Luke Skywalker is also the Joker

Mark Hamill at the European Premiere of Star Wars, The Force Awakens, in London, on Dec 16, 2015.
Mark Hamill at the European Premiere of Star Wars, The Force Awakens, in London, on Dec 16, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • To Star Wars fans, he has been the face of one of the most beloved characters in film, Luke Skywalker. To video game players, though, Mark Hamill is the unmistakable voice of the Joker in Batman: Arkham Asylum and its sequels.

He is one of a number of movie and television actors who are becoming increasingly valuable to a video game industry focused more on storytelling than ever before.

For video game developers, finding the right voice for a character is crucial to the narrative.

"Casting is the true heart of successful voice recording for video games," said Ms Andrea Toyias, casting and voice director for Blizzard Entertainment, creators of the popular World Of Warcraft franchise. "When you cast the right actor with the right connection to the role, that is when the true magic happens."

In the early days of video games, when play was almost entirely confined to arcade titles such as Pac-Man and Galaga, character sounds were little more than atonal blips and bleeps.

These days, a game is as heavily scripted as any TV series or film. Voice actors read their lines multiple ways to accommodate the choices gamers make while playing and, as a result, performing for games is often a test of endurance and imagination.

That holds even for veteran actors such as Hamill, who, at 64, has a voice textured by years of maniacal laughter in his voice- acting work. "It's tons and tons of verbiage because you have to cover the neutral response, the negative response and the positive response," he said, referring to the choices that video games provide to players.

"The players, you give them all these jigsaw-puzzle pieces and they can assemble the puzzle the way they wish, and once you can accept that as part of the form, then you're going to have a great time."

His career in voice acting for cartoons and games has spanned the last 30 years and has allowed him to reach a few different audiences. His take on the Joker began with Batman: The Animated Series in the early 1990s.

His voice will next be heard in Star Citizen: Squadron 42, which features a voice cast including Gillian Anderson, Gary Oldman, Mark Strong and Andy Serkis.

And it is a thrill to see what actors bring to their roles, Ms Toyias said.

"Everything changes when the actor walks into the room," she said.

"Suddenly a three-dimensional, fully fleshed-out character with thoughts, opinions and philosophies appears right before your eyes, in colours and frequencies you never even thought of."

Voice actors such as Hamill say they enjoy the creative freedom that video games bring.

"The opportunity to play incredible characters you would never get to play on camera lies within the video gaming world," he says.

"It's not something to sniff at."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2016, with the headline 'Luke Skywalker is also the Joker'. Print Edition | Subscribe