Video game voice actors have to do the impossible: give life to a character solely through vocal theatrics and dialogue. This becomes even tougher when voice actors take on multiple roles, having to create a variety of characters that don't sound like they're coming from the same person.
Voice actress Cissy Jones is not only aware of those challenges, but has successfully tackled them, having done multiple voices for games such as Telltale's The Walking Dead, as well as Adr1ft, which released this week. Cissy is also the voice of Delilah in Firewatch, a character that the main protagonist only has access to via a walkie-talkie.
In an interview, Jones spoke about the challenges of voice acting, how it's changed over the past few years, as well as how she approaches each character.
How did you get into video game voice acting?
I used to be a working stiff in the Silicon Valley years ago. And I always like to say it was kind of like the beginning of Fight Club where Ed Norton is like "I am Jack's failing liver." I was just really miserable and not loving it. I was getting ready for work one morning and I heard Nancy Cartwright — the voice of Bart Simpson — promoting The Simpsons Movie, and she was like "you guys in the Bay area, you're so lucky, you have one of the best voice acting schools in the country right here. And I was like "what?" I called that day and I started taking classes and the rest is history.
Over the years that you've worked with the video game industry, have improvements in technology — both personal tech and with video game development — changed how you do your job?
I managed to get in right around the time when home studios were kind of a thing. So I've been able to set up a really great home studio, which is where I'm talking to you from right now. And I do a lot of my auditioning and jobs from here, which is nice.
In terms of video games, it's been really cool to see — you know, I've only been doing games for about five years — so even going back further, I used to play Super Mario Bros. and King's Quest and all that stuff when I was a kid. Even from that to what we have now and how realistic it is and the dialogue and the characters and the imagery, let alone the gameplay, it's really fascinating. It's so much more immersive than it used to be.
And now we've got VR, which we'll see with Adr1ft.
Yeah, it's going to knock your socks off.
You've done multiple voices in several games, such as The Walking Dead and Adr1ft. How do you approach each voice so that it doesn't sound like the same person?
I think the first thing to know is that the voice comes last. So when you are presented with a character, you need to develop that character. You need to understand what drives them, what are their biggest hopes, what are their biggest dreams, what are their biggest fears, what's the first thing they think of when they wake up in the morning? And once you figure out those things about a character, the voice comes next.
Like in The Walking Dead, Katia was a middle-aged Belgian veterinarian who was married to a complete hothead. So she was a little calmer and she was the first one in the group who would kind of be the conscience and tell people to settle down. And of course, she's Belgian, so there was the accent. And then you have Jolene, and she was mad and crazy and angry. And once you get into those kind of choices about the character, that's what informs the voice.
You did the voices for two characters in Adr1ft. Could you describe those characters?
Alex Oshima is the commander of the ship that has been destroyed. She is headstrong, she is fiercely competitive, she's driven to succeed. Her biggest fear is public humiliation. And so she will do whatever she can to make her choices the correct ones, no matter the cost, which leads to some pretty devastating consequences.
Elizabeth Hunter, who is a childhood friend of Alex's, she is a little softer. She's very well educated, she's very capable, which is why she is in space in the first place. She's a little more human, where Alex can tend to be a little bit robotic in her choices and doesn't necessarily think about the human consequence. Elizabeth is vulnerable and she's open to making mistakes and she's more human, for lack of a better word.
What is a typical workday like for you?
Well, this week has been particularly insane. Usually, I wake up, check the inbox and see if there are any auditions: if there are auditions, I either do them from home or go wherever they're recording. On Monday, I had a video game session from 9 to 1, nearby my house in Burbank. And then I had to shoot down to Culver City for a callback for another game that I'm really excited about and I can't tell you anything about, of course. I got down there for a callback, spent about a half hour there and then I had to get back to the Valley for a 4 o'clock session up here.
Do you have a favorite role that you've done so far?
Delilah. I love Delilah from Firewatch. She was so much fun. And she was so much me that it was just so much fun to be a part of.
Do you play video games now? What are some of your favorite games?
I actually love Princess Quest, because it was the one time where I was watching my dad play and he couldn't figure it out and he found this frog and he was like "what do I do with this frog?" And I was like, "Dad, maybe you kiss the frog!" And he did, and of course, the frog turned into a prince and he was like "yay" and I was like "I figured out something before anyone else!"
I am a terrible game player because I learned to play on the old-school NES paddle, the flat ones. And instead of hitting it with my thumbs, I learned to play with my middle finger, so that I could run fast and then jump without having to take my finger off the "A" button. So I was a really fast runner in the games, but when the new paddles came out, I was like "what the hell?"
So now, whenever I try to play, I die, in like three seconds. My friend Anthony has been teaching me how to play: he came over with his whole set-up and was like "OK, this is what this button does and this is what that button does." So I'm trying. But I'm terrible.