This relates back to what I talked about at Faffcon. If you get into the creator’s mind space, then you have a great blueprint for the kinds of voices they’re looking for. And the game looks b’dass, too.

Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song, and I’ll try not to sing out of key. (Thank you, Faffcon)

So another faff-tastic weekend has come and gone. And now that I’m in full-on reflection mode today, I’ve had some time to think about the trip and everything that went on from Thursday to Monday, and to be honest, it broke my brain to try and reassemble the events chronologically.

So, instead to trying to recap everything, I think that a thank you list is in order. And I know that this might be dangerous, considering that I might miss people or leave like a handful out, and that possibility just makes me a sad panda.

So I preface this by saying that if I neglect to mention you, then you are a part of the regrets of my weekend. That I didn’t go out of my way to spend quality time with each and every one of you kinda makes me ill in retrospect. I assure you that I will do my level best to catch up, albeit here in the ether.

It’s going to be tough to get through this without bawling my eyes out.

So thank you, one and all. This weekend proved that I truly get by with a little help from my friends. See what I did there?

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It’s taken me all this time to find out what I need. (‘Have You Seen This Man?’ Weeks 37 & 38) PART 1

(We interrupt our normally scheduled weight loss blog to bring you this special bulletin, and fair warning, it’s gonna be a long one.)

I feel like It’s been forever since I wrote. It’s only been two weeks, but it seems like forever. 

It’s probably because there’s been so many things going on in my life. I know I keep saying that I’m busy, but it’s true. I have been extremely busy, and last week, I added an elliptical/walking regime to my schedule, so believe me when I say I have been busy.

In fact, work really started blowing up before Bob Bergen’s Voiceover Group Therapy workshop. You all know that I landed the reboot of Leisure Suit Larry, and things were chugging along with that (I mean seriously…like four thousand cues and even more lines), so we did like 1-2 sessions per week for like a month, and there was constant work for FUNimation and my retail clients. 

Then there was this awesome thing called Faffcamp, the first and only peer conference for VO, in which myself and cool chica Wendy Zier gave a breakout session called Video Game VO: Industry Infiltration, among tons and tons of other incredible tidbits and sessions that can only happen when you’re among your peers.

This is why I want to take time away from my normal ranting about the struggles of weight loss, and focus on an event that, I feel, is as game-changing as it is career-changing. So without further ado, I give you:

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Is this real love? Or is it just madness keeping us afloat? (‘Have You Seen This Man?’ Weeks 29, 30, and 31)

Where does the time go?

OK, so that really isn’t some sort of rhetorical question. I know exactly where the time goes. It goes away, and it goes away fast. More so when you’re as busy as I have been.

There’s no excuse for not dropping by and at least mentioning that I’m a busy boy. Really, there’s not. I’m sorry for not mentioning something, at the very least.

Still, I am going to at least talk a little about all of our adventures over the last few weeks. That way, hopefully you’ll all see that there’s an actual reason for forgiving my radio silence. It’s up to you. 

SO………..

So I warned that we were going on a Spring Break trip to visit our nieces, and go see Muse in concert. Well, the trip was a blast. I need to start recognizing that eating while visiting is a thing that I have to be hyper-aware of, and that parties are the devil’s way to get back at you for eating right.

As an aside, I really must mention the concert. Those guys are incredible musicians. If you don’t know who Muse are, then it’s more a likelihood that you just don’t know them by name, than you don’t know their music. They are incredible.

Muse rocked the house.

Matthew Bellamy (lead guitar and vocals) has been called the ‘Hendrix of our time,’ and that is saying something. He kind of plays into that mystique, too, by playing an incredible rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the concert.

For you celebrity news fans out there, he’s Kate Hudson’s main squeeze. And the way he writes songs for her, it’s clear that she is as much a muse for Matthew in real life as Penny Lane was for Russell Hammond in Almost Famous. See what I did there? It’s like her life is imitating her art. *wink*

But I digress. The concert was amazing, and the band’s ability as showmen and musicians are palpable. It reaffirms my faith in the power of music.

Yeah, that was an amazing concert. A lot of new stuff, and some of the best older stuff. It was a good night to be a fan.

Bravo, gents.

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Our hopes and expectations…black holes and revelations. (‘Have You Seen This Man?’ Week 12)

(This blog is part of an ongoing weekly series on weight loss.)

What an interesting week this has been, in the Chinese sense.

And here I go, starting a blog by saying something I have to explain. There is an old phrase, which is purported to be a Chinese curse (although you’ll never find anything solid on the origin, even with the powers of the internet at your disposal).

The curse is, “may you always live in interesting times.” It essentially means that only times of conflict and strife are remembered, and thus ‘interesting,’ whereas times of peace are not. So, I’ve taken to saying, “interesting…in the Chinese sense,” in an effort to elevate the banality of calling something simply, ‘interesting.’

SO…after all that, it has been an interesting week.

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'Delightfully Irreverent, Yet Effective' review: The Legend of Zelda Symphony of the Goddesses

There was a once-famous internet feud between noted movie reviewer Roger Ebert and all of geekdom some time ago. This feud consisted of Mr. Ebert’s opinion of how video games weren’t art, and geekdom’s response. The feud burned bright for a few months, and then Mr. Ebert relented to the storm of nerd-rage. While he didn’t agree that games aren’t inherently art, he said that games could be art for those who play them.

Well, let’s fast forward to January 10, 2012. The argument has been settled for good.

Last night, my wife and I were privy to an event that makes me proud to be a gamer, and a nerd, and a fan of music. The world premiere of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses took place last night to an overflow crowd at the Meyerson Symphony Center, and folks…it was glorious. 

But I knew it would be. I had extremely high expectations for the treatment of Koji Kondo’s beautiful music. I had only a moment of worry that the music would be given it’s due respect. And the moment passed very quickly at the spectacle that unfolded.

As soon as Kathryn and I walked into the Meyerson, we knew it was going to be a magical night. Kids happily prancing along, literally dragging their parents to their seats, in a wonderfully ironic role-reversal; other kids and adults cosplaying (for the uninitiated, ‘Costume Play’) various iterations of Link, Zelda, and even the evil Ganondorf Dragmire. This wasn’t your stereotypical night at the symphony. And it was amazing.

And the concert hadn’t even started yet.

Something else that you won’t normally see at a symphonic concert is the addition of a giant video screen with the crest of Hyrule emblazoned upon it. This was part of the presentation that helped tie the experience of playing the games to the music that accompanied it, and it was extremely effective.

The night began with a prelude that displayed all 25 years of Zelda games on the screen, as new arrangements of popular themes within the games soared above the stage, complete with choral arrangements that complimented perfectly the scenes seen onscreen. A huge build to the end brought chills to my arms as it finished, and the applause was thunderous and immediate, as the excitement of all of those in attendance boiled over in anticipation. I couldn’t wait for the rest.

An introduction to the format followed by conductor Eímear Noone, who has been with the project since its inception. She was happy to explain that the music had, indeed, been formatted to that of a symphony in four movements. She also mentioned that although it was traditional that an audience not clap between movements (at least in the modern era), she invited the audience to show their appreciation after each movement, “as this is a special night.”

And it began. 

As is the case with symphonies, each movement centers on a theme or motif. The Zelda symphony does that by tying to a particular game in the series, while also attempting to stay near sonata form. Movement I was an Allegro based on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I can’t think of a better way to start the piece than basing it on this game. It is considered by most to be the best in the series, and the accompanying themes realized in a fully orchestral setting immediately brought a smile to my face and a squeeze to my hand from my wife. As Link’s progression through the game unfolded on screen, the music punctuated each scene from the game: Title Theme, Enter Ganondorf, Zelda’s Lullaby, Hyrule Field Morning Theme, Lost Woods, The Temple of Time, Boss Battle, Ganondorf’s Battle, and Last Battle, with a wink onscreen and in music to Majora’s Mask. Nice touch.

I was blown away. So was the audience. Movement I over. Audience eruption. Amazing. On to Movement II.

Movement II wove the story of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker together. Motifs from Outset Island, Ocean, Aryll’s Kidnapping, Forsaken Fortress Invasion 1, a moment of The Tower of the Gods, Sealed Hyrule Castle, and of course Ganondorf Battle and Farewell Hyrule King round out a wonderfully light Andante movement, with excellent work by the strings and high winds to do justice to the playful themes that were associated with The Wind Waker. More smiles all around and heavy applause after this movement, which brought us to intermission.

Not a normal thing to have an intermission mid-symphony, but then again, it was smart on all levels to have one, giving more opportunity to the audience to buy t-shirts and posters, and also sip spirits. One thing of note that was wonderful was that instead of the normal five-minute-to-curtain chime, we were treated to the ringing of the bells of the bell tower of Termina from Majora’s Mask. Details make all the difference, folks.

Upon settling in, we were treated to an Intermezzo or Entr’Acte of sorts, with the playing of Great Fairy Fountain in its entirety. Incredible work by the harpists as immediately I was brought back to every game selection screen since A Link to the Past. Airy and ethereal, the theme allows you to become fully immersed again into the world of Zelda. Another nice touch of detail for the musical program. It’s as if to say, “We had a break, but now, let’s get back into the game. Figuratively and literally.” Very nice work.

Movement III told the tale of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. The choral arrangement of the Title Theme was brilliantly arranged to begin. This segued into the full treatment of the theme in the style of the game and it cascaded over us, with layer upon layer of sound building to the moment that the Scherzo truly began. Hyrule Field marked the build to the main part of the movement, with flashes to Ordon Village, a playful turn by the wind section, with a trumpet call to a choral section which was really well arranged. Then a return to motifs from the Title Theme, which transitioned to the King of Light and Shadow section which was really creepy with the long-bowed string section under a choral part which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. This went right into a mesh of Fight Against Zant, Boss Beast Ganon, and Boss Ganondorf (Swordfight), which was as satisfying to hear as merely an observer as it was to play through it. Movement III ends with a really wonderful full orchestra treatment of Midna’s Suite, and if your heart wasn’t pounding after this movement, you just aren’t human. An incredible soundscape. 

Movement IV was a huge surprise to me. Conductor Noone told us that this was the first time the Symphony of the Goddesses would be performed in its entirety at the top of the show. My assumption was that they would use the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword as its basis, because so far, they’ve used the major game releases since Ocarina of Time. Boy, was I ever wrong, and am I ever glad I was. The beginning of the final Allegro was too much for the audience to bear as “Time of the Falling Rain,” from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was played, the audience burst into applause and cheers as the orchestra played, and they never skipped a beat, deftly taking us into the dungeon of Hyrule Castle to free Zelda the first time. What followed was a great arrangement of “Hyrule Castle,” which was as huge and full as I ever imagined it could sound. A beautiful transition led us to a pure treatment of “Zelda’s Lullaby,” beginning with Oboe, handing off to Clarinet, and finishing with Flute before the layering the rest of the orchestra in such a powerful emotional upheaval that it brought tears to my eyes. I smiled in spite of my tears and couldn’t wait to hear what came next. I wasn’t disappointed when I heard strains of “Kakariko Village,” “The Lost Woods,” “Priest” (Alternate Ganondorf’s Theme), and an awesome display of onomatopoeic choral arrangement when Zelda is drawn into the Dark World by Aghanim.  aThe movement hammered to its inevitable conclusion with “Dark World,” “Ganon’s Message,” ”Battle with Ganon,” and “Triforce Chamber.” I was openly weeping at this point as a truncated “Ending Theme” brought us home. The audience applauded and cheered as they immediately sprung to their feet as one, showing their gratitude for a job well done.

With apologies to the late Billy Mays, but wait…there’s more!

A curtain call by Conductor Noone turned into an encore performance of “Gerudo Valley” from Ocarina of Time, which further incited the audience into squees of joy. And to the casual fan, this might not be a big deal, but to the hardcore, this theme is a diamond in the rough. It is the theme to Ganondorf’s homeland. It borrows a lot from Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western motifs, and was a wonderful display for the xylophones and the rest of the percussion section as the piece rushes to the trumpet call that feels like a frenzied chase scene with Spanish Guitar overtones. The sneaky fight through the Gerudo Fortress was portrayed on screen and in music with zeal and brought back the anxiety of playing through the area that was so challenging back in my college days. I was so excited to hear that it made me want to dance. Another eruption of cheers and a standing ovation, and another curtain call.

But wait, there’s more. Another encore.

No video onscreen, and an introduction by Conductor Noone as “so familiar I won’t even tell you what it is.” Just a lush arrangement of “The Ballad of the Wind Fish,” all the way back to The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. It was a rather ethereal treatment of the music, more beautiful that could ever be reproduced on a Game Boy back in the day. Granted, it was a rather sedate way to end the night, but after all the cheering and sensory overload, it was much like ending the evening with Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale.” It was gorgeous, beautiful music, but it was a little more obscure than the conductor describes. I know why it was included, because the themes in Link’s Awakening are all based around music and magical instruments, and this was the end credits to that game. Like I said, I get it, but not everybody did. Still, it was beautiful, although I would put it as first encore and end with “Gerudo Valley.” The audience ate it up anyway.

Wow. As Frankie Valli would say, “Oh what a night.” This concert was a love letter to 25 years of Zelda fans, and they got it so right. I had an amazing time reliving memories that I associated with each of the games, some bad, some great, but all unforgettable.

Hearing this music arranged this way just made the memories wash over me in waves. I still remember getting the first The Legend of Zelda as a reward for making straight As in third grade. I remember scouring issues of Nintendo Power for news about delays for Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Seeing the gold cartridge peeking through the package was like getting a glimpse of a Wonka Golden Ticket. Secretly dialing long distance to Redmond, Washington for tips on Nintendo’s Power Line for A Link to the Past. Buying Ocarina of Time before I ever owned a Nintendo 64. Hanging out with one of my best friends all summer to beat The Wind Waker. Waiting in line at Gamestop to pick up my Nintendo Wii so I could rush home, set up the console as quickly as possible, just to pop in Twilight Princess and be too tired to play. And finally, playing through the entirety of Skyward Sword with my wife watching every moment. The only thing missing is playing a Zelda game with my kids, and the circle would be complete. Experiential memories will do that…they bring back the kid in you, evoke emotions that you experienced as a nine-year-old and could only replicate with the latest iteration of Zelda. I know some people may scoff or pity me for having those feelings, but it’s probably because they don’t have that kind of connection to hold on to. Really, I feel sorry for them.

If there was any complaint of overlooking a detail, it would have to be the lack of a program. No overpriced collector’s program at the swag counter, and no Playbill or generic program handed to us as we enter. It’s a shame, really, since all the other details were so well-thought out and handled with such a fan’s and completionist’s eye. There’s my only suggestion. And really, it’s just to have swag to hoard on my part. For those who have no idea about the music, it wouldn’t give them an excuse to hate or dismiss it with one phrase descriptions…if they had a program to refer to. I dunno. This was a concert for fans that really don’t need descriptions or explanations, but for the people who spend their time placing asterisks on anything associated with video games, why give them an excuse to keep the hate alive? Even as a fan, I went back and listened to some of the music in its rudimentary forms and made notes of what might be in the concert. I guess some folks can’t be bothered with a little research.

The concert was amazing, and my wife and I are thinking about going to Austin in June for another listen. Who knows? Maybe the few quibbles I have will be addressed, maybe not. Who cares? It’s freaking Zelda, man. I lived this music through playing the games. It is like the soundtrack to my childhood.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution voiceover accused of being racist. Really??

So today, I was doing my normal routine, when I came across something disturbing. Not in the weird-and gruesome sense. Not in the weird-and-WTF sense. Something completely different, in a completely different disturbing sense.

Part of my daily routine is to read video game news on Gamasutra. Now, I know plenty of you fellow voice performers know about Gamasutra. For the uninitiated, it is a video game industry news site, which means it goes deeper than the regular old video game news outlets. The disturbing thing was an article about allegations of racism in the newly released Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Of course, I was immediately sucked in to the allegations and rhetoric, as most people are these days. While trying to avoid spoilers to the game as much as possible (because I haven’t played the game yet), the inflating controversy relates to the voice performance of a streetwise informant character. The Gamasutra article links to a video of the performance and the Time Magazine blog that gave momentum to the allegations. Go ahead…I’ll wait.

OPINIONS AHEAD

Now granted, taken by itself, the character is a bit over-the-top. Maybe even out-of-place. But labeling it as racist completely devoid of context related to the game and character development process is as shortsighted as it is ridiculous. 

Let’s deconstruct this a little bit, to give the non-VO folks a little insight into character creation for video games, and some perspective of the things that we would use to shape interpretation of the character’s lines, and hopefully come to the realization that this whole thing is harder than it seems.

Name: Letitia

Gender: Female

Race: African-American

Place: Detroit, Michigan

Time: The year 2027

Character type: Streetwise informant

Most of the time we get a ‘side’ that gives us these details and screenshot of the in-game character. This allows a good sense of characterization when we audition for parts like these. We will also have lines from the character depicting several varying emotional states (Look at the subtitles from the linked video to see the lines). So what we have so far gives us a pretty good look at Letitia as a character. Let’s break it down even more:

Name, race and the obligatory character screenshot lets us understand that she’s African-American. The character type is a streetwise informant. OK, urban sound. Now, here’s where it gets tricky. 

The year 2027 doesn’t give us much. It’s in the future, and the future hasn’t happened yet. The premise of the Deus Ex series has been an overarching struggle between forces that advocate augmenting human beings with technology, and the more Luddite forces that shuns technology. That’s great for enhancing our knowledge of the game world, but it doesn’t give us much insight into Letitia’s characterization.

The setting where the character exists is Detroit. That doesn’t give us much to work with from a uniqueness standpoint.

That leaves us with the lines themselves. The sampling from the video shows that the lines are written in a vernacular that, to me, don’t really match my expectations of a ‘Detroit streetwise informer.’ Probably one big reason that the performance in game sounds more like Minerva in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” 

Therein lies the rub: The lines were written in a way that pushed the voice actor towards the final sound. The lines have an influence in casting and direction of the actor. And the writer probably wrote the lines in vernacular in order to help force the uniqueness of the character, especially in a game that has over forty notable characters (and Letitia isn’t even listed as one of the notables).

A person playing a game goes into the experience with certain expectations. Immersion in the game world is one of those expectations, so when a character sounds so unexpectedly, it does many things. One thing is that it stands out too much. And that is jarring to a player, especially when the character speaks in such a unique vernacular one minute, but then the next, she speaks of real estate and unemployment.  It ruins the immersion for a player, because they focus on the standalone character, rather than the game experience as a whole, and there, folks, is where we find ourselves…focusing on a near-throwaway character.

But racism? Please. I know actual people who speak this way. I wouldn’t say that any were from Detroit. More like people from rural Oklahoma. More like Minerva. OK, so maybe the actor injected some relocating-from-the-rural-south backstory into Letitia. Maybe those kind of details would come out in more conversations in-game with her. Maybe not. Maybe the characterization was accurate, but not authentic, and that was one of the nuggets that Pat Fraley touched on in his 25th Anniversary Creating Characters event. He mentioned people raking Tom Cruise over the coals for his Irish dialect in “Far and Away.” The fact is, it was very accurate. Some other acting choices were the thing that rubbed us the wrong way, and the authenticity suffered in the name of accuracy. Maybe that’s what happened in DE:HR. Maybe the actor was so focused on the accurate portrayal of the dialect as written that the acting suffered. Who knows?

The fact is, people who go looking for things tend to find them. People love to label. We love to simplify things, and why should such an abstraction such as racism be any different? When this situation came up, the first thing I wanted to do is play the game and hear more of what Letitia has to say. Then when I have the entire picture, I bet I know what I’ll think:

"This is a game."

I especially love the part where he describes recording his lines as ‘exhausting.’ Meh.

The body engages the voice. That’s how it’s done. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan, and a big fan of your work in Portal 2, but seriously. Welcome to voiceover, bub.