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The Industry

The world of video games is a flourishing industry and one that can offer exciting storytelling opportunities for performers. Tahlia Norrish shares her experience voicing a video game character and why you should give it a go.

For me, gaming work is so attractive because the storytelling possibilities feel almost infinite. The realm of potential exceeds that of stage or screen

As someone who grew up with a passionate love for the gaming world, getting to work on the multiplayer combat video game, Bleeding Edge, was quite literally a dream come true. Not only because it was being created by the BAFTA award-winning British developers, Ninja Theory, who previously gifted us with the likes of DmC: Devil May Cry and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, but also because it provided a tremendously rich test of craft and ability – more on that later.

Even if gaming isn’t your jam personally, it is a significant force to be reckoned with as an industry and should seriously be considered as a part of your acting repertoire. You may be very pleasantly surprised to find what a rewarding medium it can be, as I certainly continue to.

As this is only my second video game credit, I reached out to a handful of gaming voice over (VO) veterans to supplement my recount of my experience with their wealth of wisdom and insight. The enthusiasm, however, is genuine and my own.

Why Work in Gaming?

For me, gaming work is so attractive because the storytelling possibilities feel almost infinite. The realm of potential exceeds that of stage or screen and with technology developing at the exponential rate it is, that will only continue to be the case.

Peter Warnock – an actor who has recorded over 16,000 voices in his 20 year career – says he’s excited by the “growing level of narratives and the complexity of characters that the industry has been developing.” Warnock cited titles such as God of WarMass Effect and The Last of Us as prime examples of this.

Ally Murphy – a voice actor who has worked on games such as The OccupationDungeons and Dragons Online and Dimension Hunter – felt video games were being taken into “a whole new area of art [by] exploring tough topics such as grief, mental health and self-discovery.” Murphy said that in turn, this has opened up “many more fantastic roles for actors”.

And as an actor, who doesn’t want access to an abundance of fantastic roles, regardless of the medium?

Auditioning for Video Game VO

I was approached to audition for Bleeding Edge in the final few months of my third year at drama school. Admittedly, the brief required quite a specific voice (the character, Gizmo, is in many ways essentially a far cooler version of me), so the search filters on Spotlight would have narrowed the playing field. I don’t imagine there were hundreds upon hundreds of young Australian female voices to sift through. Prior to this, and since then, the vast majority of auditions I’ve received have been via my agent, but of course, this is not the only path.

Natalie Winter – a voice actor and director who can be heard in titles such as FIFA 20Astrologaster (for which she earned a One Voice Award nomination) and Etherborn – said she often found work through “relationships I have built with the games community over years of networking and direct marketing.”

Award-winning voiceover artist, Jay Britton, seconded this, commenting, “most of my auditions now come from recommendations”, but added, “getting the work is a job on its own, you have to be constantly searching, networking and keeping up to date with the industry.”

As for the Bleeding Edge auditions themselves, I was sent the entire script of Gizmo’s lines beforehand, which specified what triggered each line to be said, and who it was being said to. I was also sent an image of what Gizmo looked like, which was pivotal in building my understanding and offering of who she was.

This, however, is not always the norm. Britton observed, “more often than not a lot of games work is ‘blind’, you really have little idea what you might be in for before you step in the booth.” Winter agreed, but added she will often try to “figure out what game it is or who the developers are [to] get a sense of their style.”

Aside from knowing the dialogue and character inside out (and I truly mean inside out), I took note of Warnock’s suggestions to newer actors that “less is more” and to “always go with your instinct.”

Recording the VO

We’re all friends here so I’m just going to be honest: I did not foresee how demanding and intense the recording process was going to be. The sessions were short, but the amount of material to cover was vast.

I cannot emphasise enough how crucial deep preparation was for those days. Deep preparation paired with a clear, confident and flexible headspace to effectively integrate direction on the go. As Britton perceptively put it, “flexibility and ‘emotional elasticity’ are such key skills, you may enter the session and find it’s 100mph from line 1.” Indeed.

Aside from knowing the dialogue and character inside out (and I truly mean inside out), I took note of Warnock’s suggestions to newer actors that “less is more” and to “always go with your instinct.”

All four gaming veterans underscored the importance of a breathing and vocal warm-up and cool down to bookend the day, in addition to staying well hydrated.

Beyond this, Murphy went on to say she would “really recommend seeing a vocal coach who can equip you with techniques to make sure you can go for a four-hour session and not damage your voice.”

During my recording sessions, a vocal director and studio engineer from SIDE led the charge and were the middlemen between the Ninja Theory team (either there in person or on Skype) and myself. When you have the blessing of working with the likes of SIDE and Ninja Theory, you can trust you are in very safe and competent hands, but with smaller, more inexperienced teams, one may need to take on a bit more responsibility.

As we worked over a number of days, I was wisely advised to take some vocal reference points so I could replicate the character voice from day one, all the way through to the final session. To do this I recorded some of Gizmo’s lines and effort sounds on my phone so I could refer back to them before each new day. This proved to be hugely beneficial, and especially so if you were working with more than one character.

While I’m obviously still a newbie to the gaming voice over world, I cannot stress how highly I’d encourage all my actor companions to at least entertain the thought of dipping their toes in the video game waters. It can be an immensely fulfilling process, and is guaranteed to stretch your actor muscles in a very different way.

And for all those who like to wreak a bit of havoc in between their everyday human existence, maybe I’ll see you in the Bleeding Edge universe!

Read advice about voice over work and other exciting opportunities to work in voice-first content.

Tahlia Norrish is an Aussie-Brit actor, writer, and current MPhil Candidate at the University of Queensland’s School of Sport Sciences. After graduating from The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (Distinction, Acting and Musical Theatre) and Rose Bruford College (First Class Hons, Acting), Tahlia founded The Actor’s Dojo — a pioneering coaching program centred on actor peak performance and holistic wellbeing.

Headshot credit: Ben Wilkin

Image by Glenn Carstens-Petersvia Unsplash.