July 12, 2012 6:00 PM | jeriaska
Among the inventive design decisions that made Supergiant Games' action RPG Bastion a breakthrough hit on Xbox Live Arcade and Steam was its depth of storytelling.
The character of Rucks guides the player through Bastion's sprawling fantasy world, not by interrupting dramatic sequences with walls of text. Rather, the character speaks, interjecting pithy comments in response to the action as it unfolds.
This month the voice of Rucks is back, this time sleuthing within Wadjet Eye Games' sci-fi adventure Resonance, scheduled for release on Steam on July 25. We caught up with voice actor Logan Cunningham, who inhabits the character of Detective Bennet in Resonance, to hear how the craft of character acting is changing independent games.
The narration in Bastion took people by surprise and demonstrated the degree of innovation that was possible with independent development. What has changed for you as an actor since the game was released?
Logan Cunningham: My life has changed in that I have this degree of fame now. A selling point of Resonance is that I'm the cast. It's somewhat surreal, because having praise thrown at you is not something I'm used to. None of us at Supergiant had done anything like this before, so it's been strange and bewildering for all of us, but mostly awesome.
Had you considered voice acting prior to your role as Rucks, or has this series of voice roles come as a surprise?
It's all surprising. I never know in advance what I'm going to do next. Last week my voice was on national television on an ABC show called "Don't Trust The B---- in Apt 23." That came out of nowhere. I was directly contacted by one of the producers on the show and I recorded an audition from home. That was the track that they ended up using.
This is something that took me fifteen minutes and it wound up on a television show popular enough to be renewed for a second season. That's not a thing that I thought would happen.
There must have been a fan of Bastion embedded in that process somewhere.
The story is that they had been auditioning voice actors from big agencies and had not found someone they were happy with. But there was an intern, or an assistant editor in the office that had played Bastion, that showed the producers the trailer and said they should get that guy. So they did. I narrated a graphic novel, an animated sequence of the comic book that appears during the season finale.
Your latest game, Resonance, is being published by Dave Gilbert's adventure game studio Wadjet Eye Games. How did it come about that you were offered the role of Detective Bennet?
Another actor in the cast, Sarah Elmaleh, is a voice actor and does a lot of theater here in New York. I started following her on twitter, because it seemed like a good idea to get to know other people in this field that are local. She had been cast in the game back in January.
At that point there was a playable character that they still needed to cast, for someone who could do a low, gravelly voice. She introduced me over email to Dave and the creator of the game, Vincent Wesselman, of XII Games. I recorded for an audition and they liked how it sounded.
Before there was much of a precedence for voice acting in point-and-click adventure games, you had some experience with this genre?
The Secret of Monkey Island is one of my favorite games. I go back and forth between that and Star Wars Jedi Knight. I wasn't really a console gamer until later, but I played Loom and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis on the PC. Early LucasArts is when I think they were at their best. It's a classic genre that went away for awhile, but now it's back.
Resonance is a science fiction story. A scientist has developed a powerful weapon, it goes missing, and you and your party set out to solve this mystery. Did the nature of this storyline require a different kind of approach to the acting?
It was more of a traditional character role than was the case with Bastion. Rucks never interacts with anyone in his surroundings. He is the storyteller, providing context and exposition. Now, in this game, I have scenes of dialog with other characters. In that sense, it's more of a regular acting kind of situation.
Who is directing the scenes while you are recording for the game?
Dave of Wadjet Eye and his wife Janet are based out of their studio apartment in the Village here in Manhattan. We did a total of five recording sessions.
Seeing as the other actors are not there with you in the booth, does that require an extra degree of imagination, to not only consider the particulars of the scene but also how the other actors would be responding?
You have to invent quite a lot, since you're alone. That's the hardest thing about voice acting in general. You have a script, you can hear the director in the headphones, and you have your voice and your imagination.
Your part was recorded recently, but Resonance has been in development for several years. When did Wadjet Eye become involved in readying a build for release?
Vince is in Nebraska, has a full-time job and a family, but has been working on the game for at least five years. He could only commit twelve hours at a time any given week, so last year he approached Wadjet Eye about not just publishing the game but completing the development. Janet Gilbert has been coding it full-time over the past several months and even writing lines of dialog to further flesh out the story. It's a great thing for Vince, who has been working on this game for so long.
Being based in New York, does working in the theater interest you? Following the release of Bastion, you had played a role in a musical by Supergiant Games' sound director Darren Korb.
Yes, Darren and his older brother Daniel wrote a rock musical called 'Marry Me.' It was originally a screenplay by Darren's brother, but over the course of two years they wrote songs for it and it was transformed into a musical.
If you choose to be an actor here in New York, chances are you made that decision because you want to do theater. I have a partial theater background and the dream for me would be to make a living doing film and television, so that I can afford to do theater. Film is a director's medium and television is often a writer's medium, but the theater is really an actor's medium. You are responsible for everything.
No one's yelling cut.
No one's yelling cut. You go until the curtain closes. It teaches you to sustain a character throughout a performance. A lot of work is required, but I'm always very impressed by good acting in plays. Most of my favorite actors in film have a theater background. The importance of voice and being heard a hundred feet away from the stage also prepares you for voice acting roles where you are speaking into a microphone. There is that technical detail shared between them.
Oftentimes games are characterized as having minimal character development. "Cardboard cutouts for protagonists" is a critique that has been leveled against the medium for years. What are you looking for in a role for a videogame?
I know it when I see it, but I don't have a particular dream role. The key to good voice acting in games, where voice acting seems to suffer most, is time. Giving your voice actor enough time for recording is crucial. So is good writing, taking that time to get it right. A character that changes, that is alive in some way, is preferable to a stock character that you can exchange for something you've seen in just about every other game.
Now that you have some time to consider the kinds of roles to pursue next, do you have plans for your future as an actor?
The legwork of being an actor is not something I'm particularly good at. You really have to be auditioning constantly. But I've been very lucky to have people that I know ask me to be an actor as a favor to them.
This is probably the start of my career... although I hate that word. I think about going back to school for voice, now that I'm a voice actor. It's been a dream of mine to audition for the Actor's Studio here in New York. Pacino, Hoffman, James Dean, Paul Newman all came through the studio. It's this great thing that still exists here in New York. But from here on, it's difficult to say. Whatever happens, happens.