Hey Ash, who ya playin’: Web star discusses burgeoning career as voice actorWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
As gamers the world over once more step into the violent world of “Mortal Kombat” via its latest sequel, “Mortal Kombat X” (MKX), they will encounter many of the classic characters that have been fighting endlessly for over two decades now — Scorpion, Raiden, Liu Kang and more. But there are also are quite a few new faces among the fighters, both human and otherworldly.
The most prominent of these is Cassie Cage, the wisecracking daughter of veteran “kombatants” Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage. Much of Cassie’s hilariously glib personality comes through the performance of her voice actor, someone many gamers are very familiar with — Ashly Burch, known to fans as one of the stars of the popular “Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’” Web series.
“I played some MK when I was a kid with my brother, but I hadn’t actually played any recent iterations,” Burch said in an interview with Toledo Free Press. “I’m so excited to be a part of MKX, though — I think Cassie is a really well-written, fun character.”
Gaming has always been a part of Burch’s life, she said, citing game series like “Harvest Moon” and “Mass Effect” as being crucial to her passion for the art form — not to mention her sense of personal identity. “There’s a home movie of me as a baby holding an NES controller that isn’t connected to anything. So I’ve pretty much been playing games since I was cognitively able to.”
Her passion for play became a gateway to bigger things when she and her brother Anthony — who was working as a game reviewer at the time — launched “Hey Ash” (HAWP) in 2008. The series, depicting the siblings comically reviewing games, has garnered nearly 20 million views, according to its host GameTrailers.
“Part of it was that Anthony and I were bored and lonely and we decided to make dumb videos to pass the time. Also, at that point, Anthony was still writing for Destructoid, and he had aspirations to make an indie game documentary, so he wanted to learn to use the camera before he started traveling around to interview indie game [developers]. Weirdly, though, ‘Hey Ash’ became much more popular than we thought, and we started focusing primarily on HAWP.”
Ashly’s newfound popularity opened doors she hadn’t expected — especially down a career path she had always hoped to explore.
“I actually had desires to be a voice actor primarily, but I didn’t get any opportunities to do that until after Hey Ash,” Burch said. “HAWP has helped me tremendously with my voice acting work.”
In the past few years Burch has lent her pipes to a slew of projects, including several animated series, but her most prominent projects have probably (no surprise) been video games. Players have heard her in titles as diverse as “Borderlands,” “Saints Row,” “Evolve,” “Aliens: Colonial Marines” and more. She also gave voice to the memorable character Ms. Pauling in a short inspired by Valve’s wildly popular “Team Fortress 2″ game — a gig that allowed her to stretch her creative muscles as well.
“I came in a bit later in the script development process and helped flesh out Ms. Pauling’s character a bit more, so together with the team, we figured out an arc for her and I think we gave her a really fun personality,” she said.
Burch said she didn’t have the same kind of creative input in the creation of Cassie Cage’s witty one-liners (“The MKX writers are just brilliant,” she noted), but Cassie’s infectiously wry personality certainly owes a great deal to Burch’s performance. Though she has plenty of experience both in front of a camera and behind a mike, Burch said there’s a distinct mindset needed to perform effectively in either.
“It’s just very different. On camera, you have someone to work off of, you have costumes and makeup to help get you into character, etc. In the booth, for the most part, you’re by yourself constructing the scene and the context on your own to help drive performance.
“Of course, that’s changing a lot,” she said. “Many games are using mocap [motion capture] to achieve the best performances, and animation almost always records with a group of actors together. But it’s a great experience either way, it’s just flexing different muscles in your brain.”
Burch will be flexing plenty of different muscles in the days to come. In addition to her acting gigs, she is currently writing for the series “Adventure Time” as well as for Web production company RocketJump. And, of course, millions of gamers will hear her grunt and joke as they fight their way through MKX.
“The really nice thing about working on MKX specifically was that Cassie was specifically written to be one of the funnier characters, which I thought was so awesome, and I felt really honored that I was brought in to bring that out of her,” she said.