Retronauts Volume III Episode 11: The History of Video Game Voice Acting

Retronauts 11 cover

Hey, cats and kittens: It’s Bob again with another brand-new episode. Just so you know, this one was the first we recorded with Jeremy Skyping in from his new East Coast digs, so things might not go as smoothly as you’d expect from the well-oiled machine known as Retronauts. On the bright side — if you could call it that — most of the difficulties came in the editing process, since I had to paste in Jeremy’s locally recorded audio every time he spoke, while simultaneously cutting out the rest of our dumb voices. Because of this issue, I stumbled into a little SNAFU that would take too much time to correct, so you may notice that one of our musical breaks lasts just a little too long — but it probably won’t kill you.

To close the book on this extremely inside baseball, just know that we’ve since come up with a much more efficient process, so the episodes following next week’s should be back to normal. Then again, no one complained about the audio quality on previously posted Jeremy Skype-ins, so this paragraph could only serve to waste your valuable time. (Sorry.)

Anyhow, this episode covers an extremely broad topic we’ve touched upon plenty of times on Retronauts, but never fully delved into. That said, as I explained in the intro to this episode, we couldn’t possibly cover everything, so I did my best to track the evolution of voice acting using some very notable (and at times, infamous) examples. Special thanks go out to backer Chris Doucette, who donated to make this episode happen, and volunteered his time to help us talk about a very fruitful subject. Enjoy, and please leave us comments about anything we might have missed!

Libsyn (1:30:55 | MP3 | 65.7 MB) | SoundCloud

This episode’s description:

“From Berzerk’s creepy robot barks to Metal Gear Solid’s overwrought death monologues, voice acting has been a major element of video games — but just how did we get to where we are today? Join Bob Mackey, Jeremy Parish, Ray Barnholt and special backer guest Chris Doucette as they dine on Jill sandwiches, sit in rocket lawn chairs, and explore the mysteries of video game voice acting.”

This episode’s musical breakdown:

  • 17:38 | Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions “Main Menu”
  • 28:24 | Metal Gear Solid “Rex’s Lair”
  • 50:16 | Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions “Ninja”
  • 1:16:41 | Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions “Weapon Mode”
  • 1:27:14 | Metal Gear Solid “Metal Gear Solid Control Mix” (From the Metal Gear Solid OST)

Relevant Links:

Audio Atrocities

Metal Gear localization interview on Hardcore Gaming 101

I Know that Voice

NEXT TIME: We head to the Silicon Valley of the Midwest — yes, that’s a real thing. And maybe before Christmas, a little something extra in your stocking? Only if you’re good. And the best way to do this might involve leaving us a review on the iTunes Music Store

33 thoughts on “Retronauts Volume III Episode 11: The History of Video Game Voice Acting

  1. I’ll have to listen to this later tonight. I’m sure there will be many Jill sandwiches and Titus laughs to enjoy.

    In the meantime, I see you had some audio issues with Jeremy. I imagine you already know this by now, but when doing local recordings, it helps that both ends are set to record mic-only rather than the stereo mix. That’s what we do on our podcast. I also use a Skype recorder, but only as a guide as a guide track to easily sync all of the local recordings.

  2. I was really hoping you’d include Shining Force III in the examples of awful localization voice acting. It was so bad, I never understood why they even bothered. They could have left the Japanese voices in or just dummied them out of the game entirely.

    http://youtu.be/IhrlM3nYzFg

    “Now bear my arctic blast!”

  3. Fun show as always.

    First: I feel like you didn’t give Sierra quite enough credit; sure, KQV was an unutterably awful dub, but shortly after that they upped the production values substantially for Space Quest IV and King’s Quest VI.

    Second: I’m kind of surprised that the Intellivoice didn’t come up. Mattel spent crazy amounts of money coming up with this add-on to add sampled voices to games, designed games to specifically require the voiceover so you’d HAVE to buy the Intellivoice, hired the Firesign Theatre to dub most of them (I think the Sports Talk games had someone else, and I know Tron: Solar Sailer–not a typo–had Disney utility players like Corey Burton)…and the end result is just as unintelligible as Stratovox. It’s a great example of ambition outstripping the available technology.

    Nitpicks aside on what was after all a super broad topic, I really enjoyed this one.

    • I didn’t have a CD-ROM until 1997, so missed out on all the Sierra talkies. Going back now the only one I have really enjoyed is Rhys-Davies in the Quest for Glory series. I found the Space Quest announcer guy was way too broad – would have been funnier with a more stoic, serious reading.

  4. Excellent podcast as per usual but how could you not mention any C64 games?

    Impossible Mission had the unforgettable “Another visitor, stay awhile….STAY FOREVER!”

    And Ghostbusters not only did the thing where it spoke it’s own name on the title screen, it also had speech throughout the game. It also had a bit at the end where it would scream at you if you managed to defeat Zuul. This was so unexpected the first time I beat the game I actually jumped up out of the couch nd ended up in a heap behind it.

    Also I missed out on commenting on the last topic, in terms of Star Wars I’m guessing UK company System 3 is still thanking it’s lucky stars Death Star Interceptor never made it over to the US even though they actually bouht the rights to use the music. Check out some info here at http://www.worldofspectrum.org/infoseekid.cgi?id=0001295

  5. Also of note Blood Omen:Legacy of Kain featured some excellent voicework by Simon Templeman as the Kain. I think it’s the role that started his voice acting career in games and it’s easy to see (or hear) why.

  6. Thanks for the high praise! I wanted to add a few comments of my own. Castlevania: SOTN. I translated it but was not there for the recording (to my infinite regret). For Metal Gear Solid, I was the assistant director and actually had quite a lot of input regarding the casting, the voices that they went with and the actual direction to the actors. Also, I wished you could have mentioned some other projects I was proud of such as Shadow Hearts: Covenant or Ape Escape 2 (featuring Pokemon cast) or Valkyrie Profile (also featuring Pokemon cast).

    • Shadow Hearts 2 is still one of my favourite games of all time, in part due to the voice acting. Very underrated.

    • Great to hear from you, Mr. Blaustein! I wish I’d bought Snatcher instead of just renting it… finished it during a weekend, so decided not to get the game. But feel grody emulating it now. Gotta get that on some kinda virtual consoley type service!

      The story, presentation, and all that bowled my 15 year old self over back in 1995.

  7. Just so you’re aware, Tidus’ laugh is even worse in the original Japanese, that was the point of that scene; Tidus was trying to cheer Yuna up with his forced laughing. Whenever people point to this as an example of bad voice acting it bugs me, since it’s just perpetuating the misconception that it’s the voice actor’s fault.

    • Yep, I heard the original Japanese and know what the scene sounds like in this language — but it probably could have been massaged into something a little more palatable for Western tastes — or human tastes, for that matter. I get the impression that it’s supposed to be a “sweet” scene (what with the music and Tidus’ intent), but by the end the characters come off as raving lunatics with the metal faculties of four-year-olds. Let’s all blame the writers and have a drink.

  8. I’m bummed you didn’t touch on the Space Channel 5 games, speaking of significant voice actors AND of games where names get mispronounced. Michael Jackson’s involvement with the game is a really interesting piece of gaming history, but I can’t get over the fact that MJ completely botches Ulala’s name and no one had the time (or the guts) to correct him and re-do the takes.

    Also speaking of voice actors who end up in a million different places – I recently played through the latest WoW expansion and discovered Richard Horvitz (Psychonauts, Destroy All Humans, and a million TV shows) voices a race of giant sentient bugs called the Klaxxi.

  9. Excellent episode, but I gotta disagree with Chris’s assertion that Grandia II had bad voice acting. Going off the top of my head, you had Cam Clarke (Liquid Snake, Leonardo from TMNT) in the leading roll as Ryudo, Paul Eiding (Colonel Campbell, Max from Ben 10) as his trusty talking bird buddy Skye, Jennifer Hale as Elena, and, my personal favorite VA, John Cygan (Solidus Snake, Canderous Ordo from KotOR) as Ryudo’s stereotypically evil brother Melfice. The casting was spot-on and most the lines were delivered with gusto and believability.

    Now Grandia I and the spin-off Xtreme? Yeah, those were barely listenable train wrecks. Oh, and Chris was right the first time, Grandia II did come out in 2000 (it’s best to ignore the later buggy PS2 and PC ports).

    • I never realized that Grandia II had such high profile voice actors… but that only makes it worse in my perception. How did they even manage to make such talent perform that badly? Definitely on my top 10 of worst video game dubs ever.

      • Well Sam, maybe it’s nostalgia on my end or maybe you haven’t played it in awhile on your end, but I would still maintain that Grandia II boasts some exceptional performances (spoilers, and sorry for the low audio quality):

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6m520FvYC8

        I will say though, that the VA for Roan sounds a bit too scratchy, and Mereg tends to lay it on a little thick with those gruff affectations.

  10. That was a fun episode, although now I have “SKATE or Die” stuck in my brain, thanks!

    Oh, and for me all of FFX’s short comings in terms of voice acting were all rendered moot due to Auron’s amazing voice work.

    Happy Holidays!

  11. I was kind of obsessed with digitized voices as a kid. I loved all the Access Software games (With RealSound(tm)!) that would have a reasonable approximation of digitized speech / music over a PC speaker. Other memorable ones from my youth: The Dagger of Amon Ra floppy version (had a great song about marrying an archeologist digitized!), Star Control 2 (even on PC, had some crazy good music, and the Pkunks used negative karma channeled through digitized insults to power their attacks)… also Thunderforce 2′s incomprehensible speech, the three whole minutes of digitized speech in Phelios, and Altered Beast’s “Wwise fwom your gwave!”

  12. This episode went in through my ear holes and provoked a series of pleasurable reactions across my pre-frontal cortex.

  13. Great episode! I loved it. Can I make a suggestion? How about a show on retro games about Mechas? There were tons of them in the Super Famicom and Megadrive days. Over on the Megadrive side, one that always stood out to me was Ranger X. If you haven’t played it you really should! Oh how I wish it as available on virtual console or PSN…and certainly Sega dropped the ball when they overlooked it during the development of the Ultimate Megadrive Collection.

  14. Excellent show. I binge listened to the entire volume 3 backlog while working. Great work you guys, thanks for taking the time to record these.

  15. Hey Bob, ya hoser, what’s your problem with Canadians eh? Personally I don’t really care what accents the actors have so long as the game isn’t a weird combination of accents with characters from the same place speaking wildly differently.

  16. Great episode, the conversations were fun and the clips provided a lot of useful context. The editing made Jeremy sound like he was in the same room as the rest, both in timing and quality. Thanks!

  17. Another Retronauts, another missed opportunity to discuss the Neo Geo. All the early games were loaded with voice samples that made them stand out in the arcade and at home. Granted, I didn’t have a Neo Geo in my home until years later, but the voices were a major factor in my fascination with the system.

  18. Boy do I feel silly after all these years: I used to think Barry said, “You were almost a gibble sandwich!” Just his (horrible) attempt at a shocked laugh in the middle of “Jill.” Mind=blown. How about the horrible live-action acting in PS1 games like RE1 (Joseeeaahh…!) or the multiple endings of Twisted Metal 1 with Calypso’s charred face? Are we all glad they axed those for the sequels? Great show as always, gentlemen!

  19. Voice acting in video games sure have come a long way,since the days of the turbografx 16.I’m sure most know these days,how bad it was for that console expect for (Ys book 1&2) which was excellent.Just for a sample.Still it’s nothing special now,since video games went to discs it’s pretty much a standard now.

    The Bad.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xrj8DCIZvsY
    The Good.

  20. When discussing about Double Dribble for the arcade, you missed to mentioned the other audio titles from Konami, for their home venues in the NES, such as Double Dribble, Blades of Steel and the Adventures of Bayou Billy. The one voice stuck in my mind since then.
    I really felt that the games were excellent after speaking to you. Ha, ha, ha. How wrong or young was I then.
    Great show as always

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