Troy Baker is slowly but surely establishing himself as one of the most prolific and capable of gaming voices actor’s in the voice over industry. His résumé is a sight to behold, an incredibly layered and rich list of dozens and dozens of high profile AAA titles, most of which hold Troy at the helm as one of the, if not the, main character. With talent in abundance, he is surely one of voice over’s leading lights for the future.
TGL had to honour of speaking with Troy as part of our on-going Voice Actor Week and as well as talking to him about his origins in the industry, his most recognisable characters and his future plans, we got to pick his brains about the forthcoming HD re-release of Silent Hill 2, a game that sees Troy re-voice protagonist James Sunderland. Troy tells us about how he first got involved in the project, why the HD release will remain loyal to the original Silent Hill 2 experience and what he makes of the controversy that surrounds the voice changes.
Here we go……
TGL: Hi Troy! It’s a real pleasure to have you on TGL. How are you doing today?
Troy Baker: I’m doing fantastic thank you. I actually was doing a voice over session this morning and they didn’t have all the scripts ready so they were like “Well….I guess you’re done for the day”! So my timetable opened up. It’s great that I could speak to you.
TB: Well first and foremost, I think it’s important to note that I AM A NERD! I’m a card carrying badge wearing NERD! That and I’ve always been a gamer. So to make something and to be involved in making something that I’m eventually going to geek out over is, for me, the ultimate dream. I started out as a musician in Texas in a band called Tripp Fontaine and the studio where we were recording our album also did a lot of commercials. So one day when we were cutting drum tracks or something like that, I popped my head in another door and it was literally a case of right place right time because they were looking for a voice guy. So I started doing car commercials for them and was eventually just able to meet the right people. The first person that I met in the industry was Christopher Sabat who plays Vegeta in Dragonball Z and Chris got me into anime. Then there was a buddy of mine who was the audio director at Gearbox and that’s how I became the lead in Brothers In Arms as Sergeant Matthew Baker. So I guess one thing just lead onto the next. I’m still waiting for people to get wise and be like “Wait a minute! He’s not talented. He’s just lucky”. But so far it hasn’t happened. It’s been a fun run.
TGL: Voice acting takes up all your time now I take it?
TB: Yes. It’s been a real lateral move forward for me. I’ve been so fortunate that ever since I moved out to L.A I haven’t had to get a job waiting on tables or whatever. I just decided that no matter what, no matter how broke I was, I was going to put every bit of energy and every bit of time that I had into building this career and its slowly paid off, especially in the last two or three years. I’ve been able to get some great roles like Snow Villiers in Final Fantasy X-III and that really helped be pop up on people’s radars. So I’ve been incredibly fortunate.
TGL: But Snow is just one example of the calibre of huge characters you’ve either voiced or preparing to voice. For starters you’re going to be playing Ryu Hayabusa in the forthcoming Ninja Gaiden III, right?
TB: Yes, Ninja Gaiden III. It was unveiled at E3 earlier this summer. It’s going to be pretty cool. I was so frustrated with the last game because it was incredibly hard! But you just absolutely have to love Ryu. He’s just such a cool character.
TGL: But Ryu aside, you’re sitting on a handful of other huge characters like Bioshock: Infinite as Booker DeWitt and in Batman: Arkham City as Two-Face. These are all really HUGE games…..
TB: Yeah, this year and last year specifically have been nuts. I’m still kind of looking over my shoulder waiting for people to go, “Ok, you’ve had enough kid. Sit down!” But for some reason they haven’t.
TGL: But a lot of people at the moment might instantly recognise as Vincent Brooks in Catherine. Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement in that? You worked on that with your good friends Travis Willingham and Laura Bailey too, so that must have been cool?
TB: It was an entire cast of friends. You very rarely get a chance to work with your closest friends like this. I’ve done several games with the guys at Atlus and that team specifically really trust their actors. That’s why a lot of times you’ll see a lot of the same cast come back for their games because they know what they can get out of us. They’re so gracious and they offer us so much levity and we would sit and camp on some of the big important lines on Catherine to make sure we did them right and did it justice. I played Kanji Tatsumi in Person 4 and that character resonated with people like crazy. It had a very controversial subject nature just like Catherine. Catherine just takes the cake when it comes to controversy. Atlus does an incredible job in telling stories about everyday things in absolutely extraordinary ways. It’s so bizarre and out of the scope of reality but at the same time, its stuff that everyone has encountered but its exhibited in very exaggerated ways.
There was so much dialogue with Catherine and we all thought that we’d never get through it. There was just so much talking. So when we eventually got through it, it was sad to be done.
TGL: Catherine seems like a kind of once in career type job….
TB: I guarantee you that there will never be another game like Catherine unless there’s a sequel. It’s just so different.
TGL: Arkham City sees you voice Two-Face. Do you like voicing bad guys and villains?
TB: I think I’ve more of an aptitude or at least more of an affinity in me to play villains. If I play good guys then typically they’re the cocky good guy. So there’s a little bad guy in there. Collette Sunderman who is the voice director on the game, she’s also the director on Generator-X on Cartoon Network, has been amazing and incredibly helpful to me. I’ve auditioned maybe once or twice for Collette and every other time she would be like, “Hey kid, I want you to come in and read for this role.” And that can be for anything from Scooby Doo to Arkham City. I was a huge fan of Arkham Asylum going back to the graphic novel. That graphic novel completely changed the face of graphic novels for me. I was a comic book kid too so when I found out that they were going to make that into a game, that flipped my lid because it was such a crazy endeavour. Obviously Arkham Asylum the game was widely successful and when I came in for Arkham City, I had no idea who I was going to play. Collette wanted to keep it secret. So when I got to the stage and found out, I did my best not to freak out because as I walked into the room, I could see Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill and we were all in there together reading. Mark and I had worked together on a couple of things in the past and he’s such an incredible guy. He’s so gracious and he will sit and talk to you about anything. We would sit and talk about the Beatles and the Stones and our music backgrounds.
When I walked in for my first session with Kevin Conroy I was standing across the room from him and I thought to myself that that’s MY Batman, that’s who I grew up with. So I was sitting there talking to him and I asked him about a Mad Hatter episode and if he remembered it. Bruce Wayne wakes up and says “perchance to dream.” And he say “Yeah, that’s my favourite episode too.” So I had this wonderful moment with Kevin Conroy and that’s the kind of guy that I am. I’m a fanboy. I’m a nerd and I just geek out on all these moments too.
All I can say about Arkham City is that it’s absolutely amazing and no one is prepared for it, nobody. I don’t care what you think you know about it, nobody is prepared for it. It’s going to shake the Batman foundations. It’s incredible. I’m so glad to be a part of it.
TGL: Speaking of other great voice over’s, of course Nolan North is involved as the Penguin…
TB: Everybody knows Nolan North now as Nathan Drake and he did a very similar thing in Prince of Persia and Desmond in Assassin’s Creed because he’s just so good at being Nolan. And then he comes out of left field as this amazing take on Cobblepot Penguin that is just incredible. I just saw Nolan actually and he’s wrapping up Uncharted 3 and I asked him if he was going to take a break and he was like “I can’t man, I’d love to, but there’s more stuff I need to do.” He’s writing a book now about Uncharted and his life as a voice actor. He’s just such a tremendous guy and a good friend. So to share credits on Arkham city with people like Nolan, Kevin and Mark is pretty cool.
TB: Again, I’m a fan of Bioshock. Ken Levine at Irrational Games is an incredibly unique person. Someone asked just what is it like working with Ken and I said that I won’t know until we start. You see, you don’t work with Ken, you have fun with Ken. You create with Ken. He has this one phrase that he’s drilled into my head. He always says “drain the swamp”. I’ve never had to trust a director more in my life because what we’re doing is really ambitious. Number one, were taking a first person character and giving him a voice and that’s really never been done before. You’ve got no eyes, no face, nothing to visually sell intension or emotion. That’s really a challenge with a character like Booker DeWitt. He’s very soft spoken. He’s not monotone, but he’s incredibly stoic. So how do you convey the inner turmoil that he has? We’re still in the early phases of this and were going to talk about that at PAX in Seattle. It’s really an interesting exercise as an actor to remember that you really do have to sell all this, not only with your voice but with Courtnee Draper who plays Elizabeth. This is Courtnee’s first game. It’s a pretty daunting task that we have and we’re going to be doing this for a while. People always say if I’m going to say something about the game that I’m not supposed to. The answer is no. Ken is keeping us so far in the dark that I love how the story in unfolding for us the same way it is for everyone else, so that’s pretty cool.
TGL: So Troy, I have to ask you about Silent Hill 2 HD because it emerged a couple of days ago that you are taking over from Mr. Guy Cihi as the voice of leading character James Sunderland. The new voices and the decision to re-voice the original characters have ignited a lot of controversy among fans of the original game. Tell us a little about how you first got involved in the new HD version and what do you make of the controversy that surrounds the re-voicing of the characters?
TB: Well, we found out last year that Konami were going to be doing this HD release and we weren’t sure exactly how it would go down or if Konami was simply going to an HD treatment of the game or redo the voices. It was all in deliberation for a time. Then it just emerged really quickly that they were going to recast and use new voices and we didn’t really know why. They just decided that they were going to do this. So we didn’t know if they wanted us to just voice match or if they wanted us to do something different. For the tenth year anniversary, they wanted to do something different that was new. They told us that obviously they don’t want to change the story or the gameplay or anything else but that they just kind of want to give it a fresh face.
One of the problems that we had, along with our biggest challenge was that they weren’t going to redo any of the mo-cap and they weren’t redoing any of the lip animations so really, it was like doing anime. We had to lip sync everything. So we were tied to the original performances which, for a lot of fans, are monumental and it is a benchmark in gaming performance. But the original performances were met with mixed reviews too. We all knew going in that we were going to get raised on this and people would be on both sides and be like, “this is amazing” or be on the polar opposite and say that “it’s the worst thing ever”. Regardless, we were going to have to live with it. But we knew as fans that we wanted to do something that was true to Silent Hill, not necessarily anyone else’s performance of it, but true to Silent Hill and all of its incarnations.
I’ve had the chance to play and write and perform with Akira Yamaoka who did all the music for Silent Hill and I’ve played all the Silent Hills. I’m a fan of the game. So it was an interesting task. So when I was going in I just had to wipe myself clean and just not necessarily try to be Guy Cihi, but try to be James Sunderland. That was more the task that we all took on. We wanted to be those characters, to be Mary, to be Maria or to be Eddie. I feel that we all brought our own sense to it and I think that we all captured the essence of the game. But I think that when people listen to it, they hear the original and even Tom Hulett, who was the producer on it, had to turn himself off and realise that that’s not how the original sounds. And anytime you hear something different, even in music when you hear a live version of a song that you love, it kind of takes on something else and you think “No no no, you were supposed to hit this note” or “this is the way it’s supposed to go” because that’s the way we’ve been programmed in to it. I always bring things back to being a musician for me. I’ll always remember that when my band was doing our album, our producer wouldn’t let us take rough mixes home. He wanted us to lay down the tracks and walk away. He used to say that we’d hear the song when we’re done with it. We’d done our part and we wanted to be involved in the production but he didn’t want us sitting and listening to how these songs sound because even if they sound better when were done with it, they won’t sound right to you because this is the way you’re used to hearing it. And I think that’s what we’re hearing and we’re seeing now with all the forums blowing up.
Specifically to Guy Cihi, you know, outside of Silent Hill 2, I honestly don’t know of anything else he’s done. I’m sure that if Silent Hill was my big game and I did it ten years ago and I saw how successful it was, I would want more money too. Actually, I don’t know if I would be that way because id just be happy that I was a part of a successful franchise. The thing that I have learned, especially with the Japanese companies, is that you never ever speak out. You never bash your employers. You never bash the people who gave you a huge leg up no matter what they’ve done or what you feel that they’ve done. But the fact that he’s talking about residuals being in videogames shows you just how out of the loop he is because residuals don’t happen. They don’t exist. Don’t think for a second that I don’t wish that I had a fraction of a penny for every unit sold of Call of Duty: Black Ops or Modern Warfare 2 or Modern Warfare 3 that we’re finishing up right now. I would love to see that. But that’s not how the system works right now. So it’s not that Konami wasn’t willing to pay them, he (Guy) wanted residuals, he wanted non-existent money that he felt that he was owed. So Konami has no fault in this whatsoever. And they wanted to use him again. Guy was the one who was outspoken about it and said that unless this happens he wouldn’t do it, so he forced Konami’s hands. So if anybody wants to blame anybody for why they chose new voices, they can go back to the original James and he’s the one to blame.
TGL: Is the integrity of Silent Hill 2 as we knew it with the old voices, still intact with these new voice performances? Obviously the experience will be altered but will Silent Hill 2 ‘feel’ the way it should?
TB: Well it depends. With a game like Silent Hill, it’s all about what’s happening around you that creates that experience. It’s not just the visuals, it’s not just the gameplay. You feel like you are trapped in this town and everything around you is creeping you the hell out. I’m obviously a little biased but I honestly feel that we’ve had ten years for the original Silent Hill 2 to really ferment and see the impact that it has had and see how it resonates with people and see the fact that people still have nightmares about nurses and Pyramid Head. That’s Silent Hill. They didn’t have the benefit of that ten years ago which was to their determent when they first did this. So they were all creating this from the ether and it was all make believe, which is what we all do. We had no idea if Catherine was going to be successful. Ken had no idea if Bioshock was going to be successful. But people bought it!
So now we’ve had ten years to really immerse ourselves in Silent Hill 2 so we know what that world is like. We know who the characters are. We actually had more of a benefit going in understanding Silent Hill now than I think Guy or the original cast did, which is not their fault, it’s just the nature of the way that it’s done. The one thing that we were limited by was that we were tied to their performances. So when people say that it sounds worse, it does sound jilted in places because a choice that I would make is not a choice that Guy would make, so you have to somehow fit that into what’s already there and slip into someone else’s skin and have that come out. What I feel that myself and everyone else on that cast did was very much a case of, you’re going crazy but you’re not crazy yet! It was that perpetual phase of you feeling James going insane and feeling all these people being very ethereal and ghostly. So I feel that we really captured that and I feel we did a really good job on it. Again though, I’m biased.
TGL: It sounds like you’ve really thought about James and you’ve really embraced his character and his circumstances…
TB: Yes. But I’m totally pro opinion. We don’t live in a fascist state. Please, have your opinion. If you want to hate it, that’s fine. Just go back to the original because it still exists. You can still play it. This is just something new for a new generation. It’s an endeavour for Konami to say that we want to bring this classic game back and give it a new treatment. We want to show you things that you never saw before. Visually, it’s BEAUTIFUL! It you liked how dark it was before, it’s even darker now because we have better technology now.
So I’m totally open to people not liking it but I did it with eyes open. I knew going in there that people were going to hate it or that people were going to love it. Nobody held a gun to my head. I wasn’t forced to do this. I chose to do it. And if anybody was going to do it, I wanted to be the one to do it. But I understand how people feel about this new changes. I get it. We see all these new versions of old classics and sometimes you wonder why. Everyone’s making a new version of an old movie. I mean, they’re making a new Footloose for crying out loud. C’mon, I saw the trailer for that and was like “That is not Kevin Bacon!” But I totally understand. I even put this up on my Facebook and said that we should just let the “roast” begin. I don’t hold any malice towards anybody who has an opinion. I find it funny when people who are reviewing me based on the new trailer and they don’t even know who I am. They say that the new actor (me) displays his abysmal lack of acting chops. My reaction to that is ok, cool, that same person might have praised me for something else I’ve done before. But it’s cool to see how people respond like that. It’s kind of like a blind taste test.
TGL: So with the Silent Hill 2 HD version and the original version that’s already out there, gamers now have a choice and can experience the same game in different ways…
TB: Absolutely. No one is stopping you. Just drag out the old game, drag out your PS2 and go to town baby! Again though, it’s totally open to interpretation and that’s the beauty of any kind of entertainment, it’s totally subjective. No one is saying that NO this is the best or this is the ultimate. It’s all up to you. And it’s cool that Guy has had the time to engage with the franchise again and be that passionate about how he feels and he’s entitled to that opinion. I just think that simply I don’t have the time or the desire to engage in arguments about what I feel that I’m entitled to or what I’m owed. I’m not owed anything. Going back to what I said at the start, the very fact that I’m able to do this is blows my mind. I have to realise that there are thousands of people lined up every day to do what I’m doing for free. The fact that I get paid for it at all is pretty amazing.
TGL: Let’s move away from Silent Hill 2 for a moment, can I ask you about future projects and what your working on moving forward?
TB: Well there’s some stuff that was announced at GamesCom, the new MMO called WildStar is one of them. I’m really proud to be involved in that with Jim Cummings and Tara Strong. It’s a more fun romp than World of Warcraft or Starcraft. It’s not trying to dethrone WOW or Starcraft. You just can’t do that because they’re just too big. So instead with WildStar, they’re doing something different. It’s not going to try and capture the market, it’s just going to try and give people an alternative, and it’s fun. We’ve only just begun on that. It will be a very long process but even the trailer that they showed really gives you a small taste of the flavour of what WildStar is all about. It’s going to be hilarious and really fun.
On the flip side of that, there’s Diablo III. I can’t say too much about that but I am involved in that and we’ve been working on that obviously for a very very long time. It’s been a very long prowess for this game to come out, but trust me, everyone at Blizzard is ready for this game to come out. It’s going to be amazing and I love the role that I have in it even though I can’t say what it is. Needless to say, I think that people are going to love the character; even people in Blizzard really love him. It’s great and that’s been really fun to work on. After that, obviously Arkham City is out in October and then we have Saints Row: The Third, which is great because I get to be the character that everyone can chose not to be, which is kind of a weird thing for me. Then there’s a game called Binary Domain that SEGA is doing which is a really ambitious game for them I think. The subject nature is really cool and its set in the future and it has a kind of iRobot, third person, Minority Report feel to it. It asks the questions of where do humans and machines end, you know? What is a human? I get to play a great character in that again with Travis Willingham and Laura Bailey. We got to go over to Japan for two months and film this thing and I literally flew home from Japan, hit LAX the same day, went straight to the studio and started working on Saints Row: The Third. That was over a year ago. So we just finished that up and I finally got to see the game trailer that they showed at E3 and I was just blown away. They blew the lid off what over the top is. It’s going to be absolutely incredible.
There’s more stuff then that’s coming out next year but between Catherine, Arkham City, Saints Row: The Third and Modern Warfare 3, its going to be a pretty good way to wrap up 2011 for me.
TGL: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Troy. We really appreciate your time and your honesty. It’s been a pleasure speaking to you.
TB: Thanks so much guys.