For a game to work; for a game to consistently keep you in the moment, a surprising amount of boxes need to remain ticked, for some considerable amount of time.
Graphics; sound; animation; engine; narrative; checkpoints; load times; lip synching; control lag; draw distance; textures; button layout; scripting – the list is almost endless.
And if any one of these elements is more than even slightly off, your finely tuned bullshit-o-meter is likely to ramp itself all the way up to red-for-danger, resulting in you suddenly finding yourself ripped painfully from the subconscious heat-of-the-moment to instead waste your life sifting through unwelcome conscious thoughts such as “FFS why didn’t they fix THAT!?” or “Dude; seriously!?”
For some it can be a personal bugbear such as frame rate or v-sync; for others it can be difficulty spikes or genre bias.
For me: it’s hearing Nolan North’s voice.
Not content with being the aural flag-bearer for such heavyweight franchises as Uncharted and Assassins Creed, the actor who has been described as being “the nearest thing [that] the games industry has to a bona fide leading man” can be found in everything from AAA titles such as COD, Metal Gear Solid, Portal, Halo, Final Fantasy, Batman and Spec Ops to a whole raft of mid-tier games right down to the ridiculous depths of the rather appalling 50 Cent: Bulletproof.
The man clearly isn’t too picky about where his next job comes from.
In fact, if you bother to look-up exactly how many titles he has featured in, you’d find no less than 128, and counting. And that’s not even taking into consideration his active role in both television and animation.
Word has it that he’s even to play a role in the new Star Trek film; such is his notoriety in the world of nerd.
Now don’t get me wrong: I like the guy, I really do, and he captures a certain style of laissez-faire action-hero in a way that no-one else has since Harrison Ford played Han Solo to perfection – but do we really need to hear him in quite so many titles? Even when you don’t notice him; he’s there. Only last week, whilst ploughing my way through the rather obese Batman Arkham City, I found my subcontious train of thought broken as I stopped and wondered whether or not he had voiced some of the thugs.
A quick Google later and it turns out that he not only did do; he’s the bloody Penguin as well!
Every cutscene thereafter that featured said bird was completely ruined as instead of trying to grasp what litle I could of the game’s convoluted plot, I found myself straining to make out those familiar gruff tones beneath a rather credible mockney accent.
I’m actually quite surprised that old Nolan still presents himself as an affordable package given his level of success and experience but developers clearly feel that it’s a worthwhile investment.
And perhaps that’s where the real problem lay?
In an industry where developers and publishers bemoan repeatedly rising development costs and the risk-reward ratio, ever more do they seem to be obsessed with a) a safe bet and b) a means by which to extract yet more milk from the udder of gaming’s soft underbelly.
Given this context, it’s perhaps no wonder that Nolan North is, in the eyes of the ‘suits’, largely a safe bet indeed. I mean, if you loved him once, you’ll never stop loving him, right!?
Well, I have.
And so, dear Voxelites, Blueprint # 004 is a proposal that may actually keep all stakeholders happy on this tiresome vocal treadmill that we find oursleves bound to: Voiceover DLC.
Picture the scene: you purchase a shiny new game and are invited to sample several different actors playing the lead part before you chose which one you want to have as the soul of your virtual self, rather like an online-pass; a vocal pass, if you will. Then, should you want a different flavour, you can put your money where your virtual mouth is and experience something completely different.
Actors could be paid royalties based on the relative popularity of their performances; jaded gamers such as yours truly could escape the big man’s dulcet tones for more than five minutes; the suits would be happy as pigs in shit; aspiring young actors could get a look-in without putting the old-guard’s noses out and a whole vocal-modding community could be born with amateurs the world over voicing their favourite characters before downloading themselves to their consoles for posterity.
Everyone’s a winner.
It would all be rather reminiscent of the multiple voiceovers featured in Team 17’s classic Worms. In fact that’s an amazing idea: I want to play Uncharted 4 with a ‘Yorkshire Tyke’ voiceover.
And lo, it shall be called Uncharted: Legend of the Golden Whippet.