Saturday, March 26, 2016

What David Hayter Stood For and How It May Be Gone Forever

I remember the first time I played Metal Gear Solid. It was 1998. I was ten. Four years prior, the PlayStation One had been released which revolutionized the video game experience. Suddenly, it seemed, I found myself immersed in the worlds, the characters, and the stories of the games like I had never been before.  It was as if prior to this I had only been shown glimpses of a game’s potential, like seeing the outline of a mountain behind a bolt of lightning, but now…now I could see everything, the mountain illuminated under the sunlight. Gaming had become cinematic.

This could not be truer for Metal Gear Solid. Two-dimensional stealth action became three. Gameplay mechanics were overhauled to accommodate for the evolution in graphics. Storytelling became paramount. And finally we had a face—and more importantly a voice—to Solid Snake. Snake, who had been a caricature of his two-dimensional platform, became a fully fleshed out character that gamers admired, protected, loved, and at times, loathed. Snake had come alive. Snake, to us, was human. And we have David Hayter to thank for it.

For us, Hayter set the standard—not only for the quality of voice acting but also for providing the blueprint of how to bring a video game character to life. Instantly when you think of Solid Snake, you think of that iconic voice, of Hayter exuding that grit and despair, through cigarette smoke and all. You can’t help but recall the gravity of Snake—who he is and who he would inevitability become—when you hear him say: “War has changed.” In those moments, Hayter and the character, Solid Snake, are one. I shake my head as I think about it. Hayter is a magician, a conjurer of some dark arts, to be able to do what he did with the character Solid Snake.

But even a magician can get fooled a time or two, as such is the case for Hayter when he was told by Hideo Kojima that he would not be voicing Big Boss in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. It was a shock to us as fans, of course, but it hit no one harder than Hayter himself as he said: “If it were my choice, I would do this role forever. To hear anyone else’s voice coming from Snake’s battered throat, makes me a little ill, to be honest.” (Source: Kojima’s response couldn’t have been more superficial, lacking all the emotion and dedication that was needed to acknowledge the man that had made the character human for us.

“What we’re trying to accomplish here is [to] recreate the Metal Gear series. It’s a new type of Metal Gear game and we want to have this reflected in the voice actor as well.”

Kojima opted for Kiefer Sutherland to voice Big Boss in the Phantom Pain.

A few even rushed to the defense of the change, despite Kojima and Co.’s blatant betrayal of the man who put his life into voicing both Naked and Solid Snake.

Hayter would have had to change the way he played the character for this game; his Saturday-morning-cartoon voice wouldn’t have fit the tone at all. And if he changed his Snake voice, fans would be mad. Sutherland’s natural voice does naturally what Hayter has to strain his voice to do.” (Source:

 I find this funny since Kiefer Sutherland did his own “Saturday-morning-cartoon voice” when he voiced the NUTCRACKER PRINCE. Here’s the full movie if you’re interested.

Give me a break. A simple Google search will show David’s flexibility in voicing Big Boss and Solid Snake. For instance, take a look at the drastic differences between his performances in MGS and MGS4.  In one, we have young Solid Snake, still filled with the fire of life, and in the other, we have the character deteriorating—mentally, physically, and psychologically—clinging to life with the tips of his fingers, waiting for someone to say he can let go. Hayter’s performances here showcase a skillset that few voice actors possess. This alone should have been enough of an audition to show that Hayter had the chops to adjust his voice for Phantom Pain.

So let’s be honest: Hayter got canned from the series, after putting in such dedication and versatility, because he wasn’t a big time name that everyone could recognize. That’s all, plain and simple. Hayter hints at this in his most recent interview with Gameinformer, in which Hayter confirms that Kojima wanted to get rid of him long before MGSV.

He goes on to explain how Kojima attempted to find other actors for other more recent entries. “I had to re-audition for Metal Gear 3 to play Naked Snake,” Hayter says. “They made me re-audition to play Old Snake, and the whole time, they were trying to find somebody else to do it. I heard that Kojima asked one of the producers on Metal Gear 3 to ask Kurt Russell if he would take over for that game. He didn’t want to do it.”

It seems Kojima was trying to “re-create” the MGS series for quite some time—that, or Kojima’s ambition to find a bigger, more established name to voice his iconic character speaks to a growing problem in the industry: as video games become larger and larger productions, so to does the perceived need to find A-list actors to voice the characters and carry the story. Examples of this are abound. Take QUANTUM BREAK, the upcoming action-RPG by Remedy Entertainment. They hired Shawn Ashmore to play Jack, their main protagonist and Aiden Gillen (Littlefinger from Game of Thrones) to voice his nemesis, as well as image capturing for the both of them. It isn’t enough anymore to have Sam Lake be Max Payne: we have gone too far into the cinematic experience, because, although video games and movies are alike, they are not mirrors of one another.

Is it necessary to have these A-list actors participate in order to create the most immersive gaming experience? Is that what it takes now? Does Kevin Spacey have to appear in Call of Duty in order for a game to do what MGS did for me all those years ago? I hope not. We never needed it them to be; we relied on the storytelling and on people like Hayter to dedicate themselves to the characters. He is proof enough that we don’t need this excessive level of celebrity status in video games, right?

I don’t know. A part of me thinks I am like Hayter: I belong to an age of video gaming that is quickly fading and will never return. And if that’s true, his firing by Kojima has become the symbol of it. No longer can you make a game and rely on the quality of the actors, writers, or developers. No longer can you be immersed in a game by its merits alone. We now need celebrities, legendary musicians, award-winning directors, and millions and millions of money to make it successful. I think to myself that if Hayter had starred in A-list movies or an award-winning television series he never would have been canned. Am I right? We’ll never know.


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