Video game voice actors could give their own masterclass about getting into character these days. The best of the bunch have all the qualities of any great voice actor. They can emote, do a variety of accents and characters, and a chameleon-like ability to blend into their roles; some of them are so good that they can fill several roles in the same game. A combination of a great script, standout actors, and good worldbuilding make any game’s world come to life and feel like a real place.
Today (well, you can read this in a couple of sittings, but I’m assuming you’ll just speedrun through it, right?), we’ll explore what great actors can do for your gaming world by drawing from actual examples. We’ll use a mix of media from franchises and IPs of different size and scope. I understand that not everyone can have deep pockets and reach of an AAA studio. Budget is everything these days, and many may feel that fully voicing their project is a Quixotic endeavor.
The good news is that great voice acting is more accessible and available than ever. And that’s because of the creation of many digital voice hubs that serve as a virtual marketplace for enterprising game creators. Just think about affordably voicing your game with a professional cast ten or fifteen years ago — if you somehow made it happen, chances are the results weren’t exactly fast-tracked for a BAFTA award.
But, you should put those concerns out of your mind right now. Just by being here, you’re on the right track. Let’s take it from the tutorial, shall we?
What do video game voice actors do?
They can be jacks-of-all-trades or specialists, those crafty voice actors. But, what they do, mostly, is professionally record character voices, dubs, or narration in a studio, or adequate home setup.
In and of itself, voice acting is the recording of a character portrayal by an actor or actress. These can also include narrations meant to inform the audience and therefore consist of a sub-category of voiceover. They require providing the voice for a character that is not actually recorded concurrently with the action, like in animation or — you guessed it — video games.
Voiceovers make up a significant part of our everyday lives, but we’ve come to naturalize them. Even pre-recorded PA announcements at train stations are voiceovers. If you think about it for a minute, we’re being constantly hailed by disembodied voices; our phones and other devices, and environmental cues have become increasingly voice-centric.
Voice acting, too, has a very prominent spot in our culture. Every Disney, Pixar, or anime movie that’s become a tastemaker in our lives; those games that capture the imagination of millions; that one time you watched an explainer video that rocked your w— okay, maybe not that.
You get the gist, though. We’ve become so accustomed to voiceovers and voice acting that we no longer question the illusion. We no longer question the movie or game magic that makes drawings or polygons come to life. Characters are so true to life that they just speak, and we listen and become enthralled.
That’s where video game voice actors weave their spell. They make the illusion believable.
Making the Illusion Reality
Video game voice actors don’t do all the work, of course. While they can add great ad-libbed, lifelike aspects to performances, they are generally working within the constraints of a tight script. That means while they can have some creative leeway, they’re mostly trying to bring your words to life. And that’s because intelligent game creators already have a world built and mapped out; voicing it is the last step of the process.
And that means that choosing the right video game actors is not a process that you’re going to be leaving to chance. If you’ve got detailed character bios prepared, and know-how they’re going to be evolving and changing every step of the way, then you know what type of voices will fit your project. And this type of detailed outline can also help inform the gameplay, and the characteristics of each character in-game. How does your barbarian brawler sound? Would you have your actor play against type, or do you want them to portray a cliché that is deconstructed later on? How is their personality portrayed in their moveset, the way they walk and talk? There’s so much to play with that you should be giddy.
It’s been said that games are the new cinema. After all, interactive experiences can be so immersive that they blur the divide between player and character. And it’s also a fact that games are now at an age where their highest goals are no longer cinematic aspirations; they are constantly evolving, allowing for the creation of new artistic languages that transcend the boundaries of what came before.
“Let There Be Light!”
Video game voice actors are really the final piece of the puzzle, but what a piece they are! I’ll list some examples that should get your creative juices flowing.
I think it’s apropos to include a beautiful indie gem in this list. Sure, it’s an indie gem made by former Telltale employees, not exactly your run-of-the-mill entrepreneurs working on their first game project. This 2016 stunner really made waves among the game community for its laid-back gameplay and frequent use of character dialogue to bring its world to life.
The game takes place in 1989 Wyoming, where you inhabit the role of Henry, a novice fire lookout who’s taken the job to get away from painful personal issues. Gameplay consists mostly of light walking and climbing while taking glances at interesting facts about the environment. The primary means of character development occurs via Henry’s walkie-talkie, where he slowly builds a relationship of trust and intimacy with another fire lookout, Delilah. Of course, mysterious happenings start taking place as the summer rolls along, and it doesn’t take long until Henry and Delilah are immersed in a dangerous plot that’s way above their paygrade.
Without the marvelous video game voice actors giving life to these characters, things could quickly grow tiresome or tacky. But, as it turns out, Cissy Jones and Rich Sommer knock this one out the park. Their believable, lifelike performances create richly-felt, nuanced characters that never feel anything other than human; their imperfections, quirks, and foibles hit devastatingly close to home, and make each personal moment count.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
This is one that you’ve probably heard making the rounds and, if you’re any kind of game fan, shouldn’t need any introduction. It’s only the remake to one of the best games of all time. And, to top it off, it was a game that didn’t have any voice acting whatsoever (which was the norm until Final Fantasy X came along in 2001). How do you inhabit the shoes of some of the most beloved and enduring game characters to date?
By hiring a fantastically talented cast of voice actors, bringing in talent old and new. Square-Enix’s gamble was such that people felt doubtful that some of these talents (especially the newbies) could bring these characters to life believably. As it turns out, the voice acting is one of the most unanimously-praised aspects of this ambitious remake.
The full roster of characters, as per Square-Enix’s website:
- Cloud Strife: Cody Christian (All American, Teen Wolf)
- Barret Wallace: John Eric Bentley (Hart of Dixie, Lab Rats, Fear of the Walking Dead)
- Aerith Gainsborough: Briana White (Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, Occupants)
- Tifa Lockhart: Britt Baron (GLOW, The Thing About Harry, My Valentine)
- Red XIII: Max Mittelman (Persona 5, One-Punch Man)
- Jessie: Erica Lindbeck (Spider-Man PS4, Mortal Kombat 11)
- Biggs: Gideon Emery (Dash & Lily, Teen Wolf, Dragon Age II)
- Wedge: Matt Jones (Bob Hearts Abishola, Breaking Bad)
- Sephiroth: Tyler Hoechlin
- Reno: Arnie Pantoja (Konosuba, Trolls, Sydney White)
- Rude: William Christopher Stephens (The Avengers, Spies in Disguise, Mortal Kombat 11)
- Tseng: Vic Chao (Seis Manos, Mortal Kombat X, Ben 10)
- President Shinra: James Horan (Metal Gear Solid V, Fallout: New Vegas, Love, Death & Robots)
- Heidegger: John DiMaggio (Futurama, Adventure Time)
- Scarlet: Erin Cottrell (Love’s Long Journey, The Identical)
- Palmer: William Salyers (Regular Show, Spider-Man PS4, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders)
- Reeve: Jon Root (Call of Duty: Ghosts, Fallout 76)
- Professor Hojo: James Sie (Jackie Chan Adventures, Uncharted)
- Marlene Wallace: Brielle Milla (The Ellen Show, T.O.T.S.)
- Roche: Austin Lee Matthews (Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon, Trails of Cold Steel III)
- Don Corneo: Fred Tatasciore (Overwatch, Fortnite, Gears of War)
This game is sadly a PS4 exclusive. But, as any fan of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s famously grueling games knows, that defaults to an incentive to buy the system. Especially when the game ended up being one of the most complete realizations of the cosmic horror genre ever put to any medium. H.P Lovecraft would be beaming at the amount of care and attention that went into creating this world. Things feel off in a way that players can’t quite pinpoint; reality feels as if it’s slowly fraying, but is still grounded enough that the horrors seem to have meaning.
But, as players get yanked into Bloodborne’s slashing depths, greater mysteries and maddening revelations await. Dialogue is not especially prevalent in From Software titles, but whatever little there is makes an impression. Characters usually have very little screen time to make an impression with, being there and gone between minutes, or not appearing for long stretches. Still, every brooding weirdo seems to harbor secrets of their own.
If you want a game that rewards exploration and intimate contact with the world, check out Bloodborne.
How Do I Get in on The Action?
Like I mentioned up top, you don’t need to have a budget the size of a gross GDP to work with great video game actors. You just need to have a solid, creative outline, a plan of action and picking out the talent you need.
Now, if that final part seems to be stumping you, allow me to be so bold as to suggest our very own Bunny Studio. Not only are we working with over 28,000 quality voice actors and actresses, but a pretty big chunk of them have done video game work. There’s no project too big or too small for our Bunny Pros, and you can bet they’ll give your project their all, or you get your money back. Pretty sweet, huh?
So, now we’ve gotten that little bit of free advice out of the way, remember: characters (and therefore video game voice actors) are going to be the humanizing aspect of the experience for players. To most, they’re what either sinks the ship or keeps it above water. And they need a proper captain to steer the ship when all’s said and done.
Here’s to you, and a successful video game voyage!