We recently managed to wangle an interview with Mike Patton, the voice behind the Common Infected in Left 4 Dead, The Darkness in the game of the same name, and the eponymous hero in Bionic Commando. Oh, and I heard he did the Anger Sphere of GLaDOS. He’s also one of the driving forces behind Faith no More, Mr. Bungle and more recently Fantomas. After hearing about the voice acting process from some of the boys at Valve, we wanted to find out a bit more about the process. Being one of the few voice actors who we knew by their real names rather than the characters they played, Mike Patton was an easy choice to ask about it. Carry on down to have a gander at what he had to say.
The Reticule: While I’m sure this differs from developer to developer, can you give us a quick run through of how voice acting in games works?
Mike Patton: For me, I like to get a script a week or so before the work day. I like to look it over for a couple days then have a discussion on the phone with one of the creative principals to get a sense of exactly what they are looking for and the overall vibe of the game. A lot of people want you to see footage or pictures of the character(s). Sometimes that can work against you. You might try to fit the voice to the looks of the character instead the personality of the character. Things do go a lot quicker and smoother if you do some advance work. Then you show up rested with a jug of coffee and red bulls and let yourself go til they say stop.
TR: As far as direction goes, are you usually given free reign, or is how you say something seen to be just as important as what you’re saying?
MP: I like to get direction. It is not my game, so I have respect for the people that designed it and are paying me. Yes, inflections can be very important, especially when you are just grunting or howling.
TR: This is a bit of an antagonistic question, but do you see the role of voice actors becoming more or less important to games as they move closer to realism?
MP: That is not antagonistic at all. I think it will continue to be a mixed bag. No different than movies. Some games the voice acting is an afterthought. As a matter of fact I think most games it is. It does seem though, with more realistic visuals you need to match it with more realistic voice acting, but a game like Animal Crossing or some of the really obscure, offbeat games, like Patapon, you don’t even need voice acting. In the end though, I don’t think tons of people that play Halo care about the voice acting whereas with Grand Theft it does play a big part. But both games work.
TR: Looking at the games you’ve been in, (The Darkness, Portal, Left 4 Dead), the standard of voice acting has (mostly) been astonishingly high compared to others in the field. Of course that’s in no small part down to yourself, but do you vet the games you work with? And if so, what’s your criteria?
MP: You want the honest answer? It depends on how busy I am and how much money they offer. As a gamer I can kind of tell if the game would be something I would play, however if they offer a ton of money, I’d leave my tastes at the door. On the other side, I have been offered some pretty cool things I have had to turn down due to scheduling conflicts.
TR: So far you’ve been cast as a bit of a ‘Monster Guy’ as far as games go, due to your incredible vocal versatility. Of course, with the upcoming Bionic Commando, you’re taking on a role that’s a bit more normal, but do you see yourself returning to the monsters in the future, as more of a staple?
MP: I’m flexible. Just like with the music I work on , I like to try different things. Never want to be type casted. However, monsters and zombies come pretty easy to me. I certainly will not shy away from other roles. Bionic Commando was fun. I got to channel my inner Rollins.
TR: You did the voices for the common infected in Left 4 Dead, and again, they create an excellent atmosphere within the game, something that helps elevate it and keep it fresh. As setting and ambiance in game have an increasing part in how a game plays, do you see voice talent being used in less conventional ways to create immersion?
MP: That would be cool. I think it already is in some instances. The people making a lot of these games are pretty damn creative and the tools are endless.
TR: The Darkness quite clearly wouldn’t have been the same game without your involvement, as much of the atmosphere comes from the voice of The Darkness itself. Was that present in your mind when you were working with Starbreeze?
MP: Nope, I was not sure how that one was going to turn out at all. To be honest I was holding my breath. It seemed pretty silly while I was doing it, but they did an amazing job on that one. I ended up really enjoying playing that game. Starbreeze seem to be one of the best.
TR: Of course you are primarily a musician, but have you ever considered doing a score for a game?
MP: Yes, I have spoken to some people about it and started one that was aborted. I’m sure it will happen at some point, but that takes quite a bit more of a time commitment. I’m scoring a film right now. Crank 2. It is almost like a videogame!
TR: Do you think the “indie label” model could be implemented in the gaming industry to support less known, but excellent developers such as Introversion or 2D Boy?
MP: I think we are starting to see that as the development tools become more available and the technology evolves. The playing field is being leveled.
TR: Your musical projects, Mr Bungle in particular, have a tendency to the avant-garde, taking sound in new unexplored directions. Do you think this devotion to innovation is related to your interest in games, a medium that is constantly evolving and expanding in new ways, and does it affect which games you decide to get involved with?
MP: My interest in games is just a hobby, an escape. Music is my job, my career. Innovation is very important to me just to keep my interest. I bore easily. I enjoy challenges.
TR: You’ve no doubt felt the piracy ‘sting’ as a musician. Can these industries learn from each other in dealing with it? It certainly seems to us that taking legal action or forcing rights management on the consumer in both has only drives away fans.
MP: It seems like it. Piracy is an unfortunate part of life in a lot of mediums. You have to respect your fanbase but protect your livelihood. It is a tightrope.
TR: Best soundtrack in gaming?
MP: Hmmm, I really loved the Crash Bandicoot music.
TR: Your favourite game for that matter?
MP: Either the NBA Live series or the Grand Theft series.