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Video Games Score Points By Keeping It Vocally Real

The creators of NBA Street: Homecourt recorded the sounds of authentic street ballers. To find the perfect voice for Mario, below, Ninetendo held auditions 17 years ago and hired an English-trained actor who nailed the character's Italian- Brooklyn accent.
The creators of NBA Street: Homecourt recorded the sounds of authentic street ballers. To find the perfect voice for Mario, below, Ninetendo held auditions 17 years ago and hired an English-trained actor who nailed the character's Italian- Brooklyn accent. (Ea Sports)

Says Ryder of EA, "I was back and forth with Charles with scripting things they might say to each other, but the main emphasis was improvisation and getting them in real playing positions to get them to start trash-talking."

Ryder's b-ball credits include playing on Princeton's team and playing his own share of pickup games. It's also not lost on him that casting, be it in video games or the movies, means someone being put in a position to judge just what is authentic and what is not.

"There's really not much difference in the two mediums," he says. "It's really a matter of who's running the show. I look for guys with game and personality. It's not rocket science."

On-screen, the game is packed with fast-paced players and fast-paced dialogue. A player misses a shot, shouts ring out for the rebound, "Get the re, get the re!!!" A player moves in to guard an opponent. "I got him," he says. And then, after a shot attempt is thoroughly rejected -- the ball unmercifully swatted away -- you hear the player's taunt, "You ain't tryin' to come up here."

Madden NFL and NCAA Football game franchises, both part of the EA sports family, are also known for their attention to detail. The company recently bought the rights to exclusively produce games based on the NFL and NCAA. Aubrey Hodges, the audio director for EA Tiburon, says no matter what the cost, his team wants to get the most lifelike sound as possible.

Hodges sends recording teams out to several college football games in Florida, where EA Tiburon is based. The teams record crowd noises, on-field collisions, sideline chatter and fan chants.

"We want the player to be connected to the emotions of the game," says Hodges, who became audio director four years ago.

On Madden, about 20 of the quarterback voices heard in the game are the actual quarterbacks themselves or other pro football quarterbacks. The voices of college quarterbacks are used for NCAA football games. "Without good audio you can kill a game very quickly," Hodges says.

That pursuit of the "authentic" was also the case 17 years ago when Nintendo was looking for a new voice for its popular Mario character, though the scale and the scope of that pursuit seem quaint in the face of today's efforts, and the nature of many video games themselves.

Charles Martinet was late for his audition and, as a result, was told to forget about it. After pleading his case, Martinet got his shot at sounding like an Italian plumber from Brooklyn. He nailed it on the first try.

"I started going and didn't stop until the tape ran out," he says.

Martinet, who studied acting in England and pursued theater in California for 10 years, has since voiced more than 200 video games, including the Lord of the Rings franchise, Men in Black and Star Wars.


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