For voice actors, the prospect of entering the world of video game voice acting is thrilling, regardless of whether they play video games or don’t. This is because it allows one to embody complex characters they may have never encountered.
Nearly 50 years ago, video game audio started out pretty humble. A basic synthesizer was used to produce rudimentary game sounds. Older gaming systems, such as the Atari cartridges, could only carry about 4 to 8 Kbs of data. Even during the later years, consoles like the Super Nintendo Entertainment Systems cartridges could only hold 4 Mbs. In perspective, nowadays, most smartphones with 32GB storage are considered not good enough to handle many users’ current preferences and requirements.
In that regard, voice acting at the time took a backseat to everything else on a cartridge because the game took up so little room. Fortunately, a lot has changed since then, and studios no longer depend on a basic synthesizer for video game audio. Larger storage spaces enable them to store hundreds of hours of voice acting. Additionally, advanced technology has enabled the processing of more dynamic ranges of audio frequencies. So what exactly is a voice-over for a video game?
A voice-over is when an actor “acts” out the lines for one or more characters. The voice acting is recorded, added to the video game files, and activated when you perform a certain activity, like watching a cutscene or interacting with a character.
In Africa, it has been widely documented of the ever-growing gaming industry. More organizations are tapping into the talented pool of various artists and professionals to bring their games to light. One of the organizations doing so is Riot Games through their popular AAA game VALORANT. Valorant is a free-to-play first-person tactical hero shooter developed and published by Riot Games for Windows (PC). It is a team-based game with a cast of unique agents with different abilities. Players must use these different abilities, precise gunplay and tactical skills to outwit and outplay their opponents on a global stage.
The main game mode is a 5v5 multiplayer first-person shooter where one team attacks and the other defends. There are currently 21 playable agents in the game, covering four classes: duelists, controllers, initiators, and sentinels. Each agent has different abilities that let them unleash special moves after a certain time. One of these characters, Astra, is a controller from Ghana who can harness the energies of the cosmos to reshape battlefields to her whim. Astra is the 16th agent to join the Valorant Protocol and has ties to the Astral Guardians. She is known for being energetic, joyful, and straightforward when expressing herself. GIA writer Lewis Chege had a sitdown with the real Astra and this is how it went.
Brief Background about Effie Nkrumah
Effie Nkrumah, the voice behind Astra is a Ghanaian-Australian interdisciplinary artist, writer, and performer who challenges the mainstream by relying on memory, theory, the archive, and narrative to challenge the single story of Africa. She is also an actress who has appeared in various productions, including The Great Gatsby and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. She also enjoyed significant success in Ghana’s theatrical scene for four years before getting a Master’s in Arts Politics from New York University Tisch School of Arts.
GIA: Hey, Effie. Please tell us a little bit more about your personal relationship with video games. What made you want to get into video games specifically? And when did it all start? Do you have a favourite game?
Effie: The truth is, I don’t even know if I could say I have the history. If I go far back, My brother and I had Game Boys when we were little. We also had a Sega Genesis, where I learned to play Sonic Hedge Hog. Nintendo 64 was also a console I had a chance to play, where I played Mario, among other games. I also played a racing game called Slip Stream during that time. However, my biggest introduction to video games was through Valorant.
GIA: How did you get into your line of work, i.e., voice acting?
Effie: Radio plays are a big deal in Ghana, and I got into producing and starring in them when Covid hit. I grew up in Australia but moved to Ghana and stayed there for about ten years. I invested my time in understanding how Radio plays work during this time. Specifically, it all began through an invite from a friend we had met previously from a theatre company. I continuously built my confidence as a voice actor through these Radio plays. This is what led to my work as a Valorant Voice actor.
GIA: What was the process of finding and being selected for Astra?
Effie: My call-up came from Leti Arts, and the impression was I was being invited to an audition for a radio production. It was then explained to me what the whole project was about, and I remember being so excited about the prospect of being a video game voice actor, which I had never done before.
As I mentioned earlier, Radio is a big thing in Ghana and I initially thought this was another radio gig I had been called to audition for.
GIA: What is the recording process for a brand like Valorant, and what are some of the levels of direction involved and are they different from the radio theatre work you have done in the past?
Effie: Compared to my theatre work, I wouldn’t say there was much difference. As a voice actor, you strive to bring out the personality of each character you play and as you progress, you get to have some of your ideas and thoughts written into the character. Astra is a fictional character. The Valorant world is also fictional, so you still have to apply the same process to try and embody the character enough to make everything about them come out through your voice. Nevertheless, one obvious difference is that that voice is applied or superimposed on an image, whereas radio theatre has no imagery.
Additionally, with Radio Theatre, I concentrated more on the voice and the sound effects rather than imagination or the character I was reading lines for. Whereas with this, I had to make sure that. I had a visual of Astra in my head, albeit slightly different from what she ended up looking like. She, however, turned out great, and I would use that visual to think and picture how I wanted her to sound.
Finally, with Radio theatre, you are conversing with different people in a studio. Recording for Astra was more of a dialogue with myself. The most semblance of a conversation you might get was if another actor has already laid their lines and you are now reacting to their lines as Astra.
I must mention that working with the Riot Games Voice director was a great collaborative experience because I was allowed to interpret the character as Effie and add details to Astra, including how she eventually sounds in the game.
GIA: How much of your background/heritage and personality did you impart into the role?
Effie: So most people who know me or follow me know that I’m a black history enthusiast, so for my artistic practice, I focus a lot on the specificities and nuances of blackness. For this role, I wanted the world to understand and pick up on different languages spoken in Ghana, including Pidgin English and Akan (Fante/Twi). There are 54 languages within Ghana, all with different language groups, so the challenge was to, at the very least, try and bring out the most common characteristics among Ghanaians.
Being a Fante myself, we are a matrilineal people and our women are very empowered and outspoken, which perfectly fits what I had envisioned Astra to be. She is a bold character who is confident and loves to joke. Bringing that to the gaming world was a huge
GIA: Are there some aspects of your stage work that you applied directly to your performance of the Astra Role
Effie: Yes,there are.It’s all about your voice. Vocal training is where you warm up your voice sort of like an exercise to strengthen your muscles. I also had to do phonetics practice to perfect Astra’s accent. I mostly worked on lowering and grounding my real voice to become Astra. As with any character you play, you must embody the character. How do you think she will respond to certain actions or stimuli?
How does she hype her team up at the start of the game? How does she sound when she runs? Does her tone change in certain situations in a match? This, to me, is what the embodiment of a character means and it helped me to be more in touch with the Astra.
GIA: Are there any other games you would love to lend your voice talent to?
Effie: Valorant has given me an entry point to the world of video games professionally and the experience was new to what I am accustomed to in theatre. That said, it was a really fun experience and although I do not have any particular game I would love to voice, I am open to more of these types of voice-acting roles. I have been approached by so many gamers who are fans of Astra and Valorant and I have seen how impactful gaming is.
Outside games, I would love to voice Kid Animated shows. That would be cool.
GIA: What advice would you give aspiring voice actors across the continent?
Effie: Great Question, Lewis. I have a few pointers. One is the obvious one. Practice. How we often hear our voices is not exactly how we sound to others. Most of us have smartphones. Pick up a text or look at your favorite movie/ game/ cartoon and try to emulate what you hear as those characters speak. Read them out loud and record yourself in as many different accents and voices as possible. How would I sound if I pretended to be a three-year-old child, a 60-year-old man, or a woman? Practice that until you believe it. Reading any form of literature is also helpful.
Secondly, and this is advice given to many people trying to perfect most skills, Make Youtube your friend. There are lots of tutorials that teach people how to practice voice work. Thirdly, enrol for professional Master Classes where you can get a voice coach to train you. Additionally, think outside the box. Don’t always lock yourself to a particular character. Try being an Alien, for example. See how that sounds. Carve a unique niche because the voice acting market is highly competitive and whatever makes you stand out will be a plus.
Thirdly, Social media has all types of opportunities. Just do a simple Google search of ‘Voice Acting roles in my town.’
Finally, an established voice actor must have a professional agent with a solid talent management background, especially in Africa. People sometimes may want to take advantage of your skills and having a pro agent reduces this.
GIA: Anything new you are working on that people should be on the lookout for? It doesn’t have to be in gaming.
Effie: I’m working on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in Melbourne. I am also starring in another play this year. I love poetry and want to get back to it as well. So. Yes. Lots of projects to look forward to.
GIA: I always tend to ask this question whenever I am about to conclude an interview. What have been the two biggest success stories of your illustrious career so far?
Effie: Two things stand out. 1) Getting My Master’s degree from NYU and 2) Getting a theater job from a friend when I was on the brink of quitting the industry.
The struggle of getting to NYU due to financial constraints and leaving Ghana to stay and study in the USA was a challenge. I am a very prayerful person Lewis and I thank God for seeing me through. That whole experience monumentally changed how I view life.
For my theater work, I remember feeling depressed and frustrated by the lack of job opportunities in Ghana as a black woman with a foreign accent. Then whenever you are about to give up, God just does his thing. An acting gig came up, a friend recommended me, and the whole panel loved me. That was a huge success story for me, Lewis. It taught me to never give up on something you genuinely believe in.
GIA: Well, that was a great conversation. Your journey is quite inspirational, Effie. Thank you for scheduling the time to meet.
Effie: Sure thing! Thanks, Lewis lovely to meet you. See you on LinkedIn. Cheers.
Valorant fans can also visit this link for a live autograph signing of Valorant Merchandise Plus, a Q+A Session with Astra and other Valorant agents.