Portal: The Skinny
I’m loving all the swirling rumors and speculations, the secret extraction and youtubing. But now that the game is out I will come clean and reveal the inside story. I will avoid spoilers as much as possible here (though you should not read the lyrics if you really want to be surprised).
The game is called Portal and it is awesome. The song is called “Still Alive” and it plays as part of the end credits when you finish the game. This all came about when a couple of Valve folks came to one of my shows in Seattle long ago, and followed up with me afterwards asking if I’d be interested in working with them in some capacity. I’ve long been a fan of Half-Life, so I said yes yes yes. We got together to talk about a couple of ideas, and somehow we decided it would be a good idea for me to write a song in the voice of one of the characters in the game, something that would sort of tie up the story arc at the end.
The character is this hilarious passive aggressive personality, which is obviously a perfect subject for me. I write about that sort of thing all the time. I got an advance copy of the game when it was nearly finished, played through it, talked with the writers, and tried to get inside this character’s head as best I could. I bought my first ukulele specifically to record this song, it just seemed right for it. (Or maybe I wrote the song that way so I could buy a ukulele, hard to say.)
I recorded a version with some scratch vocals and we sent it to the voice actress who did that character in the game, Ellen McLain. We all went into the studio to record her vocals, then did all the fancy computer sound things they do to make her sound like a computer voice. Ellen’s a classically trained soprano, and a very talented voice actress – she has this character down perfectly, and she did a great job conveying emotion in a non-emotional way. Between her and the very strong writing behind her character’s dialog, it was hard for me to not end up looking good in all this.
Did I mention the game is awesome?
To answer some of your questions:
I believe that Valve has some plans on making this track officially available through Steam and perhaps elsewhere, also maybe a version with me singing the song. I don’t know when that will happen, but sometime soon I’m sure. It’s really their ball game at this point, because they did commission this song from me. I’m not going to interfere with whatever they want to do with it, so I won’t be posting it here.
Lyrics and chords are below (hooray!). Someday I or Valve may also want to make the source tracks available, but that’s further down the line. I have no sheet music, because that is not how the J-Dog rolls.
I’m very happy to have been a part of this – the team of people behind the game, and indeed everyone I’ve met at Valve are all such talented and creative people, and it was a privilege to work with them. Long ago there was a Playstation game called Skullmonkeys that had a great soundtrack and this awesome song about a secret bonus room (both written by a guy named Terry Scott Taylor) that just blew my mind. I’ve always loved the way that song broke the rules about what music in a game is supposed to do, so it was great to have the opportunity to do something fun and unusual like that. Thanks for all your kind comments about it.
The cake is a lie!!!!!
This was a triumph
I’m making a note here: huge success
It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction
We do what we must because we can
For the good of all of us
Except the ones who are dead
But there’s no sense crying over every mistake
You just keep on trying till you run out of cake
And the science gets done and you make a neat gun
For the people who are still alive
I’m not even angry
I’m being so sincere right now
Even though you broke my heart and killed me
And tore me to pieces
And threw every piece into a fire
As they burned it hurt because
I was so happy for you
Now these points of data make a beautiful line
And we’re out of beta, we’re releasing on time
So I’m glad I got burned, think of all the things we learned
For the people who are still alive
Go ahead and leave me
I think I’d prefer to stay inside
Maybe you’ll find someone else to help you
Maybe Black Mesa
That was a joke, ha ha, fat chance
Anyway this cake is great
It’s so delicious and moist
Look at me still talking when there’s science to do
When I look out there it makes me glad I’m not you
I’ve experiments to run, there is research to be done
On the people who are still alive
And believe me I am still alive
I’m doing science and I’m still alive
I feel fantastic and I’m still alive
And while you’re dying I’ll be still alive
And when you’re dead I will be still alive
D Bm (repeat like crazy) This was a triumph... Em A It's hard to overstate my satisfaction D Bm (repeat like crazy) Aperture Science... Em A For the good of all of us BbM7 Except the ones who are dead F C Bb F But there's no sense crying over every mistake F C Bb F You just keep on trying till you run out of cake Gm C F Dm And the science gets done and you make a neat gun Bb A D Bm (repeat some more) For the people who are still alive