Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What’s in a Voice?

Voices can tell you a lot about a person. Sometimes people rush through their words, blending them into an incomprehensible mess, leaving the speaker breathless. Other times people stress each syllable, emphasizing the individual sounds in the words to stress a point. Voices can be high pitched, nervous sounding, betraying a sense of unease. Other times, a voice can be deep, effortlessly filling a room, commanding attention. Voices are important, and when a character has such an identifiable voice, it is difficult for the viewer to accept a change. In this case, I talk of Big Boss, from Metal Gear Solid.
A worn looking Big Boss
Back in 1998, with the power of the original PlayStation, game technology was limited, and to get the full motion capture of modern games, such as The Last of Us, was not even a factor in game development. Characters were blocky, with full facial features limited to CGI cut scenes. However, Hideo Kojima, creator of Metal Gear, never chose to add CGI cut scenes in Metal Gear, choosing to stick with in game engine cinematic, not taking the gamer out of the experience. So how were the game creators to provide some character to these blocky avatars? By depending upon the actors providing the voices to flesh out the various personalities involved.

The poster child for the Metal Gear franchise is Solid Snake, the better half of the two leads, with the other being Naked Snake/Big Boss. David Hayter has provided the voice for both Snakes since 1998 over 9 games, with the sole exception being in Guns of the Patriots where an Old Solid Snake (David Hayter) has a conversation with Big Boss (Richard Doyle). However, after 15 years of David Hayter, Hideo Kojima sees fit to drop him in favor of 24 star Kiefer Sutherland. When I first heard this rumor, I found it incredibly amusing. I really enjoyed 24, and a large part of that was because of Kiefer, but I never expected this ‘news’ to become real. However, come June of this year, it became official that Kojima had done the unwanted and dropped David Hayter.
David Hayter
My initial reaction was one of disbelief. How could anyone other than David Hayter play Snake? But then the trailers came out, with one or two lines from Kiefer Sutherland sneaked in. It’s been six months since the announcement and still little can be heard of Snake’s new voice leaving some to question how the VO for Snake is coming along and if Kiefer is any good in the role. But why should this matter for anyone, let alone me? It’s just a game.
Kiefer Sutherland
Well, Metal Gear Solid changed the way I play and view games. Up until then, games were just a fun pastime that consisted of Sonic the Hedgehog and Spyro the Dragon, but there was nothing meaningful in those games. It was essentially save the princess story line, with the princess substituted for either animals, dragons or crystals. But Metal Gear Solid changed everything for me. There were characters that had voices, talking about intricate plot details that mostly went over my head, forcing me to pay attention to the little scraps of information I could understand. The gameplay was intricate, with weapons that felt real (at least real for the time), boss battles were fun (Psycho Mantis anyone), and Solid Snake was so cool. It wasn’t that Snake was beating down the nameless commandos that littered the levels with ease, or that he took on a tank, a Cyborg Ninja and Metal Gear. It was his gravelly voice that made him stand out. It was his voice that gave his featureless face character.

David Hayter brought strength to Snake. There was a sense of ease about the character. He may not have been in control of every situation, but you got the impression that he was not to be trifled with. And when someone had the upper hand on Snake, you knew that the solider was planning some way of overcoming the current obstacle. In Metal Gear Solid, Solid Snake is a solider annoyed by the industrial war complex, tired of being dragged into battle to clean up other people’s messes. In MGS4, Solid Snake has become an old man, tired of continuously fighting, but driven to leave a better world for the next generation. The character had grown, his face had weathered, and his voice betrayed the frailty within. Snake was a dying man; years of war and smoking had done their damage. David Hayter changed his voice entirely to make sure that there would be no doubt that this was Solid Snake, but a Solid Snake at the end of a very long, and arduous journey.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention David Hayter’s excellent work in MGS3, arguably the best game in the series. MGS3 follows the exploits of Big Boss, but before he had earned the title of Big Boss. At the beginning of the game, Big Boss was cocky, knowing he was a good solider, but foolishly believing he is better than most. His voice has a sense of unearned calmness. He’s a man who believes to be in control, but really has no hold over the situation, which falls apart around him very quickly near the beginning of the game. From here, Boss is beaten, battered, betrayed, shot, tortured, humiliated, eventually learning the truth behind his mentor’s actions. By the end of the game, Boss sounds defeated. There is no arrogance about him. He is in a state of immense thought, saving his few words for matters of consequence. This follows through into the next game Peace Walker, which has Boss trying to ascertain the truth of his mentor’s actions, and to decide for himself if they were right. David Hayter did the character and his journey proud, evolving the voice to suit the situation.
Ready for some new Metal Gear!
So now we enter a new era. Kiefer Sutherland takes over one of gaming’s most iconic roles from a man who built it up. Let’s hope he knocks it out of the park. If it’s half as good as Jack Bauer, then we are in store for a hell of a ride. And who’s to say that David Hayter won’t return to voice Solid Snake one day in a future game? Until then, I have the old Metal Gears. I’ll be able to replay through all the excellent games in the series, and MGS2. I’ll be able to listen to forgotten dialogue, and remember information long since trivialized to the far reaches of my brain. I, like always, look forward to Metal Gear, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store this March in this new era of Metal Gear.

No comments:

Post a Comment