Ellen McLain, the voice behind the murderous artificial intelligence GLaDOS from the Portal series, and her husband, John Patrick Lowrie, who voices The Sni per from the game Team Fortress 2, are nothing if not adorable.
The celebrity of the characters they portray may not be readily apparent for the minority of Americans who don’t play video games. But the games they have worked on have won multiple British Academy Awards (the UK Academy Awards have a video game category), sold out 10,000-seat stadium esports events in under an hour, and raked in hundreds of millions of dollars annually for at least one of their publishers. Ellen and John, and their decade-spanning body of work, are at the epicenter of the video game voice acting universe. During a recent recording session at a dimly lit Seattle studio, the couple gave me a demonstration of how they work.
“Killing you and giving you good advice aren’t mutually exclusive,” Ellen said, quoting her favorite GLaDOS line, in which the evil AI advises the player how to most comfortably die.
Ellen had first shown me GLaDOS in her most basic, emotionless artificial intelligence form, before the “morality-core,” as the game’s story has it, is removed. For that, Ellen’s face had gone blank, arms stiff by her sides, as she robotically intoned “Welcome to Aperture Science.” But when she became evil-revealed GLaDOS, her face turned sinister. Her voice took on a sort of snarky malevolence. For both variations of GLaDOS, Ellen wiped away the dash Nashville, her home town, that still lingered somewhere in the background of her natural speaking voice.
On the other microphone, John, Ellen’s husband of 28 years, wrangled a natural, kingly baritone into the gravelly outback accent of the Team Fortress 2 Sni per. “Boom. Headshot,” he said. A minute later he’d gone full cockney as Dota 2’s monster butcher, Pudge: “Fres h meat! Fresh meat!”
Ellen and John, both 62, are arguably the original voice actor celebrities in a medium that has long been stingy in knighting any of its creative personnel with recognition. Some of the games they are in, like Half-Life 2 and Portal, are canonized in the medium. Portal is also uniq uely distinguished for having the most famous lyric-b ased song in gamedom, “Still Alive,” sung by Ellen herself. Both John and Ellen also portray some of the most popular heroes in Valve’s Dota 2. Ellen voices two characters, and John seven. Dota 2 has some 10 millio n unique players logging in every month.
At the 2013 International, a massive Dota 2 competition with players from all over the world competing for millions of dollars, they sat at a table and sign ed autographs for fans—or at least for as many as they could.
“People were lined up for hours to meet us,” Ellen told me. In fact, there were so many people that by the end of the day, they simply had not been able to get through the entire line.
We are angry, frustrated, and in pain because of the violence and murder of Black people by the police because of racism. We are in the fight AGAINST RACISM. George Floyd was murdered, his life stolen. The Adafruit teams have specific actions we’ve done, are doing, and will do together as a company and culture. We are asking the Adafruit community to get involved and share what you are doing. The Adafruit teams will not settle for a hash tag, a Tweet, or an icon change. We will work on real change, and that requires real action and real work together. That is what we will do each day, each month, each year – we will hold ourselves accountable and publish our collective efforts, partnerships, activism, donations, openly and publicly. Our blog and social media platforms will be utilized in actionable ways. Join us and the anti-racist efforts working to end police brutality, reform the criminal justice system, and dismantle the many other forms of systemic racism at work in this country, read more @ adafruit.com/blacklivesmatter
Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.