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The secret of Nolan North's success

The ubiquitous voice actor on avoiding over-exposure in Spec Ops: The Line.

While Nolan North is arguably most famous for lending his voice to Uncharted hero Nathan Drake, his gaming CV now includes well over a 100 titles.

Name almost any AAA game released in the last five years and there's a pretty good chance he worked on it. Resistance, Shadow Complex, Saints Row, Red Faction, Fable, Lost Planet, Assassin's Creed, Batman: Arkham City, Black Ops, Portal 2... the man's voice is everywhere.

With his latest role - as Captain Martin Walker in 2K shooter Spec Ops: The Line - nearing release date, North offered Eurogamer a little insight into exactly why he's become the go-to guy for video game voice overs.

First off, he speculated that it might have something to do with the unique quality of his voice.

"I once had an engineer tell me... we were doing this big battle scene and I was just playing 'Soldier 3' or something and he went, 'You know why you get picked for those roles? Your voice, when it's compressed for the game, it just stands out.'" he recalled

"'There's something about where your voice lives in your throat, in your voicebox, that when you do that yell it kind of pierces through everything else.'"

However, North isn't entirely convinced by that theory. He suspects his success might have more to do with good old fashioned networking.

"I think it's a much simpler thing," he said.

"Ultimately you always like to work with your friends and I always take it as my responsibility in a session to not only do the best job I can, but also have a few laughs with everybody, have a good time and get it done early.

"You build those relationships... and these people hire you again. 'Hey, I want to work with Nolan - he's not right for this role but let's have him do these roles instead'.

"The voiceover industry is a small group of people with a unique skillset. I don't really mind if I'm the lead character or 'Soldier number 5'. I just like to work, I enjoy what I do. I laugh in the booth thinking, 'Gosh, they're paying me for this. This is great, this is what I got attention for in high school."

But doesn't he worry about over-exposure? That gamers will tire of his sturdy, distinctive, everyman tones? Once perhaps, but not any more, North insisted.

"I did at a certain point, but then what happened was a role like The Penguin in Arkham City came along. I got to do something so far away from my normal voice that people were shocked that it was me.

"Developers know the range of different voices that I can do, and I think it's just a matter of broadening the range a bit and letting me do different characters like that. Y'know, Dr Richtofen from Black Ops isn't anything like Nathan Drake, or Penguin, or Desmond Miles."

North went on to suggest that as the video game medium continues to evolve, recognisable voice talent will increasingly become an additional selling point for a title.

"I think there's slowly been a shift away from 'Oh, he's in too many games' to 'Oh, I like him, I'm going to get that game because he's in that'. Why not? That's what happens in the movies, right? I think there's going to be a shift and more and more voice actors are going to get recognised like that."

On the face of it, unlike The Penguin or Richtofen, North's latest role in Spec Ops: The Line isn't too far out of his comfort zone. However, North insisted there's hidden depth beneath the game's traditional third person shooter veneer.

"I sat down and they told me all about the story and what they're trying to do and it didn't seem like the same old shoot 'em up military action game. It was much deeper than that," he said.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing how it comes out and what people's perception of it is. It's not just this first person shooter type game. It really goes into the psyche of the soldier in combat and how it can effect them. The gameplay gives players real choices to make - difficult choices at times. Just like a real soldier in the field might have to face.

"I think it's one of the most psychologically thrilling games I've ever been part of."

Find out for yourself when the game launches on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on 29th June.

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Spec Ops: The Line

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Fred Dutton


Fred Dutton was Eurogamer's US news editor, based in Washington DC.