“Imagine Edward Norton in the beginning of ‘Fight Club’ – that was me, a workin’ stiff,” says Cissy Jones, renowned voice actress on games such as The Walking Dead, Life is Strange, and upcoming titles Firewatch and ADR1FT.
“I’d always dreamed of being a voice on a cartoon, but never knew how to get started. One day, I discovered a voiceover school in Northern California, where I live, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Jones has worked closely with Telltale, and is fond of her experiences doing so. “TWD Season 1 felt like lightening in a bottle. We all knew it was going to be special, we just didn’t know HOW special! I became friends with the other actors from the game: Melissa Hutchinson, Owen Thomas, Gavin Hammon and others, because of the game, which is quite rare!”
“Usually,” Jones explains, “you record your role in a vacuum, and that’s that. With TWD, however, it was such a crazy experience that we all bonded. The writers, directors, everyone on that game was so much fun.”
Jones had more than one role in The Walking Dead, and has also been listed as “Additional Voices” for a plethora of games. People not familiar with voice acting may think having more than one role is impossible, or that “Additional Voices” doesn’t, or shouldn’t count as a role. Both are untrue.
“I auditioned for each role on TWD, and then some, via my agent. Telltale liked my acting choices enough to hire me; we just had to ensure that each voice, accent and character was distinguishable from the others. It felt a bit schizophrenic at times, but was so much fun!”
“With regards to additional roles, they’re usually the general population you may encounter on the street, like in Infamous or Grand Theft Auto. These are people who say a few words here and there but don’t necessarily warrant a full name within the game.”
Voice acting is becoming more and more closely related with television and film acting, another sign of a maturing games industry. “It’s fun to see video games taking center stage in the cultural zeitgeist,” Jones says. “So much thought and love and planning goes into making games, so it’s no wonder we’re seeing games with such strong storylines and character development. It’s such a rush to work on something that’s so wholly embraced by fans.”
One of the primary reasons voice acting is beginning to be held in as high esteem as television and film acting is motion capture. Jones recently wrapped up a big mocap project, though she cannot reveal details as yet. “It was simultaneously awesome and terrifying,” she says, describing her experience. “The comfort of the booth and not having to memorize lines is quickly thrown out the window. Suddenly you need to memorize both lines and stage direction, which is a whole new muscle. Working alongside other actors is a pleasure, as that usually never happens while working in a booth.”
Jones is the voice of Delilah, one of two characters in Campo Santo’s upcoming title, ‘Firewatch.’ One of Delilah’s most interesting traits is that she is heard, and never seen. The player character interacts with Delilah exclusively through a walkie-talkie. “It’s a completely new dynamic,” Jones says. “Usually, I have a visual in my head of who this character is, which can inform my acting choices, but Delilah was like a blank slate.”
“I think it’s awesome to get the chance to decide how you feel about a character without seeing what she looks like. We all have difference standards of attractiveness, so if Campo Santo has rendered an image for her, she might be off-putting to some or attractive to others. This way, however, the player gets to have an image in their own mind of what she looks like. Do you have a friendly/flirty relationship with her, or a strained/awkward one? Your answer to that question will likely change the way you think she looks. Regardless, it’s up to you and your imagination. I love it!”
Jones sees a bit of herself in Delilah. “Delilah is me if a few of my earlier choices in life had backfired.,” she says. “She’s an independent spirit who got tired of trying to live up to everyone’s expectations. So she does her own thing. Unapologetically.”
Mad Men’s Rich Sommer voices the game’s player character, Henry. “Sean [Vanaman, the writer and co-founder of Campo Santo] had the glorious idea to record us simultaneously from our own in-home studios via Skype,” Jones explains. “So every session, we dial in and actually have conversations. Rich and I also live a couple of miles apart from one another in LA, but we didn’t meet until GDC (in Feb 2015) to maintain the ‘tension’ that Henry & Delilah have. It’s really funny to me now to see him on Mad Men or Wet Hot American Summer and actually see his voice coming from his face; not just a disembodied voice in my headphones.”
Based on a number of video demonstrations of the game, the dialogue feels more natural than most other games. Jones attributes this to both Sean and Rich, saying, “It’s no coincidence that Sean wrote TWD Season 1 – he is such a phenomenal writer. He really pours his heart and soul into it. It also helps that Rich is a wonderful actor. It was very easy to have a great rapport with him. Once we found the groove, it was just second nature.”
Jones is also lending her vocal talents to voicing the protagonist in Three One Zero’s ADR1FT, Alex. She describes the experience as outstanding. “I am such a fan of Adam Orth and his vision. He has been through quite a bit to get to where he is, and he’s such an awesome guy. I love the idea in this game that the threat is real, but the enemy has no face. You can’t shoot your way out of it! I also had the pleasure of playing one of the other astronauts, Elizabeth Hudson, who you’ll learn about as you play the game.”
To Jones, Alex is a “deeply flawed individual with a deep-seated need to succeed. It costs her dearly. Once she accepts her fate, she becomes quite the badass.”
You can look forward to hearing Jones in Firewatch and ADR1FT in February of 2016 and upon the launch of the Oculus Rift, respectively.
Recently, the SAG-AFTRA authorized a referendum for video game voice actors. It calls for a limit on vocally strenuous sessions, more transparency, and residuals for top selling titles. Here’s what Jones has to say on the matter:
“The negotiations between Sag-Aftra & the AAA video game producers is certianly a hot-button issue, and one I view as quite important. I am not on the board at the union, so I don’t know every little thing that’s going on, but here is what I understand:
The union is asking for a few key points to help their actors out with regards to video games, most notably – a limit on vocally stressful sessions, more transparency in the industry, and residuals on the top grossing games.
Here’s what the producers are asking for:
The ability to fine voice actors $2500 for being late or “inattentive” during a session (ie, checking your phone); ability to fine the union $50K-$100K if our agencies don’t send us out on certain auditions/sessions and also the ability to force the union to de-franchise our agencies for failure to submit us on certain auditions.
Here’s why I am on board with what the union is trying to accomplish, and as Wil Wheaton said in his blog post, it ain’t about the money:”
She continues, “I have been brought in for straight-hire jobs (meaning I didn’t audition for them but was cast outright) that were 4 straight hours of screaming. Not yelling, screaming. Every time I would try to adjust my outputs in order to save my voice, the client “just didn’t hear what they wanted” and kept making me do it over. In one particular session, by the time I left my throat was BLEEDING. Not only that, but I had to head straight to another session for one of my weekly clients, a bread-and-butter job, and try to sound like normal, not-bleeding me for 3 radio spots and 2 television spots. Then I couldn’t talk, couldn’t even audition for the rest of the week (that was on a Tuesday). That was for ONE SESSION, not even ongoing sessions, so the pay was honestly pretty minimal to lose out on that much potential work.
Also, as Wil mentions, it’s nice to know what game we’re working on!! Sometimes there are themes or subjects we don’t really want to align ourselves with, but the secrecy in the gaming industry is so all-consuming that often we don’t know the title of the game we’ve just worked on until it’s out in the wild and one of our friends calls to say, “Hey I think I heard you in this game….”
Residuals are getting the most press. Yes, it would be nice to make a bonus on the games that sell over 2 million copies. (I think the most important part to note here is that that makes up about 16% of games, mostly from the AAA titles, and does not affect most indie games.) I am very lucky to do the job that I do, I love it and it drives me, and if this doesn’t work out I’ll probably be bagging groceries at the corner mart, but I am a contractor. I work on a job-to-job basis, getting one-time session fees, and until I make a certain amount of money through union jobs, I can’t qualify for health insurance for my family. Residuals go a long way toward achieving that goal.
I honestly hope it doesn’t come to a strike, and if it does, I hope it’s resolved quickly. I love working on video games. I love the stories and the characters, I love the people I get to work with, and I love interacting with the fans. I think having quality voice acting is seminal to telling great stories (this guy points it out quite well): and I’d love to see the relationship between the union and the producers strengthen so we can continue to tell great stories together.”