You may not have heard of Yuri Lowenthal, but you've heard his voice. You've also most likely hurt him before. Hell, you've probably even killed him. As prolific as Nolan North and Troy Baker, Yuri Lowenthal has been in over 200 video games to date, though his profile remains relatively low. His IMDb page is a list so comprehensive you would be hard pressed to not have played a game featuring his iconic death throes. He's manipulated time as the Prince in the odd-numbered Prince of Persia games, he's hacked corporations as Matt Miller from Saints Row, and he's even donned the red lycra of Spiderman - albeit in Marvel Pinball.
Even if you aren't familiar with these higher profile roles, you can guarantee you've still heard him. He resides in the periphery - the ambient voices immersing you further into a virtual world; he's the man you pass on the street, the sniper on the roof, and the demon that creeps from behind your shoulder.
Lowenthal grew up moving around the world with his father, hearing a variety of accents that would eventually form the crux of his profession, before settling in LA with his aspiring actress wife Tara Platt to pursue their dream. The problem was, almost everyone in LA was also there for a little slice of the Hollywood fantasy.
Due to the density of the competition, the work wasn't as regular as they hoped. "We were trying to think of other ways of living that also involved acting," begins Lowenthal. "Tara brought up voice acting and, to my shame, I hadn't thought of that - because I grew up watching anime and playing videogames, I should have thought of that right away."
"Voice acting is the great equaliser of the acting world," he says. "I still do theatre, film, and TV, but when I do those I will generally get cast as what I look like - because I'm not Eddie Murphy and they can't just put tons of make-up on me and make me look different.
"Like, when I'm auditioning for a game or cartoon, I get the script and then I can work behind a microphone to make it sound like whatever. It doesn't matter if it's an alien creature or a 90 year-old guy. As long as I can sound like it, I can play it."
This has been a boon to Lowenthal on multiple occasions - without physical appearance never a factor, Lowenthal could be whoever he wanted to be. Like when he played Shogu Akuji in Saints Row 2, a role he landed after voicing some of the residents of Stillwater in the first game.
"Steve Jaros (creative director at Volition) found out that I spoke Japanese," recalls Yuri. "That goes back to that whole thing - I wouldn't get cast as a Japanese character on camera, because that would be racist. But I can sound Japanese. And I can speak Japanese."
Mimicking a Japanese accent is a relatively minor departure from the norm for Lowenthal, however. Sometimes he isn't even human. In Shadow of the Damned, he played a demon whose vocabulary was made up of two words: "f**k you". These words aren't just spoken, of course, but are screamed in a shrill, eardrum-piercing screech. The player kills him, obviously.
It's territory Lowenthal's more than familiar with. "You know, Japanese make weird games: Bayonetta, case in point. I played Luca in Bayonetta. The character was fun but also, Kamiya-san, the creator, has got such a wild imagination. The creatures in that game are so f***ing weird."
Even if Yuri does have a one-line role, as in Shadow of The Damned, there's still work to be done outside of the dialogue. The various grunts and screams of being hit and killed must also be recorded. When he played a soldier in Peace Walker, the voice actors watched a screen with a live feed from Japan on it. On the screen were the stuntmen, and Lowenthal had to grunt and yell, as guys in wetsuits with ping pong balls attached threw themselves around an empty room.
"Sometimes recording sessions can be brutal," Lowenthal admits. "Depending on what game you're working on, most involve any number [of ways] of getting injured: set on fire, electrocuted... mauled by demons - things like that. So these sessions can be both long and arduous on the vocal chords."
One such role was when Lowenthal decided to chase a part in his favourite game series: BioShock. After missing out on the first game, he was determined to land a part in its sequel. In the end he got his wish, bringing a crazed and disturbing quality to the voice of the Crawler Splicer.
"I always loved the Splicers from the first game and getting to play a Splicer in the second game, even though it was still outshone by the first game, was awesome," he says. "It was almost like a big therapy session."
"It was vocally stressful, but I just ploughed through the full four hours of screaming and killing and getting set on fire... going absolutely mad, and there was so much joy in it that my voice held out. I felt a lot more relaxed when I got out of that session."
Listening to the Crawler Splicer on YouTube, even without being submerged in Rapture itself, is still a creepy and menacing experience. The Splicers are all disturbing in their own way, but Lowenthal's version is particularly unsettling - its only motivation to silence the voices in its head which, it believes, are caused by the player.
Lowenthal admits he enjoyed this character more than usual as - though he enjoys his work regardless - being able to let go as a Splicer is much more interesting than the various "oscar mikes" and "tango downs" of the Call of Duty series. I didn't just pick that series out of a hat either - Lowenthal has played additional characters in each Call of Duty game since Big Red One.
He has to be adaptable, especially when he's playing multiple background characters in a single game. "For The Last of Us I certainly went gruffer, more starving, desperate, angry and cannibalistic," says Lowenthal.
In The Last of Us, Lowenthal played some of the Fireflies and a few of the different survivors who would attack Joel and often end up dead themselves. Sometimes you would also hear him in the ambient chatter as you stalked past unwary enemies through the beautiful desolation created by Naughty Dog. In the penultimate moments, there's a scene where Joel has a not-so polite conversation with a man chained to a radiator and a man on a chair. If you've played it you'll know the bit I mean. Lowenthal is the man chained to the radiator.
"There weren't a lot of young, happy characters in that and yeah, I just got a little evil on it," Lowenthal laughs.
Playing multiple characters in a single game can sometimes end up with hilarious results when these characters cross over, too. In Fallout: New Vegas, Lowenthal found his characters pitted against each other in a single quest. One of his characters would ask the player to retrieve a note from another NPC. The character with the note was also Lowenthal. The note had instructions to kill another character... also voiced by the man himself.
"In Fallout: New Vegas, there were so many lines of dialogue, so many characters and so few actors that it was inevitable that the same voice would pop up again," he says. He embodies so many different people he sometimes can't remember the characters at all.
For example, his role as the mysterious 'Balcony Man' in Gears of War 3.
"I was Balcony Man, a pilot and a prisoner of some sort, I think. I don't even remember what Balcony Man did," Yuri laughs. "Sometimes the names they come up with for the side characters are the most fun. Sometimes it's just, you know, Bystander No.3 - then, sometimes they'll come up with something really specific... like Balcony Man."
I think it's safe to assume that Balcony Man meets an unsavoury end, as Lowenthal's characters so often do. In Prototype 2 he was a pedestrian, confining him to hundreds of sticky deaths. In Grand Theft Auto 5 he reprises his role as a bystander. "One of my pedestrians was this really, sort of, hippy guy. So if you run into a guy and he all like," Lowenthal switches to his hippy voice. "Hey man, what's your problem? Why don't we just smoke up a doobie... you know, that's me. I haven't played it yet, but I know it's a huge world they created - you could play the game and never run into me."
Don't feel sorry for Lowenthal, though. He's blessed with a rare immunity against dying inside when he hears his own voice played back. He loves his work and he's bloody good at it. It's Yuri Lowenthal, and actors like him, who help create a sense of place within the different worlds the player visits. So do yourself a favour and look him up - and see if you can pick him out from the crowd in the next game you play.