I'd hate to fall into a predictable pattern, but I'll end up writing mostly about the stuff that I love, as I did in my round table entry for the Music round table, but voice acting is another topic that I have taken weird notice of that so many other people let fall into the background.

It's pretty obvious that my childhood was full of some great cartoons. In particular I have the "Spielberg cartoon renaissance" to thank for instilling in me what I believe shall be a life-long love of animation. But even beyond that, the afternoon dynasty of Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, and Pinky and the Brain are perhaps more valuable for instilling in me an awareness and a love for great voice actors.

Because of his years as The Brain I think Maurice LaMarche is one of the easiest voice talents for me to pick out, and he appears in a huge range of work. He does the best Orson Welles impression and there are very few works that involve Orson Welles that don't use Maurice LaMarche. Even Ed Wood's seminal Welles appearance: body by Vincent D'Onofrio, voiced by LaMarche, albeit uncredited. There is a special feature on Harvey Birdman Season 3 of Maurice cracking up Gary Cole with his Welles impression between takes. (I love animation commentaries with voice over artists... Futurama has some great commentary.[1])

It's interesting how much some people know about the actors in the stuff they watch and yet ignore the voice actors.

When I go into The Dark Knight I'm not going to be comparing Heath Ledger's performance to Jack Nicholson's, I'm going to be comparing Heath Ledger's performance to Mark Hamill's amazing Joker from the animated series.

Which brings me to games... The standout voice cast for me in a game is definitely Full Throttle where you see Mark Hamill, Maurice LaMarche and Tress MacNeille, all in interesting roles. Full Throttle is extremely hard to beat for pure epic voice acting in a game. Not that the story, setting, and everything else about it don't help. I'm certainly curious to see how Brutal Legends will stack up in comparison to Full Throttle, at the very least in terms of voice performances.

Another interesting voice cast including Mark Hamill is Wing Commander 3 and 4 (never played Prophecies, I'll admit), which were highlights of a previous "FMV era", and are still two of the most expensive video games ever made. I still posit that games 3 and 4 had much better acting (in the FMV sequences) than the actual film and a large part of that are the quality of the actors/voice actors. How can you top Mark Hamill (in his post-Star Wars, actual real acting period), Tom "Don't Call Me Biff" Wilson, Malcolm McDowell, and John Rhys-Davies? You can't. Stupid Freddie Prinze, Jr... I guess I'm still upset at that movie.

I bought Tachyon primarily for Bruce "Don't Call Me Ash" Campbell. It wasn't as great as FreeSpace 2 at the time, but Bruce Campbell is great fun and kept me playing. My brother still prefers Tachyon, also primarily because of Bruce Campbell.

I think now more than ever we're seeing great voice casts in games. I know some would worryingly call it more of the "Hollywoodification" of gaming, but I for one at least welcome our new voice cast overlords with open arms. I don't think it's a "Hollywoodification" so much as a "Radio-ification". I think games as a medium allow voice artists more expressive power than they've seen since the great era of the radio play. As long as FMV games continue to remain dead and buried [2], voice actors are key to expressing human drama in games. [3] Let's face it, games have a lot more possible emotional range for a voice actor than animation or commercials. (At least in American animation which we've segregated primarily into the categories of juvenile and/or comedy, and there is only so many directions you can take in Manga dubbing, most of which involve much over-cuteness and/or shouting...)

So right now we're in what I've been calling "The Glorious Keith David Era" of voice casting, for the fact that three very compelling voice casts sitting near my 360 all have Keith David, also known as the cool Imam from The Chronicles of Riddick and first really impressed upon me in Disney's excellent Gargoyles series. All three of these recent video games have placed Keith David in excellent roles: Saint's Row's Julius, Halo 3's Arbiter (also Halo 2), and Mass Effect's Captain Anderson. At this point Keith David's cool deep voice could almost sell me on any video game, and luckily I've not yet been disappointed that he's become something of "the next-gen voice" on the 360. (On the other hand, luckily I've managed to avoid that draw to his film roles, and have skipped such lukewarm fare as Delta Farce... It's interesting to note on his IMDB filmography how awesome generally his voice cast stuff is compared to how mediocre much of his real acting roles are...)

John DiMaggio is apparently excited about Gears of War 2, and if the voice of Bender Bending Rodriquez is excited about Gears 2, then how can anyone else not be excited? [1]

I guess my conclusions here are pretty simple: more people should pay attention to voice artists (much cooler than those boring old tabloid celebrities), but don't hound them just appreciate them; voice artists should do more video games because they might see better writing; video games need to continue to seek stellar voice artists and provide them with increasingly better writing; and Bender is great. [4]

[1]Had to mention Futurama, at least once. Love that show.
[2]I'd still like to see another Tex Murphy game, but that's about the extent of my love for the various FMV booms. Tex Murphy was done extremely well and the FMV matched superbly with the game play. Tex Murphy would be a good zombie to see rise from the FMV graveyard...
[3]Also, alien and elf drama.
[4]Take that you stupid corn!