Too Much of a Good Thing: The Overuse of Voice Actor Nolan North
; edited by: Michael Hartman
; updated: 8/8/2012
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Too much of a good thing can get boring and become something undesirable, are we slowly realizing this with the onslaught of games in which Nolan North takes the lead role? Read on to find out...
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Stop Gaming Voice Actor Nolan North?
Batman: Arkham City, Uncharted, Prince of Persia, Halo, Alpha Protocol, Assassin’s Creed, Madworld, Dragonage, Call of Duty, Gears of War, God of War, Metal Gear Solid, Lost Odyssey, Lost Planet, Army of Two, Dark Void, Final Fantasy, Shadow Complex, Sly Cooper, Transformers, ....the list continues. Nolan North is in demand, and these game series have utilised his voice work, whether through a main character or additional voices.
When does enough become enough? Is it down to his own desire to be kingpin of the voice acting in games realm, or is it the onus of developers who lazily hire him to get a milieu of his Nathan Drake personable action cliche?
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Lovable Rogue 101
Some would argue his list of accomplishments is impressive and that his talent creates these opportunities. I can partially entertain that idea myself. The notion that one man can be in so many beloved franchises is quite bewildering, given the apparent wealth of voice actors and talent at developers disposal.
While the erstwhile Nathan Drake is a well acted, almost three dimensional portrayal of the Indiana Jones archetype, using this same personality for other games is an irregular misnomer.
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Gaming Voice Acting's Leading Man
The profligacy with which North has usurped the big budget game market with his accredited wise-cracking and likable voice work is stunning. The problem isn’t that he’s being hired repeatedly by large companies wanting superlative work, it’s in the fact that, when given a lead role, he seems to produce the same mannerisms regardless of the appearance he is making.
Take for example the triumvirate of games North had lead roles in during 2009, Shadow Complex, Dark Void and the ostensible Uncharted 2. Each of the three features characters with similar design features (although Dark Void’s odd anime influenced aesthetic differs slightly) and all too familiar jovial mannerisms.
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Who's To Blame?
The problem may not lie with Nolan North himself, he’s getting payed so who cares?, but even the developers employing him may not necessarily be to blame either. It would seem that either lazy direction for voice actors or sloppy casting is stopping this problem from being curtailed.
Seeing the success of Uncharted and the lovable rogue-like archetype being used in such a great way, developers will want in on some of that pie and lazily start pushing forward scripts including joking leads that manage to get the job done against all odds while maintaining an air of joviality.
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Typecast Voice Acting in Games
With that said, both the casting and voice directors have built upon the content in the game scripts to give North’s voice a chance to do his usual thing. This seems like the best bet when a game uses an archetypal character such as the ones in Dark Void, Shadow Complex and even other games he’s taken the lead in.
The slapdash use of North’s stereotypical drawl is inappropriate to consistently use it in every game the developers want him for, which puts further emphasis on the lack of range he needs to display, whether he has that range or not (appearing in the Army of Two sequel suggests he can utilise different voices etc).
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Bald Space Marines Ahoy!
In addition to this, North’s voice, while repetitive and ingratiating, is a damn sight more intelligible than other less expensive options that turn up in our games (Heavy Rain’s use of French actors speaking awkward English as an example). I guess a well acted voice that we’ve heard several times before is better than a bad translation from Japanese or a low-budget put on fantasy Englishmen, Divinity II springs to mind.
Keep in mind aswell that North likes to provide additional voices for games also. His mode of business and general acumen for the voice acting in games industry in fine, as proven by his relentless access to top quality games and his unremitting body of work, eventually the torch of game leads being this Nolan North archetype will surely have to change.
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Aesthetic Fad - Everyone Wants Nolan North
For instance, before the Nathan Drake's and Jason Flemming's of the world became the lead character normalcy, the clean shaven, rugged, huge-jawed and bald space marine was AAA game developers go to strategy for success. Games like Mass Effect, Too Human, God of War and Gears of War tapped into this during it's excessive tenure.
As with all flashing fads through games history, the bald space marine aesthetic wore off and now we move to the lovable rogue with his daring antics and witticisms. It's a shame no one factors in that Nathan Drake is a mass-murderer, regardless of context, which makes his character the more unbelievable but I'll save that rant for some other time.
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Big Fish In A Small Pond
When extrapolated, perhaps this conundrum of voice (as opposed to developer designs et al) is due to a lack of quality actors willing to invest in voice work.
Given that developers seek the same people for their own AAA desires, Nolan North, Jennifer Hale, Paul Eiding, Claudia Black to name a few, either there is a lack of depth to choose from or the go to people provide such an accessible and renowned voice that the developers would rather bank on the skills of these familiar talents.
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Necessities in Gaming Voice Acting
If you’ve spent millions upon millions of dollars on creating a expansive game world and what would be labelled a AAA game, then to have it ruined by poor voice actors seems somewhat illogical.
As such, people like Nolan North have found themselves at the top of the pole as far as voice acting in games goes, meaning the dev’s will not risk themselves on lesser (whether that’s worse acting or not being as known by the community) voice actors.
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What The Future Holds for Voice Acting in the Gaming Industry
Although some games, like Marc Ecko’s Getting Up, utilize movie stars or other celebrity figures to further the authenticity of the experience, it isn’t the norm and this overuse of people like Nolan North is crippling at least my adventures through games where his charms become blurred with one another.
2012 will most likely be the make or break year for Nolan North, defining whether his possibilities have hit their high water mark or if he still has a bounty of future Nathan Drake imitations to act through.
In comparison to previous years his output has already been dwarfed and maybe the industry has caught on to the insurmountable tumult of North voiced games of the last few years. Here’s hoping that it has and we can preclude the Nathan Drake stereotype from games not titled Uncharted or Assassin's Creed.