Last weekend, I participated in a two-day workshop on voicing video games.
Now, you have to understand — when I was actively playing video games, they rarely included voices. I’m from the era of Asteroids, Space Invaders, and Donkey Kong here. The most sophisticated item in the arcade back then was Dragon’s Lair. (You young whippersnappers can pop over to Wikipedia to see what I’m talking about. And get off my lawn.)
As the dad of a college-age daughter, over the years I’ve played my share of Super Mario World and Aladdin on the old Super Nintendo. More recently, I’ve become familiar with such phenomena as Wii Sports, Major League Baseball 2K8, and even Guitar Hero. (I can’t play the latter to save my life, mind you, but at least I’ve seen it done.)
But confront me with something like, say, World of Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto, and I’m mystified.
For that reason, I enjoyed getting a feel for what’s new and exciting in the realm of video game voice acting. And, from a practical standpoint for a voice actor living here in the Bay Area, where numerous video game companies are based, it’s important career-wise, too.
Fortunately, I wasn’t (as I feared I might be) the only video game tyro in the workshop. Only three or four of our baker’s dozen considered themselves hardcore gamers. Judging by the comments and questions during the weekend, several other students’ backgrounds in the gaming arena fell short of even my paltry experience.
Our director, the voiceover coordinator for Household Name Electronics Corporation™, a sprightly personality in town for the Game Developers Conference this week, remained patient with (what must have seemed to an expert) our tediously lame inquiries. She provided us with detailed background on the industry, and walked us through the steps of game development, both in general terms and with specific focus on the voiceover piece of what sounds like an enormously complicated process.
I spent the majority of my time in the booth playing the antihero of one of the more popular video game series, and loving every second of it. I’ve not yet ceased to be amazed at the myriad voices that boil out of my inner psyche on command — I’d have never supposed that character work would be a strength for me, but I always seem to come up with something interesting and appropriate when given a character to create. I was even more surprised when we watched the actual game in play, to hear how closely my interpretation matched that of the actor who actually voices the role. (He’s better at it, of course. But give me a few more months of practice, and I’ll be nipping at his gladiator-sandaled heels.)
Almost as much fun as bellowing into the microphone was listening to the other actors in the workshop exercising their craft. It’s fascinating how several people can dissect the same few lines of copy and each take the character in different directions. I always wish that I had more imagination in that regard. I tend to be frustratingly literal still. I’m coaxing myself to “play” more. I think I managed that more effectively this weekend that I have on other occasions.
One of the unique aspects of game VO is the creation of incidental sounds — the grunts, howls, squeaks, and barks that spill forth every time a character exerts effort on-screen. Because the particular game we were practicing with is a hack-and-slash actioner, we made up a diverse range of death and injury vocalizations. I now feel confident that I can lose a limb, have my teeth yanked out with pliers, or get my throat slit with the best of them — on mic, anyway. (Kids, do not try this at home. Leave the throes of death to trained professionals.)
After this workshop and the one earlier this month that also included a game-character exercise, games have leaped near the top of the list of projects I’d like to voice. I dig the excitement and challenge.
If you’re a interactive producer looking for a blood-enraged warrior, I’m your huckleberry.