Jordan KahncloseAuthor: Jordan Kahn
Name: Jordan Kahn
About: Jordan Kahn is a main contributor for the Jace Hall Show and has been an avid gamer for over 15 years. He also writes about all things Google for 9to5Google.com and covers breaking Apple news for 9to5Mac and mobile products for Butterscotch.com.See Authors Posts (346)
Written By Jordan Kahn
With games on current generation consoles blurring the lines between Hollywood-style epic narratives and conventional gameplay, the voice actors behind the lead characters in our favorite games can be crucial to the overall experience.
Even with the video game industry enjoying consistent growth while the movie industries try to re-invent themselves, the actors so crucial to the success of these games still don’t get the type of love Hollywood actors get.
There are obvious reasons voice actors for the most part aren’t elevated to mainstream celebrity status. On one hand, it’s understandable average players don’t associate the voice of their favorite character with the voice actor, given the fact that, unlike a movie, they’re not actually staring at the actor’s face for two hours. Of course, the “acting” isn’t the main entertaining aspect of a game; the gameplay is.
The question is, how important are these voice actors to the overall experience of a game? Do you consider voice actors interchangeable? Or do voiceovers play a role at all in your decision to purchase/play a game?
There are many examples where voice acting has ruined a game (we couldn’t agree more). On the other hand, there are examples of voice actors that have turned video game personalities into icons– see David Hayter as Snake… and actors that have given award-worthy performances that truly made the game they’re in memorable– see Mark Hamill as Joker.
As of latest reports, Mark Hamill will not be returning to voice Joker in future titles of the Batman: Arkham franchise, with the recently released Arkham City being his final appearance in the role. For anyone that played the first title, where Joker played such an important character, it’s easy to see how a different voice actor could have very well ruined the experience.
If the videogame industry does need a leading man, someone we can elevate to celebrity status, and someone devs can use as a go-to guy for solid performances, it’s probably Nolan North.
Reprising his role as Nathan Drake in the recently released Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, North might be the closest thing we currently have to a “voice actor celebrity in the making”, and his current role as Nathan Drake could land him icon status with the critically acclaimed franchise developing further into a classic. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, he’s also the voice of The Penguin in Arkham City, Desmond Miles in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, Dr. Edward Richtofen in Black Ops, Jace Stratton from Gears of War 2, and The Prince in several Prince of Persia titles (and hundreds of other titles). He’s even the voice behind the defective turrets and corrupt cores in Portal 2.
If you think voice actors like North are just reading lines off a page penned by a writer he’ll never meet, that’s not the case. Just like a pro Hollywood actor, North’s improvisation can often make it into the game. He explains in a recent interview with The Guardian:
“The designers record the gameplay and I have to just talk over it, improvise. I call it panning for gold – most of it’s dirt, but you’ll get the odd nugget. I’m an actor. Whether I’m on stage, in front of a camera or a microphone, what I do is the same – although with videogames it requires a lot of imagination. Motion capture is basically theatre in Spandex; there’s minimal props, and you need a willingness to make an ass of yourself.”
Below is a video from EuroGamer TV giving a behind the scenes look at Nolan North at work on the set of Uncharted 3. Here you will see the Spandex-filled, mocap process, as North and Co-Star Richard McGonagle (Sully) act out a scene from the new game and describe how their roles go beyond simply voice overs.
Perhaps North enjoys the fact his performance is experienced by millions of people with the majority never having heard of him, as he explains in the interview, “I don’t really get bothered, as such. I revel in my anonymity”.
That hasn’t stopped the hardcore fans, however:
“…when I’m at a specific event and gamers are there, they’ll recognise me. At a recent convention in London we had lines of over three hours. Some guy even brought his baby in and they’d given his middle name as Drake. The husband was upset as he’d wanted his first name to be Nathan”
But let’s get down to the nitty-gritty… How much do voice actors like North get paid?
When it comes to salaries, it’s not as cut and dry as you might think, and there aren’t any solid, specific numbers floating around for actors like North like there are for industry execs. According to a report from Reuters from a few years back, the screen actors guild pays out about $760 per four-hour session for the average voice actor. That’s not necessarily representative of how much a high-profile actor like North receives, however.
Agent Lev Chapelsky, a Hollywood booking agent who represents many prominent voice actors in the video game world, recalled demands from celebrity voice actors of up to $750,000 for a single hour work! He said voice actors with celebrity status commonly get “in the high five figures for a single session.” North did note in an interview with GamePro that he’s “hardly” a millionaire, but does live comfortably in Southern California “with a big backyard”.
This is what he had to say about the debate of whether or not voice actors should receive royalties from game sales:
“In all fairness, hundreds of people are working 12 hour days for several years to make a game, so it’s unfair for me to expect residuals, given the amount of work I contribute… I don’t own the company; I’m lending my voice.”
It’s obvious the type of game any given developer is making should dictate how important voice acting will be to the experience. The recent explosion of mobile games, mainly thanks to Apple and iOS, proves there is probably little demand for high-priced voice actors in mechanics-based games that don’t even rely on a storyline. After all, the majority of games that most of us grew up with certainly didn’t.
There is also the idea of more established Hollywood celebrities being used as voice actors in games, something that most gamers, myself included, have a hard time taking seriously. I’m not sure I’d want the next Uncharted to star Mark Wahlberg rather than Nolan North, would you?
Developers haven’t been shy about enlisting pretty high-profile actors to voice games, unfortunately their big screen appeal doesn’t typically come through in-game, especially when poorly written dialog doesn’t showcase an actor’s talent.
Take Patrick Stewart in the latest Castlevania, an obvious throwaway performance with horribly written dialog, most of which the game allows you to skip. Stewart more than likely cashed a check substantially larger than your average voice actor for that role, development money that probably could have been better spent judging by reviews. There are exceptions, however, such as co-creator of The Office Stephen Merchant in Portal 2 who gives an incredible performance as robotic sphere Wheatley. Merchant is of course much lesser known than Stewart and your average Hollywood actor…To me it’s harder to become fully immersed in the fantasy of a game when a high-profile actor’s real-world image and personality inevitably bleeds into the onscreen character’s personality.
But that’s just what I’m hearing. What matters to you?
Post By Jordan Kahn (346 Posts)
Jordan Kahn is a main contributor for the Jace Hall Show and has been an avid gamer for over 15 years. He also writes about all things Google for 9to5Google.com and covers breaking Apple news for 9to5Mac and mobile products for Butterscotch.com.
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