By Sara Clemens
I, like many of you, love video games. I love playing them, over-analyzing them, discussing tips and tricks for beating them, sporting paraphernalia from them, and looking up pictures of people’s tattoos about them. And I’ve been playing them for a long time. My personal gaming history is basically a by-product of the NES I found under the tree at Christmas in 1989 and my only-child status, but it’s granted me a first-person perspective to the evolution of video games for the past 23 years. I’m pretty much the Forest Gump of video games. Seriously, Tom Hanks is currently in talks to portray me in the movie of my life.
In full drag, obviously.
Aside from being a gaming geek, I’m also a theatre/film nerd, and my main areas of study in school were acting and sound design. As video game storylines became more and more complex, the need to also deepen the complexity of the characters became apparent, which in turn led to the hiring of actors to give them voice. Never missing an opportunity to sniff out a gig, I paid particular attention to the vocal performances in the games I played. And man, were some of them bad. The gaming industry’s early attempts to inject pathos through vocal talent were often clumsy at best, and laughable at worst (or also best, depending on your perspective).
Fortunately, someone in some game developer’s office somewhere realized that bad voice-over work was hurting them in the long run, and decided to focus on acquiring actual talent. And thank the Nine Divines. My acting days taught me that a good performance can elevate a mediocre script to something an audience would actually tolerate, but a bad performance will drag even the best writing down into the dreck. Slowly and surely, more and more developers hired better and better voice actors (usually to go along with better scripts, which helped), even reaching a point where A-list actors weren’t afraid to drop into the studio and earn themselves a paycheck. And I saw it all, kid! I saw it all!
You listening to this story, and me telling it. I’m a computer.
Here are 5 examples from my personal play history that I think provide a nice overview of the evolution of voice acting in video games, starting with the earliest and crappiest:
Resident Evil – 1996
So the graphic is from the Gamecube remake. Sue me.
Oh Chris and Jill. Jill and Chris! You and your teammates quite possibly provided the gaming world’s most notoriously bad voice acting, the terribleness of which can only be surpassed by the atrocious script. ALSO, WHY DON’T YOU GUYS EVER KNOW WHAT THIS IS? I still remember how psyched I was to get to play the main character as a girl—and then Barry called me “the master of unlocking.” Warning: this clip is 10 minutes long. And it’s worth every second.
“You saved me!” “YAAAAAAH.”
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – 1997
Pantene Pro V: Same Formula, New Look!
While I’m rolling out my various geeky affectations, here’s another: I wrote my college thesis on Dracula. So I’m kind of big into vampires. We can dissect that obsession in another post, but let the record show I don’t like Twilight or anything related to it (lest I lose my carefully cultivated street cred). Needless to say, the Castlevania titles were are in constant rotation at my house.
SotN suffers from the same unholy union of bad acting and bad writing that crippled Resident Evil, but it resides further along the evolutionary scale due to the epic commitment of the actors. While the RE actors sound like they’re delivering their lines over the phone while performing some light paperwork, you can practically hear the grimaces and shaky fists coming from the performers in Symphony. I wouldn’t be surprised if these two guys were actually in the same room together, a rarity in studio recording.
Upon further reflection, I’m not sure if the actors’ commitment earns them more or less props.