How Courtenay Taylor Found Her Voice For 'Fallout 4'
Long before hers was a readily recognisable and seemingly ubiquitous name among the video-game voice artist community, Fallout 4 star Courtenay Taylor was breaking ground on multiple fronts from the outset of her career.
Starting with assorted “additional” roles in 2002’s Star Trek: Starfleet Command III, Taylor – who had spent a number of years prior and since as a film and TV actor – worked her way through a screed of video game titles and franchises, providing voices for a range of familiar properties including Star Wars (Knights Of The Old Republic, The Old Republic), Lord Of The Rings (War In The North), The Sopranos (Road To Respect),Command & Conquer (3 and Red Alert 3) and even Tony Hawk’s skating series (Downhill Jam, Shred), as well as Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, Mass Effect 2 and 3, The Last Of Us Diablo III, Starcraft II, Mad Max, even a previous Fallout game, 2010’s New Vegas – to name but a few of her projects over the past 13 years.
Indeed, Taylor has been a part of video games since a time when video-game voice acting itself was still a nascent form, despite significant and swift progress throughout the 1990s, while working in an industry historically dominated by men, in an artistic medium — voice acting — that itself unfairly struggles for legitimacy next to “real” pursuits on stage or screen (to say nothing of the tardiness of the video game industry’s validation), and she has demonstrably crushed it at pretty much every turn.
"This is my first time really interacting with 'Fallout' fans … they're a hilarious bunch, with a very sick sense of humour!"
That tenacity and pioneering spirit has now paid off in a big way for Taylor with her biggest role to date, the most-coveted job of voicing the female protagonist in Fallout 4, Bethesda’s newly released open-world post-apocalyptic role-playing magnum opus (for this year) that has seen internet content aggregators such as Reddit and Imgur morph into seemingly boundless streams of photos and articles almost exclusively about, or even just loosely related to, the game in recent weeks, while spouses and partners the world over are resigning themselves to taking a backseat to some glorious 3D adventuring over the next few weeks. Suffice to say, people have been super-eager to see this game released — which means Taylor's biggest job has also, in many ways, been her best so far.
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“Everyone’s been great; I’ve been really pleased,” Taylor audibly beams. “I know there was some trepidation about a voiced protagonist in the beginning, but so far what I’ve encountered has been really wonderful: fans that are open to the idea who are really, insanely excited about the game, hysterical… obviously, people kept themselves busy with some pretty funny photoshops and fanfiction kind of things – but, yeah, it could have been a different situation!
“This is my first time really interacting with Fallout fans; I did Fallout: New Vegas but played some smaller characters, so once they announced us and I got to get on Twitter and interact with people… they’re a hilarious bunch, with a very sick sense of humour [laughs].”
Fallout 4 puts players in the shoes of a human emerging from an underground bunker (the Vault) in post-apocalyptic Boston, 200 years after a nuclear war devastated the world. It’s not-altogether an entirely different idea from what’s gone before in the series in terms of its after-doomsday setting, but it is certainly the most expansive title in the series to date, as well as being the first time Bethesda have seen fit to include an actual voice for its protagonist — or, more accurately, two (Brian T Delaney provides the dialogue for the game’s male protagonist to Taylor’s reading for the female protagonist).
Referencing the trepidation she witnessed at the announcement of the addition of a voiced POV character to the series, Taylor says that most early misgivings were steeped in the concern that lending a definitive voice to the game’s protagonists would impact players’ ability to enjoy an immersive experience — but rightly dismisses the worry (after all, it’s not exactly a problem for every other video game series on Earth).
“From what I read and people I talked to, that was the concern — that, somehow, it would be taking some of the immersion of, you know, you running that movie or conversation in your head, as opposed to having someone else voice what you were thinking,” Taylor explains. “But I think it was a definitive move on Bethesda’s part to try and increase the immersion, increase the choice that they’re well-known for, and I really hope that it adds a level. I don’t think it takes away from it.
“In movies, even though somebody is playing the lead character – it’s not you, but it allows you to empathise and take a ride with someone and have a really deep, emotional experience, and I think, with games being elevated to being more and more cinematic-quality, that hopefully we’ll increase the capacity for that kind of emotional ride.”
"With the level of care that's being taken to make these games a cinematic experience, the voice acting also has to be elevated as well."
In some ways, it might strike the casual observer as almost tardy that 2015 should mark the first time voice-acting has made its way to a Fallout player character on top of non-player characters (NPCs), especially given the recent spike in credibility the form has enjoyed. One need look no further than the recent replacement of celebrated screen actor Peter Dinklage with veteran VG voice actor Nolan North for Destiny: The Taken King to understand the weight that the industry's own heavy-hitters carry. However, while understandably thrilled that her profession is being afforded greater gravitas these days, Taylor is under no misconceptions about where she and her contemporaries fit in to the overall development process.
"I think, with the level of care that's being taken to make these games a cinematic experience, the voice acting also has to be elevated as well," Taylor reflects. "I think it works hand-in-glove with what the devs are doing; I think the fans are starting to expect it more and more, and that companies are responding to it. I'm happy that people are noticing; every voice actor's fist-shaking-at-the-sky moment is people going, 'Oh, did you not want to do real acting?' And a lot of us have worked very hard on our craft, many are well-trained, theatre-trained, have worked in movies and TV as well — so it's nice to get some recognition, but we're all very aware that we're part of a team and it's a small portion of what goes into the game."
This may not Taylor’s first association with a Fallout game but it’s unquestionably her most involved. It’s not just the hype surrounding the game’s entry into the world that’s massive, after all; in aiding the creation of Fallout 4’s immersive world, Taylor was required to lay down an eye-watering 13,000 lines of dialogue to account for the player’s conversational and gameplay choices, which, as one can imagine, got a little bit convoluted at times.
“The way that we record often is non-linear, so that can be a little bit tricky, because you really have to be in the moment, in every moment, and it can be quite a roller-coaster ride," Taylor says. "In a four-hour session, you can go all over the place emotionally, and in different scenarios. We do single-line pick-ups… sometimes, the way that it’s presented, the lines have to be recorded in a certain sequence so that they can be tagged and sent back to the gaming company, so with the exception of effort, death screams, things like that — which we generally do at the end, so we don’t throw out our voices — you can be going along in a certain scenario and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ve gotta get this pick-up line from the last session,’ and you’ll have to switch gears completely, and then they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re back to the other thing’. So that’s non-linear, and I think is also probably the most challenging, and also not getting to sit down and peruse a full script.”
"You really have to be in the moment, in every moment, and it can be quite a roller-coaster ride."
Despite largely dealing in fragments as part of a massive, perpetually changing whole, Taylor says her experience working on Fallout 4 was a resoundingly positive one, with the underlying hope being that all of us have as much fun playing it as she did being a part of its creation.
"Bethesda allowed us to... I guess I came in with ideas about how the player character would sound and react to things and they gently guided us, at least for me personally, directed us into creating truthful scenarios, truthful reactions and finding the emotional depth and truth in the scenes as opposed to having some kind of idea of a superhero or [something]," Taylor says of her performance. "I think it speaks to the immersion that Bethesda's going for in allowing us to kind of just be ourselves and have it not be jarringly out of alignment.
"It's a character — we are you, you are us; we're just voicing your experience."