5 Types of Voice Actors in Videogames
Posted on: 24/11/2014
A generation of young gamers are living in a world of polished storytelling and dialogue, with spectacular voice acting playing a part in blockbuster titles to handheld games. It’s a far cry from the onomatopoeic grunts and three-syllable exclamations from early platformers and beat-em-ups.
The voice acting industry was already long-established before fully-voiced characters in games began to emerge. Most actors who have dabbled or work regularly in video games today come from long careers in North American and Japanese animation. Today, they have been increasingly plucked from stage and screen. A theatrical actor with diverse vocal range often translates well into voiceover work in a medium full of larger-than-life roles, and sometimes a developer hedges their bets on a celebrity with respect amongst a game’s intended audience.
Yet many remain unnoticed and under-appreciated without the meta of screen actor celebrity coverage. The craft also demands a unique approach at times...
In today's article, we (unscientifically) categorise and list five types of voice actors in gaming today.
1. THE INDUSTRY STAR
Troy Baker (Booker DeWitt in Bioshock Infinite, Private Mitchell in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Talion in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor), Jennifer Hale (female Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect series), David Hayter (Snake in the Metal Gear series), Nolan North (Nathan Drake of the Uncharted series and Desmond Miles in the Assassin’s Creed series)
They are the leading men and women in the triple-A world of gaming, but even if you have played some of the titles that have cemented the careers of these actors, you may not know their names. Today, they are followed by many gamers who can identify them by face as well as by voice. Hale has been called the Meryl Streep of video actors and North the everyman action hero of gaming, while Baker is headlining everywhere.
Voice actors of this calibre have extensive careers across various media, being lucky enough to ride the growing tide of video game work. They have a vocal tone and arsenal that could believably suit any number of fictional characters in many game situations involving conflict or action, hitting the sweet spot of a versatile yet heroic specimen of their gender. A combination of their natural-born talents, honed skill and reputation have led to career-defining roles as main characters in blockbuster games.
But they are the lucky exception to the rule. Most voice actors can’t rely solely on this profession to survive, and there are very few opportunities to play a headlining role. Across the board, all voice actors are paid less than their screen counterparts, an unavoidable phenomenon that is tied to the profession’s lack of visibility.
2. THE SOLID ACHIEVER
Gideon Emery (Fenris in Dragon Age 2), Tara Strong (Harley Quinn in the Batman series), Kari Wahlgren (Ashe in Final Fantasy XII)
Most voice actors in gaming belong here - highly talented and experienced, often voicing several minor and major characters in the one game, with a substantial CV that touches all forms of voiceover work. There's a high chance you'll find them at SDCC or PAX in any given year.
3. THE DABBLING CHARACTER ACTOR
John Cleese (Monty Python, Sir Cadwell in Elder Scrolls Online), Willem Dafoe (numerous films, Nathan Dawkins in Beyond: Two Souls), Jean Gilpin (small-screen English actress, Knight-Commander Meredith Stannard in Dragon Age 2), Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek: Voyager, Orange is the New Black, Flemeth in the Dragon Age series)
Memorable villains and comedic relief archetypes in games demand an artisan with a distinctive voice. It’s worth looking outside of the box for someone to fit the role and sometimes the risk pays off. These actors, traditionally of theatre and television backgrounds do not have much, if any, experience in voiceover (to date) and may not return, but their work has left a mark.
4. THE CELEBRITY WITH GEEK CACHET
Claudia Black (Farscape, Morrigan in the Dragon Age series), Mark Hamill (Star Wars, The Joker in the Batman series), Ellen Page (Juno, Inception, Jodie Holmes in Beyond: Two Souls)
Some voice actors are chosen as much for their prestige amongst the pop-culture convention set as their acting chops. Examples in this category don’t usually have extensive careers in voice acting, but have notable starring roles in several games nonetheless. An issue arises, however, when the casting decision becomes more of a marketing imperative than one of talent. Hiring and promoting a traditional celebrity screen actor in a game’s title role over a professional dedicated to the craft of voice acting can be fraught. Cue the next category...
5. THE CELEBRITY BLOW-IN
50 Cent (50 Cent: Blood on the Sand), Peter Dinklage (Ghost in Destiny), Matthew Perry (Benny in Fallout: New Vegas), Bruce Willis (Trey Kincaid in Apocalypse)
Oh dear. The ramifications over a miscast and inexperienced big-name actor with zero voiceover experience can be far-ranging. Stilted and awkward speech pulls a player out of immersion, compounded with the difficulty in trying to ignore the recognisability of the actor’s previous filmography. Media and community analysis about the commercial reasoning behind the casting choice then becomes a blight on the game’s coverage, the developer, the franchise’s brand and the actor’s reputation.
There are several reasons why a novice to voice acting might struggle with the role. A voice actor emulates a character’s physicality and other visual cues purely through voice. In the unstimulating environment of a sound recording booth and sometimes with a script of lines lacking context, experienced voice actors have learnt to find inspiration from within, employing various techniques that would be anathema to an actor standing in front of a camera or live audience. Ultimately, it’s poor risk management to not provide the right conditions for an expensive celebrity actor to flourish in the role, considering the hefty investment.
Even with the right preparation and well-cast actor, the growing trend of eschewing the voiceover industry for an A-lister means less work for those who dedicate their careers to the profession. Additionally, financing and promoting a celebrity voice means a larger slice of the production budget, which ultimately impacts on the quality of the game in other areas.
BONUS CATEGORY: THE MOCAP FRONTIER
The technology behind Gollum’s animation in the Lord of the Rings film series has already been tested in several recent high-profile and critically-approved titles. For example, traditional screen actors donned motion capture suits and performed their dialogue live action in L.A. Noire (2011), Beyond: Two Souls (2013, shown above with Ellen Page), The Last of Us (2013) and this year’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (featuring Kevin Spacey as a corporate arch-villain in the first-person shooter - an interesting parallel to his House of Cards persona Frank Underwood who is a clear fan of the genre).
The success of survival horror darling The Last of Us, starring the ubiquitous Troy Baker, could partially be attributed to the use of mocap helping to bridge the uncanny valley. However, the process is expensive and still requires considerable post-capture polish by animators. Nevertheless, for developers and publishers chasing the big returns and an audience demanding more cinematic experiences in their blockbuster purchases, the use of motion capture looks to be quite prevalent in the future, blurring even further the borders between film, television and interactive entertainment.
- Justin Ong, ACMI Web Teamcomments powered by Disqus
Troy Baker & Ashley Johnson, Ellen Page, Mark Hamill, Claudia Black