A few weeks ago Matt and I made our way up to PAX:East. It was a great adventure to say the least, and while there we witnessed one of the best panels we’d ever seen, The “Other” Us. The panel focused on gender, community, and the world of gaming in general. “The ‘other’ us” inspired us to write some articles that hopefully you’ve had a chance to read (Ash and Matt) by now. The mastermind behind the panel was one Allison Thresher, former CM turned junior choreographer at Harmonix. I had the pleasure of talking with Allison about the panel, gender in gaming, PAX Pox, and other shenanigans. Enjoy!
You may know Ali Hillis as the voice of Mass Effect’s Dr. Liara T’soni, or perhaps Final Fantasy 13’s Lightning. Ali sports an incredible resume filled with iconic characters from some of the most beloved video game franchises of all time, and there are many more games on the way (10 games..all secret). Ali Hillis first caught my attention during this year’s Spike VGA awards. While watching Ali and Jennifer Hale have fun on the red carpet I realized that we don’t often SEE video game voice actors. Despite their awesome talent, voice actors don’t really get the attention that they rightfully deserve. V/O work has changed a lot since the 1990s. Back then, games sounded like they were voiced by people that worked in the accounting department, not actors.Jill sandwich anyone? Today, companies like Bioware, Rockstar, and Blizzard have changed what we’ve all come to expect from the quality of voice acting in modern video games. Finally, trained actors are being hired to bring modern video games to life, and without their quality voice work many “AAA” titles would probably have one less “A“. I was lucky enough to chat with Ali about Mass Effect, Final Fantasy, voice acting, and her secret nerdy hobbies. I have to add that over the years I’ve spoken with many of game-makers and famous Hollywood types and can honestly say that this interview ranks close to the top of my list. Ali is just that cool!
Interview Excerpts: To hear the entire interview please click “play” above or below.
NA-Ash: You’ve been in literally some of the biggest franchises of all time: Starcraft 2, Final Fantasy 13 (where you play Lightning), and of course Mass Effect. (Mass Effect) is one of our favorite games of all time, and we’ve been playing games since we were all little kids. I literally gave away copies of Mass Effect 2 to the groomsmen at my wedding (laughs).
Ali Hillis: Did you really?! Wow.
NA-Ash: I did! It’s a really special game for a lot of us, not just myself. What is like being such a big part of all of these (games) that are so important to a lot of people?
Ali Hillis: Well coming from a (background) as a theater actor and then moving to Los Angeles and being in T.V. and film, I didn’t really know the weight that the video game industry carried or how HUGE it has gotten. I don’t want to say it was “underground“, but it wasn’t as big. I mean, now I drive down major streets in L.A. and see huge billboards for Call of Duty Black Ops.. I’m like YES! I was kind of oblivious to the (fact that) it had gotten so huge. I mean, I played games when I was young and as I got older (I like to) travel a lot and, don’t have as much time. I stumbled into the video game industry…literally… A wonderful friend of mine introduced me to a V/O agent and I started auditioning for things and … I did Xenosaga a long time ago and didn’t even know what it was, really. It was kind of just a job and I didn’t even really understand what I was doing. (The job was) also ADR (automated dialogue replacement) or having to put English words into the Japanese mouths for that game.
NA-Ash: That sounds brutal!
Ali Hillis: Yeah, it’s a little tough, but it’s a game with your brain… it’s a brain game! Then, when I auditioned for Mass Effect I wasn’t even sure what exactly it was that I was doing. I wasn’t sure how fleshed out these characters would be, and I was delighted to learn in (that working with Ginny McSwain from Bioware that) I could actually conceptualize a character and come up with her own voice, presence, and personality (within) the game. And, that I was actually ACTING. All that stuff I learned in New York City didn’t go to waste.
NA-Ash: Yeah absolutely.
Ali Hillis: (cont) That blew my mind. And with Final Fantasy (13) I met Jack Fletcher who is an amazing director. Square/Enix already had a character molded in Japanese, so I got listen to her interpretation. Square/Enix had a completed game more or less in Japanese. That was really cool because I don’t speak a lick of Japanese, but hearing her intonation kind of led me into figuring out (the character). Originally in Final Fantasy they wanted the voice to be a little higher because in Japan the higher squeaky voices are more sexy (stated in high squeaky voice). We had to work a little in order to find out what what Lightning should be like in order to appeal to the masses. Then came StarCraft with Blizzard (directed by) Andrea Romano . All of those directors directed animation, (and) I realized that video games were acting gigs and I got friggin’ PSYCHED.
NA-Ash: You definitely bring a lot of personality to your roles. We noticed that even with the small bit that Liara was in Mass Effect 2 , during The Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC there is a shift in character. (Liara goes from being) a meek and quiet doctor to this ultra-badass (who goes on to become the Shadow Broker). You can see (a definite) shift in your performance that I thought was just awesome.
Ali Hillis: Thank you very much!
NA-Ash: I’m very excited to see what happens in ME3, but I’m not going to ask you because I don’t want to spoil it for myself…
Ali Hillis: (laughs)
NA-Ash: But I know you’re in (all of) ME3, or so I’ve been hearing. They actually released a new trailer today because of E3 that had a bit of fun information.
Ali Hillis: I just watched that! That’s why I was a little delayed in this interview. I had to sit down and watch that trailer just in case I learned something new. I loved the trailer, it was pretty enticing.
NA-Ash: It was! It defiantly gets you amped for more Mass Effect. The addition of Kinect is going to be so interesting. I don’t know if you read that but you’ll be able to use the Kinect to issue voice commands to the game. You’ll be able to say things like “Liara warp field!” and it’ll happen.
Ali Hillis: Huh! Kinect is going to come in useful in all kinds of scenarios. I can’t wait to see how that plays out since Liara has some romantic involvement (with Shepard).
NA-Ash: Oh man! I didn’t even think about the…
Ali Hillis: (interrupts) You didn’t think about that? How could YOU not think about that.
NA-Ash: I didn’t even think about theerotic implications of using the Kinect!
To hear the rest of the interview please click “play” below. We had an absolute blast talking with Ali, and we hope you enjoy!
When I found out we were going to be running an interview with Ali, I sent a message to aXL99 who, like the rest of us, is a huge Mass Effect fan. I asked Jessie (aXL99) for an original Liara piece to run with the interview, and without hesitation she said “sure”. A few weeks later I received an amazing piece of original aXL99 art that far exceeded my expectations. You’re welcome to download the large version and use it as wallpaper (like me!). Click HERE to download the full sized file. It’s appearing here on NerdAppropriate.com before anyplace else. Oh, and be a pal and thank Jessie for being talented and awesome!