Voice acting in video games

Voice acting, a part of developing a video game that has increased in importance over the years. We’ve some a long way from Mario to games like BioShock and Uncharted, not only graphically but certainly in the sound department. But why did voice acting become so damn important to developers all of a sudden?

Anyone that played The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for more than a few days quickly began to recognize Bethesda’s budget deficit in their voice acting department. Characters you had never seen before somehow felt eerily similar to the shop merchant you visited in the last town. Unless it’s a plot point, you shouldn’t be thinking about that kind of thing while you’re in the middle of a game. It breaks up the flow of the story, and reveals the game for what it is when you start questioning just how many voice actors Bethesda did hire for what otherwise could have been not just a good game but a great one.

People play games to be entertained. Everyone’s motives are different; some people want to kick ass while others want to get to a higher level, and some merely want to take off a break from work or school and get away from it all. Ultimately though, the immersive, entertaining quality of video games is what draws us in and takes us to a world that we can get lost in and enjoy. When the gamer starts focusing too much on the mechanics of the game itself, the spell is broken, and we’re left wondering why our machine gun and an egg are taking up the same amount of space within a shoddy inventory system. Developers are starting to recognize that, and in an era of high definition gaming and a multi-million dollar industry, companies like BioWare are pulling out all the stops.

BioWare, the company behind Mass Effect hired loads and loads of people to do their voice acting. Some of the notable talents recruited to take part in their games are : Martin Sheen (“The West Wing”), Seth Green (“Austin Powers”), and Keith David (“Crash”), to name a few. Dr. Ray Muzyka, BioWare’s co-founder and General Manager of EA’s RPG/MMO group, had this to say of the cast:

“Emotionally engaging narrative is a key design pillar for BioWare, and the top-notch voice talent in Mass Effect 2 helps drive this goal… Credible, powerful personalities are vital to delivering a compelling story experience in BioWare’s games, and we have assembled an amazing ensemble cast that surpasses the very high bar set in the original Mass Effect!”

He’s right. We come for the game play, but we stay for the story. The characters within video games are what make them truly unique and interesting to be a part of. Video games are steady rivals for the film and publishing industries because they not only provide us with an entertaining escape, but they allow us to interact with the world we have escaped to, and those “credible, powerful personalities” within the game help make it all the more real.

Good voice actors help solidify the individuality of a game. Sure, in the beginning you might be thinking “Why does my dad sound so much like Liam Neeson?”, and that can be distracting and take away from the experience. But, after a while, the voice talent kicks in and you forget who was cast for the role in the first place. The story should meld together seamlessly, and if the company in question has done a good job, you won’t find yourself being so critical of all the little elements that make up the game, and hopefully you will get sucked in thanks to a few extra bucks spent on behalf of making that happen.

Voice acting is not only important for immersing the player in the story, but in the case of Batman: Arkham Asylum it also provides a sense of authenticity. What would the Joker be without Mark Hamill voicing him? Or what about a Batman without Kevin Conroy?

In truth, voice acting is often underrated by the average gamer, and the actors mostly forgotten. Most of the names in the voice acting industry will sound vaguely familiar while others could just be people sitting next to you on the bus. Ofcourse, developers have been known to hire top actors as well, just think about Patrick Stewart (We all know him as Cpt. Picard or Professor X) or Liam Neeson. Check the table below to test your knowledge about voice actors …

Name

Character name

Video game

Mark Hamill The Joker Batman: Arkham Asylum
Kevin Conroy Batman Batman: Arkham Asylum
Ron Perlman Narrator
Fleet Admiral Lord Terrence Hood
Mayor Hoodoo Brown
Fallout 1,2 and 3
Halo 2 and 3
GUN
Liam Neeson James Fallout 3
Kiefer Sutherland Sgt. Roebuck CoD: WaW
Kris Kristofferson Ned
Chief Hanlon
Gun
Fallout: New Vegas
Kate Mulgrew Flemeth
Cpt. Kathryn Janeway
Dragon Age 1 and 2
Star Trek games
Ray Liotta Tommy Vercetti GTA: Vice City
Patrick Stewart Emperor Uriel Septim
Zobek / Narrator
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Steve Blum A lot of characters In a lot of games
Nolan North A lot of characters In a lot of games
Earl Boen Magtheridon
The Sarafan Lord
World of Warcraft
Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen 2
Jennifer Hale A lot of characters In a lot of games
Rob Wiethoff John Marston Red Dead Redemption
Gary Oldman Sgt. Reznov CoD: WaW and Black Ops

The art of voice acting is one that doesn’t get enough credit. It adds just as much depth and feeling to a game as stunning visuals and narrative do. Developers are capable of providing high definition imagery, a compelling story line, and worlds that spark our imagination like never before. Please, just give us the glue to hold all of that together, in the form of characters that make those worlds believable and invite us in to stay.

If you have any more great voice acting to share with us, please do so in the comment section below!

/Niels