Posts Tagged ‘Critical Role’

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In case this is the first time you’ve ever read one of my articles or listened to That Girl with the Curls podcast, let me tell you that I have a tremendous love of cartoons and animation in general. I was on a steady diet of them as a child and I indulge myself in them regularly as an adult. Part of the fun of cartoons is picking out the voice actors involved because, if we’re being honest, its those voices, those performances we remember most. The last five years have seen a rise invoice actor visibility thanks to social media and comic book conventions branching out into all aspects of geek/nerd culture, giving all of us the opportunity to exclaim to many of these actors that they were the voices of our childhood. I can say that I’ve personally made that statement to many of the voice actors I’ve had the opportunity to meet. I smile, they smile, there’s so much smiling!

Maniacal Geek and Jess Harnell

Maniacal Geek and Jess Harnell

The point, though, is that we’re invested in voice actors because they’ve managed to, on the one hand, reinvigorate our nostalgia or, on the other hand, excite us based on a recent performance. And because they’ve worked that magic on us, we turn that emotional investment into actual money, paying to meet them at conventions, take a photo, or just buying something they happen to be involved in because we want to support their work.

So it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to extend that same love and devotion to voice actors involved with video games, mostly because the overlap is pretty substantial. Odds are, you’ve finished a video game that may have had some iffy game play, but still managed to win you over with its characters. Or, miracle of miracles, you’ve sat through 60 hours of phenomenal game mechanics, stunning visuals, on top of falling in love with the characters involved in the story. It’s true that the writing contributes a lot, but it’s the voice actors that seal the deal and make those characters memorable.

I say all of this because, as of Friday, October 21st, the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) have been on strike against 11 video game companies. As sited on the SAG-AFTRA release statement, the actors are on strike, after 19 months of negotiations, to rectify their treatment under an outdated contract that keeps the actors from earning secondary compensation as well as demanding more transparency from producers in interactive media regarding the information provided to voice actors prior to acceptance of the job. Voice actors are frequently kept in the dark about the project, role, and the nature of the performance required by the studio, which prevents them from making an informed and meaningful decision about the roles they take. If on-camera actors can curate their careers based on jobs taken, why not voice actors?

As for the secondary compensation, there’s a great breakdown of what SAG-AFTRA is asking for and the impact it would actually have on the game industry. To put it bluntly, what the voice actors are asking for – additional bonuses for every two million copies, or downloads sold, or unique subscribers to on-line games only, with a cap at 8 million units/subscribers –  would barely make a dent in the overall profits seen by the companies. Considering a game like Grand Theft Auto V made $2.4 billion, on unit sales alone, the bonuses based on the cast size of 840 with the eight million cap only adds up to roughly $3.5 million in secondary compensation. That’s not even factoring in additional profits made off of downloadable content (DLC) or special collector’s edition. So, yeah, not exactly breaking the bank.

Maniacal Geek and Susan Eisenberg

Maniacal Geek and Susan Eisenberg

The backlash against the strike, however, has been focused on framing the voice actors as greedy and ungrateful, which seems to be the standard operation for most companies when money is on the line. Believe me, my family has gone through its share of Boeing strikes, so I know how this can go down. What’s more disheartening are the gamers/consumers who appear to agree with the producers, calling out voice actors for making a big deal out of nothing because their job is the “easiest” part of game development. There’s also a “meh” mentality to the issue and how it’s being reported on, as if the problem will blow over eventually, and speculation on whether or not consumers would even notice if voice actors were taken out of the equation.

As a blanket objection to consumers and journalists, Jennifer Hale aptly states:

Let me hear the sound you’d make if you were slashed in half by a sword? How about you’re struck in the heart by a bullet? How does your throat feel? … I have friends who have had to have surgery because of the vocal stress they incurred in the session and they’ve been out of work for months. [Source: NPR]

 

In one go, Hale has pointed out that not only is voice acting a skill, it’s also an intensive and strenuous job. If you’re putting your all into the performance, your voice could, and probably will, suffer, which could prevent you from getting work down the line if medical attention is needed. And if the game you sacrificed your voice for sells, shouldn’t you be entitled to some money since it was your voice that contributed to the overall package that is the game? Again, on-camera actors negotiate back-end deals all the time – getting a piece of the merchandising or a straight up bonus from the studio if the movie performs well. That’s on top of pretty high salaries depending on what type of movie they’re working on, so why aren’t voice actors given the same consideration? A lackluster performance in a movie can kill the box office numbers just as easily as a lackluster performance can kill a video game’s enjoyability. Both can live or die by word of mouth, so the better the performance the better the sales.

And if you’d like a visceral example of how deeply a voice actor can affect you, go watch Critical Role on Geek & Sundry. I’m not kidding. The entire cast of players is made up of voice actors and they manage to, without visual prompting, animatics, or blocking, deliver nuanced and tremendously affective performances. If that doesn’t make you realize how valuable voice actors are to storytelling, I don’t know what will.

If you have the opportunity, please go on Twitter to show your support with #PerformanceMatters. Even if it’s just sharing an article or showing solidarity, I know the actors will appreciate it. And if you have the time, go check out I Know That Voice, or listen to me interview some voice actors on That Girl with the Curls Podcast!

 

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critical-role-castI’m only 65 episodes behind the curve, but I’m a fast learner when it comes to the fun, entertaining, and surprisingly heartfelt Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) web series, Critical Role. A live broadcast and weekly peek into a world beset with ancient dragons, barbarian hoards, and some rather unconventional gnomes, Critical Role follows the exploits of Vox Machina, a group of mostly heroic adventurers as they traverse the fictional land of Tal’Dorei. The intrepid band of misfits, however, are brought to life by an equally, and mostly, heroic group of dice-slinging voice actors, all of whom have been playing their characters for three years; two on the live stream and one year prior to the inception of the show. The characters and their actors are as follows:

  • Vax’ildan “Vax” (Liam O’Brien) – a half-elf rogue/paladin and twin brother to Vex’ahlia
  • Vex’ahlia “Vex” (Laura Bailey) – a half-elf ranger/rogue and twin sister to Vax’ildan who also has a pet bear named Trinket
  • Grog Strongjaw (Travis Willingham) – a goliath barbarian
  • Keyleth (Marisha Ray) – a half-elf druid
  • Percival de Rolo “Percy” (Taliesin Jaffe) – also known as Percival Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III, a human gunslinger
  • Scanlan Shorthalt (Sam Riegel) – a gnome bard
  • Pike Trickfoot (Ashley Johnson) – a gnome cleric

And guiding our heroes in their exploits is the world-building powerhouse of a Dungeon Master (DM) that is Matthew Mercer. Pulling some impressive double-duty, Mercer not only crafts the realm of Tal’Dorei but he also effortlessly voices all of the non-playable characters (NPC), running the gamut of high-born ladies, lowly orcs, and a thoroughly confused bear.

I’ve only played D&D, and some other tabletop games, a few times in my life with varying degrees of DM and party performance, but I can say wholeheartedly that this is the first time in a long time that I’ve ever wanted to get back into gaming. Hell, this is the first time in a long time I’ve wanted to join somebody else’s game just to experience the energy and absolute fun they have for roughly three hours every Thursday night. The camaraderie of the players and the DM is infectious because they’re just as invested in the welfare of their characters, just as shocked when a plot twist occurs, and just as devastated when events go horribly, horribly wrong. To put it another way, they love their characters and it shows to the point where even a husk of human emotions like myself can get a little teary-eyed.

So, really, this is just an overblown, non-ranked list of reasons why I’m now obsessed with Critical Role. Trust me, it doesn’t disappoint.

Oh, and SPOILERS for the series. Just in case.

 

The Gameplay

 

This seems like a no-brainer, but a significant portion of what makes Critical Role such a success comes from how the players, and by extension the characters, interact with their fictional environment. Setting aside the little character moments and exploratory missions (we’ll get to them in a bit), when Mercer tells the party to roll initiative to battle some greater foe, they’re in it. No one slouches, everyone pulls their weight to support the success of the group in destroying beasts and baddies alike. The physicality of the players speaks louder and louder as the battle rages: eyes wide, mouths agape, everyone fidgeting with nervous energy at each role of the die. Full sessions have been devoted to taking down one enemy (to be fair, it was a dragon) until Mercer asks, “How do you wanna do this?” and the whole group explodes with excitement knowing that the killing blow is just moments away. I’d be lying if I said my own erratic movements didn’t mimic theirs. Even smaller, more desperate, moments are rife with tension as the characters struggle against mind control or frantically try to resurrect one of their own.reaction

There are a couple of episodes that stand out in particular regarding moments of triumph and potential tragedy. In the case of the former, I’d recommend episode 52, “The Kill Box,” wherein Grog, unable to defeat his uncle, leader of the barbarian herd, in single combat, calls upon his friends for help. There are plenty of moments where each character shines but the best bit of teamwork comes when Vex flies in on her broom (long story) and sucks a badly beaten Grog into her necklace (just go with it) to get him somewhat out of harms way. She then releases Grog from high up in the air, giving him the advantage needed to deliver the deathblow to his uncle. It’s definitely an engaging three hours of fictionalized combat and by the end even the players look exhausted. In the case of the latter, it would have to be episode 44, “The Sunken Tomb,” that finds the party searching for enchanted armor beneath the city of Vasselheim. Neglectful in the wake of defeating a Beholder, Percy accidentally sets off a trap that kills Vex, but the party, joined by some guest adventurers, springs into action to bring her back. It’s really more about Laura Bailey’s reactions as well as the other players. The second she realizes what negative hit points means there’s this gutted look on her face as the others search for spells to resurrect Vex. Everyone’s practically in tears until Mercer informs them that she’s alive again.

 

Character Moments

 

It would either be awfully dull or too stressful to watch a group in a constant state of combat. Luckily, the players are actors and they act the shit out of these characters. While some episodes are combat heavy, there are others where the most action that happens is the group goes shopping and some epic haggling ensues. The breathers are needed, though. It gives the party time to rest and recuperate and it gives us, the audience, a few moments alone (so to speak) with the characters, all of whom have their own little story arcs, wants and desires, that tend to overlap with the main story. There are too many character moments to name, and all of them have landed some fantastic one-liners or shared some tears, so here are a few favorites:tumblr_nl9tzk10pe1r201t0o2_1280

  • Vex and Vax – pretty much every episode has a nice moment or two between the twins, Episode 40 has a brutally emotional scene as Vax pleads with Vex not to stray too far from his side in the wake of a dragon attack, but one of my favorites involves some boots, ghostly servants, water and flour, and some brother/sister heckling (Episode 56, “Hope”).
  • Grog and Pike – after Grog purchases a new, badass hat, Pike decides to try it on and takes it for a run (Episode 57, “Duskmeadow”).
  • Keyleth – I’m pretty partial to the druid princess’s awkward high fives after some kind of emotional admission (Episode 44, “The Sunken Tomb,” and Episode 65, “The Streets of Ank’Harel”)
  • Scanlan – any time Scanlan sings to inspire. Anytime (All episodes) Also…Spice? You spice? (Episode 65)
  • Percy – there are a lot of very sweet moments where Percy waxes poetic or wallows a bit, but it’s really when he’s acting like a spoiled rich kid that he shines. His attempt to get Scanlan’s daughter out of prison is a particular favorite (Episode 39, “Omens”)
  • Group Effort – that time opening a wooden door was a nearly impossible task (Episode 29, “Whispers”)

 

Matthew Mercer is Amazing!

 

This can’t be effectively described in words. You have to see and experience just how great of a DM Mercer is. Just know that his character work, as well as his world-building, is phenomenal.

Charity

 

The cast and crew of Critical Role have been supporters of the charity 826LA since the beginning, encouraging fans to donate during the broadcast on Geek & Sundry and thanking those who do on air. However, due to the overwhelming generosity and creativity of their fans that made for some sweet Critmas day unwrapping, the players each chose a charity for fans to support in lieu of the money going to smaller items like dice bags or gigantic bear statues that take up space and are hard to store.

D&D For The Good of All

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We’ve definitely come a long way from the days of Mazes and Monsters, but there are still certain stigmas associated with gaming and gamers that keep people who might find RPGs to be a pleasant experience. Currently, we’re in a bit of a cultural upswing in regards to D&D-style role-playing. I don’t know what, if any, influence Critical Role has had where the bigger picture is concerned, but it’s certainly at the forefront of the pro-gaming change to the status quo. Not only do we have Critical Role, but Matt Mercer and Ashley Johnson are part of the Force Grey filmed RPG show for Nerdist. There’s also Dan Harmon’s Harmon Quest on Seeso that mixes live role-playing with animation and one of the best shows on Netflix, Stranger Things, features the main characters playing D&D as bookends to the series. Small steps, yes, but important nonetheless.

So those are the reasons why I’m currently obsessed with Critical Role. Maybe this encouraged you to check it out or maybe you’re already a fan. Either way, what are your thoughts on the show? What are your favorite moments? Characters? I’m eager to know.

Oh, and…Is it Thursday yet?