Cave Johnson (Portal)

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.

Cave Johnson
Portal character
Portal2 cave johnson and caroline.png
Johnson (left) and his assistant Caroline as they appear in Portal 2
First appearancePortal 2 (2011)
Last appearanceLego Dimensions (2015)
Created byErik Wolpaw
Voiced byJ. K. Simmons

Concept and creationEdit

Cave Johnson was created by designer Erik Wolpaw and is voiced by J. K. Simmons.[1] He is described as an "eccentric dead billionaire" and "extroverted, enthusiastic, and opinionated." He was the founder and CEO of Aperture Science.[2] He was also a "shower curtain visionary."[citation needed] 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.[3] 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.[4][failed verification][5]

Johnson was envisioned since Portal as an "industrial, Southern guy" who would contrast with the "anti-septic" and "politically correct" nature of Aperture Science.[6] Though their idea of the character underwent several changes over the development, the selection of J.K. Simmons helped solidify the character.[6] 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.[4]

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.[7]


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 in 2007. Johnson's voice actor, J.K. Simmons, spoke original lines for various trailers for Portal 2, including at the PAX East exposition in 2011.[8][9]

Cave Johnson does not appear directly in Portal 2, but is instead heard by the player character, Chell, in pre-recorded messages as she traverses abandoned parts of the Aperture Science facility. These messages explain the area the player character has entered, as well as some of the backstory of the company. 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 the company as well as in Johnson himself. The recordings reveal that Johnson eventually contracted a deadly illness after grinding up moon rocks to turn into Conversion Gel (in keeping with a previous comment that Aperture's research policy is to "throw science at the wall and see what sticks"); he explains that the dust was deadly poisonous, and begins discussing the prospect of putting a person's mind inside of a computer. Johnson indicates that if the process isn't able to be done on him before he dies, Caroline should be put in charge, by force if necessary. This leads the player to find out that Caroline is, in fact, the personality on which the GLaDOS computer system, which controls Aperture Science's testing course, is based.

J.K. Simmons returned to the role for Lego Dimensions, and is able to be heard throughout the Portal 2 adventure world and bonus level. In his Lego Dimensions appearance, Cave Johnson has put his own consciousness in a Personality Core.


J. K. Simmons received positive reception for his portrayal of Cave Johnson's Steve Watts compared Cave Johnson to the industrialist Howard Hughes.[2] 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".[10] PALGN's Adam Ghiggino wrote that the dialogue of Portal 2 was funny and cited Simmons as an example.[11] GamesRadar's Tyler Wilde called Cave "bombastic" and praised Simmons for "perfectly" portraying him.[12] 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".[13] GamePro's Will Herring wrote that Valve should be "commended" for the introduction of the character.[14] Official Xbox Magazine's Jon Hicks described Cave as a "cigar-chewing, damn-the-expense-and-particularly-the-health-restrictions" type.[15]

"By fulfilling the expected obligations of a 1950s 'wife,' Caroline sounds as if she might as well be married to Johnson, and after all, given Johnson's alignment with American exceptionalism and what it can achieve through technology, he is the 'science' that she has married herself to."

—G. Christopher Williams, Associate Professor of English at University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point[16]

Computer and Video Games' Andy Robinson described Cave's personality as "loud" and that Simmons is "on form here".[17] 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".[18] 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".[19] Giant Bomb's Ryan Davis called Simmons' portrayal "terrific" and described Simmons as a "perennial tough-talker and boss-man-type".[20] CNN's Larry Frum praised Cave's "sarcastic, shoot-from-the-hip attitude" for its contribution to the game's dialogue.[8] 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.[21] 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".[22]

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."[16]


  1. ^ Miller, Greg (2011-03-11). "PAX: Portal 2 Nabs J.K. Simmons". IGN. Retrieved 2011-03-11. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b Watts, Steve. "Rumor: Casting Call Hints at Portal 2 Plot". Archived from the original on 2011-08-10. Retrieved 2011-08-02. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ Alexander, Leigh (2011-05-06). "Valve's Wolpaw Offers Behind-The-Scenes Peek Into Portal 2". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2011-05-06. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ a b Saltzmann, Marc (2011-04-14). "Five things you didn't know about 'Portal 2'". USA Today. Retrieved 2011-04-14. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ Walker, John (2011-04-27). "Valve On Portal 2: Spoiler Interview Part One". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved 2011-04-27. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ a b Braga, Matt (2011-04-19). "Q&A with Portal 2 writers Erik Wolpaw and Jay Pinkerton". National Post. Retrieved 2011-04-20. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ Stanton, Rich (2011-04-26). "Erik Wolpaw on Portal 2's ending: "the [spoiler] is probably lurking out there somewhere"". PC Gamer. Retrieved 2011-04-26. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ a b Frum, Larry (April 19, 2011). "'Portal 2' is a dark, humorous joy (and that's no lie)". CNN. Archived from the original on April 2, 2012.
  9. ^ "Cave Johnson Introduces Portal 2's Long Fall Boots - Xbox". 2011-04-12. Retrieved 2011-08-02. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ "Portal 2 Review - Edge Magazine". 2011-04-19. Archived from the original on 2011-08-29. Retrieved 2011-08-02. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ Ghiggino, Adam (2011-04-21). "Portal 2 Review". PlayStation 3 Video Game Review. PAL Gaming Network. Retrieved 2011-08-02.
  12. ^ "Portal 2 super review, Portal 2 Review, PS3 Reviews". Games Retrieved 2011-08-02. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ "GameSpy: Portal 2 Review - Page 1". Retrieved 2011-08-02. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ Herring, Will (April 19, 2011). "Portal 2 Review from". GamePro. Archived from the original on 24 April 2011. Retrieved 2020-01-27.
  15. ^ Hicks, Jon (2011-04-19). "Portal 2 review". Official Xbox 360 Magazine. Future Publishing Limited. Archived from the original on 23 April 2011. Retrieved 2020-01-27.
  16. ^ a b Williams, G. Christopher (3 May 2011). ""Her Name Is Caroline": Identifying the Misbehaving Woman in 'Portal 2'". PopMatters. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  17. ^ Robinson, Andy. "Review: Portal 2". Archived from the original on July 1, 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-02.
  18. ^ PerLee, Ben (April 19, 2011). "Portal 2 Review". Archived from the original on 2011-04-23. Retrieved 2011-08-02.
  19. ^ "Portal 2 review". PC Gamer. 2011-04-19. Retrieved 2011-08-02. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  20. ^ "Portal 2 Review". Giant Bomb. 2011-04-19. Retrieved 2011-08-02. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  21. ^ Kesten, Lou (2011-04-20). "Review: 'Portal 2' a Blast for the Thinking Gamer". San Diego Union-Tribune. Associated Press. Retrieved 2020-01-27.
  22. ^ Kuo, Ryan (2011-04-19). "Portal 2 Is A Hole In One". The Wall Street Journal.