and that while it would be hard to quote him, his lines were "perfectly pitched, and funny to the bone". PALGN's Adam Ghiggino wrote that the dialogue of Portal 2 was funny and cited Simmons as an example. GamesRadar's Tyler Wilde called Cave "bombastic" and praised Simmons for "perfectly" portraying him. GameSpy's Will Tuttle wrote that it is "hard not to feel oddly honored to take part in some of the experiments that ranged across his entire career". He also wrote of Simmons that his voice "adeptly blend gravitas and silliness, and I found his segment to be just as great the second time I played through the game". GamePro's Will Herring wrote that Valve should be "commended" for the introduction of the character. Official Xbox Magazine's Jon Hicks described Cave as a "cigar-chewing, damn-the-expense-and-particularly-the-health-restrictions" type.
Computer and Video Games' Andy Robinson described Cave's personality as "loud" and that Simmons is "on form here". GameZone's Ben PerLee described Cave as "the typical tycoon mastermind/crazy man, so stubborn in his ways, government and basic human rights be damned" and that "his suggested history with GLaDOS provides an amazing focal point for the second entry". PC Gamer's Dan Stapleton wrote that Cave's "comically sociopathic approach to science is second only to GLaDOS’". He also praised Simmons for his portrayal of Cave because of his "fittingly cantankerous voice". Giant Bomb's Ryan Davis called Simmons' portrayal "terrific" and described Simmons as a "perennial tough-talker and boss-man-type". CNN's Larry Frum praised Cave's "sarcastic, shoot-from-the-hip attitude" for its contribution to the game's dialogue. ABC News' Lou Kesten wrote that Cave was a "memorable" character, and that Simmons helped in portraying what he thought was one of the three "most distinctive characters in video games" along with Wheatley and GLaDOS. The Wall Street Journal's Ryan Kuo wrote that Cave's "gruff proclamations are somewhat more grating than his synthetic counterparts" and that "for better or worse, it’s also impossible to un-see J.K. Simmons once you know it’s him speaking".
Professor G. Christopher Williams discussed the relationship between Caroline, the form she held before she became GLaDOS, and Cave Johnson. He wrote that the relationship of Caroline and Johnson fulfilled the "adage that 'behind every good man is a good woman,' since he depends on Caroline to fulfill the role of executing his directives as well as providing comfort and support for the man in charge, himself". He added that "while Johnson warns his listeners jokingly that 'pretty as a postcard' Caroline is off limits because 'She’s married. To Science,' he may as well be simply warning off potential suitors for personal reasons" and wrote that "he is the 'science' that she has married herself to."
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