Industry Chat With Nico Uusitalo

Recording Studio

On how the voice over industry plays with indie game development and the process of bringing a character to life.

A couple weeks back, I sat down with Nico Uusitalo – a young voice-over actor, among other talents – to have words about his current projects. We talked about the voice-over industry, past experience and influences and the challenges of his craft. Here are the relevant bits:

So, I hear you're a busy bee right now, what's going on?

Yeah, I've been recording the upcoming Frozen Colony 2014 trailer and working on a new demo reel. I'm trying to find new voices and accents and revisiting the old to bring them to a new level.

I've also been working for a company during my internship, making a 3D promo animation for them.

It's been fun, but busy!

The voice over business doesn't get a lot of press. Folks I've talked to on the indie side say it's a pretty small community. Would you say this is correct?

It's not talked about much when you look at TV and Radio commercial voices but the video game voice-over scene is pretty big, especially if you look at the Los Angeles scene where they also do motion capture for games.

Talking my level, yeah, it's pretty small. I haven't really gotten to know other actors in indie game projects yet, it's pretty separated. The project leader talks with one actor at the time, they do their job online and send the clips for review. So I don't get to talk much to my co-stars.

I'm guessing that helps to bring costs down and de-centralize development.

Yeah, it would be difficult with international game development teams with different time-zones and locations. However, sometimes in teams that are built very close together, you get to chat with the other actors too and make some amazing puns about the project ;)

I think interaction with other members of the casts would be positive for your performance. Do you think it would make your job easier?

Yeah, it would make it easier to kind of like react to the other actor's performance, like in physical acting and dialogue with the co-star who is standing next to you.

But it can be a fun challenge and you can really show what you've got, cause you're all alone out there and you have to make it sound like you're right next to your squad member, even though your co-star is actually 5.000 kilometers away from you!

With good directors it's possible!

How much value do you think players put in sound and voice acting. Is it something you feel is valued from the consumer side?

Gamers pay a lot of attention to the voices, and can be very critical, especially in AAA-games. It's a key part of the experience, it's a way of telling the story or action that the player is doing.

In actions, for example if you get shot at, those HRGYARGH sounds were made with hours of hard work. Or if the player is sprinting, etc. In storytelling, believable voice-acting is key to make the story believable too.

A good example is Half-Life: Arrangement, a mod I'm voicing the protagonist in. I wasn't originally casted as the lead, but joined later on as a replacement actor when the original actor disappeared.

I was scared what the community would say, because the mod had already built a fan-base. The fans of the game approached the voice-test page with lots of good feedback, and I was really relieved! It could have gone south really fast if the fans didn't like the new guy voicing Fred Thompson.

Voice-acting is a key element of the game, so of course they pay attention!

Good voice actors can transforms a small bundle of pixels into a believable persona. Are there any performances (indie or AAA) that you consider great benchmarks for your line of work?

I started voice-acting thanks to David Hayter's gravelly voice when I played Metal Gear as a kid, and his performance has been a huge influence.

Also Troy Baker's and Nolan North's phenomenal skill of transforming into completely different types of characters and nailing it every time. They both have so many amazing performances that I can't list them all – but my biggest influences from them are probably Joel Miller (Baker) and Nathan Drake (North).

My personal favorite actor is Elias Toufexis, who also does the movements of the characters in performance capture, like Baker and North too. His way of interaction with his fans is just amazing too, I really look up to him.

Great performances that changed the whole way I see my future are definitely Adam Jensen, Nathan Drake, Joel Miller and Solid Snake. Wow!

I also loved Roger Craig Smith's performance as Ezio Auditore da Firenze, and Robin Atkin Downes as Kazuhira Miller. Those guys. My idols.

How has working with developers and directors to find a character been? Tell me what works for you and how you navigate the hairy process of bringing another's brain child to life.

Sometimes it's very hard, because there are many phases you need to build and have stay there during the whole process, which might be years.

It's a difficult, but a rewarding process. There are a lot of things you need to be aware of:

  1. Voice
  2. Age
  3. Personality
  4. Emotion
  5. Action

Those need to stick there during the whole progress. I usually change my voice a lot while acting and usually play men twice older my age. That's okay, of course – but the voice needs to stay the same during the whole game if you go there.

It's really a process of trial and error. Finding the right voice with the director's directions and just working with the things I know about the character and the storyline.

For example, I get to know the age, personality and some background story. Delivering the right voice with the right emotion is left for me when I get the lines to deliver the final performance.

It all gets easier with experience and the directors give really good tips and info about where in his life that character is in that scene.

Let's get specific. You mentioned the Frozen Colony 2014 trailer. Tell me a bit about your role and pitch the thing to me.

Frozen Colony is a completely original mod in the Crysis franchise. Completely new story, new characters and play-time comparable to Crysis: Warhead.

I'm playing Rick Morgan, a member of the resistance. The main rebel, the coolest of them all. Okay, I added that part.

The character is based after my looks and we actually share some personality traits too. He's a supporting character, who helps the protagonist during the game. If everything goes smoothly, I might be able to provide facial motion-capture for the character too, but we're still discussing and researching that.

It's a fun character to play and it's been awesome to work with the directors Clyde and Sean Vassallo, who became my close friends during the process.

The 2014 trailer should be coming soon, but I can't confirm any exact date yet :)

Nico Uusitalo

Nico Uusitalo is a young, professional voice-actor based in Finland. He specialized in voicing video game characters much older than him, and often finds himself voicing a gruff, rugged mercenary. He's currently studying Computer Science, and also works as a 3D artist and upcoming game developer.


Achievement Got! The Trek To 100%

Double Helix's Strider

On neurosis, collectibles and fear powered to-do lists.

I stared at it, the map showed the items I would need to collect to be rid of this charge and get back to the game I liked. It was exciting, the map was an artifact of hope. A part of me, however, wasn't feeling too hopeful.

Just what do you think you're doing? I ignored it, I was almost done choosing the path that would require the least amount of backtracking. Then I heard a snicker, my own, when thinking of using a spreadsheet to track my progress and I knew I could ignore my own, wiser, self no more.

Here I was, plotting to complete a set of tasks I had no interest in with the perverse pleasure of doing the unwanted efficiently. I had stopped playing Strider, a game that I really enjoyed, and was now wrestling with neurosis.

What started as the tale of a super assasin tearing down a corrupt regime now survived on the fringes, as a shameful story of efficiency and perfection, of being good enough and getting the achievement.

I never know how it starts, how the pain of not having it all forms inside my head. It thrives on the fear of missing out if I don't get to work on doing everything. I research and prepare to make sure I don't shortchange myself from anything... perhaps with the exception of an enjoyable experience.

And in those games that let you go back after the end and collect everything? I usually never return. But instead of seeing this as a simple lack of love for collectibles, I see it as a terrible affront, a missed opportunity for the chance to achieve a perfect, complete and ultimately satisfactory experience.

Madness assisted by broken game design. Flee while you can.


"Always Simple First"

Simplicity Sells, Complexity Scales by Hugh MacLeod

On the costs of complexity and their effects on development and player interactions.

Complexity is costly.

Every new element must be carefully integrated into a system of already moving parts. The more complex your game is, the more unpredictable it becomes and the harder it is to design.

Every new element is another thing the player must apprehend and learn to manipulate. The more the player's attention is in dissarray the less he can engage with your game.

Minimalism is a core design principle because complexity is costly. As a designer, effectiveness and efficiency are your ports of call. Always start with the simplest solution and the smallest scope; make adjustments as necessary.