How To Record A Silent Protagonist
When Pulsetense Games contacted me late last year in regards to voicing their latest project, Solarix, I have to admit I got really excited. This was a chance I had been looking forward to for a long time, since it presented multiple new opportunities for me: one, a chance to voice in a first-person shooter; two, a chance to voice in a horror-genre title; and three, a chance to "break out" from my usual skein of goblins, warriors and (for some reason) Russians to do something dramatic and (perhaps even better) someone with true empathy.
So, I started looking at the first character I would be voicing: Gregory Q. Hart. Described in the script margins as a paranoid narcissist, more involved with making a name for himself than actually helping others. But then I found his character changes over the course of the game; to what extent I won't share here, but all I will say is that you should REALLY get this game. And not only for Hart, but for ALL the characters. Each one has been meticulously groomed by the Pulsetense team to truly bring Solarix to life. Personally, I can't wait to hear gamers' reactions to Betty who can be described as nothing less than a rambling, insane sociopath... and that's before she goes... full... tilt... C-R-A-Z-Y.
Back to business: After I was done exhausting myself with Hart's character, I was happy to explore the second voiced character sent my way: Walter Terrace. Unbelievably, I found that Pulsetense was giving me the "main character" to voice in Walter. As in, the pick-up-your-controller-move-him-around-and-shoot-guys main character. And for half-a-second, I got SUPER excited... until I noticed something: there was no script for him. No worries, I thought; this kind of thing happens all the time. Perhaps they were still fine-tuning his script or maybe they had to send it in a separate file from the rest of the packaged data I received. But after a short search, I found that there WAS no actual script for him. Walter was an "unvoiced character", according to the synopsis.
Great. I get to voice the silent protagonist.
Hold on, this might be a blessing in disguise. A challenge to my voiceover skills. Because when you think about it, how do you voice a silent protagonist?
True, I understood that Walter wouldn't be as silent as Crono in Chrono Trigger or Chell from Portal... since the Pulsetense team would have him react to his environment as he made his way through each of the terrifying levels. And, as an audiobook narrator, I also knew about "leading" the gamer's emotions through an obvious performance.
For example, if the player's character audibly reacts to an event onscreen it suggests to the player that they should be reacting in the same manner... which suggests the developers know how every gamer will react to every situation. It's almost as if, on an isoteric level, the developers are showing off how scary, how gut-wrenching or how bawl-your-eyes-out emotional each of their creations are.
But in the opposite vein, if the player's character remains mostly silent... it makes any reaction from the player themselves more genuine, less forced... in other words: more realistic.
So, where is the proverbial "line in the sand"? Where does a voice actor like myself say, "OK, I need to stop giving this relatively silent character a voice at this specific point so the player can experience the game on a more intense level"?
And the answer to that is simple: I don't know.
How the hell WOULD I know?
Who am I to speak for the plethora of gamers out there on how you experience what's scary, terrifying or simply annoying?
So, I kept Walter's performance simple.
And lots and lots of breathing.
More detailed sounds and "reax" effects will come along as Solarix's developers deem it prudent, but for now I'm proud to give voice to a character who not only didn't have a voice, but from what I understand, will NEVER have a voice. It was a challenge, and one that I happily accepted.
For those curious listeners, follow this SoundCloud link to hear a sample of Walter along with my own recording booth ramblings!
- Lucas Schuneman
October 7th, 2014