Have you ever wondered about famous video game voice actors? I’m sure you remember all those standout emotional moments in your favorite video games; Geralt reuniting with Ciri in the Witcher 3; the first time you met a shady character with hidden intentions in Dark Souls; those sorrowful conversations in the Metal Gear Solid series that revealed new character depths; the melancholy, self-aware narration of the Max Payne games; those moments of humanity and normalcy in the first season of Life is Strange.
You probably have a personal set of your own, isn’t that right?
Video games can leave indelible prints in our mind, matching or surpassing any other art form. Owing to their interactive nature, most of those memories will be formed through active play rather than passive observation. Voice acting in games can use this mix of passive and active to heighten the emotional connection to characters, ascending to new empathetic heights.
If they’re doing their job right, that’s where famous video game voice actors will breathe life into their characters! As the player not only observes but becomes the character on screen, a well-defined identity is a key component.
As you know, there’s more than one way to cook an egg! Trying to enforce a one-size-fits-all approach to video game voice acting is like opening a shoe store with only size 11s. Sure, you’ll have a subset of satisfied customers, but I’m guessing business will not be boomin’.
Let’s take a look at the history of voice acting in games and talk about some great performers!
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This post was updated in June 2021
Voice acting refers to portraying a character or giving the audience information through a voice recording. The production technique itself is called a voiceover. There are many kinds, usable for acting, narration, educational, or many other purposes.
We’ve grown culturally acclimated to voice acting being ever-present; all around us, we’re engulfed by a diverse clashing of voices and sounds clamoring for our attention. Ads, phones, TV screens, PAs — everything’s voiced now, and there’s no sign of things slowing down.
Learn more about voiceovers at Voice Over Essentials – Everything You Need to Know. You can also find a handy voice acting guide at What is Voice Acting? An Easy Guide.
Video games are, of course, not absent from this voice bonanza. After all, why would developers forego the handy narrative benefits of having their characters voiced? That’s how we got famous video game voice actors breathing life into classic characters, after all!
Games didn’t always have voice, of course. Having even a small sample of voiced content would have destroyed even the most advanced home console’s memory budget. The first rudimentarily-voiced games came out in the early 80s. The first standout example that comes to mind is Stratovox. This 1980 Taito-published title entered the history books by having the first synthesized voice clips. Still, these were limited to being short call-outs like “Help me!”, “Very good!”, and “Lucky!”
In fact, while some early examples from the late 80s exist, video game voice actors were pretty much a fantasy in the old days. It took a lot of catching up from technology to finally achieve ways in which players could hear the voice of their favorite characters.
When famous video game voice actors finally became a reality
As always, the home computer market was at the forefront of technical innovation. With the mass adoption of PC CD-ROM drives, it was finally possible for games to achieve higher landmarks in storytelling aspiration.
And I say aspiration, because, well… let’s just say results weren’t always stellar. It took a while for game companies to understand a thing or two about directing voice actors.
If you don’t believe that things could’ve been so bad, take a gander at this selection from 1995’s Resident Evil.
That’s true horror, ladies and gentlemen. Resident Evil lived both as a shining example of early interactive horror, and unintentional voice acting hilarity. Incredibly, the video game voice actors in the original RE did go on to do better work. Their famously stilted performances may be attributable to a wonky direction given by a prominently Japanese crew. At the time, they said they really didn’t know what natural-sounding English was supposed to be like.
Let’s just say that went from B to D-movie really fast.
But, things weren’t always so bad. Lucasarts, a subsidiary of Lucasfilm, thrived when it came to hiring excellent video game voice actors. Owing to the intersection between their moviemaking know-how and their adventure gaming acumen, these guys knew what they were doing. They put out an almost unmatched string of interactive stories with hilarious, affecting, and well-acted content.
Some I recommend you check out from their 90s output are:
- The Monkey Island saga; the first two games have been remastered with an A-list voice acting ensemble.
- Full Throttle. This one has also been remastered by Double Fine games. Mark Hamill has an unmissable turn as the serpentine Adrian Ripburger.
- The Dig; a space adventure where the main character is voiced by Terminator 2’s Robert Patrick.
There are so many more that I’d need another article to just scratch the surface. Other notable examples come from Lucasarts’ main competitor, the now-defunct Sierra Online. If you’re just going to check out one of their titles, make that the Gabriel Knight series. The first title’s gotten a quaint little remaster, but I’d say the 90’s-flavored original wins by a pure graphic novel, vintage charm.
And, it’s got Tim Curry as the lead character. You just know you’re not gonna beat that.
Famous video game voice actors: It’sa me!
You know him. You’ve most likely played as him, jumped as him, butt-swatted turtles as him, and fallen down bottomless pits as him. Mario is Nintendo’s most beloved, most well-known intellectual property and character. His prevalence is such that he’s a household name on par with any Disney character.
Even your great-grandma probably has an idea of who Mario is, if she hasn’t beaten you at Mario Kart.
Mario, of course, was famously mute, barring some 90s cartoons we won’t talk about. But if you attended trade shows in the early 90s and don’t mind aging yourself like I’m doing, there’s a different story. That’s when you probably encountered the voice of the man who’s become synonymous with the Italian plumber: Charles Martinet.
Martinet has been voicing Mario since as early as 1990, where he attracted convention-goers in the Mario in Real-Time display. This was a novelty-act big screen that portrayed a giant 3D head of Mario. The head and mouth movements were synced to Martinet’s movements through motion capture.
Wikipedia recounts the incredible story of how Martinet was hired.
“Martinet earned the job when, one day, he was told by his friend that there was going to be an audition at a trade show in which auditionees ‘talk to people as a plumber’. He went to the audition at the last minute as the casting directors were already putting away their equipment. Charles Martinet walked in and asked, ‘Can I please read for this?’. The directors let him audition and told him, “You’re an Italian plumber from Brooklyn”.
At first, Martinet planned to talk like a stereotypical Italian American with a deep, raspy voice (which is how Mario sounded in the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World cartoons). He then thought to himself that it would be too harsh for children to hear, so he made it more soft-hearted and friendly, resulting in what Mario’s voice is today. Martinet has also stated that he kept on talking with his Mario voice until the audition tape ran out.
How’s that for a twist of fate? Martinet has continued voicing Mario in the ensuing decades. His performance was the way global audiences first became accustomed to hearing a fully voiced Mario in games. Even though he did it in one previous title, it was probably in 96’s smash hit Super Mario 64 that he wowed audiences.
In the game’s attract mode, a fully realized reproduction of the Mario in Real-Time display got players immediately interested. The cartoon-like 3D graphics were unprecedented at the time.
The incredibly-realized 3D worlds of Super Mario 64 and Martinet’s performance were no doubt a cornerstone of the character’s fame entering this millennium.
Martinet has continued to successfully voice the character in every ensuing iteration. Let’s just say the man’s CV is pretty, pretty packed.
Famous video game voice actors: a modern-day Indiana Jones for gamers
Nolan North almost needs no introduction. The man has been in everything. If you’ve played a video game from the last 20 years, chances are he’s been in it. As far as video game voice actors go, you could hardly be more prolific.
He’s sort of the Jack Nicholson of video games: a character actor who can play the lead. He excels at weird-sounding, quirky, bit-part characters. But, when he’s given the spotlight, he can shine with the best of them!
And shine he did in the first outing of Uncharted, back in 2007. The title took the video gaming world by storm with its unique blend of character, wit, action, and humor. This was in no small amount due to Nolan’s outsized contribution as protagonist Nathan Drake. Now, don’t get me wrong, the video game voice actors throughout the series are all aces. Their banter is absolutely unmatched.
My personal standouts are:
- Nathan Drake as Nolan North.
- Elena Fisher as Emily Rose.
- Victor “Sully” Sullivan Richard McGonagle.
Still, it would be hard to say how successful the series would’ve been without Nolan’s affable, almost innocent delivery. Quite the feat to make an action hero, known for slaying innumerable enemies and feats of parkour derring-do, relatable as well.
The Uncharted series has been remastered for the PS4. I urge you to check them out right away!
Famous video game voice actors: the Commander herself
Jennifer Hale is a name that almost needs no introduction. Just naming a few of her standouts from Wikipedia can make your head spin. Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect, Metal Gear Solid, BioShock Infinite, Metroid Prime, Overwatch, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic sound good enough?
Her royalty-level video game curriculum continues to increase every year. She’s extremely prolific and continues to put in fantastic performances for every project. Passion, commitment, and total control of her vocal instrument are what set her apart from thousands of others.
My personal favorite of hers is her turn as the female Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect saga. Whilst the default character was the male version, voiced by Marc Greer, a lot of fans went the other route at the selection screen. While Greer did an admirable, iconic job as the taciturn Commander, Hale imbued the voice with a pathos, authority, and dry humor that is hard to top. Sure, there’s no accounting for taste, but a lot of people (myself included), find her take to be superior.
And she continues to provide high-quality work wherever she goes. Truly a paragon of voice acting.
Video game voice actors have quickly become one of the pillars of the profession. Whatever the size and scope of a game, it’s sure to need quality voice talent. There are many actors and actresses putting in oodles of great work every year and making their peers proud. No longer relegated to the “B” list, video game voice actors are delivering performances for the ages.
If you’ve got a video game project lined up, great for you! I recommend you check out a voice-centric hub like Bunny Studio; that way you’ll make it easier for yourself to find a professional that can heighten your project. Sure, you probably won’t be able to find anyone off this list, but there’s a treasure trove of voice pros waiting to become the next big thing!