We continue our chat with Troy Baker of Tales of Vesperia, Persona 4, Age of Conan and Ghostbusters: The Video Game fame here in our second part of our lengthy interview, finally getting to the gaming aspect of this talented gent's varied career. Check out part one of our interview with Troy here, and enjoy the second half of the interview below!
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RPGSite: Finally we come to the reason we’re here today, Tales of Vesperia, in which you voice the lead player character, Yuri Lowell. Is it strange for you to have worked on something so long ago and then have us appear on the scene all this time later and tell you it has only just been released here in Europe?
Troy: It is. There’s a website called The Escapist magazine and they have an article called ‘Zero Punctuation’ and he does some of the funniest, wittiest, scathing reviews of every video game that he does, so I am reminded sometimes – like Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway came out in Australia way before it hit the States.
So, I try to keep informed as much as I can but yeah, I was surprised that Vesperia just got released in Europe, but it’s actually really, really cool because hopefully people will still be hot on it when I’m there in October for the London MCM Expo and to be able to talk to you about it is really cool.
RPGSite: How did you first hear about the game?
Troy: What’s funny is, the studio we were doing it at, a lot of times, especially with Japanese games, they play everything close to the chest, and so a lot of times when you walk in you have no idea what the name of the game is, especially if it’s in a franchise; they don’t want it out that they’re even doing another one.
So I walk in, and the only thing I see is that the characters name is Yuri Lowell. There’s two people I owe being able to work in LA to and that’s Yuri Lowenthal and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. Those two people have opened up doors for me to work in LA and [are] the reason why I’m still here.
So, I walk into this audition and I look at the director and I was like, “come on – if they’re naming characters after Yuri, I think it’s pretty clear that the role is his.” I didn’t know it was one of the Tales games and Yuri had voiced the lead in the previous one, Tales of the Abyss, and so only by default did he not get it and I did. We laughed about it and I even called him as soon as I got out of the audition, I was like “bro, I just read for a character that has your name, so I think it’s pretty much yours.” And you know, Yuri is like a brother to me and he’s probably the most gracious [person], and he was like “hey, if there’s anyone that can do it, it’s you.”
So I got the role, and I had no idea what I was in for. There’s a game that I’m working on right now that I think is going to come close, but we worked for 3 months on that game. I walk in and, a lot of times you’re handed a script – a 150 page script, 200 page script, something like that, maybe more – and I said, “Where’s the script?” And they said, “It’s behind you” and I said “all I see are 4 binders.” They said, “That’s the script.” [laughs]
So, for the next 3 months we just pounded through it and it was amazing. When you work on a game for that long – especially with the producer and the director – it really became a team effort, and we had the opportunity to really get inside the head of Yuri and the other characters and be able to really find out what was going on in the story and even change the script along the way; there were times when I was like, “would Yuri really say this right now or would he maybe say something like this.”
Being able to have that kind of freedom was an enjoyable process but it was also a rarity, you don’t really get that a lot of times.
RPGSite: You’ve somewhat pre-empted one of my next questions, which was is working on an RPG as tough for the leads as we would imagine, given that they are so dialogue intensive?
Troy: It is, and I think one of the hardest things about it is you’re doing it by yourself. Sometimes we would have the ability to listen to what other people did; there were times when I had Estelle or Karol to help lead me in, or to be in the conversation with me, because they’d already recorded. We started with Yuri because he obviously had probably the most to say, and so a lot of times it was imagining what everybody else around you is saying.
So it’s different to film because with film you’re working with a cast of characters at the same time, and predominantly with voice acting, especially with videogames, it’s just you, and so a lot of times you have to set the tone.
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RPGSite: You’ve mentioned the enormous scripts and talking about the character, but do they initially give you a bio of the character, explaining his past, beliefs, plot developments, or is it just the scripts?
Troy: You know, never in a videogame have I been handed a script ahead of time. I’ve talked to some directors that I have a good relationship with about starting to do that – only with the lead characters, you know; if I’m playing Soldier A, I don’t need to know his back story [laughs] I just need to know where I fit into this game.
But, it would have been really helpful. Most of the videogame companies - especially once again with Japanese games - they play everything really close to their chest and they don’t want to let a lot of the details out. The only thing I really got off Yuri was a brief, couple of paragraphs bio; a little bit of back story setting up the world; and about the same for the rest of the other characters.
I got the character development, the ideas, the relationships and all of those nuances that really help sell the performances through the writer and director. It was through the process that we were able to say, “Oh, so this is why…” and we asked a lot of questions, because blastia is probably the easiest word that we use throughout the entire game. There’s a lot of really, really hard words and places and several characters, so being able to understand the relationship between the characters, the significance of this place, what this specific item is, we only found out through discovery and not through back story and being able to prepare.
I think that sometimes – sometimes – it can limit us as actors because we really need more time. There’s a TV show I’m working on right now, a cartoon, and I’ll get the script at least 3 or 4 days in advance, so by the time I walk in to record my script has got circles and notes and everything all over it and I know when I walk in exactly what’s going on in the story as opposed to just walking into the studio and having to figure it out.
RPGSite: Yuri walks what I thought was an unusually dark path for a lead player character, so how did you feel about his development?
Troy: For me, what sets up the story is Yuri and Flynn’s relationship; you have two people that are equally matched but Flynn, because he is such a blinded idealist, says that the Imperial Knights are the way to go, while Yuri is a man of the people and he hates the way that the Empire treats the lower quarter and he believes he can do better on his own than he can going with the system.
I think that decision to leave the Knights is the common thread throughout every decision he makes and you really get a chance to see the gravitas to each of those decisions, and sometimes it comes out harsher, like when he is dealing with Karol. You even see it with Estelle, because there are times when Estelle represents the Empire still because that is where she comes from, so he has a little bit of hostility.
I think the only one that really remains unchanged throughout the entire story is Repede.
RPGSite: Usually when you have two very similar characters walking different paths the one that the player controls is obviously in the right the entire time whereas with Yuri you find yourself constantly questioning his actions. Why do you think the decision was taken to make him so controversial?
Troy: I think that one of the things that make the Tales games so intriguing and such a fan favourite is that it’s not a clear cut “here is your hero, here is your villain, now go kick some ass”, it’s completely different. You have a story.
He’s not a reluctant hero; from the very beginning he’s Clint Eastwood, he’s Dirty Harry, he’s got it, he’s going to be the one that is going to save the day, you just don’t know how he’s going to do it, or if he’s going to be able to do it. I think that was a brainchild of the Japanese and luckily we were able to keep all of those elements when we translated it.
RPGSite: In Japan they are porting Tales of Vesperia to the Playstation 3 and they are expanding practically every aspect of the game, even going so far as to add a whole new main character in the form of Patty Fleur to the party. While there has been no Western release announced as yet, I was wondering if you had heard anything or have been called back to do additional lines?
Troy: No, we came back and did a couple of things several months ago but I don’t know if that was ported over for anything else. But they’re adding characters, is that what you said?
RPGSite: Yeah, a pirate named Patty Fleur. I have no idea what her role is but she may have been on the cards from the very beginning, because when you visit one of the port towns in the Xbox 360 version you find a pirates hat on which can be read ‘It has a girl’s name: Pa…’ which I can only assume is a reference to this new character.
Troy: How crazy.
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RPGSite: Before moving on from Tales, numerous online sources claim that you also worked on the upcoming Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, voicing Regal Bryant. Is that true?
Troy: No, and here’s what’s interesting; I called the director, I was like “I just want to make sure I didn’t forget something; was I in that?” They were like, “No, that wasn’t you…” [Laughs] So, IMDb strikes again.
The problem is that whenever we do projects where the cast list is not released, the fans will actually figure it out. There have been people that have found me out, like “Hey, that’s Troy Baker.” That’s weird that people can do that, but sometimes they get things wrong.
RPGSite: Well, there is something else on your online resumé that I hope is true; did you voice Conan the Barbarian for Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures?
Troy: I did and trust me; nobody was more shocked than I. I remember I walked into the studio and the director looks at me and said “Can I help you?” And I said, “Hi, I’m Conan, I’m Troy Baker.” And they were like, “No, really; can we help you?” [Laughs] Because you look at me and your mind doesn’t automatically go, “Yeah, that’s a good Conan the Barbarian.”
Working on that project was such a joy because I was a fan of Bob Howard’s work, who originally designed Conan. I remember I secretly bought Conan the Barbarian back in the early 1980’s – this was after the movie that Arnold Schwarzenegger did – and that thing disturbed me to my very core [laughs]. It was the first graphic novel I ever read [and] it did such damage to me because I was a big fan of Batman and Spiderman and Daredevil and the Fantastic Four and X-Men, but I was not prepared for the graphic nature of Conan at the age of ten.
But being able to be the voice of Conan, they said they were really impressed because I knew the story and a lot of the characters. We had someone in the UK who was there to help out with the pronunciation of a lot of the words and I knew; I knew how to say a lot of them.
There is a famous passage in the original Conan books – The Phoenix on the Sword - where it says, ‘Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand’ and I got to actually say that in the game. It was really, really cool.
RPGSite: It sounds like you had a lot of fun working on Conan, but what moment stands out above all the rest when you think about your time on the game?
Troy: What was really cool is they invited myself and the audio director to Oslo where Funcom is based for the game launch. I was just glad to be a part of it, but there was nothing to prepare me for what that party was.
They had rented out an old church and done it straight up as if it was in Cimmeria. They had a huge throne for me that I sat in and had pots of gold chocolate coins that I was throwing out to the group. It was such a trip; it was such a surreal night, to be in Norway being Conan. When I walked on stage to introduce one of the singers, a lot of people didn’t know who I was until they heard the voice [laughs].
RPGSite: I bet you never thought you would find yourself in that position.
Troy: There are definitely moments when I go the bathroom and just look at myself in the mirror and think, “I can’t believe this is happening; I can’t believe this is my life.” There’s not one moment when I don’t fully appreciate it and realise that it could go away at any moment, so you just have to enjoy it while you can.
RPGSite: Are there any more Conan projects in the pipeline?
Troy: We’re actually coming back to work on it again, they’re doing an expansion pack and we’re going to work on some next month.
RPGSite: Did you have a chance to speak to the Governator about the role?
Troy: No; what’s funny is, I did a commercial with him and he’s a really, really cool guy and he is just massive; he’s a lot taller than I thought he was. But I think if I sat down and had a candid conversation with him it wouldn’t be about Conan right now, I think it’d be about the Californian budget [laughs].
RPGSite: You work on a lot of games, but would you say you are a big gamer?
Troy: I am a diehard gamer. I think I am a life long gamer. I’ve spanned the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and out, so I’m in to four decades now, which is really kinda weird. I had CalecoVision so I played ‘Pong’; I went down the street everyday to my best friend because he had the cool Atari 1600 [sic] with wood grain console and the silver toggles, and I made it my life’s quest to beat Pitfall [laughs]
I look now at how elementary the game play is, but to me it’s because I didn’t have that athletic ability, I was an arcade kid. On Saturday’s that’s where I wanted to be, because I couldn’t throw a football, I couldn’t shoot hoops, I couldn’t play baseball, but in a videogame I could ride on the back of a dragon and fire fireballs out of my fingertips and get the hottest chick in the land. That really appealed to me.
I look at where we’re at now, not just with RPGs but with videogames period and they’ve just created these worlds. I think there’s still a balance, because now that I’m older I want to experience the real world as much as I want to experience the RPG world and the videogame world. But I’ve got a PS3 and a Wii and an Xbox and so I definitely play.
RPGSite: Are you playing anything at the moment?
Troy: Right now I’m playing Infamous and I’ve just about lost my religion on it, because it does something no other game has ever done. It says, “You’re doing so well, we went ahead and changed the level to difficult” [laughs]. Because I like to feel good about myself when I play videogames so a lot of times I’ll play on the easiest mode so I just feel like a rock star, and this has been really challenging for me [laughs]
RPGSite: Do you ever play games that you have worked on?
Troy: I just finished playing Red Faction, and I played Alex Mason in that, and that’s just a fun romp; I mean, any game where you can destroy literally everything in the world that’s man made, that’s two thumbs up in my book. Brothers in Arms, I’ve worked on three of those now, I play the main character, Matt Baker, in that, and so those are really fun to play.
RPGSite: How about Ghostbusters: The Video Game, in which you voiced Slimer – have you had a chance to play that?
Troy: I’ve just finished playing Ghostbusters. I think I worked on that game longer than I worked on any other game in my life, I think for five years. I was the first one recorded and I was the last one recorded. In addition to Slimer, I’m probably 70% of all the ghosts and creatures and goblins so that was interesting.
RPGSite: So you’re who I’ve been busting all this time.
Troy: Oh my gosh. And the Slimer stuff we did pretty quickly, that was the first stuff we ever recorded. It was funny because I had done three video games with that developer before, my friend was the audio director, and he said, “We need to do some temporary stuff for the Ghostbusters game; do you think you could do Slimer?” and I was like “Anybody could do that voice.”
And so we did some stuff, they sent it off to Sony, and they said “did you just pull some stuff from the movie for Slimer?” He goes, “No, that’s actually voiced here [by] Troy Baker” and they’re like “Well, he’s got the job” so [laughs] I kind of lucked into that one. We just finished it literally two months before it shipped; we were still recording on it.
RPGSite: Did you have a chance to meet or work with any of the Ghostbusters themselves?
Troy: I didn’t. What’s interesting is that I started working on the game when I was still living in Texas. I recorded at the studio at Terminal Reality, who was the developer, and then the rest of the stuff I did from my own studio here in my house, which is probably a lot better because when you’re doing creature sounds you don’t want anybody to see the faces that you’re making and the body movements that you’re doing to get those sounds. If anybody had record of that they’d definitely use that as blackmail against you because no human should make those kinds of sounds.
But I came in a day after Dan Akroyd recorded his stuff, and I have such a huge respect for him; first of all, because a lot of the terminology, a lot of the science that’s in the story, Dan Akroyd made up. It’s scientifically plausible, what he’s talking about, but the terminology and everything he and Harold Ramis actually wrote that.
And he came in and he had a lot of talking; of all the Ghostbusters, he definitely had the most. He did all of his dialogue in about four and half hours, took one fifteen minute break, and the second take was gold every time. He’s incredible, the guy’s a machine.
I saw him at a party one time and we weren’t supposed to talk about the game yet and so I was kind of hesitant to walk up and say “Hey, I’m Slimer” but that probably would have been a very awkward encounter if I had done that, so [laughs]
RPGSite: Still, it’s not often you’ll be able to say that at a party.
Troy: No, that’s probably a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I’ll be kicking myself to my dying day for that one.
RPGSite: It is nearly time to wrap things up but before we do, why do you think it is that - at least until recently - Japanese developers have dominated the RPG genre?
Troy: I think that here in the States there’s a lot of things we do well, videogame wise. We’ve got Halo, and first person shooters we’ve got down pretty well, or if you want to have a completely sociopathic [sic] adventure like Grand Theft Auto, we’ve got that down pretty well.
When it comes to telling a story like an RPG does, as good as I think a lot of people do, in my opinion I think we fall short. Fallout 3 is a good example, or Far Cry, probably more Fallout 3 – those are RPGs but they don’t tell a story the same way that a Japanese RPG does.
You take a game like Tales or a Final Fantasy – some of the bigger RPG titles – there is such a brilliant telling of a story, and the characters are so rich, and it’s typically because what you’re seeing in this story is just a slither of the true character.
I remember I talked to the writer of Afro Samurai, Takashi Okazaki, [when] he was laying out the storyline and he said “this is just one point on a 1000 year timeline, I’m telling just this one story.” It’s so huge and I think that’s Japanese culture.
RPGSite: What would you say is the toughest aspect of working on a production - be it a video game, television series or movie - that was originally created in Japan?
Troy: I think the thing that is most difficult about any kind of Japanese adaptation is that it’s not a translation of words; it’s an adaptation of culture. There’s a show that we do called Shin Chan where I play a character called Action Bastard and Laura Bailey plays Shin, and it’s so hard because the jokes that they make in Japanese do not make sense in Western culture, much less American culture. To be able to translate that, keep the context, keep the humour, but do it in a way that you can package it and have Americans especially make sense [of it] is really, really hard [laughs]
So, that’s probably the toughest aspect of this job, with any kind of Japanese title, is the adaptation.
RPGSite: And finally, are there any projects – either as a musician or an actor - that you are working on right now that we haven’t spoken about that you would like to mention?
Troy: Modern Warfare 2 which is the follow up to Call of Duty 4 will be out this November and that’s one of the games I cannot wait to see because it’s going to blow any expectations that the previous games have set up. I like the fact that they’re actually dropping the moniker Call of Duty and they’re just referring to it as Modern Warfare 2.
There’s another project that I was involved in with Liam O’Brien – Liam O’Brien and I always play brothers or opposites, it’s really, really funny. We’ve done so in a project called Ascend, we played brothers in Red Faction Guerrilla, and we played nemeses-possible-brothers in this new game from THQ called Darksiders which is coming out in January.
So, those are some video games that I’m really, really excited about.
RPGSite: Well, that just about wraps it up. I cannot thank you enough for giving up so much of your time.
Troy: It’s been my pleasure, man; I could talk about this stuff ad nauseam, so I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about it.
Thanks again to Troy for giving us so much of his time and remember you can catch him at the London MCM Expo 24-25th October. We'll be meeting him there to chat with him about some exciting future RPG-related projects of his, so be sure to stick with us at RPGSite to see what he's working on!