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During the very early stages of development for Portal 2, the game bore little resemblance to the original Portal, lacking portals themselves, the original antagonist GLaDOS, and the original player character Chell. The writers at Valve had felt Chell had completed her story after defeating GLaDOS and escaping Aperture Science, so this new title was instead to feature a new female Test Subject named Mel as the protagonist.
A prequel in the storyline that was set in Aperture Science during the 1950s, the game would begin with Mel waking up from a Relaxation Chamber and standing in front of a mirror, revealing to the players that they weren't Chell. Cave Johnson, then an antagonist in this iteration who had been turned into an artificial intelligence by his engineers, would lead a robot uprising in the facility and eventually put Mel on trial for having committed war crimes against his brothers-in-arms, the turrets, which she would inevitably have abused in the course of the game.
In December 2008, Valve restarted the development of Portal 2, returning both portals and GLaDOS to the game. Mel would not last much longer either. Playtesters of this early design initially did not find issue with playing as a new protagonist until encountering GLaDOS and realizing that she did not recognize the player character. This led Valve to appreciate the fact that Portal had developed an intimate story about the relationship between GLaDOS and the player as Chell, and losing this element with GLaDOS proved to be a large blow to the experience. Due to this negative reception, the plans for Mel were scrapped and Chell returned as the protagonist.
Later on, Mel was brought back as a potential co-op character to be partnered with Chell in the newly-introduced co-operative mode. However, this idea was dropped as well when the team encountered the issue of explaining in-universe how these human Test Subjects would be able to repeatedly respawn after dying through normal gameplay. Resetting the puzzle after a death was an undesirable and harsh punishment, and possibilities like cloning or bringing in another human each time still left questions of what to do with the dead bodies. Instances that could result in blood and gore such as succumbing to crushers were considered inappropriate both from an age rating standpoint and for the humorous tone they were hoping for. These co-op characters eventually became ATLAS and P-body, two infinitely respawnable robots, whereas Chell was kept solely for the singleplayer campaign. Some of GLaDOS's original dialogue intended to be aimed at the two women, such as taunting them about their weight, was kept with the robots as it added to the humor.
Placeholder textures for Mel can be found in the game files for Portal 2. These textures all bear
mp01 as a suffix in their filenames, indicating their use for the multiplayer co-operative character. Mel is depicted using the Chell model from the original Portal with a light blue jumpsuit, pink Advanced Knee Replacements, blond hair, blue eye shadow, rouge makeup, pink lipstick, and a fairer skin tone. One image in The Final Hours of Portal 2 shows an early version of the co-operative mode when it still featured Chell and Mel. The human Test Subject presented in the screenshot differs from the model of Chell, suggesting that it's Mel being seen here.
A fan-created story for Mel is explored in the mod Portal Stories: Mel. This rendition of the character is a completely original interpretation with her own unique appearance and narrative, wholly unrelated to Valve's early intentions.
List of appearances
- Creating a Sequel to a Game That Doesn't Need One (GDC 2012) on GDC Vault
- The Final Hours of Portal 2
- Portal 2 Collector's Edition Guide, page 329
- Portal 2 Collector's Edition Guide, page 360
- Preview: Portal 2 (co-op) on Joystiq (archived)