Poll Question 187 – Should games or mods use famous voice actors?

27th August 2010

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

You’ve probably seen the recent Portal 2 videos and news about the voice of Wheatley; the companion in Portal 2.

When they first released a video it apparently had one of Valve workers voicing the part and , at least for me, I thought he did a great job. However, then came the announcement that Stephen Merchant was doing the voice.

I’d never heard of him until then, but there was a lot of talk about his appointment. Personally, I don’t like the idea of using people with recognizable voices for games or mods because it can spoil the immersion.

Hypocrite!” I hear you shout and you are right. It wasn’t until today that I thought about it but it’s possible I have done more voice acting for Half-Life mods than anybody and my voice is becoming moderately know, at least within the SP mod community.

In fact, I’m pleased to have been selected as the turret voice for Blue Portals. More on that soon.

So, should I stop recording? Maybe, but if modders ask me to record something I will, I’ve never refused anybody.

There are some great voice actors available and the ones they used in all the HL games are great, and if they were “famous” before recording, I’d never heard them.

Does recognizing a voice spoil games for you?

The Poll


  1. Yogthulhu

    Does a famous actor in a movie ruin the immersion of that experience? How about when someone famous does voice work for animated films or television shows? I certainly was immersed in “Inception” despite the very famous Leonardo Decaprio starring in it. Why should it be any different for games? As long as someone’s good at it, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with games getting a little star power now and then.

    1. Does a famous actor in a movie ruin the immersion of that experience?

      Sometimes, yes.

  2. I personally don’t see any reason not to employ the talents of a professional ” voice actor “. If your leaning more toward well known professional actors, many rely as much or more on their commanding ” screen presence ” as any actual vocal skills. Not many people can captivate like Morgan Freeman, for example. So I don’t know…

    I can think of many celebrity voices I would love to hear doing lines for some of my favorite characters, but when I consider that their naturally higher fees will also be passed on to us in production costs, I have to go with the quality of an experienced voice actor first. ( But man, what I wouldn’t give to hear Willem Defoe doing my favorite antagonist ! )

    1. I personally don’t see any reason not to employ the talents of a professional ” voice actor “.

      I’m not suggesting otherwise. I just don’t want famous ones.

      1. Jeff

        I think that’s a great distinction. If I hear a recognizable voice, I’m thinking of that actor, not the character.

        1. Exactly. I can’t separate the voice from the personality.

          1. I wouldn’t call it professional voice acting if the voice was recognizable. If voice acting is pro then it’ll fit to the game and you won’t separate characters and their voices. Am I wrong?

            I know lots of examples to this. For example we have a good singer in my country and I listen to him a lot. Recently I’ve learned that he does voice acting for cartoon movies, and when I’ve learned about his last movie, I was shocked because I had watched it and had no idea it was his character. Voice was quite different and very fitting too. Top quality work.

            What I’m saying is if voice acting is good it won’t bother even if you know the actor, but if it’s bad you’ll be like “wow, isn’t that Cameron Diaz?”

            1. Very well said CivanT !
              A truly skilled pro would be adaptable to the character and with no two alike, you should never be able to familiarize one voice role with another.

  3. It’s an adjustment but Steven’s work is obviously more professional and a lot subtler (which I think will be a good thing in the long run, it will take longer to get annoyed by him). As someone on the Interlopers forum said Richard Lord, the animator, sounded like he may as well have been the presenter for a kids channel. Plus he fumbled many of his lines and really over exaggerated many of his lines (more “oomphy” as it may be his “You did whuuuuuuuuuuuaaaaaaaaaa?” was really forced sounding if you listen to it).

    That said if I boot up Half-Life 2 Episode 3 and hear your voice William I think you’ll be hunted down and lynched by the entire modding community. :p

    1. hear your voice William

      Don’t you mean, “Phillip”?

      1. :O How on earth did I make that mistake. Your name is even in the site’s.

        1. I think I smell a possible inside running joke for this site brewing. WorldWilliam.com, anyone? 😀

          Don’t worry, Gradius. I’m sure that Will- I mean, Phillip, gets praised weekly, if not daily about how how he’s a veritable god among the half life modding community. Before he started the whole “Alternative Maps and Mods” section (which I really would like to see more content for) there were people who essentially claimed that Phillip was stunting the artistic/experimental modding community by not putting any of their mods up on his site.
          Having someone forget his name, even when it’s in the very title of the site they’re using, will help keep the massive raging ego in check that he must certainly have.

          1. I think I smell a possible inside running joke for this site brewing

            Me too – should be fun.

            I mean, Phillip, gets praised weekly, if not daily about how how he’s a veritable god among the half life modding community

            Not as much as you think.

            keep the massive raging ego in check that he must certainly have

            I had to widen my doors recently to cope with my HUGE head.

  4. No, I have a plethora of voices..lol..I have done ONE commercial.

  5. Kyouryuu

    Really, it’s all about who has the best voice for the job. If that’s a famous actor, so be it. If it’s an unknown, so be it.

    I’ll admit, I have a bit of a preference for unknown talent. Mostly because traditional actors have already been blessed with fortune and fame – let the comparatively lowly voice actors keep their own little niche please.

    1. Kyouryuu

      I guess I would caveat this with one other point – if the game is inheriting its content from another source, like a movie or a TV show, I think it behooves you to use the same voice actors. When it’s done well, it adds an authenticity to the game that’s hard to match.

      A great example of this is the recent Batman: Arkham Asylum where Mark Hamill and much of the Batman: The Animated Series crew reprised their roles. I don’t know about you, but to me Hamill is the definitive voice of the Joker and he delivered one heck of a performance for that game.

  6. A lot of people were commenting on the video in defense of the new voice actor saying that people were only getting put off by the accent. My problem with the new voice actor isn’t that I recognize him, but that he doesn’t come across at ALL robotic.
    GlaDOS comes across psychotic and vengeful, but still synthesized. The current voice for wheatly makes me think that it’s actually a remote controlled speakerbox with a camera, and an actual human is speaking to me from his own room while he sips coffee or something and watches me on his monitor. That effect ruins the sense of being completely isolated from any hunt of human compassion, and at the mercy of intelligent machines that have no ability to conceptualize or recognize the value of human life, that made the original Portal so enjoyable.

  7. Herr_Alien

    I voted yes, and I have one exception to that “yes’.
    ‘Yes’, because it can save a lot of time. “Yes’, because if you can afford it, people WILL notice it and enjoy the game even more.

    The exception is for the cases where you want to grow your own talent. Basically, if you have a buddy that you know he wants to become a voice actor, then ask him for help. He can use the practice (and the job in his resume), and you could use some audio clips.

  8. Hec

    Wow, phillip, your going to do a voice in a mod!!!??, thats going to be classic, il will play that mod just for that fact, hope it will release soon, and just by check on mod db it looks its going to be a really god mod men congratulations!!!

    1. andyb

      He’s done the voices in several mods.

      1. Da Fat Cat

        In every singleplayer mod ever actually

      2. Hec

        Oh in which ones??, i’d like to play one and hear him, that would be cool, could you pass the name of them please??

        1. Human Error, Strider Mountain, The Trap, and Mission Improbable.

          I will also be heard in Experiment 04, The Citizen 2. I have recorded lines for Ham and Jam but I don’t know whether they will be in the final release.

          There are probably others but I can’t think of them at the moment.

  9. Yes, famous or otherwise. Free, of course, and for the love of the game.

    What matters is quality, nothing else. Quality is more likely to come from those in theatre, professional or amateur.

  10. Ricardo's

    Only if they do a good job.

  11. john

    I said no because of the wording of the poll question.
    “should they use”. to me this implies that none famous voice actors should not be used. under that light.
    sure it would be fun to hear a famous person in half life universe. but, any good voice actor is aok by me.

  12. czeapek

    In my opinion NO!
    Why? Simple.. the game will lose from its authenticity and its mystery and will become more commercial…. this is very clear for me… becouse the voices like are now for me are like from real people.

  13. Bramblepath

    I don’t think there should really be discretion. If someone does a good job, then use their voice. A famous actor shouldn’t be chosen over a less well-known one just because they’re famous.

  14. Joshua-kun

    I would have to chip in with: It depends.

    Really, whoever does the best job or fits the role best. Be it professional or amateur, whatever works best for the character.

    I like it best when a famous actor is used and it isn’t even really mentioned in promotional material or even the back of the box. I was really surprised to hear Charlie Sheen’s voice being used as the Illusive Man in Mass Effect 2, and he did a really good job (in my opinion).

    1. Kyouryuu

      Yes, and Quark from Deep Space Nine is Andrew Ryan in BioShock. 🙂

  15. I only really care about the quality of the voice acting. If a voice actor is good then there is a greater likelihood that they will do more work and there is a high chance of us hearing them again.

    I think it a testament to their skills if you remember their voice from another game but for the most part if the game is immersive enough I generally don’t think twice.

    There are voices I’ve heard, though, that are very distinctive and it makes me stop and think “Where have I heard that voice from?’. The only problem then is once I’ve found out who the voice belongs to whenever I hear the voice I think back to a different character the actor has played.

    An example would be whenever I hear Martin Sheen as the Illusive Man in Mass Effect 2, I keep thinking of Sheen’s character from The West Wing.

  16. Zekiran

    Given this specific argument, absolutely not. I find Merchant’s voice to be lackluster at best, phoning it in at worst.

    Most of the time with animated movies and such, voiceovers aren’t even really noticeable as their “more famous” visual actor’s – Mononoke for instance, had a ton of very popular and visible actors, but damned if I could recognize any of their voices. However, they did superb jobs at portraying their characters.

    Again, in this case…. Merchant does not. Which is pathetic. So many people jump on the OMGITSMERCHANT!! bandwagon but honestly there’s nothing ‘subtle” about his voice acting. It’s called “dull”.

    Working in reverse however, I would LOVE to hear Ellen McLane (sp?)(I can never remember how her name is spelled) do more voice acting roles in other venues – Elfquest the comic book has a contract and a script with Warner Brothers right now, and I would pay with my SOUL to have her voice Winnowill, the evil character. Not because I’d recognize her voice instantly, but because I know she could DO it – her subtlety is, ironically, quite obvious. Listening to the last few minutes of the Portal game, you can hear her as she tries to control, then chides, derides, mocks and – most surprisingly, becomes very human. Her morality core vanishes and with it, the pretext of a computer-generated restriction. Suddenly her voice is filled with emotion, filled with loathing. You can SMELL it it’s so rich.

    I am left utterly cold from Merchant’s “acting”. I don’t know him from anything else, never heard the guy before a couple days ago, but I can say I know what I like.

    It’s not him. And hiring a person just because they’re “a name” is generally not worth the money shelled out to get them. It’s sad, I wish he could be better straight off the bat, but it’ll take Valve’s sound engineers a LOT of work to make me think “I like this guy,” or even “I hate this guy”. Right now, it’s “wow, this voice actor is very, very boring, I don’t get an impression of this character at ALL from him.” and “gosh his voice is disjointed from the visuals, I hope that’s just an alpha run-through…”

    So… no. No, it is not good for games to use popular actors, just because they’re already out there. They need to use “whoever makes the character sounds best”.

  17. GoodGuyA

    If they’re GOOD voice actors, then why the heck not?

    1. Because they may simply remind you of other characters, not the one they are playing.

  18. Armageddon

    I would I like a “Who cares” option.

  19. Wolfen Vic.

    Personally I’m excited for this. At first the name didn’t click till I IMDBed it. Tracy from the Tooth Fairy? His humor is subtle and his voice will very much fit Whitley I feel. Does this mean I think famous people should always voice act for games? No but it does add a sense of the character if their good. Unless the character is them.

    GTA IV, and GTA Vice City Stories come to mind when they had three very famous people in the games.

    Then you have to take into account those voice actor which are almost everywhere. Nolan North comes to mind, as well as Jen Taylor whose more famous voice acting roles include Cortana from the Halo series and Zoey from Left 4 Dead.

    Do I think they should stop recording just because their well known? No, actually I think they should very much, but the crew working on the games need to realize these people need to do more range. Nolan North can do so much more vocal range than just Nathan Drake.

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