Some game ‘dude’ voices just seem to pop up everywhere. It doesn’t matter if the game itself is a AAA titan or an indie promise, there’s just something about that one voice. You check the cast list, and there it is, staring back at you, that name you’ve seen a million times. It’s that top male video game voice actor again!
And they’ve done everything: mustache-twirling villains, innocent ‘aw shucks’ heroes, cowboys, pirates, bit parts — all with equal, chameleon-like gusto. Inevitably, we begin to wonder what is it about them that makes them such a hot commodity for game makers? Perhaps it’s their innate likeability, which makes them shine in hero roles; it could be their ability to shapeshift with their roles seemingly at will; maybe it’s just being great at so many things; finally, we could consider that their previous great results make them a safe, desirable known quantity.
It could very well be that the combination of all four can lead a professional being labeled as a top video game voice actor. That’s why today we’ll go over some great performers who game developers seem to love coming back to. We’ll try to explore what it is about them that is changing video game voice acting from a niche profession to a golden ticket. These actors are not celebrities doing video game voice acting, but celebrity video game voice actors.
If that idea seemed impossible to you a few years ago, then you haven’t been paying attention. Let’s take a closer look!
Voice Acting for Video Games
Voice acting has had time to grow into a very popular, diverse profession. To the untrained, it still seems like it’s this mystical fringe occupation. But, in reality, it’s raking in a staggering $4.4 billion annually. Entertainment (including animated movies, radio, documentaries, voice mail, mobile, and console games) makes up roughly 8.1%. That’s roughly $356 million and change — not too shabby.
How did this giant slip by unnoticed? Well, it actually didn’t. You see, voice acting is the process of professionally recording a voice performance while playing a character or a narrator in a piece of fiction, advertising, entertainment, or educational material. Voice acting is not recorded live, even if it’s used in a live-action film; that’s why dubbing and ADR also fall within the voice acting umbrella. All of these categories are a form of the production technique known as a voiceover.
A top male video game actor, then, can be doing work much akin to that of a cartoon, or anime voice actor. With the way video games have become increasingly cinematic over time, it’s no wonder the quality and depth of the performances has shot through the roof.
Let’s have a look-see.
What Does a Top Male Video Game Voice Actor Do, Anyway?
In our article “Video Game Voice Actors: Bringing Worlds to Life” we described the process of choosing the right actor thus:
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.
In a way, think of a top male video game voice actor as participating in an augmented version of that process. They’re the A-listers, the Brad Pitts, Scarlett Johansson, and Keanu Reeves of the video game world. They’re talent that’s known for bringing in large crowds, and for delivering perfect, nuanced performances every time. When you’ve got a big project that’s going to be seen the world over, you don’t have time for amateur hour, or for untested talents; you want to bring out the big guns. (One honorable exception for this is Square-Enix, who veered off the beaten path with the talent for FFVII: R.)
What do these actors do, then? You can bet on them to knock it out of the park every time. That’s their talent, and that’s their game — and yes, you can be sure that costs a pretty penny as well.
While voice actors are notoriously hush-hush about their earnings, you can bet they’re touching six figures per big job. Many have net yearly net worths of seven figures. You can start to see that we’re not exactly in the old NES days anymore, right?
So, who exactly are these hotshots anyway? Let’s start getting into a few big names.
Maybe ‘The’ Top Male Video Game Actor: Nolan North
Nolan North is a man that should need no introduction. But, if you’re not a video game fan, I might as well be talking about ‘McFlurryDrum Fingeroo’, right? Suffice it to say that this man has more standout vocal performances to this name than there are hipsters in downtown San Francisco. By the time he’s done, he’ll ascend, shrouded in light, to the pantheon of voice acting greatness, to be greeted by an open-armed Mel Blanc. That’s how good he is.
If I were to list just his video game performances for the past ten years, I’d exceed my word count for this article. The man is anything if not prolific. By the time I’m done writing this, he’ll probably have finished acting in another game. You can’t say he’s not living his best life.
He’s Got It All
Nolan North has one of those flexible voices that can play anything and anyone. When I wrote about ‘chameleon-like skill’, I definitely meant his uncanny ability to portray a wide spectrum of characters. But, if there’s one thing North is known for, it is being called on by game companies to represent the main character in games. You know the type: affable, virile, a little insecure, cocky, more Indiana Jones than whoever Brendan Frasier was in the Mummy, eminently likable.
At one point, you could measure time by how many games had come out in a year where North voiced the default male character. This, of course, came to its apotheosis playing Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series. With his roguish take on the tomb-raiding adventurer, North helped Naughty Dog Studios create a character for the ages. And, they didn’t only need him to be just a top video game voice actor for the role. He busted his behind in motion capture sessions to create a full-bodied, human performance.
Another One for the Pantheon: Troy Baker
If video game credits were a rap sheet, Troy Baker would be doing 25 consecutive life sentences. The man has been in anything and everything. He loves stretching his limits and using his voice to create strange, quirky characters. But, much as with Nolan North, he’s well-known for having one of the best ‘hero’ voices in the business. If you want husky, gritty perfection that could sound anywhere from 25 to 45, look no further than Troy Baker. He is truly the embodiment of the top male video game voice actor.
When he was called to do his biggest project to date, Baker was already a household name in the anime and gaming communities. Fans were overjoyed to hear about him being cast as the main character in Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic, coming-of-age survival shooter ‘The Last of Us.’ In the game, Baker managed to imbue Ethan, the main character, with impressive depth and pathos. Even when he was doing terrible things, Ethan never relinquished his humanity. Seeing the growth of his father-daughter bond with co-protagonist Ashley over the game is a thing to behold.
You can see how Baker and Ashley Johnson (the magnificent actress for Ellie, the main character) gave it their all during the motion capture sessions for the first game.
As Good as Any of Her Male Peers: Jennifer Hale
I imagine Jennifer Hale doesn’t walk, she struts confidently wherever she goes. With a voice like that, she could make grocery shopping into an epic, epoch-spanning adventure. But, I digress. Jennifer Hale has the skills of any male top video game voice actor, and then some. She has a resume that, were it to be fully printed out, would be the bane of any massive rainforest. Such is her impressive, decades-spanning repertoire.
But, if I ever were to choose the role that I felt did her talents justice, it would be as Commander Shepard. While the default voice in the game was almost-perfectly voiced by Marc Meer, Hale managed to imbue FemShep with even more with, personality, and charm. That’s no small feat considering we’re talking about a trilogy of games. Even more when you keep in mind that a majority of players never even got to hear her performance because they went with the default male option. Even so, YouTube compilations and positive word of mouth rectified this small injustice, and many players hail FemShep as the definitive version.
Where to Go From Here?
It may seem that you’re lost if you don’t hire an A-lister for your project, right? Fortunately, things aren’t quite as bleak, and you won’t necessarily have to break the piggy bank. Nowadays, talent seems to be coming out of the woodwork, and it’s easier than ever to find great voice actors that can do your project justice. There’s plenty of freelancing sites or voice-centric marketplaces where you can shop for talent.
It may seem complicated, but it isn’t. You check out an actor you like, view their portfolio, and if they’ve got the goods, you can hire them on the spot! If you don’t like what they’ve got for you, you can request do-overs. If they don’t cut it, you get your money back. Simple, right?
In the end, any good voice actor can give you great results if they have the proper direction and script. And they may just be the magic ingredient your project needs to take off! Who knows? The big leagues may even be closer than you think, and you won’t even have to pay buckets of cash!
Is your project going to be launching the career of the next top male video game voice actor?