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Something about sex: Videogame items that sound inadvertently sexual


Mar 25
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's Note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware that it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or...
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The hidden truth behind game reviews


Mar 19
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's Note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware that it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole,...

The convergent futures of music games and higher education

Mar 02 // Andrew Kauz
So, what is the NYU Music Video Games Research Project? "The NYU-MVGRP," Howard-Spink says, "was started as a way of getting the word out around the university and further afield that the convergence of music and gaming deserves closer attention. I began working in NYU’s Music Business Program in 2007, and came in excited about the opportunities gaming and mobile apps offer music creators and publishers. There are a handful of gaming related initiatives around NYU dealing with interactive design and esthetics, or gaming and learning, but nothing dedicated to the convergence of musical and gaming cultures and businesses." "Once I started, it I began to get attention from a variety of places, mainly professors whose students are asking for more classes dealing with these emerging opportunities. In the past semester a group of undergrads has formed the NYU Game Audio and Music Association (NGAMA) and they are now driving student activities. My own department, Music and Performance Arts Professions in the Steinhardt School, is developing game-related courses in its music business, music technology, and film composition programs. It’s very early days but my great hope is for our graduates to be leaders the field." I'm sure you're all thinking about clicking that "new tab" button and sending in an application to NYU, but stick with me here. I asked Professor Howard-Spink what, exactly, these groups hope to find, both in terms of the oft-discussed monetary side, and also in terms of the cultural importance of these plastic-instrument games. "It is rapidly becoming the case that there aren’t really pure music “consumers” anymore, in the way that we were at some point all consumers of pieces of plastic embedded with a recording, or as radio listeners where we consumed music in exchange for our attention to be sold to advertisers. People who value music in 2010 are “users” much more than they are consumers. In fact a recent survey shows that American kids spend 7.5 hours a day multitasking with media, most of which integrates music of some kind." "So I don’t see games as having the power to completely change music purchasing, rather they will expand economic opportunities for music creators and fans in ways we’re just beginning to understand. Games are already expanding the variety of music people are exposed to and are therefore likely to want to purchase and own, as well as the places and circumstances under which this mutual reinforcement takes place." When a JRPG leads me to purchase hours upon hours of Romantic piano, it's hard to argue with Professor Howard-Spink on this point. Indeed, I know that I have personally expanded the types of music that I listen to based solely on games that have music in them: not only music games. But if consumers are being introduced to so much new music, why are CD sales still down? "On the supply side, games and interactive media in general are definitely increasing the opportunities for music creators to make their livings licensing works to developers. Everyone knows CD sales are down from their historic peak around 2000, but what is often forgotten is that music publishing revenues and distributions to composers and songwriters are up everywhere because of all the new ways music is used and paid for in new media. Music is more important and enjoyed by more people than ever before, but the CD is not, and they’re not the same thing. The recording business will always stick around, it will just be less dominant vis-à-vis other music economies." I also wanted to know about this idea of the cultural importance of music games. Just how closely tied are games and culture, and how does music fit into all of this? "Videogames and music have always had a close relationship, in much the same way cinema and music have. In both of these entertainment forms the visual elements tend to overwhelm the musical, but as a game like Guitar Hero shows, this is not always a given. Original scores and compositions for major games are decent sellers in their own right, and performances such as Video Games Live are driving teenage boys to sell out orchestral concerts. Games that base their play mechanics on music per se are more rare, but anyone who has played PaRappa the Rapper or Rez understands the attraction. I think Chime is a beautiful example of this, and at the same time it’s pioneering socially conscious gaming." "As for licensed soundtracks, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City broke the mold on integrating popular music into the gaming experience, along with the big sports and x-games sims. The “rhythm-action” genre represented by Guitar Hero and Rock Band has been as culturally significant as they have been commercial successes: Guitar Hero 3 was the first game to generate $1b in sales revenues, and in my humble opinion the genre itself has helped to save rock’n’roll from being fully Nickelbacked or Maroon 5-ed into a coma. The games have certainly increased the number of young people interested in pursuing musical activities in many ways; just ask any guitar instructor or owner of a musical instrument store. And when South Park bases an entire episode on Guitar Hero, it’s clear we are dealing with a genuine pop culture phenomenon. When it comes to the cultural significance of music games, I was also interested in getting an educator's opinion on the use of music games in education, both in terms of getting students interested in learning an instrument, and the possibility that music games can lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of music history. "While there are now many studies showing links between gaming and learning -- for kids and adults -- to date there have not been many rigorous examinations of their relationship to music education, although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of their mutual reinforcement. Remember that musical training isn’t solely about scales and correct finger placement; rhythm, song structure, key changes, lyrics, genre styles, etc. are all elements of a musical education, and playing along with songs on Rock Band absolutely aids in the development of the awareness of these elements." "Of course, this just happens to be what we have at our disposal today. If you look at the YouRock Guitar, which has strings and is also designed for play with Guitar Hero and Rock Band, you can see the outline of a possible future for music gaming that places greater emphasis on musicianship." There was plenty to ask about DJ Hero, as well. Now that we've passed over into 2010, it's hard to get a straight answer about just how well the game did. Activision says that it was the highest-grossing new IP in 2010, yet others suggest that it didn't sell very well. So, what's the deal? "DJ Hero is a fascinating case study, and a genuinely innovative game. It was framed as a “failure” when it didn’t meet Guitar Hero-level sales in its first couple of months on the market, which just goes to show how narrowly success is defined by industry “analysts.” Consider this: in January Activision put out a press release saying that DJ Hero was “the highest grossing new IP (intellectual property) in 2009 in the US and Europe.” The release didn’t provide a hard number, so there are a couple of ways to look at this. Either DJ Hero has been much more successful than was suggested by its early sales figures, or so little new IP is produced these days (compared to the recycling of pre-existing IPs) that a relative low-seller like DJ Hero can claim that title." "Other factors to consider are that every kid in every part of America knows how to swing a guitar around rock-star style, but DJ-ing and turntablism are strictly speaking urban forms that have less universal appeal. Plus of course the game was released into a truly awful economic and consumer spending environment with a high price tag. I’m encouraged that Activision has already announced DJ Hero 2 for this year." I think we can all agree, at the very least, the DJ Hero is a breath of fresh air in a sector of the industry that is, at this point, largely doing the same thing over and over again. One could argue that consumers agree, as sales of The Beatles: Rock Band weren't particularly amazing. Professor Howard-Spink had some thoughts about the potential stagnancy of music games. "The genre has lost its early “wow” factor, but I see many reasons to be optimistic. The fact that $60 GH expansion packs are not selling as well as the original titles does not mean the music game is dead, it means the players of these games are making more careful decisions about what they buy." "And they are buying, especially DLC tracks, packs and albums, some 60m to Rock Band alone according to Harmonix. They don’t all need brand new plastic instruments to play now, so of course overall revenues from the games are going to be down. I think there may be some legs in band-specific releases depending on the acts. For example, if Jimmy Page ever comes around on this issue, I’m pretty sure a Led Zepellin Guitar Hero would blow away The Beatles: Rock Band in terms of sales." "The true innovation in the music game space is Harmonix’s Rock Band Network. In fact, Rock Band in general has pursued a much more sustainable “platform” model than Activision’s major releases every few months. Activision has acknowledged that it saturated the market in 2009 with six separate GH-branded releases, and in 2010 is restricting itself to Guitar Hero 6 and DJ Hero 2. Writing off music games at this point is not dissimilar to the “set-‘em-up and knock-‘em-down” mentality characteristic of the pop music world." Ah, yes, Rock Band Network. Professional song-creation tools for bands and artists, a new way to distribute for smaller acts, and the potential for limitless expansion of the Rock Band platform. As a concept, it sounds amazing. But will it work? "The democratization of access to Rock Band’s distribution platform is highly significant, much more so than the lower sales of new Guitar Hero full-game releases. I’m not convinced that Rock Band Network will be a raging success out of the gate, but over time I expect it to become a very important sales and promotion outlet for indie musicians and bands." "At Midem in January, a Harmonix exec told label heads that it was a “no-brainer” to release a DLC version of any new album they’re putting out to capture that group of eager fans. Networked information economic models undermine the rationale for all-or-nothing hit-seeking and million-sellers, and expand opportunities for new entrants. This is a huge opportunity for indie labels and acts and will live or die according to their enthusiasm, whereas the major labels (with the notable exception of Warner Music Group) prefer the hit-based Activision model and hence we get Guitar Hero: Green Day." "It’s good for every stakeholder in this field that there is some healthy competition between the two formats that goes beyond dueling tracklists." Personally, my main concern with the growth of peripheral-based rhythm games is that we'll begin to see fewer and fewer non-peripheral music games, such as Amplitude, PaRappa the Rapper, and even games like Audiosurf. Even the PSP release Rock Band: Unplugged arrived to little fanfare. Is there still room for such games in an industry so focused on high-profile, peripheral-based releases? "Certainly," Professor Howard-Spink says in response to this question. "With the ways that gaming is growing, especially in mobile applications, I’m pretty sure that we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of the ways that music and games are going to hybridize. Word is that it’s the gaming and music businesses [that are] most bullish on the iPad." "Besides, innovation without the addition of new peripherals within existing games is still possible. You can see this is the ways that Harmonix and Activision have added new functionalities to their existing hardware, for example the inclusion of extra notes during a long sustain, or the open E string on the bass. The Beatles game took one controller and managed to turn it into three-part harmonies – that’s an amazing innovation that doesn’t hugely expand the number or type of peripherals needed." Then there's a whole separate sector of music that deserves attention: the fantastic compositions featured in games, both modern and retro. How many readers of this site, for instance, have game music loaded onto their iPods? How many videogame composers appear in the top ten of our Last.fm pages? Professor Howard-Spink discussed this with me as well. "As a researcher and teacher in this area, I find it useful to break down music and gaming into four (sometimes overlapping) categories: the original soundtrack, the licensed soundtrack, rhythm-action, and emergent or generative (in which the actions of the player determine the music generated, as in Rez, Lumines or Chime). As far as orchestral OSTs go my recent favorites have included Dead Space, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Assassin’s Creed 2 and BioShock, which has what I consider to be the best sound design and musical integration of any game in the past five years." "Licensed soundtracks I’ve enjoyed include GTA4 – 18 radio stations and 200 hours of material is simply amazing – and the Rockabilly tracks from WET. BioShock 2’s licensed soundtrack does an amazing job of using songs from the 1930s and ‘40s to creep the hell out of me. And I bought a London Symphony Orchestra recording of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy after playing nothing but Peggle for two weeks straight last year." Then, just to throw some fuel on a fire that still rages, I had to ask: Rock Band or Guitar Hero? "As a gamer, I prefer Guitar Hero because it’s geared more towards high-speed shredding and employs all the little reward mechanisms that keep a gamer coming back: incremental improvements in scores, note streaks and percentage breakdowns, for example. I prefer the hardware too, the smaller buttons allow for more speed than the fatter ones on Rock Band, plus I like the click in the strum bar. Rock Band is the better product from a musical and social gaming perspective." This seems to disagree with a lot of people recently, who have come to loathe both Activision and the Guitar Hero franchise, especially after the recent closure of Red Octane, the publisher of the original Guitar Hero. "It’s a little too easy to frame Activision as the corporate baddie and Harmonix as the scrappy indie that could once you remember that it’s owned by Viacom. Last year I think I played Guitar Hero: Metallica more than any other game -- I’d never even liked Metallica until I played it (Lars and Napster, long story), and the tracks from supporting acts are outstanding -- and now I listen to and buy a lot more thrash and death metal than I did a couple of years ago." And will there be an eventual winner in this war? "If I had to make a bet, I think that in the medium to long term the Rock Band platform will win out over Activision’s half-dozen disc releases a year." If all of this talk about games, music, and learnin' has you interested, you can learn more about NYU's games-related offerings at the NYU Game Center and the NYU Music Video Games Research Project blog.
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You know what makes a lot of money? Music games. Even in 2009, a year in which music games saw a 46% drop in sales from 2008, DJ Hero became the highest-grossing new IP across all genres. It's a game that was being called a f...

A powerful ally for narrative: The audio of Bad Company 2

Feb 24 // Andrew Kauz
To start off our e-mail conversation, Stefan gave me some thoughts on the overall goal of videogame audio. "I believe what makes truly excellent sound design is the ability to conform the sound-scape to transport you into the world you are creating." Today, the technology behind the audio, combined with the demands of complex narrative-driven games, require a much different, much more multi-faceted approach. "We’ve come to expect more from sound design these days. The lowest bar has been raised, and sound can be an extremely powerful ally for narrative." This isn't a simple process, of course, especially in games that don't always follow a highly scripted progression. Stefan points out those two separate disciplines of sound design have to be considered: storytelling through audio and the creation of audio worlds. "Storytelling by great sound design is one thing that I have so much respect for," he says, "but I would still consider creating believable audio worlds paramount." One can imagine how important these audio worlds are in a multiplayer component, where narrative cannot be relied upon to direct the audio. Of course, there are plenty of games that have believable audio, but just don't sound as good as Bad Company 2. So, what's the difference? "I believe the results are based on a combination of two things," Stefan says. "First, we listen." Simply listening may sound like a simple step, but in terms of fine-tuning a set of sounds and the subtle differences between them, this step is vital. "We don’t assume anything when we create sounds for our game. It is so easy to break immersion, so we work hard to counteract repetition, because a game by nature is repetition. So a lot of sounds do have factors of dynamically generated manipulation applied to them." The fruits of this effort are apparent; five minutes with the game will make the differences in sounds obvious, such as the drastically different sound of explosions nearby and at a distance. It's a far cry from just lowering the volume of an effect. "Secondly, we strive to make war sound like war even if you play our game at lower volumes. That is a factor that I truly believe is key." I have to agree; far too many games sound poor at low volumes, losing not only fidelity but also the audio immersion that is created by a really loud, powerful setup. "A lot of games do sound good when played back in a studio or bigger home cinema playing at louder levels. So does our game. But, what about playing war at comfortable levels? That’s where I think we shine. Our game sounds loud and dangerous in a TV." Even with one ear covered by a headset and volume at a lower level, you'll never feel like the audio has lost its power. The audio team for Bad Company 2 also spends plenty of time on the less apparent aspects of audio design. David has plenty to say about the use of ambiances in the game. "The ambiances we have in Bad Company 2 do much more than just provide background noise for the other noises to sit in." According to David, this is especially apparent in the single-player campaign. "[We put] a type of narrative in the ambiance for each level. They are made to provoke a feeling that resonates with the current stage in the single-player narrative. It works probably mostly subconsciously; by putting extra effort and thought into the design, there is a lot to gain." Many players might have stumbled upon another minor addition to Bad Company 2 in the demo: the "War Tapes" audio setting. According to David, this was an addition intended to provide the player with a way to get right down onto the battlefield. In my experience with the demo, sounds become instantly more powerful, giving the game a huge, epic feeling. "We pushed the sound-scape to become really close and upfront," David says. "Perhaps not the choice for the puritan audiophile, but for all out action it gives a sense of presence that is hard to match." It's also not the setting you want to use if you have old people or skittish cops as neighbors. Just saying. As you can understand, none of this is easy. Even some of the seemingly simpler tasks, like keeping the levels of different audio assets in check, require a ton of attention. "It’s a combination of tech systems such as the HDR mixing system [a much touted element of DICE's Frostbite engine that you can learn more about here] and just good old hard work," David says about the work required to ensure that the player can hear what he or she is supposed to hear. "We also work lots with the actual sound of the voices, doing filtering and equalizing [so] a character can cut through [the other sounds] without being too harsh." Turning their attention to the specifics of the team's process, David reveals just how tied the audio is to the rest of the game design process, including ensuring that the game itself is good. "Since a lot of the time it’s ‘the game’ that plays the audio, to have great sounding audio you need a game that plays well. It’s about pacing, balancing, AI, the list goes on." All of these are included in the many, many tasks that an audio team must keep its attention focused on. After all, how many times do we notice stellar audio in a bad game? It works the other way around, as well. "The sound you hear is very much a team effort, and I don’t only mean an audio-team effort, but a game-team effort," David explains. The team must decide exactly how the audio will be implemented, and how it will complement the other game elements. And there are plenty of important decisions that need to be made before this can happen. One such decision relates to how the sound complements what appears on screen. "First it’s a decision about what is important to hear, and [the game must] play those sounds," David says. "Then, secondly, [it must] play all the expected sound to cover the basic things happening on screen." "I think it’s important to take control of the audio and not let the game do the audio direction by just playing what happens to be triggered by the game engine. Then of course the other side of that is to influence the gameplay to play out in audio-friendly way. A lot of the time pushing the gameplay towards a better sounding place also makes the game play better, because somehow there then has to be a natural pacing and flow in what happens." It's easy to forget that all of these sounds that go into a game have to come from somewhere. The foley work, or the process of creating sounds for use in the game, is especially impressive in Bad Company 2. Sounds are gathered in a variety of ways; metal sheets can be hit with hammers to create a shotgun sound, for instance. To me, foley has always seemed incredibly fun. I didn't know the half of it, apparently. For Bad Company 2, EA flew a group of development studios out for three days of foley ecstasy. "Last year we did a large recording session in LA as a joint venture between DICE and three other EA studios," David explains. "We spent three days up in the mountains north of LA and got a huge amount of great assets. The LA recording was quite a big operation; we planned it a long time in advance. EALA organized all the logistics. The list of weapons fired was extensive to cover the needs from several projects. And the number of microphones was equally impressive." Now there's a job I wouldn't mind having. Still, even the foley process has many approaches. "I would consider us very naturalistic in our approach towards foley and guns." Stefan explains. "We are not trying to construct sounds as much as picking the right source to build the family of sounds that we want to have." Beyond that, there are plenty of considerations apart from choosing the right source. "Sometimes picking the right microphone can do all the difference." "I think that the magic happens later in the process," David says. "The source assets are the ore or the gold nuggets. Then there needs to be many stages of refinement before we have our hopefully brightly shining and sparkling audio coming out of your speakers." Something that I just had to ask the pair about was the choice to include such unique music selections in the original Bad Company. In any given online battle, you might hear a Humvee careening through the countryside blasting surf rock, only to be blown to bits seconds later by a player's explosive charge. The single-player was designed similarly, with a huge variety of music types heard throughout the campaign. I asked what was behind this decision. "We didn’t take the obvious route with the music," Stefan replied, "and that’s partly what made it memorable. I think the game really needed something to counteract the brutal violence on screen, something that didn’t just add to the mayhem. I didn’t want to aestheticise violence by music." "Instead, it became a very powerful ally to build another world that was just slightly off axis from the real world." So, should we expect more of the same from Bad Company 2? Perhaps not. "Bad Company 2 is still that universe, but there’s more at stake this time, and the sense of adventure is bigger. The soundtrack is used sparsely and it contains both minimalistic and bombastic sections." Indeed, Bad Company 2 appears to be a very different game in terms of its tone, largely leaving behind some of the whimsicality and humor of the original in favor of a larger scale and more war-like tone. Players will get to see if the overall experience matches up (or perhaps surpasses) the original when Bad Company 2 releases in North America on March 2nd.
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The multiplayer demo for DICE's upcoming war FPS, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, has been out for a while now, and as the release date approaches, people are eating up the one-map demo and finding themselves consumed despite the...

Mass Effect, Metal Gear, Moon Unit, and more: An interview with Jennifer Hale

Jan 20 // Andrew Kauz
[embed]161049:26710[/embed] [embed]161049:26711[/embed] Andrew Kauz: This is Andrew Kauz for the Destructoid community, and I'm talking here with Jennifer Hale. Thank you very very much for agreeing to chat with me. Jennifer Hale: My pleasure. Kauz: I want to start of by talking a little bit about videogame voice acting in general. You've done a lot of it; you must have done something like fifty games by now, maybe more. Hale: It's actually quite a few more, and I don't know how many. I've lost count, but, yeah, I feel really lucky. Kauz: Yeah, it's a lot, and it's a lot of really good stuff too. But I just wanted to ask you, how have you seen voice acting change in that time, especially in terms of what's asked of you and the quality of the final product that comes out of it? Hale: I've seen two things change. I've seen the depth of the actors' involvement in the game grow, which has been great. Because technology has advanced and people are realizing what we can bring to a game, there's a lot more room for us in the game--a lot more for us to do. And the second thing is perhaps my favorite thing, which is it's becoming more and more and more realistic each year. They're letting us just be in the game. It's very cinematic...it's getting more and more cinematic, which is awesome. Kauz: I was going to ask you as a followup to that about the freedom that you're given as an actress to simply act. Is that what you're hinting at? Hale: Yeah, that's getting to be more and more the case. I think as the visuals get stronger, and the subtlety starts to come into the visuals and the nuance can be communicated by what you see, then what you hear can be allowed to be more and more authentic. We don't have to push a little bit to get it across because it's coming across in the visuals so well. We can just really be honest in whatever moment we're in. Kauz: Yeah, I'm really interested in that idea of nuance in both voice acting and in the way that the characters are depicted on the screen. What's an example of a great moment of nuance that you've experienced lately? Hale: Wow, let me think for a second. An example of how that has really come into play recently...well, for example, in Mass Effect 2, there are some scenes now, with the exception of me walking into a bar and trying to track somebody down when you've got a bar full of bar noise and everything else going on, in just the one-on-one stuff you can really just be in that moment, with that person, and say what you have to say the way that you would really want to say it instead of having to push it a little because you really had to push past some awkward visuals just because the technology wasn't there yet. Now, you can really just let it rip, and it has been that way through a lot of the game. Some of the evidence for that are some of the people we have working on Mass Effect 2. We have Carrie-Anne Moss: she's a film actress, primarily. She's very cinematic, obviously, that's her genre, that's her deal. We have Tricia Helfer, and the whole style of Battlestar [Galactica], and Michael Hogan, both of them very very close to the hip. Michael Hogan a little bit less so because [Hogan's Battlestar Galactica character] Tigh was such a great, intense character, but Tricia Helfer from the Sixes is very very subtle, and it works perfectly in the game because we've been allowed to be so much more truthful. Martin Sheen, Claudia Black, and all those guys are just able to slide right in now because the style has evolved to that point. The two worlds are meeting, which is great. Kauz: I'd like to talk a bit about Mass Effect for a moment, and specifically what the overall approach was in crafting Commander Shepard, both in the first game and leading into the second, and how you and Bioware went about crafting the character especially when there's, of course, the male counterpart in the mix as well. Hale: Well, as is still the case a lot, sometimes the female leaders get overlooked. Kauz: Sadly. Hale: Yeah. Fortunately that's changing, and I put a plea out there to everybody listening, please let Bioware and everybody else know that you like it when we have-- Kauz: And I support this plea. Hale: Yeah, and you want to see more of female Shepard as well. I mean, no skin off Mark's nose, he does a great job. But, hello! The approach really, as in any game, it really begins with the geniuses who come up with the ideas and the writers who spend all those hours just working out storyline after storyline, and crafting those storylines so that they develop character, and without them, we don't exist, and we've got nothing to do, and ya'll have got nothing to play. It really begins there and goes from there. The producer locks onto their vision, and oversees the whole thing, and then it goes into the director's hands. We had two great directors on Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. I mean, there's was such a volume that it took two of them to get Mass Effect 2 done, especially. Ginny McSwain and Chris Borders...they would come in with the vision given to them by Bioware and describe to me what the environment was, because the environment is so key in any game because every world is different, and should be. As an actor it's our responsibility to key into "What is that world?" and "How do I live in that world?" and "How do I get done what I have to get done?" and "Where do I come from?" Fortunately, all of that was made really clear. Shepard's not just an ass-kicking commander, she's a person with a history and an agenda, and stuff to do, and stuff she hates to do that she has to do, and stuff that she likes to do that she has to do, and a demeanor that she has to carry herself in all the time to be a commander, to be the first human Spectre, to really fill those shoes right. And then there are little moments where it falls apart, and how does she put it back together? And then in Mass Effect 2, just the way that whole thing starts is crazy, the whole history of Shepard, that thing is just wild. Kauz: Leading into Mass Effect 2, what can players expect from Shepard this time around? We know some of the story so far: the basic idea is that Shepard is on this suicide mission. So how do you see Shepard as a character as having changed since the first game, and how much did you try to change your performance to fit that? Hale: She has seen a lot more, if that was even possible. She absolutely has. She has been through a hell of a lot more. But the thing that hasn't changed is that she's keeping her eye on the ball. She knows what she has to do; She lives for her mission, and she will get it done, no matter what. That is the same. The circumstances that she finds herself in are very different. There is an element in this story that she's having to deal with that she does not like at all. But it's sort of a necessary evil. So how she manages that has been something to constantly address. And Martin Sheen plays a role in that. And that's all I'm going to tell you! [Note: At this point I tried unsuccessfully to tear more information from her. No dice! I edited my pleas and groveling out. Because, honestly, who wants to hear that?] Kauz: You've managed quite an impressive set of a lot of different performances. We've got Commander Shepard, of course. We've got Bastila, we've got the characters that you've done from the Tales series, we've got Jennifer Mui from Mercenaries 2. I mean, it's an unbelievable list, and then we can bring in all of your cartoon work and television work. But the thing that has always impressed me is that there's always something different about every single character that you play. Sometimes it's something really subtle, sometimes it's incredibly drastic. What do you do to achieve this massive range of characterizations? Hale: Thank you. Kauz: You're welcome! Hale: It's nice that that has gotten across. It's specificity. It's all about specificity. If you're general in your approach to playing characters, and you're playing "a commander," frankly that's uninteresting. I think you're cheating [the people] who play the games or the audiences who watch or listen. I think it's lame. I don't think it's doing your job. I think you have to be incredibly specific about who this person is, why they say what they say, why they say it how they say it, and what they want. When you get into those specifics, the writing will take care of you. It's also really fun to stretch and expand. When I started, god, eighteen years ago, I had three characters I could play. I could play me at whatever age I was, I could play me ten years younger, and I could play a valley girl. And that was all I knew how to do. Kauz: I have to hear your valley girl. Valley-girl Hale: Oh my god! No, really? You're kidding! Regular Hale: The hilarious thing was that it was based on this old song I heard. One of the Frank Zappa songs, Valley Girl. And in it, his daughter Moon Zappa did the valley girl. And years later, I ended up in acting class out here in LA with Moon. And it took me a year or two to tell her. I was like, "You started my whole career!" She was the only character I could do. She just thought that was hilarious. She was a really nice person. So that was a funny little circular thing. The thing that has helped me the most are my peers. I remember when I got my first animation job, it was a cartoon series. And I was scared to death because when you do a series, you're a regular character, but they also hand you an incidental role or two or more every week to do. You know: Woman of a Corner, Little Boy Running from the Truck, Mouse, Insect, or whatever it is. You had better figure out how to do it, because you're getting paid, and you're in there, and you're a professional who's expected to be good. Man, I jumped into class immediately, a couple of different classes taught by a couple of really great animation directors and actors, and the other thing I did is just sit in those rooms with people like Frank Welker and Dee Baker...gosh, everybody...and just soaked it up. as much as I could, just watching and learning how they did it. And that was the greatest thing ever. I mean, I worked with Rob Paulsen, Jeff Bennett: some of the most talented people on the planet. It's heaven. Kauz: Yeah, I'd really like to ask about the idea of working with others. I imagine that in a lot of cases your voice acting turns into kind of a solitary experience once it comes time to record. One of the biggest games from last year was Uncharted 2, which was this really cinematic, highly narrative-driven experience, and what they did was they had all of the actors come in well before everything got off to a full start, and they had them do full theatrical-style acting with plenty of improvisation, physical acting, and they recorded all of the motion capture and everything. Have you ever had the chance to do something like this, and if you haven't, would you be interested in doing that? Hale: It's one of my favorite things. I did a project for EA that ultimately didn't get off the ground, but it was with a phenomenal crew: Bobby Coddington and a bunch of people over there. [NOTE: this may be the canceled EA project Tiberium] And we did what I guess is the equivalent of a pilot presentation for a TV show. We spent a few days up in Vancouver in the suits with the mocap stuff on. It was one of my favorite jobs that I've ever done because you really get to be there. It was just awesome. I actually made a great friendship out of it with a wonderful actress named Cara Pifko. She and I got to butt heads, and it was so much fun. So, yes, I've had that experience, and I'm regularly volunteering myself for "suit duty" as I call it: for getting in the mocap suit and jumping in and doing that. I would love nothing more. Absolutely love it. I mean, I also rock climb, and I'm really physically active, so I would love to do the stunts. In fact, I got in trouble on that shoot [with EA] for climbing the scaffolding. I'm like "Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!" Cara and I were together, and we both got in trouble. But I love that stuff, I absolutely love it. Claudia Black [Chloe from Uncharted 2] and I--it was down to us and maybe a one or two other people for one of the Drake jobs--I can't remember the name of the game. Kauz: Was that for Uncharted 2 as well? Hale: Yes, that was for Uncharted 2. Kauz: So you had tried out for that game? Hale: I did! Kauz: Awesome! Hale: Ironically, when I read that character, Claudia was exactly who I thought of, and it turns out that's who they cast, which was, frankly, brilliant. But I was bummed because I do love the game, and I adore the director. And Nolan North, who is the lead in that game, is fantastic. We worked together on Wolverine and the X-Men. It was just--I love suit duty. I was bummed to not be able to do that, but Claudia's so phenomenal. I mean, big-fat thumbs-up to her, because she's awesome. But yeah, I love working in the suit. Love it, love it, love it. I did have the good fortune on Metal Gear [Solid] 4. We were brought in together. Dave [Hayter] and I worked together a lot; we had known each other for a long time...over ten years. So, it was fun working together on that. And Christopher [Randolph] and a couple of other groups of us got to work together on that in the same room at the same time, which was awesome. Kauz: Yeah, I saw another interview that you did--a video interview--where you guys were all in the room together. You guys seem like you have a really great connection, and I think that comes out in Metal Gear Solid 4 as well. You all just work well together. Hale: Dave and I actually met...I think it was like '96 or something. He was the Captain America in Spiderman and we just became buds, and we've been buds ever since. He's great: great guy, super talented, obviously, but also just a really fun guy. Kauz: What do you think that game developers at this point in voice acting could do to make the experience better for you? Hale: As an actor? Kauz: Yeah, just in terms of allowing you to put out the best work that you can possibly put out. Hale: Put me in a suit! Let me be the visual as well. You can change any parts you need to. You can put any face on it you want to, but let me be the body and the voice. That would be the only thing I would ask for. Kauz: And that really is, at this point, pretty rare still, right? Hale: Yes. In my experience it is extremely rare. Kauz: All right, now, of course, I have to ask the tough question. Hale: Oh no. Kauz: Is there anything really exciting right now that you're working on that we should know about? Hale: Oh, there's some great stuff that I'm working on! And if I told you I'd have to kill you. Kauz: Any very very subtle hints that definitely couldn't get you in trouble? Hale: No. Actually, there's an iron curtain there and never ever will get behind it. I do not ever--I will not do that to those people. But there's some great stuff. Kauz: So, some really exciting stuff? Hale: It's exciting, and it's been an exciting year, with Mass Effect [2] and Brutal Legend and everything that's been going on. It's awesome. It's really awesome. Kauz: I did not know that you did Ophelia [from Brutal Legend]. Hale: Oh really? Kauz: Had no idea until I looked it up. Hale: Fantastic! Kauz: And that just goes to show how varied your performances are. Hale: Thank you. Well, there's also a business element to it too. You want to keep working, you had better come up with something different to sell. Ultimately, it's a business, and you had better have a good business head about it, or you're going down. Kauz: Thank you again for agreeing to chat with me. Hale: My pleasure. Thank you, and a big thank you to everybody out there who's playing and listening. I promise to keep doing my absolute best for you. So, that's that! Another huge thanks has to go out to Jennifer. It's extremely evident that she cares a whole lot about her work and her audience. Otherwise, would she have done this? I rest my case.
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Ever played a videogame with a female character? Chances are, then, that you've heard the voice of Jennifer Hale. Ophelia from Brutal Legend. Naomi from Metal Gear Solid. Jennifer Mui from Mercenaries. Bastila from Star Wars:...

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