Writing a review for voice acting was a bit more challenging than I had initially thought. While other aspects of a game such as writing and design involve more concrete methods of evaluation, voice acting is that subtle something extra that is pinched into the crevices to make a campaign even more complete. A little extra energy here, a slight pause there, these sensitive often overlooked fine points give the impression of certain emotions that are conveyed by the character. They give us a way to look deeper into the characters and allow us to see into their living selves. If done well, for brief moments the user can be ‘tricked’ into thinking the characters are actually real, and completely surrender to the wonder and delight of the game. It is these moments which I think draw the line between a good performance and a truly memorable one.
Though I think this format is not ideal, I will list the characters separately. However, I would like to say that one thing I thought what was so impressive about Blue Planet’s voice talent was the sense that the characters were not just reading lines in separate rooms thousands of miles away from each other, but actually talking to one another. I said in another post that I found myself ‘caring’ about many of the characters; connecting with their hopes , desires, and emotions. I think the believability of the voice talent was necessary to get me to feel this way.
I think it’s fitting to start with Taylor for this reason. Near the very beginning of the game, when I heard her say “We’re finally going to Earth!” with uncontrollable excitement, It lead me to consider what it would actually be like to see Earth for the first time. I then alienated myself from the fact that was actually on Earth playing this game set in space. In a comical way, I felt suspense in anticipation to visit a planet which I was already on. Next mission, I was stunned to see that huge sphere of desert thrown right in front of me and I remembered exactly why. I knew Taylor would be devastated. Yes, I was at that point so early in the game. Already invested, based in large part on this one well produced .ogg file. I don’t think I would have had this experience listening to Microsoft Anna mesh the information together “Weer fine-a-lee going-to… Earth”
I find Taylor to be one of the most ‘human’ characters in Blue Planet, unabashed to share emotions and speak her mind. It gave me energy to hear lines such as “I hear ya boss, this guy is mine” in that cool sort of way like she in the process of locking aspect seeking warheads on that unsuspecting Shivan fighter. This was not a one dimensional character. Taylor has an impatient and pessimistic side and it was brought out in the best times. It’s more of a ‘what the heck are you thinking guy? Let me tell you why you’re nuts.’ kind of attitude. Like when following the GTC Duke she responds to Corey: “What the hell are you talking about?! This isn’t our universe were not supposed to be here!” That reminds me of another line of hers that stuck in my head. When the GTC Duke jumps a second time she says “The duke has jumped” what she said was not as important as the way she said it. The sarcasm just bled through, shouting ‘this is ridiculous!’ At the time I heard the line, in my futile attempt to chase the Duke (thinking I could catch it every time); I agreed so much with her attitude that I laughed to myself.
Which brings me to Corey, the other personality in Alpha wing. Corey is kind of difficult to describe as a character in few words. For one thing he’s a bit more reserved than Taylor. In the first mission, when Taylor persists about commander Bei being admiral Bei’s son, I remember feeling like a small child when I heard the line “What the hell kind of question is that Alpha 3? The guy’s father is dead!”. Such a line I think could easily have been read in a comically awkward way that would derail its original meaning. The somber attitude, the reserved frustration, I can’t think of a better tone for that line than the way it was produced. It left me thinking about the seriousness surrounding the relationship between Commander Bei and his father.
It also showed me that Corey is a loyal and sensitive character. This impression was reinforced in the mission ‘ceremony’ when the Sanctuary’s admiral was being escorted in the shuttle. When Commander Bei vouches for Corey and Taylor in front of Captain Iwakura, Corey says: “Well as far as Leaders go commander you’re not all that bad either.” In a way that hits the mark between ‘At least we don’t take orders from some self absorbed hotshot’, and ‘thanks commander, we like you too’. It was at this point where I felt like Corey was really warming up to commander Bei. Later in the campaign, while Commander Bei is leaving with the Vishnans he says, “let us come with you commander. If the admiral asks, we could say the Vishnans forced us into coming along.” The difference in voice from this line and the previous ones show a change in Corey’s character. Such digression with mood is remarkable.
Commander Bei, who later gets promoted to Captain, is the main man. The player is entangled into this personality and as a result this character touches every part of the game. I am almost certain the actor took time to understand his character and his experiences throughout the campaign.
The first thing I thought to myself when I heard commander Bei in mission 1 is ‘This guy has it together’. He’s going to be that ego that never takes a misstep. I found out quickly I was wrong in this assertion. This character goes through changes, self retrospection, and unnerving surprises. Emotions run the spectrum from Worry, shock, and sadness to confidence, pride, and amity. Delivery of such lines as “Fight for your very lives each one of you!” Give me an impression of an experienced and driven leader. Other lines such as “do I need to put a great big sign on my fighter saying not the admiral’s son!?” show a more impetuous side. Both of these were just in mission 3. This is truly a character with many faces, a difficult undertaking to pull off.
The player could really take a look into the soul of the character during many of commander Bei’s Personal Log entries. At these times one could really see the inner strife of this pensive character. I recall one such log entered while commander Bei is in subspace transit chasing down the GTC duke. The twist of belief and the understood frustration with this strange situation comes center stage. “Something is not right about all of this. Why is Delta Serpentis, Ross 128 and Laramis empty of any GTVA vessels save great war relics. Why haven’t we had contact with command? What are Shivans doing in our systems?! Taylor quibbled about this not being our universe, but now… I’m starting to believe her.” I remember feeling short of breath after hearing this part. Taking a big one just after the word ‘systems’. I just love the inner turmoil that Bei shows just before he admits to himself that such a farfetched idea, existence in an alternate universe, might be true, and that they themselves are a part of it.
Yet one rhythmically beating theme throughout this character’s persona is his inspirational and somewhat naive faith in the GTVA. I thought the performance nailed this aspect of commander Bei’s personality. A specific piece that stuck in my head was when Bei was explaining to Taylor the importance of maintaining GTVA traditions. To which she replies: “Sir do you really believe all that? Lost in an alternate universe, far away from home and family?” Commander Bei : “I do taylor, and I believe that all the Ideals we were taught while serving the GTVA are going to get us through all this.” It was said in such a soft and sure voice that I was convinced Commander Bei would never give up hope, and that he really believed in what he was fighting for. At that profound moment, the realization that this character had so much unquestioning trust in the GTVA almost made my eyes tear up. That’s right, a Freespace campaign almost made me cry. I’m both impressed and amusingly embarrassed.
Commander Bei’s father, who I will call Admiral Bei, is one of the first people we encounter in the campaign. Just hearing the first sentence out of this guy gave me the sense that this campaign was going to be something special. Listening to good voice acting is like eating (stay with me). When you take that first bite and begin to chew, you immediately know whether or not to spit it out. Scratchiness, Stridency, whiney tone, puffs of air turned into sandpaper against your ears, etc. I mention this because this guy’s voice is pretty much the complete opposite of that; smooth comfortable and clean. I felt like I was walking into the lobby of a 5 star Hotel during that first command briefing. I remember paying higher than average attention to it as a result. Rather than reading to get plot sensitive information I was absorbing myself into who commander Bei was, his history with the Admiral, and the plans were for the Oresties fleet? Etc. Not only does this guy sound like a professional, he sounds like an Admiral and think it is accurate to say ‘He sounds like a father’ too. Very good fit for the role. Nice performance at the end.
Soon after we hear from Admiral Bei, Al’Faddil introduces himself. I hope I am making it clear that I like the entire cast, but I really liked Al’faddil’s character and the actor that player him. The Arabic Freespace characters have been unrepresented, and I was relieved to see some diversity beyond Brits and Americans. I like the accent, and I tried to imitate it after nearly every one of Al’faddil’s lines. The character itself was communicated to me as a warm, respectful, and engaging man with a deep pride for his squadron and the GTVA. I like the commencement of the first briefing, “All right Nightwolves…” The way it was said suggests that Al’Faddil has a deep rooted relationship with his squad. I also like the debrief after Mission 1, where he uses a somber and understanding tone yet keeps things professional at the same time. “We are as mystified by the fate of the earth as you are pilots, we came here expecting a joyful reunion with our ancestral home, but instead we find death and destruction”. This is a character that has his emotions invested in his work, but at the same time conducts himself with dignity and professionalism.
Something unique that I found appealing about this campaign is that the squadron leader actually appears in certain missions flying around in a fighter. In the mission ‘A Time for Heroes’ just before the Sathanas appears he says, “This is Al’faddil taking command authority of fighter squadrons. Alpha wing, wait for my signal to attack. Delta and Epsilon wings stay with Alpha wing and guard their approach.” I really enjoyed this part, having the upcoming battle orchestrated by a character I respected. He goes on to direct each wing using several similar messages. I got excited to fly Al’faddil’s Erinyes at the end of the campaign. One of the most memorable lines for me was “She’s a tough old girl” when he was talking about his prized fighter. One of those lines you think to yourself occasionally at random times in the day (whatever if you think that never happens to you
When the player leaves the Orestes and chases the GTC Duke he/she encounters Captain Iwakura. We first meet the Captain as a quiet observer. When she begins speaking, her demeanor is open, but estranged. Iwakura, “We know of Vasudans but not your Terran-Vasudan alliance” Said plainly. This was a good first encounter between Commander Bei and Captain Iwakura. Iwakura’s performance really gave me the ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore’ feeling. Then it gets better. When commander Bei asks why she is hiding she says, “If you had any sense you would be hiding too”. (My spine tingled when I first heard this.) Bei: “hiding from what?” Iwakura: “Shivans, they are everywhere and they are looking for us”. <Shivan Demon destroyer appears> Iwakura: “They have sent their demon to hunt us down.” Throughout the campaign she seems to slowly change from cautious and distant to friendly and full of ‘hope’ as Iwakura put it herself. I heard the voice reflect this change very nicely for lines such as the one during the mission ‘forced entry’ when the sanctuary exits hyperspace, “The sanctuary’s fighters are at your service!”.
The way I see it, here is a character who has spent years fighting endless waves of enemy Shivans. Captain Iwakura is becoming numb and impersonal in the face of endless war. A recently arrived Commander Bei breathes new life into her cause and she has found a renewed spirit. When the admiral of the Sanctuary transfers to the Temeraire, Iwakura comments on the majesty of the moment, “You should feel honoured pilots of the GTVA, who else would be given an invitation to fly honor guard for an admiral from another universe!”. That inflection at the end of that line with the music and everything else going on put me in the cockpit of that fighter, surrounded by this extraordinary world. The enthusiasm of this character radiated into me and it saw a slight peep at the idea ‘anything is possible’ I really like getting hints of that through any form of art. These moments were not infrequent with Captain Iwakura’s character. Captain Iwakura was an all around interesting and well portrayed individual which I looked forward to hearing every message.
Tell, Captain Iwakura’s ‘sidekick’ has a relatively much smaller role, but I think an important one. He adds diversity to the sanctuaries’ crew compliment and I think adds subtle perspective checks from time to time. One such example is in the mission ‘finding sanctuary’ where he responds to Captain Iwakura’s suggestion that spirits haunt the nebula. He says, “Bunch a rumors and hallucinations. We’ve been scouting the nebula for years and have come across naught but Shivans.” I could see the spit fly out of his mouth onto the glass shield in front of him in disgust when he says ‘bunch a rumors’. A well played character, but not too many voice opportunities.
Sanctuary control has the kind of voice that I might have anticipated coming from a representative from another universe. She has a mysterious air about her, adding to the cloud of uncertainty surrounding the Sanctuary and the ship’s violent history. Upon further review of the campaign, I found that Sactuary control actually had a much smaller part in Blue Planet than I had originally thought. I think the role was so well done that it left a larger impression on me, and I was left with the idea that it had more lines involved. I liked the debriefing for the mission ‘finding sanctuary’ with the line, “We have already heard from Captain Iwakura about your origins and your ships.” The manner in which it was said shows such intrigue for these new arrivals. What I think I like about the way this character was portrayed was that it communicated the ‘who is this?’ feeling, or the feeling of estrangement much in the same way Captain Iwakura did. I would have liked to see this character have a larger part, because I think she was uniquely portrayed and had something special to offer the campaign as a whole.
Temeraire control is a cool, collected, and professional ranking member of the GTVA. Her portrayal is that of an intelligent military officer who is experienced enough to be comfortable in her commanding role. A good example is her very first line in mission 1, “Acknowledged Orestes control, well keep you informed of anything we find. Jumping out now.” said in such a calm manner as if to say ‘I got this’. I’m sure some rookie on their first day at destroyer control would be fumbling for the switch, and you know that’s just not what’s going on here.
When it hits the fan, Temeraire control is never removed from what’s going on. When the Temeraire is on the run from the Shivan Ravana in forced entry she says, “This is the Temeraire, we’ve managed to evade the Shivan counter attack, but they’re right behind us! It won’t be long before they arrive!” You can specifically hear it in the phrase ‘right behind us!’ that clear do what needs to be done attitude. She is also unafraid to show authority if needed, as portrayed in the mission ‘First Contact’ where she says to Commander Bei, “Alpha 1 we need you to return to the Temeraire at once, we’ve detected a massive Shivan incursion into the system. It looks like they’re coming here after all.” After Commander Bei suggests an alternate strategy, she says unshakably “Negative Alpha 1, we need you back at the Temeraire now, that is an order.” Maybe it’s because I’m American and the accent helped this along, but the emphasis on the phrase ‘That is an order’ sounded very disciplined like a military officer should be. Like saying, ‘make no mistake who has command authority here’. Temeraire control had a lot of different situations to account for and all of them were handled expertly to portray a believable militarily trained personality.
While Temeraire control is the voice of the ship in mission, Rear Admiral Carey calls the shots and directs the Temeraire’s detachment fleet. Of all Blue Planet’s fine cast of talent, hers sounded the most like a ‘Freespace’ voice. I think if volition were making Freespace 3 she would definitely be hired. Listening to those straight and to the point command briefings was when I had the strongest feeling I was playing a Freespace game. In the briefing for the mission first contact she says near the end, “We are trusting you to undertake this possible first contact scenario with due caution as befitting a pilot of the GTVA.” That’s so Freespace! Listening to that line makes me excited about SCP, and that such talent can produce retail quality material. Calm, professional, clear and expository: her work reminded me of the ‘capture the Taranis’ cinematic in Freespace 1.That quick cut cadence like saying ‘here’s our situation: what we have and what we need, you will be informed of any new developments on a need to know basis’.
Rear Admiral Carey I think Is the kind of voice that members of the Freespace community are very comfortable with, walking that tightrope between a military tone and an exploration tone. By exploration, I mean the kind of voice you hear in a scientific institution or at NASA. The kind of voice that makes you ‘feel’ like you are in space, discovering what lies on the brink. It’s good to see that the community is not without such talent.
Captain Kristae of the 56th is commander Bei’s squad leader while he is with the Temerraire. She provides a welcome optimistic attitude to offset the bleak events surrounding this point in the game. I thought the line in the debriefing for the mission ‘Frankenstein’s monsters’ showed personality, “Say what you will about the Vasudans at least they build their reactors to last”. I will once again bring up my food analogy to describe this performance. Like the way she says, “Be thankful you don’t have to be in that firestorm pilots” Delivery was smooth and reassuring. It’s good to be greeted by a warm welcome after a tough fight with Shivan ships.
Then there’s Orestes control, a no frills say what needs to be said kind of guy. He was well cast as a communications officer of a big ship. His personality is that of a manager that can take stress and direct orders without flinching. ‘We got a job to do here folks, let’s get down to business’ I particularly like the line from the near last mission ‘Universal Truth’ when the Orestes takes damage, “This is the Orestes, we are taking heavy fire from all directions! Step up your efforts pilots!” A mission driven personality, but you get a sense he is on your side.
Professor Martin Mandho is a character which makes a brief appearance to give a monologue in the command briefing of the mission ‘Demons of the Past’. Just after I concluded another long festival of fighting with the Shivans, the campaign makes a major shift and introduces reaching philosophical implications. I am pretty sure I would have had to re-read that material multiple times if it weren’t so clearly read by the character with emphasis on such words as negative energy, positive energy, enlightenment, ascended and so forth. The character himself is a welcome addition of variety in Blue Planet, asserting a perspective that is somewhat different from the rest of the campaign, even though the substance of it is related. The cadence is that of an old heartily lived professor, with patience and care put into every word both giving the impression that the professor is being mindful of what he is saying, as well as trying to be clear to his ‘audience’. In particular the line, “To know that you yourself are not just a mote against many, but a union of brothers and sisters working for the common good, that is when you have ascended.” The emphasis of the word union as opposed to mote and the way the end of the line was spoken brought out the essence of the material. Of all the pieces of the campaign that were improved with voice acting, this monologue was, I think essentially brought to life by the actor’s performance.
While I have not played this campaign without voice acting, I have a difficult time imagining what it might have been like without it, stripping these personalities away from their characters now that they have made such an impression on me. There were even times where I thought that the material was written for the voice actors and not the other way around. The community really came through for Blue Planet and they gave strong performances down to Leftenent Nerhu and even roles as generic as ‘Delta 1’, and I’m sure that all the auditions only gave the BP team a wider pool of talent to choose from. As far as I am concerned, everyone who participated made Blue Planet a more fun and engaging experience. I remember clenching my fist when hearing the GTC Duke in forced entry, “GTC Duke has arrived in the area. We are making our way to the portal.” To which I thought to myself ‘Let’s roll buddy’ with added vigor to break through that Shivan blockade. I think Lebouchere Control only had one or two lines, but I remembered that personality every time I saw the ship appear from subspace.
Vice Admiral Morian’s performance is notable because it takes place during one of the most heartbreaking parts of the entire campaign: The GTVA betrayal. It is a performance fueled by the entire collective cast of characters and all the events leading up to this single moment. I like Morian’s portrayal, because it stands in stark contrast to the themes of this campaign: companionship, trust, understanding, even enlightenment to some extent. This pigheaded character brings us all back to ‘reality’ while the entire campaign slowly had us all ‘tumbling down the rabbit hole’, slowly leading us to believe things more and more extraordinary as the campaign went on. I’m sure for those who played the campaign in one sitting, or at least for those who played the last few missions straight. Hearing Morian was like hitting a brick wall, “Command’s orders were classified at the highest echelon until the time was right to carry them out. Now that we are here they will be carried out in due order” Said in such a cold and disciplinary tone. There’s no convincing steel.
I had a better experience with this campaign than most games you see at the store today. I would like to repeat myself in saying that Blue Planet was a professionally looking piece of work. I am so glad I had that error attempting to reinstall my dusty old CDs because Freespace 2 kept saying that my NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT had “no 3D acceleration”. I might have never checked online for solutions and discovered one of the most awesome modding experiments out there.
I am curious, who is the voice of GTVA high command in the last mission? I think I have heard that guy from cardinal spear and in the cut scenes of Ancient-Shivan war. I could be wrong. He didn’t have a very big role in this campaign, but I like the actor overall.
And the guy doing the briefing for Commander Bei’s 2nd dream/vision where he loses Elysium transport, I think I recognize him from Derelict. I like that guy too; he’s always bristling with unending excitement and enthusiasm.