In the 90s, I worked at a small mom & pop game store in Orlando by the name of Video Game Trader. It was a fascinating time for the industry as games gradually moved to disc format, allowing for more content, larger play worlds, full-motion video and… characters that talk. There had been some speech on cartridge games, but let’s be truthful: Scorpion’s “GET OVER HERE!” and Bubsy the Bobcat’s “What could possibly go wrong?” were hardly the magnum opuses we were getting on CD-based consoles.
The day the very first Resident Evil arrived at the store, everyone– customers and staff combined– huddled around the biggest TV we had and took turns playing. The gameplay was unlike anything any of us had ever experienced. The visuals were eerie. The zombies were horrifying. And the dialogue… Well, the goofy staccato delivery of lines like “I’ll say! You were almost a Jill sandwich!” were also unlike anything we’d ever experienced.
The Sega CD & Saturn, Sony PlayStation, Philips CD-i and 3DO gave us the dawn of voice acting in video games. Some of it was good. Some of it was bad. And all the while, I wondered– who are these people?
Nine years later, I became one of those people.
Encouraged by friends and coworkers who’d heard all the free voiceovers I’d done for toy commercials at my advertising job, I started voice acting for real in 2001. After a few years, I landed my first video game role as the super-mulleted Jackal in SEGA’s Spikeout Battle Street on the Xbox. It was a brawler like Streets Of Rage on the Genesis, only in 3D. I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, in what I imagine were translation issues/misunderstandings, the cutscenes ended up being “realistic” 3D animation and not 2D anime-style sequences, resulting in performances that totally didn’t match the visuals. To quote IGN, “The voice acting and dialog is so stingingly bad it’s hilarious, yet it still hurts to hear it.” This was my Jill sandwich.
More innuendo than a Top Gun volleyball game.
In 2007, I auditioned for a game by the developers who made Brothers In Arms– a gritty post-apocalyptic game called Borderlands. Gearbox? Yeah, Gearbox! That’s their name! I didn’t get any of the roles and the game seemed to vanish…But three years later, Borderlands reappeared, transformed from its dusty, realistic roots into the brightly-colored shooty extravaganza we know and love today. I got a second chance at it, landing some small character parts in the DLC and then even more character bits a couple of years later in the sequel, Borderlands 2.
Twelve, yes twelve, different characters. Mel Blanc was my hero.
When I went to my local GameStop to pre-order my copy of BL2, Mike (the manager) asked me if would come make an “appearance” at the midnight launch. I didn’t know what to say… I mean, I’m just a regular guy who happens to occasionally go into a soundproof box to record lines like “The Atlas Corporation guarantees you will be satisfied with your cause of death!” and sing impromptu songs about Ice Cream Day. But realizing that I was going to be at the midnight launch to buy my copy anyway, I figured… why not?
When I got to the store the evening of the launch, Patrick and Leslie (both in full Borderlands cosplay) asked me to move up to the counter, where they announced me as one of the voice actors in the game. Every eye in the shop focused on me, resulting in an alarmingly terrifying sensation. You’ve seen the comments on internet message boards these days, right? What if people thought, “Who is this d-bag?” or “It’s not like he plays anybody important to the story!”
What if this was another Jill sandwich?
To my relief, it turned out that everybody was really nice and I had nothing to be nervous about. In fact, many people were fellow customers I’d had in-store gaming conversations with in the past and were surprised to find out I was a voice actor. Some even wanted me to sign their copies of the game, which I have to say felt pretty damn cool. (Ben Wallace, critically-acclaimed author of Dumb White Husband, was there to pick up a copy too, by the way.)
By the end of the night, most of the other customers had gone home to start blasting away at skags, psychos and bullymongs. I bought my copy, thanked everyone at the store for the great time and went off to do some vault hunting of my own. It was my first ever “appearance” as a voice actor and I think it will remain the most special.
Now, it’s 2014 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! releases next week. Once again, I play a supporting role as the voice of the Dahl Corporation. But this time I can be heard a lot more, seeing as how Dahl pretty much supplies all of the equipment on Pandora’s moon, Elpis. For example, when you die and are cloned at a New-U station, I will yell at you for doing something so dumb as to die.
On Monday night, I’ll be one of thousands across the country at his or her local video game store, meeting up with friends while waiting to pick up a copy of an eagerly anticipated game. Technically, I’ll be “appearing” again at the Cedar Hill GameStop as a voice actor, but at my core I will be just another gamer, Jill sandwiches be damned.