Let me say publicly that DonBoy’s answer exudes a combination of intuitive genius and confidence that make me think DonBoy is going to do big things in his life. -- Steven D. Levitt (Freakonomics blog)
Sunday, June 12, 2005
The Value of Video Game Voice Acting

And since I was talking about Looking Glass...

Mark Evanier flags and discusses an article about the recent avoidance of a strike by video game voice actors, and has a particular response to a couple of points, one of which is this:
Game producers had balked at providing residuals, arguing that people don't buy games because of the actors who appear in them.
To which Mark replies:
Obviously, the actors are a factor in the sales of a game. If not, the employers would just grab a delivery boy, give him fifty dollars and stick him in front of a microphone. That they pay to get accomplished actors is proof that it does make a difference.
And on this point, the Thief series, which began at Looking Glass and was completed at Ion Storm after the LG shutdown, is, by a country mile, the best example. (Let me repeat first that although I was lucky enough to work at LG, I had pretty close to nothing to do with any published Thief game.) Thief contains first-person voice-over narration from the title character, Garrett, who was voiced in all three Thief games by Stephen Russell. You can hear a sample of Russell's performance in the trailer for Thief: Deadly Shadows, available here; it's a version of the hard-boiled detective narration that Harrison Ford channeled in the theatrical release of Blade Runner. Here are some views on the importance of Russell's voice-over, all from reviews of T:DS:
Stephen Russell's gravelly, snide voice catches the mood impeccably. And at this juncture in my symposium, I have to give mad props to Mr. Russell. He has voiced Garrett since the beginning, and has also lent his talents to Arx Fatalis and Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide. More game companies should focus on actors who truly understand the subtleties of voice acting, as Stephen Russell does. His Garrett is the perfect blend of the somewhat bored and detached film noir voiceover and the world-weary drone of Bogie from The Big Sleep. There'’s something about his intonations that unswervingly put you into the Thief world. It'’s a shame it took me five minutes reading the credits of people who probably brought coffee to the guy who brings the bagels before I got to the voice credits. I know this is probably a sore subject with a lot of production professionals, but as important as they are, I think voice talent should be given priority in the credits. Ray Liotta, Burt Reynolds and Jenna Jameson were plugged (no pun intended in Ms. Jameson'’s instance) prominently in the press releases for GTA: Vice City, but who (besides critics like me who take the time to read the full credits of a game) has ever heard of Stephen Russell? After all, who would go to see Terminator 4: Set Design by Melvin Schkleckner? I get the marketing gist, but, c'’mon guys, let'’s give the nod to the people whose work is more intimate with the players'’ experience than the (albeit) genius who made Garrett's skin look so amazingly supple.
Specifically, the voice acting is far and away Deadly Shadow's high point in regards to sound. For the most part, all of the game's voice acting is top notch, highly believable, and extremely fitting to the setting and atmosphere. Fans will no doubt immediately recognize Stephen Russell's voice, who returns to play the role of Garret in the way only he could, and most supporting characters play their roles superbly.
And with you through it all is the reassuringly cocky voice of our hero, Garrett, given life by Stephen Russell. In addition to the previous Thief entries, Russell's voice can be found in the classics like System Shock 2 and Arx Fatalis, and more recently in the Neverwinter Nights expansion, Shadows of Undrentide.
From Gamespy:
Special mention must be made of the voices -- all of them are brilliant, especially Stephen Russell, whose voice so embodies world-weary character of Garrett that it's virtually impossible to imagine anybody else in the role.
From Gamespot:
Fans of the series will instantly recognize Stephen Russell, who returns to provide the unmistakable voice of Garrett. Additionally, a number of other voice actors from previous Thief games again put in excellent performances. On the other hand, some of the voice-over, such as that used for some of the civilians who are walking the streets of The City, isn't nearly up to the same level of quality.
So that oughtta make that point...well, just one more, from (really) "Four Fat Chicks":
Actor Stephen Russell plays Garrett—and about nine million other tiny roles in the Thief games—and he's so good that you simply couldn't imagine the character sounding like anyone else. It goes without saying by this point that Garrett is a complicated fellow, and a lot of his personality must be conveyed in how he says things. Sarcastic, dry, slightly amused, but with a sharp edge warning of a capability for shocking violence, Russell's portrayal of Garrett is spot-on. Listening to actors like [Terri] Brosius and Russell leaves limited sympathy for developers that cut costs by stuffing janitors and interns in the sound studio and handing them a script.
I should also mention here that the overall sound design of all the Looking Glass games, including the System Shock series as well as the Thief games, is the work of Eric Brosius, whose sound work is as crucial to the emotional effect of these games as is the sound in modern motion pictures. (As you might have guessed, he's also the husband of writer/designer/voice performer Terri Brosius, mentioned in the last review snippet above.) Since we're giving credit where credit is due today.

Finally, there's this in the AP report:
The agreement also calls for pay provisions for actors whose performances are used in promotional films longer than 12 minutes...
Call me cynical, but I bet this turns out to be the answer to the trivia question of the future: "Why are there so many 11-minute promo films for video games?"

Powered by Blogger Weblog Commenting by
free website counter