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Why Winback 2 Is A Camp Classic


Naughty Dog's orgiastically received The Last of Us can already be called a seminal work in the modern, narrative-driven, third-person action-adventure genre. Of it's many merits, it's arguably the greatest achievement in dramatic, video-game voice acting.

Winback 2: Project Poseidon for the Playstation 2 and Xbox is definitely not that.

I'm Sorry. I didn't mean to upset you Mr. Chiklis.

I'd like to say that it's simply a product of its time and of course can't be compared to something like The Last of Us, but it was released when games like Half-Life 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3 had already earned accolades for their deft story-telling and distinguished voice work. 

Winback 2's performances are bad, but the previous entry's in the series may be even worse. If you have ever had the pleasure of perusing the Audio Atrocities archive of amusing and acrid aural acting, you are probably familiar with Winback. The only likely reason Winback 2 is not featured on the site is that its sonic crimes are less humorous on the surface. The producer of the game, Koei, assigned a brand new director for the sequel who used a completely new cast. I like to think the meeting that led to this decision was similar to the one in The Simpsons episode wherein a group of Hollywood mucky-mucks brainstorm about a Radioactive Man film:

Koei Executive 1: I don't see why we need to change the cast. The die-hard Winback fans will insist we stick with the original voice-actors.

Koei Executive 2: I keep telling you, they all left the industry in shame after the dismal reception the game received. 

Koei Executive 1: Maybe so -

Koei Executive 3: Besides, we want to avoid the camp of the original version.

Koei Executive 2: So who can we get to direct this thing? We need someone with a rudimentary grasp of the English language and a passable understanding of
audio engineering.

Koei Executive 3: Let's get Agile sound [the actual company responsible for Winback 2's English dub]. I'll bet they're quick, resourceful, and adaptable.

Koei Executive 2: Not only that but they have actors who really know how to annunciate!

It really does seem that the major concern for the sequel was to simply make the audio clean sounding as well as to get the voice-actors to pronounce the words properly. At one point in the supplemental video Andrew Grant, the Voice Director, instructs, "That's the way to do it sir. Let's just slow the whole thing down and you'll be spot on." 

Do you trust that grin?

The implication seems to be that perfecting the line simply requires reading it at a more deliberate pace. Mark Skoda, who plays Jack Walcott, ruses that, "It's funny how life plays into how you project your voice." 

Mark Skoda - voice projection enthusiast

It is not. No amount of life experience will help an actor "project" his way to an affecting performance; Laurence Olivier's soliloquy in Richard III is evidence of this. The overall effect is that all the game's characters have a strange tone to their readings that make them seem less like the members of S.C.A.T. they are supposed to be, (yes, the elite paramilitary force the player controls is named after animal feces) and more like the pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers using their meat husks to conceal their alien origins

The Room director, Tommy Wiseau, is someone who has been hypothesized to be an alien himself, due both to his inscrutable accent and his ability to coax such odd performances from his human actors. Though Grant does not have an exotic accent, he does cajole his actors into delivering similarly not-quite-accurate renditions of human speech and activity. Another trait the two share is a perplexing sense of pride. Like the auteur filmmaker who has been known to appear at festival and midnight screenings as well as grant interviews promoting his work (he even appeared on Podtoid!), Grant pimps his cast, crew and self in a documentary short subject accessible through the Playstation 2 game disc's main menu. 

Winback 2's "Voice Diary" menu option

It does not need to be played to completion for the short film to unlock; it simply needs to successfully boot up to allow the player to access it. Behind-the-scenes bonuses of this variety existed in game packages prior to Winback 2's release, but this sort of up front proclamation was and continues to be an anomaly.

Who can say just why the producers of the game were so proud of the work they did for the English voices, but its critical and commercial bombing didn't prevent Grant from working within the industry. A cursory listen to the spoken dialog in his most recent work, the 2011 PC adventure game Black Mirror III, reveals some laughably inconsistent and clearly Canadian in origin attempts at European accents. Canada is a step up from Mars at least. 

Mars needs moms and S.C.A.T. members.

Video game voice directors like Grant fill an invaluable role in an industry increasingly obsessed with being taken seriously as an art-form capable of stories on par with those found in film and television. Without them, a sense of self-importance among highfalutin game players and designers may never go checked. They contribute to the pantheon of interactive high camp and I salute Andrew Grant as its latest inductee.
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About Bowser Pressone of us since 5:06 PM on 08.17.2013

My name is Matt McNeely and I operate the Bowser Press blog. My aim is to create a voice for and give a voice to the out-of-the-way, weird, obscure, and otherwise marginal fringes of the video game community. My blog specializes in interviews with homebrew and indie game developers as well as niche game fans and articles on specific and interesting topics within games.