Wes Johnson Interview

11 Sep 2011

The Gaming Liberty recently had the chance to chat with veteran voice actor Wes Johnson, who most of our readers likely remember for his collaboration with Bethesda which goes from Fallout 3 all the way back to Morrowind, and which incidentally is also the topic of this interview/article. Here's a generous sampling:
had voiced a few games when I was lucky enough to be chosen to voice a few characters in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, but I hadn’t played anything as deeply immersive as this game would prove to be. The sessions were done with Todd Howard in Washington, D.C., in the studios known as Absolute Pitch. Todd and I worked with a great engineer named Chip Ellinghaus, and I couldn’t have know just how much these two men and their projects would shape my future. It was an interesting experience, voicing the Bretons, Orcs and various gods and demons for Morrowind, but I hadn’t played a full RPG yet, and treated this session like many of the voice sessions I had done in the past. I was to discover that voicing for radio, commercials, TV, film or even cartoons was a completely different experience than voicing for a video game.

Imagine someone handing you a stack of scripts as thick as a graphic novel, or in some cases as thick as a phonebook. On each of these pages are twenty to thirty lines, each with a only a few words to describe how your character is feeling. Your lifeline to this world is held by the voice director, and sometimes the writer if they attend the session. In many cases, you’re given a brief description of who this character is, and how they fit in this world. In my earliest experiences before Bethesda, I never saw a photo or character design before sitting in a small booth in front of an expensive microphone. The only preparation was a bottle of water nearby, a few minutes to look at a script and then you dive into the character. Skills in character building on the fly after years of improv comedy come in handy. A four hour session later you leave the booth, and in many cases, the character behind.

From the start, working with Bethesda Softworks was different. Todd was incredibly passionate about this new project Morrowind. He showed me some of the early character designs, describing what the world would be like. We even took a break and had a quick bite at a place near the studio. Yet for all his impassioned descriptions of this world, I really didn’t grasp the enormity of what we were doing at Absolute Pitch that day. Not until I actually PLAYED THE GAME. From the moment I installed Morrowind on my PC, I was hooked. “Ah yes, we’ve been expecting you,” I said to myself in what was to be a very long journey into the world of Tamriel. As I answered the questions of this fellow Socucius Ergalla, something interesting happened; I became so absorbed into the world, that I stopped paying attention to the fact that I had voiced the character. Surely, at first I was listening as an actor, to see if inflections matched the action, and if it worked well in the environment, but as I played on in Morrowind, I started to see the character I was PLAYING as ME, and the characters I had voiced as just inhabitants of the world. If talking to yourself is considered a problem, well, I had one. 300 to 400 hours later, I was not only addicted to Morrowind and RPG’s, but I had gotten my brother Rick, several friends, and my sons hooked as well. But it was more than just a role playing game to me. It was the best acting course I could have ever taken in video game acting. I would dream of traveling on giant flea like creatures, and running through the air in a special, magical pair of boots. And I knew most of all that the real magic in video gaming was the complete and total immersion that can come from marrying a player’s imagination to the cyber sandbox of masterpiece RPG.