Games Editor Sam Loveridge talks to notorious videogame voice actor, Nolan North, about having the “best job ever”, Uncharted and the new Destiny gig.
Nolan North is the big name in video game voices, whose career shot into the stars when he landed the role of Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series.
But the thing is, North didn’t have a clue how big Uncharted would turn out to be.
“I didn’t even know what it was when I auditioned for it,” explained North.
And for North, Uncharted became something very “special” to him, and that’s not only because the game series pushed him into the limelight.
“It’ll always be the first title or franchise in any media where I was allowed to be the lead. And I put so much of myself into it. Drake’s sense of humour is essentially mine. I was always challenged: how would you figure this out in this situation?”
“The big difference with Drake [as a role] is that it’s just my voice, so it’s nice to have something that’s been so recognised simply be my voice. But it’s also the only one that’s motion captured and that performance capture is a full body performance, so you’re doing your voice and your movement. It’s much like acting in the theatre.”
North appreciates that it wasn’t just his talent that made Uncharted the mammoth franchise it is today, leading to the Uncharted: Nathan Drake Collection being released this month.
“I credit Amy [Hennig, writer of the first three Uncharted games] so much with the first three games. She got to know me so well and we became such good friends that she started writing with my voice in her head. And she did the same thing with Richard McGonagle as Sully and Emily Rose [as Elena Fisher]. She had our personalities in her head.”
“You can’t give the actors all the credit. It’s the writers and creators. These first three [Uncharted] games really epitomise the start of something very special in my career.”
“This is the best job I’ve ever had.”
It’s been nearly eight years since the first game, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, but North has stuck with the series, finding friends in his co-workers that have remained through to the upcoming Uncharted 4 — the last game in the series.
“I think there’s something about the appeal of being the lead character who’s such an everyman hero. Somebody who can lead you in a game, and do all these tasks, but he’s still an everyday man type of character who people can relate to."
“Men and women alike are drawn to this character, which is rare. Sometimes it can be just so testosterone fuelled — or at least in the past. This character is just someone who people really took a liking to.”
Related: PS4 vs Xbox One
But of course, North's career hasn't just been defined by his role as Nathan Drake. He's been the vocal talent behind other characters such as the Penguin in the Batman: Arkham games, Desmond Miles in several Assassin's Creed titles and a ton of others.
Just as a voice actors' strike has been confirmed, Nolan North has strongly praised his profession, highlighting that it's become a more respected career path as the years have moved on.
"I think it’s getting better," North said when I asked if voice acting is an underappreciated art. "I think it has been in the past, but as the games and the writing have become more sophisticated…"
Related: PS4 vs PS3
North also believes that the recognition also comes from the fact that gamers as a demographic have shifted and changed.
"Gamers aren’t just teenagers listening to music and playing games [anymore]; there are professionals, there are people in their forties and fifties playing games, and I think they’re demanding a better product. A better-written product, a more visual experience. They’re much more savvy and sophisticated."
"With people like Gary Oldman and Kevin Spacey lending their talents, some people ask whether I feel threatened by that, but I don’t. Not at all. If anything, it could give a little legitimacy to this medium. Not that it needs legitimacy, but in the public eye."
Related: Xbox One vs Xbox 360
Of course, I couldn't chat to Nolan North without discussing his newest role — and possibly the one that's sparked the most discussion — Ghost in Destiny.
North was drafted in to play Ghost after the launch of the main Destiny game, after the arrival of the first two EPs and just before the launch of The Taken King.
Previously, the role had been voiced by Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage. A great majority of gamers thought Dinklage hadn't done the role justice, saying the actor sounded too mechanical. But Bungie cited scheduling conflicts as the reason for ditching Dinklage and opting for North instead.
"I think Peter Dinklage is an incredible actor. I mean, Game of Thrones, what he’s done in that is phenomenal."
"It’s one of those creative differences, I don’t even know what happened. Possibly his schedule was too difficult and things like that. So I can’t speak to why. That’s really a question for Bungie. But I have a 12-year-old who loves the game and is just super excited that I’m doing it."
Related: Destiny tips and tricks
But for North, there was a scarier element to Bungie's voice actor switcheroo — especially in his line of work.
"The only thing I found interesting was that you could actually replace someone’s voice like that. That’s kinda terrifying to me, because I’m thinking I’ve gotta be on top of my game because that’s scary. I’d hate to turn around one day and hear that Nathan Drake’s voice has been taken out and been replaced with Laurence Fishburne. Larry Fishburne!"
"I mean you never know. In these live-updated games they can do that."
North is also aware that there's a ton of pressure on him from the loyal Destiny fans to do a better job than Dinklage did. At least in their eyes.
"I’m very happy to jump in and do my best. But the sad thing is that I realise there are a lot of people who didn’t like the previous Ghost, but there are a lot of people who did. It’s just hard because you know you can’t please everyone — and I would just love to."
"Some fans are disappointed. One said: 'You’ve ruined Destiny for me, you make me wanna vomit.' I was like: ‘Hey, don’t make it personal or anything.’ I’m sorry, I don’t know what to tell them."
"I often say, if you believe everything nice that people write about you, you have to equally believe the bad. I take everything with a grain of salt and it is what it is."
Related: Best Games 2015
As for what's next for North, he's working on a Vimeo web series with Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk, and is due to appear in something related to Warner Bros.
He's very happy to keep his voice for Nathan Drake, but experiment with putting on voices to create other characters in the future.
"I’m always looking for different kinds of project and different things and different kinds of characters. I like flawed characters; I think some villains can be very interesting if you find a quirk or vulnerability in them.
"In gaming there’s always new cartoons, there’s always new interesting games. Smaller characters in games that are really interesting. Like David, in The Last of Us, was one of those. Such a flawed, strange, interesting character. I wouldn’t want to pass something like that up."
And Uncharted 4?
"These things take a while."
"The PS4 is still probably untapped for everything and all its power and capabilities. So I think the longer it's delayed, while it’s a bit of a bummer, that means that [the developers] are getting a better grasp to maximise what they can do with the PS4 at this time."
"Case and point is that Uncharted 1 was on PlayStation 3. But so was Uncharted 3. And if you look at the differences between the two, you’re like wow — it’s night and day. It’s because they tapped into more."
"So a little extra time means a little extra quality and a better experience overall for the player."