What's It Like to Play Batman and the Joker in a Video Game?
In the realm of heroes and villains, there are few as famous as Batman and the Joker. For decades, the nemeses have been meeting up on comic book pages, on screens big and small, in live-action and animated form. A host of actors have stepped into their roles, each one bringing a new dimension to the characters.
Now it's time for Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker to have their shot. Smith voices Batman while Baker handles Joker in the video game Batman: Arkham Origins, set for release on October 25.
Smith and Baker are voice actors. Smith has lent his voice to major characters in multiple Assassin's Creed and Resident Evil games. Baker has voiced Snow Villiers, one of the playable characters in Final Fantasy XIII, amongst numerous other roles. They've done plenty of work in animation too, but it's in the gamer realm where they've made their marks.
Both actors note that acting for video games isn't all that different from working on cartoons. You work in a booth. You perform into microphones. Sometimes, there's a camera picking up facial expressions and mouth movements for the animation team's references. What's different is how the performances unfold. They're working on game levels, one by one. "We're not telling a story in an hour-and-a-half," says Baker. "We're telling it in ten to twelve hours that you are immersed in."
The actors have to voice every possible reaction that might occur in the game. They have to provide sounds that can coincide with a variety of different jumps, a multitude of different game fights. "You cover all of those grunts and efforts," says Smith. "That's usually where a lot of video game work can be demanding on the voice. In four hours, there's only so much yelling and screaming you can do before the voice just starts to give out."
Roger Craig Smith plays Batman in Arkham Origins
See also: The Curious World of Voice Actors
To give players the kind of big, booming performances that go with these action-packed games, the actors have to approach that microphone with full force. "There's no kind of faking it," says Smith. "You have to scream your guts out."
There's a precision to what Smith and Baker do that juxtaposes with the mayhem that can unfold during the course of game play. "So much of what I do takes place in a small box," says Smith. "I tend to micro-focus my approach to it."
Baker points to a moment in The Dark Knight, when the Joker (Heath Ledger) remarks that he's an "agent of chaos." "That's exactly what the Joker is to me," he says.
However, Baker is channeling the character's unbridled determination to mess with Batman within the confines of a sound booth. "It is very interesting to be this completely uncontrolled character in a very, very controlled environment," he says.
He explains what it's like to work in that sort of environment on such a particular character. It might take an hour to find the "groove" of the performance. "There are some characters that you can drop in immediately on the count of one and be in the right spot," says Baker. "With other characters, like this, you really kind of need to backtrack once you found your groove and revisit some of the work you've done so that it's really the best performance it can be."