Fallout: New Vegas is a massive game. On top of that, it’s a Fallout game — every choice made by the player adds up to a scary number of variations, and every character must react differently to those choices with unique dialogue. And every character needs a voice.
Following up on yesterday’s announcement of many of the game’s voiceactors, we talked with Fallout: New Vegas senior producer Jason Bergman about the monumental task of organizing the effort, which included recording around 65,000 lines of dialogue. Bergman filled us in on the process of casting, sharing anecdotes ranging from Matthew Perry’s Fallout fandom, to Star Trek connections and more. Warning: minor character background spoilers.
Casting the Wasteland
In casting New Vegas, the first thing we did was look at our characters and pull out what we thought were the most interesting ones to find actors for. Then we tried to find the most interesting actors that would bring the most unique voices to those characters. We obviously got some pretty interesting people.
It’s important to point out that we’re not going to announce our full cast. We have quite a few actors, some of whom are fairly well known, that we are not talking about and will not talk about because we want some things to be a surprise.
Matthew Perry as Benny
Matt first got on our radar because he went on talk shows — the first being Ellen — and one of his anecdotes was that he played so much Fallout 3 that he had to get surgery on his wrist. In fact, he even gave an Xbox 360 and a copy of Fallout 3 to Ellen, I believe. So we contacted him to see if he would be interested, as we had a role that we thought would be a really good fit for him.
After reaching out we had a meeting with Matt where it was me, him, a couple people from Obsidian, and people from the talent agency. The conversation basically just descended into nerdiness. He just wanted talk about Fallout 3, and gaming in general. That guy is not faking it – he is really that into Fallout 3 and games in general. It was cool; you can tell when someone is genuinely enthusiastic.
Voice-wise and attitude-wise, think of Benny as the lost Rat Pack character. He’s the head of the Chairmen, who run the Tops casino. His character has his own agenda. Matthew Perry really dove head-first into his role, and that was not easy; there’s some Rat Pack slang in there.
Wayne Newton as Mr. New Vegas
Mr. New Vegas is interesting because he’s just a voice on the radio, he has no body. He was created by Mr. House, so he’s literally just a voice. He tells what’s going on in the world, he’s always upbeat, and he has some very bizarre lines.
Wayne Newton was so happy with his role — he had a great time. He’s done some VO work in the past, but he’s never done a video game before. The thing about Wayne Newton is that he’s a professional host. His whole career is built on “everything’s great, everyone is welcome.” He is that guy. Between takes he was sitting around telling Dean Martin stories. He’s phenomenal.
Rene Auberjonois as Mr. House
Rene is best known as Odo on Deep Space Nine, but he’s an actor who’s been around for a long time. He was in the original M.A.S.H., and he’s been doing voiceover in video games since 1996. So almost as long as there has been voice in video games, Rene Auberjonois has been doing it. He’s done things like Gabriel Knight — he’s been around.
When he came into the studio, the last game he had done was Uncharted 2. That game was done with performance capture, so he had to put on the whole suit with the balls. In New Vegas, because he’s playing Mr. House — a huge character in the game with a lot of dialogue — he was afraid that he was going to be in that suit for six hours. He was very relieved that he just had to get in a booth to read. And from his very first line he got the character, he got the voice. It was amazing to hear him work.
Felicia Day as Veronica
She plays Veronica, our Brotherhood of Steel scribe who’s a companion you can get. That was interesting because she was cast very early, before the role was fully written, so basically the designer wrote the character for her. She was great to work with; very professional, very low-key and down to earth.
William Sadler as Victor
This was probably my favorite session that I attended. William is a character actor; he was in The Shawshank Redemption, was on Deep Space Nine for a number of episodes, he was in The Pacific, and he was the bad guy in Die Hard 2. I was really excited to cast him because he finds the voice, and he develops the character around the voice. When you’re doing VO work that’s really what you want.
William plays Victor, the robot that pulls you out of the grave at the start of the game. He’s a securitron robot with a picture of an old-timey cowboy on the screen that’s based on the Vegas Vic sign. The voice needed to be this old-timey cowboy, and the lines kind of vary between old-timey cowboy and pseudo-robot voice, and he just totally nailed it. He was so upbeat with the lines, and he delivers this crazy Western dialogue so well.
John Doman as Caesar
John Doman, who plays our Caesar, also played Bill Rawls on The Wire. That’s another one where he hadn’t been cast yet, but John Gonzalez, who wrote that character, really had Rawls in mind, so he was over the moon when we cast Doman as Caesar. [Doman] had some tongue-twisters, because there’s some Latin, so that was not easy.
Zach Levi as Arcade
Zach was another one with some Latin lines, but he totally pulled it off. He was cast fairly early, and his character was also written for him. He’s great to work with, and was really happy, because he’s a big gamer.
Kris Kristofferson as Chief Hanlon
He’s playing the head of the [New California Republic] Rangers, who is this grizzled old guy that’s at the end of his career and has become very introspective. Kris Kristofferson brought so much to that character. First of all he was a Ranger. He actually flew helicopters in Vietnam. He’s been in the military, he knows a lot of people in the military – he brought all of that to the character. This guy Kris plays, he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders, and he doesn’t like the way things are going. It’s a great performance.
Ron Perlman as the Narrator
He certainly knows what he’s reading at this point. The thing about Ron Perlman is that he does a lot of VO, he does books on tape. He’ll show up and just read; he’s that good. You can put anything in front of him and just sit back and listen.
Danny Trejo as Raul the Ghoul
Danny Trejo is a very down to earth, nice guy. Just before we started recording the session someone asked me if we were going to do any modulation on his voice because he’s playing Raul the Ghoul. But Danny Trejo naturally speaks that way; that’s Danny Trejo’s voice. He actually didn’t need any modulation; his voice, his instrument just has so much meat behind it that it’s amazing to hear him talk. And, he loved playing his character.
Michael Dorn as Marcus
We did bring back Michael Dorn, who is voicing the character Marcus, originally from Fallout 2. Michael’s voice has changed, but that’s what we had hoped for because Marcus has aged as well.
Michael Dorn has done lots of VO work, lots of cartoon work, lots of video games, lots of Klingon work. I should confess, I am a very big Star Trek fan. If it were up to me, this entire cast would be comprised of not just Star Trek, but Deep Space Nine characters. Of the actors we’ve announced, we have three, but that’s not even the whole number – if you look at the entire cast, we’re up to double digits.
Here’s the thing though, casting all those actors wasn’t intentional; I discovered through the process of casting that Star Trek is to Los Angeles what Law and Order is to New York. If you’re in New York and you go to a Broadway show and open the playbill every actor in there has appeared on Law and Order, and it’s because there’s such a need for actors on those shows. At its peak, most of those actors in LA appeared on Star Trek. The King, our Elvis impersonator in the game, was a Jem’Hadar on Deep Space Nine — James Horan, phenomenal actor.
The VATS Pack
We do have a very large cast simply because we had 65,000 lines of voiceover dialogue, which is significantly more than Fallout 3. We have a lot of alternate versions of the same lines because the player can align themselves with any one of three main factions, and their decisions completely change the storyline. If the player is male, if the player is female — there are a million variations on every line.
We did all of our voiceover recording in LA, so we had access to a pool of very experienced voiceover talent, which was great. I have nothing but respect for voiceover actors. It is hard work, and especially tough for a game like this. We had one role where we had 1800 pages of dialogue. Not lines – 1800 pages.
One person who we worked with is Yuri Lowenthal, who literally wrote the book on video game VO – he actually wrote a book on voice acting for video games. Another session I got a kick out of was Jason Spisak. He plays Vulpes Inculta, one of the members of Caesar’s Legion. Vulpes is a very dark character; a very dark character. He’s talking about horrible things he’s doing to people, like burning people alive – and inbetween takes, Jason Spisak is doing shtick, because he’s a really funny guy. But the results are just great, because he read his lines in this evil, flat tone.
We worked with the great Fred Tatasciore, who is revered among VO actors. He’s done the voice of The Hulk like ten times. In New Vegas he voices Tabitha, the cross-dressing super mutant, as well as Rhonda, Tabitha’s other personality. He’s one of those guys that you can tell to change the tone of a voice by 3%, and he can do it. It’s like a workout for this guy — he was drenched in sweat afterwards, he really got into it. He’s just amazing. Great to work with.
Another actress we worked with was Andrea Thompson. She was on Babylon 5 and NYPD Blue, but more relevant to us, she was a CNN Headline News anchor. What was great about her is that she has the ability to read anything cold, because she did headline news. I was talking with her, and she told me it’s just a skill you develop when you’re doing eight hours of live television a day. You could hand her a phonebook and she would read it, and it would sound like the most natural thing in the world. It was really fun to work with somebody who was that good.