Movie Stars Making More Than Movies
I’m a big fan of Kevin Spacey, but I think he was objectively a perfect choice for the role. Just when you believe his character is actually a good person, he flips the switch and you see the monster underneath. A magnetic performance. That’s why I was pumped to learn that Bill Paxton and John Malkovich joined the cast! Granted, it’s a bit of a side plot and it’s all about zombies, but you can’t go wrong with that kind of talent. What’s that? Oh no, I’m not talking about House of Cards. I’m talking about a video game.
Since the release of Pong in 1972, video games have grown into a massive industry. If you fast forward to September 17th, 2013, you’d hit the release date of the popular title Grand Theft Auto V. Within 24 hours of its release, the game raked in $800 million, setting a record as the fastest selling entertainment product in history. 72 hours after its release, it had already made a solid $1 billion. Since we’ve recently seen some of our favorite actors popping up in commercials and print ads, it’s not too surprising that some stars are beginning to accept roles in such a booming business. Kevin Spacey, for example, plays the villain in the recently released Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Actors have supplied their voices or likenesses in the past, but this time around the developers utilized motion capturing software to take full advantage of the talent they hired. This could mark the beginning of a new age in video games where the entire cast is composed of recognizable and bankable faces.
When these games first started out, there was barely a plot, let alone a character of enough importance to attract an A-list actor like Spacey. Space Invaders (1978) didn’t exactly have a flushed out backstory. You just knew that if those little blobs hit your tiny rectangle, all hell would break loose. It took some imagination to become emotionally invested in early games, aside from trying to earn a high score and bragging rights.But as technology improved, so did the stories. Developers learned that gamers like to have a protagonist that they identify with and a world that they care about. It was around this time we saw early celebrity appearances. In 1984, the world was given Bruce Lee, a game where you control the title character through a series of rooms in a wizard’s tower. Your collection of pixels mildly resembled a humanoid with black hair, onto which you then mentally projected a more detailed picture of the iconic martial artist. Still, a big step up from squares shooting circles at different colored squares. Of course, at this stage in gaming console history, there still wasn’t a lot of dialogue or in-depth characters, but that would change soon enough.
By the mid ‘90s, games had gone from 2D rendering to 3D, which allowed for some more convincing human features. In 1997, Nintendo released Goldeneye, which was based on the James Bond film that hit theaters two years earlier. Although movie characters had certainly been featured in games before, the avatar of Pierce Brosnan seemed so detailed to that generation of gamers that it felt like the first time ever. Bond has been a constant presence in gaming, with over 25 games being released between 1983 and 2012. Pierce Brosnan lent his likeness and occasionally his voice to several others following the success of Goldeneye. Among them was Everything or Nothing in 2004, where Judi Dench, John Cleese, Heidi Klum, and Willem Defoe performed an original script not based on any Bond film. Daniel Craig had his go as the digital Bond in Quantum of Solace in 2008 and Blood Stone in 2010, which was again another original script. Interestingly enough, the Bond games had begun to create their own creative content and stories instead of just mimicking films, and the actors were actually taking the time to voice their iconic characters.
From Samuel L. Jackson to Gary Oldman to George Takei, many stars have provided voices for video games over the years. But we may be witnessing the dawn of an evolution of video games where it goes beyond Chris Pine predictably providing the voice for Captain Kirk. We’re starting to get original stories and complex characters that are solid enough to attract big names, and developers now have the technology to fully utilize all the talent that comes with those A-listers. Kevin Spacey was a major selling point for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, but many were surprised to find Bill Paxton, John Malkovich, John Bernthal, and Rose McGowan appear in an expansion pack for the game. The detail of their faces and the quality of their voice acting lifts the material to another level. Fun fact: Bill Paxton improvised the line “Game over, man!” in Alien (1979). Perhaps even then he knew his calling.
Games are getting so sophisticated in their story telling that a couple of them have even been recognized at the Tribeca Film Festival. Beyond: Two Souls, a story that stars convincing renderings of Willem Defoe and Ellen Paige, premiered at the festival in 2013. What does this mean for the video game industry? Games unarguably tell stories, but they require interaction from the viewer. A movie doesn’t stop halfway through because you aren’t good at watching it. To finish the story in video games, you have to contribute and succeed in defeating the obstacles laid out by programmers. Only then can you get the sweet conclusion and see those credits roll.
As movie stars continue to gravitate towards these new digital roles, it could very well begin to pull in a population of customers that may have never tried video games in the first place. Even if it doesn’t, the existing gaming culture is getting a hell of a treat from these actors. Will resident gamers refuse to shoot aliens or fight crime if they don’t have an Academy Award winning actor ordering them to do so? Doubtful. But it sure makes it more fun.