A Farewell to Hayter – Metal Gear Solid Gets a New Voice

 A few hours ago, Kiefer Sutherland was announced as the voice actor the Big Boss in the latest installment of the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Many fans of the series have already begun to voice their own displeasure with the exclusion of the man who voiced Snake for fifteen years from the project, David Hayter. Kojima has addressed his decision during Konami’s pre-E3 showcase:

“…we’re taking on some very heavy subjects such as race and revenge. This makes the tone much darker. As a result, I wanted Snake to have a more subdued performance expressed through subtle facial movements and tone of voice, rather than words.”

Kojima appears to want to abandon the exposition laden and sometimes needlessly circuitous dialogue that the previous games are notorious for in favor of a more understated and nuanced performance. Rather than the gravely monotone that Hayter has become well-known for, the new voice will have to be able to convey a range of emotions. Whether or not Sutherland is the actor for that job is entirely up for debate, but one thing is for certain: the new direction the series is taking means that Snake’s traditional voice has to go.

Snake and Big Boss have always been, under Hayter’s voice, cool, unshakable badasses. Seldom has Hayter altered his modes of speech during his performance (read: Snake and louder Snake). While this has done a great deal in the way of establishing Snake and Big Boss as iconic action heroes (or villains), it does not leave much room for character development or exploration. Kojima has famously expressed his discontent with the way Solid Snake was portrayed throughout the Metal Gear Solid series and the lack of a distinguishable character arc. There was simply not much Kojima could do with a character who created to be more action hero than human.

Besides, fifteen is around the age where most people's voice start to change.

Besides, fifteen is around the age where most people’s voice start to change.

During the pre-E3 video, Sutherland puts forward his own views on what Kojima expects from his lead character in Metal Gear Solid V: “…what does Snake want for the future and how does the past weigh on him? There is a characters hope for a future, and that rounds out what I term as the human experience.” Kojima is not looking for the gruff machismo that many have come to expect of Metal Gear Solid franchise, but a more human-like, vulnerable character. Snake and Big Boss have not quite been portrayed as human characters in the previous installments. They have been touted as legendary super-soldiers, and while they may claim to be nothing more than hired killers, they continually accomplish increasingly fantastic, world-saving feats.

Kojima does not appear to want to serve the fans as much as he wants to serve the story he wants to tell, which is an incredibly bold move to take especially considering how well received Hayter was, not to mention the image that Snake has established over the course of the last fifteen years. Yes, a lot of people will be upset, and the end product may not entirely resemble the story that most people expect, but that’s not to say it won’t be entertaining or thought provoking. Very few franchises are willing to welcome drastic change. To avoid stagnating, becoming too stale and predictable, developers need to attempt something new, maybe even something that might not seem in the best interest of profit. As someone who grew up with the franchise, I can honestly say that I have never been as excited for any game as I am for Metal Gear Solid V, even if it does have an unfamiliar new voice.

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Video Game Art – Realism – Climbing out of the Uncanny Valley

As the eighth generation of console gaming and an influx of new titles rapidly approaches, audiences are periodically being teased with glimpses of developing graphics engines which further close the gap between consoles and high-end gaming PCs. Admittedly, I am not a tech-expert (nor do I claim to be), so I do not feel comfortable attempting to discuss the technical details of the eighth-generation consoles. I do, however, want to discuss another rapidly shrinking gap: the gap between computer graphics and actual human likeness otherwise known as the “Uncanny Valley.”

You know it's serious business when charts are involved

You know it’s serious business when charts are involved

The theory of the “uncanny valley” does not pertain solely to computer graphics, but of all imitations of the “healthy” human form, particularly humanoid robots. The valley itself is described as a discomfort and lack of familiarity when faced with something that appears close to human, yet obviously not human. In other words, mimicry of the human form is acceptable until a certain point, at which point it becomes disturbing to behold. Examine the picture below of the male default model of Commander Shepard of Mass Effect fame. The viewer’s attention is immediately drawn to the eyes and the mouth; the eyes, in particular, lack life. Though this screenshot is an extremely exaggerated example of corpse-like animation, it is meant to highlight the failure of computer graphics to emulate human emotion externally.

The uncanny valley contains the stuff of nightmares

The uncanny valley contains the stuff of nightmares

In 2011, L.A. Noire undertook a unique and intensive project to recreate a large, section of the city of Los Angeles as well as detailed facial movements of the game’s voice actors using a newly developed technology called MotionScan. MotionScan relied on thirty-two different cameras to capture details of facial movement down to the smallest minutiae. Though it was still not entirely photo realistic, L.A. Noire solved one of the major graphical flaws that had held video games in the uncanny valley for so long; the facial dynamics literally represented that of each of the actors that voiced them with near-perfect precision. Yet, no matter how life-like L.A. Noire appears to be, it is only just that: life-like. Cole Phelps ultimately just looks like a plastic version of Aaron Station, something you might expect to see in Madame Tussauds.

The resemblance is uncanny

The resemblance is uncanny

The latest push out of the valley appears to come from a number of eighth-generation entries: Metal Gear Solid V, Watch_Dogs, and Cyberpunk 2077 have showcased impressive graphics and realism, the latter-most of which looks like it may address post-humanism and the troubles that raises with the uncanny valley (this is purely speculative, though, and an entirely different article). The FOX engine being built by Kojima Productions was announced back in 2011, but it was not until the recently that its graphical capabilities were given a proper showcase. Though the manner of Kojima’s, rather “Joakim Mogren’s” clever reveal of the Metal Gear Solid V trailer surprised exactly no one, the degree of photo-realism was shocking. Take a look at this still from the Ground Zeroes gameplay trailer. It is difficult to describe exactly how the viewer can tell this is a computer generated image making it similarly difficult to determine where in the uncanny valley it is.

Big Boss has come a long way since he first appeared in the first Metal Gear.

Big Boss has come a long way since he first appeared in the first Metal Gear.

Every few years, computer graphics manage to creep further out of the valley. It would appear that it is only a matter of time before computer graphics achieves a level of photo-realism indistinguishable from reality. We can’t help but ask ourselves, what happens then?