You don’t need to be at a roundtable interview with two of the biggest video game voice actors to see that videogames as a medium are as big as movies or TV, but it certainly helps. At the most recent MCM London Comic Con, in one of the press rooms on Saturday morning, Troy Baker and Nolan North, the stars of one of this year’s most acclaimed videogames, Uncharted 4, cheerily skip into the room. Even at 46, North looks better than most of the young journos in front of him and he’s not even trying, pulling off the casual look in a t-shirt promoting the Con Man mobile game, based on the Kickstarted TV show from Alan Tudyk. Baker on the other hand is more Los Angeles than London in a trilby and leather jacket, although he wouldn’t look out of place in Shoreditch, but they’re clearly having fun.
As they sit down Baker plays at giving a business seminar while North quips about the two announcing they’re pregnant. They’re comfortable and they obviously feel they’re among friends as Nolan responds to how it feels to be back in London:
“London is literally one of my favourite cities. In fact, I was with some friends and they said, ‘If you had all the money in the world and three house where would they be?’ And the first one of mine would be in London. I’m not sure where; I’d have to look around some neighbourhoods.”
Well hopefully they’re paying him a hefty sum for all those videogames he’s in, but it’s safe to say he’s equally fond of MCM:
“It feels great, these are the kindest, best fans and hopefully they’ll invite me back again next year.”
It’s endearing that Troy Baker still seems surprised that hundreds of convention goers queued up to meet him. He clearly derives a great deal of satisfaction from meeting fans:
“It’s always reassuring and re-affirming when you realise that the things you’ve been a part of and that you think are sometimes just a job – even though you care about it – are appreciated. You don’t realise how much impact you’ve had, so to be able to see that first hand is kind of the best perk of the job – for someone to say, ‘This really meant something to me’.”
Though the two have both worked on the same game before, one of the more notable being Batman: Arkham Origins, having the pair starring alongside each other in pivotal roles – in one of the biggest videogame franchises ever – was a big deal for fans. But it came under difficult circumstances: “There was a shuffle in the management at the time.”
Nolan is referring to the change over that took place when Amy Henig, development studio Naughty Dog’s lead creative designer on the game, left the studio, seemingly as a result of creative differences along with other creators walking off the project, including Alan Tudyk. Uncharted 4’s direction went to Bruce Staley and Neil Druckmann who had previously worked with Baker on Naughty Dog’s other mammoth property, The Last Of Us. This made pulling in Troy Baker to play Nathan Drake’s brother, Sam a stroke of genius.
“It was a difficult time and then when I found out he (Baker) would be there [Baker motions shooting himself], okay there’s somebody I had familiarity with and somebody I’m friends with and somebody who could, y’know move on.”
North’s right; it would turn out to be the best decision Naughty Dog had made since they called a Bandicoot “Crash”. Bringing in an actor who had already given them an award-winning performance and who was a fan of the franchise gave them the best chance of giving Nathan Drake’s story a fitting end.
“Neil Druckman called me and was like: ‘Hey we want to bring you in,’ and I was like: ‘Yes! I’m going to be a red shirt that Nate Drake kills!’ And he said: ‘I want you to play his brother.’ And I was like: ‘Oh, don’t tease me; if you’re playing a fast one on me that’s really cruel!’ Because he knew what a big fan of the franchise I was. It was really cool, because as an actor, every role has its challenge and with this I was like: ‘Okay, he’s a few years older than me (North) how do I play his older brother?’
“But to be able to find a way to map that and make it feel real, was really cool and Nolan and I kind of worked it out together and I think it worked really well and honestly what you see from Nate and Sam is really just Nolan and Troy.”
It speaks to the way videogames have evolved that actors are able to say this about a performance carried out on a soundstage in frog suits. It also demonstrates the widely acknowledged fact that videogames are no longer the domain of teens and children. At 40, Troy Baker is a fan of videogames, he plays them, which possibly goes some way to explaining his success in the medium, talking about Baker’s casting in Uncharted 4, North comments:
“He had a built-in passion and that’s kind of like when we were talking about Ryan Reynolds and Deadpool.”
North is one of the few voice actors to have played the Merc with a Mouth in a videogame.
“People always ask me about that; he is a massive Deadpool fan and what a person to bring that to life. Y’know, someone who’s a true fan. And Troy was a fan of Uncharted from the get go.”
Baker’s fandom is obvious from the way he describes one of his favourite lines of dialogue from Uncharted 4, which takes place in an optional scene later in the game that the player must trigger manually by exploring the environment. He describes it in such detail that it’s a surprise to remember this isn’t a fan’s Uncharted 4 YouTube video. He describes a heartfelt scene that fans will remember where the brothers Drake mull over what their lives have become.
“That’s one of my favourite moments in the game and its one of my favourite lines in the game and we sat and did it five different ways.”
It’s strange to think about videogame stories, which are often such crafted experiences, can be nuanced enough to have adlibbed scenes that would have variations that hit the cutting room floor. And it’s even more of a shame that audiences won’t see them. If Naughty Dog, Uncharted’s developer, were to show these deleted scenes it would most likely be though downloadable add-on content. Speaking of DLC, the two were asked if they could comment on the whereabouts of the Uncharted 4 single-player DLC.
“No. I think they’re going to announce it pretty soon though. I don’t know when; there’s always these new announcements that pop up around Christmas time, y’know – award season. And you have GDC coming in March, so hopefully soon. I do know this: from what I understand, it’s going to be the biggest DLC they’ve ever done because Left Behind (The Last Of Us DLC) was huge, so all heads are down focusing on getting that DLC out the door, so hopefully soon.”
That’s the full quote from Troy Baker and there’s been a few rumblings that this is official confirmation that the DLC will in fact be the biggest Naughty Dog have ever done; but since it’s only their second attempt and their first on new hardware, of course it’s going to be. An announcement at the end of the year isn’t exactly revelatory as it will be approximately six months since Naughty Dog commented on its progress and that would align with Sony’s PSX event. Given that Uncharted is one of Sony’s biggest exclusives an announcement like this likely.
Well, if they haven’t heard anything about it, what would they like to see? They joke together how it would just see Nathan Drake wasting away on a pier having reached the end of his adventures.
“The great thing about Uncharted,” says North, “is that anything could happen in that world and there’s so many adventures that he could have gone on. It’s one of my gripes with some of the first movie scripts that I saw where they were just going to try to recreate one of the games – why would you do that? And that’s what I think Fassbender and Assassin’s Creed has done so well; they’ve taken those characters and that world but made their own story. Do that, the options are endless.”
It’s interesting to note that the Uncharted movie recently tapped Shaun Levy as its director, who holds credits on the Night At The Museum trilogy and perhaps more encouraging, two episodes of Netflix’s seminal ’80s mash-up drama, Stranger Things. Hopefully the Uncharted film will mirror the direction of the Assassin’s Creed movie, which has had some positive buzz around it – something that is practically unheard of about movie adaptations of videogames. Baker, on the other hand feels that the narrative direction of Uncharted 4’s DLC is best left to others:
“Fortunately there’d are better minds than ours that are in charge of that. I do know that I’m going to play it. I’m going to play it a lot because I love it.”
Whether Nolan and Troy make a return as the Drake brothers in Uncharted 4’s single player DLC they’ve clearly entrenched themselves in the videogame space. Much like Ian McKellen and Patrick Stuart or Simon Pegg and Nick Frost these guys have a fantastic chemistry, forged by performing together on a great work of entertainment. Videogames are more sophisticated and visibly grander because of talents like Nolan North and Troy Baker, actors who pour every once of their experience into their work for a believable performance. And hey, if a man who looks that good in a hat and scarf is into them then maybe there’s something to this whole videogame thing.