On Location With: DOOM 3
We catch up with Activision and id Software in a southern California sound studio as they record voiceovers for id's upcoming horrorfest.
By Sal "Sluggo" Accardo | March 19, 2004
ABOUT TWENTY FEET in front of me, there's a man seated in a small booth. Watching through a glass window, we can see him talking to no one in particular, first in imperative tones, and then groaning and screaming at the top of his lungs in abject terror.
"DON'T YOU LEAVE ME HERE!!!"
Soon, the cries subside, and he emerges from the room to the sound of... applause.
The location is Salami Studios in North Hollywood, California, and the man in question is actor Phil LaMarr. Originally gaining fame as a cast member on Mad TV, LaMarr has become a much sought-after voice actor, with prominent roles in animated series such as Futurama, Justice League, Static Shock, Family Guy and Samurai Jack. He's also become one of the busiest names in videogame voiceovers, and there aren't many games bigger than the one he's recording for today: DOOM 3.
We joined id Software's Tim Willits and Marty Stratton along with Activision producer Jonathan Moses at the studio for a unique chance to see the game's voiceovers being recorded, and also took the opportunity to see how things are progressing with one of the most highly anticipated games of 2004.
In the early days of videogames, it wasn't uncommon for developers to do their own voiceovers, often with horrendous -- or comedic -- results. After all, story has often been treated as a secondary element in games; as id Software's own John Carmack once stated, "Story in a game is like story in a porn movie. It's expected to be there, but it's not that important."
That attitude, while still alive, has changed greatly in recent years. The latest Grand Theft Auto games boasted all-star voiceover casts, and Activision in particular has made a habit of hiring top-notch talent for many of their recent products -- True Crime, Call of Duty, Star Trek: Elite Force II, and Spider-Man, to name a few.
But when it came time to cast for DOOM 3, Activision and id had several interesting decisions to make. Since your heroic space marine isn't particularly chatty, most of the casting centered around supporting characters you meet throughout the Mars facility where a good chunk of the game takes place. A conscious decision was made not to cast mega-stars whose voices might be too recognizable; instead, the cast is a team of today's busiest voice actors. They might not be names readily recognizable to you -- LaMarr, Neil Ross, Dee Baker, Nick Jameson, Charles Dennis and Jim Ward, among others -- but odds are you've heard their voices in countless animated series and videogames.
In The Booth
Nick Jameson, Tim Willits and Marty Stratton try to work out one of the characters.
As we arrive at the studio, LaMarr is nearing the end of his session, which covers a variety of supporting characters -- scientists, engineers and marines. LaMarr whips through his lines like a pro, giving each character a unique feel without ever coming across cheesy. The highlight of the session comes at the very end, when LaMarr is allowed to cut loose and perform a variety of grunts and screams (saved for last as it puts the biggest strain on each actor's voice). With direction from Willits, Stratton and casting director Margaret Tang, LaMarr goes through a variety of screams, including one marine's inspired plea of "don't you leave me, motherf***er!!!" (It's an M-rated game, after all.) After all the serious dialogue that's preceded it, the perfect delivery of the line actually causes everyone in the studio to burst out laughing.
Next in the studio is Nick Jameson, who's seemingly had a role in every videogame ever made, including Call of Duty, Knights of the Old Republic, Star Wars: Rebel Strike, Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven, C&C: Generals, True Crime, Medal of Honor: Rising Sun, as well as many LucasArts games. (Jameson was actually the original voice of Kyle Katarn in Dark Forces and Max in Sam & Max Hit the Road.) To start, Jameson is given a script and then the group huddles around the mixing board, where Willits has a PC set up with a working build of DOOM 3.
To give Jameson some idea of what the game looks like, Willits boots up a level and gets into a quick firefight with one of DOOM 3's many monsters, demonstrating the game's advanced physics by going into a debug mode and picking up a body and tossing it around. The game looks as impressive as ever with its amazingly detailed models, and ran silky smooth to boot. Willits then called up a gallery of characters, a warehouse of sorts, showing many of the game's supporting cast. Throughout the day, Willits would use this room to show the actors which characters they'd be playing -- "engineer #2," "marine #3," etc -- giving each actor a starting point to base their voice around.