The 8 Ball 1.29.13: Top 8 Video Game Voice Actors
Welcome to another edition of The 8 Ball. I’m here, along with some insight from Liana K to delve into some of the top voice actors working in the video game business today. My predecessor, David McGregor, also made a list here with his own opinions. I tried to take a different position and only pick actors who derive their primary income from doing voice work. Maybe not from video game work specifically, as a lot of these guys make bank with anime/tv voice work, but I wanted video game voice work to be a contributing factor to their success. This means that there aren’t any celebrity voice actors on my list, or really on Liana’s list, but they are names and voices you’ve heard in countless games. Let’s begin:
8. Fred Tatasciore
When you need a disgusting and weird voice, you call in Fred Tatasciore. He excels at gluttonous voices, like Ulkair the Great Unclean One (Dawn of War 2), some zombies voices (and the Tank) in Left 4 Dead, as well as voicing Rhino and Juggernaut in a few of the Spider-Man and X-Men games. He does do some good “normal” voice work as well, notably as Mario Auditore in Assassin’s Creed 2 (and Brotherhood), as well as Damon Baird in the Gears of War series. Mr. Tatasciore might not have a real break-out role, but he is a dependable voice actor that has a good range of voice work to draw from.
7. Roger Craig Smith
Like many other voice actors on this list, Roger Craig Smith does a lot of “additional voices” work to fill out some games. He also voices three of the very well-known characters in the gaming world today, with Chris Redfield (since 2009), Sonic the Hedgehog (since 2010), and most important of all, Ezio Auditore in the Assassin’s Creed games. It was really his vocal journey from AC2 where Ezio was a cocky young man, to AC: B where he becomes an adult, to AC: R that gave Ezio’s character weight and made you witness his evolution as a person. Plus, his Sonic voice work, while not especially outstanding (mainly due to the writing) is still better than some of the previous Sonic voice actors, particularly Ryan Drummond.
6. Robin Atkin Downes
If you need a British voice actor who lives in LA, you call in Robin Atkin Downes into the studio. Mr. Downes has done a lot of work, but most of it isn’t really recognizable due to the various accents he uses. He used a German accent for the Medic in TF2, an Irish one for Sean in The Saboteur, and an American accent for Travis Touchdown in the No More Heroes games. I would actually say that his best vocal performance was in Saints Row 3 as “Male Voice 3″. Male Voice 1 (Troy Baker) was a pretty normal voice, and Male Voice 2 (Kenn Michael) had a more inner-city feel, Male Voice 3 was just smarmy, gruff, UK-bastard voice through and through. And Robin Atkin Downes pulled it off brilliantly, especially when singing “What I Got” in the beginning of the game.
5. Patrick Seitz
In a game full of great voices, Warhammer 40,000 Dawn of War 2: Retribution, Patrick Seitz is the stand-out voice actor in it for voicing Kaptin Bluddflag. Along with his hilarious voice work in Retribution, he has done good work as the new voice of Scorpion in the Mortal Kombat reboot. He also took the reins of voicing Prince Arthas from Justin Gross, in the Lich King expansion for World of Warcraft, as well as voicing Garrosh Hellscream in the Mists of Pandaria expansion. In a surprise to me, he also voiced Frederic Chopin in the Eternal Sonata which had a very ethereal-like quality to it. He is a solid voice actor, through & through.
4. Steve Blum
He’s Wolverine! What more do you want? He’s been voicing Wolverine for almost a decade now, in various cartoons, animated movies, and videogames. Aside from his Kevin Conroy-esque turn as Wolvie, Mr. Blum has done some very solid work in non-Wolverine related games. I’d say the big highlight for him was as Garcia “Fucking” Hotspur in the Shadows of the DAMNED game. He’s also had good roles as Zoltan Kulle in Diablo 3, Cyrus in the Dawn of War 2 franchise, Killer Croc in the Arkham games, and as Grayson Hunt in Bulletstorm. This is in addition to the dozens, if not hundreds of other roles he’s had over the years voicing other characters in games. He’s likely to find work for the years to come, but if not, he always has Wolverine to fall back on.
3. Yuri Lowenthall
Arguably the king of doing additional voice roles for video games, Yuri Lowenthall has done a metric ton of work for various anime series over the years. This has transitioned nicely into him doing roles in video games, from starring roles to incidental voices. The big character he’s known for are Luka from Bayonetta, the titular Prince in the earlier Prince of Persia games, Yosuke in Persona 4 (as well as the main character in Persona 3), Matt Miller in Saints Row 3, and above all else as Sasuke Uchiha in the various (and innumerable) Naruto games. Chances are, if you’ve played a game in the past 15 years, then Yuri Lowenthall has been a part of it, somewhere in the voice work.
2. John DiMaggio
It’s not correct to say that John DiMaggio’s voice over career started with Futurama, but DiMaggio voicing Bender is his big breakout role & got him noticed by everyone. Since his landmark role as Bender, Mr. DiMaggio has had an illustrious career in the realm of video games, doing voices for characters. His obvious big character is that of Marcus Fenix within the Gears of War franchise. He’s also done work in FFX as Wakka, Kreese Kreely in MadWorld, as Smiling Jack in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, as well as the Juggernaut in some of the better X-Men/Marvel based games. A lot of DiMaggio’s voices can be easily recognized, due to his distinctive overall voice, and due to me listening to it for so many years. Even though I generally despise the game, I though his work in FFX was good, specifically as Kimahri. It was very reserved which was a nice change from his usual more energetic roles. He was one of the few things that made that game remotely tolerable.
1. Nolan North
Really, how could Nolan North NOT be at the top of this list? I’ve never played any Uncharted game, or really seen much of Nathan Drake, and even I know he’s superb in the role. This man’s credits are fairly insane, just on going from main (or at least memorable) characters; Deadpool (Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and the new Deadpool game), Desmond Miles (all of the Assassin’s Creed games), Captain Martin Walker (Spec Ops: The Line), Space Sphere (Portal 2), Will Grey (Dark Void), the Penguin (Arkham City), and Jason Fleming (Shadow Complex). While many people praise Mr. North for his Uncharted work, I would actually have to say that my favorite performance of his was as Steven Heck in Alpha Protocol. In a game full of even peaks and valleys, to put it mildly, his character in Alpha Protocol was probably the single best thing about that game. It’s worth hunting down Youtube footage, or even buying the game, just to see what he did in it. He’s not the most prolific overall voice actor in the world, that honor goes to Frank Welker, but he is the most recognizable when it comes to video games in today’s market.
I admit it, I love voice actors. I love them more than conventional actors, because they’ve got all the talent, without that creepy too- shiny quality that Hollywood types tend to have. Voice work is harder than you might think: with regular acting, you have facial expressions and body language to convey meaning, but when you’re stripped down to your voice, every pause matters, every inflection is critical. Don’t believe me? Okay, test:how many of you WoW players have snickered at Ahab Wheathoof, even though you know that’s a Make-A-Wish kid doing the voice? Don’t lie, I frikkin’ know you have.
So now that I’ve made you feel like horrible human beings, here’s my completely subjective list of my favorite voice actors. Marc and I agreed to limit the list to male actors who have done at least three game voices. I also set a rule for myself that the actors had to show range, but also show star power — they had to have at least one clear stand-out role that makes you just love them.
In my honorable mention spot is T.C Carson, who probably should be here, except for the fact that I’m only really familiar with his work on Kratos. He might do a great job with Mace Windu, but I only have the tiniest exposure to it, so apologies for my lack of familiarity with more than one of his roles. Robin Atkin Downes is also great, but I feel like he’s lacking that really huge leading role that would give him prominence on a list like this.
Now, on to the countdown!
8 — Yuri Lowenthal — I almost didn’t include this guy out of protest to the mobs of fangirls that follow him around. I know he has a resume a mile long, but his video game voice work pales in comparison to what he’s done in Anime and Western cartoons. It’s very hard to make a legitimate case for a guy whose video game credits tend to be “Additional Voices”. Soul Calibur V really didn’t connect with people, and Persona… the most lovable things about Persona 4 were the things that were unintentionally hilarious — Funky Student, polishing balls, a fox with an apron, etc. Lowenthal may be one of the hardest-working voice actors in games, but he’s possibly also the most overrated.
Lowenthal managed to define a character using little more than one word. Sandal became a Dragon Age fan favorite through his “Enchantments”, and I can’t deny that Lowenthal’s delivery of minimal dialogue had a lot to do with that.
7 — Steve Valentine — The voice of Allistair in Dragon Age and Harry Flynn in Uncharted has a relatively short voice acting resume compared to other actors on this list, but think about how thoroughly horrible Allistair would have been as a character, iffy animations and all, if Valentine hadn’t delivered a vocal line drive up the middle, just on the verge of being thoroughly annoying. His challenge wasn’t just to make Allistair a lovable character, he also had to establish notable traits for his entire family line, undermining the mythologized figure that his father had become, while appealing to men and women in equal but different ways. Voice work isn’t just about variety. It’s about subtlety, nuance, and timing, and with the sheer amount of dialogue required for a main character in an RPG, there are plenty of places to screw that up. Swooping is bad, but voicing is good! Please do more voices, Steve Valentine!
6 — Mark Meer — Another Bioware favorite, his standout role is the male version of Commander Shepard, which is actually… some of the worst voice acting for a playable character in modern history. However, Bro-Shep’s dialogue was so flat and himbo that it actually became part of the character, and playing as a male Shepard is a totally different experience than choosing the Jennifer Hale voiced female counterpart who actually seems to know what’s going on. It’s the perfect voice for a military meathead who can’t dance but somehow still saved the universe. (And he’s Canadian so suck it. CAN-A-DA! CAN-A-DA!)
5 — Carlos Ferro — Carlos Ferro gets no freakin’ kudos as a voice actor, but he seems to be the go-to guy whenever you need someone Spanish and/or Italian in your game. While he’s had his share of stereotypical latino roles and voiced an awful lot of nameless mercenaries, he’s also been the video game voice of Michael Corleone in the Godfather games. Then, of course, there’s his best-known role: Dominic Santiago in Gears of War… which got little-to-no credit for being a latino character because he sounded like a regular guy. You know you’re doing your job when no one notices you doing your job especially with the caliber of voice talent at the table throughout Gears. Ferro, in many ways, had to be the member of Delta Squad you cared about most, in a cast of vocal heavyweights like…
4 — John DiMaggio — Girls at Anime conventions cream themselves over Yuri Lowenthal, BECAUSE OH EM GEE HE WAS SESUKE IN NARUTO! But John DiMaggio is a maaaaan’s voice actor, and I love him too! Okay sure, he doesn’t look like a cross between Tom Cruise and Michael J. Fox, but this dude is the voice of Marcus Fenix AND Bender from Futurama AND Jake from Adventure Time! That’s hot.Then there’s his Ben 10 work, his Superhero voices, and a smattering of weird Japanese stuff that apparently you have to do to earn voice actor cred. BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! He was the Brute Chieftain in Halo 3, AND a Madagascar Penguin! Your move, Lowenthal! Awwww, is that you on the floor crying? WALK IT OFF!
3 — Fred Tatasciore — Admittedlly, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th spots on this list are practically interchangeable. And yes, this is the third Gears of War voice actor on this list. I can’t help it if those guys are awesome. Then again, you may not know that Fred Tatasciore was the voice of Damon Baird. I sure as hell didn’t. I included him because, on top of doing a butt ton of voices including Skylanders, God of War characters, Star Wars guys, Solomon Grundy and Megatron, he voiced “Best Friend” Tabitha in Fallout: New Vegas. The dude spends lengthy portions of dialogue talking to himself. As a woman. This is made of win.
2 — Steve Blum — I actually got tired reading this Steve Blum’s IMDb page, because it was so long. If you’ve ever played a video game, odds are good Steve Blum was in it. Basically, he’s the digital Hugh Jackman: he bops around parts from the acclaimed to the insane, then goes back to playing Wolverine. He seems to have a particular talent for Berserker Dwarves, because he’s also the voice of Oghren in Dragon Age. A possible third incarnation of Wolverine could be Grayson Hunt from Bulletstorm. And he’s also the voice of Urdnot Grunt, the most adorable Krogan ever! Yet, even with a roster of characters like this, there is one male voice even greater…
1 — Mark Hamill — Way back in 1994, a few seriously baddass actors had the foresight to realize that this video game stuff might be a thing someday. We’re talking guys like Tim Curry, Malcolm McDowell, John Rhys-Davis, and MARK FREAKIN’ HAMILL. All these guys are still doing game voices, but only Mark Hamill stole the freakin’ show from Batman.
In my opinion, Hamill actually surpassed his TV cartoon work as the Joker in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, setting a new standard for voice work in video games by alternating the madcap Mista J we all know and love with believable menace way too frightening for a kids show. In fact, he won a BAFTA award for Arkham City, beating, among others, Stephen Fry (who is also extremely awesome). Mark Hamill wins on all counts: length of career, versatility, and that one transcendent part that isn’t just a good game character; it’s a good character, period. If it weren’t for guys like him in the early days, the other voice actors on this list may not have had the opportunities they do, and he can still show the youngin’s how it’s done. Hamill is truly voice work’s Jedi Master.
Liana K has a new web series where she discusses what is going on with her and the world in a particular week. Watch it here:
My honorary 9th person on this list would be Troy Baker. He’s done a ton of work with a lot of it being very good. His voice work in Tales of Vesperia (as Yuri) was spot on, and I think he’ll do an admirable job as Booker DeWitt in Bioshock Infinite. But, with only 8 spots on the list, I had to cut him. A few other people who almost made the cut were; Johnny Yong Bosch, Brian Bloom, Liam O’Brien, Quinton Flynn, Mark Meer, David Hayter, Corey Burton, Robert Clotworthy, Gideon Emery, and of course, Charles Martinet. You’ve likely heard most of these gentleman in the games you play, but for one reason or another they may not have made mine, or Liana’s list.
It seems a lot of people were surprised by the lack of GTA 5 in last week’s column. I don’t know, I think GTA 5 will be a good game (and likely the swan-song of the current consoles), but GTA 4 just did not do it for me. It felt very antiseptic, like a big world for you to explore, but not of it felt very fun. Frankly, I had a lot better time with San Andreas than I did with GTA 4. It’ll take a lot from GTA 5 to sway me away from Saints Row 3, or Sleeping Dogs.
The Walking Dead Season 2 didn’t make my list because I honestly don’t think it’s coming out this year. And even if it does, my extremely poor experience with Season 1 left a bad taste in my mouth.
Also Rayman Legends should be good, if only because Rayman Origins was also good. So, that should likely be a good platformer.