McGinnis: Great characters point NorthWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
There is no character in video games that I enjoy being more than Nathan Drake.
That’s one of the great appeals of gaming that doesn’t get enough play — we talk about the controls, the levels, the action, the story, everything. But the one thing gaming can give its audience is the ability to feel like you are someone else, experiencing the world through a new set of eyes.
In games, I have soared over Gotham City as Batman. I have fought valiantly to repel alien invaders. I have traversed the old west and the most distant galaxies.
When done right, a game can convey a sense of time and place almost unmatched in pop culture.
And yet, for all the experiences gaming has brought me, being in the skin of Drake — the hero of Naughty Dog’s “Uncharted” series — gives me more joy than any of them. The wiseacre fortune hunter with a lust for adventure is one of the most memorable and entertaining characters imaginable in any media, let alone games.
During the past four years, gamers have embodied Drake on numerous adventures via Sony’s Playstation 3 — they’ve searched for the lost city of El Dorado, hunted for Shangri-La and traversed an endless desert.
And the “Uncharted” games stand as some of the most entertaining and well-designed today — the latest chapter, “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception,” was released on Nov. 1 to rave reviews and rapid sales.
But the franchise is well-served by its lead character. Nathan Drake is a hero who loves adventure, but tempers it with a genuine humanity. He isn’t an unstoppable superman. He hesitates before facing long odds. He frequently reacts with wide-eyed alarm when things get out of hand. His basic demeanor is exasperation.
“Great, power’s out, and a girl’s trapped,” Drake mutters to himself at one point. “I swear to God, if there’s a zombie around the next corner …” Unlike many game series, where heroes react stone-faced to the most outrageous circumstances and throw themselves headlong into danger with little regard for personal safety, Drake’s demeanor feels more human.
A lot of the character’s appeal can be ascribed to the numerous artists who write for the character and construct his adventures. But a great deal of Drake’s very real character lies in the performance of the actor behind him — Nolan North.
Even if you don’t know North’s name, most likely you’ve heard his voice. He has become one of the most prolific and celebrated voice-over actors in gaming. Played “Assassin’s Creed”? He’s the voice of Desmond. “Prince of Persia”? Meet the Prince. “Halo 3: ODST”? Romeo. “Batman: Arkham City”? The Penguin. Basically, virtually every other game over the past few years has featured North’s work at some level.
He’s also an accomplished actor in other media, as well, with frequent roles on television (most recently seen in “Pretty Little Liars”) and animation (he’s currently voicing Clark Kent on the “Young Justice” cartoon). And his ability as a fully-rounded performer certainly helps with the creation of a character like Drake.
North’s imprint on “Uncharted” isn’t limited to simply sitting in a booth and reading dialogue. The filming process of a game in the series is much more akin to filming a movie, as illustrated by the new book “Uncharted: Drake’s Journal,” written by North, a former journalism student.
Using the latest in motion capture technology, North and his fellow actors are filmed onstage acting out all the actions in the game — those controlled by the player and otherwise. The game’s actions reflect the genuine personalities of the characters, and the actors who perform them.
There is still the work of animators and game designers to polish and build upon the performance, to be sure, but at the core is the work of a real actor. This gives the series’ characters more depth than almost any other game available.
Watching interviews with North, it’s clear that a lot of Drake’s demeanor and mannerisms come from him, as well. He has a wry wit and a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. You could almost see this guy going on all sorts of wild adventures.
North channels that personality into his performances, resulting in some of the most spirited and memorable characters in gaming today.
“What did you do back there?”
“Oh, you know, saved the world.”
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.