Supporting Characters and Their Voices

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A Few of the Historical Supporting Characters from Tombeaux

While a picture might be worth a thousand words, I have a feeling that a thousand words spoken by the right person – someone who possesses the talent and training to properly deliver a line – is worth even more.

Tombeaux is somewhat heavy on narrated dialogue. It delivers a large portion of its story through a single main narrator that we hear throughout the game. But just as crucial to that single voice are the musings delivered in the form of short dialogue snippets by the sixteen different historically accurate supporting narrators. I spent a large part of last spring and early summer refining these characters and the lines that they would speak.

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Historical Supporting Character Bios

Just as with a film or book, one cannot necessarily just sit down and begin writing dialogue for a character. It was important to me that these individuals were well-researched and authentic. Additionally, I wanted to make sure to have a small bio (with supporting imagery) for each character, so that I (and eventually, the actors) could more easily get into the heads of these people. In the case of well-known historical figures (like President Thomas Jefferson, who we hear reading one of his letters in my game), this was easy. I could fill in his name, age, gender, ethnicity, and even the year of the event/dialogue with a simple internet search. From additional research, I could also supply the bio with his educational background, speaking dialect/style, home, and occupation. Because I have placed these characters in the game as supporting observations and narrative (it is not required of the player to listen to their statements), their role acts to fill in holes left by the main narration, adding a level of depth for the particular player who wants to learn more. To support this, I’ve also assigned each individual bio with specific emotional states and themes that they would be representing in Tombeaux.

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Quote by Oscar Knapp, Steamboat Captain

While my main character is more opinionated and collaged from multiple facts, writings, and quotes (representing one voice of collective America), the supporting characters are either actual figures from history or a representation of a figure one would find in that era. For instance, I have people like Frederick Weyerhauser the lumber baron and the Ojibwe Chief Great Buffalo (Kechewaishe) speaking in my game. These are historical figures – icons – speaking in the game with either real things they said, or a collection of quotes and facts that were associated directlly with them.

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Quote by Kristina Nilsson, Swedish Homesteader

But in the case of many view points I wanted to represent in the game, it was very hard to find documentation on both a person and a specific quote. I often times had to find a word-for-word quote by an unnamed person and attribute it to the name of another person from that time period. For instance, James Johnston the lumberjack or Kristina Nilsson the Swedish homesteader did not have specific quotes attributed to them in history. Instead, I combined various quotes and facts from that period in order to craft lines that would have most likely been spoken by that person (or a similar person). Essentially, while some of the narrated lines were pure non-fiction, I had no choice but to dive into “creative nonfiction” for some characters, through historical research and inventiveness.

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Matthew Carlson

Once I had the lines written, it was time to start recording them for the game. While I recorded all the lines myself first, that was obviously only as a placeholder. Luckily, one of my closest friends, Matthew Carlson, is an actor and writer. In addition to having years of experience on stage and a graduate degree from NYU, he’s been focusing a lot of his current work on screenwriting. Not only was Matt able to lend his voice talents for one character, but he gave my script a much-needed overhaul, bringing it to a level of polish I could never have achieved alone.

[audio http://www.davebeck.org/Logging2Lumberjack_Carlson.mp3]

The lumberjack James Johnston (voiced by Matthew Carlson)

And, as if that wasn’t enough, he also offered to act as unofficial “casting director” for me, helping me to find the other 15 voice actors for the game. Before I knew it, he had reached out to his acting friends, and received affirmative responses from nearly every person he asked.

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Some of the voice actors from Tombeaux

The result has been amazing, as now my game is filled with a who’s who list of Broadway and IMDB, including Nicholas Carriere as Thomas Jefferson, Ray Baker as Frederick Weyerhauser, Gretchen Hall as a Swedish homesteader, and Kate MacCluggage as a park ranger (to just name a few!). Again, I have my good friend Matt to thank for helping Tombeaux’s narrative and voice talent ratchet from “amateur” up to “professional” in a series of a few months.

[audio http://www.davebeck.org/Ojibwe4Jefferson_Carriere.mp3]

Thomas Jefferson (voiced by Nicholas Carriere) reading a letter from 1803

While the ideal situation is to record the lines in a outfitted studio, my voice actors were literally spread across the country from LA to NY. Since each of them only had a single 30-60 second line to record, we relied on earbud mics as the recording tech for the first run-through. After bringing the emailed files in to the free audio editing program, Audacity, I made some adjustments that followed a quick workflow tutorial that I found online. These adjustments allowed all of the tracks to sound relatively similar, and resulted in a fairly sufficient quality that I could bring in to the game. Once I overlayed the tracks on top of the game’s background sound effects and Joseph Fear‘s musical score, they fit perfectly. The dialogue and recordings have proven to be the perfect addition to Tombeaux’s dedication to authenticity and excellence, and I have over a dozen people to thank for that (especially my friend, Matt)!

Special thanks to all of my current voice actors: Steve Alm, Mike Ojibway, Chris Bolan, Nicholas Carriere, Lesley Shires, Brian Slaten, Rob Eli, Ray Baker, Matthew Carlson, Kevin Crouch, Gretchen Hall, Ben Graney, Max Santucci, Kate MacCluggage, and Ken Roht.

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Certificate of Authenticity

It’s been a few weeks since my last post, so I wanted to speak about what I’ve been up to, in regards to Tombeaux’s progress. While I haven’t been able to devote as much time to creating visual or design work for the game as of late, many other necessary elements have been accomplished in the background.  Most of that behind-the-scenes work has involved me doing a lot of reading, writing, and traveling, all in support of the game’s research.

Since Tombeaux – more than any other project I’ve done to date – includes an extremely large amount of history, the emphasis on solid research has been crucial.  Just as with any historical fiction piece (book, movie, game, etc.), I feel like I have spent just as much time reading and researching as I have been modeling and designing (if not more!).

Since Tombeaux is a historical game that relies more on fact than fiction, I’ve returned to a sources, all of which I’ve consistently used for reference in making the game:

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Important Sources for Tombeaux

These books are actually what got me started on this journey over a year ago, and it’s been a pleasure to revisit their pages. The experience has simultaneously reaffirmed old ideas and sparked new ones for the game. In the past few weeks, these texts have helped me to get close to finishing the characters and dialogue found throughout the game.  At this point, I have seventeen different characters from different time periods, cultures, and backgrounds (the player never sees these people, but does hear their voices in short narrative bursts). These include historical personalities such as a fur trader, an Ojibwe woman, a lumber baron, a tourist, a homesteader couple, and a farmer, to name a few. I’m attempting to stay as authentic as possible in crafting their dialogue, so while I have taken a few artistic liberties, the characters will speak words which are an amalgamation of both fact (actual quotes) and fiction.  I’m nearly finished with these, and look forward to seeking out voice actors for these various roles (if you or someone you know might be interested, please do reach out!).

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In addition to the reading and writing mentioned above, I’ve been diving deep into various primary resources, such as letters, photographs, maps, journals, and certificates, many of which I plan to somehow feature in the game as “virtual artifacts” of the actual text/image (hanging on a wall, sitting on a desk, etc).  I would never have been able to find nearly as much material if it wasn’t for the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS). In addition to having an unbelievable online catalog of visual materials, the History Center in St. Paul houses a world-class museum and research library.  I had the good fortune of spending a bit of time at the center and interacting with the employees, making it one of the highlights of my time working on Tombeaux thus far.

But it doesn’t stop there with the MNHS – they actually manage 26 different historic sites scattered across the state, a few of which I’ve recently visited to seek out visual references that will aid me in making my game’s scenes as authentic as possible. This summer, I’ve been able to visit two sites of particular importance – the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post, and the North West Company Fur Post (both are 60-90 minutes north of the Twin Cities and only an hour apart from each other). In both cases, I had specific goals of what I’d need to capture with my camera, in hopes that I might be able to use it to aid me in creating the worlds of Tombeaux.

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The “Four Seasons Room” at Mille Lacs

At Mille Lacs, I discovered that the museum had curated a wonderful combination of both contemporary and historic Ojibwe culture, culminating with an experience in their “four seasons room”. This particular room was so rich with identity and history that 15 minutes of photographing that space has saved me hours of combing the internet and archives for reference imagery examples of 19th century Ojibwe living customs!

The North West Fur Post provided museum-goers with somewhat of an opposite experience from Mille Lacs, approaching things from the perspective of the english fur trade culture set at a re-creation of a famous 19th century trading post (I recommend visiting both sites in the same day, for the balanced historical perspective as well as out of convenience). I was able to gather more visual materials for Ojibwe culture, as well as new elements of fur trading culture and history, all of which will be visual examples to be references when modeling objects and environments in the game.

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North West Company Fur Post

In addition to these focused and deliberate trips, things also sometimes just appear when you least expect it. I spent last week on vacation at a cabin north of Hayward, Wisconsin, and had the opportunity to gather some miscellaneous elements for the game, including: the chance to inspect and photograph some century-old branded timber from the logging era (courtesy of the Barnes Area Historical Association), gather some white pine tree bark textures from the surrounding area, and visit the Sawyer County Historical Museum.

This is why I love what I do – I’m able to combine two passions I’ve had since I was a kid: the urge to express myself in a visual and creative manner and my desire to soak up everything I can about the history around me. And honestly, I don’t think I could be happy doing just one of them. I need my artwork to be rooted in authenticity and research and I can’t imagine how I’d ever write a scholarly history book like James Taylor Dunn did (unless I was able to fill it with more pictures than words!).  Making historically focused and inspired artwork is truly an enjoyable process, and I can’t wait to finally share that experience with everyone else (as I’ve always found that sharing is half the fun!).

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Top: White Pine Trees, Bottom: Hayward Museum (left) and stamped log from Barnes Historical Association (right)