Story Day: Voice Acting, Immersion, Whining and David Hayter
I’m a gigantic Metal Gear Solid fan, but I’ve been avoiding any of the news coming out on Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes/The Phantom Pain. It’s not that I’ve lost interest in the series – hell, we’ve already got intrigue before we even get to the plot; it’s one game but it’s also, like two games with a prologue! The general concept sounds great, adding in some of the base-building, team aspects of Peace Walker with some minor touches like the ability to drive vehicles. The trailer looks absolutely beautiful, too. I just know that I’m going to buy the game, and when I’m already invested in something I’d much rather keep myself free from all the noise around the game that might spoil any of the bigger moments.
So in my quest to avoid news, I’ve consistently brushed off one tidbit that I assumed was too absurd to be real. But as time goes on I’m forced to acknowledge the cold, hard, brutal truth: David Hayter, who has voiced Snake in the nine MGS games we currently have (not to mention Snakes’ various cameos) was told that he is being replaced for MGS 5.
To be clear, I love being a part of the world of Metal Gear. I admire its technological innovations, the gameplay, the political message of it all. But primarily, I love the fans of these games. Two grown men burst into tears upon meeting me at the Vancouver Fan Expo last year.
If it were my choice, I would do this role forever. To hear anyone else’s voice coming from Snake’s battered throat, makes me a little ill, to be honest.
But the truth is — it’s not my choice. Any and all casting decisions are the sole purview of Hideo Kojima, and Konami itself. And that’s fair. – Excerpt from a post on Hayter’s Twitter page
What… the… hell.
I’ve tried to deny this, figuring that it was just some misinformation being spread by Kojima to get some free publicity, or merely because he was bored and got a kick out of messing with the fans. Sure, maybe it could still be. Snake doesn’t talk in the trailer, and in the gameplay footage video released we only hear a tiny bit of new-voice Snake before Jack Bauer… erm, Ishmael, makes him one-armed crawl towards a… ghost… thing. It would have been easy to redub that one section of the game with a new actor. But it sure sounds like Hayter is legitimately left out of MGS 5, and I’m pissed off about it.
I’ll admit two things up front: one, I’m about to embark on some slightly hypocritical whining and two, this might only tentatively be associated with Story Day but bear with me on this rabbit trail.
To explain why this is hypocritical, I need to expound on another view of mine. I’ve always wished that Hollywood would take some cues from their counterparts in Britain and be willing to switch lead actors in a franchise without rebooting the entire damn thing. Of course, there have been exceptions to series made by American movie companies, but for the most part a major actor leaving a role results in a rehashed origin story. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst are done? Of course we can’t just make a Spiderman 4 with new actors continuing Peter and MJ’s silver screen story, we have to start the whole damn thing over again. Audiences were smart enough to not flip out when Maggie Gyllenhaal showed up in The Dark Knight, or Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2; we can make the cognitive leap to say “this person is now this character.” Of course, had Christian Bale or Robert Downey Jr. been unable or unwilling to sign on for sequels to their respective films, I doubt we’d have gotten either one. Instead we’d get Tony Stark inventing the suit again, or another scene of the Waynes fateful trip to the opera.
So I am generally in favor of more actor switching, if only so we can continue story lines where they left off instead of retelling me the same thing over and over again. But David Hayter is Snake, and a different voice coming from that character is going to significantly alter the game for me.
Kojima’s official line is that they decided to replace Hayter because the new engine their using allows for facial recognition, and they want the actor doing the motion capture to be doing the voice at the same time. Or maybe it’s because the series is going in a new(ish) direction and they “wanted to have this reflected in the voice actor.”
Either way, that sounds like a load of bullshit to me, a notion backed up by the fact that the Japanese version of the game will keep the same voice actor. Hayter would have been perfectly capable of doing the motion capture too – here he is wearing an eye patch while playing himself in MGS 4. Sure, he looks more like The Governor from TV’s Walking Dead than Snake, but he’s close enough, and whoever plays Snake will have to be heavily edited anyway. We already know what Snake looks like, this isn’t like casting someone to be the face of psychologically damaged (and damaging), bipolar wunderkind Cole Phelps; the final product will still have to be rendered to look like Snake. Hayter has done on screen acting work before, and while he may not be taking home an Oscar anytime soon I find it hard to believe that motion capture was so foreign to him that he couldn’t have gotten the job done.
If Hayter had for any reason been unable to do MGS 5, that would be different. I’d have to begrudgingly move forward with a new Snake. But here we have a voice actor who has developed an iconic tone for a character over more than a decade of games who still very much wants to be part of the series. It’s not like he’s an on-screen actor who’s aged too much to be the character (and with Harrison Ford punching aliens in the face alongside James Bond and Bruce Willis launching taxis at helicopters, I think we’ve established that we’re very willing to accept older guys kicking ass anyway). I just don’t understand continuing to use Hayter as long as he’s physically capable of voicing Snake. I’ll play the game, Kojima, but realize that I am only moving on very, very grudgingly, sir.
As for my very tentative link to Story Day, I’ll conclude with this. My ability to become immersed in the story is going to be significantly damaged by Snake. He’ll step up to give a typical brief yet stoic remark on war (or be reminiscent about pants wetting) and instead of focusing on what’s going on, I’m going to be constantly wondering when Snake had time to find Ethan Hunt and borrow one of those neck patches that modulates your voice. I really don’t think I’m going to get used to it; I’m going to be just pushing through it the entire time.
And that’s petty, and whiny and a fairly dumb reason to get mad at a video game and probably not be able to focus on large parts of the story. But I don’t care. I hate change, damnit.