Spoken dialogue has become increasingly important to video game storytelling. Increasingly, actors that have gained fame in film or television are lending their talents to video games. However, not all celebrities receive the typical Hollywood treatment when they step off the red carpet and onto the digital plane. Instead of plastering an A-list celebrity on every poster and putting them front and center, many video games deal with celebrity in subtle ways. I’m neither a movie nor a casting director, so I can’t speak very well to the business dealings of voice acting. But, from a player’s perspective, celebrity talent in games takes a variety of forms that range from celebrated, to subtle, to self-aware.
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I began and ended my career as a video game designer with superheroes. I had an idea for what I thought would be the next big thing in online gaming—Everquest, but with superheroes! This was in the days before World of Warcraft when Everquest was the big dog with its hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Luckily for me, I knew a guy with a ton of internet bubble money who wanted to get into game development, and we were off and running. Three years later, I was fired—although I stayed on as a freelancer through the eventual launch of City of Heroes in 2004. It was quite a ride for me personally, but the end result (owing only a tiny portion of its success to my influence) was a cool, fun game that was a best seller out of the gate. I was even a fan and played it more than was probably good for me. Of course then World of Warcraft came later that year and blew everything else away. Even I switched over to WoW for a while before eventually giving up on MMOs for other pursuits. I’d had my fill.
One of the many odd things that happened during my time working on City of Heroes was that the word “superhero” and the phrase “super hero” disappeared entirely from our vocabularies when it came to speaking publicly about the game. It turns out that Marvel Comics and DC Comics hold a very, very dubious trademark on the term. I still think that this is total BS, but no one wanted to have that fight or pay those lawyers. So, our game was instead about “super-powered heroes.” I don’t know if my old company’s second game, Champions Online, used the word or not, but it began life as a Marvel Comics-based MMO, so maybe it did. But there’s a stupid, semantic argument to be made that now, seven years later, the world finally has its first “real” superhero MMORPG—DC Universe Online.
I hate the elf. I’ve always hated the Elf.
You know what I mean. You have to know what I mean because that tattletale narrator in the arcade classic Gauntlet is always telling you who to blame: “Elf Shot the Food.”
That damned Elf is always shooting the food.
Gauntlet, like most games of the arcade era, is a game designed to eat quarters. While offering only a single life per initial quarter for the player occupying the role of Warrior, Valkyrie, Wizard, or Elf, it was one of the first games in my recollection that featured “hit points” in the form of a Health counter that ticked ever downwards over the course of a playthrough. Health could be increased by gathering food, or better yet for the owner of the machine, by adding another quarter during that time.
Soviet iconography? In my LittleBigPlanet?
It’s more likely than you think.
I’ve been generally impressed with LittleBigPlanet 2 as at least a worthy successor of the original game, though I’ll withhold a full review for a later time and in the proper place. As with the first title, it’s a colorful bricolage of aesthetic and cultural reference points, always celebratory and never critical. It’s all about validating worldly curiosity, you see, from the perspective of unbiased childlike exploration, and in that way, it’s sort of magical. I’ve never seen grown men’s faces split into boyish grins as quickly as when I hand over control of these games to friends. Maybe it’s because we’re all children of the ‘80s, and there is something part Lego, part early MTV, part pillow fort, and part Saturday morning cartoon about these games, but nothing seems to get my fellow twenty-somethings nostalgic like a bit of well placed historical specificity.
As an experiential medium, it is often the little moments that mean so much in video games. This week we wrap up our discussion of gaming in 2010 by recapping some of the most emotionally affective and just plain cool moments in games like Red Dead Redemption, Bioshock 2, Amnesia, and Heavy Rain (to name just a few).