We met up with Batman and The Joker – AKA vocal actors Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker – for a behind-the-voices chat about one of the biggest games of 2013.
In all of history's greatest rivalries, there are few as explosive, battle-scarred and long-running as Batman and The Joker – so would interviewing them together in the same room really be such a great idea?
Fortunately Batman – AKA voice actor Roger Craig Smith – and The Joker, otherwise known as game vocal veteran Troy Baker, were more than happy to put their character's differences to one side and let us know what it's like to lend their voices to two of the most infamous comic book characters.
How does it feel to provide the voices of two such iconic characters?
Troy: You can only really use clichés that totally fail to properly communicate how we feel about this – because we're both fans and we're both gamers. When you're asked to take on the mantle of two characters that have so many iterations and have around 75 years of history behind them... there are no words to describe that. It's a dream come true.
Roger: Troy's really said it all, it's almost surreal. Now that we've seen the game and people are getting excited by it, it starts to hit home how massive this thing is. It's crazy, all of a sudden people are asking "what's it like to be Batman?" and at the moment I really don't know because it hasn't sunk in yet.
It must be quite daunting to become a bona-fide part of the Batman legend. Did you feel like these roles come with a lot of responsibility to the fans and to the characters' legacy?
Troy: I think that the pitfall would have been to do something safe and try to emulate what's gone before. We were handed an amazing story, which is where it all starts. To have a great game, you need a great story – and a great story needs a great game, the two have to complement each other. My approach was to go back to a comic called The Killing Joke, which for me is where you get to see who The Joker really is and how he relates to Batman.
Roger: With this game, we're showing a raw, unformed version of these two characters. The story takes places at the start of Batman's career, so the previous Arkham games are kind of the star that we're heading towards. And because we know where we're going, that gives us really cool opportunities for what we're doing to give those moments in the future even more weight. So it would have been safe to just do impersonations of Kevin Conroy or Mark Hamil, but instead we used the framework that had been laid down in previous games and tried to create something new inside it.
A lot of stories have already been told about Batman's beginnings, and of course the later years when he's known to Gotham. Was it interesting to be able to tell Batman's story from this year two period where he's establishing himself?
Roger: It was a great opportunity for us to tell the story from a time that is free from judgements; the enormous responsibility of trying to portray something that is so known to the fans was kind of taken off us. Everybody at Warner Bros. Montreal – especially creative director Eric Holmes – had such a vision for this game and where it fits in to the story. We're coming at this from a younger perspective, with a less defined, less refined version of these characters, which gave us a little more freedom to play around with them.
You guys have been involved in a lot of games in the past. Do you approach characters like Batman and The Joker differently than you would a brand new character?
Troy: Oh yeah, it's a whole new challenge. The thing with a new character is that you have to ask questions that have no answers yet. With Batman or The Joker you've got so many answers that you have to go even further down the rabbit hole and ask "why?". We know The Joker is crazy – but why? So sometimes, it was almost like researching a new character.
Roger: Both sides have their challenges, but being on the side of an established character is more daunting because of all the lineage and history – there's more opportunity for people to say "You got it wrong, dude".
How closely did you work with Warner Bros. Montreal and Eric Holmes in particular to get the right angle?
Roger: We worked really closely to make sure we wouldn't alienate any fans or do a disservice to the character. Eric gave me a copy of Batman: Year One to start getting an idea of the tone they wanted to explore, and then I started working very closely with him and our voice coach to start getting the Batman voice that we needed.
Troy: The cool thing with Eric and I is that we're both Bat-nerds, so it was easier to communicate through comic book references and we could immediately relate on that level. It was really a collaboration, and when you have that coupled with the passion that the entire Warner Bros. Montreal team has, the end result is an incredible game that I know people are really going to enjoy.
Want to start creating your own legend? Batman: Arkham Origins is out now for PlayStation 3 and Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is available for PlayStation Vita – you can pick up both from our online store.