Well you’ve read about our fabulous experiences working with Will Stamper, now read Will Stamper’s experiences being fabulous (My words, not his. Don’t want to take away his street cred).
We asked him for yet another favor: to write on the subject of working with us at The Behemoth for BattleBlock Theater. He’ll give you his history with Dan Paladin, talk about developing the cinematics, quips & scripts, he’ll give you a few tips if you’re an aspiring voice actor or looking to work with one, and he’s even given us a list of equipment he uses. That’s like giving us the whole secret recipe!!
Note: We’ve run the original post through the cleansing machine so it remains family friendly but we think there’s still plenty of Will Stamper flavor in the post! Edited sections have been marked in red.
Anyway, we give you: Will Stamper:
Hello my precious treats! It’s me, the narrator of BattleBlock Theater, Will Stamper.
I’ll be gunning for comprehensive here, so grab a coffee or something…this might get a bit long.
That’s what she ANYWAYS don’t feel obligated to read the whole thing, you won’t hurt my feelings. Okie dokes, let’s – WAIT – since I’m far too familiar with the flavor of my own foot, I’ll go ahead and drop a safety net over the Behemoth right now and take full responsibility for everything said below this point. You know, just in case stuff gets weird. For example, if I were to say: “Don Cheadle touches dude’s butts in his spare time”, it would be MY opinion, not The Behemoth’s.
And for the record, it’s unlikely that Don Cheadle touches dude’s butts in his spare time. However, I’m far beyond speculation on this matter; my research will continue, and I will not stop until I’ve uncovered the truth.
First, a Little History…
So let’s do this thing already. First, I’ll kick this off with a couple of fun-facts about myself – might help clear a few things up, while effectively shattering the enchanting mystery of ‘the BattleBlock guy’. First and foremost, I’m not really a voice actor…just a huge idiot who happens to own a mic (THERE, I SAID IT). I’m not a writer, either – so just struggle through this article
like a man and cram your English lesson in advance. By trade, I’m a media designer (you know, visual/graphic/web stuff). On the side, I make cartoons, dabble in music, etc. I have no formal training, no college, no high school diploma, and it would probably be wise to shut up and stop admitting things now. Either way, if my professional know-how comes into question at any point, any one of these excuses should absolve all of me.
I’ve known Dan Paladin for a long while now. When I moved up to Pennsylvania in 2004 to work with Newgrounds, we were roommates – roommates who quickly became best pals – best pals who quickly became lovers. WAIT I MEAN…UH…The Behemoth had just been founded, and Dan was hammering through Alien Hominid like a madman. With his ankle in a brace.
HEY GANG, IT’S FUNNY STORY TIME!
So one night, Dan and I walked down to the local Rite-Aid for some groceries (macaroni and cheese, Hot Pockets, ice cream…everything growing boys need). We didn’t have a microwave at the place, so we picked one up while we were there. So we’re starting to walk back; I got the groceries, and Dan’s carrying this heavy microwave in a huge box. It wasn’t long before he just said “heavens to Betsy” – hops on his skateboard, and barrels down the road towards home (holding the microwave). Honestly speaking, it was the best option at the time. Nobody wanted to lug that beast all the way back, so it seemed smart to get it home in a quarter of the time. Long story short, I eventually round a corner and see Dan lying there – he had totally wiped out, and was still holding the microwave. First thing he said was “Don’t worry Stamp, I saved the microwave.” That stuff was hilarious…and lemme tell you, the taste of hot soup was never more satisfying. For me, at least. Dan on the other hand had to work with his leg propped up on his desk for the next…however many weeks or months. That was pretty sweet. Dan made a comic about it a long while ago:
Anywho, since that time, I’ve been watching The Behemoth grow from a poopypants baby into the handsomest man I’ve ever seen. Nowadays, The Behemoth calls me in when they need various…things. Which is cool, because they’re one of the few companies that understand what I’m capable of. I don’t mean that in an arrogant sense; rather, dabbling in different mediums over the years has put me in one of these ‘jack of all trades, but master of none’ positions. It gets difficult to explain to anyone what I “do” exactly…but there’s always a harmonious vibe with these guys. We just…do what we do and get stuff done. End history lesson.
So BattleBlock had started to get beefy, and it was time to wrap a story around it. At this point, we didn’t know if narration would even work, but Dan laid out some plot points and asked me to take a crack at the opening cinematic. We have a very similar sense of humor, so I had a pretty good idea of what he had in mind. This is the first thing I turned in for BattleBlock, and from that point on, I was the narrator.
…MAN I’m glad we didn’t use that one.
Development: The Cinematics
Originally, I did the cutscenes in sequence and on an individual basis. The shipwreck came first, of course. Months later I did the second chapter. Later still, the third chapter. I was hammering through in-game quips in the meantime, but handling the story in this manner turned out to be a bad idea. A lot was up in the air and riding on the hope that I’d eventually cover everything we wanted to. I say: envision your painting as a whole > start your painting > finish your painting. Don’t come back to it once a month and splash some color on it – not only do you run the risk of losing your original vision, but you’re likely to think that everything you established in the beginning isn’t good enough anymore. So you’ll sit and chip away at it, the obligation to finish overshadowing the fact that you lost your way a long time ago. On the off chance you DO finish, you’ll more than likely end up with a helter-skelter production you aren’t very proud of. This is just how I personally feel, of course – planning and focused execution is incredibly important.
After I wrapped up the third chapter, we all felt that the story just wasn’t cutting it. Not that it was BAD, it just wasn’t clicking. Sooo, we had a few serious roundtable discussions to lock every plot-point down from A to Z. After that, the cinematics came together fairly quickly. I’d simply bounce from chapter to chapter, making sure each one was consistent in length, humor, and timing while delivering key plot points at regular intervals.
On a personal note, I’m glad we re-did the entire story. As development progressed, my manner of speaking and delivery changed. Timing got zippier, I was delivering with more energy – just a natural side effect of falling into the role as time went on. You can hear the difference between early clips and newer clips in the final game, and in my opinion, the difference is night and day.
Now – as far as the writing end of it goes, I’ll explain how I normally handle a script. When I make a cartoon (or work with specific people who share my methods), I generally use a series of bullet points (as opposed to your typical script). These points generally consist of nothing more than key events or important pieces of dialogue – much like keyframing an animation. As I’m recording, I’ll make sure to cover everything that needs to be said, while filling the gaps with ad-libbed bits that relate to the key points. I feel this process works best for organic dialogue, or, the way real people tend to talk. Of course, that’s not to say that developing a comprehensive script is a waste of time – my method isn’t practical for everybody. It works because I generally voice all of my own cartoons with a firm direction in mind. But even when a script is well thought-out, following it to the letter could produce robotic results, and members of the general audience are quick to pick up on anything that sounds off. If you take the classic script route, I feel it’s a necessity to constantly read things out loud as you go, question why or how you’re speaking, and to constantly consider human nature.
…or, give my funky method a shot – try some simple bullet points, you might be surprised.
Stamper’s Tip Korner:
When you’re creating, all that matters is your bottom line – the point(s) of your production, your intentions, and the reception you’re gunning for. It doesn’t matter how you get there, so long as you get there. Stay focused on the points you’re trying to get across, but don’t be afraid to go off-script (or off-path in general). Interesting results come from breaking outta your comfort zone and incorporating the unplanned. And if you work (or plan to work) with voice actors, give them a little freedom here and there. Accept an ad-libbed line every now and again. Remember, you chose them for their talents – your key ideas will always be there, but your overall production could easily turn into so much more.
For BattleBlock I employed my standard bullet-point method, I just used faaar more bullet points. For a project of this magnitude, you can’t shoot just anything off the hip. Obviously, there’s no pleasing everybody…but you can definitely take steps to appeal to the broadest audience possible – all ages, backgrounds, morals, senses of humor – the tricky part is doing so without tipping too far in one or the other direction. So with BattleBlock, I’d appeal to kids with a butt joke, then follow it up with something more intelligent, a little more global. But kids are smart…they understand far more than what we credit them for – so I’d throw them a curveball from time to time, flip the concept, and hand something juvenile off to the adults. I wanted something for everyone to appreciate, even if they were momentarily put off by something I had previously said. It’s a delicate balance to create for such a wide audience, especially when it comes to console games – I mean, a father of 3 who lives in Japan could easily be playing through story mode with a kid from North Dakota who lost his legs last year. Making them both laugh at the same time is a task worth pooping your pants over.
But that’s how accessible media is nowadays. Interesting to think about.
Uh, so yeah. I made the cinematics my primary focus and fired em’ out, one by one. This’ll help explain the process:
…yeah, there’s a lot of extra takes. And a lot of ad-libbed stuff I ended up not using. And a lot of…other. Things. I talk to myself a lot. ANYWAY, after I was happy with the timing and quality of the pure-voice track, I’d add character and enhance moments with music and sound, like so:
Bob’s your uncle, cinematics done. Afterwards, I’d hand them off to Dan to work his magic.
Development: The Quips
At some point, someone thought it’d be a good idea for me to comment on various in-game happenings. You die, I say something snarky. Pick up a gem, God knows what I’ll say. You get graded, I’ll be there. These weren’t so much difficult as they were time consuming.
The process was fairly simple – I’d get a voice pack request for a specific in-game reaction. Take for example, “DEATH” reactions. I’d hack out a few lines I definitely wanted to do, take that starter list to the booth, then continue to fire out anything I could think of revolving around the idea of someone dying. I’m in there screaming my lungs out, repeating lines over and over, fumbling words, singing improv songs that have absolutely nothing to do with the task at hand…it’s a borderline psychotic process.
That’s the easy part. Afterwards comes the tedious process of listening to an hour+ of spoken dialogue and breaking it all down into a series of the best quips. Here’s a series of development shots that should help sum up creation of a quip bank:
I wouldn’t exactly call it fun. But man, it’s satisfying to finish a bank.
That’s really all there is to it. When I got a bank request, I’d try my best to go above and beyond any requirement. Generally, I’d hand over a bank with at least 2-3 times the amount of voice clips we’d end up using in the game – I wasn’t doing so to polish apples and stuff, I just felt it was smart in the longrun. First, it allowed me to exhaust all possibilities, so I’d never have to return to a bank to supplement it. Second, to give the staff a wide variety to cherry pick from – they could pick the best of their favorites and have an ingame collection they were all satisfied with. Some people ask why we didn’t just add them all, but nobody wants to sit and download a clunky, 50 GB game – ya gotta be selective!
Oh, and obvious tip for huge projects: STAY ORGANIZED. Our method was simple, color-coded spreadsheets:
No duh, right? But it’s an imperative, often overlooked aspect of most large projects – possibly something you’re currently elbow-deep in. You know, that project or responsibility that’s ruining your life because there’s no end in sight? Employ something like this to keep everybody on the same page, but moreso because it’s a clear and constant reminder that you’re making dents in that monstrosity. Unless, of course, you enjoy trying to swallow a whole steak without chewing.
Development: The Music/Sound
I made a couple of songs for the game as well. Most notably: Buckle Your Pants, Secret Stage, and the endgame Finale.
Buckle Your Pants – Dan and I are mega huge idiots, so every now and again we’d sit around the office and sing people’s actions. It’s a good way to break up the monotony – eat the food, punch a butt, climb the stairs – and when John was spending many-a-late-night designing the Necromancer belt buckle, ‘buckle your pants’ was born. Around the time I was finishing the cinematics, I thought it’d be fun to hook up an official song. It was nice to share something personal to us with the player, and I feel it wrapped up the game (and development process) on a fun note. Yeah, FUN! I mean, game development doesn’t ALWAYS have to be a heartless struggle of a cutthroat nightmare, right? Also, buckle is a good example of what I meant upstairs in Stamper’s Tip Korner, or whatever the heck I called it – when your bottom line is to entertain, there’s no need to overthink it. Just buckle your pants!
Secret Stage – The game required a secret song. I alternated those fresh lyrics with Dan in one clean run, and that’s all you need to know. I tend to joke that only The Behemoth would accept a song like this – you turn this in at any other company and you’d more than likely be fired.
Mr. Finale – Pretty self explanatory. Needed to add some pep to those brutal final levels Aaron designed. I’ll never forgive him. I threw this one together in FL Studio with various plugs, most notably the Magical 8bit Plug you can grab over at YMCK. YMCK is sweet, check their music out!
Hardware and Software [If you care – if you don’t, skip past!]
The game was recorded in 3 locations. The Newgrounds office soundbooth, The Behemoth office soundbooth, and my home soundbooth. The recording environments in both offices are practically identical. Small, standalone rooms with fairly simple setups: a mic and pop filter (AKG and Nady, respectively), and a little USB/Firewire box (Presonus at Newgrounds, something else over at the Behemoth). The box simply feeds audio from the mic to your PC or Mac – but nowadays, you can get pretty great results with a simple USB mic, like a Blue Yeti.
At home, I record in a really, really tiny spare bedroom I padded out with foam:
Yeah, it looks ridiculous…but it works. As far as home hardware, I have an Audio Technica mic, same Nady pop filter, and a little Gator rack with a Presonus Firepod, a Behringer EQ, a DBX compressor, and a simple power conditioner.
I wouldn’t recommend my personal setup at all. To explain this overkill, I used to work for a rap label (designing albums and logos and such), and I once accepted spare studio hardware as payment. It’s still running strong!
As far as software goes – on PC, I primarily use GoldWave and Sony ACID (for BattleBlock and otherwise). GoldWave for recording and basic editing, ACID for timing, mixing, and exporting finals. If I have to record on a Mac, I’ll use SoundStudio, then transfer raw recordings back to PC to work on it. I mean, I’d use the Mac for mixing and editing and such, but quite frankly I’d RATHER PUT A BULLET IN MY FACE.
So lemme wrap this borefest up. For me, BattleBlock was a big deal. Not necessarily for the obvious reasons; moreso because it was a serious crash-course and I learned a great deal throughout the development process. I mean, I still have NO idea what I’m doing half the time, but I’m grateful to The Behemoth for the opportunity. Working with those guys is always an easy going process and lots-o-fun – Dan, Anna, Derek, Anna, Emil, Anna, Ian, Derek, Megan, Megan, Derek, dude #1, dude #2, blonde guy, Ian, other blonde guy, Stamper, John…all great people, and I’m always down to help with anything they’ve got up their sleeves.
Keep your butts polished!
Written and only halfway re-read,
P.S. HACK THE PLANETTTT lol
Originally Posted on June 7, 2013