An Ode to Voice Actors
Sometimes, I just like to sit back and think about the evolution of video games. The graphical upgrades make the various universes extremely beautiful while the storytelling brings some of the more epic experiences that much closer to cinema.
Of course, the sound enhancements make the biggest difference in my opinion. Back in the SNES and Genesis days, you had to choose which copy of Aladdin to buy because of the sound quality. Sony even started using discs on the original PlayStation because it offered higher audio quality than the cartridges of Nintendo did.
Nowadays, the different games are judged by the quality of voice acting. A quality game can earn a lower score if the acting and dialogue are subpar. Vice versa, a fairly uninspiring game can be made better with some great performances. The Walking Dead: Season One is the perfect example in that the gameplay wasn’t particularly great, but the performances and writing were downright amazing.
Voice actors are important to games, but why did I bring them up? Well, Bioware has been releasing short videos detailing the voice cast of Mass Effect: Andromeda. One of these videos featured comedian Kumail Nanjiani, who will be a new Salarian crew member named Jarun Tann. This companion may be too full of himself, but he has very good intentions. He should be one of the more entertaining members of the crew thanks to Nanjiani’s performance.
The veteran comedian from Pakistan has been making his name known with solid stand-up comedy, as well as roles on Silicon Valley and Franklin & Bash. Nanjiani has the comic timing to take very good dialogue and turn it into a masterful performance, and I can’t wait to bring him along on every mission possible.
Just think about the earlier Mass Effect games. That series may be a an RPG or third-person shooter depending on how you play, but not many people actually remember the action sequences. No, the most memorable aspects of Mass Effect are the conversations with the crew. Argue all you want, but that previous sentence made you think of Mordin Solus singing. Don’t deny it. That entire interaction was memorable, but it wouldn’t have been the same without the performance by voice actor William Salyers.
The same can be said for Uncharted. Nathan Drake just isn’t the same without Nolan North. The man with the most video game appearances in history took an average game in the first Uncharted and made it a classic with his witty dialogue and improvisational skills. North made Nathan Drake feel like a real, relatable person that just happens to be a mass-murdering psychopath.
Hey, at least he was funny.
And speaking of Uncharted, what about the voice actor behind Elena Fisher? Emily Rose had such a powerful performance that you truly felt her affection–and frustration–for Nathan Drake. There were times where she was the best character on screen, including the moments late in Uncharted 4 where she and Nathan were racing to rescue Samuel Drake. All of the little puns and comments about Drake’s trustworthiness made the moments better.
You may be saying that the voice actors are great, but they are nothing without the writing. I agree, to a point. The writers on these games are downright phenomenal. However, their written words need impressive performances to bring the games to life. I know for a fact that Booker DeWitt from Bioshock: Infinite wouldn’t be the same if he had been performed by some random person off the street. Troy Baker made that character his own, especially when he broke out the guitar. Another example is Deadpool. Nolan North said in an interview with Rob Paulsen on Talkin’ Toons that he had free reign when recording Hulk vs. Wolverine. Apparently, the directors told North to just go, and he came up with almost all of the lines through improv. My goodness.
Voice actors just make media better. If you want more proof, just ask anyone in the age range of 25-40 about Animaniacs. I guarantee that they will start smiling like a goof and talk about how Yakko, Wakko, and Dot were the voices of their childhood. Well, those characters weren’t possible without Jess Harnell, Rob Paulsen, and Tress MacNeille. This dynamic trio took performance backgrounds and paired them with improvisational skills to form one of the best cartoons in history.
Voice actors are so important that John DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama) made a must-watch documentary called I Know That Voice. This passion project follows various voice actors of Hollywood around as they discuss the history of their careers and the most entertaining voices to perform. Granted, this documentary is more about cartoons than video games, but it still covers the recording process for projects like Gears of War 3.
Sure, the technological leaps and bounds help make games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Infamous: Second Son possible, but the voice actors put the games in the upper echelon of quality. Troy Baker and Travis Willingham had very good chemistry in Infamous: Second Son, and their performances greatly helped that story.
I honestly don’t think that video games would be at this great place without the voice actors involved, but how do you feel? Could you play the Deadpool game without hearing Steve Blum as Wolverine? I sure couldn’t.